Xata is a database service for serverless apps

Meet Xata, a startup with a new take on managed databases. The company runs your database for you and turns it into an API so that you can query and update it from your serverless app. Xata has raised a $5 million funding round. Its product is not yet ready for prime time but the company is sharing details.

Xata seems particularly well suited for Jamstack websites. Jamstack has been a popular way of developing and deploying websites at scale. Popular Jamstack hosting platforms include Netlify, Vercel and Cloudflare Pages.

Applications are deployed on a global edge network and most of the logic is handled by API calls. The result is a website or an application that loads quickly and can handle a lot of traffic.

Deploying a Jamstack website is quite easy as it often integrates tightly with your Git repository. When you commit code changes, serverless platforms take care of deploying your application. Integrating with API-based developer tools is relatively effortless as well as you don’t manage the logic yourself.

For instance, deploying a website with static content and a Stripe checkout module doesn’t require a ton of effort — Stripe manages the payment servers for you. It gets a bit more complicated if you want to use a live database and interact with it. Traditional database software doesn’t rely on API calls across the internet to add a row, search through multiple rows and find data.

Xata is focusing on databases and want to make it easier to integrate a database with your serverless app. You don’t have to take care of the underlying infrastructure as Xata can scale the database for you. You don’t have to update software, move data to a new server, etc.

Your database is distributed across multiple data centers to improve response times and redundancy. It supports many data types including images. After that, interacting with the database works like any RESTful API out there.

The startup is also drawing some inspiration from popular no-code startups, such as Airtable. You can open your database in a web browser and interact with your data directly from there. For instance, you can filter the current view, sort data using a specific criteria and get the API query that you can use in your code.

If you store a lot of data in your database, you can search through your data using a free-text search feature. You can also leverage Xata for analytics by creating charts and visualizations.

The ability to interact with your data from a web browser is Xata’s competitive advantage. Many companies rely on Airtable as their first backend to prototype a new project. Xata could become a production-ready version of this Airtable-as-a-backend data management model.

The $5 million round was led by Index Ventures. Operator Collective, SV Angel, X-Factor and firstminute capital also participated. Some business angels, such as Shay Banon and Uri Boness from Elastic, Neha Narkhede from Confluent, Guillermo Rauch from Vercel, Elad Gil from Color Genomics and Christian Bach and Mathias Biilmann from Netlify also invested.

The startup was founded by Monica Sarbu, who used to be the Director of Engineering at Elastic. So she probably knows a thing or two about scaling databases.

Image Credits: Xata

#database, #developer, #fundings-exits, #serverless, #startups

Mirantis launches cloud-native data center-as-a-service software

Mirantis has been around the block, starting way back as an OpenStack startup, but a few years ago the company began to embrace cloud-native development technologies like containers, microservices and Kubernetes. Today, it announced Mirantis Flow, a fully managed open source set of services designed to help companies manage a cloud-native data center environment, whether your infrastructure lives on-prem or in a public cloud.

“We’re about delivering to customers an open source-based cloud-to-cloud experience in the data center, on the edge, and interoperable with public clouds,” Adrian Ionel, CEO and co-founder at Mirantis explained.

He points out that the biggest companies in the world, the hyperscalers like Facebook, Netflix and Apple, have all figured out how to manage in a hybrid cloud-native world, but most companies lack the resources of these large organizations. Mirantis Flow is aimed at putting these same types of capabilities that the big companies have inside these more modest organizations.

While the large infrastructure cloud vendors like Amazon, Microsoft and Google have been designed to help with this very problem, Ionel says that these tend to be less open and more proprietary. That can lead to lock-in, which today’s large organizations are looking desperately to avoid.

“[The large infrastructure vendors] will lock you into their stack and their APIs. They’re not based on open source standards or technology, so you are locked in your single source, and most large enterprises today are pursuing a multi-cloud strategy. They want infrastructure flexibility,” he said. He added, “The idea here is to provide a completely open and flexible zero lock-in alternative to the [big infrastructure providers, but with the] same cloud experience and same pace of innovation.”

They do this by putting together a stack of open source solutions in a single service. “We provide virtualization on top as part of the same fabric. We also provide software-defined networking, software-defined storage and CI/CD technology with DevOps as a service on top of it, which enables companies to automate the entire software development pipeline,” he said.

As the company describes the service in a blog post published today, it includes “Mirantis Container Cloud, Mirantis OpenStack and Mirantis Kubernetes Engine, all workloads are available for migration to cloud native infrastructure, whether they are traditional virtual machine workloads or containerized workloads.”

For companies worried about migrating their VMware virtual machines to this solution, Ionel says they have been able to move these VMs to the Mirantis solution in early customers. “This is a very, very simple conversion of the virtual machine from VMware standard to an open standard, and there is no reason why any application and any workload should not run on this infrastructure — and we’ve seen it over and over again in many many customers. So we don’t see any bottlenecks whatsoever for people to move right away,” he said.

It’s important to note that this solution does not include hardware. It’s about bringing your own hardware infrastructure, either physical or as a service, or using a Mirantis partner like Equinix. The service is available now for $15,000 per month or $180,000 annually, which includes: 1,000 core/vCPU licenses for access to all products in the Mirantis software suite plus support for 20 virtual machine (VM) migrations or application onboarding and unlimited 24×7 support. The company does not charge any additional fees for control plane and management software licenses.

#cloud, #developer, #enterprise, #kubernetes, #mirantis, #open-source, #openstack, #tc

Confluent CEO Jay Kreps is coming to TC Sessions: SaaS for a fireside chat

As companies process ever-increasing amounts of data, moving it in real time is a huge challenge for organizations. Confluent is a streaming data platform built on top of the open source Apache Kafka project that’s been designed to process massive numbers of events. To discuss this, and more, Confluent CEO and co-founder Jay Kreps will be joining us at TC Sessions: SaaS on Oct 27th for a fireside chat.

Data is a big part of the story we are telling at the SaaS event, as it has such a critical role in every business. Kreps has said in the past the data streams are at the core of every business, from sales to orders to customer experiences. As he wrote in a company blog post announcing the company’s $250 million Series E in April 2020, Confluent is working to process all of this data in real time — and that was a big reason why investors were willing to pour so much money into the company.

“The reason is simple: though new data technologies come and go, event streaming is emerging as a major new category that is on a path to be as important and foundational in the architecture of a modern digital company as databases have been,” Kreps wrote at the time.

The company’s streaming data platform takes a multi-faceted approach to streaming and builds on the open source Kafka project. While anyone can download and use Kafka, as with many open source projects, companies may lack the resources or expertise to deal with the raw open source code. Many a startup have been built on open source to help simplify whatever the project does, and Confluent and Kafka are no different.

Kreps told us in 2017 that companies using Kafka as a core technology include Netflix, Uber, Cisco and Goldman Sachs. But those companies have the resources to manage complex software like this. Mere mortal companies can pay Confluent to access a managed cloud version or they can manage it themselves and install it in the cloud infrastructure provider of choice.

The project was actually born at LinkedIn in 2011 when their engineers were tasked with building a tool to process the enormous number of events flowing through the platform. The company eventually open sourced the technology it had created and Apache Kafka was born.

Confluent launched in 2014 and raised over $450 million along the way. In its last private round in April 2020, the company scored a $4.5 billion valuation on a $250 million investment. As of today, it has a market cap of over $17 billion.

In addition to our discussion with Kreps, the conference will also include Google’s Javier Soltero, Amplitude’s Olivia Rose, as well as investors Kobie Fuller and Casey Aylward, among others. We hope you’ll join us. It’s going to be a thought-provoking lineup.

Buy your pass now to save up to $100 when you book by October 1. We can’t wait to see you in October!

#apache-kafka, #casey-aylward, #cisco, #cloud, #cloud-computing, #computing, #confluent, #developer, #enterprise, #event-streaming, #free-software, #goldman-sachs, #google, #javier-soltero, #jay-kreps, #kobie-fuller, #linkedin, #microsoft, #netflix, #open-source, #saas, #software, #software-as-a-service, #tc, #tc-sessions-saas-2021, #uber

Fiberplane nabs € 7.5M seed to bring Google Docs-like collaboration to incident response

Fiberplane, an Amsterdam-based early stage startup that is building collaborative notebooks for SREs (site reliability engineers)  to collaborate around an incident in a similar manner to group editing in a Google Doc, announced a ​​€ 7.5M (approximately $8.8 million USD) seed round today.

The round was co-led by Crane Venture Partners and Notion Capital with participation from Northzone, System.One and Basecase Capital.

Micha Hernandez van Leuffen (known as Mies) is founder and CEO at Fiberplane. When his previous startup, Werker was sold to Oracle in 2017, Hernandez van Leuffen became part of a much larger company where he saw people struggling to deal with outages (which happen at every company).

“We were always going back and forth between metrics, logs and traces, what I always call this sort of treasure hunt, and figuring out what was the underlying root cause of an outage or downtime,” Hernandez van Leuffen told me.

He said that this experience led to a couple of key insights about incident response: First, you needed a centralized place to pull all the incident data together, and secondly that as a distributed team managing a distributed system you needed to collaborate in real time, often across different time zones.

When he left Oracle in August 2020, he began thinking about the idea of giving DevOps teams and SREs the same kind of group editing capabilities that other teams inside an organization have with tools like Google Docs or Notion and an idea for his new company began to take shape.

What he created with Fiberplane is a collaborative notebook for SRE’s to pull in the various data types and begin to work together to resolve the incident, while having a natural audit trail of what happened and how they resolved the issue. Different people can participate in this notebook, just as multiple people can edit a Google Doc, fulfilling that original vision.

Fiberplane incident response notebook with various types of data about the incident.

Fiberplane collaborative notebook example with multiple people involved. Image Credit: Fiberplane

He doesn’t plan to stop there though. The longer term vision is an operational platform for SREs and DevOps teams to deal with every aspect of an outage. “This is our starting point, but we are planning to expand from there as more I would say an SRE workbench, where you’re also able to command and control your infrastructure,” he said.

Today the company has 13 employees and is growing, and as they do, they are exploring ways to make sure they are building a diverse company, looking at concrete strategies to find more diverse candidates.

“To hire diversely, we’re re-examining our top of the funnel processes. Our efforts include posting our jobs in communities of underrepresented people, running our job descriptions through a gender decoder and facilitating a larger time frame for jobs to remain open,” Elena Boroda, marketing manager at Fiberplane said.

While Hernandez van Leuffen is based in Amsterdam, the company has been hiring people in the UK, Berlin, Copenhagen and the US, he said. The plan is to have Amsterdam as a central hub when offices reopen as the majority of employees are located there.

#cloud, #developer, #enterprise, #eu-startups, #fiberplane, #funding, #incident-response, #sres, #startups, #tc

Tyk raises $35M for its open-source, open-ended approach to enterprise API management

APIs are the grease turning the gears and wheels for many organizations’ IT systems today, but as APIs grow in number and use, tracking how they work (or don’t work) together can become complex and potentially critical if something goes awry. Now, a startup that has built an innovative way to help with this is announcing some funding after getting traction with big enterprises adopting its approach.

