Commit raises $6M seed round to match senior engineers to startups they want to work for

Commit, a Vancouver, Canada-based startup that has a unique approach to matching up engineers looking for a new job to early-stage startups that want to hire them, today announced that it has raised a $6 million seed round. Accomplice led the round, with participation from Kensington Capital Partners, Inovia and Garage Capital. 

The company, which focuses on working with remote-first startups, launched in 2019, with co-founders Greg Gunn (CEO) and Beier Cai (CTO), who met as early employees at Hootsuite, bootstrapping the company while they worked out the details of how they wanted Commit to work.

“I was an EIR [at Inovia Capital] and I just saw all these amazing founders that were coming in with world-changing ideas. They raised money, but their biggest challenge was getting an engineer to join them,” Gunn explained.

Beier Cai, Co-founder & CTO, Greg Gunn, Co-founder & CEO, , Tiffany Jung, VP, Strategy & Ops Image Credits: Commit

In his experience, founders typically look for senior full-stack tech leads to join their company, but it’s exactly those senior engineers that are often already in very comfortable roles at larger companies and taking a bet on an early-stage startup — or even a succession of early-stage startups — is often not the most pragmatic choice for them.

After talking to dozens of engineers, the founders found that many didn’t want to lose the support network they had built inside their current company, both from fellow engineers but also the kind of institutional support you get through formal and informal mentorship and personal development opportunities that most large tech companies offer. In addition, as Gunn noted, “hiring at early-stage startups sucks.” Senior engineers don’t want to have to go through a bunch of technical interviews anymore that test their whiteboarding skills but say very little about their actual capabilities as an engineer.

So the team decided to figure out ways to remove these barriers. Like a VC firm, it vets the startups and startup founders it works with, so the engineers that come to Commit know that these are serious companies with at least some prospect of raising funding and allowing their engineers to shape their trajectory and grow into what is potentially an early leadership role.

Meanwhile, it vets the engineers by giving them a technical interview so they can get started without having to do another one for every interview with the companies that partner with Commit. As Gunn noted, so far, the average engineer Commit has worked with only met 1.6 vetted founders before they started a pilot project together.

To mitigate some of the fiscal risks of leaving a large tech company, Commit actually pays the engineers it works with a salary until they find a job. Currently, around 90% of the engineers that start pilot projects with their prospective employees end up in full-time employment.

Image Credits: Commit

In addition to matching up founders and engineers, it also offers its community members access to an active remote-first community of fellow engineers for peer support and career advice, as well as coaching and other transition services.

In the backend, Commit uses a lot of data to match founders and engineers, but Gunn noted that while the team is very selective and has a tight profile for the people it partners with, it is committed to building a diverse pool of founders and engineers. “The thing we’re combating is the fact that these opportunities have been unevenly distributed,” he said. “Even within the Valley […] you have to be from a socio-economic class to even have access to those opportunities. For us, our whole business model is live where you want to live, but then get access to whatever opportunities you have.” Later this year, Commit plans to launch a project that specifically focuses on hiring diversity.

Commit’s startup partners currently include Patch, Plastiq, Dapper Labs, Relay, Certn, Procurify, Scope Security, Praisidio, Planworth, Georgian Partners and Lo3 Energy. The team started out slowly, working with fewer than 100 engineers so far, but hopes to expand its community to 10,000 engineers within the next 12 months. Starting today, engineers who want to join the program can now get on Commit’s waitlist.

#bootstrapping, #canada, #ceo, #commit, #cto, #economy, #engineer, #finance, #garage-capital, #georgian-partners, #hootsuite, #inovia-capital, #kensington-capital-partners, #money, #seed-money, #startup-company, #tc, #vancouver

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Fintech all-star Nubank raises a $750M mega round

In 2013, Colombian businessman David Velez decided to reinvent the Brazilian banking system. He didn’t speak Portuguese, nor was he an engineer or a banker, but he did have the conviction that the system was broken and that he could fix it. And as a former Sequoia VC, he also had access to capital.

His gut instinct and market analysis were right. Today, Nubank announced a $750 million extension to its Series G (which rang in at $400 million this past January), bringing the round to a total of $1.15 billion and their valuation to $30 billion — $5 billion more than when we covered them in January.

The extension funding was led by Berkshire Hathaway, which put in $500 million, and a number of other investors.

Velez and his team decided now was a good time to raise again, because, “We saw a great opportunity in terms of growth rate and we’re very tiny when compared to the incumbents,” he told TechCrunch.”

Nubank is the biggest digital bank in the world by number of customers: 40 million. The company started as a tech company in Brazil that offered only a fee-free credit card with a line of credit of R$50 (about USD$10). 

It now offers a variety of financial products, including a digital bank account, a debit card, insurance, P2P payment via Pix (the Brazilian equivalent of Zelle), loans, rewards, life insurance and an account and credit card for small business owners. 

Nubank serves unbanked or underserviced citizens in Brazil — about 30% of the population — and this approach can be extremely profitable because there are many more clients available.

The banking system in Brazil is one of the few bureaucracies in the country that is actually quite skillful, but the customer service remains unbearable, and banks charge exorbitant fees for any little transaction. 

Traditionally, the banking industry has been dominated by five major traditional banks: Itaú Unibanco, Banco do Brasil, Bradesco, Santander and Caixa Economica Federal. 

While Brazil remains Nubank’s primary market, the company also offers services in Colombia and Mexico (services launched in Mexico in 2018). The company still only offers the credit card in both countries.

“The momentum we’re seeing in Mexico is terrific. Our Mexican credit card net promoter score (NPS) is 93, which is the highest we’ve had in Nubank history. In Brazil the highest we’ve had was 88,” Velez said.

The company has been on a hiring spree in the last few months, and brought on two heavyweight executives. Matt Swann replaced Ed Wible (the original CTO and co-founder). Wible continues to be an important player in the company, but more in a software developer capacity. Swann previously served as CTO at Bookings.com and StubHub, and as CIO of the Global Consumer Bank at Citi, so he brings years of experience of scaling tech businesses, which is what Nubank is focused on now, though Velez wouldn’t confirm which countries are next.

The other major hire, Arturo Nunez, fills the new role of chief marketing officer. Nunez was head of marketing for Apple Latin America, amongst other roles with Nike and the NBA. 

It may sound a little odd for a tech company not to have had a head of marketing, but Nubank takes pride in having a $0 cost of acquisition (CAC). Instead of spending money on marketing, they spend it on customer service and then rely on word of mouth to get the word out.

Since we last spoke with Velez in January regarding the $400 million Series G, the company went from having 34 million customers to now having 40 million in a span of roughly 6 months. The funds will be used to grow the business, including hiring more people.

“We’ve seen the entire market go digital, especially people who never thought they would,” Velez said. “There is really now an avalanche of all backgrounds [of people] who are getting into digital banking.”

#banking, #berkshire-hathaway, #bradesco, #brazil, #colombia, #credit-cards, #cto, #david-velez, #digital-banking, #engineer, #finance, #financial-services, #funding, #itau-unibanco, #life-insurance, #mexico, #nubank, #p2p, #santander, #tc

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5 Reasons you need to attend TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

Get ready to spend a full day rubbing virtual elbows with the global mobility community’s best and brightest minds and makers. TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 takes place June 9, and we’ve packed the agenda with experts, interviews, demos, panel discussions, breakout sessions and a metric ton of opportunity.

Pro tip: It’s not too late to book a ticket. Grab yours here and save with groups of 4+.

If you’re still on the fence, here are five excellent reasons you should attend TC Sessions: Mobility 2020.

Leading Voices
TC Sessions: Mobility represents a broad range of companies and topics within the mobility space.

Want to know what’s happening in self-driving delivery? We’ve got Ahti Heinla (CTO @ Starship), Apeksha Kumavat (Co-Founder @ Gatik), & Amy Jones Satrom (Head of Ops. @ Nuro).

Want to get the low-down on Commuter Cars? We’re talking with Jesse Levinson (Co-Founder & CTO @ Zoox).

Want to see what’s in the future for passenger aircraft? Then you’ll definitely want to watch the session with JoeBen Bevirt (Founder @ Joby Aviation) and Reid Hoffman (Co-Director @ Reinvent Technology Partners)

Check out the full agenda here.

Trendspotting

Mobility is a fast-moving target, and success depends on a company’s or individual’s ability to spot possibilities before they become mainstream. At TC Sessions: Mobility you’ll meet with exhibitors, founders, and leaders to figure out what’s coming next.  Here’s what our attendees are saying:

“Attending TC Sessions: Mobility helps us keep an eye on what’s coming around the corner. It uncovers crucial trends so we can identify what we should be thinking about before anyone else.”
— Jeff Johnson, vice president of enterprise sales and solutions at FlashParking.

1 on 1 Global Networking

At TC Sessions: Mobility you can take advantage of CrunchMatch, our free, AI-powered networking platform (think speed dating for techies) makes connecting with like-minded attendees quick and painless — no matter where they’re located. A virtual conference means global participation, and you might just find your next customer, partner, investor or engineer living on a different continent. It takes only one connection to move your business forward.

Early Stage Expo & Pitch

30 early-stage startups will showcase their mobility tech in our virtual expo. Peruse the exhibitors, peek at their pitch decks, schedule a demo, start a conversation and see where it leads. During the show, you can also check out the pitch sessions where startups will present their company to a panel of TechCrunch editors.

TC Sessions: Mobility on June 9 is sure to be a blast and a great opportunity for you to expand your knowledge and network within the mobility industry. Book your tickets today as prices go up at the door. 

#artificial-intelligence, #co-founder, #cto, #engineer, #forward, #head, #jeff-johnson, #jesse-levinson, #nuro, #reid-hoffman, #reinvent-technology-partners, #self-driving-car, #tc, #zoox

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GitLab acquires UnReview as it looks to bring more ML tools to its platform

DevOps platform GitLab today announced that it has acquired UnReview, a machine learning-based tool that helps software teams recommend the best reviewers for when developers want to check in their latest code. GitLab, which is looking to bring more of these machine learning capabilities to its platform, will integrate UnReview’s capabilities into its own code review workflow. The two companies did not disclose the price of the acquisition.

“Last year we decided that the future of DevOps includes ML/AI, both within the DevOps lifecycle as well as the growth of adoption of ML/AI with our customers,” David DeSanto, GitLab’s senior director, Product Management – Dev & Sec, told me. He noted that when GitLab recently surveyed its customers, 75% of the teams said they are already using AI/ML. The company started by adding a bot to the platform that can automatically label issues, which then led to the team meeting with UnReview and, finally, acquiring it.

Image Credits: GitLab

“Our primary focus for the second half of this year in bringing on UnReview is to help automate the selection of code reviewers. It’s a very interesting problem to solve, even we at GitLab occasionally end up picking the wrong reviewers based off of what people know,” DeSanto noted.

