Twilio is hosting its Signal developer conference in San Francisco this week. Yesterday was all about bots and taking payments over the phone; today is all about IoT. The company is launching two new (but related) products today that will make it easier for IoT developers to connect their devices. The first is the Global Super SIM that offers global connectivity management through the networks of Twilio’s partners. The second is Twilio Narrowband, which, in cooperation with T-Mobile, offers a full software and hardware kit for building low-bandwidth IoT solutions and the narrowband network to connect them.
Twilio also announced that it is expanding its wireless network partnerships with the addition of Singtel, Telefonica and Three Group. Unsurprisingly, those are also the partners that make the company’s Super SIM project possible.
The Super SIM, which is currently in private preview and will launch in public beta in the spring of 2019, provides developers with a global network that lets them deploy and manage their IoT devices anywhere (assuming there is a cell connection or other internet connectivity, of course). The Super SIM gives developers the ability to choose the network they want to use or to let Twilio pick the defaults based on the local networks.
Twilio Narrowband is a slightly different solution. Its focus right now is on the U.S., where T-Mobile rolled out its Narrowband IoT network earlier this year. As the name implies, this is about connecting low-bandwidth devices that only need to send out small data packets like timestamps, GPS coordinates or status updates. Twilio Narrowband sits on top of this, using Twilio’s Programmable Wireless and SIM card. It then adds an IoT developer kit with an Arduino-based development board and the standard Grove sensors on top of that, as well as a T-Mobile-certified hardware module for connecting to the narrowband network. To program that all, Twilio is launching an SDK for handling network registrations and optimizing the communication between the devices and the cloud.
The narrowband service will launch as a beta in early 2019 and offer three pricing plans: a developer plan for $ 2/month, an annual production plan for $ 10/year or $ 5/year at scale, and a five-year plan for $ 8/year or $ 4/year at scale.
Some tech companies might have a problem taking money from the Department of Defense, but Amazon isn’t one of them, as CEO Jeff Bezos made clear today at the Wired25 conference. Just last week, Google pulled out of the running for the Pentagon’s $ 10 billion, 10-year JEDI cloud contract, but Bezos suggested that he was happy to take the government’s money.
Bezos has been surprisingly quiet about the contract up until now, but his company has certainly attracted plenty of attention from the companies competing for the JEDI deal. Just last week IBM filed a formal protest with the Government Accountability Office claiming that the contract was stacked in favor one vendor. And while it didn’t name it directly, the clear implication was that company was the one owned by Bezos.
Last summer Oracle also filed a protest and also complained that they believed the government had set up the contract to favor Amazon, a charge spokesperson Heather Babb denied. “The JEDI Cloud final RFP reflects the unique and critical needs of DOD, employing the best practices of competitive pricing and security. No vendors have been pre-selected,” she said last month.
While competitors are clearly worried about Amazon, which has a substantial lead in the cloud infrastructure market, the company itself has kept quiet on the deal until now. Bezos set his company’s support in patriotic terms and one of leadership.
“Sometimes one of the jobs of the senior leadership team is to make the right decision, even when it’s unpopular. And if if big tech companies are going to turn their back on the US Department of Defense, this country is going to be in trouble,” he said.
“I know everyone is conflicted about the current politics in this country, but this country is a gem,” he added.
While Google tried to frame its decision as taking a principled stand against misuse of technology by the government, Bezos chose another tack, stating that all technology can be used for good or ill. “Technologies are always two-sided. You know there are ways they can be misused as well as used, and this isn’t new,” Bezos told Wired25.
He’s not wrong of course, but it’s hard not to look at the size of the contract and see it as purely a business decision on his part. Amazon is as hot for that $ 10 billion contract as any of its competitors. What’s different in this talk is that Bezos made it sound like a purely patriotic decision, rather than economic one.
The Pentagon’s JEDI contract could have a value of up to $ 10 billion with a maximum length of 10 years. The contract is framed as a two year deal with two three-year options and a final one for two years. The DOD can opt out before exercising any of the options.