Tyk, which has built a way for users to access and manage multiple internal enterprise APIs through a universal interface by way of GraphQL, has picked up $35 million, an investment that it will be using both for hiring and to continue enhancing and expanding the tools that it provides to users. Tyk has coined a term describing its approach to managing APIs and the data they produce — “universal data graph” — and today its tools are being used to manage APIs by some 10,000 businesses, including large enterprises like Starbucks, Societe Generale, and Domino’s.

Scottish Equity Partners led the round, with participation also from MMC Ventures — its sole previous investor from a round in 2019 after boostrapping for its first five years. The startup is based out of London but works in a very distributed way — one of the co-founders is living in New Zealand currently — and it will be hiring and growing based on that principle, too. It has raised just over $40 million to date.

Tyk (pronounced like “tyke”, meaning small/lively child) got its start as an open source side project first for co-founder Martin Buhr, who is now the company’s CEO, while he was working elsewhere, as a “load testing thing,” in his words.

The shifts in IT towards service-oriented architectures, and building and using APIs to connect internal apps, led him to rethink the code and consider how it could be used to control APIs. Added to that was the fact that as far as Buhr could see, the API management platforms that were in the market at the time — some of the big names today include Kong, Apigee (now a part of Google), 3scale (now a part of RedHat and thus IBM), MuleSoft (now a part of Salesforce) — were not as flexible as his needs were. “So I built my own,” he said.

It was built as an open source tool, and some engineers at other companies started to use it. As it got more attention, some of the bigger companies interested in using it started to ask why he wasn’t charging for anything — a sure sign as any that there was probably a business to be built here, and more credibility to come if he charged for the it.

“So we made the gateway open source, and the management part went into a licensing model,” he said. And Tyk was born as a startup co-founded with James Hirst, who is now the COO, who worked with Buhr at a digital agency some years before.

The key motivation behind building Tyk has stayed as its unique selling point for customers working in increasingly complex environments.

“What sparked interest in Tyk was that companies were unhappy with API management as it exists today,” Buhr noted, citing architectures using multiple clouds and multiple containers, creating more complexity that needed better management. “It was just the right time when containerization, Kubernetes and microservices were on the rise… The way we approach the multi-data and multi-vendor cloud model is super flexible and resilient to partitions, in a way that others have not been able to do.”

“You engage developers and deliver real value and it’s up to them to make the choice,” added Hirst. “We are responding to a clear shift in the market.”

One of the next frontiers that Tyk will tackle will be what happens within the management layer, specifically when there are potential conflicts with APIs.

“When a team using a microservice makes a breaking change, we want to bring that up and report that to the system,” Buhr said. “The plan is to flag the issue and test against it, and be able to say that a schema won’t work, and to identify why.”

Even before that is rolled out, though, Tyk’s customer list and its grow speak to a business on the cusp of a lot more.

“Martin and James have built a world-class team and the addition of this new capital will enable Tyk to accelerate the growth of its API management platform, particularly around the GraphQL focused Universal Data Graph product that launched earlier this year,” said Martin Brennan, a director at SEP, in a statement. “We are pleased to be supporting the team to achieve their global ambitions.”

Keith Davidson, a partner at SEP, is joining the Tyk board as a non-executive director with this round.

#api, #api-gateway, #api-management, #apigee, #apis, #ceo, #cloud-computing, #co-founder, #computing, #coo, #developer, #enterprise, #europe, #funding, #google, #graphql, #ibm, #london, #microservices, #mmc-ventures, #mulesoft, #new-zealand, #salesforce, #scottish-equity-partners, #societe-generale, #starbucks, #technology, #tyk

Avalanche raises $230 million from private sale of AVAX tokens

Avalanche, a relatively new blockchain with a focus on speed and low transactions costs, has completed a $230 million private sale of AVAX tokens to some well known crypto funds. Polychain and Three Arrows Capital are leading the investment.

The Avalanche Foundation completed the private sale back in June 2021 and is disclosing it today. Other participants in the private sale include R/Crypto Fund, Dragonfly, CMS Holdings, Collab+Currency and Lvna Capital.

Proceeds from the private sale will be used to support the Avalanche ecosystem, which is relatively nascent when you compare it to the Ethereum blockchain for instance. Among other things, the foundation plans to support DeFi (decentralized finance) projects as well as enterprise applications through grants, token purchases and other forms of investments.

Like Solana and other newer blockchains, Avalanche wants to solve the scalability issues that older blockchains face. For instance, if you’ve recently tried to buy an NFT on the Ethereum blockchain, you probably paid $50 or $100 in transaction fees, or gas fees.

The Avalanche Foundation positions its blockchain as a solid alternative to Ethereum. You can run Dapps (decentralized apps) for a fraction of the costs with a much faster time-to-finality. Avalanche supports smart contracts, which is a key feature to enable DeFi projects.

Here’s what Avalanche’s official website says about its blockchain performance:

Image Credits: Avalanche

Having better performance is just part of the problem when you’re competing with Ethereum and other blockchains. Avalanche also needs to attract developers and build a strong developer community so that it becomes the infrastructure of other crypto projects.

That’s why Avalanche wants to make it as easy as possible to port your Ethereum Dapp to Avalanche. Avalanche’s smart contract chain executes Ethereum Virtual Machine contracts, which means that you can reuse part of your codebase if you’re already active on the Ethereum blockchain.

Similarly, applications that query the Ethereum network can be adapted to support Avalanche by changing API endpoints and adding support for a new network. The Avalanche team has also been working on a bridge to transfer Ethereum assets to the Avalanche blockchain. The equivalent of $1.3 billion in crypto assets have been transferred using this bridge.

Those are technical incentives. As for financial incentives, private sales and grants could help bootstrap developer interest. The Avalanche Foundation says that 225 projects currently support the platform, including popular crypto projects that already run on other blockchains, such as Tether, SushiSwap, Chainlink, Circle and The Graph. Topps, an NFT-based game with partnerships with the MLB and Bundesliga, is also using Avalanche.

Avalanche and its underlying token AVAX is currently the 14th cryptocurrency by total market capitalization according to CoinMarketCap. With a current market cap of $13 billion, Avalanche is ahead of Algorand or Polygon, but behind Polkadot and Solana. Solana also suffered from a major outage earlier this week, raising questions about Solana’s ability to scale. It’s going to be interesting to see whether one of these blockchains can catch up with Ethereum or even surpass Ethereum in usage and value.

#avalanche, #avax, #blockchain, #cryptocurrency, #developer, #fundings-exits, #tc

CodeSignal secures $50M for its tech hiring platform

In less than a year after raising $25 million in Series B funding, technical assessment company CodeSignal announced a $50 million in Series C funding to offer new features for its platform that helps companies make data-driven hiring decisions to find and test engineering talent.

Similar to attracting a big investor lead for its B round — Menlo Ventures — it has partnered with Index Ventures to lead the C round. Menlo participated again and was joined by Headline and A Capital. This round brings CodeSignal’s total fundraising to $87.5 million.

Co-founder and CEO Tigran Sloyan got the idea for the company from an experience his co-founder and friend Aram Shatakhtsyan had while trying to find an engineering job. Both from Armenia, the two went in different paths for college, with Shatakhtsyan staying in Armenia and Sloyan coming to the U.S. to study at MIT. He then went on to work at Google.

“As companies were recruiting myself and my classmates, Aram was trying to get his resume picked up, but wasn’t getting attention because of where he went to college, even though he was the greatest programmer I had ever known,” Sloyan told TechCrunch. “Hiring talent is the No. 1 problem companies say they have, but here was the best engineer, and no one would bring him in.”

They, along with Sophia Baik, started CodeSignal in 2015 to act as a self-driving interview platform that directly measures skills regardless of a person’s background. Like people needing to take a driver’s test in order to get a license, Sloyan calls the company’s technical assessment technology a “flight simulator for developers,” that gives candidates a simulated evaluation of their skills and comes back with a score and highlighted strengths.

The need by companies to hire engineers has led to CodeSignal growing 3.5 times in revenue year over year and to gather a customer list that includes Brex, Databricks, Facebook, Instacart, Robinhood, Upwork and Zoom.

Sloyan said the company has not yet touched the money it received in its Series B, but wanted to jump at the opportunity to work with Nina Achadjian, partner at Index Ventures, whom he had known for many years since their time together at Google. To work together and for Achadjian to join the company’s board was something “I couldn’t pass up,” Sloyan said.

When Achadjian moved over to venture capital, she helped Sloyan connect to mentors and angel investors while keeping an eye on the company. Hiring engineers is “mission critical” for technology companies, but what became more obvious to her was that engineering functions have become necessary for all companies, Achadjian explained.

While performing due diligence on the space, she saw traditional engineering cultures utilizing CodeSignal, but then would also see nontraditional companies like banks and insurance companies.

“Their traction was undeniable, and many of our portfolio companies were using CodeSignal,” she added. “It is rare to see a company accelerate growth at the stage they are at.”

U.S. Department of Labor statistics estimate there is already a global talent labor shortage of 40 million workers, and that number will grow to over 85 million by 2030. Achadjian says engineering jobs are also expected to increase during that time, and with all of those roles and applicants, vetting candidates will be more important than ever, as will the ability for candidates to apply from wherever they are.

The new funding enabled the company to launch its Integrated Development Environment for candidates to interact with relevant assessment experiences like codes, files and a terminal on a machine that is familiar with them, so that they can showcase their skills, while also being able to preview their application. At the same time, employers are able to assign each candidate the same coding task based on the open position.

In addition, Sloyan intends to triple the company’s headcount over the next couple of months and expand into other use cases for skills assessment.

 

#a-capital, #artificial-intelligence, #codesignal, #developer, #engineering, #enterprise, #funding, #headline, #hiring, #hr-tech, #index-venture, #menlo-ventures, #nina-achadjian, #recent-funding, #startups, #talent, #tc, #technology, #tigran-sloyan, #upwork

Liveblocks is an API that lets you add real-time collaboration to your product

Meet Liveblocks, a startup that has been working on a set of APIs so that it’s easier to build a collaborative product. Essentially, it lets you create multiplayer experiences on the web or in your app.

The company started with a live presence state API. If you integrate this API in your product, it means that you can show when somebody joins a page, a project or a document by displaying an avatar in a corner. You can also share the position of everyone’s cursor, text selection or content selection in real time.

Liveblocks is currently testing in private beta a live storage API. This is going to be a key feature as it is going to let multiple people view and edit the same data in real-time. For example, you can use it to develop a Google Docs competitor or if you want to add a whiteboard tool to your service.

The service works across multiple browsers and devices. Behind the scenes, the company uses a WebSocket connection for real-time communication. Pricing depends on the number of simultaneous connections that you expect around the same room, document, experience.

“Guillaume Salles and I decided to work together on a browser-based collaborative presentation/video tool. After months of iteration, we realized that we were spending a majority of our time figuring out how to handle the real‑time collaboration aspect of things, instead of focusing on the core mechanics of the tool,” co-founder and CEO Steven Fabre told me.