GitLab launched its original code review components last year. As Wayne Haber, GitLab’s director of Engineering, noted, that was still a very manual process. Even with the new system, teams still retain full control over which reviewers will be assigned to a merge request, but the tool will automatically — and transparently — rank potential reviewers based on who the system believes is best suited to this task.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to share my passion for data science and machine learning with GitLab and its community,” said Alexander Chueshev, UnReview’s founder (and now a senior full stack engineer at GitLab). “I look forward to enhancing the user experience by playing a role in integrating UnReview into the GitLab platform and extending machine learning and artificial intelligence into additional DevOps stages in the future.”

DeSanto noted that GitLab now has quite a bit of experience in acquiring companies and integrating them into its stack. “We’re always looking to acquire strong teams and strong concepts that can help accelerate our roadmap or strategy or help the platform in general,” he said. “And you can see it over the last couple of years of acquisitions. When we were looking at extending what we did in security, we acquired two leaders in the security space to help build that portfolio out. And that’s fully integrated today. […] In the case of this, UnReview is doing something that we thought we may need to do in the future. They had already built it, they were able to show the value of it, and it became a good partnership between the two companies, which then led to this acquisition.”

One interesting wrinkle here is that GitLab offers both a hosted SaaS service and allows users to run their own on-premises systems as well. Running an ML service like UnReview on-premises isn’t necessarily something that most businesses are equipped to do, so at first, UnReview will be integrated with the SaaS service. The team is still looking at how to best bring it to its self-hosted user base, including a hybrid model.

#artificial-intelligence, #cloud, #continuous-integration, #developer, #devops, #engineer, #free-software, #git, #gitlab, #go, #ma, #machine-learning, #ml, #software-engineering, #tc, #unreview, #version-control

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The gaming industry needs more than just coders

While the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on countless businesses across the globe, the $118 billion gaming industry not only survived, it thrived, with 55% of American consumers turning to gaming for entertainment, stress relief, relaxation and a connection to the outside world amid lockdowns.

This drove a 20% boost in gaming sales globally and created nearly 20,000 jobs in 2020 alone. And it’s not expected to stop any time soon: According to research company IBISWorld, the industry is set to grow again in 2021, adding to the year-over-year growth the industry has seen in the preceding half-decade.

This is great news for the growing gaming industry and especially those looking to score a job at a company developing the next blockbuster. The unemployment rate is already near zero for those with gaming development and design skills, which means there is an unprecedented opportunity to join the field.

The unemployment rate is already near zero for those with gaming development and design skills, which means there is an unprecedented opportunity to join the field.

Gamesmith, a digital community dedicated to the gaming industry, currently has more than 5,750 open jobs posted on its site, with roles in design, engineering and animation leading the way. In other words, if you never considered a career in the gaming industry — or thought that your skill set wouldn’t translate — this expanding job market needs employees from all types of backgrounds. Chances are one of your interests — besides gaming, of course — can act as a conduit into finding a career.

One career path for those with art skills — particularly with a talent for digital art tools like Autodesk Maya and Adobe Photoshop — is animation. An animator can do any number of jobs at a gaming company or studio, from building immersive landscapes and cities to modeling what a certain character will look like to designing user interfaces and navigational components. There is significant growth here, too: According to a recent study, most sectors of the animation industry are growing 2% to 3% year over year. According to Gamesmith, the average 30-year-old female artist or animator makes a salary of just under $90,000 a year.

If you’re a whiz with words and witty dialogue, then you might consider applying for a job as a writer at a studio. Writers are responsible for writing everything from the profanity-laced shouts heard in the background in the Grand Theft Auto series to the long speeches in epic adventures like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Employers are looking for writers with a flair for crafting stories and understanding characters, so even if you’re not a career writer, highlight the work you’ve done that fits in the mold of what game publishers are looking for.

One of the most important segments of the industry — and one of the fastest-growing — is developing and designing the gaming experiences themselves. The job market for these roles is predicted to grow by 9.3% between 2016 and 2026, according to the New England Institute of Technology, and the breadth of jobs in this wing of the industry range from level designers to lead designer and developers.

Gamesmith calculated that these jobs account for 16% of the available openings, but make up only 5% of all applications. While you will need at least a computer science degree and an understanding of the fundamentals of programming to land one of these jobs, the payoff for the time spent hitting the books is worth it. Gamesmith estimates that the average 28-year-old male engineer earns a salary north of $100,000.

Even if you don’t have any of these skills to help design a game from the ground up, there are still plenty of ways to break into the industry. No matter how good a game is, it will only be a success if people know about it, so the marketing and promotions teams at studios play a crucial role in making sure that consumers purchase the latest release and that it gets written about. If you have great communication skills and can work through people’s problems, companies always need customer service representatives.

Across all sectors of the gaming world, companies are looking to diversify their workforce and move away from an image as a job sector solely populated by white men in their early to mid-30s. Gamesmith research found that currently 74% of the industry’s workforce is male and 64% is white.

But that is changing. While in 2020, only 24% of studios invested moderate resources into diversity initiatives, out of those studios that did invest those resources, 96% reported at least moderately successful results and improvements to company culture. It may seem slow, but there does seem to be a recognition that the gaming industry needs a more diverse workforce as a way not just to bring more equity to their offices, but to make better games in the future and make the industry look more like the people who play games.

“Diversity isn’t a nicety; it’s a necessity if the industry is going to grow, thrive and truly reflect the tens of millions of people who play games every day in this country,” said Jo Twist, the CEO of the U.K.-based gaming trade association Ukie. “A diverse industry that draws on myriad cultures, lifestyles and experiences will lead to more creative and inclusive games that capture the imagination of players and drive our sector forward.”

Between the push to diversify the industry and a slew of new opportunities in the field, the key takeaway is that there are a wide range of possible careers in the industry and, even if you don’t think they do, your skills probably translate into one of the many roles that a gaming company needs to fill. Avid gamers know that you’re not going to beat a game the first time you turn on your console. So hone your skills, build up your experience and continue your quest to land a job in the industry of your dreams.

#animation, #artist, #column, #digital-media, #diversity, #diversity-and-inclusion, #engineer, #entertainment, #gamer, #opinion, #tc, #video-game, #video-gaming, #writer

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This founder raised millions to build Fair, a neobank for immigrants

Fair, a multilingual digital bank and financial services platform, is launching to the public after raising $20 million in 40 days earlier this year.

Founder Khalid Parekh raised the capital primarily from the very demographic that Houston-based Fair aims to serve: from a group consisting of a number of immigrants, many of whom were first-time investors.

“There was not a single check from a VC or bank or from a family office,” Parekh told TechCrunch. “Ninety percent of our investors are minorities or are immigrants like myself that believed in the concept of Fair.”

One could say that it’s also fitting that Fair’s headquarters are in Houston, which at the time of the last census was the most ethnically diverse city in the United States.

Parekh is not your traditional fintech founder. He doesn’t have banking or financial services experience, although he does have experience founding and running a successful company: AMSYS Group, which is valued at nearly $350 million. His mission with Fair is largely personal. Upon arriving in the U.S. from India with just $100 in his pocket 22 years ago, he struggled to not only get a loan but also to open a bank account. 

Image Credits: Founder and CEO Khalid Parekh / Fair

“I was an engineer by background, but was very confused with the American banking system. There is not a lot of help for immigrants who don’t understand it well,” Parekh recalls. “My biggest challenge was sending money back home. There was just a lack of welcome.”

In 2020, he used his own cash to build out the technology behind Fair, which is designed to be an option to those who are new to the country, have no credit or need access to interest-free loans. Fair operates with Coastal Community Bank as its sponsor bank. Parekh’s goal with Fair is to provide “ethical, transparent banking” – to anyone – via a membership model that eliminates all banking fees. Members can pay a one-time membership fee of $99 (paid in full or in installments) to have access to all of Fair’s online banking and financial services.

“Another challenge that I saw is that there were hardly any options for insurance and retirement services for immigrants and low-income people,” Parekh said. “All big institutions catered to people with a lot of money. But we want to create an institution where we are fair to everybody, regardless of religion, race, color, net worth or how much is in their bank account. We want everyone to be treated the same.”

Over the past year, the nation has seen a surge of neobanks emerge aimed at specific demographics, including Greenwood, First Boulevard and Cheese. Welcome Technologies is also aimed at serving the immigrant population. 

Fair aims to differentiate itself, according to Parekh, by offering interest-free lending, as well as the ability to invest, get insurance and plan for retirement in one platform that is available in English, Arabic and Spanish (with more languages to come). Ultimately, his goal in Fair is to help address the “longstanding racial income inequalities and widening wealth disparities in the U.S.” He won’t get a salary for his role as CEO.

Among Fair’s features are free international transfer, early access to paycheck funds, “instant, interest-free” microloans — essentially buy now, pay later at the register — an annual dividend account, debit card accounts for kids and interest-free loans for home, auto and business that are equity-based. Those equity-based loans are Sharia compliant, meaning that it’s not kosher to take interest. They also comply with Jewish law.

Instead, if a member wants to buy a home, they can put 20% down, and Fair will provide 80% via an LLC, of which the member and bank will be co-owners.

“The members will have the option of buying out our shares on whatever schedule they wish,” Parekh said.

In partnership with Avibra, Fair is offering free supplemental life, accident medical and AD&D insurance to all members as part of its banking services.

Fair aims to practice socially responsible investing (SRI), an approach to investing that reduces exposure to companies that are deemed to have a negative social impact. The fintech also practices ESG investing, which measures the sustainability of an investment and its overall impact in three specific categories: environmental, social and corporate governance. And, it’s also working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and World Relief, and will donate 2.5% of profits to refugee missions globally, as well as racial economic empowerment initiatives.

Among Fair’s advisors are Manolo Sánchez, a director at Fannie Mae and Stewart Information Systems and former chair & CEO of BBVA Compass, and Samuel Golden, managing director at management consulting firm Alvarez & Marsal and founder of A&M’s Financial Industry practice.

#apps, #bank, #banking, #diversity, #economy, #engineer, #fair, #finance, #financial-services, #fintech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #houston, #india, #ing-group, #money, #neobank, #online-banking, #recent-funding, #startup, #startups, #tc, #united-states

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Geothermal technology has enormous potential to power the planet and Fervo wants to tap it

Tapping the geothermal energy stored beneath the Earth’s surface as a way to generate renewable power is one of the new visions for the future that’s captured the attention of environmentalists and oil and gas engineers alike.

That’s because it’s not only a way to generate power that doesn’t rely on greenhouse gas emitting hydrocarbons, but because it uses the same skillsets and expertise that the oil and gas industry has been honing and refining for years.

At least that’s what drew former the former completion engineer (it’s not what it sounds like) Tim Latimer to the industry and to launch Fervo Energy, the Houston-based geothermal tech developer that’s picked up funding from none other than Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures (that fund… is so busy) and former eBay executive, Jeff Skoll’s Capricorn Investment Group.

With the new $28 million cash in hand Fervo’s planning on ramping up its projects which Latimer said would “bring on hundreds of megawatts of power in the next few years.”

Latimer got his first exposure to the environmental impact of power generation as a kid growing up in a small town outside of Waco, Texas near the Sandy Creek coal power plant, one of the last coal-powered plants to be built in the U.S.

