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Snapchat quietly acquired AI Factory, the company behind its new Cameos feature, for $166M

January 4, 2020 No Comments

After acquiring Ukraine startup Looksery in 2015 to supercharge animated selfie lenses in Snapchat — arguably changing the filters game for all social video and photo apps — Snap has made another acquisition with roots in the country, co-founded by one of Looksery’s founders, to give a big boost to its video capabilities.

The company has acquired AI Factory, a computer vision startup that Snap had worked with to create Snapchat’s new Cameos animated selfie-based video feature, for a price believed to be in the region of $ 166 million.

The news was first reported by a Ukrainian publication, AIN, and while I’m still waiting for a direct reply from Snap about the acquisition, I’ve had the news confirmed by another source close to the deal, and Snap has now also confirmed the news to TechCrunch with no further comment on the financial terms or any other details.

Victor Shaburov, the founder of Looksery who then went on to become Snap’s director of engineering — leaving in May 2018 to found and lead AI Factory — declined to provide a comment for this story. (The other founders of AI Factory are Greg Tkachenko and Eugene Krokhalev.)

Cameos, launched last month, lets you take a selfie, which is then automatically “animated” and inserted into a short video. The selection of videos, currently around 150, is created by Snap, with the whole concept not unlike the one underpinning “deepfakes” — AI-based videos that look “real” but are actually things that never really happened.

Deepfake videos have been around for a while. But if your experience of that word has strong dystopian undertones, we now appear to be in a moment where consumer apps are tapping into the technology in a race for new — fun, lighthearted — features to attract and keep users. Just today, Josh reported that TikTok has secretly built a deepfake tool, too. I expect we’ll be hearing about Facebook’s newest deepfake tool in 3, 2, 1…

From what I understand, while AI Factory has offices in San Francisco, the majority of the team of around 70 is based out of Ukraine. Part of the team will relocate with the deal, and part will stay there.

Snap had also been an investor in AI Factory. Part of its early interest would have been because of the track record of the talent associated with the startup: lenses have been a huge success for Snap — 70% of its daily active users play with them, and they not only bring in new users, but increase retention and bring in revenues by way of sponsorships or users buying them — so creating new features to give users more ways to play around with their selfies is a good bet.

It’s not clear whether AI Factory will be developing a way to insert selfies into any video, or if the feature will be tied just to specific videos offered by Snap itself, or whether the videos will extend beyond the timing of a GIF. It’s also not clear what else AI Factory was working on: the company’s site is offline and there is very little information about the company beyond its mission to bring more AI-based imaging tools into mainstream apps and usage.

The company’s LinkedIn profile says that AI Factory “provide[s] multiple AI business solutions based on image and video recognition, analysis and processing,” so while the company will come under Snap’s wing, there may be scope for the team to build some of its technology into more innovative ways for businesses to use the Snap platform in the future, too.

We’ll update this post as we learn more.

Updated with Snap’s confirmation of the acquisition.


Social – TechCrunch


Video ad company Eyeview names Rob Deichert as its new CEO

September 18, 2019 No Comments

After 13 years at the helm of video advertising company Eyeview, founder Oren Harnevo is stepping down as CEO.

The company’s new chief executive is Rob Deichert, who was most recently COO at digital advertising company 33Across. The company is also announcing two other new hires — Sean Simon as senior vice president of sales and Risa Crandell as vice president of sales.

Harnevo, meanwhile, will remain on Eyeview’s board of directors.

“It’s been a long and incredible ride for the last 13 years since I co-founded Eyeview, and I feel it’s time to let a new leader help propel Eyeview to its next chapter,” he said in a statement. “2019 has been a great year for Eyeview. With strong revenue growth, and seasoned additions to our leadership team, it’s the perfect time to bring on [ad] industry veterans like Rob, Sean and Risa to accelerate our business as I depart to work on my next venture while supporting Eyeview on the board of director.”

Deichert acknowledged that it can be challenging to step into the shoes of a company’s founder, but he said he consulted with Harnevo before taking the job.

“I was just emailing with him today,” he added. “He’s going to be a great partner going forward.”

Rob Deichert

Rob Deichert

Deichert also said he has a standard on-boarding process when he joins a new company, which involves holding 30-minute, one-on-one meetings with every single person. (In this case, that means holding nearly 100 meetings.)