“We tried existing solutions, but none really stacked up for what we were trying to do so we decided to build our own. That's when it clicked and we decided to drop the presentation/video tool to ‘productify’ the APIs we had built for ourselves so any team could use them to build performant real-time collaborative products,” he added.

The company raised a $1.4 million pre-seed round during the summer. Investors include Boldstart, Seedcamp, Meta fund, Logic & Rhythm, Ian Storm Taylor, Max Stoiber, Moritz Plassnig, Badrul Farooqi and Anthony DiMare.

Right now, the Liveblocks team is just the two founders. With this funding round, the company plans to hire some engineers and launch its live storage API.

Liveblocks’ main advantage is that it’s a high-level API. Ably, a startup I’ve covered recently, focuses more on the low-level aspect of the problem. A React front-end developer can read the documentation and integrate Liveblocks in its product. You don’t have to understand how the infrastructure layer actually works to get started.

#api, #developer, #europe, #fundings-exits, #real-time, #realtime, #startups

Relyance AI scores $25M Series A to ensure privacy compliance at the code level

Relyance AI, an early stage startup that is helping companies stay in compliance with privacy laws at the code level, announced a $25 million Series A today. At the same time, they revealed a previously unannounced $5 million seed round.

Menlo Ventures and Unusual Ventures led the A round, while Unusual was sole lead on the seed. Serial entrepreneur Jyoti Bansal from Unusual will join the board under the terms of the deal. His partner John Vrionis had previously joined after the seed round. Matt Murphy from Menlo is coming on as a board observer. The company has now raised $30 million.

Relyance takes an unusual approach to verifying that data stays in compliance working at the code level, while ingesting contracts and existing legal requirements as code to ensure that a company is in compliance. Company co-CEO and co-founder Abhi Sharma says that code-level check is key to the solution. “For the first time, we are building the legal compliance and regulation into the source code,” Sharma told me.

He added, “Relayance is actually embedded within the DevOps pipeline of our customers infrastructure. So every time a new ETL pipeline is built or a machine learning model is receiving new source code, we do a compiler-like analysis of how personal sensitive data is flowing between internal microservices, data lakes and data warehouses, and then get a metadata analysis back to the privacy and compliance professionals [inside an organization].”

Leila R. Golchehreh, the other founder and co-CEO brings a strong compliance background to the equation and has experienced the challenge of keeping companies in compliance first-hand. She said that Relayance also enables companies to define policy and contracts as code.

“Our approach is specifically to ingest contracts. We’ve actually created an algorithm around how [you] actually write a good data protection agreement. We’ve extracted those relevant provisions and we will compare that against [your] operational reality. So if there’s a disconnect, we will be able to raise that as an intelligent insight of a data misalignment,” she said.

With 32 employees, the co-founders hope to double or perhaps even triple that number in the next 12-18 months. Golchehreh and Sharma are a diverse co-founder team and they are attempting to build a company that reflects that. They believe being remote first gives them a leg up in this regard, but they also have internal policies to drive it.

“The recruiters we work with have a mandate internally to say, ‘Hey, we really want to hire good people and diverse people.’ Reliance as a company is the genesis of two individuals from two completely different ends of the spectrum coming together. And I think hopefully, we can do our job of relaying that into the company as we scale,” Sharma said.

The two founders have been friends for several years and began talking about forming a company together in 2019 over a pizza dinner. The idea began to gel and they launched the company in February 2020. They spent some time talking to compliance pros to understand their requirements better, then began building the solution they have today in July 2020. They released a beta in February and began quietly selling it in March.

Today they have a number of early customers working with their software including Dialpad, Patreon, Samsara and True.

#compliance, #data-protection, #developer, #enterprise, #funding, #gdpr, #jyoti-bansal, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #unusual-ventures

Grammarly SDK beta lets developers embed automated text editing in any web app

Grammarly, the popular auto editing tool, announced the release of Grammarly for Developers today. The company is starting this effort with the Text Editor SDK (software development kit), which enables programmers to embed Grammarly text editing functionality into any web application.

Rob Brazier, head of product and platform at Grammarly, says that the beta release of this SDK gives developers access to the full power of Grammarly automated editing with a couple of lines of code.”Literally in just a couple lines of HTML, [developers] can add Grammarly’s assistance to their application, and they get a native Grammarly experiences available to all of their users without the users needing to install or register Grammarly,” Brazier told me.

Underneath the hood, these developers are getting access to highly sophisticated natural language processing (NLP) technology without requiring any artificial intelligence understanding or experience whatsoever. Instead, developers can take advantage of the work that Grammarly has already done.

While users of the target application don’t need to be Grammarly customers (and that is in fact the idea), if they do happen to be, they can log into their Grammarly accounts and access all of the functionality that comes with that. “If their users have a Grammarly subscription, those users can link their Grammarly accounts into the developer’s application. They can sign in with Grammarly and unlock the additional features of their particular subscriptions [directly] in that application,” he said.

Brazier said that because this is a starting point, the company wanted to keep it basic, get feedback on the beta and then add additional capabilities in the future. “We wanted to start with the simplest possible way of giving access to this capability to the greatest number of users. So that’s why we started with a pretty simple product. I think it’ll evolve over time and grow in sophistication, but it is really just a couple lines of code and you’re up and running,” he said.

This is the company’s first dip into the developer tool space, allowing programmers to access Grammarly functionality and embed it in their applications. This is not unlike the approach Zoom took last year when it released an SDK to tap into video services (although Zoom is much further along on this developer tool journey). As companies like Grammarly and Zoom grow in popularity, it seems the next logical step is to expose the strengths of the platform, in this case text editing, to let developers take advantage of it. In fact, Salesforce was the first to implement this idea in 2007 when it launched Force.com.

This approach also will potentially provide another source of revenue for Grammarly beyond the subscription versions of the product, although Brazier says it’s too early to say what shape that will take. Regardless, today’s announcement is just the first step in a broader strategy to expose different parts of the platform to developers and enable them to take advantage of all the work Grammarly’s engineers put into the platform. Interested developers can apply to be part of the beta program.

#artificial-intelligence, #cloud, #developer, #editing-tools, #grammarly, #natural-language-processing, #saas, #software-development-kit, #tc

EverAfter closes $13M to help companies ride off into the sunset with their customers

EverAfter secured $13 million in seed funding to continue developing its no-code customer-facing tool that streamlines onboarding and retention and enables business-to-business clients to embed personalized customer portals within any product.

The Tel Aviv-based company was founded in 2020 by Noa Danon and Tal Shemesh. CEO Danon, who comes from a project management background, said they saw a disconnect between the user and product experience.

The company’s name, EverAfter, comes from the concept that in SaaS companies, someone has to be in charge of the “EverAfter,” with customers, even as the relationship changes, Danon told TechCrunch.

Via its no-code platform, customer success teams are able to build a website in weeks using drop-and-drag widgets like training materials, timelines, task management and meeting summaries, and then configure what each user sees. Then there is a snippet of code that is embedded into the product.

EverAfter also integrates with existing customer relationship management, project management and service ticket tools, while also updating Salesforce and HubSpot directly through an interface.

“It’s like the customer owns a piece of real estate inside the product,” Danon said.

TLV Partners and Vertex Ventures co-led the round and were joined by angel investors Benny Shneider, Zohar Gilon and Amit Gilon.

Yanai Oron, general partner at Vertex Ventures, said he is seeing best-in-breed companies try to solve customer churn or improve the relationship process on their own and failing, which speaks to the complexity of the problem.

Startups in this space are coming online and raising money, but with EverAfter, they are differentiating themselves by not only putting a dashboard on their product, but launching with the capabilities to manage thousands of customers using the product, he added.

“I’ve been tracking the customer success space over the past few years, and it is a growing field with the least sophisticated tools,” Oron said. “During COVID, companies realized it was easier to retain customers rather than get new ones. We are all used to more self-service and wanting to get the answer ourselves, and customers are the same. Companies also started to be more at ease in letting customers develop things on their own and leave R&D departments to do other things.”

Clients include Taboola, AppsFlyer and Verbit, with Verbit reporting its company’s customer success managers save 10 hours a week managing ongoing customer communication by using EverAfter, Danon added. This comes as CallMiner reports that unplanned customer churn costs companies $35.3 billion in the U.S. alone.

EverAfter offers both customer success and partner management software and clients can choose a high-touch service or kits and templates for self-service.

The new funding will enable the company to focus on integration and expansion into additional use cases. Since being founded, EverAfter has grown to 20 employees and 30 customers. The founders also want to utilize the data they are collecting on what works and doesn’t work for each customer.

“There are so many interesting things that happen between companies and customers, from onboarding to business reviews, and we are going to expand on those,” Danon said. “We want to be the first thing companies put inside their product to figure out the relationship between customers and customer success teams and managers.”

 

#business-intelligence, #crm, #customer-experience, #customer-relationship-management, #customer-success, #developer, #enterprise, #everafter, #funding, #no-code, #noa-danon, #project-management, #recent-funding, #saas, #startups, #taboola, #tal-shemesh, #tc, #tlv-partners, #vertex-ventures, #yanai-oron

Amagi tunes into $100M for cloud-based video content creation, monetization

Media technology company Amagi announced Friday $100 million to further develop its cloud-based SaaS technology for broadcast and connected televisions.

Accel, Avataar Ventures and Norwest Venture Partners joined existing investor Premji Invest in the funding round, which included buying out stakes held by Emerald Media and Mayfield Fund. Nadathur Holdings continues as an existing investor. The latest round gives Amagi total funding raised to date of $150 million, Baskar Subramanian, co-founder and CEO of Amagi, told TechCrunch.

New Delhi-based Amagi provides cloud broadcast and targeted advertising software so that customers can create content that can be created and monetized to be distributed via broadcast TV and streaming TV platforms like The Roku Channel, Samsung TV Plus and Pluto TV. The company already supports more than 2,000 channels on its platform across over 40 countries.

“Video is a complex technology to manage — there are large files and a lot of computing,” Subramanian said. “What Amagi does is enable a content owner with zero technology knowledge to simplify that complex workflow and scalable infrastructure. We want to make it easy to plug in and start targeting and monetizing advertising.”

As a result, Amagi customers see operational cost savings on average of up to 40% compared to traditional delivery models and their ad impressions grow between five and 10 times.

The new funding comes at a time when the company is experiencing rapid growth. For example, Amagi grew 30 times in the United States alone over the past few years, Subramanian said. Amagi commands an audience of over 2 billion people, and the U.S. is its largest market. The company also sees growth potential in both Latin America and Europe.

In addition, in the last year, revenue grew 136%, while new customer year over year growth was 44%, including NBCUniversal — Subramanian said the Tokyo Olympics were run on Amagi’s platform for NBC, USA Today and ABS-CBN.

As more of a shift happens with video content being developed for connected television experiences, which he said is a $50 billion market, the company plans to use the new funding for sales expansion, R&D to invest in the company’s product pipeline and potential M&A opportunities. The company has not made any acquisitions yet, Subramanian added.