Like many Texas kids, Latimer came from an oil family and got his first jobs in the oil and gas industry before realizing that the world was going to be switching to renewables and the oil industry — along with the friends and family he knew — could be left high and dry.

It’s one reason why he started working on Fervo, the entrepreneur said.

“What’s most important, from my perspective, since I started my career in the oil and gas industry is providing folks that are part of the energy transition on the fossil fuel side to work in the clean energy future,” Latimer said. “I’ve been able to go in and hire contractors and support folks that have been out of work or challenged because of the oil price crash… And I put them to work on our rigs.”

Fervo Energy chief executive, Tim Latimer, pictured in a hardhat at one fo the company’s development sites. Image Credit: Fervo Energy

When the Biden administration talks about finding jobs for employees in the hydrocarbon industry as part of the energy transition, this is exactly what they’re talking about.

And geothermal power is no longer as constrained by geography, so there’s a lot of abundant resources to tap and the potential for high paying jobs in areas that are already dependent on geological services work, Latimer said (late last year, Vox published a good overview of the history and opportunity presented by the technology).

“A large percentage of the world’s population actually lives next to good geothermal resources,” Latimer said. “25 countries today that have geothermal installed and producing and another 25 where geothermal is going to grow.” 

Geothermal power production actually has a long history in the Western U.S. and in parts of Africa where naturally occurring geysers and steam jets pouring from the earth have been obvious indicators of good geothermal resources, Latimer said.

Fervo’s technology unlocks a new class of geothermal resource that is ready for large-scale deployment. Fervo’s geothermal systems use novel techniques, including horizontal drilling, distributed fiber optic sensing, and advanced computational modelling, to deliver more repeatable and cost effective geothermal electricity,” Latimer wrote in an email. “Fervo’s technology combines with the latest advancements in Organic Rankine Cycle generation systems to deliver flexible, 24/7 carbon-free electricity.”

Initially developed with a grant from the TomKat Center at Stanford University and a fellowship funded by Activate.org at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab’s Cyclotron Road division, Fervo has gone on to score funding from the DOE’s Geothermal Technology Office and ARPA-E to continue work with partners like Schlumberger, Rice University and the Berkeley Lab.

The combination of new and old technology is opening vast geographies to the company to potentially develop new projects.

Other companies are also looking to tap geothermal power to drive a renewable power generation development business. Those are startups like Eavor, which has the backing of energy majors like bp Ventures, Chevron Technology Ventures, Temasek, BDC Capital, Eversource and Vickers Venture Partners; and other players including GreenFire Energy, and Sage Geosystems.

Demand for geothermal projects is skyrocketing, opening up big markets for startups that can nail the cost issue for geothermal development. As Latimer noted, from 2016 to 2019 there was only one major geothermal contract, but in 2020 there were ten new major power purchase agreements signed by the industry. 

For all of these projects, cost remains a factor. Contracts that are being signed for geothermal that are in the $65 to $75 per megawatt range, according to Latimer. By comparison, solar plants are now coming in somewhere between $35 and $55 per megawatt, as The Verge reported last year

But Latimer said the stability and predictability of geothermal power made the cost differential palatable for utilities and businesses that need the assurance of uninterruptible power supplies. As a current Houston resident, the issue is something that Latimer has an intimate experience with from this year’s winter freeze, which left him without power for five days.

Indeed, geothermal’s ability to provide always-on clean power makes it an incredibly attractive option. In a recent Department of Energy study, geothermal could meet as much as 16% of the U.S. electricity demand, and other estimates put geothermal’s contribution at nearly 20% of a fully decarbonized grid.

“We’ve long been believers in geothermal energy but have waited until we’ve seen the right technology and team to drive innovation in the sector,” said Ion Yadigaroglu of Capricorn Investment Group, in a statement.  “Fervo’s technology capabilities and the partnerships they’ve created with leading research organizations make them the clear leader in the new wave of geothermal.”

Fervo Energy drilling site. Image Credit: Fervo Energy

#africa, #alternative-energy, #articles, #berkeley-lab, #biden-administration, #bp-ventures, #capricorn-investment-group, #chevron-technology-ventures, #department-of-energy, #ebay, #energy, #engineer, #entrepreneur, #executive, #fiber-optic, #geothermal-energy, #greenhouse-gas, #houston, #jeff-skoll, #renewable-energy, #rice-university, #schlumberger, #stanford-university, #tc, #temasek, #texas, #united-states, #vickers-venture-partners

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Andela begins global expansion in 37 countries months after going remote across Africa

More than a year after the pandemic began, remote work shows no signs of going away. While it has its cons, it remains top of mind for potential employees around the world before joining a new company.

But while most people in Africa still go to physical offices, despite the pandemic, a few companies have nevertheless embraced this concept. Andela, a New York-based startup that helps tech companies build remote engineering teams from Africa, was one of the first to publicly announce it was going remote on the continent.

Today, it is doubling down on this effort by announcing the global expansion of its engineering talent. Over the past six months, the company has seen a 750% increase in applicants outside Africa. More than 30% of Andela’s inbound engineer applications also came from outside the continent in March alone. Half this number came from Latin America while Africa saw a 500% increase in applications, as well.

When Andela launched in 2014, it built hubs in Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda to source, vet and train engineers to be part of remote teams for international companies. It also tested satellite models in Egypt and Ghana as substitutes to physical hubs.

The company would issue a call for applications, select a few (less than 1%), pay them a salary for the first six months and provide them with housing and food. It also helped developers improve their skills via training and mentorship. Over 100,000 engineers have taken part in the company’s learning network and community, and, as of 2019, Andela had more than 1,500 engineers on its payroll.

However, after noticing that this model wasn’t sustainable, it began to make changes.

In September 2019, it let go of 420 junior engineers across Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria. Nine months later, citing the pandemic, it laid off 135 employees while introducing salary cuts for senior staff. But despite the layoffs, the pandemic provided some form of clarity to how Andela wanted to operate — which was remote, judging by the success of the satellite models.

“In the very beginning, a developer had to be in Lagos to work with Andela. Then it became living in Nigeria. Then Kenya. Then Uganda, Rwanda,” CEO Jeremy Johnson told TechCrunch. “Before the pandemic, Andela was opening applications in country after country. The pandemic came and changed that as we opened up to the entire continent.”

Shutting down its existing physical campuses and going remote also helped the company focus on getting engineers with more experience to meet its clients’ requirements. That experiment, which the company conducted in less than a year, is also part of its mission to be a global company.

“That went so well and we thought ‘what if we accelerated it now that we’re remote and just enable applicants from anywhere?’ because it was always the plan to become a global company. That was clear, but the timing was the question. We did that and it’s been an amazing experiment,” Johnson added.

Now with its global expansion, its clients can tap into regional expertise to support international growth.

According to a statement released by the firm, it currently has engineers from 37 countries across Africa, Asia, Latin America, North America and Europe.

Johnson didn’t go into details about how many of these engineers are getting jobs from Andela, or even its total developer count. He’s more interested in helping its clients solve the diversity issues that have plagued many Western corporations.

Andela is currently working with eight companies that have hired its engineers in Latin America and Africa. In addition to the diversity play, the CEO says that means Andela engineers get to prove themselves on a global playing field in a way the company has “always wanted to see.”

Andela serves more than 200 customers, including GitHub, ViacomCBS, Pluralsight, Seismic, Cloudflare, Coursera and InVision. GitHub is one company that seems to be benefitting from Andela’s new offerings. The company’s VP of Engineering, Dana Lawson, in a statement said, “As a business in the developer tool space, a lot of us are trying to enter those areas of the world (Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa) where the emergent developers are coming so we can better understand their needs. Having a local presence there with amazing talent is super valuable to building a global product.”

Andela

Image Credits: Andela

In its quest to become a global company, going up against competition is unavoidable for the seven-year-old company. But since most of these companies are horizontal marketplaces (providing a wide range of expertise), whereas Andela is vertical, Johson believes there’s enough market share to be acquired by the company.

“We are focused on building digital products, and because of that, we’re able to do more, essentially, for our customers… That’s where our focus is — [building long-term relationships] and around building great digital products.”

The company was founded by Jeremy Johnson, Christina Sass, Nadayar Enegesi, Ian Carnevale, Brice Nkengsa and Iyinoluwa Aboyeji. It has raised more than $180 million (up to Series D) from firms like Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Generation Investment Management, Google Ventures and Spark Capital, at a valuation of about $700 million.

While announcing the layoffs last year, Andela said it was on an annual revenue run rate of $50 million. But when asked how this number has changed over the past year, Johnson said the company is “growing at a healthier pace as we’ve ever had.”

The future of remote work is global and Johnson believes Andela provides the vital link to talent wherever it is found. The company’s head of talent operations, Martin Chikilian, echoes similar sentiments.

“We’ve seen exponential growth and interest from engineers from across Africa who want to work with some of the world’s most exciting technology-focused companies,” he said. “Growing our network of talent from Africa to include more markets is a unique proposition and we continue to match talent with opportunity beyond geographical boundaries.”

#africa, #andela, #asia, #egypt, #engineer, #europe, #ghana, #jeremy-johnson, #kenya, #lagos, #latin-america, #new-york, #north-america, #software-engineering, #southeast-asia, #startups, #talent, #tc, #technology, #uganda

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China’s Xpeng in the race to automate EVs with lidar

Elon Musk famously said any company relying on lidar is “doomed.” Tesla instead believes automated driving functions are built on visual recognition and is even working to remove the radar. China’s Xpeng begs to differ.

Founded in 2014, Xpeng is one of China’s most celebrated electric vehicle startups and went public when it was just six years old. Like Tesla, Xpeng sees automation as an integral part of its strategy; unlike the American giant, Xpeng uses a combination of radar, cameras, high-precision maps powered by Alibaba, localization systems developed in-house, and most recently, lidar to detect and predict road conditions.

“Lidar will provide the 3D drivable space and precise depth estimation to small moving obstacles even like kids and pets, and obviously, other pedestrians and the motorbikes which are a nightmare for anybody who’s working on driving,” Xinzhou Wu, who oversees Xpeng’s autonomous driving R&D center, said in an interview with TechCrunch.

“On top of that, we have the usual radar which gives you location and speed. Then you have the camera which has very rich, basic semantic information.”

Xpeng is adding lidar to its mass-produced EV model P5, which will begin delivering in the second half of this year. The car, a family sedan, will later be able to drive from point A to B based on a navigation route set by the driver on highways and certain urban roads in China that are covered by Alibaba’s maps. An older model without lidar already enables assisted driving on highways.

The system, called Navigation Guided Pilot, is benchmarked against Tesla’s Navigate On Autopilot, said Wu. It can, for example, automatically change lanes, enter or exit ramps, overtake other vehicles, and maneuver another car’s sudden cut-in, a common sight in China’s complex road conditions.

“The city is super hard compared to the highway but with lidar and precise perception capability, we will have essentially three layers of redundancy for sensing,” said Wu.