Bidding for the contract closed last Friday. The DOD is expected to choose the winning vendor next April.
You might think that Anaplan CEO, Frank Calderoni would have had a few sleepless nights this week. His company picked a bad week to go public as market instability rocked tech stocks. Still he wasn’t worried, and today the company had by any measure a successful debut with the stock soaring up over 42 percent. As of 4 pm ET, it hit $ 24.18, up from the IPO price of $ 17. Not a bad way to launch your company.
“I feel good because it really shows the quality of the company, the business model that we have and how we’ve been able to build a growing successful business, and I think it provides us with a tremendous amount of opportunity going forward,” Calderoni told TechCrunch.
Calderoni joined the company a couple of years ago, and seemed to emerge from Silicon Valley central casting as former CFO at Red Hat and Cisco along with stints at IBM and SanDisk. He said he has often wished that there were a tool around like Anaplan when he was in charge of a several thousand person planning operation at Cisco. He indicated that while they were successful, it could have been even more so with a tool like Anaplan.
“The planning phase has not had much change in in several decades. I’ve been part of it and I’ve dealt with a lot of the pain. And so having something like Anaplan, I see it’s really being a disrupter in the planning space because of the breadth of the platform that we have. And then it goes across organizations to sales, supply chain, HR and finance, and as we say, really connects the data, the people and the plan to make for better decision making as a result of all that,” he said.
Calderoni describes Anaplan as a planning and data analysis tool. In his previous jobs he says that he spent a ton of time just gathering data and making sure they had the right data, but precious little time on analysis. In his view Anaplan, lets companies concentrate more on the crucial analysis phase.
“Anaplan allows customers to really spend their time on what I call forward planning where they can start to run different scenarios and be much more predictive, and hopefully be able to, as we’ve seen a lot of our customers do, forecast more accurately,” he said.
Anaplan was founded in 2006 and raised almost $ 300 million along the way. It achieved a lofty valuation of $ 1.5 billion in its last round, which was $ 60 million in 2017. The company has just under 1000 customers including Del Monte, VMware, Box and United.
Calderoni says although the company has 40 percent of its business outside the US, there are plenty of markets left to conquer and they hope to use today’s cash infusion in part to continue to expand into a worldwide company.
Just a day after Google decided to drop out of the Pentagon’s massive $ 10 billion, 10-year JEDI cloud contract bidding, Microsoft announced increased support services for government clients. In a long blog post, the company laid out its government focused cloud services.
While today’s announcement is not directly related to JEDI per se, the timing is interesting just three days ahead of the October 12th deadline for submitting RFPs. Today’s announcement is about showing just how comprehensive the company’s government-specific cloud services are.
In a blog post, Microsoft corporate vice president for Azure, Julia White made it clear the company was focusing hard on the government business. “In the past six months we have added over 40 services and features to Azure Government, as well as publishing a new roadmap for the Azure Government regions providing ongoing transparency into our upcoming releases,” she wrote.
“Moving forward, we are simplifying our approach to regulatory compliance for federal agencies, so that our government customers can gain access to innovation more rapidly. In addition, we are adding new options for buying and onboarding cloud services to make it easier to move to the cloud. Finally, we are bringing an array of new hybrid and edge capabilities to government to ensure that government customers have full access to the technology of the intelligent edge and intelligent cloud era,” White added.
While much of the post was around the value proposition of Azure in general such as security, identity, artificial intelligence and edge data processing services, there were a slew of items aimed specifically at the government clients.
For starters, the company is increasing its FedRAMP compliance, a series of regulations designed to ensure vendors deliver cloud services securely to federal government customers. Specifically Microsoft is moving from FedRAMP moderate to high ratings on 50 services.
“By taking the broadest regulatory compliance approach in the industry, we’re making commercial innovation more accessible and easier for government to adopt,” White wrote.