In addition to the broadcast operations in New Delhi, Amagi also has an innovation center in Bangalore and offices in New York, Los Angeles and London.

“Consumer behavior and infrastructure needs have reached a critical mass and new companies are bringing in the next generation of media, and we are a large part of that growth,” Subramanian said. “Sports will come on quicker, while live news and events are going to be one of the biggest growth areas.”

Shekhar Kirani, partner at Accel, said Amagi is taking a unique approach to enterprise SaaS due to that $50 billion industry shift happening in video content, where he sees half of the spend moving to connected television platforms quickly.

Some of the legacy players like Viacom and NBCUniversal created their own streaming platforms, where Netflix and Amazon have also been leading, but not many SaaS companies are enabling the transition, he said.

When Kirani met Subramanian five years ago, Amagi was already well funded, but Kirani was excited about the platform and wanted to help the company scale. He believes the company has a long tailwind because it is saving people time and enabling new content providers to move faster to get their content distributed.

“Amagi is creating a new category and will grow fast,” Kirani added. “They are already growing and doubling each year with phenomenal SaaS metrics because they are helping content providers to connect to any audience.

 

#accel, #advertising-tech, #amagi, #avataar-ventures, #baskar-subramanian, #cloud, #cloud-computing, #computing, #content-creators, #developer, #enterprise, #funding, #india, #mayfield-fund, #media, #norwest-venture-partners, #recent-funding, #shekhar-kirani, #startups, #streaming-video, #tc, #video-content

Snyk snags another $530M as valuation rises to $8.4B

Snyk, the Boston-based late-stage startup that is trying to help developers deliver more secure code, announced another mega-round today. This one was for $530 million, with $300 million in new money and $230 million in secondary funding, the latter of which is to help employees and early investors cash in some of their stock options.

The long list of investors includes an interesting mix of public investors, VC firms and strategics. Sands Capital Ventures and Tiger Global led the round, with participation from new investors Baillie Gifford, Koch Industries, Lone Pine Capital, T. Rowe Price and Whale Rock Capital Management. Existing investors also came along for the ride, including Accel, Addition, Alkeon, Atlassian Ventures, BlackRock, Boldstart Ventures, Canaan Partners, Coatue, Franklin Templeton, Geodesic Capital, Salesforce Ventures and Temasek.

This round brings the total raised in funding to $775 million, excluding secondary rounds, according to the company. With secondary rounds, it’s up to $1.3 billion, according to Crunchbase data. The company has been raising funds at a rapid clip (note that the last three rounds include the Snyk money plus secondary rounds):

Snyk's last four funding rounds

While the company wouldn’t share specific revenue figures, it did say that ARR has grown 158% YoY; given the confidence of this list of investors and the valuation, it would suggest the company is making decent money.

Snyk CEO Peter McKay says that the additional money gives him flexibility to make some acquisitions if the right opportunity comes along, what companies often refer to as “inorganic” growth. “We do believe that a portion of this money will be for inorganic expansion. We’ve made three acquisitions at this point and all three have been very, very successful for us. So it’s definitely a muscle that we’ve been developing,” McKay told me.

The company started this year with 400 people and McKay says they expect to double that number by the end of this year. He says that when it comes to diversity, the work is never really done, but it’s something he is working hard at.

“We’ve been able to build a lot of good programs around the world to increase that diversity and our culture has always been inclusive by nature because we’re highly distributed.” He added, “I’m not by any means saying we’re even remotely close to where we want to be. So I want to make that clear. There’s a lot we still have to do,” he said.

McKay says that today’s investment gives him added flexibility to decide when to take the company public because whenever that happens it won’t have to be because they need another fundraising event. “This raise has allowed us to set up with strong, highly reputable public investors, and it gives us the financial resources to pick the timing. We are in control of when we do it and we will do it when it’s right,” he said.

#boston-startups, #developer, #funding, #recent-funding, #sands-capital-ventures, #security, #snyk, #startups, #tiger-global

Botify raises $55 million to optimize search engine indexing

Botify has raised a $55 million Series C funding round led by InfraVia Growth with Bpifrance’s Large Venture fund also participating. The company has created a search engine optimization (SEO) platform so that your content is better indexed and appears more often in search results.

Existing investors Eurazeo and Ventech are also investing in the startup once again. Nicolas Herschtel from InfraVia and Antoine Izsak from Bpifrance will join the board of directors. Valuation has tripled since the company’s previous funding round.

While there are a ton of good and bad practices in the SEO industry, Botify defines itself as “white-hat company”. They respect the terms of services of search engines, they don’t scrape search results for insights, they don’t create shady backlinks on other websites.

“We’re going to optimize every step of the search funnel from first the quality of the website, how it is designed, how is the content going to be enriched with, etc.” co-founder and CEO Adrien Menard told me.

There are now three different components in the Botify product suite. The startup first released an analytics tool that gives you insights about your website. Basically, it lets you see how a crawler analyzes your site.

The company then released Botify Intelligence, which hands you a prioritized todo list of things you can do to improve your SEO strategy. And now, the company is also working on automation with Botify Activation. When Google’s search engine bot queries your site, Botify can take over and answer requests directly.

“We’re not trying to trick Google’s algorithm. We’re defining Botify as the interface between search engines and our clients’ websites. Search engines are going to access higher quality content. And it’s probably cheaper than with a normal process,” Menard said.

Companies aren’t necessarily using all three tools. They may start with analytics and take it from there. “You can use different products depending on the size of the company,” Menard said.

Over the past few years, Google has increased the number of ad slots on search results. It also promotes its own services, such as YouTube and Google Maps, before you can see the organic search results. I asked Adrien Menard whether that could be a concern for the future of Botify.

“I agree with you that we’re seeing more and more sections of the search results coming from first-party or paid results,” he said. “But the traffic generated by organic results is growing. It represents 30% of the traffic of the websites of our customers and this average is not decreasing.”

According to him, search keeps getting bigger and bigger. When you invest in search, you can see a clear return on investment when it comes to online sales, traffic, etc.

Right now, Botify has 500 customers, such as Expedia, L’Oréal, The New York Times, Groupon, Marriott, Condé Nast, Crate & Barrel, Fnac Darty, Vestiaire Collective and Farfetch.

With today’s funding round, the company wants to improve its automation capabilities, sign partnerships with more tech companies and increase its footprint with new offices in the Asia-Pacific region.

#battlefield, #botify, #developer, #europe, #fundings-exits, #search-engine, #seo, #startup-battlefield, #startups

Explosion snags $6M on $120M valuation to expand machine learning platform

Explosion, a company that has combined an open source machine learning library with a set of commercial developer tools, announced a $6 million Series A today on a $120 million valuation. The round was led by SignalFire, and the company reported that today’s investment represents 5% of its value.

Oana Olteanu from SignalFire will be joining the board under the terms of the deal, which includes warrants of $12 million in additional investment at the same price.

“Fundamentally, Explosion is a software company and we build developer tools for AI and machine learning and natural language processing. So our goal is to make developers more productive and more focused on their natural language processing, so basically understanding large volumes of text, and training machine learning models to help with that and automate some processes,” company co-founder and CEO Ines Montani told me.

The company started in 2016 when Montani met her co-founder, Matthew Honnibal in Berlin where he was working on the spaCy open source machine learning library. Since then, that open source project has been downloaded over 40 million times.

In 2017, they added Prodigy, a commercial product for generating data for the machine learning model. “Machine learning is code plus data, so to really get the most out of the technologies you almost always want to train your models and build custom systems because what’s really most valuable are problems that are super specific to you and your business and what you’re trying to find out, and so we saw that the area of creating training data, training these machine learning models, was something that people didn’t pay very much attention to at all,” she said.

The next step is a product called Prodigy Teams, which is a big reason the company is taking on this investment. “Prodigy Teams  is [a hosted service that] adds user management and collaboration features to Prodigy, and you can run it in the cloud without compromising on what people love most about Prodigy, which is the data privacy, so no data ever needs to get seen by our servers,” she said. They do this by letting the data sit on the customer’s private cluster in a private cloud, and then use Prodigy Team’s management features in the public cloud service.

Today, they have 500 companies using Prodigy including Microsoft and Bayer in addition to the huge community of millions of open source users. They’ve built all this with just 6 early employees, a number that has grown to 17 recently and they hope to reach 20 by year’s end.

She believes if you’re thinking too much about diversity in your hiring process, you probably have a problem already. “If you go into hiring and you’re thinking like, oh, how can I make sure that the way I’m hiring is diverse, I think that already shows that there’s maybe a problem,” she said.

“If you have a company, and it’s 50 dudes in their 20s, it’s not surprising that you might have problems attracting people who are not white dudes in their 20s. But in our case, our strategy is to hire good people and good people are often very diverse people, and again if you play by the [startup] playbook, you could be limited in a lot of other ways.”

She said that they have never seen themselves as a traditional startup following some conventional playbook. “We didn’t raise any investment money [until now]. We grew the team organically, and we focused on being profitable and independent [before we got outside investment],” she said.

But more than the money, Montani says that they needed to find an investor that would understand and support the open source side of the business, even while they got capital to expand all parts of the company. “Open source is a community of users, customers and employees. They are real people, and [they are not] pawns in [some] startup game, and it’s not a game. It’s real, and these are real people,” she said.

“They deserve more than just my eyeballs and grand promises. […] And so it’s very important that even if we’re selling a small stake in our company for some capital [to build our next] product [that open source remains at] the core of our company and that’s something we don’t want to compromise on,” Montani said.

#artificial-intelligence, #developer, #developer-tools, #enterprise, #explosion, #funding, #machine-learning, #open-source, #recent-funding, #signalfire, #startups

TikTok’s new Creator Marketplace API lets influencer marketing companies tap into first-party data

TikTok is making it easier for brands and agencies to work with the influencers using its service. The company is rolling out a new “TikTok Creator Marketplace API,” which allows marketing companies to integrate more directly with TikTok’s Creator Marketplace, the video app’s in-house influencer marketing platform.

On the Creator Marketplace website, launched in late 2019, marketers have been able to discover top TikTok personalities for their brand campaigns, then create and manage those campaigns and track their performance.

The new API, meanwhile, allows partnered marketing companies to access TikTok’s first-party data about audience demographics, growth trends, best-performing videos, and real-time campaign reporting (e.g. views, likes, shares, comments, engagement, etc.) for the first time.

They can then bring this data back into their own platforms, to augment the insights they’re already providing to their own customer base.

TikTok is not officially announcing the API until later in September, but it is allowing its alpha partners to discuss their early work.

One such partner is Capitv8, which tested the API with a NRF top 50 retailer on one of their first TikTok campaigns. The retailer wanted to discover a diverse and inclusive group of TikTok creators to partner with on a new collaboration and wanted help with launching its own TikTok channel. Captiv8 says the branded content received nearly 10 million views, and the campaign resulted in a “significant increase” in several key metrics, which performed about the Nielsen average. This included familiarity (+4% above average), affinity (+6%), purchase intent (+7%) and recommendation intent (+9%).