By definition, NGP is an advanced driver-assistance system (ADAS) as drivers still need to keep their hands on the wheel and take control at any time (Chinese laws don’t allow drivers to be hands-off on the road). The carmaker’s ambition is to remove the driver, that is, reach Level 4 autonomy two to four years from now, but real-life implementation will hinge on regulations, said Wu.

“But I’m not worried about that too much. I understand the Chinese government is actually the most flexible in terms of technology regulation.”

The lidar camp

Musk’s disdain for lidar stems from the high costs of the remote sensing method that uses lasers. In the early days, a lidar unit spinning on top of a robotaxi could cost as much as $100,000, said Wu.

“Right now, [the cost] is at least two orders low,” said Wu. After 13 years with Qualcomm in the U.S., Wu joined Xpeng in late 2018 to work on automating the company’s electric cars. He currently leads a core autonomous driving R&D team of 500 staff and said the force will double in headcount by the end of this year.

“Our next vehicle is targeting the economy class. I would say it’s mid-range in terms of price,” he said, referring to the firm’s new lidar-powered sedan.

The lidar sensors powering Xpeng come from Livox, a firm touting more affordable lidar and an affiliate of DJI, the Shenzhen-based drone giant. Xpeng’s headquarters is in the adjacent city of Guangzhou about 1.5 hours’ drive away.

Xpeng isn’t the only one embracing lidar. Nio, a Chinese rival to Xpeng targeting a more premium market, unveiled a lidar-powered car in January but the model won’t start production until 2022. Arcfox, a new EV brand of Chinese state-owned carmaker BAIC, recently said it would be launching an electric car equipped with Huawei’s lidar.

Musk recently hinted that Tesla may remove radar from production outright as it inches closer to pure vision based on camera and machine learning. The billionaire founder isn’t particularly a fan of Xpeng, which he alleged owned a copy of Tesla’s old source code.

In 2019, Tesla filed a lawsuit against Cao Guangzhi alleging that the former Tesla engineer stole trade secrets and brought them to Xpeng. XPeng has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. Cao no longer works at Xpeng.

Supply challenges

While Livox claims to be an independent entity “incubated” by DJI, a source told TechCrunch previously that it is just a “team within DJI” positioned as a separate company. The intention to distance from DJI comes as no one’s surprise as the drone maker is on the U.S. government’s Entity List, which has cut key suppliers off from a multitude of Chinese tech firms including Huawei.

Other critical parts that Xpeng uses include NVIDIA’s Xavier system-on-the-chip computing platform and Bosch’s iBooster brake system. Globally, the ongoing semiconductor shortage is pushing auto executives to ponder over future scenarios where self-driving cars become even more dependent on chips.

Xpeng is well aware of supply chain risks. “Basically, safety is very important,” said Wu. “It’s more than the tension between countries around the world right now. Covid-19 is also creating a lot of issues for some of the suppliers, so having redundancy in the suppliers is some strategy we are looking very closely at.”

Taking on robotaxis

Xpeng could have easily tapped the flurry of autonomous driving solution providers in China, including Pony.ai and WeRide in its backyard Guangzhou. Instead, Xpeng becomes their competitor, working on automation in-house and pledges to outrival the artificial intelligence startups.

“The availability of massive computing for cars at affordable costs and the fast dropping price of lidar is making the two camps really the same,” Wu said of the dynamics between EV makers and robotaxi startups.

“[The robotaxi companies] have to work very hard to find a path to a mass-production vehicle. If they don’t do that, two years from now, they will find the technology is already available in mass production and their value become will become much less than today’s,” he added.

“We know how to mass-produce a technology up to the safety requirement and the quarantine required of the auto industry. This is a super high bar for anybody wanting to survive.”

Xpeng has no plans of going visual-only. Options of automotive technologies like lidar are becoming cheaper and more abundant, so “why do we have to bind our hands right now and say camera only?” Wu asked.

“We have a lot of respect for Elon and his company. We wish them all the best. But we will, as Xiaopeng [founder of Xpeng] said in one of his famous speeches, compete in China and hopefully in the rest of the world as well with different technologies.”

5G, coupled with cloud computing and cabin intelligence, will accelerate Xpeng’s path to achieve full automation, though Wu couldn’t share much detail on how 5G is used. When unmanned driving is viable, Xpeng will explore “a lot of exciting features” that go into a car when the driver’s hands are freed. Xpeng’s electric SUV is already available in Norway, and the company is looking to further expand globally.

#alibaba, #artificial-intelligence, #asia, #automation, #automotive, #baic, #bosch, #cars, #china, #cloud-computing, #driver, #electric-car, #elon-musk, #emerging-technologies, #engineer, #founder, #huawei, #lasers, #li-auto, #lidar, #livox, #machine-learning, #nio, #norway, #nvidia, #qualcomm, #robotaxi, #robotics, #self-driving-cars, #semiconductor, #shenzhen, #tc, #tesla, #transport, #transportation, #u-s-government, #united-states, #wu, #xavier, #xiaopeng, #xpeng

0

5 machine learning essentials non-technical leaders need to understand

We’re living in a phenomenal moment for machine learning (ML), what Sonali Sambhus, head of developer and ML platform at Square, describes as “the democratization of ML.” It’s become the foundation of business and growth acceleration because of the incredible pace of change and development in this space.

But for engineering and team leaders without an ML background, this can also feel overwhelming and intimidating. I regularly meet smart, successful, highly competent and normally very confident leaders who struggle to navigate a constructive or effective conversation on ML — even though some of them lead teams that engineer it.

I’ve spent more than two decades in the ML space, including work at Apple to build the world’s largest online app and music store. As the senior director of engineering, anti-evil, at Reddit, I used ML to understand and combat the dark side of the web.

For this piece, I interviewed a select group of successful ML leaders including Sambhus; Lior Gavish, co-founder at Monte Carlo; and Yotam Hadass, VP of engineering at Electric.ai, for their insights. I’ve distilled our best practices and must-know components into five practical and easily applicable lessons.

1. ML recruiting strategy

Recruiting for ML comes with several challenges.

The first is that it can be difficult to differentiate machine learning roles from more traditional job profiles (such as data analysts, data engineers and data scientists) because there’s a heavy overlap between descriptions.

Secondly, finding the level of experience required can be challenging. Few people in the industry have substantial experience delivering production-grade ML (for instance, you’ll sometimes notice resumes that specify experience with ML models but then find their models are rule-based engines rather than real ML models).

When it comes to recruiting for ML, hire experts when you can, but also look into how training can help you meet your talent needs. Consider upskilling your current team of software engineers into data/ML engineers or hire promising candidates and provide them with an ML education.

machine learning essentials for leaders

Image Credits: Snehal Kundalkar

The other effective way to overcome these recruiting challenges is to define roles largely around:

  • Product: Look for candidates with a technical curiosity and a strong business/product sense. This framework is often more important than the ability to apply the most sophisticated models.
  • Data: Look for candidates that can help select models, design features, handle data modeling/vectorization and analyze results.
  • Platform/Infrastructure: Look for people who evaluate/integrate/build platforms to significantly accelerate the productivity of data and engineering teams; extract, transform, load (ETLs); warehouse infrastructures; and CI/CD frameworks for ML.

    #artificial-intelligence, #column, #ec-future-of-work, #ec-how-to, #engineer, #machine-learning, #ml, #startups

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Co-founded by a leader of SpaceX’s missions operations, Epsilon3 wants to be the OS for space launches

Laura Crabtree spent a good chunk of her childhood watching rocket launches on television and her entire professional career launching rockets, first at Northrup Grumman and then at SpaceX.

Now, the former senior missions operations engineer at SpaceX is the co-founder and chief executive of a new LA-based space startup called Epsilon3, which says it has developed the operating system for launch operations.

“The tools I had wanted did not exist,” said Crabtree. So when she left SpaceX to pursue her next opportunity, it was a no-brainer to try and develop the toolkit she never had, the first-time entrepreneur said. “I started looking at ways in which I could help the space industry become more efficient and reduce errors.”

Joining Crabtree in the new business is Max Mednik, a serial entrepreneur whose last company, Epirus, raised at least $144.7 million from investors including 8VC, Bedrock Capital and L3 Harris Technologies, and Aaron Sullivan, a former Googler who serves as the chief software engineer. Mednik worked at Google too before turning his attention to entrepreneurship. His previous businesses ranged from financial services software to legal services software, Mednik too had an interest in aerospace. His first job offers out of school were with SpaceX, JPL, and Google. And Aaron Sullivan another former

Part of a growing network of SpaceX alumni launching businesses, Epsilon3, like its fellow travelers First Resonance and Prewitt Ridge, is creating a product around an aspect of the design, manufacturing mission management and operations of rockets that had previously been handled manually or with bespoke tools.

“They make mission management software for the launchers and for the satellite companies that are going to be the payload of the rocket companies,” said Alex Rubacalva, the founder and managing partner of Stage Venture Partners, an investor in the company’s recent seed round. “It’s not just the design and spec but for when they’re actually working what are they doing; when you’re uplinking and downlinking data and changing software.”

Rubacalva acknowledged that the market for Epsilon3 is entirely new, but it’s growing rapidly.

“This was an analysis based on the fact that access to space used to be really expensive and used to be the provenance of governments and ten or 20 commercial satellite operators in the world. And it was limited by the fact that there were only a handful of companies that could launch,” Rubacalva said. “Now all of a sudden there’s going to be thirty different space flights. Thirty different companies that have rockets… access to space used to scarce, expensive, and highly restricted and it’s no longer any of those things now.” 

Relativity Space's Terran 1 rocket, artist's rendering

Image Credits: Relativity Space

The demand for space services is exploding with some analysts estimating that the launch services industry could reach over $18 billion by 2026.

“It’s a very similar story and we all come from different places within SpaceX,” said Crabtree. First Resonance, provides software that moves from prototyping to production; Prewitt Ridge, provides engineering and management tools; and Epsilon3 has developed an operating system for launch operations.

“You’ve got design development, manufacturing, integration tests and operations. We’re trying to support that integration of tests and operations,” said Crabtree. 

While First Resonance and Prewitt Ridge have applications in aerospace and manufacturing broadly, Crabtree’s eyes, and her company’s mission, remain fixed on the stars.

“We’re laser focused on space and proving out that the software works in the highest stakes and most complex environments,” said Mednik. There are applications in other areas that require complex workflows for industries as diverse as nuclear plant construction and operations, energy, mining, and aviation broadly, but for now and the foreseeable future, it’s all about the space business.

Mednik described the software as an electronic toolkit for controlling and editing workflows and procedures. “You can think of it as Asana project management meets Github version control,” he said. “It should be for integration of subsystems or systems and operations of the systems.”

Named for the planet in Babylon Five, Epsilon3 could become an integral part of the rocket missions that eventually do explore other worlds. At least, that’s the bet that firms like Stage Venture Partners and MaC Ventures are making on the business with their early $1.8 million investment into the business.

Right now, the Epislon3’s early customers are coming from early stage space companies that are using the platform for live launches. These would be companies like Stoke Space and other new rocket entrants. 

