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Alpaca nabs $6M for stocks API so anyone can build a Robinhood

November 9, 2019 No Comments

Stock trading app Robinhood is valued at $ 7.6 billion, but it only operates in the U.S. Freshly funded fintech startup Alpaca does the dirty work so developers worldwide can launch their own competitors to that investing unicorn. Like the Stripe of stocks, Alpaca’s API handles the banking, security and regulatory complexity, allowing other startups to quickly build brokerage apps on top for free. It has already crossed $ 1 billion in transactions within a year of launch.

The potential to power the backend of a new generation of fintech apps has attracted a $ 6 million Series A round for Alpaca led by Spark Capital . Instead of charging developers, Alpaca earns its money through payment for order flow, interest on cash deposits and margin lending, much like Robinhood.

“I want to make sure that people even outside the U.S. have access” to a way of building wealth that’s historically only “available to rich people” Alpaca co-founder and CEO Yoshi Yokokawa tells me.

Alpaca co-founder and CEO Yoshi Yokokawa

Hailing from Japan, Yokokawa followed his friends into the investment banking industry, where he worked at Lehman Brothers until its collapse. After his grandmother got sick, he moved into day-trading for three years and realized “all the broker dealer business tools were pretty bad.” But when he heard of Robinhood in 2013 and saw it actually catering to users’ needs, he thought, “I need to be involved in this new transformation” of fintech.

Yokokawa ended up first building a business selling deep learning AI to banks and trading firms in the foreign exchange market. Watching clients struggle to quickly integrate new technology revealed the lack of available developer tools. By 2017, he was pivoting the business and applying for FINRA approval. Alpaca launched in late 2018, letting developers paste in code to let their users buy and sell securities.

Now international developers and small hedge funds are building atop the Alpaca API so they don’t have to reinvent the underlying infrastructure themselves right away. Alpaca works with clearing broker NTC, and then marks up margin trading while earning interest and payment for order flow. It also offers products like AlpacaForecast, with short-term predictions of stock prices, AlpacaRadar for detecting price swings and its MarketStore financial database server.

AlpacaForecast

The $ 6 million from Spark Capital, Social Leverage, Portag3, Fathom Capital and Zillionize adds to $ 5.8 million in previous funding from investors, including Y Combinator. The startup plans to spend the cash on hiring to handle partnerships with bigger businesses, supporting its developer community and ensuring compliance.

One major question is whether fintech businesses that start to grow atop Alpaca and drive its revenues will try to declare independence and later invest in their own technology stack. There’s the additional risk of a security breach that might scare away clients.

Alpaca’s top competitor, Interactive Brokers, offers trading APIs, but other services as well that distract it from fostering a robust developer community, Yokokawa tells me. Alpaca focuses on providing great documentation, open-source contribution and SDKs in different languages that make it more developer-friendly. It will also have to watch out for other fintech services startups like DriveWealth and well-funded Galileo.

There’s a big opportunity to capitalize on the race to integrate stock trading into other finance apps to drive stickiness because it’s a consistent, voluntary behavior rather than a chore or something only done a few times a year. Lender SoFi and point-of-sale system Square both recently became broker dealers as well, and Yokokawa predicts more and more apps will push into the space.

Why would we need so many stock trading apps? “Every single person is involved with money, so the market is huge. Instead of one-player takes all, there will be different players that can all do well,” Yokokawa tells me. “Like banks and investment banks co-exist, it will never be that Bank of America takes 80% of the pie. I think differentiation will be on customer acquisition, and operations management efficiency.”

The co-founder’s biggest concern is keeping up with all the new opportunities in financial services, from cash management and cryptocurrency that Robinhood already deals in, to security token offerings and fractional investing. Yokokawa says, “I need to make sure I’m on top of everything and that we’re executing with the right timing so we don’t lose.”

The CEO hopes that Alpaca will one day power broader access to the U.S. stock market back in Japan, noting that if a modern nation still lags behind in fintech, the rest of the world surely fares even worse. “I want to connect this asset class to as many people as possible on the earth.”


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Seismic acquires Percolate to expand its marketing tools

November 5, 2019 No Comments

Seismic is announcing that it’s acquiring Percolate in a deal that it says is combining “two essential pillars of the marketing technology stack.”

It sounds like the two companies aren’t direct competitors, but they offer related tools: Seismic helps companies create and manage the content they use in sales and marketing, while Percolate expanded from a social media publishing tool to a  broader suite of software for managing the marketing process.

