Artificial intelligence and machine learning has become essential if you are selling sales, customer service and marketing software, especially in large enterprises. The biggest vendors from Adobe to Salesforce to Microsoft to Oracle are jockeying for position to bring automation and intelligence to these areas.
Just today, Oracle announced several new AI features in its sales tools suite and Salesforce did the same in its customer service cloud. Both companies are building on artificial intelligence underpinnings that have been in place for several years.
All of these companies want to help their customers achieve their business goals by using increasing levels of automation and intelligence. Paul Greenberg, managing principal at The 56 Group, who has written multiple books about the CRM industry, including CRM at the Speed of Light, says that while AI has been around for many years, it’s just now reaching a level of maturity to be of value for more businesses.
“The investments in the constant improvement of AI by companies like Oracle, Microsoft and Salesforce are substantial enough to both indicate that AI has become part of what they have to offer — not an optional [feature] — and that the demand is high for AI from companies that are large and complex to help them deal with varying needs at scale, as well as smaller companies who are using it to solve customer service issues or minimize service query responses with chatbots,” Greenberg explained.
This would suggest that injecting intelligence in applications can help even the playing field for companies of all sizes, allowing the smaller ones to behave like they were much larger, and for the larger ones to do more than they could before, all thanks to AI.
The machine learning side of the equation allows these algorithms to see patterns that would be hard for humans to pick out of the mountains of data being generated by companies of all sizes today. In fact, Greenberg says that AI has improved enough in recent years that it has gone from predictive to prescriptive, meaning it can suggest the prospect to call that is most likely to result in a sale, or the best combination of offers to construct a successful marketing campaign.
Brent Leary, principle at CRM Insights, says that AI, especially when voice is involved, can make software tools easier to use and increase engagement. “If sales professionals are able to use natural language to interact with CRM, as opposed to typing and clicking, that’s a huge barrier to adoption that begins to crumble. And making it easier and more efficient to use these apps should mean more data enters the system, which result in quicker, more relevant AI-driven insights,” he said.
All of this shows that AI has become an essential part of these software tools, which is why all of the major players in this space have built AI into their platforms. In an interview last year at the Adobe Summit, Adobe CTO Abhay Parasnis had this to say about AI: “AI will be the single most transformational force in technology,” he told TechCrunch. He appears to be right. It has certainly been transformative in sales, customer service and marketing.
Open-source infrastructure and application delivery vendor Suse — the company behind one of the oldest Linux distributions — today announced that it is once again an independent company. The company today finalized its $ 2.5 billion acquisition by growth investor EQT from Micro Focus, which itself had acquired it back in 2014.
Few companies have changed hands as often as Suse and yet remained strong players in their business. Suse was first acquired by Novell in 2004. Novell was then acquired by Attachmate in 2010, which Micro Focus acquired in 2014. The company then turned Suse into an independent division, only to then announce its sale to EQT in the middle of 2018.
It took a while for Micro Focus and EQT to finalize the acquisition, though, but now, for the first time since 2004, Suse stands on its own.
Micro Focus says that when it acquired Attachmate Group for $ 2.35 billion, Suse generated just 20 percent of the group’s total revenues. Since then, Suse has generated quite a bit more business as it expanded its product portfolio well beyond its core Linux offerings and into the more lucrative open-source infrastructure and application delivery business by, among other things, offering products and support around massive open-source projects like Cloud Foundry, OpenStack and Kubernetes.
Suse CEO Nils Brauckmann will remain at the helm of the company, but the company is shaking up its executive ranks a bit. Enrica Angelone, for example, has been named to the new post of CFO at Suse, and Sander Huyts is now the company’s COO. Former Suse CTO Thomas Di Giacomo is now president of Engineering, Product and Innovation. All three report directly to Brauckmann.