And while Eyeview has been around for more than a decade, Deichert suggested that there’s still plenty of room for its “outcome-based video marketing” (its specialty is video ads that are personalized based on viewer data) to grow.

In particular, he predicted that as direct-to-consumer brands are “maxing out on Facebook,” they’ll start turning back to traditional ad channels like television. With Eyeview, they can do that without losing the measurement and customization of online video.


Startups – TechCrunch


Groupon co-founder Eric Lefkofsky just raised another $200 million for his newest company, Tempus

June 1, 2019 No Comments

When serial entrepreneur Eric Lefkofsky grows a company, he puts the pedal to the metal. When in 2011 his last company, the Chicago-based coupons site Groupon, raised $ 950 million from investors, it was the largest amount raised by a startup ever. It was just over three years old at the time, and it went public later that same year.

Lefkofsky seems to be stealing a page from the same playbook for his newest company, Tempus. The Chicago-based genomic testing and data analysis company was founded a little more than three years ago, yet it has already hired nearly 700 employees and raised more than $ 500 million — including through a new $ 200 million round that values the company at $ 3.1 billion.

According to the Chicago Tribune, that new valuation makes it — as Groupon once was — one of Chicago’s most highly valued privately held companies.

So why all the fuss? As the Tribune explains it, Tempus has built a platform to collect, structure and analyze the clinical data that’s often unorganized in electronic medical record systems. The company also generates genomic data by sequencing patient DNA and other information in its lab.

The goal is to help doctors create customized treatments for each individual patient, Lefkofsky tells the paper.

So far, it has partnered with numerous cancer treatment centers that are apparently giving Tempus human data from which to learn. Tempus is also seemingly generating data “in vitro,” as is another company we featured recently called Insitro, a drug development startup founded by famed AI researcher Daphne Koller. With Insitro, it is working on a liver disease treatment owing to a tie-up with Gilead, which has amassed related human data over the years from which Insitro can use to learn. As a complementary data source, Insitro, like Tempus, is trying to learn what the disease does in a “dish,” then determine if it can use what it observes using machine learning to predict what it sees in people.

Tempus hasn’t come up with any cancer-related cures yet, but Lefkofsky already says that Tempus wants to expand into diabetes and depression, too.

In the meantime, he tells Crain’s Chicago Business that Tempus is already generating “significant” revenue. “Our oldest partners, have, in most cases, now expanded to different subgroups (of cancer). What we’re doing is working.”

Investors in the latest round include Baillie Gifford; Revolution Growth; New Enterprise Associates; funds and accounts managed by T. Rowe Price; Novo Holdings; and the investment management company Franklin Templeton.


Startups – TechCrunch


What we want to know in the We Company (WeWork) S-1

April 30, 2019 No Comments

With news that the We Company (formerly known as WeWork) has officially filed to go public confidentially with the SEC today, there’s a big question on everyone’s mind: Is this the next massive startup win or a house of cards waiting to be toppled by the glare of the public markets?

No company I follow has as much polarized opinion as the We Company. And while the company will have to reveal at least some of its hand in its official S-1, my guess is that the polarization around the company will not be alleviated until well after it goes public, if ever.

The challenge with understanding its business is how much the details of each of its leases, real estate markets and tenants matter to its bottom line. We already know the top line numbers: the company had revenue of $ 1.8 billion in 2018, and a net loss of $ 1.9 billion that year. That led to the received opinion that the company has an extraordinarily weak business. As Crunchbase News editor Alex Wilhelm put it:


Startups – TechCrunch


Ever dream about working for The Walt Disney Company?

April 1, 2019 No Comments

16 new jobs have been posted to PPC Hero’s Job Board, including new positions open at The Walt Disney Company, The Shade Store, and Workshop Digital. Here’s a brief look at just a few of the newly posted positions: The Walt Disney Company New York, NY Role: Paid Media Strategy Manager (Onsite Only) Disney Streaming […]

Read more at PPCHero.com
PPC Hero


Suse is once again an independent company

March 16, 2019 No Comments

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.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Barstool Sports founder reportedly blames company ‘idiots’ for copyright controversy

March 6, 2019 No Comments

In a recent Twitter thread, comedian Miel Bredouw recounted some shady behavior by Barstool Sports’ legal team. In fact, even Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy isn’t trying to defend it, and instead reportedly described it as “moronic,” admitting it, “makes us look like assholes.”