In addition, Microsoft announced it’s expanding Azure Secret Regions, a solution designed specifically for dealing with highly classified information in the cloud. This one appears to take direct aim at JEDI. “We are making major progress in delivering this cloud designed to meet the regulatory and compliance requirements of the Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community. Today, we are announcing these newest regions will be available by the end of the first quarter of 2019. In addition, to meet the growing demand and requirements of the U.S. Government, we are confirming our intent to deliver Azure Government services to meet the highest classification requirements, with capabilities for handling Top Secret U.S. classified data,” White wrote.
The company’s announcements, which included many other pieces that have been previously announced, is clearly designed to show off its government chops at a time where a major government contract is up for grabs. The company announced Azure Stack for Government in August, another piece mentioned in this blog post.
Most recently, Sathaye was a general partner at Formation 8, the embattled venture firm co-founded by Palantir’s Joe Lonsdale, Brian Koo (a scion of the Koo family, owners of the electronics giant LG) and former Khosla GP Jim Kim. Formation 8 announced in 2015 that it would not raise a third fund and would begin winding down operations.
Sathaye, who’s been in the VC business since 2001 as a GP at Matrix Partners, then at Khosla Ventures, remains a partner in Formation 8’s sophomore fund. His previous investments include Nutanix, Samsung-acquired Grandis, McAfee-acquired Solidcore Systems, cybersecurity startup Vectra Networks and data storage provider Panzura.
He’d only been at Formation 8 for one year when the firm began to crumble. As we now know, conflict between the firm’s founding partners led to its demise. Lonsdale quickly raised $ 425 million for a spin-off fund called 8VC; Koo, in a similar fashion, brought in $ 357 million for Formation Group and Kim followed up with a $ 200 million fund called Builders.
Sathaye, for his part, had grown tired of the “bigger is better” mentality and opted to leave the business of big VC for good.
“Smaller funds, in general, make better decisions,” Sathaye told TechCrunch. “At a larger fund, there are more people around the table to make decisions. I think returns are better when there are fewer people making those decisions.”
Watching funds swell past the billion-dollar mark and investors deploy the “spray and pray” strategy was a turn-off, Sathaye said. Startups have more access to capital than ever before, yet most companies can get off the ground with very little funding, thanks to recent innovations like Google Cloud and Amazon Web Services.
“With AWS, companies can bring products to market quickly and they can reach their customers with much less money,” Sathaye said. “If you look at it just from a returns profile, the smaller funds will get better cash-on-cash returns simply because companies don’t need that much money to be successful.”
Palo Alto-based Cervin is led by two other GPs, Preetish Nijhawan and Neeraj Gupta. It invests $ 1 million to $ 2 million in early-stage startups. Sathaye says he’ll be focused specifically on the security, mobile, cloud and data verticals.
Apple Business Chat launched earlier this year as a way for consumers to communicate directly with businesses on Apple’s messaging platform. Today the company announced it was expanding the program to add new businesses and support for additional countries.
When it launched in January, business partners included Discover, Hilton, Lowe’s and Wells Fargo. Today’s announcement includes the likes of Burberry, West Elm, Kimpton Hotels, and Vodafone Germany.
The program, which remains in Beta, added 15 new companies today in the US and 15 internationally including in the UK, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada, Italy, Australia and France.
Since the launch, companies have been coming up with creative ways to interact directly with customers in a chat setting that many users prefer over telephone trees and staticy wait music (I know I do).
For instance, Four Seasons, which launched Business Chat in July, is expanding usage to 88 properties across the globe with the ability to chat in more than 100 languages with reported average response times of around 90 seconds.
Apple previously added features like Apple Pay to iMessage to make it easy for consumers to transact directly with business in a fully digital way. If for instance, your customer service rep helps you find the perfect item, you can purchase it right then and there with Apple Pay in a fully digital payment system without having to supply a credit card in the chat interface.