“Our genuinely open, open source solutions, flexible business practices, lack of enforced vendor lock-in and exceptional service are more critical to customer and partner organizations, and our independence coincides with our single-minded focus on delivering what is best for them,” said Brauckmann in today’s announcement. “Our ability to consistently meet these market demands creates a cycle of success, momentum and growth that allows SUSE to continue to deliver the innovation customers need to achieve their digital transformation goals and realize the hybrid and multi-cloud workload management they require to power their own continuous innovation, competitiveness and growth.”
Since IBM recently bought Red Hat for $ 34 billion, though, it remains to be seen how long Suse’s independent future will last. The market for open source is only heating up, after all.
Time is Ltd., a Prague-based startup offering “productivity software analytics” to help companies gain insights from employees’ use of Slack, Office 365, G Suite and other enterprise software, has raised €3 million in funding.
Leading the round is Mike Chalfen — who previously co-founded London venture capital firm Mosaic Ventures but has since decided to operate as a solo investor — with participation from Accel. The investment will be used by Time is Ltd. to continue building the platform for large enterprises that want to better understand the patterns of behaviour hidden inside the various cloud software they run on.
“Time is Ltd. was founded… to help large corporations and companies get a view into insights and productivity of teams,” co-founder and CEO Jan Rezab tells me. “Visualising insights around calendars, time, and communication will help companies to understand real data behind their productivity”.
Powered by machine learning, the productivity software analytics platform plugs into the cloud software tools that enterprises typically use to collaborate across various departments. It then analyses various metadata pulled from these software tools, such as who is communicating with who and time spent on Slack, or which teams are meeting, where and for how long as per various calendars. The idea is to enable managers to gain a better understanding of where productivity is lost or could be improved and to tie changes in these patterns to business goals.
Rezab cites the example of a large company undergoing “agile” transformation. “If you want to steer a massive company of 5,000 plus people, you really should understand the impact of your actions a bit more much earlier, not after the fact,” he says. “One of the hypothesis of an agile transformation is, for example, that managers really get involved a bit less and things work a bit more streamlined. You see from our data that this is or is not happening, and you can take corrective action”.
Or it could be something as simple as a large company with multiple offices that is conducting too many meetings. Time is Ltd. is able to show how the number of meetings held is increasing and what departments or teams is instigating them. “You can also show the inter-departmental video meeting efficiency, and if the people, for example, often need to travel to these meetings, how long does that takes vs. digital meetings — so you can generally help and recommend the company take specific actions,” explains Rezab.
Sales is another area that could benefit from productivity analytics, with Time is Ltd. revealing that most sales teams actually spend the majority of their meeting time inside the company not outside as you would think. “The structure of these internal meetings varies; planning for these events or just on-boarding and education,” says the Time is Ltd. CEO. “You can, so to speak, follow the time from revenue to different teams… and then see over time how it changes, and how it impacts sales productivity”.
Meanwhile, investor Mike Chalfen describes the young startup as a new breed of data-driven services that use “significant but under-utilised datasets”. “Productivity is one of the largest software markets globally, but lacks deep enterprise analytics to drive intelligent operational management for large businesses,” he says in a statement.
That’s not to say Time is Ltd. isn’t without competition, which includes Microsoft itself. “Our biggest competitor is Microsoft Workplace Analytics,” says Rezab. “However, Microsoft does not integrate other than MS products. Our advantage is that we are a productivity platform to integrate all of the cloud tools. Starting with Slack, SAP Success Factors, Zoom, and countless others”.
Ten years after the launch of Foursquare at SXSW, the company is laying its technology bare with a futuristic version of its old app that doesn’t require a check-in at all. The godfather of location apps is returning to the launchpad with Hypertrending, but this time it hopes to learn what developers might do with real-time info about where people are and where they aren’t.
Hypertrending uses Foursquare’s Pilgrim technology, which is baked into Foursquare’s apps and offered as a third-party enterprise tool, to show where phones are in real time over the course of SXSW in Austin, Texas.
This information is relayed through dots on a map. The size of those dots is a reflection of the number of devices in that place at a given time. Users can filter the map by All places, Food, Nightlife and Fun (events and parties).