According to Bredouw (who backed up her account with screenshots of key correspondence), Barstool Sports uploaded one of her videos — a performance of “Slob on my Knob” set to the tune of “Carol of the Bells” — without attribution. When her request for credit was ignored, she filed a DMCA complaint, and the video was taken down.

However, she said various members of the Barstool team then began contacting her asking her to retract the complaint. They offered her a $ 50 gift card to Barstool’s online store, which was eventually upped to an offer of a $ 500 payment, and then $ 2,000 — the last one made in an email from the company’s general counsel Mark Marin.

What was going on? Bredouw theorized, “If they get too many DMCA copyright strikes, Twitter has to legally delete their account. I believe they get six. How much you want to bet mine was their fifth?”

Barstool founder Dave Portnoy seemed to confirm this in an email to Business Insider, where he said Barstool had to file a counter-notice in order to avoid getting shut down on Twitter.

“Unfortunately Barstool Sports has idiots in our company much like many other companies and those idiots acted like idiots,” Portnoy said. “I regret our lawyer offering a 50 dollar gift card to our store not because it’s illegal in any manner but it’s just so moronic and makes us look like assholes. That’s why lawyers should not be on social media.”

Speaking of the counter-notice — Twitter has apparently told Bredouw that as a result, she needs to file for a court order, or the company will “cease disabling access to the materials within 10 business days.”

When asked for comment, a Twitter spokesperson just pointed to the site’s copyright policy, which says that accounts facing copyright takedowns can file a counter-notice “if you believe that materials reported in the copyright complaints were misidentified or removed in error.”  When that happens, Twitter says:

If the copyright owner disagrees that the content was removed in error or misidentification, they may pursue legal action against you. If we do not receive notice within 10 business days that the original reporter is seeking a court order to prevent further infringement of the material at issue, we may replace or cease disabling access to the material that was removed.

We’ve also reached out to Barstool Sports for comment and will update if we hear back.


Social – TechCrunch


Carbonite to acquire endpoint security company Webroot for $618.5M

February 9, 2019 No Comments

Carbonite, the online backup and recovery company based in Boston, announced late yesterday that it will be acquiring Webroot, an endpoint security vendor, for $ 618.5 million in cash.

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.

Graphic: Carbonite

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.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Corruption at DJI may cost the company $150 million

January 20, 2019 No Comments

DJI, the world’s leading maker of consumer drones, said today that extensive corruption discovered within the company could lead to losses as great as $ 150 million in the 2018 financial year. The exact nature of the corruption is not stated, but it seems to involve dozens of people at the least.

The China Securities Journal, a state-operated finance-focused newspaper, got hold of an internal company report on a corruption investigation that said some 40 people had been investigated so far, but the numbers may also be as high as 100.

Reuters confirmed with the company that it “set up a high-level anti-corruption task force to investigate further and strengthen anti-corruption measures,” and that “a number of corruption cases have been handed over to the authorities, and some employees have been dismissed.”

When contacted for details, DJI offered a statement (just after this post went live) partly explaining the situation:

During a recent investigation, DJI itself found some employees inflated the cost of parts and materials for certain products for personal financial gain. We took swift action to address this issue, fired the bad actors, and contacted law enforcement officials. We continue to investigate the situation and are cooperating fully with law enforcement’s investigation.

We are taking steps to strengthen internal controls and have established new channels for employees to submit confidential and anonymous reports relating to any violations of the company’s ethical and workplace conduct policies.

It’s a little hard to believe that people padding invoices and giving sweetheart deals to certain contractors for kickbacks could amount to more than a million dollars per person involved, but then again, DJI makes a lot of hardware and a few well-placed people could siphon off quite a bit.

Gadgets – TechCrunch


Adobe gets its company, snaring Marketo for $4.75 billion

September 22, 2018 No Comments

A week ago rumors were flying that Adobe would be buying Marketo, and lo and behold it announced today that it was acquiring the marketing automation company for $ 4.75 billion.

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.


Enterprise – TechCrunch