As part of the acquisition, Percolate CEO Randy Wootton is joining the Seismic team, where he will continue to lead Percolate, and where he will report to Seismic CEO Doug Winter. The combined company will have a headcount of more than 800 people.

“Both of our companies endeavor to foster better alignment between marketing and sales and improve the buyer/seller interaction, resulting in accelerated deals and pipeline for our customers,” Wootton said in a statement. “Combining with Seismic allows Percolate to provide even more capability to our customer base and more value to the marketing ecosystem.”

The financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. Percolate raised a total of $ 106.5 million from investors including GGV Capital, Sequoia Capital, Lightspeed, Slow Ventures, Lerer Hippeau and First Round Capital, according to Crunchbase.

Seismic, meanwhile, raised a $ 100 million investment at a $ 1 billion valuation last year.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


New Relic snags early-stage serverless monitoring startup IOpipe

November 2, 2019 No Comments

As we move from a world dominated by virtual machines to one of serverless, it changes the nature of monitoring, and vendors like New Relic certainly recognize that. This morning the company announced it was acquiring IOpipe, a Seattle-based early-stage serverless monitoring startup, to help beef up its serverless monitoring chops. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

New Relic gets what it calls “key members of the team,” which at least includes co-founders Erica Windisch and Adam Johnson, along with the IOpipe technology. The new employees will be moving from Seattle to New Relic’s Portland offices.

“This deal allows us to make immediate investments in onboarding that will make it faster and simpler for customers to integrate their [serverless] functions with New Relic and get the most out of our instrumentation and UIs that allow fast troubleshooting of complex issues across the entire application stack,” the company wrote in a blog post announcing the acquisition.

It adds that initially the IOpipe team will concentrate on moving AWS Lambda features like Lambda Layers into the New Relic platform. Over time, the team will work on increasing support for serverless function monitoring. New Relic is hoping by combining the IOpipe team and solution with its own, it can speed up its serverless monitoring chops.

Eliot Durbin, an investor at Bold Start, which led the company’s $ 2 million seed round in 2018, says both companies win with this deal. “New Relic has a huge commitment to serverless, so the opportunity to bring IOpipe’s product to their market-leading customer base was attractive to everyone involved,” he told TechCrunch.

The startup has been helping monitor serverless operations for companies running AWS Lambda. It’s important to understand that serverless doesn’t mean there are no servers, but the cloud vendor — in this case AWS — provides the exact resources to complete an operation, and nothing more.

IOpipe co-founders Erica Windisch and Adam Johnson

Photo: New Relic

Once the operation ends, the resources can simply get redeployed elsewhere. That makes building monitoring tools for such ephemeral resources a huge challenge. New Relic has also been working on the problem and released New Relic Serverless for AWS Lambda earlier this year.

As TechCrunch’s Frederic Lardinois pointed out in his article about the company’s $ 2.5 million seed round in 2017, Windisch and Johnson bring impressive credentials:

IOpipe co-founders Adam Johnson (CEO) and Erica Windisch (CTO), too, are highly experienced in this space, having previously worked at companies like Docker and Midokura (Adam was the first hire at Midokura and Erica founded Docker’s security team). They recently graduated from the Techstars NY program.

IOpipe was founded in 2015, which was just around the time that Amazon was announcing Lambda. At the time of the seed round the company had eight employees. According to PitchBook data, it currently has between 1 and 10 employees, and has raised $ 7.07 million since its inception.

New Relic was founded in 2008 and has raised more than $ 214 million, according to Crunchbase, before going public in 2014. Its stock price was $ 65.42 at the time of publication, up $ 1.40.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Datameer announces $40M investment as it pivots away from Hadoop roots

October 29, 2019 No Comments

Datameer, the company that was born as a data prep startup on top of the open source Hadoop project, announced a $ 40 million investment and a big pivot away from Hadoop, while staying true to its big data roots.

The investment was led by existing investor ST Telemedia . Other existing investors including Redpoint Ventures, Kleiner Perkins, Nextworld Capital, Citi Ventures and Top Tier Capital Partners also participated. Today’s investment brings the total raised to almost $ 140 million, according to Crunchbase data.

Company CEO Christian Rodatus says the company’s original mission was about making Hadoop easier to use for data scientists, business analysts and engineers. In the last year, the three biggest commercial Hadoop vendors — Cloudera, Hortonworks and MapR — fell on hard times. Cloudera and Hortonworks merged and MapR was sold to HPE in a fire sale.