“For us, space and deeptech is hot,” said MaC Ventures co-founder and managing partner, Adrian Fenty. The former mayor of Washington noted that the combination of Mednik’s serial entrepreneur status and Crabtree’s deep, deep expertise in the field.

“We had been looking at operating systems in general and thinking that there would be some good ones coming along,” Fenty said. In Epsilon3 the company found the combination of deep space, deep tech, and a thesis around developing verticalized operating systems that ticked all the boxes. 

“In doing diligence for the company… you just see how big space is and will become as a business,” said Michael Palank, a co-founder and managing partner at MaC Ventures predecessor, M Ventures alongside Fenty. “A lot of the challenges here on earth will and only can be solved in space. And you need better operating systems to manage getting to and from space.”

The view from Astra’s Rocket 3.2 second stage from space.

#adrian-fenty, #aerospace, #asana, #bedrock-capital, #elon-musk, #energy, #engineer, #entrepreneur, #github, #google, #hyperloop, #l3, #laser, #louisiana, #m-ventures, #mac-ventures, #managing-partner, #manufacturing, #mayor, #mining, #operating-system, #operating-systems, #outer-space, #project-management, #satellite, #serial-entrepreneur, #space-tourism, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #washington

0

Startup founded by ‘Survivor’ champ debuts airless bike tires based on NASA rover tech

As NASA is quick to remind people, the investments it funnels towards space exploration often winds up improving life on Earth – and it’s now in the business of speeding up some of that work through startups. SMART, a startup founded in 2020, has a partnership with NASA through the Space Act Agreement and is part of the agency’s formal Startup Program that aims to commercialize some of its innovations. The young company today revealed its first product: An airless bicycle tire based on technology NASA engineers created to make future lunar and Martian rovers even more resilient.

SMART’s METL tire is the the first fruit of the startup’s work with NASA’s Glenn Research Center, where NASA engineers Dr. Santo Padula and Colin Creager first developed their so-called ‘shape memory alloy’ (SMA) technology. SMA allows for a tire constructed entirely of interconnected springs, which requires no inflation and is therefore immune to punctures, but which can still provide equivalent or better traction when compared to inflatable rubber tires, and even some built-in shock absorbing capabilities.

Engineers at NASA’s Glenn Research Center assemble the new shape memory alloy rover tire prior to testing in the Simulated Lunar Operations Laboratory.

Dr. Padula and Creager’s key development was creating an alloy that can return to their shape at the molecular level, meaning they can deform to adapt to uneven terrain, including obstacles like gravel and potholes, and return to their shape without losing structural integrity over time.

SMART, which is co-founded by Survivor Fiji champion Earl Cole and engineer Brian Yennie, worked with Padula and Creager, along with former NASA intern Calvin Young, to apply the benefits of SMA to the consumer market. They’re targeting the cycling market first with their METL tire, which is set to become available to the general public by early next year. Following that, SMART intends to also pursue bring SMA tires to the automotive and commercial vehicle industries, too.

SMART's METL tire close up

Image Credits: SMART Tire Company

Already, SMART has a partnership in place with Ford-owned Spin, the bike and scooter-sharing company focused on novel micro-mobility models. SMART’s technology has the potential not only to make flat tires or under inflation a thing of the past, but could reduce cost and waste long-term by supplementing the need for rubber tires, which need frequent replacement and can be a danger to riders or drivers when used without proper pressure.

SMART is also using WeFunder to seek crowdsourced equity investment, with SAFEs currently available at an $8 million valuation cap.

#aerospace, #chemistry, #engineer, #ford, #greentech, #tc, #tire, #tires, #wefunder

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Astra hires longtime Apple veteran Benjamin Lyon as Chief Engineer

New Space startup Astra, which is currently focused on commercial rockets, but which plans to eventually build satellites, too, has hired one of Apple’s key engineering leaders to head its own engineering efforts. Benjamin Lyon spent over two decades at Apple, where he worked on everything from the iPhone, to input devices and sensor hardware, to special projects: the department at Apple working on autonomous vehicle technology.

“When I’ve looked at what to do next at Apple, it has always been this combination of ‘What is the most impactful thing that I can do for humanity?’ – the iPhone was very much one of these,” Lyon told me in an interview. “Phones were awful [at the time], and if we could fundamentally come up with a new interface, that would completely change how people interact with devices.”

Creating a mobile device with an interface that was “completely flexible and completely customizable to the application” was what seemed so transformative to Lyon about the iPhone, and he sees a direct parallel in the work that Astra is doing to lower the barrier of access to space through cheap, scalable and highly-efficient rocketry.

“Astra me feels very, very much like redefining what it means for a phone to be smart,” Lyon said. “I think the Astra vision is this magical combination of fundamentally taking the rocket science out of space. How do you do that? Well, you better have a great foundation of a team, and a great foundation of core technologies that you can bring together in order to make a compelling series of products.”

Foundations are the key ingredient according not only to Lyon, but also to Astra co-founder and CEO Chris Kemp, who explained why an experienced Apple engineer made the most sense to him to lead a rocket startup’s engineering efforts.

“We did not want anyone from aerospace – I’ll just I’ll say that out of the gate,” Kemp told me. “Aerospace has not figured out how to build rockets at scale, or do anything profitably – ever. So I found no inspiration from anyone I talked to who had anything to do with with any of the other space-related companies. We do feel that there are people that are at SpaceX and Blue Origin who are really good at what they do. But in terms of the culture that we’re trying to establish at Astra, if you look back at Apple, and the things that that Benjamin worked on there over many decades, he really took on not only designing the the thing, but also designing the thing that makes the thing, which was more important than the thing itself.”

Kemp’s alluding to Apple’s lauded ability to work very closely with suppliers and move fundamental component engineering in-house, crafting unique designs for things like the system-on-a-chip that now powers everything from the iPhone to Macs. Apple often designs the processes involved in making those fundamental components, and then helps its suppliers stand up the factories required to build those to its exacting specifications. Astra’s approach to the space industry centers around a similar approach, with a focus on optimizing the output of its Alameda-based rocket factory, and iterating its products quickly to match the needs of the market while keeping pricing accessible.

And Astra’s definition of ‘iteration’ matches up much more closely with the one used by Silicon Valley than that typically espoused by legacy aerospace companies – going further still in questioning the industry’s fundamentals than even watershed space tech innovators like SpaceX, which in many ways still adheres to accepted rocket industry methods.

“You don’t do the iPhone X at iPhone 1 – you start with the iPhone 1 and you work your way to the iPhone X,” Lyon told me. “You’re going to see that with Astro as well, there’s going to be this amazing evolution, but it’s going to be tech company-rate evolution, as opposed to an ‘every 20 years’ evolution.”

That sentiment lines up with Astra and Kemp’s approach to date: The company reached space for the first time late last year, with a rocket that was the second of three planned launches in a rapid iteration cycle designed to achieve that milestone. After the first of these launches (Rocket 3.1 if you’re keeping track) failed to make space last September, Astra quickly went back to the drawing board and tweaked the design to come back for its successful attempt in December (Rocket 3.2) – an extremely fast turnaround for an aerospace company by any measure. The company is now focused on its Rocket 3.3 launch, which should only require software changes to achieve a successful orbit, and put it on track to begin delivering commercial payloads for paying customers.

Astra’s rocket production facility in Alameda, California.

Astra’s rocket is tiny compared to the mammoth Starship that SpaceX is currently developing, but that’s part of the appeal that drew Lyon to the startup in the first place. He says the goal of “design[ing] a rocket to match the application,” rather than simply “design[ing] a rocket to end all rockets” makes vastly more sense to serve the bourgeoning market.

“And that’s just the beginning,” he added. “Then you’ll take the next step, which is if you look at the technology that’s in a satellite, and a bunch of the smart technology that’s in a rocket, there’s a tremendous amount of duplication there. So, get rid of the duplication – design the rocket and the satellite together as one system.”

Eventually, that means contemplating not only launch and satellite as a single challenge, but also managing “the entire experience of getting to space and managing a constellation” as “a single design problem,” according to Lyon, which is the level of ambition at Astra that he views as on par with that of Steve Jobs at Apple at the outset of the iPhone project.

Ultimately, Astra hopes to be able to provide aspiring space technology companies with everything they need so that the actual space component of their business is fully handled. The idea is that startups and innovators can then focus on bringing new models and sensing technologies to Astra, worrying only about payload – leaving launch, integration and eventually constellation management to the experts. It’s not unlike what the App Store unlocked for the software industry, Lyon said.

“We’re trying to do something that’s never been done before in aerospace, which is to really scale the production of rockets, and also focus on the overall economics of the business,” Kemp explained about additional advantages of having Lyon on board. “As we become a public company, in particular, we have very aggressive EBITDA targets, and very aggressive production targets, much the same way Apple does. We also want to have a new rocket every year, just like [the iPhone] and so to some degree, we found every aspect of Benjamin’s ethos aligned with our values, and the culture that we’re creating here at Astro of relentless, constant innovation and iteration.

#aerospace, #app-store, #apple, #apple-inc, #astra, #astro, #blue-origin, #chris-kemp, #engineer, #input-devices, #ios, #iphone, #mobile-device, #mobile-phones, #smart-technology, #smartphones, #space, #space-technology, #spacex, #steve-jobs, #system-on-a-chip, #tc

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Augmented reality and the next century of the web

Howdy friends, this is the web version of my Week in Review newsletter, it’s here to entice you to sign up and get it in your inbox every week.

Last week, I showcased how Twitter was looking at the future of the web with a decentralized approach so that they wouldn’t be stuck unilaterally de-platforming the next world leader. This week, I scribbled some thoughts on another aspect of the future web, the ongoing battle between Facebook and Apple to own augmented reality. Releasing the hardware will only be the start of a very messy transition from smartphone-first to glasses-first mobile computing.

Again, if you so desire you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny


The Big Thing

If the last few years of new “reality” tech has telegraphed anything, it’s that tech companies won’t be able to skip past augmented reality’s awkward phase, they’re going to have to barrel through it and it’s probably going to take a long-ass time.

The clearest reality is that in 2021 everyday users still don’t seem quite as interested in AR as the next generation of platform owners stand to benefit from a massive transition. There’s some element of skating to where the puck is going among the soothsayers that believe AR is the inevitable platform heir etc. etc., but the battle to reinvent mobile is at its core a battle to kill the smartphone before its time has come.

A war to remake mobile in the winner’s image

It’s fitting that the primary backers of this AR future are Apple and Facebook, ambitious companies that are deeply in touch with the opportunities they could’ve capitalized on if they could do it all over again.

While Apple and Facebook both have thousands of employees toiling quietly in the background building out their AR tech moats, we’ve seen and heard much more on Facebook’s efforts. The company has already served up several iterations of their VR hardware through Oculus and has discussed publicly over the years how they view virtual reality and augmented reality hardware converging. 

Facebook’s hardware and software experiments have been experimentations in plain sight, an advantage afforded to a company that didn’t sell any hardware before they started selling VR headsets. Meanwhile Apple has offered up a developer platform and a few well-timed keynote slots for developers harnessing their tools, but the most ambitious first-party AR project they’ve launched publicly on iOS has been a measuring tape app. Everything else has taken place behind closed doors.