What’s more, the CSR could share a link, photo or video to let you see more information on the item you’re interested in or to help you fix a problem with an item you already own. All of this can take place in iMessage, a tool millions of iPhone and iPad owners are comfortable using with friends and family.
To interact with Business Chat, customers are given messaging as a choice in contact information. If they touch this option, the interaction opens in iMessage and customers can conduct a conversation with the brand’s CSR, just as they would with friends.
This link to customer service and sales through a chat interface also fits well with the partnership with Salesforce announced last week and with the company’s overall push to the enterprise. Salesforce president and chief product officer, Bret Taylor described how Apple Business Chat could integrate with Salesforce’s Service Bot platform, which was introduced in 2017 to allow companies to build integrated automated and human response systems.
The bots could provide a first level of service and if the customer required more personal support, there could be an option to switch to Apple Business Chat.
Apple Business Chat requires iOS 11.3 or higher.
VirusTotal Enterprise offers significantly faster and more customizable malware search, as well as a new feature called Private Graph, which allows enterprises to create their own private visualizations of their infrastructure and malware that affects their machines.
The Private Graph makes it easier for enterprises to create an inventory of their internal infrastructure and users to help security teams investigate incidents (and where they started). In the process of building this graph, VirtusTotal also looks are commonalities between different nodes to be able to detect changes that could signal potential issues.
The company stresses that these graphs are obviously kept private. That’s worth noting because VirusTotal already offered a similar tool for its premium users — the VirusTotal Graph. All of the information there, however, was public.
As for the faster and more advanced search tools, VirusTotal notes that its service benefits from Alphabet’s massive infrastructure and search expertise. This allows VirusTotal Enterprise to offer a 100x speed increase, as well as better search accuracy. Using the advanced search, the company notes, a security team could now extract the icon from a fake application, for example, and then return all malware samples that share the same file.
VirusTotal says that it plans to “continue to leverage the power of Google infrastructure” and expand this enterprise service over time.
Google acquired VirusTotal back in 2012. For the longest time, the service didn’t see too many changes, but earlier this year, Google’s parent company Alphabet moved VirusTotal under the Chronicle brand and the development pace seems to have picked up since.
It was a pretty nice return for Vista Equity partners, which purchased Marketo in May 2016 for $ 1.8 billion in cash. They held onto it for two years and hauled in a hefty $ 2.95 billion in profit.
We published a story last week, speculating that such a deal would make sense for Adobe, which just bought Magento in May for $ 1.6 billion. The deal gives Adobe a strong position in enterprise marketing as it competes with Salesforce, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP. Put together with Magento, it gives them marketing and ecommerce, and all it cost was over $ 6 billion to get there.
“The acquisition of Marketo widens Adobe’s lead in customer experience across B2C and B2B and puts Adobe Experience Cloud at the heart of all marketing,” Brad Rencher, executive vice president and general manager, Digital Experience at Adobe said in a statement.
Ray Wang, principal analyst and founder at Constellation Research sees it as a way for Adobe to compete harder with Salesforce in this space. “If Adobe takes a stand on Marketo, it means they are serious about B2B and furthering the Microsoft-Adobe vs Salesforce-Google battle ahead,” he told TechCrunch. He’s referring to the deepening relationships between these companies.
Brent Leary, senior analyst and founder at CRM Essentials agrees, seeing Microsoft as also getting positive results from this deal. “This is not only a big deal for Adobe, but another potential winner with this one is Microsoft due to the two companies growing partnership,” he said.
Adobe reported its earnings last Thursday announcing $ 2.29 billion for the third quarter, which represented a 24 percent year over year increase and a new record for the company. While Adobe is well on its way to being a $ 10 billion company, the majority of its income continues to come from Creative Cloud, which includes Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator, among other Adobe software stalwarts.
But for a long time, the company has wanted to be much more than a creative software company. It’s wanted a piece of the enterprise marketing pie. Up until now, that part of the company, which includes marketing and analytics software, has lagged well behind the Creative Cloud business. In its last report, Digital Experience revenue, which is where Adobe counts this revenue represented $ 614 million of total revenue. While it continues to grow, up 21 percent year over year, there is much greater potential here for more.