Starting almost two years ago, Datameer recognized that against this backdrop, it was time for a change. It began developing a couple of new products. It didn’t want to abandon its existing customer base entirely of course, so it began rebuilding its Hadoop product and is now calling it Datameer X. It is a modern cloud-native product built to run on Kubernetes, the popular open source container orchestration tool. Instead of Hadoop, it will be based on Spark. He reports they are about two-thirds done with this pivot, but the product has been in the hands of customers.

The company also announced Neebo, an entirely new SaaS tool to give data scientists the ability to process data in whatever form it takes. Rodatus sees a world coming where data will take many forms from traditional data to Python code from data analysts or data scientists to SaaS vendor dashboards. He sees Neebo bringing all of this together in a managed service with the hope that it will free data scientists to concentrate on getting insight from the data. It will work with data visualization tools like Tableau and Looker, and should be generally available in the coming weeks.

The money should help them get through this pivot, hire more engineers to continue the process and build a go-to-market team for the new products. It’s never easy pivoting like this, but the investors are likely hoping that the company can build on its existing customer base, while taking advantage of the market need for data science processing tools. Time will tell if it works.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Stewart Butterfield says Microsoft sees Slack as existential threat

October 26, 2019 No Comments

In a wide ranging interview with The Wall Street Journal’s global technology editor Jason Dean yesterday, Slack CEO and co-founder Stewart Butterfield had some strong words regarding Microsoft, saying the software giant saw his company as an existential threat.

The interview took place at the WSJ Tech Live event. When Butterfield was asked about a chart Microsoft released in July during the Slack quiet period, which showed Microsoft Teams had 13 million daily active users compared to 12 million for Slack, Butterfield appeared taken aback by the chart.

Microsoft Teams chart

Chart: Microsoft

“The bigger point is that’s kind of crazy for Microsoft to do, especially during the quiet period. I had someone say it was unprecedented since the [Steve] Ballmer era. I think it’s more like unprecedented since the Gates’ 98-99 era. I think they feel like we’re an existential threat,” he told Dean.

It’s worth noting, that as Dean pointed out, you could flip that existential threat statement. Microsoft is a much bigger business with a trillion-dollar market cap versus Slack’s $ 12 billion. Microsoft reported $ 110 billion in revenue in 2018, while Slack had around $ 400 million. It also has the benefit of linking Microsoft Teams to Office 365 subscriptions, but Butterfield says the smaller company with the better idea has often won in the past.

For starters, Butterfield noted that of his biggest customers, more than two-thirds are actually using Slack and Office 365 in combination. “When we look at our top 50 biggest customers, 70% of them are not only Office 365 users, but they’re Office 365 users who use the integrations with Slack,” he said.

He went on to say that smaller companies have taken on giants before and won. As examples, he held up Microsoft itself, which in the 1980s was a young upstart taking on established players like IBM. In the late 1990s, Google prevailed as the primary search engine in spite of the fact that Microsoft controlled most of the operating system and browser market at the time. Google then tried to go after Facebook with its social tools, all of which have failed over the years. “And so the lesson we take from that is, often the small startup with real traction with customers has an advantage versus the large incumbent with multiple lines of business,” he said.

When asked by Dean if Microsoft, which ran afoul with the Justice Department in the late 1990s, should be the subject of more regulatory scrutiny for its bundling practices, Butterfield admitted he wasn’t a legal expert, but joked that it was “surprisingly unsportsmanlike conduct.” He added more seriously, “We see things like offering to pay companies to use Teams and that definitely leans on a lot of existing market power. Having said that, we have been asked many times, and maybe it’s something we should have looked at, but we haven’t taken any action.”


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Figma’s Community lets designers share and remix live files

October 22, 2019 No Comments

As designers grow both in sheer numbers and within the hierarchy of organizations, design tool makers are adapting to their evolving needs in different ways. Figma, the web-based collaborative design tool, is taking a note from the engineering revolution of the early aughts.

“What if there were a GitHub for designers?” mused Dylan Field, early on in the lifecycle of Figma as a company. Today, that vision is brought to life with the launch of Figma Community. (Figma Community is launching in a closed beta for now.)

In a crowded space, with competitors like Adobe, InVision, Sketch and more, Figma differentiates itself on its web-based multiplayer approach. Figma is a design tool that works like Google Docs, with multiple designers in the same file, working alongside one another without disrupting each other.

But that’s just the base level of the overall collaboration that Figma believes designers crave. Field told us that he sees a clear desire from designers to not only share their work, whether it’s on a portfolio webpage or on social media, as well as a desire to learn from the work of other designers.