That secrecy tends to make any reporting on Apple’s plans particularly juicy. This week, a story from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman highlights some of Apple’s next steps towards a long-rumored AR glasses product, reporting that Apple plans to release a high-end niche VR device with some AR capabilities as early as next year. It’s not the most surprising but showcases how desperate today’s mobile kingpins are to ease the introduction of a technology that has the potential to turn existing tech stacks and the broader web on their heads.

Both Facebook and Apple have a handful of problems getting AR products out into the world, and they’re not exactly low-key issues:

  1. hardware isn’t ready
  2. platforms aren’t ready
  3. developers aren’t ready
  4. users don’t want it yet

This is a daunting wall, but isn’t uncommon among hardware moonshots. Facebook has already worked its way through this cycle once with virtual reality over several generations of hardware, though there were some key difference and few would call VR a mainstream success quite yet.

Nevertheless, there’s a distinct advantage to tackling VR before AR for both Facebook and Apple, they can invest in hardware that’s adjacent to the technologies their AR products will need to capitalize on, they can entice developers to build for a platform that’s more similar to what’s coming and they can set base line expectations for consumers for a more immersive platform. At least this would all be the case for Apple with a mass market VR device closer to Facebook’s $300 Quest 2, but a pricey niche device as Gurman’s report details doesn’t seem to fit that bill quite so cleanly.

The AR/VR content problem 

The scenario I’d imagine both Facebook and Apple are losing sleep over is that they release serviceable AR hardware into a world where they are wholly responsible for coming up with all the primary use cases.

The AR/VR world already has a hefty backlog of burnt developers who might be long-term bullish on the tech but are also tired of getting whipped around by companies that seem to view the development of content ecosystems simply as a means to ship their next device. If Apple is truly expecting the sales numbers of this device that Bloomberg suggests — similar to Valve’s early Index headset sales — then color me doubtful that there will be much developer interest at all in building for a stopgap device, I’d expect ports of Quest 2 content and a few shining stars from Apple-funded partners.

I don’t think this will me much of a shortcut for them.

True AR hardware is likely going to have different standards of input, different standards of interaction and a much different approach to use cases compared to a device built for the home or smartphone. Apple has already taken every available chance to entice mobile developers to embrace phone-based AR on iPhones through ARKit, a push they have seemed to back off from at recent developer-centric events. As someone who has kept a close eye on early projects, I’d say that most players in the space have been very underwhelmed by what existing platforms enable and what has been produced widely.

That’s really not great for Apple or Facebook and suggests that both of these companies are going to have to guide users and developers through use cases they design. I think there’s a convincing argument that early AR glasses applications will be dominated by first-party tech and may eschew full third-party native apps in favor of tightly controlled data integrations more similar to how Apple has approached developer integrations inside Siri.

But giving developers a platform built with Apple or Facebook’s own dominance in mind is going to be tough to sell, underscoring the fact that mobile and mobile AR are going to be platforms that will have to live alongside each other for quite a bit. There will be rich opportunities for developers to create experiences that play with 3D and space, but there are also plenty of reasons to expect they’ll be more resistant to move off of a mutually enriching mobile platform onto one where Facebook or Apple will have the pioneer’s pick of platform advantages. What’s in it for them?

Mobile’s OS-level winners captured plenty of value from top-of-funnel apps marketplaces, but the down-stream opportunities found mobile’s true prize, a vastly expanded market for digital ads. With the opportunity of a mobile do-over, expect to find pioneering tech giants pitching proprietary digital ad infrastructure for their devices. Advertising will likely be augmented reality’s greatest opportunity allowing the digital ads market to create an infinite global canvas for geo-targeted customized ad content. A boring future, yes, but a predictable one.

For Facebook, being a platform owner in the 2020s means getting to set their own limitations on use cases, not being confined by App Store regulations and designing hardware with social integrations closer to the silicon. For Apple, reinventing the mobile OS in the 2020s likely means an opportunity to more meaningfully dominate mobile advertising.

It’s a do-over to the tune of trillions in potential revenues.

What comes next

The AR/VR industry has been stuck in a cycle of seeking out saviors. Facebook has been the dearest friend to proponents after startup after startup has failed to find a speedy win. Apple’s long-awaited AR glasses are probably where most die-hards are currently placing their faith.

I don’t think there are any misgivings from Apple or Facebook in terms of what a wild opportunity this to win, it’s why they each have more people working on this than any other future-minded project. AR will probably be massive and change the web in a fundamental way, a true Web 3.0 that’s the biggest shift of the internet to date.

That’s doesn’t sound like something that will happen particularly smoothly.

I’m sure that these early devices will arrive later than we expect, do less than we expect and that things will be more and less different from the smartphone era’s mobile paradigms in ways we don’t anticipate. I’m also sure that it’s going to be tough for these companies to strong-arm themselves into a more seamless transition. This is going to be a very messy for tech platforms and is a transition that won’t happen overnight, not by a long shot.


Other things

The Loon is dead
One of tech’s stranger moonshots is dead, as Google announced this week that Loon, it’s internet balloon project is being shut down. It was an ambitious attempt to bring high-speed internet to remote corners of the world, but the team says it wasn’t sustainable to provide a high-cost service at a low price. More

Facebook Oversight Board tasked with Trump removal
I talked a couple weeks ago — what feels like a lifetime ago — about how Facebook’s temporary ban of Trump was going to be a nightmare for the company. I wasn’t sure how they’d stall for more time of a banned Trump before he made Facebook and Instagram his central platform, but they made a brilliant move, purposefully tying the case up in PR-favorable bureaucracy, tossing the case to their independent Oversight Board for their biggest case to date. More

Jack is Back
Alibaba’s head honcho is back in action. Alibaba shares jumped this week when the Chinese e-commerce giant’s billionaire CEO Jack Ma reappeared in public after more than three months after his last public appearance, something that stoked plenty of conspiracies. Where he was during all this time isn’t clear, but I sort of doubt we’ll be finding out. More

Trump pardons Anthony Levandowski
Trump is no longer President, but in one of his final acts, he surprisingly opted to grant a full pardon to one Anthony Levandowski, the former Google engineer convicted of stealing trade secrets regarding their self-driving car program. It was a surprising end to one of the more dramatic big tech lawsuits in recent years. More

Xbox raises Live prices
I’m not sure how this stacks in importance relative to what else is listed here, but I’m personally pissed that Microsoft is hiking the price of their streaming subscription Xbox Live Gold. It’s no secret that the gaming industry is embracing a subscription economy, it will be interesting to see what the divide looks like in terms of gamer dollars going towards platform owners versus studios. More

Musk offers up $100M donation to carbon capture tech
Elon Musk, who is currently the world’s richest person, tweeted out this week that he will be donating $100 million towards a contest to build the best technology for carbon capture. TechCrunch learned that this is connected to the Xprize organization. More details


Extra Things

I’m adding a section going forward to highlight some of our Extra Crunch coverage from the week, which dives a bit deeper into the money and minds of the moneymakers.

Hot IPOs hang onto gains as investors keep betting on tech
“After setting a $35 to $39 per-share IPO price range, Poshmark sold shares in its IPO at $42 apiece. Then it opened at $97.50. Such was the exuberance of the stock market regarding the used goods marketplace’s debut.
But today it’s worth a more modest $76.30 — for this piece we’re using all Yahoo Finance data, and all current prices are those from yesterday’s close ahead of the start of today’s trading — which sparked a question: How many recent tech IPOs are also down from their opening price?” More

How VCs invested in Asia and Europe in 2020
“Wrapping our look at how the venture capital asset class invested in 2020, today we’re taking a peek at Europe’s impressive year, and Asia’s slightly less invigorating set of results. (We’re speaking soon with folks who may have data on African VC activity in 2020; if those bear out, we’ll do a final entry in our series concerning the continent.)” More

Hello, Extra Crunch Community!
“We’re going to be trying out some new things around here with the Extra Crunch staff front and center, as well as turning your feedback into action more than ever. We quite literally work for you, the subscriber, and want to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth, as it were.” More


Until next week,
Lucas Matney

#alibaba, #anthony-levandowski, #app-store, #apple, #apple-inc, #ar, #arkansas, #asia, #augmented-reality, #ceo, #computing, #engineer, #europe, #facebook, #google, #head, #high-speed-internet, #instagram, #itunes, #jack-ma, #lucas-matney, #microsoft, #mobile-computing, #mobile-developers, #oculus, #oversight-board, #poshmark, #president, #siri, #smartphone, #smartphones, #software, #tc, #technology, #trump, #twitter, #virtual-reality, #vr, #xprize, #yahoo

0

Stacklet raises $18M for its cloud governance platform

Stacklet, a startup that is commercializing the Cloud Custodian open-source cloud governance project, today announced that it has raised an $18 million Series A funding round. The round was led by Addition, with participation from Foundation Capital and new individual investor Liam Randall, who is joining the company as VP of business development. Addition and Foundation Capital also invested in Stacklet’s seed round, which the company announced last August. This new round brings the company’s total funding to $22 million.

Stacklet helps enterprises manage their data governance stance across different clouds, accounts, policies and regions, with a focus on security, cost optimization and regulatory compliance. The service offers its users a set of pre-defined policy packs that encode best practices for access to cloud resources, though users can obviously also specify their own rules. In addition, Stacklet offers a number of analytics functions around policy health and resource auditing, as well as a real-time inventory and change management logs for a company’s cloud assets.

The company was co-founded by Travis Stanfield (CEO) and Kapil Thangavelu (CTO). Both bring a lot of industry expertise to the table. Stanfield spent time as an engineer at Microsoft and leading DealerTrack Technologies, while Thangavelu worked at Canonical and most recently in Amazon’s AWSOpen team. Thangavelu is also one of the co-creators of the Cloud Custodian project, which was first incubated at Capital One, where the two co-founders met during their time there, and is now a sandbox project under the Cloud Native Computing Foundation’s umbrella.

“When I joined Capital One, they had made the executive decision to go all-in on cloud and close their data centers,” Thangavelu told me. “I got to join on the ground floor of that movement and Custodian was born as a side project, looking at some of the governance and security needs that large regulated enterprises have as they move into the cloud.”

As companies have sped up their move to the cloud during the pandemic, the need for products like Stacklets has also increased. The company isn’t naming most of its customers, but one of them is FICO, among a number of other larger enterprises. Stacklet isn’t purely focused on the enterprise, though. “Once the cloud infrastructure becomes — for a particular organization — large enough that it’s not knowable in a single person’s head, we can deliver value for you at that time and certainly, whether it’s through the open source or through Stacklet, we will have a story there.” The Cloud Custodian open-source project is already seeing serious use among large enterprises, though, and Stacklet obviously benefits from that as well.

“In just 8 months, Travis and Kapil have gone from an idea to a functioning team with 15 employees, signed early Fortune 2000 design partners and are well on their way to building the Stacklet commercial platform,” Foundation Capital’s Sid Trivedi said. “They’ve done all this while sheltered in place at home during a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic. This is the type of velocity that investors look for from an early-stage company.”