Image Credits: TikTok Creator Marketplace website

Capitv8 is now working with TikTok’s API to pull in audience demographics, to centralize influencer offers and activations, and to provide tools to boost branded content and monitor campaign performance. On that last front, the API allows the company to pull in real-time metrics from the TikTok Creator Marketplace API — which means Capitv8 is now one of only a handful of third-party companies with access to TikTok first-party data.

Another early alpha partner is Influential, who shared it’s also leveraging the API to access first-party insights on audience demographics, growth trends, best-performing videos, and more, to help its customer base of Fortune 1000 brands to identify the right creators for both native and paid advertising campaigns.

One partner it worked with was DoorDash, who launched multiple campaigns on TikTok with Influential’s help. It’s also planning to work with McDonald’s USA on several new campaigns that will run this year, including those focused on the chain’s new Crispy Chicken Sandwich and the return of Spicy McNuggets.

Other early alpha partners include Whalar and INCA. The latter is currently only available in the U.K. and its integration stems from the larger TikTok global partnership with WPP, announced in February. That deal provided WPP agencies with early access to new advertising products marketing API integrations, and new AR offerings, among other things.

Creator marketplaces are now common to social media platforms with large influencer communities as this has become a standard way to advertise to online consumers, particular the younger generation. Facebook today offers its Brands Collabs Manager, for both Facebook and Instagram; YouTube has BrandConnect; while Snapchat recently announced a marketplace to connect brands with Lens creators. These type of in-house platforms make it easier for marketers to work with the wider influencer community by offering trusted data on metrics that matter to brands’ own ROI, rather than relying on self-reported data from influencers or on data they have to manually collect themselves. And as campaigns run, marketers can compare how well their partnered creators are able to drive results to inform their future collaborations.

TikTok isn’t making a formal announcement about its new API at this time, telling TechCrunch the technology is still in pilot testing phases for the time being.

“Creators are the lifeblood of our platform, and we’re constantly thinking of new ways to make it easy for them to connect and collaborate with brands. We’re thrilled to be integrating with an elite group of trusted partners to help brands discover and work with diverse creators who can share their message in an authentic way,” said Melissa Yang, TikTok’s Head of Ecosystem Partnerships, in a statement provided to select marketing company partners.

 

#advertising-tech, #alpha, #api, #apps, #articles, #bytedance, #developer, #doordash, #elite, #head, #partner, #software, #tiktok, #united-kingdom, #wpp

Octane banks $2M for flexible billing software

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zoom announces first startups receiving funding from $100M investment fund

For more than year now, Zoom has been on a mission to transform from an application into a platform. To that end it made three announcements last year: Zoom Apps development tools, the Zoom Apps marketplace and a $100 million development fund to invest in some of the more promising startups building tools on top of their platform. Today, at the closing bell, the company announced it has made its first round of investments.

Ross Mayfield, product lead for Zoom Apps and integrations spoke to TechCrunch about the round of investments. “We’re in the process of creating this ecosystem. We felt it important, particularly to focus on the seed stage and A stage of partnering with entrepreneurs to create great things on this platform. And I think what you see in the first batch of more than a dozen investments is representative of something that’s going to be a significant ongoing undertaking,” he explained.

He said while they aren’t announcing exact investment amounts, they are writing checks for between $250,000 and $2.5 million. They are teaming with other investment partners, rather than leading the rounds, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t working with these startups using internal resources for advice and executive backing, beyond the money.

“Every one of these investments has an executive or senior sponsor within the company. So there’s another person inside that knows the lay of the land, can help them advance and spend more personal time with them,” Mayfield said.

The company is also running several Zoom chat channels for the startups receiving investments to learn from one another and the Zoom Apps team. “We have a shared chat channel between the startup and my team. We have a channel called Announcements and a channel called Help, and another one that the startups created called Community,” he said.

Every week they use these channels to hold a developer office hour, business office hour which Mayfield runs, and then there’s a community hour where the startups can gather and talk amongst themselves about whatever they want.

Among the specific categories receiving funding are collaboration and productivity, community and charity, DE&I and PeopleOps, and gaming and entertainment. In the collaboration and productivity category, Warmly is a sales tool that provides background and information about each person participating in the meeting ahead of time, while allowing the meeting organizer to create customized Zoom backgrounds for each event.

Another is Fathom, which alleviates the need to take notes during a meeting, but it’s more than recording and transcription. “It gives you this really simple interface where you can just tag moments. And then, as a result you have this transcript of the video recording, and you can click on those tagged moments as highlights, and then share a clip of the meeting highlights to Salesforce, Slack and other tools,” Mayfield said.

Pledge enables individuals or organizations to request and collect donations inside a Zoom meeting instantly, and Canvas is a hiring and interview tool that helps companies build diverse teams with data that helps them set and meet DEI goals.

These and the other companies represent the first tranche of investments from this fund, and Mayfield says the company intends to continue looking for startups using the Zoom platform to build their startup or integrate with Zoom.

He says that every company starts as a feature, then becomes a product and then aspires to be a line of products. The trick is getting there.  The goal of the investment program and the entire set of Zoom Apps tools is about helping these companies take the first step.

“The art of being an entrepreneur is working with that risk in the absence of resources and pushing at the frontier of what you know.” Zoom is trying to be a role model, a mentor and an investor on that journey.

#apps, #corporate-investment-arms, #developer, #enterprise, #saas, #startups, #video-conferencing, #zoom, #zoom-apps

The stars are aligning for federal IT open source software adoption

In recent years, the private sector has been spurning proprietary software in favor of open source software and development approaches. For good reason: The open source avenue saves money and development time by using freely available components instead of writing new code, enables new applications to be deployed quickly and eliminates vendor lock-in.

The federal government has been slower to embrace open source, however. Efforts to change are complicated by the fact that many agencies employ large legacy IT infrastructure and systems to serve millions of people and are responsible for a plethora of sensitive data. Washington spends tens of billions every year on IT, but with each agency essentially acting as its own enterprise, decision-making is far more decentralized than it would be at, say, a large bank.

While the government has made a number of moves in a more open direction in recent years, the story of open source in federal IT has often seemed more about potential than reality.

But there are several indications that this is changing and that the government is reaching its own open source adoption tipping point. The costs of producing modern applications to serve increasingly digital-savvy citizens keep rising, and agencies are budget constrained to find ways to improve service while saving taxpayer dollars.

Sheer economics dictate an increased role for open source, as do a variety of other benefits. Because its source code is publicly available, open source software encourages continuous review by others outside the initial development team to promote increased software reliability and security, and code can be easily shared for reuse by other agencies.

Here are five signs I see that the U.S. government is increasingly rallying around open source.

More dedicated resources for open source innovation

Two initiatives have gone a long way toward helping agencies advance their open source journeys.

18F, a team within the General Services Administration that acts as consultancy to help other agencies build digital services, is an ardent open source backer. Its work has included developing a new application for accessing Federal Election Commission data, as well as software that has allowed the GSA to improve its contractor hiring process.

18F — short for GSA headquarters’ address of 1800 F St. — reflects the same grassroots ethos that helped spur open source’s emergence and momentum in the private sector. “The code we create belongs to the public as a part of the public domain,” the group says on its website.

Five years ago this August, the Obama administration introduced a new Federal Source Code Policy that called on every agency to adopt an open source approach, create a source code inventory, and publish at least 20% of written code as open source. The administration also launched Code.gov, giving agencies a place to locate open source solutions that other departments are already using.

The results have been mixed, however. Most agencies are now consistent with the federal policy’s goal, though many still have work to do in implementation, according to Code.gov’s tracker. And a report by a Code.gov staffer found that some agencies were embracing open source more than others.

Still, Code.gov says the growth of open source in the federal government has gone farther than initially estimated.

A push from the new administration

The American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill that President Biden signed in early March 2021, contained $9 billion for the GSA’s Technology Modernization Fund, which finances new federal technology projects. In January, the White House said upgrading federal IT infrastructure and addressing recent breaches such as the SolarWinds hack was “an urgent national security issue that cannot wait.”

It’s fair to assume open source software will form the foundation of many of these efforts, because White House technology director David Recordon is a long-time open source advocate and once led Facebook’s open source projects.

A changing skills environment

Federal IT employees who spent much of their careers working on legacy systems are starting to retire, and their successors are younger people who came of age in an open source world and are comfortable with it.

About 81% of private sector hiring managers surveyed by the Linux Foundation said hiring open source talent is a priority and that they’re more likely than ever to seek out professionals with certifications. You can be sure the public sector is increasingly mirroring this trend as it recognizes a need for talent to support open source’s growing foothold.

Stronger capabilities from vendors

By partnering with the right commercial open source vendor, agencies can drive down infrastructure costs and more efficiently manage their applications. For example, vendors have made great strides in addressing security requirements laid out by policies such as the Federal Security Security Modernization Act (FISMA), Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) and the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRamp), making it easy to deal with compliance.

In addition, some vendors offer powerful infrastructure automation tools and generous support packages, so federal agencies don’t have to go it alone as they accelerate their open source strategies. Linux distributions like Ubuntu provide a consistent developer experience from laptop/workstation to the cloud, and at the edge, for public clouds, containers, and physical and virtual infrastructure.

This makes application development a well-supported activity that includes 24/7 phone and web support, which provides access to world-class enterprise support teams through web portals, knowledge bases or via phone.

The pandemic effect

Whether it’s accommodating more employees working from home or meeting higher citizen demand for online services, COVID-19 has forced large swaths of the federal government to up their digital game. Open source allows legacy applications to be moved to the cloud, new applications to be developed more quickly, and IT infrastructures to adapt to rapidly changing demands.

As these signs show, the federal government continues to move rapidly from talk to action in adopting open source.

Who wins? Everyone!

#column, #developer, #federal-election-commission, #free-software, #government, #linux, #linux-foundation, #open-source-software, #open-source-technology, #opinion, #policy, #solarwinds, #ubuntu

Zeal banks $13M to offer employers a ‘build your own’ payroll product infrastructure

Embedded fintech company Zeal secured $13 million in Series A funding to continue developing its platform for building individualized payroll products.

Spark Capital led the Series A, with participation from Commerce Ventures and a group of individual investors, including Marqeta CEO Jason Gardner and CRO Omri Dahan, Robinhood founder Vlad Tenev, UltimateSoftware executives Mitch Dauerman and Bob Manne and Namely founder Matt Straz. The latest round now gives the company $14.6 million in total funding, which includes a $1.6 million seed round in 2020, CEO Kirti Shenoy told TechCrunch.

The Bay Area company’s origin was as Puzzl, a payment processing startup for the gig economy, founded in 2018 by Shenoy and CTO Pranab Krishnan. It was part of Y Combinator’s 2019 cohort. The pair had to pivot the company after needing to move some of its thousands of 1099 contractors to W2 employee status.

They went looking for payroll processors that could handle high volumes of payroll automatically, like ADP or Paycor, but found they didn’t match some of the capabilities Shenoy and Krishnan wanted, including to pay workers daily and customize earning components.