Hypertrending also has a Top 100 list that is updated in real time to show which places are super popular, with arrows to show whether a place is trending up or down.
Before you throw up your hands in outrage, the information on Hypertrending is aggregated and anonymized (just like it is within Pilgrim), and there are no trails showing the phone’s route from one place to another. Dots only appear on the map when the phone arrives at a destination.
Hypertrending was cooked up in Foursquare’s skunkworks division, Foursquare Labs, led by the company’s co-founder Dennis Crowley .
The feature is only available during SXSW and in the Austin area, and thus far Foursquare has no plans to launch this publicly. So… what’s the deal?
First and foremost, Hypertrending is about showing off the technology. In many ways, Hypertrending isn’t new at all, in that it runs off the Pilgrim technology that has powered Foursquare since around 2014.
Pilgrim is the tech that recognizes you’ve just sat down at a restaurant and offers up a tip about the menu on Foursquare City Guide, and it’s the same tech that notices you’ve just touched down in a new city and makes some recommendations on places to go. In Swarm, it’s the tech that offers up a list of all the places you’ve been in case you want to retroactively check in to them.
That sounds rather simple, but a combination of Foursquare’s 10 years’ worth of location data and Pilgrim’s hyper-precision is unparalleled when it comes to accuracy, according to Crowley.
Whereas other location tech might not understand the difference between you being in the cafe on the first floor or the salon on the second floor, or the bar that shares a wall with both, Pilgrim does.
This is what led Foursquare to build out the Pilgrim SDK, which now sees more than 100 million user-confirmed visits per month. Apps that use the Pilgrim SDK offer users the ability to opt-in to Foursquare’s always-on location tracking for its mobile app panel in the U.S., which has grown to 10 million devices.
These 10 million phones provide the data that powers Hypertrending.
Now, the data itself might not be new, per se. But Foursquare has never visualized the information quite like this, even for enterprise customers.
Whereas customers of the Foursquare Place Insights, Pinpoint and Attribution get snapshots into their own respective audiences, Hypertrending represents on a large scale just what Foursquare’s tech is capable of in not only knowing where people are, but where people aren’t.
This brings us back to SXSW, which happens to be the place where Foursquare first launched back in 2009.
“This week has felt a little nostalgic as we try to get this thing ready to go,” said Crowley. “It’s not that dissimilar to when we went to SXSW in 2009 and showed off Foursquare 1.0. There is this curious uncertainty and my whole thing is to get a sense of what people think of it.”
Crowley recalled his first trip to SXSW with co-founder Naveen Selvadurai. They couldn’t afford an actual pass to the show so they just went from party to party showing people the app and hearing what they thought. Crowley said that he doesn’t expect Hypertrending to be some huge consumer app.
“I want to show off what we can do with the technology and the data and hopefully inspire developers to do interesting stuff with this raw visualization of where phones are at,” said Crowley. “What would you do if you had access to this? Would you make something cool and fun or make something obnoxious and creepy?”
Beyond the common tie of SXSW, Hypertrending brings Foursquare’s story full circle in the fact that it’s potentially the most poignant example of what Crowley always wanted Foursquare to be. Location is one of the most powerful pieces of information about an individual. One’s physical location is, in many ways, the most purely truthful piece of information about them in a sea of digital clicks and scroll-bys.
If this data could be harnessed properly, without any work on the side of the consumer, what possibilities might open up?
“We’ve long talked about making ‘a check-in button you never had to press,’ ” said Crowley in the blog post. “Hypertrending is part of that vision realized, spread across multiple apps and services.”
Crowley also admits in the blog post that Hypertrending walks a fine line between creepy and cool, which is another reason for the ephemeral nature of the feature. It’s also the exact reason he wants to open it up to everyone.
From the blog post:
After 10 years, it’s clear that we (Foursquare!) are going to play a role in influencing how contextual-aware technologies shape the future – whether that’s apps that react to where you are and where you’ve been, smarter virtual assistants (e.g Alexa, Siri, Marsbot) that understand how you move through cities, or AR objects that need to appear at just the right time in just the right spot. We want to build a version of the future that we’re proud of, and we want your input as we get to work building it.