And yet, when a creative shares a design on social media, it’s just a static image. Other designers can’t see how it went from a blank page to an interesting design, and are left to merely appreciate it without learning anything new.

With Figma Community, designers and even organizations can share live design files that others can inspect, remix and learn from.

Individual designers can set up their own public-facing profile page to show off their designs, as well as intra-organization profile pages so other team members within their organization can learn from each other. On the other hand, organizations can publicly share their design systems and philosophy on their own page.

For example, the city of Chicago has set up a profile on Figma Community for other designers to follow the city’s design system in their own materials.

Screen Shot 2019 10 22 at 11.26.39 AM

As far as remixing design files goes, Figma is using a CC4 license, which allows for a remix but forces attribution. That said, Field says the company is using this closed beta period to learn more about what the community wants around different license types.

Community is free and is not meant to drive revenue for the company, but rather offer further value to designers using the platform.

“It’s early,” said Dylan Field. “This is just the scaffolding of what’s to come. It’s the start of a lot of work that we’re going to be doing in the area of collaboration and community.”

Figma has raised a total of $ 83 million from investors like Index, Sequoia, Kleiner Perkins and Grelock, according to Crunchbase.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Pendo scores $100M Series E investment on $1 billion valuation

October 21, 2019 No Comments

Pendo, the late-stage startup that helps companies understand how customers are interacting with their apps, announced a $ 100 million Series E investment today on a valuation of $ 1 billion.

The round was led by Sapphire Ventures . Also participating were new investors General Atlantic and Tiger Global, and existing investors Battery Ventures, Meritech Capital, FirstMark, Geodesic Capital and Cross Creek. Pendo has now raised $ 206 million, according to the company.

Company CEO and co-founder Todd Olson says that one of the reasons they need so much money is they are defining a market, and the potential is quite large. “Honestly, we need to help realize the total market opportunity. I think what’s exciting about what we’ve seen in six years is that this problem of improving digital experiences is something that’s becoming top of mind for all businesses,” Olson said.

The company integrates with customer apps, capturing user behavior and feeding data back to product teams to help prioritize features and improve the user experience. In addition, the product provides ways to help those users either by walking them through different features, pointing out updates and new features or providing other notes. Developers can also ask for feedback to get direct input from users.

Olson says early on its customers were mostly other technology companies, but over time they have expanded into lots of other verticals, including insurance, financial services and retail, and these companies are seeing digital experience as increasingly important. “A lot of this money is going to help grow our go-to-market teams and our product teams to make sure we’re getting our message out there, and we’re helping companies deal with this transformation,” he says. Today, the company has more than 1,200 customers.

While he wouldn’t commit to going public, he did say it’s something the executive team certainly thinks about, and it has started to put the structure in place to prepare should that time ever come. “This is certainly an option that we are considering, and we’re looking at ways in which to put us in a position to be able to do so, if and when the markets are good and we decide that’s the course we want to take.”


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Pendo scores $100M Series E investment on $1 billion valuation

October 21, 2019 No Comments

Pendo, the late-stage startup that helps companies understand how customers are interacting with their apps, announced a $ 100 million Series E investment today on a valuation of $ 1 billion.

The round was led by Sapphire Ventures . Also participating were new investors General Atlantic and Tiger Global, and existing investors Battery Ventures, Meritech Capital, FirstMark, Geodesic Capital and Cross Creek. Pendo has now raised $ 206 million, according to the company.

Company CEO and co-founder Todd Olson says that one of the reasons they need so much money is they are defining a market, and the potential is quite large. “Honestly, we need to help realize the total market opportunity. I think what’s exciting about what we’ve seen in six years is that this problem of improving digital experiences is something that’s becoming top of mind for all businesses,” Olson said.

The company integrates with customer apps, capturing user behavior and feeding data back to product teams to help prioritize features and improve the user experience. In addition, the product provides ways to help those users either by walking them through different features, pointing out updates and new features or providing other notes. Developers can also ask for feedback to get direct input from users.

Olson says early on its customers were mostly other technology companies, but over time they have expanded into lots of other verticals, including insurance, financial services and retail, and these companies are seeing digital experience as increasingly important. “A lot of this money is going to help grow our go-to-market teams and our product teams to make sure we’re getting our message out there, and we’re helping companies deal with this transformation,” he says. Today, the company has more than 1,200 customers.