To ensure other companies didn’t run into the same problem, they decided to build a payroll API that enables their customers to build their own payroll products, even being able to pay their workers everyday. Traditionally, companies would layer together antiquated third-party payroll tools and spend millions of dollars on consulting fees. Zeal’s API tool modernizes the payroll process and takes on the payroll liability while managing the back-end payment logistics, Shenoy said.

Currently, enterprises use Zeal to pay large volumes of workers and keep payment data on their own native systems, while software platforms that sell business-to-business services use Zeal to build their own payroll product to sell to their customers.

“Our mission is to touch every American paycheck with our tax and payment technology, ensuring that American employees are paid correctly and efficiently,” Krishnan said.

And that is a complex goal: there are 200 million American employees, over $8.8 trillion of payroll is processed annually in the U.S. and the country’s 11,000 tax jurisdictions produce over 25,000 income tax code changes a year.

Meanwhile, Shenoy cited IRS data that showed more than 40% of small and medium businesses pay at least one payroll penalty per year. That was one of the drivers for Zeal’s latest product, the Abacus gross-to-net calculator, which payroll companies can use to ensure they are compliant in paying their income taxes.

The co-founders intend to use the new funding to build out their team and strengthen compliance measures to ensure its track record with enterprises.

“We are starting to win more enterprise deals and moving millions of dollars each day,” Shenoy said. “This has been a legacy space for so long, so companies want to work with a provider to move fast.”

Shenoy predicts that more companies will shift to hyper-customized experiences in the next five to 10 years. Whereas the default was a company like ADP, companies will want to control their own data and build products so their customers can do everything payroll-related from one platform.

As part of the investment, Spark Capital’s partner Natalie Sandman has joined Zeal’s board of directors. She previously invested in other embedded fintech companies like Affirm and Marqeta and thinks there are new experiences in the sector that APIs can unlock.

Sandman felt the payroll-building pain points herself when she worked at Zenefits. At the time, the company was trying to do the same thing, but there were no APIs to connect with. There were all of these spreadsheets to transfer data, but one wrong deduction would trickle down and cause a tax penalty.

Shenoy and Krishnan are both “customer-obsessed,” she said, and are balancing speed with thoughtfulness when it comes to understanding how their customers want to build payroll products.

She is seeing a macro shift to audience-driven human resources where bringing new employees online will mean embedding them into products that will be more valuable versus the traditional spreadsheet.

“To me, it is a no-brainer that APIs provide flexibility in the way wages and deductions need to be made,” Sandman said. “You can lose trust in your employer. Payroll is at the deepest trust point and where you want transparency and a robust solution to solve that need.”

#api, #commerce-ventures, #developer, #enterprise, #funding, #internal-revenue-service, #kirti-shenoy, #natalie-sandman, #payments, #pranab-krishnan, #recent-funding, #saas, #spark-capital, #startups, #tc, #y-combinator, #zeal

Atlassian is bringing new insights to its Jira Software Cloud

DevOps teams are generally trying to constantly improve themselves, so they can deliver software more quickly and reliably, but often they lack the insights needed to actually make that progress.

Atlassian is now offering users of its Jira Software Cloud platform a series of new capabilities that provide data-driven insights into the development process. Jira is a popular issue and project tracking technology and has included features that help developers and their teams to understand where they are in their workflow. 

The new insights go a step beyond what Jira has traditionally provided to its users, with specific insights into different aspects of an agile software development approach. The goal with the new insights is to help organizations better understand what they’re doing right and where development teams can improve, which ultimately results in improved overall efficiency.

“Data is everywhere, but at the same time the insights and the understanding of the actions that you can take are kind of nowhere,” Megan Cook, head of product for Jira Software told TechCrunch. “It’s hard to work smarter in that sense and that’s the big problem that we’re really looking at tackling.” 

Cook explained that development teams need access to metrics on their own progress, so they can make smarter data-driven decisions based on what’s happening in real time. She noted that one of the big shifts that Atlassian is now doing with Jira Cloud is bringing data from all the different development tracking tools together into one place where those teams can make decisions.

One example of the insights that Jira Cloud now provides to users is related to sprint commitments. In the agile software development approach, software is developed in what are known as “sprints” as developers race to complete a certain task. With the sprint commitment insight capability, the idea is to help teams understand what amount of work they can handle, based on past performance. The business goal is to help better understand if a team is over- or under-committing to a given sprint.

Another example is providing an issue type breakdown. Cook explained that the way each team can categorize issues can be very personalized. The categories can include different types of projects, such as whether a project is dealing with fixing bugs and technical debt, or if it’s an innovation or growth product, or just an incremental feature update. With the issue type breakdown insight there is a visualization to help teams better understand what types of issues and projects they are working on in a more intuitive approach than before. Cook explained that users could have identified the different issues before via a search functionality, but she emphasized the new insights approach is far easier.

Atlassian Jira Software Cloud issue type breakdown

Image Credits: Atlassian

In the coming weeks, Cook said that the company will be adding a few additional insights, including the sprint burndown insight. In the agile software development approach, the burndown is about figuring out what’s left to finish in a sprint. The sprint burndown insight will provide a visual indicator of how much work is left to be done as well as how likely it is that the work will be completed within an allocated amount of time.

Atlassian’s approach to enabling developer teams to work more efficiently is one of the primary values that the company has been building for years, and it has resulted in strong growth overall. Atlassian reported fourth-quarter fiscal 2021 revenue of $560 million, up 30% year-over-year gain on the strength of its developer collaboration and management tools.

#agile-software-development, #atlassian, #cloud, #developer, #devops, #jira, #tc

Solo.io integrates a cloud native API gateway and service mesh into its enterprise platform

Connecting to all the services and microservices that a modern cloud native enterprise application requires can be a complicated task. It’s an area that startup Solo.io is trying to disrupt with the new release of its Gloo Mesh Enterprise platform.

Based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Solo has had focus since its founding on a concept known as a service mesh. A service mesh provides an optimized approach to connect different components together in an automated approach, often inside of a Kubernetes cloud native environment. 

Idit Levine, founder and CEO at Solo, explained to TechCrunch that she knew from the outset when she started the company in 2017 that it might take a few years till the market understood the concept of the service mesh and why it is needed. That’s why her company also built out an API gateway technology that helps developers connect APIs, which can be different data sources or services.  

Until this week, the API and service mesh components of Solo’s Gloo Mesh Enterprise offering were separate technologies, with different configurations and control planes. That is now changing with the integration of both API and service mesh capabilities into a unified service. The integrated capabilities should make it easier to set up and configure all manner of services in the cloud that are running on Kubernetes.

Solo’s service mesh, known as Gloo Mesh, is based on the open source Istio project, which was created by Google. The API product is called Gloo Edge, which uses the open source Envoy project, originally created by ride sharing company Lyft. Levine explained that her team has now used Istio’s plugin architecture to connect with Envoy in an optimized approach.

Levine noted that many users start off with an API gateway and then extend to using the service mesh. With the new Gloo Mesh Enterprise update, she expects customer adoption to accelerate further as Solo will be able to differentiate against rivals in both the service mesh and API management markets.

While the service mesh space is still emerging including rivals such as Tetrate, API gateways are a more mature technology. There are a number of established vendors in the API management space including Kong which has raised $71 million in funding. Back in 2016, Google acquired API vendor Apigee for $625 million and has been expanding the technology in the years since, including the Apigee X platform announced in February of this year.

With the integration of Gloo Edge for API management into Gloo Mesh Enterprise, Solo isn’t quite covering all the bases for API technology, yet. Gloo Edge supports REST based APIs, which are by far the most common today, though it doesn’t support the emerging GraphQL API standard, which is becoming increasingly popular. Levine told us to ‘stay tuned’ for a future GraphQL announcement for Solo and its platform.

Solo has raised a total of $36.5 million across two rounds, with an $11 million Series A in 2018 and a $23 million Series B announced in October 2020. The company’s investors include Redpoint and True Ventures.

#api, #cloud, #cloud-computing, #developer, #envoy, #kubernetes, #microservices, #service-mesh, #true-ventures

Cribl raises $200M to help enterprises do more with their data

At a time when remote work, cybersecurity attacks and increased privacy and compliance requirements threaten a company’s data, more companies are collecting and storing their observability data, but are being locked in with vendors or have difficulty accessing the data.

Enter Cribl. The San Francisco-based company is developing an “open ecosystem of data” for enterprises that utilizes unified data pipelines, called “observability pipelines,” to parse and route any type of data that flows through a corporate IT system. Users can then choose their own analytics tools and storage destinations like Splunk, Datadog and Exabeam, but without becoming dependent on a vendor.

The company announced Wednesday a $200 million round of Series C funding to value Cribl at $1.5 billion, according to a source close to the company. Greylock and Redpoint Ventures co-led the round and were joined by new investor IVP, existing investors Sequoia and CRV and strategic investment from Citi Ventures and CrowdStrike. The new capital infusion gives Cribl a total of $254 million in funding since the company was started in 2017, Cribl co-founder and CEO Clint Sharp told TechCrunch.

Sharp did not discuss the valuation; however, he believes that the round is “validation that the observability pipeline category is legit.” Data is growing at a compound annual growth rate of 25%, and organizations are collecting five times more data today than they did 10 years ago, he explained.

“Ultimately, they want to ask and answer questions, especially for IT and security people,” Sharp added. “When Zoom sends data on who started a phone call, that might be data I need to know so I know who is on the call from a security perspective and who they are communicating with. Also, who is sending files to whom and what machines are communicating together in case there is a malicious actor. We can also find out who is having a bad experience with the system and what resources they can access to try and troubleshoot the problem.”

Cribl also enables users to choose how they want to store their data, which is different from competitors that often lock companies into using only their products. Instead, customers can buy the best products from different categories and they will all talk to each other through Cribl, Sharp said.

Though Cribl is developing a pipeline for data, Sharp sees it more as an “observability lake,” as more companies have differing data storage needs. He explains that the lake is where all of the data will go that doesn’t need to go into an existing storage solution. The pipelines will send the data to specific tools and then collect the data, and what doesn’t fit will go back into the lake so companies have it to go back to later. Companies can keep the data for longer and more cost effectively.

Cribl said it is seven times more efficient at processing event data and boasts a customer list that includes Whole Foods, Vodafone, FINRA, Fannie Mae and Cox Automotive.

Sharp went after additional funding after seeing huge traction in its existing customer base, saying that “when you see that kind of traction, you want to keep doubling down.” His aim is to have a presence in every North American city and in Europe, to continue launching new products and growing the engineering team.

Up next, the company is focusing on go-to-market and engineering growth. Its headcount is 150 currently, and Sharp expects to grow that to 250 by the end of the year.

Over the last fiscal year, Cribl grew its revenue 293%, and Sharp expects that same trajectory for this year. The company is now at a growth stage, and with the new investment, he believes Cribl is the “future leader in observability.”

“This is a great investment for us, and every dollar, we believe, is going to create an outsized return as we are the only commercial company in this space,” he added.