We made Hypertrending to show people how Foursquare’s panel works in terms of what it can do (and what it will not do), as well as to show people how we as a company think about navigating this space. We feel the general trend with internet and technology companies these days has been to keep giving users a more and more personalized (albeit opaquely personalized) view of the world, while the companies that create these feeds keep the broad “God View” to themselves. Hypertrending is one example of how we can take Foursquare’s aggregate view of the world and make it available to the users who make it what it is. This is what we mean when we talk about “transparency” – we want to be honest, in public, about what our technology can do, how it works, and the specific design decisions we made in creating it.
We asked Crowley what would happen if brands and marketers loved the idea of Hypertrending, but general consumers were freaked out?
“This is an easy question,” said Crowley. “If this freaks people out, we don’t build stuff with it. We’re not ready for it yet. But I’d go back to the drawing board and ask ‘What do we learn from people that are freaked out about it that would help us communicate to them,’ or ‘what are the changes we could make to this that would make people comfortable,’ or ‘what are the things we could build that would illustrate the value of this that this view didn’t communicate?’ ”
As mentioned above, Hypertrending is only available during the SXSW conference in the Austin area. Users can access Hypertrending through both the Foursquare City Guide app and Swarm by simply shaking their phone.
The growth of augmented and virtual reality applications and hardware is ushering in a new age of digital media and imaging technologies, and startups that are putting themselves at the center of that are attracting interest.
TechCrunch has learned and confirmed that Matterport, which started out making cameras but has since diversified into a wider platform to capture, create, search and utilise 3D imagery of interior and enclosed spaces in immersive real estate, design, insurance and other B2C and B2B applications, has raised $ 48 million. Sources tell us the money came at a pre-money valuation of around $ 325 million, although the company is not commenting on that.
From what we understand, the funding is coming ahead of a larger growth round from existing and new investors, to tap into what they see as a big opportunity for building and providing (as a service) highly accurate 3D images of enclosed spaces.
The company in December appointed a new CEO, RJ Pittman — who had been the chief product officer at eBay, and before that held executive roles at Apple and Google — also to help fill out that bigger strategy.
Matterport had raised just under $ 63 million prior to this and had been valued at around $ 207 million, according to PitchBook estimates.This current round is coming from existing backers, which include Lux Capital, DCM, Qualcomm Ventures and more.
Matterport’s roots are in high-end cameras built to capture multiple images to create 3D interior imagery for a variety of applications from interior design and real estate to gaming. Changing tides in the worlds of industry and hardware have somewhat shifted its course.
On the hardware side, we’ve seen a rise in the functionality of smartphone cameras, as well as a proliferation of specialised 3D cameras at lower price points. So while Matterport still sells its own high-end cameras, it is also starting to work with less expensive devices with spherical lenses — such as the Ricoh Theta, which is nearly 10 times less expensive than Matterport’s Pro2 camera — and smartphones.
Using an AI engine — which it has been building for some time — packaged into a service it calls Matterport Cloud 3.0, it converts 2D panoramic and 360-degree images into 3D ones. (Matterport Cloud 3.0 is currently in beta and will be launching fully on the 18th of March, initially supporting the Ricoh Theta V, the Theta Z1, the Insta360 ONE X, and the Leica Geosystems BLK360 laser scanner.)
Matterport is further using this technology to grow its wider database of images. It already has racked up 1.6 million 3D images and millions of 2D images, and at its current growth rate, the aim is to expand its library to 100 million in the coming years, positioning it as a Getty for 3D enclosed images.
These, in turn, will be used in two ways: to feed Matterport’s machine learning to train it to create better and faster 3D images; and to become part of a wider library, accessible to other businesses by way of a set of APIs.