Adobe had less than $ 5 billion in cash after the Magento acquisition, but it has seen its stock price rise dramatically in the last year rising from $ 149.96 last year at this time to $ 266.05 as of publication.
The acquisition comes as there is a lot of maneuvering going on this space and the various giant companies vie for market share. Today’s acquisition gives Adobe a huge boost and provides them with not only a missing piece, but Marketo’s base of 5000 customers and the opportunity to increase revenue in this part of their catalogue, while allowing them to compete harder inside the enterprise.
The deal is expected to close in Adobe’s 4th quarter. Marketo CEO Steve Lucas will join Adobe’s senior leadership team and report to Rencher.
It’s also worth noting that the announcement comes just days before Dreamforce, Salesforce’s massive customer conference will be taking place in San Francisco, and Microsoft will be holding its Ignite conference in Orlando. While the timing may be coincidental, it does end up stealing some of their competitors’ thunder.
UiPath is bringing automation to repetitive processes inside large organizations and it seems to have landed on a huge pain point. Today it announced a massive $ 225 million Series C on a $ 3 billion valuation.
The round was led by CapitalG and Sequoia Capital. Accel, which invested in the companies A and B rounds also participated. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $ 408 million, according to Crunchbase, and comes just months after a $ 153 million Series B we reported on last March. At that time, it had a valuation of over $ 1 billion, meaning the valuation has tripled in less than six months.
There’s a reason this company you might have never heard of is garnering this level of investment so quickly. For starters, it’s growing in leaps in bounds. Consider that it went from $ 1 million to $ 100 million in annual recurring revenue in under 21 months, according to the company. It currently has 1800 enterprise customers and claims to be adding 6 new ones a day, an astonishing rate of customer acquisition.
The company is part of the growing field of robotic process automation or RPA . While the robotics part of the name could be considered a bit of a misnomer, the software helps automate a series of mundane tasks that were typically handled by humans. It allows companies to bring a level of automation to legacy processes like accounts payable, employee onboarding, procurement and reconciliation without actually having to replace legacy systems.
Phil Fersht, CEO and chief analyst at HfS, a firm that watches the RPA market, says RPA isn’t actually that intelligent. “It’s about taking manual work, work-arounds and integrated processes built on legacy technology and finding way to stitch them together,” he told TechCrunch in an interview earlier this year.
It isn’t quite as simple as the old macro recorders that used to record a series of tasks and execute them with a keystroke, but it is somewhat analogous to that approach. Today, it’s more akin to a bot that may help you complete a task in Slack. RPA is a bit more sophisticated moving through a workflow in an automated fashion.
Ian Barkin from Symphony Ventures, a firm that used to do outsourcing, has embraced RPA. He says while most organizations have a hard time getting a handle on AI, RPA allows them to institute fundamental change around desktop routines without having to understand AI.
If you’re worrying about this technology replacing humans, it is somewhat valid, but Barkin says the technology is replacing jobs that most humans don’t enjoy doing. “The work people enjoy doing is exceptions and judgment based, which isn’t the sweet spot of RPA. It frees them from mundaneness of routine,” he said in an interview last year.
Whatever it is, it’s resonating inside large organizations and UiPath, is benefiting from the growing need by offering its own flavor of RPA. Today its customers include the likes of Autodesk, BMW Group and Huawei.
As it has grown over the last year, the number of employees has increased 3x and the company expects to reach 1700 employees by the end of the year.
Drone operating system startup Airware today suddenly informed employees it will cease operations immediately despite having raised $ 118 million from top investors like Andreessen Horowitz, Google’s GV, and Kleiner Perkins. The startup ran out of money after trying to manufacture its own hardware that couldn’t compete with drone giants like China’s DJI. The company at one point had as many as 140 employees, all of which are now out of a job.