Scott Raney, managing director at Redpoint Ventures, said his firm is a big enterprise investor in software, particularly in companies that help organizations leverage data to protect themselves, a sweet spot that Cribl falls into.

He feels Sharp is leading a team, having come from Splunk, that has accomplished a lot, has a vision and a handle on the business and knows the market well. Where Splunk is capturing the machine data and using its systems to extract the data, Cribl is doing something similar in directing the data where it needs to go, while also enabling companies to utilize multiple vendors and build apps to sit on top of its infrastructure.

“Cribl is adding opportunity by enriching the data flowing through, and the benefits are going to be meaningful in cost reduction,” Raney said. “The attitude out there is to put data in cheaper places, and afford more flexibility to extract data. Step one is to make that transition, and step two is how to drive the data sitting there. Cribl is doing something that will go from being a big business to a legacy company 30 years from now.”

#citi-ventures, #clint-sharp, #cloud, #computing, #cribl, #crowdstrike, #crv, #data-security, #datadog, #developer, #enterprise, #exabeam, #funding, #greylock, #information-technology, #ivp, #recent-funding, #redpoint-ventures, #scott-raney, #sequoia, #splunk, #startups, #storage-solution, #tc

Bodo.ai secures $14M, aims to make Python better at handling large-scale data

Bodo.ai, a parallel compute platform for data workloads, is developing a compiler to make Python portable and efficient across multiple hardware platforms. It announced Wednesday a $14 million Series A funding round led by Dell Technologies Capital.

Python is one of the top programming languages used among artificial intelligence and machine learning developers and data scientists, but as Behzad Nasre, co-founder and CEO of Bodo.ai, points out, it is challenging to use when handling large-scale data.

Bodo.ai, headquartered in San Francisco, was founded in 2019 by Nasre and Ehsan Totoni, CTO, to make Python higher performing and production ready. Nasre, who had a long career at Intel before starting Bodo, met Totoni and learned about the project that he was working on to democratize machine learning and enable parallel learning for everyone. Parallelization is the only way to extend Moore’s Law, Nasre told TechCrunch.

Bodo does this via a compiler technology that automates the parallelization so that data and ML developers don’t have to use new libraries, APIs or rewrite Python into other programming languages or graphics processing unit code to achieve scalability. Its technology is being used to make data analytics tools in real time and is being used across industries like financial, telecommunications, retail and manufacturing.

“For the AI revolution to happen, developers have to be able to write code in simple Python, and that high-performance capability will open new doors,” Totoni said. “Right now, they rely on specialists to rewrite them, and that is not efficient.”

Joining Dell in the round were Uncorrelated Ventures, Fusion Fund and Candou Ventures. Including the new funding, Bodo has raised $14 million in total. The company went after Series A dollars after its product had matured and there was good traction with customers, prompting Bodo to want to scale quicker, Nasre said.

Nasre feels Dell Technologies Capital was “uniquely positioned to help us in terms of reserves and the role they play in the enterprise at large, which is to have the most effective salesforce in enterprise.”

Though he was already familiar with Nasre, Daniel Docter, managing director at Dell Technologies, heard about Bodo from a data scientist friend who told Docter that Bodo’s preliminary results “were amazing.”

Much of Dell’s investments are in the early-stage and in deep tech founders that understand the problem. Docter puts Totoni and Nasre in that category.

“Ehsan fits this perfectly, he has super deep technology knowledge and went out specifically to solve the problem,” he added. “Behzad, being from Intel, saw and lived with the problem, especially seeing Hadoop fail and Spark take its place.”

Meanwhile, with the new funding, Nasre intends to triple the size of the team and invest in R&D to build and scale the company. It will also be developing a marketing and sales team.

The company is now shifting from financing to customer- and revenue-focused as it aims to drive up adoption by the Python community.

“Our technology can translate simple code into the fast code that the experts will try,” Totoni said. “I joined Intel Labs to work on the problem, and we think we have the first solution that will democratize machine learning for developers and data scientists. Now, they have to hand over Python code to specialists who rewrite it for tools. Bodo is a new type of compiler technology that democratizes AI.”

 

#artificial-intelligence, #behzad-nasre, #bodo-ai, #computing, #daniel-docter, #dell-technologies-capital, #developer, #ehsan-totoni, #enterprise, #funding, #fusion-fund, #machine-learning, #programming-languages, #python, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #uncorrelated-ventures

testRigor scores $4M seed to turn a list of actions into a QA testing script

Imagine typing out of a series of steps in plain English that would reflect a list of actions a human QA tester would undertake to test an app, then turning that list into an automated testing script. That’s exactly what testRigor, a member of the Y Combinator Summer 2021 cohort has done. Today the early stage startup announced a $4.1 million seed round.

Investors include FlashPoint VC, Y Combinator, PTV, Phystech Ventures and several individuals. The company previously raised a $300,000 angel investment and a $700,000 pre-seed investment for a total of $5.1 million raised to this point.

The beauty of testRigor is that you can type out a series of steps like “Click the Start button” or “Click the Stop button” and testRigor turns this into code, automatically runs the script and reports back whether the application has passed or failed.

“So it executes your instructions, and then will give you basically a pass or fail at the end. If it fails, it tells you what the issues were, allowing you to create a JIRA ticket and fix it in place or showing what the steps are to reproduce the issue. […] And this is actually where we bring the most value,” co-founder and CEO Artem Golubev explained.

To make this process even simpler, the company has created a Chrome extension for recording testing steps, and it also will create tests automatically based on analytics that determine how people use the app, testing the most popular features.

They call the latter feature behavioral testing. “We literally deploy our analytics script in production, and then the system will automatically [build a test] based on how your end users are using your application in production,” he said.

The company has around 100 customers including Netflix and other Fortune 500 companies along with 22 employees, 12 of whom were hired this year. Golubev hopes to have 30 in place by the end of the year. He says that hiring people has been a challenge, and one of the reasons he joined Y Combinator was to get help in that area.

“I’m running around trying to solve this problem of hiring people, and we saw YC being helpful in this area. Our number one largest problem is we can’t hire quickly enough,” he said. He believes that being part of YC has indeed helped in this regard.

In spite of the hiring challenge he’s facing, he believes that you need to hire a diverse workforce and reports that around 40% of his 22 employees are women. He says that he believes a lot of companies are missing out on good people because of their own biases. “What I have seen is that people have such a huge bias, they’re missing out on very talented people who don’t match their kind of imaginary profile,” he said.

Golubev says that he launched pre-COVID as a remote company, and he believed that once he got funding like this round, he would open an office, but now he’s determined to be 100% remote and sees GitLab, a fully remote company, as a model for him as he grows his company.

#developer, #funding, #recent-funding, #software-qa, #software-testing, #startups, #tc, #testrigor, #y-combinator

Rutter comes out of stealth with $1.5M in funding for its e-commerce API

Rutter, a remote-first company, is developing a unified e-commerce API that enables companies to connect with data across any platform.

On Friday the company announced it was emerging from stealth with $1.5 million in funding from a group of investors including Haystack, Liquid 2 and Basis Set Ventures.

Founders Eric Yu and Peter Zhou met in school and started working on Rutter, which Zhou called “Plaid for commerce,” in 2017 before going through the summer 2019 Y Combinator cohort.

They stumbled upon the e-commerce API idea while working in education technology last year. The pair were creating subscription kits and learning materials for parents concerned about how their children would be learning during the global pandemic. Then their vendor customers had problems listing their storefronts on Amazon, so they wrote scripts to help them, but found that they had to write separate scripts for each platform.

With Rutter, customers only need one script to connect anywhere. Its APIs connect to e-commerce platforms like Shopify, Walmart and Amazon so that tech customers can build functions like customer support and chatbots, Yu told TechCrunch.

Lan Xuezhao, founding and managing partner of Basis Set Ventures, said via email that she was “super excited” about Rutter first because of the founders’ passion, grit and speed of iteration to a product. She added it reminded her of another team that successfully built a business from zero to over $7 billion.

“After watching them (Rutter) for a few years, it’s clear what they built is powerful: it’s the central nervous system of online commerce,” Xuezhao added.

As the founders see it, there are two big explosions going on in e-commerce: the platform side with the adoption of headless commerce — the separating of front end and back end functions of an e-commerce site, and new companies coming in to support merchants.

The new funding will enable Yu and Zhou to build up their team, including hiring more engineers.

Due to the company officially launching at the beginning of the year, Yu did not disclose revenue metrics, but did say that Rutter’s API volume was doubling and tripling in the last few months. It is also supporting merchants that connect with over 5,000 stores.

Some of Rutter’s competitors are building one aspect of commerce, like returns, warranties and checkouts, but Yu said that since Shopify represents just 10% of e-commerce, the company’s goal is to take merchants beyond the marketplace by being “that unified app store for merchants to find products.”

“We think that in the future, the e-commerce stack of a merchant will look like the SaaS stack of a software company,” Zhou added. “We want to be the glue that holds that stack together for merchants.”

 

#api, #apps, #basis-set-ventures, #developer, #ecommerce, #enterprise, #eric-yu, #funding, #haystack, #headless-commerce, #lan-xuezhao, #liquid-2, #online-commerce, #peter-zhou, #recent-funding, #rutter, #startups, #tc, #y-combinator

Webiny nabs $3.5M seed to build serverless development framework on top of serverless CMS

Webiny, an early-stage startup that launched in 2019 with an open-source, serverless CMS, had also developed a framework to help build the CMS, and found that customers were also interested in that to help build their own serverless apps. Today, Webiny announced a $3.5 million seed round to continue developing both pieces.

Microsoft’s venture fund M12 led the round, with participation from Samsung Next, Episode 1, Cota Capital and other unnamed investors. The company previously raised $348,000 in 2019.

Webiny founder Sven Al Hamad says that when the company launched, he had an inkling that serverless would be the future and started by building an open-source serverless CMS, but then something interesting happened.

“We spoke to more than 300 companies, who had actually approached us and they also believed that the future is going to be built on top of serverless infrastructure. While they were intrigued by the CMS we built, they were more intrigued in terms of how we built it because they had tried serverless and they had a poor experience,” Al Hamad explained.

It turned out that the Webiny team was spending the vast majority of its time building an underlying serverless framework in order to build the CMS on top of that, and he began to realize that maybe they should be marketing and selling both the framework and the CMS.

“There was still a lot of interest for the CMS, but a lot of companies wanted both, being able to use the CMS for some of the content platforms, but also being able to build custom APIs on top, custom business logic, all on top of serverless,” he said.

At that point, Al Hamad realized that his startup had two products and that’s where they stand today as they take on this new capital to help build out the company. While he is still working on building a community and reports that he hosts a Slack community with close to a 1,000 developers, the goal is to use this money to begin building commercial products on top of their open-source offerings.

That will involve some sort of enterprise offering with management features for complex environments, single sign-on, better security and so forth.

Serverless is a way of delivering infrastructure in an automated way, so that the developer can concentrate on building the application without worrying about delivering the correct amount of resources. But it requires a very specific way of programming that involves writing functions and triggers. Webiny’s serverless framework is designed to help developers build these specialized apps and the related bits to make it all work.