And, from what I understand, the object will not just to be use images as they are: people would be able to manipulate the images to, for example, remove all the furniture in a room and re-stage it completely without needing to physically do that work ahead of listing a house for sale. Another is adding immersive interior shots into mapping applications like Google’s Street View.
“We are a data company,” RJ Pittman told me when I met him for coffee last month.
The ability to convert 2D into 3D images using artificial intelligence to help automate the process is a potentially big area that Matterport, and its investors, believe will be in increasing demand. That’s not just because people still think there will one day be a bigger market for virtual reality headsets, which will need more interesting content; but because we as consumers already have come to expect more realistic and immersive experiences today, even when viewing things on regular screens; and because B2B and enterprise services (for example design or insurance applications) have also grown in sophistication and now require these kinds of images.
(That demand is driving the creation of other kinds of 3D imaging startups, too. Threedy.ai launched last week with a seed round from a number of angels and VCs to perform a similar kind of 2D-to-3D mapping technique for objects rather than interior spaces. It is already working with a number of e-commerce sites to bypass some of the costs and inefficiencies of more established, manual methods of 3D rendering.)
While Matterport is doubling down on its cloud services strategy, it’s also been making some hires to take the business to its next steps. In addition to Pittman, they have included adding Dave Lippman, formerly design head at eBay, as its chief design officer; and engineering veteran Lou Marzano as its VP of hardware, R&D and manufacturing, with more hires to come.
Rackspace, the hosted private cloud vendor, let go around 200 workers or 3 percent of its worldwide workforce of 6,600 employees this week. The company says that it’s part of a recalibration where it is trying to find workers who are better suited to their current business approach.
A Rackspace spokesperson told TechCrunch that it is “a stable and profitable company.” In fact, it hired 1,500 employees in 2018 and currently has 200 job openings. “We continue to invest in our business based on market opportunity and our customers’ needs – we take actions on an ongoing basis in some areas where we are over-invested and hire in areas where we are under invested,” a company spokesperson explained.
The company, which went public in 2008 and private again for $ 4.3 billion in 2016, has struggled in a cloud market dominated by giants like Amazon, Microsoft and Google, but according to Synergy Research, a firm that keeps close watch on the cloud market, it is one of the top three companies in the Hosted Private Cloud category.
It’s worth noting that the top company in this category is IBM, and Rackspace could be a good target for Big Blue if it wanted to use its checkbook to get a boost in market share. IBM is in third or fourth place in the cloud infrastructure market, depending on whose numbers you look at, but it could move the needle a bit by buying a company like Rackspace. Neither company is suggesting this, however, and IBM bought Red Hat at the end of last year for $ 34 billion, making it less likely it will be in a spending mood this year.
For now the layoffs appear to be a company tweaking its workforce to meet current market conditions, but whatever the reason, it’s never a happy day when people lose their jobs.
VMware already had two flavors of Kubernetes, a fully managed cloud product and an enterprise version with all of the components such as registry and network pre-selected by VMware. What this new version does is provide a completely open version of Kubernetes where the customer can choose all of the components, giving a flexible option for those who want it, according to Scott Buchanan, senior director of product marketing for cloud native apps at VMware.
Buchanan said that the new product comes directly from the approach that Heptio had taken to selling Kuberentes prior to the acquisition . “We’re introducing a new offering called VMware Essential PKS, and that offering is a packaging of the approach that Heptio took to market and that gained a lot of traction, and that approach is a natural complement to the other Kubernetes products in the VMware portfolio,” he explained.
Buchanan acknowledged that a large part of the market is going to go for the fully managed or fully configured approaches, but there is a subset of buyers that will want more choice in their Kubernetes implementation.
“Larger enterprises with more complex infrastructure want to have a very customized approach to how they build out their architecture They don’t want to be integrated. They just want a foundation on which to build because the organizations are larger and more complex and they’re also more likely to have an internal DevOps or SREOps team to operate the platform on a day-to-day basis,” he explained.