Looking ahead, the team plans to use the new funding to continue to developed the product, which should be generally available later this year, expand both its engineering and its go-to-market teams and continue to grow the open-source community around Cloud Custodian.

#cloud, #cloud-computing, #cloud-custodian, #cloud-infrastructure, #cloud-native-computing-foundation, #computing, #engineer, #enterprise, #foundation-capital, #kapil-thangavelu, #microsoft, #recent-funding, #stacklet, #startups, #tc

0

Use Git data to optimize your developers’ annual reviews

The end of the year is looming and with it one of your most important tasks as a manager. Summarizing the performance of 10, 20 or 50 developers over the past 12 months, offering personalized advice and having the facts to back it up — is no small task.

We believe that the only unbiased, accurate and insightful way to understand how your developers are working, progressing and — last but definitely not least — how they’re feeling, is with data. Data can provide more objective insights into employee activity than could ever be gathered by a human.

It’s still very hard for many managers to fully understand that all employees work at different paces and levels.

Consider this: Over two-thirds of employees say they would put more effort into their work if they felt more appreciated, and 90% want a manager who’s fair to all employees.

Let’s be honest. It’s hard to judge all of your employees fairly if you’re (1) unable to work physically side-by-side with them, meaning you’ll inevitably have more contact with the some over others (e.g., those you’re more friendly with); and (2) you’re relying on manual trackers to keep on top of everyone’s work, which can get lost and take a lot of effort to process and analyze; (3) you expect engineers to self-report their progress, which is far from objective.

It’s also unlikely, especially with the quieter ones, that on top of all that you’ll have identified areas for them to expand their talents by upskilling or reskilling. But it’s that kind of personal attention that will make employees feel appreciated and able to progress professionally with you. Absent that, they’re likely to take the next best job opportunity that shows up.

So here’s a run down of why you need data to set up a fair annual review process; if not this year, then you can kick-start it for 2021.

1. Use data to set next year’s goals

The best way to track your developers’ progress automatically is by using Git Analytics tools, which track the performance of individuals by aggregating historical Git data and then feeding that information back to managers in minute detail.

This data will clearly show you if one of your engineers is over capacity or underworked and the types of projects they excel in. If you’re assessing an engineering manager and the team members they’re responsible for have been taking longer to push their code to the shared repository, causing a backlog of tasks, it may mean that they’re not delegating tasks properly. An appropriate goal here would be to track and divide their team’s responsibilities more efficiently, which can be tracked using the same metrics, or cross-training members of other teams to assist with their tasks.

Another example is that of an engineer who is dipping their toe into multiple projects. Indicators of where they’ve performed best include churn (we’ll get to that later), coworkers repeatedly asking that same employee to assist them in new tasks and of course positive feedback for senior staff, which can easily be integrated into Git analytics tools. These are clear signs that next year, your engineer could be maximizing their talents in these alternative areas, and you could diversify their tasks accordingly.

Once you know what targets to set, you can use analytics tools to create automatic targets for each engineer. That means that after you’ve set it up, it will be updated regularly on the engineer’s progress using indicators directly from the code repository. It won’t need time-consuming input from either you or your employee, allowing you both to focus on more important tasks. As a manager you’ll receive full reports once the deadline of the task is reached and get notified whenever metrics start dropping or the goal has been met.

This is important — you’ll be able to keep on top of those goals yourself, without having to delegate that responsibility or depend on self-reporting by the engineer. It will keep employee monitoring honest and transparent.

2. Three Git metrics can help you understand true performance quality

The easiest way for managers to “conclude” how an engineer has performed is by looking at superficial output: the number of completed pull requests submitted per week, the number of commits per day, etc. Especially for nontechnical managers, this is a grave but common error. When something is done, it doesn’t mean it’s been done well or that it is even productive or usable.

Instead, look at these data points to determine the actual quality of your engineer’s work:

  1. Churn is your number-one red flag, telling you how many times someone has modified their code in the first 21 days after it has been checked in. The more churn, the less of an engineer’s code is actually productive, with good longevity. Churn is a natural and healthy part of the software development process, but we’ve identified that any churn level above the normal 15%-30% indicates that an engineer is struggling with assignments.

    #business-intelligence, #column, #developer, #engineer, #labor, #startups, #telecommuting, #usability

0

Space manufacturing startup Varda, incubated at Founders Fund, emerges with $9 million in funding

From a young age, Will Bruey, the co-founder and chief executive of Varda Space Industries, was fascinated with space and running his own business.

So when the former SpaceX engineer was tapped by Delian Asparouhov and Trae Stephens of Founders Fund to work on Varda he didn’t think twice.

Bruey spent six years at SpaceX. First working on the Falcon and Dragon video systems and then the bulk of the systems actuators and controllers used in the avionics for the crewed Dragon capsule (which recently docked at the International Space Station). `

According to Asparouhov, that background, and the time that Bruey spent running his own angel syndicate and working at Bank of America getting a grounding in finance and startups, made him an ideal candidate to run the next startup to be spun out of Founders Fund .

Like other Founders Fund companies, Palantir and Anduril, Varda takes its name from the novels of J.R.R. Tolkien. Named for the Elf queen who created constellations, the company has set itself no less lofty a task than bringing manufacturing to space.

News of the funding was first reported by Axios.

While companies like Space Tango and Made In Space already are attempting to make a viable business out of space manufacturing, they focus on small scale pilots and experimental projects. Varda separates itself by its loftier ambition — to manufacture commercially viable products at scale in space.

To be economically viable, these products have to be very very high value, and according to the IEEE there are already some goods that fit the bill. Things like carbon nanotubes and fiber optic cables, organs, and novel materials are all potential targets for a space manufacturing company, because they can conceivably justify the high cost of material transportation.

Image Credit: Getty Images/AbelCreativeStudio

“Manufacturing is the next step for commercialization in space,” said Bruey. “The primary driver that makes us economical is success in the launch business.”

With now-established companies like SpaceX, Rocket Lab and Blue Origin, and upstarts like Relativity Space, Spinlaunch, and the newly launched Aevum Space all driving down the cost of launching objects into space, the next wave of commercialization is coming.

Varda’s backers, which put $9 million into the company, were led by Founders Fund and Lux Capital . Additional participation came from Fifty Years, Also Capital, Raymond Tonsing, Justin Mateen, and Naval Ravikant.

These investors are all placing a bet that the biggest returns could be in manufacturing. As a result of their investments, Founders Fund partner Trae Stephens and Lux Capital co-founder Josh Wolfe are both taking seats on the company’s board.

“The first things we will manufacture are things with high dollar per-unit-mass value,” said Bruey. “As we establish our manufacturing platform that will ramp into the longer term vision of offloading manufacturing for all space operations.”

There are two categories of space manufacturing in the industry to come, according to Bruey and Asparouhov and those are additive manufacturing for making products to be used in space, and manufacturing in space for terrestrial applications. It’s the second of these that Varda focuses on. “Nothing we will be doing will be 3D printing,” said Asparouhov. “We will be focused on making things in space that we can bring back to earth.

The company may not be working on 3D printing, but its manufacturing facilities won’t look like anything on Earth. Initially, they’ll be unmanned, according to a blog post published by Fifty Years. Then they’ll manufacture things in space that benefit from low gravity. Finally, the company intends to build the first inrastructure that can harvest source materials for new products in-space via asteroid mining.

“Varda can make manufacturing sustainable by eliminating the need to destructively extract earth’s resources, help cure chronic diseases, deepen our understanding of biology, help connect more people to the Internet, and usher in higher-throughput and lower energy methods of computation,” Fifty Years co-founder Seth Bannon wrote in a direct message. “Bringing human industry into the stars — this is entrepreneurship at its boldest! Varda is the sort of big swing ambition venture capital was invented for.”

 

#3d-printing, #additive-manufacturing, #anduril, #asteroid-mining, #bank-of-america, #blue-origin, #california, #delian-asparouhov, #driver, #emerging-technologies, #engineer, #fiber-optic, #finance, #founders-fund, #hyperloop, #industrial-design, #international-space-station, #justin-mateen, #lux-capital, #manufacturing, #palantir, #private-spaceflight, #relativity-space, #rocket-lab, #seth-bannon, #space-tango, #spacex, #tc

0

Researchers say hardcoded passwords in GE medical imaging devices could put patient data at risk

Dozens of medical imaging devices built by General Electric are secured with hardcoded default passwords that can’t be easily changed, but could be exploited to access sensitive patient scans, according to new findings by security firm CyberMDX.

The researchers said that an attacker would only need to be on the same network to exploit a vulnerable device, such as by tricking an employee into opening an email with malware. From there, the attacker could use those unchanged hardcoded passwords to obtain whatever patient data was left on the device or disrupt the device from operating properly.

CyberMDX said X-ray machines, CT and MRI scanners, and ultrasound and mammography devices are among the affected devices.

GE uses hardcoded passwords to remotely maintain the devices. But Elad Luz, head of research at CyberMDX, said some customers were not aware that their devices had vulnerable devices. Luz described the passwords as “hardcoded,” because although they can be changed, customers have to rely on a GE engineer to change the passwords on-site.

The vulnerability has also prompted an alert by Homeland Security’s cybersecurity advisory unit, CISA. Customers of affected devices should contact GE to change the passwords.

Hannah Huntly, a spokesperson for GE Healthcare, said in a statement: “We are not aware of any incident where this potential vulnerability has been exploited in a clinical situation. We have conducted a full risk assessment and concluded that there is no patient safety concern. Maintaining the safety, quality, and security of our devices is our highest priority.”

It’s the latest find by the New York-based healthcare cybersecurity startup. Last year the startup also reported vulnerabilities in other GE equipment, which the company later admitted could have led to patient injury after initially clearing the device for use.

CyberMDX, which works primarily to secure medical devices and improve hospital network security through its cyber intelligence platform while conducting security research on the side, raised $20 million earlier this year, just a month into the COVID-19 pandemic.

#articles, #computer-security, #cryptography, #cybercrime, #cyberwarfare, #engineer, #ge-healthcare, #health, #malware, #medical-device, #medical-imaging, #new-york, #security, #spokesperson, #ultrasound, #vulnerability, #x-ray

0

Okay nabs funding from Sequoia to build performance dashboards for engineering managers

Amid the pandemic, workplace cultures have been turned on their heads, meanwhile investment and growth haven’t slowed for many tech companies, requiring them to still onboard new engineering managers even while best practices for remote management are far from codified.

Because of remote work habit shifts, plenty of new tools have popped up to help engineers be more productive, or quickly help managers interface with direct-reports more often. Okay is taking a more observatory route, aiming to give managers dashboards that quantify the performance of their teams so that they can get a picture of where they have room to improve.

The startup, which launched out of Y Combinator earlier this year, tells TechCrunch they’ve raised $2.2 million in funding led by Sequoia and are launching the open beta of their service.