A source sent TechCrunch screenshots from the Airware alumni Slack channel detailing how the staff was told this morning that Airware would shut down.
Airware makes a cloud sofware system that helps enterprise customers like construction companies, mining operations, and insurance companies reviewing equipment for damages to use drones to collect and analyze aerial data. That allowed companies to avoid using expensive helicopters or dangerous rigs with humans on harnesses to make inspections and gauge work progress.
One ex-employee asked “How do I get my options sent to me on paper so I can burn them all in a fire?”
Founded in 2011 by Jonathan Downey, the son of two pilots, Airware first built an autopilot system for programming drones to follow certain routes to collect data. It could help businesses check rooftops for damage, see how much of a raw material was coming out of a mine, or build constantly-updated maps of construction sites. Later it tried to build its own drones before pivoting to consult clients on how to most efficiently apply unmanned aerial vehicles.
While flying high, Airware launched its own Commercial Drone Fund for investing in the market in 2015, and acquired 38-person drone analytics startup Redbird in 2016. In this pre-crypto, pre-AI boom, Airware scored a ton of hype from us and others as tried to prove drones could be more than war machines. But over time, the software that shipped with commercial drone hardware from other manufacturers was good enough to make Airware irrelevant, and a downward spiral of layoffs began over the past two years, culminating in today’s shutdown. Demonstating how sudden the shut down is, Airware opened a Tokyo headquarters alongside an investment and partnership from Mitsubishi just four days ago.
“Airware was ahead of the game trying to build their software. So far ahead that the drone hardware on the market wasn’t sophisticated enough to actually produce the granularity of data they needed to test out their software/train their algorithms” an ex-employee told TechCrunch (emphasis ours). “So they spent shitloads of money designing bespoke hardware, including two drones in-house, one multi-rotor called an AT-28, and one fixed-wing called Cygnet. Both projects were scuttled as hardware from DJI and Ebee caught up to needs, after sinking tons of engineering time and manufacturing into them.”
Following TechCrunch’s inquiry about the unnannounced news, Airware confirmed the shut down to us with this statement:
“History has taught us how hard it can be to call the timing of a market transition. We have seen this play out first hand in the commercial drone marketplace. We were the pioneers in this market and one of the first to see the power drones could have in the commercial sector. Unfortunately, the market took longer to mature than we expected. As we worked through the various required pivots to position ourselves for long term success, we ran out of financial runway. As a result, it is with a heavy heart that we notified our team, customers, and partners that we will wind down the business.
This is not the business outcome we had worked so hard for over the years and yet we are deeply proud of our company’s accomplishments and our leadership in driving the adoption of drone powered analytics to improve productivity, mitigate risks, and take workers out of harm’s way.
As we close the book of Airware; we want to thank the partners and customers who believed in us and helped us along the way. And, while it is difficult to say goodbye to our team, we want to thank them for all they have contributed to Airware and the industry. We look forward to seeing how they will take their learnings from Airware to fuel continued innovations in the world around us.”
[Update: Since we broke the news, Airware has put up a “thank you” note about the shutdown informing clients that “A representative from the Airware team will be in touch.”]
Employees will get one week’s severance, COBRA insurance until November, and payouts for unused paid time off. It appears the startup wasn’t able to raise necessary funding to save the company or secure an acquisition from one of its strategic partners like Catepillar.
Airware will serve as cautionary tale of startup overspending in hopes of finding product-market fit. Had it been more frugal, saved cash to extend its runway, and given corporate clients more time to figure out how to use drones, Airware might have stayed afloat. Sometimes, even having the most prestigious investors can’t save a startup from mismanagement.
Our ex-employee source concludes that “I think having $ 118M in the bank led Airware to charge ahead and sink tons of money into force-it-to-work methods rather than exercise a bit of patience and wait for the inevitable advance of hardware to catch up. They had a knack for hiring extremely talented and expensive people from places like Google, Autodesk, there was even SpaceX and NASA alumni there.
They spared no expense ever.”
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