While these organizations want flexibility, they also require more of a more consultative approach to the sale. Heptio had a 40-person field service engineering team that came over in the acquisition, and VMware is in the process of scaling that team. These folks consult with the customer and help them select the different components that make up a Kubernetes installation to fit the needs of each organization.
Buchanan, who also came over in the acquisition, says that being part of VMware (which is part of the Dell family of companies) means they have several layers of sales with VMware, Pivotal and Dell all selling the product.
Heptio is the Kubernetes startup founded by Craig McLuckie and Joe Beda, the two men who helped develop the technology while they were at Google. Heptio was founded in 2016 and raised $ 33.5 million prior to the acquisition, according to Crunchbase data.
JFrog, the popular DevOps startup now valued at more than $ 1 billion after raising $ 165 million last October, is making a move to expand the tools and services it provides to developers on its software operations platform: it has acquired Shippable, a cloud-based continuous integration and delivery platform (CI/CD) that developers use to ship code and deliver app and microservices updates, and plans to integrate it into its Enterprise+ platform.
Terms of the deal — JFrog’s fifth acquisition — are not being disclosed, said Shlomi Ben Haim, JFrog’s co-founder and CEO, in an interview. From what I understand, though, it was in the ballpark of Shippable’s most recent valuation, which was $ 42.6 million back in 2014 when it raised $ 8 million, according to PitchBook data. (And that was the last time it raised money.)
Shippable employees are joining JFrog and plan to release the first integrations with Enterprise+ this coming summer, and a full integration by Q3 of this year.
Shippable, founded in 2013, made its name early on as a provider of a containerized continuous integration and delivery platform based on Docker containers, but as Kubernetes has overtaken Docker in containerized deployments, the startup had also shifted its focus beyond Docker containers.
The acquisition speaks to the consolidation that is afoot in the world of DevOps, where developers and organizations are looking for more end-to-end toolkits, not just to help develop, update and run their apps and microservices, but to provide security and more — or at least, makers of DevOps tools hope they will be, as they themselves look to grow their margins and business.
As more organizations run ever more of their operations as apps and microservices, DevOps have risen in prominence and are offered both toolkits from standalone businesses as well as those whose infrastructure is touched and used by DevOps tools. That means a company like JFrog has an expanding pool of competitors that include not just the likes of Docker, Sonatype and GitLab, but also AWS, Google Cloud Platform and Azure and “the Red Hats of the world,” in the words of Ben Haim.
For Shippable customers, the integration will give them access to security, binary management and other enterprise development tools.
“We’re thrilled to join the JFrog family and further the vision around Liquid Software,” said Avi Cavale, founder and CEO of Shippable, in a statement. “Shippable users and customers have long enjoyed our next-generation technology, but now will have access to leading security, binary management and other high-powered enterprise tools in the end-to-end JFrog Platform. This is truly exciting, as the combined forces of JFrog and Shippable can make full DevOps automation from code to production a reality.”
On the part of JFrog, the company will be using Shippable to provide a native CI/CD tool directly within JFrog.
“Before most of our users would use Jenkins, Circle CI and other CI/CD automation tools,” Ben Haim said. “But what you are starting to see in the wider market is a gradual consolidation of CI tools into code repository.”
He emphasized that this will not mean any changes for developers who are already happy using Jenkins or other integrations: just that it will now be offering a native solution that will be offered alongside these (presumably both with easier functionality and with competitive pricing).
JFrog today has 5,000 paying customers, up from 4,500 in October, including “most of the Fortune 500,” with marquee customers including the likes of Apple and Adobe, but also banks, healthcare organizations and insurance companies — “conservative businesses,” said Ben Haim, that are also now realizing the importance of using DevOps.
The company believes that by combining its cloud backup service with Webroot’s endpoint security tools, it will give customers a more complete solution. Webroot’s history actually predates the cloud, having launched in 1997. The private company reported $ 250 million in revenue for fiscal 2018, according to data provided by Carbonite . That will combine with Carbonite’s $ 296.4 million in revenue for the same time period.