While he wouldn’t commit to going public, he did say it’s something the executive team certainly thinks about, and it has started to put the structure in place to prepare should that time ever come. “This is certainly an option that we are considering, and we’re looking at ways in which to put us in a position to be able to do so, if and when the markets are good and we decide that’s the course we want to take.”


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Why it might have been time for new leadership at SAP

October 12, 2019 No Comments

SAP CEO Bill McDermott announced he was stepping down last night after a decade at the helm in an announcement that shocked many. It’s always tough to measure the performance of an enterprise leader when he or she leaves. Some people look at stock price over their tenure. Some at culture. Some at the acquisitions made. Whatever the measure, it will be up to the new co-CEOs Jennifer Morgan and Christian Klein to put their own mark on the company.

What form that will take remains to be seen. McDermott’s tenure ended without much warning, but it also happened against a wider backdrop that includes other top executives and board members leaving the company over the last year, an activist investor coming on board and some controversial licensing changes in recent years.

Why now?

The timing certainly felt sudden. McDermott, who was interviewed at TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise last month sounded more like a man who was fully engaged in the job, not one ready to leave, but a month later he’s gone.

But as McDermott told our own Frederic Lardinois last night, after 10 years, it seemed like the right time to leave. “The consensus was 10 years is about the right amount of time for a CEO because you’ve accomplished a lot of things if you did the job well, but you certainly didn’t stay too long. And if you did really well, you had a fantastic success plan,” he said in the interview.

There is no reason to doubt that, but you should at least look at context and get a sense of what has been going in the company. As the new co-CEOs take over for McDermott, several other executives including SAP SuccessFactors COO Brigette McInnis-Day, Robert Enslin, president of its cloud business and a board member, CTO Björn Goerke and Bernd Leukert, a member of the executive board have all left this year.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Arm brings custom instructions to its embedded CPUs

October 8, 2019 No Comments

At its annual TechCon event in San Jose, Arm today announced Custom Instructions, a new feature of its Armv8-M architecture for embedded CPUs that, as the name implies, enables its customers to write their own custom instructions to accelerate their specific use cases for embedded and IoT applications.

“We already have ways to add acceleration, but not as deep and down to the heart of the CPU. What we’re giving [our customers] here is the flexibility to program your own instructions, to define your own instructions — and have them executed by the CPU,” ARM senior director for its automotive and IoT business, Thomas Ensergueix, told me ahead of today’s announcement.

He noted that Arm always had a continuum of options for acceleration, starting with its memory-mapped architecture for connecting GPUs and today’s neural processor units over a bus. This allows the CPU and the accelerator to run in parallel, but with the bus being the bottleneck. Customers can also opt for a co-processor that’s directly connected to the CPU, but today’s news essentially allows Arm customers to create their own accelerated algorithms that then run directly on the CPU. That means the latency is low, but it’s not running in parallel, as with the memory-mapped solution.

arm instructions

As Arm, argues, this setup allows for the lowest-cost (and risk) path for integrating customer workload acceleration, as there are no disruptions to the existing CPU features and still allows its customers to use the existing standard tools they are already familiar with.

custom assemblerFor now, custom instructions will only be available to be implemented in the Arm Cortex-M33 CPUs, starting in the first half of 2020. By default, it’ll also be available for all future Cortex-M processors. There are no additional costs or new licenses to buy for Arm’s customers.

Ensergueix noted that as we’re moving to a world with more and more connected devices, more of Arm’s customers will want to optimize their processors for their often very specific use cases — and often they’ll want to do so because by creating custom instructions, they can get a bit more battery life out of these devices, for example.

Arm has already lined up a number of partners to support Custom Instructions, including IAR Systems, NXP, Silicon Labs and STMicroelectronics .

“Arm’s new Custom Instructions capabilities allow silicon suppliers like NXP to offer their customers a new degree of application-specific instruction optimizations to improve performance, power dissipation and static code size for new and emerging embedded applications,” writes NXP’s Geoff Lees, SVP and GM of Microcontrollers. “Additionally, all these improvements are enabled within the extensive Cortex-M ecosystem, so customers’ existing software investments are maximized.”

In related embedded news, Arm also today announced that it is setting up a governance model for Mbed OS, its open-source operating system for embedded devices that run an Arm Cortex-M chip. Mbed OS has always been open source, but the Mbed OS Partner Governance model will allow Arm’s Mbed silicon partners to have more of a say in how the OS is developed through tools like a monthly Product Working Group meeting. Partners like Analog Devices, Cypress, Nuvoton, NXP, Renesas, Realtek,
Samsung and u-blox are already participating in this group.


Enterprise – TechCrunch