Co-founders Antoine Boulanger and Tomas Barreto met while working at Box — Boulanger as a senior director of engineering and Barreto as a VP of engineering. They told TechCrunch that in the process of building out a suite of in-house tools designed to help managers at Box understand their teams better, they realized the opportunity for a subscription toolset that could help managers across companies. For the most part, Boulanger says that today Okay is largely replacing tools built in-house as well.

Getting a picture of an engineering team’s productivity means plugging into these toolsets and gathering data into a digestible feed. Okay can be integrated with a number of toolsets, including software like GitHub, PagerDuty, CircleCI and Google Calendar.

“Part of the problem for managers is that there are so many tools, so how do you get signal from the noise?” Barreto tells TechCrunch.

A large part of Okay’s sell seems to be ensuring that managers can keep an active eye on the common pitfalls of rapid scaling and keep them in check so that can keep direct-reports satisfied. On the individual basis, managers can quickly see stats related to how much of an individual manager’s time is being spent in meetings compared to un-interrupted “maker time” where they actually have the ability to get work done.

People don’t like to be micro-managed and the idea that everything you do is feeding into a pie chart that judges whether you’re a good employee or not isn’t the most savory sell for engineers. Okay’s founders hope they can strike a balance and give managers data that they’re not tempted to over-rely on, instead defaulting to team-level insights when they can so that managers are dialed into general trends like how long projects are taking on average or how long it takes for pull requests to be reviewed.

Investors have been bankrolling remote work tools at a heightened pace for the last several months and things have been especially fortunate for young companies that were ahead of the trend. Barreto, for his part, has served as a scout at Sequoia since 2018 according to his LinkedIn.

The team says their product, as it stands today, is best fit for companies with 50-200 engineers that are high-growth and perhaps going through some of those growing pains. The company’s early customers include teams at Brex, Plaid and Split.

#articles, #engineer, #github, #leadership, #management, #okay, #pagerduty, #tc, #y-combinator

0

Merging Airbnb and the traditional hotel model, Mexico City’s Casai raises $23 million to grow in Latin America

With travel and tourism rising across Latin America, Casai, a startup combining Airbnb single unit rentals with hotel room amenities, has raised $23 million to expand its business across Latin America.

The company, which initially was as hit hard by regional responses to the COVID-19 pandemic as other businesses in the hospitality industry has recovered to reach nearly 90 percent of total capacity on the 200 units it manages around Mexico City.

The company was co-founded by chief executive Nico Barawid, a former head of international expansion at Nova Credit and consultant with BCG, and chief operating officer María del Carmen Herrerías Salazar, who previously worked at one of Mexico’s largest hotel operators, Grupo Presidente.

The two met two years ago at a barbecue in Mexico City and began speaking about ways to update the hospitality industry taking the best of Airbnb’s short term rental model of individual units and pairing it with the quality control and standards that guests expect from a hotel chain.

“I wanted to define a product from a consumer angle,” said Barawid. “I wanted this to exist.”

Before the SARS-Cov-2 outbreak Casai’s units were primarily booked through travel partners like HotelTonight or Expedia. Now the company has a direct brisk direct booking business thanks to the work of its chief technology officer, a former engineer at Google named Andres Martinez.

The company’s new financing was led by Andreessen Horowitz and included additional commitments from the firm’s Cultural Leadership Fund, Kaszek Ventures, Monashees Capital, Global Founders Capital, Liquid 2 Ventures, and individual investors including the founders of Nova Credit, Loft, Kavak and Runa.

Casai also managed to nab a debt facility of up to $25 million from TriplePoint Capital, bringing its total cash haul to $48 million in equity and debt.

Image Credit: Casai

The big round is in part thanks to the company’s compelling value proposition, which offers guest not only places to stay equipped with a proprietary smart hardware hub and the Casai app, but also a Google Home, smart lights, and Chromecast-kitted televisions, but also a lounge where guests can stay ahead of their check-in or after check-out.

And while the company’s vision is focused on Latin America now, its management team definitely sees the opportunity to create a global brand and business.

The founding team also includes a chief revenue officer, Alberto Ramos, who worked at McKinsey and a chief growth officer, Daniel Hermann, who previously worked at the travel and lifestyle company, Selina. The head of design, Alexa Backal, used to work at GAIA Design, and its vice president of experience, Cristina Crespo, formerly ran WeWork’s international design studio.

“To successfully execute on this opportunity, a team needs to bring together expertise from consumer technology, design, hospitality, real estate and financial services to develop world-class operations needed to deliver on a first-class experience,” said Angela Strange, a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, who’s taking a seat on the Casai board. “It was obvious when I met Nico and Maricarmen that they are operationally laser-focused and have uniquely blended expertise across verticals, with unique views on the consumer experience.”

#airbnb, #andreessen, #andreessen-horowitz, #angela-strange, #chief-operating-officer, #chief-technology-officer, #engineer, #financial-services, #general-partner, #global-founders-capital, #hoteltonight, #kaszek-ventures, #laser, #latin-america, #liquid-2-ventures, #mckinsey, #mexico, #mexico-city, #monashees-capital, #nova-credit, #real-estate, #runa, #selina, #sharing-economy, #tc, #tourism, #travel, #triplepoint-capital, #vacation-rental, #wework

0

Pixie Labs raises $9.15M Series A round for its Kubernetes observability platform

Pixie, a startup that provides developers with tools to get observability into their Kubernetes-native applications, today announced that it has raised a $9.15 million Series A round led by Benchmark, with participation from GV. In addition, the company also today said that its service is now available as a public beta.

The company was co-founded by Zain Asgar (CEO), a former Google engineer working on Google AI and adjunct professor at Stanford, and Ishan Mukherjee (CPO), who led Apple’s Siri Knowledge Graph product team and also previously worked on Amazon’s Robotics efforts. Asgar had originally joined Benchmark to work on developer tools for machine learning. Over time, the idea changed to using machine learning to power tools to help developers manage large-scale deployments instead.

“We saw data systems, this move to the edge, and we felt like this old cloud 1.0 model of manually collecting data and shipping it to databases in the cloud seems pretty inefficient,” Mukherjee explained. “And the other part was: I was on call. I got gray hair and all that stuff. We felt like we could build this new generation of developer tools and get to Michael Jordan’s vision of intelligent augmentation, which is giving creatives tools where they can be a lot more productive.”

Image Credits: Pixie

The team argues that most competing monitoring and observability systems focus on operators and IT teams — and often involve a long manual setup process. But Pixie wants to automate most of this manual process and build a tool that developers want to use.

Pixie runs inside a developer’s Kubernetes platform and developers get instant and automatic visibility into their production environments. With Pixie, which the team is making available as a freemium SaaS product, there is no instrumentation to install. Instead, the team uses relatively new Linux kernel techniques like eBPF to collect data right at the source.

“One of the really cool things about this is that we can deploy Pixie in about a minute and you’ll instantly get data,” said Asgar. “Our goal here is that this really helps you when there are cases where you don’t want your business logic to be full of monitoring code, especially if you forget something — when you have an outage.”

Image Credits: Pixie

At the core of the developer experience is what the company calls “Pixie scripts.” Using a Python-like language (PxL), developers can codify their debugging workflows. The company’s system already features a number of scripts written by the team itself and the community at large. But as Asgar noted, not every user will write scripts. “The way scripts work, it’s supposed to capture human knowledge in that problem. We don’t expect the average user — or even the way above average developer — ever to touch a script or write one. They’re just going to use it in a specific scenario,” he explained.

Looking ahead, the team plans to make these scripts and the scripting language more robust and usable to allow developers to go from passively monitoring their systems to building scripts that can actively take actions on their clusters based on the monitoring data the system collects.

“Zain and Ishan’s provocative idea was to move software monitoring to the source,” said Eric Vishria, General Partner at Benchmark. “Pixie enables engineering teams to fundamentally rethink their monitoring strategy as it presents a vision of the future where we detect anomalous behavior and make operational decisions inside the infrastructure layer itself. This allows companies of all sizes to monitor their digital experiences in a more responsive, cost-effective and scalable manner.”

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WhyLabs brings more transparancy to ML ops

WhyLabs, a new machine learning startup that was spun out of the Allen Institute, is coming out of stealth today. Founded by a group of former Amazon machine learning engineers, Alessya Visnjic, Sam Gracie and Andy Dang, together with Madrona Venture Group principal Maria Karaivanova, WhyLabs’ focus is on ML operations after models have been trained — not on building those models from the ground up.

The team also today announced that it has raised a $4 million seed funding round from Madrona Venture Group, Bezos Expeditions, Defy Partners and Ascend VC.

Visnjic, the company’s CEO, used to work on Amazon’s demand forecasting model.

“The team was all research scientists, and I was the only engineer who had kind of tier-one operating experience,” she told me. “So it was like, ”Okay, how bad could it be?’ I carried the pager for the retail website before it can be bad. But it was one of the first AI deployments that we’d done at Amazon at scale. The pager duty was extra fun because there were no real tools. So when things would go wrong — like we’d order way too many black socks out of the blue — it was a lot of manual effort to figure out why was this happening.”

Image Credits: WhyLabs

But while large companies like Amazon have built their own internal tools to help their data scientists and AI practitioners operate their AI systems, most enterprises continue to struggle with this — and a lot of AI projects simply fail and never make it into production. “We believe that one of the big reasons that happens is because of the operating process that remains super manual,” Visnjic said. “So at WhyLabs, we’re building the tools to address that — specifically to monitor and track data quality and alert — you can think of it as Datadog for AI applications.”

The team has brought ambitions, but to get started, it is focusing on observability. The team is building — and open-sourcing — a new tool for continuously logging what’s happening in the AI system, using a low-overhead agent. That platform-agnostic system, dubbed WhyLogs, is meant to help practitioners understand the data that moves through the AI/ML pipeline.

For a lot of businesses, Visnjic noted, the amount of data that flows through these systems is so large that it doesn’t make sense for them to keep “lots of big haystacks with possibly some needles in there for some investigation to come in the future.” So what they do instead is just discard all of this. With its data logging solution, WhyLabs aims to give these companies the tools to investigate their data and find issues right at the start of the pipeline.

Image Credits: WhyLabs

According to Karaivanova, the company doesn’t have paying customers yet, but it is working on a number of proofs of concepts. Among those users is Zulily, which is also a design partner for the company. The company is going after mid-size enterprises for the time being, but as Karaivanova noted, to hit the sweet spot for the company, a customer needs to have an established data science team with 10 to 15 ML practitioners. While the team is still figuring out its pricing model, it’ll likely be a volume-based approach, Karaivanova said.

“We love to invest in great founding teams who have built solutions at scale inside cutting-edge companies, who can then bring products to the broader market at the right time. The WhyLabs team are practitioners building for practitioners. They have intimate, first-hand knowledge of the challenges facing AI builders from their years at Amazon and are putting that experience and insight to work for their customers,” said Tim Porter, managing director at Madrona. “We couldn’t be more excited to invest in WhyLabs and partner with them to bring cross-platform model reliability and observability to this exploding category of MLOps.”

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