Carbonite CEO and president Mohamad Ali saw the deal as a way to expand the Carbonite offering. “With threats like ransomware evolving daily, our customers and partners are increasingly seeking a more comprehensive solution that is both powerful and easy to use. Backup and recovery, combined with endpoint security and threat intelligence, is a differentiated solution that provides one, comprehensive data protection platform,” Ali explained in a statement.
The deal not only enhances Carbonite’s backup offering, it gives the company access to a new set of customers. While Carbonite sells mainly through Value Added Resellers (VARs), Webroot’s customers are mainly 14,000 Managed Service Providers (MSPs). That lack of overlap could increase its market reach through to the MSP channel. Webroot has 300,000 customers, according to Carbonite.
This is not the first Carbonite acquisition. It has acquired several other companies over the last several years, including buying Mozy from Dell a year ago for $ 145 million. The acquisition strategy is about using its checkbook to expand the capabilities of the platform to offer a more comprehensive set of tools beyond core backup and recovery.
The company announced it is using cash on hand and a $ 550 million loan from Barclays, Citizens Bank and RBC Capital Markets to finance the deal. Per usual, the acquisition will be subject to regulatory approval, but is expected to close this quarter.
Backed by Benchmark, Blue Hexagon just raised $31 million for its deep learning cybersecurity software
Nayeem Islam spent nearly 11 years with chipmaker Qualcomm, where he founded its Silicon Valley-based R&D facility, recruited its entire team and oversaw research on all aspects of security, including applying machine learning on mobile devices and in the network to detect threats early.
Islam was nothing if not prolific, developing a system for on-device machine learning for malware detection, libraries for optimizing deep learning algorithms on mobile devices, and systems for parallel compute on mobile devices, among other things.
In fact, because of his work, he also saw a big opportunity in better protecting enterprises from cyberthreats through deep neural networks that are capable of processing every raw byte within a file and that can uncover complex relations within datasets. So two years ago, Islam and Saumitra Das, a former Qualcomm engineer with 330 patents to his name and another 450 pending, struck out on their own to create Blue Hexagon, a now 30-person Sunnyvale, Ca.-based company that is today disclosing that it has raised $ 31 million in funding from Benchmark and Altimeter.
The funding comes roughly one year after Benchmark quietly led a $ 6 million Series A round for the firm.
So what has investors so bullish on the company’s prospects, aside from its credentialed founders? In a word, speed, seemingly. According to Islam, Blue Hexagon has created a real-time, cybersecurity platform that he says can detect known and unknown threats at first encounter, then block them in “sub seconds” so the malware doesn’t have time to spread.
The industry has to move to real-time detection, he says, explaining that four new and unique malware samples is released every second, and arguing that traditional security methods can’t keep pace. He says that sandboxes, for example, meaning restricted environments that quarantine cyber threats and keep them from breaching sensitive files, are no longer state of the art. The same is true of signatures, which are mathematical techniques used to validate the authenticity and integrity of a message, software or digital document but are being bypassed by rapidly evolving new malware.
Only time will tell if Blue Hexagon is far more capable of identifying and stopping attackers, as Islam insists is the case. It is not the only startup to apply deep learning to cybersecurity, though it’s certainly one of the first. Critics, some who are protecting their own corporate interests, also worry that hackers can foil security algorithms by targeting the warning flags they look for.
Still, with its technology, its team, and its pitch, Blue Hexagon is starting to persuade not only top investors of its merits, but a growing — and broad — base of customers, says Islam. “Everyone has this issue, from large banks, insurance companies, state and local governments. Nowhere do you find someone who doesn’t need to be protected.”
Blue Hexagon can even help customers that are already under attack, Islam says, even if it isn’t ideal. “Our goal is to catch an attack as early in the kill chain as possible. But if someone is already being attacked, we’ll see that activity and pinpoint it and be able to turn it off.”
Some damage may already be done, of course. It’s another reason to plan ahead, he says. “With automated attacks, you need automated techniques.” Deep learning, he insists, “is one way of leveling the playing field against attackers.”