The company currently has nine employees, with plans to add about six more over the remainder of 2021. He says that diversity is top of mind, but there are challenges in a tight market for technical talent. “We are thinking openly about diversity, but the overall market in terms of the talent available is making it very hard for us to find that balance,” he said. He says that there needs to be an effort across the entire system to train more diverse talent in STEM roles, but he will continue to try look for a diverse staff in spite of the challenges.

He says that his employees are spread out, but when it’s possible to be back in the office, he intends to make offices available where there are pools of people, while giving them the flexibility to decide when and if to come in.

#cloud, #cms, #developer, #funding, #m12, #microsoft-m12, #open-source, #recent-funding, #serverless, #startups, #tc, #webiny

Stacker raises $20M Series A to help business units build software without coding

No code platforms have developed into a hot market, and Stacker, a London-based no-code platform is attempting to bring the concept to a new level. Not only can you create a web application from a spreadsheet, you can pull data from a variety of sources to create a sophisticated business application automatically (although some tweaking may be required).

Today the company announced a $20 million Series A led by Andreessen Horowitz with participation from existing investors Initialized Capital, Y Combinator and Pentech. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $23 million, according to Crunchbase data.

Michael Skelly, CEO and co-founder at Stacker, says that the idea is to take key business data and turn it into a useful app to help someone do their job more efficiently. “[We enable] people in business to create apps to help them in their working life — so things like customer portals, internal tools and things that take the data they’re already using, often to run a process, and turn that into an app,” Skelly explained.

“We really think that in order to actually be useful for business, you need to be hooked into the data that a business cares about. And so we let people bring their spreadsheets, SQL databases, Salesforce data, bring all the data that they use to run their business, and automatically turn it into an app,” he said.

Once the company pulls that data in and creates an app, the user can begin to tweak how things look, but Stacker gives them a big head start toward creating something usable from the get-go, Skelly said.

Jennifer Li,  a partner at lead investor Andreessen Horowitz likes the startup’s approach to no code. “We’ve been watching the no-code space for a while, and Stacker stands apart from the rest because of its thoughtful product approach, allowing business operators to instantly generate a functional app that perfectly fits existing business processes,” she said in a blog post announcing the funding round.

The company currently has 19 employees with plans to put the new capital to work to reach 30-40 by the end of the year. Skelly sees building a diverse company as a key goal and is proactive and thoughtful about finding ways to achieve that. In fact, he has identified three ways to approach diversity.

“Firstly is just making sure that we get a diverse pipeline of people. I really think that the ratio of the people you talk to is probably going to be the biggest indicator of the people you hire. Secondly we try to find ways we can hire people who are maybe further down their career profile, but [looking] to grow,” he said.

Thirdly, and I think this is something that is not talked about enough, there are plenty of people who would like to get into programming roles, and who are under represented, and so we have members of our team who are converting from various non-technical roles to DevOps — and I think it’s just like a really great route to add to the overall pool [of diverse candidates],” he said.

The company is remote first with Skelly in London and his co-founder based in Geneva and they intend to stay that way. They founded the company in 2017 and originally created a different product that was much more complex and required a lot of hand holding before eventually concluding that making it simple was the way to go, They released the first version of the current product at the end of 2019.

The company has a big vision to be the software development tool for business units. “We really think that in the future just like everyone’s got email, a chat tool, a spreadsheet and a video conferencing tool nowadays, they will also have a software tool, where they write and run the custom software that they run their business on,” he said.

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Evervault’s ‘encryption as a service’ is now open access

Dublin-based Evervault, a developer-focused security startup which sells encryption vis API and is backed by a raft of big name investors including the likes of Sequoia, Kleiner Perkins and Index Ventures, is coming out of closed beta today — announcing open access to its encryption engine.

The startup says some 3,000 developers are on its waitlist to kick the tyres of its encryption engine, which it calls E3.

Among “dozens” of companies in its closed preview are drone delivery firm Manna, fintech startup Okra, and healthtech company Vital. Evervault says it’s targeting its tools at developers at companies with a core business need to collect and process four types of data: Identity & contact data; Financial & transaction data; Health & medical data; and Intellectual property.

The first suite of products it offers on E3 are called Relay and Cages; the former providing a new way for developers to encrypt and decrypt data as it passes in and out of apps; the latter offering a secure method — using trusted execution environments running on AWS — to process encrypted data by isolating the code that processes plaintext data from the rest of the developer stack.

Evervault is the first company to get a product deployed on Amazon Web Services’ Nitro Enclaves, per founder Shane Curran.

“Nitro Enclaves are basically environments where you can run code and prove that the code that’s running in the data itself is the code that you’re meant to be running,” he tells TechCrunch. “We were the first production deployment of a product on AWS Nitro Enclaves — so in terms of the people actually taking that approach we’re the only ones.”

It shouldn’t be news to anyone to say that data breaches continue to be a serious problem online. And unfortunately it’s sloppy security practices by app makers — or even a total lack of attention to securing user data — that’s frequently to blame when plaintext data leaks or is improperly accessed.

Evervault’s fix for this unfortunate ‘feature’ of the app ecosystem is to make it super simple for developers to bake in encryption via an API — taking the strain of tasks like managing encryption keys. (“Integrate Evervault in 5 minutes by changing a DNS record and including our SDK,” is the developer-enticing pitch on its website.)

“At the high level what we’re doing… is we’re really focusing on getting companies from [a position of] not approaching security and privacy from any perspective at all — up and running with encryption so that they can actually, at the very least, start to implement the controls,” says Curran.

“One of the biggest problems that companies have these days is they basically collect data and the data sort of gets sprawled across both their implementation and their test sets as well. The benefit of encryption is that  you know exactly when data was accessed and how it was accessed. So it just gives people a platform to see what’s happening with the data and start implementing those controls themselves.”

With C-Suite executives paying increasing mind to the need to properly secure data — thanks to years of horrific data breach scandals (and breach déjà vu), and also because of updated data protection laws like Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which has beefed up penalties for lax security and data misuse — a growing number of startups are now pitching services that promise to deliver ‘data privacy’, touting tools they claim will protect data while still enabling developers to extract useful intel.

Evervault’s website also deploys the term “data privacy” — which it tells us it defines to mean that “no unauthorized party has access to plaintext user/customer data; users/customers and authorized developers have full control over who has access to data (including when and for what purpose); and, plaintext data breaches are ended”. (So encrypted data could, in theory, still leak — but the point is the information would remain protected as a result of still being robustly encrypted.)

Among a number of techniques being commercialized by startups in this space is homomorphic encryption — a process that allows for analysis of encrypted data without the need to decrypt the data.

Evervault’s first offering doesn’t go that far — although its ‘encryption manifesto‘ notes that it’s keeping a close eye on the technique. And Curran confirms it is likely to incorporate the approach in time. But he says its first focus has been to get E3 up and running with an offering that can help a broad swathe of developers.

“Fully homomorphic [encryption] is great. The biggest challenge if you’re targeting software developers who are building normal services it’s very hard to build general purpose applications on top of it. So we take another approach — which is basically using trusted execution environments. And we worked with the Amazon Web Services team on being their first production deployment of their new product called Nitro Enclaves,” he tells TechCrunch.

“The bigger focus for us is less about the underlying technology itself and it’s more about taking what the best security practices are for companies that are already investing heavily in this and just making them accessible to average developers who don’t even know how encryption works,” Curran continues. “That’s where we get the biggest nuance of Evervault vs some of these others privacy and security companies — we build for developers who don’t normally think about security when they’re building things and try to build a great experience around that… so it’s really just about bridging the gap between ‘the start of art’ and bringing it to average developers.”

“Over time fully homomorphic encryption is probably a no-brainer for us but both in terms of performance and flexibility for your average developer to get up and running it didn’t really make sense for us to build on it in its current form. But it’s something we’re looking into. We’re really looking at what’s coming out of academia — and if we can fit it in there. But in the meantime it’s all this trusted execution environment,” he adds.

Curran suggests Evervault’s main competitor at this point is open source encryption libraries — so basically developers opting to ‘do’ the encryption piece themselves. Hence it’s zeroing in on the service aspect of its offering; taking on encryption management tasks so developers don’t have to, while also reducing their security risk by ensuring they don’t have to touch data in the clear.

“When we’re looking at those sort of developers — who’re already starting to think about doing it themselves — the biggest differentiator with Evervault is, firstly the speed of integration, but more importantly it’s the management of encrypted data itself,” Curran suggests. “With Evervault we manage the keys but we don’t store any data and our customers store encrypted data but they don’t store keys. So it means that even if they want to encrypt something with Evervault they never have all the data themselves in plaintext — whereas with open source encryption they’ll have to have it at some point before they do the encryption. So that’s really the base competitor that we see.”

“Obviously there are some other projects out there — like Tim Berners-Lee’s Solid project and so on. But it’s not clear that there’s anybody else taking the developer-experience focused approach to encryption specifically. Obviously there’s a bunch of API security companies… but encryption through an API is something we haven’t really come across in the past with customers,” he adds.

While Evervault’s current approach sees app makers’ data hosted in dedicated trusted execution environments running on AWS, the information still exists there as plaintext — for now. But as encryption continues to evolves it’s possible to envisage a future where apps aren’t just encrypted by default (Evervault’s stated mission is to “encrypt the web”) but where user data, once ingested and encrypted, never needs to be decrypted — as all processing can be carried out on ciphertext.

Homomorphic encryption has unsurprisingly been called the ‘holy grail’ of security and privacy — and startups like Duality are busy chasing it. But the reality on the ground, online and in app stores, remains a whole lot more rudimentary. So Evervault sees plenty of value in getting on with trying to raise the encryption bar more generally.

Curran also points out that plenty of developers aren’t actually doing much processing of the data they gather — arguing therefore that caging plaintext data inside a trusted execution environment can thus abstract away a large part of the risk related to these sort of data flows anyway. “The reality is most developers who are building software these days aren’t necessarily processing data themselves,” he suggests. “They’re actually just sort of collecting it from their users and then sharing it with third party APIs.

“If you look at a startup building something with Stripe — the credit card flows through their systems but it always ends up being passed on somewhere else. I think that’s generally the direction that most startups are going these days. So you can trust the execution — depending on the security of the silicon in an Amazon data center kind of makes the most sense.”

On the regulatory side, the data protection story is a little more nuanced than the typical security startup spin.

While Europe’s GDPR certainly bakes security requirements into law, the flagship data protection regime also provides citizens with a suite of access rights attached to their personal data — a key element that’s often overlooked in developer-first discussions of ‘data privacy’.

Evervault concedes that data access rights haven’t been front of mind yet, with the team’s initial focus being squarely on encryption. But Curran tells us it plans — “over time” — to roll out products that will “simplify access rights as well”.

“In the future, Evervault will provide the following functionality: Encrypted data tagging (to, for example, time-lock data usage); programmatic role-based access (to, for example, prevent an employee seeing data in plaintext in a UI); and, programmatic compliance (e.g. data localization),” he further notes on that.

 

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