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Monday, February 10, 2020

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News

Today Crunch News, News Updates, Tech News


Impala raises $20 million to build the API of the hotel industry

Posted: 10 Feb 2020 04:00 PM PST

Impala has raised another round of funding just a few months after raising an $11 million Series A round. This time, the startup is raising a $20 million Series B round led by Lakestar. Latitude Ventures is also participating in the round.

The company is building a service that works pretty much like Plaid, but for hotel rooms. The hotel industry relies on old school "property management systems" to manage rooms, room types, pricing, extras, taxes, etc.

Instead of asking hotels to switch to an entirely different property management system, the company is upgrading those systems with a modern API. This way, you can build applications that query hotel data directly with a few lines of code. You get a standardized JSON response from the API.

Impala is currently compatible with a handful of property management systems. The company is still adding more systems in order to cover a wider range of hotels.

300 hotels are currently working with Impala, such as Accor hotels (Mercure) and Hyatt-branded hotels. The company currently has a backlog of 3,500 hotels. It really shows that the industry has been waiting for a product like this.

While Impala is still focused on surfacing data in an easy-to-code manner, the company is already thinking beyond read-only data. The startup wants to let developers book rooms directly using the Impala API.

It could open up hotel bookings to many other services. For instance, you could imagine being able to book rooms on Lonely Planet's website. Services selling train tickets and flights could upsell you with hotel rooms.

In order to offer rooms on the usual hotel booking services from Booking Holdings websites (Booking.com, Priceline, Agoda, Kayak…) and Expedia Group websites (Expedia, Hotels.com, HomeAway, Trivago…), many hotels currently work with channel managers to send out information to multiple services at once. In the future, Impala could replace those channel managers with its API.

4 factors to consider before entering international markets

Posted: 10 Feb 2020 03:25 PM PST

As sales increase, most founders tend to double down on what already works to keep growing. But few consider expanding laterally — taking a business model or product that already works and bringing it to a new geographical market. After all, it can seem like a risky move at first, as customers often differ drastically culturally and socioeconomically across borders.

Despite their core differences, people around the world inevitably share many of the same pain points in their daily lives and while doing business. Sure, you might not be able to tap into your domestic relationships, keep your existing go-to-market strategy or even reuse your messaging while entering a new market. But that's why expanding internationally is hard and something few founders can do well.

When I first started Deltapath, we focused primarily on the U.S. market. But since 2001, we're now serving customers in 94 countries.

Each time my team expands to a new market, we consider four primary factors before we launch. These considerations will help you avoid costly hurdles and allow you to achieve the best results possible without having to reinvent the wheel with every new launch.

How do culture and market viability differ?

What happened to Slack today

Posted: 10 Feb 2020 02:57 PM PST

You’ve been busy. I’ve been busy. But people are talking about Slack all over Twitter, so let me catch us both up.

All the ruckus concerning Slack and its publicly traded stock appeared to kick off with a Business Insider story, which had the following headline:

Slack just scored its biggest customer deal ever, as IBM moves all 350,000 of its employees to the chat app

Given the context of the simmering Slack versus Teams battle, having Slack win what appeared to be a huge, new contract was big news. Slack’s shares shot higher, and the news engendered all sorts of headlines that now look a bit silly.

Like this one:

Slack may survive after all, after IBM choose [sic] them as exclusive supplier for 350,000 employees 

Slack shares traded up sharply all day. They were worth 15.4% more than yesterday, and then, all of a sudden this fine afternoon, trading of Slack’s equity was halted, pending news.

This led to general chaos, with everyone trying to figure out what had happened. Had Google bought Slack? Had Slack bought a small poodle? Was IBM not a Slack customer? It wasn’t clear.

Halting a stock, to be clear, is a big deal, and instantly brings attention to the company in question. Public firms don’t hold for news much, as it’s no good and no fun. It’s also why earnings come after hours.

Later, Slack released an SEC filing, which included the fact that IBM was already one of its customers. This meant that IBM was not a new customer, and that the headline 350,000 employee figure would not manifest itself in that many novel seats of Slack sold.

The company itself put a final bit of ironmongery in the human plasticware, saying the following in the filing to tamp down the market’s enthusiasm:

IBM has been Slack’s largest customer for several years and has expanded its usage of Slack over that time. Slack is not updating its financial guidance for the fourth quarter of the fiscal year ended January 31, 2020 or for the fiscal year ended January 31, 2020.

Womp womp, I believe is the phrase.

Also this happened, but the day’s events appear to be mostly a lot of whatnot that wound up being not what we thought.

When Slack finally did begin to float in after-hours trading, it quickly gave back about half of its gains. Slack shares are currently worth $24.56 in after-hours trading. They started the day worth around $23, and traded as high as the mid $27s.

Now you know.

How to advertise a podcast in 2020

Posted: 10 Feb 2020 02:30 PM PST

We've aggregated many of the world's best growth marketers into one community. Twice a month, we ask them to share their most effective growth tactics, and we compile them into this growth report.

This is how you stay up-to-date on growth marketing tactics — with advice that's hard to find elsewhere.

Our community consists of 1,000 startup founders and VPs of growth from later-stage companies. We have 400 YC founders, plus senior marketers from companies including Medium, Docker, Invision, Intuit, Pinterest, Discord, Webflow, Lambda School, Perfect Keto, Typeform, Modern Fertility, Segment, Udemy, Puma, Cameo and Ritual.

You can participate in our community by joining Demand Curve's marketing webinars, Slack group or marketing training program.

Without further ado, on to our community's advice.

Make good ads popular, then re-release them

SaaS kicks off 2020 with an extra billion in VC funding as round count halves

Posted: 10 Feb 2020 01:56 PM PST

The venture capital world is investing more capital into software-as-a-service companies (SaaS), despite cutting the number of deals it executes within the startup category, according to Crunchbase data. The results echo other venture data we’ve explored recently, including a look into early-stage dealmaking that shows a rise in invested venture dollars inversely correlating with a boost to the number of total deals recorded.

More capital and fewer deals means larger venture-backed investments, implying a general tilt toward the later-stage market. Instead of looking at things by stage, however, this afternoon we’re exploring a startup category. And SaaS is a key category in the startup world, making the inspection worth our time.

As the venture capital world’s seed investors focus more on enterprise deals than consumer investments, seeing SaaS perform well is not surprising. How well it is doing this year might be.

But let’s get the data in front of us before we get ahead of ourselves. Strap in, we’re digging into the numbers.

2020 SaaS funding is robust

A US House candidate says she was hacked — now she’s warning others

Posted: 10 Feb 2020 01:53 PM PST

“I cannot think of a reason not to share this with the public,” Brianna Wu tweeted.

“Two of my non-campaign Google accounts were compromised by someone in Russia,” she said.

Wu isn’t just any other target. As a Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in Massachusetts’ 8th District, she has a larger target on her back for hackers than the average constituent. And as a former software engineer, she knows all too well the cybersecurity risks that come along with running for political office.

But the breach of two of her non-campaign Google accounts was still a wake-up call.

Wu said she recently discovered that the two accounts had been breached. One of the accounts was connected to her Nest camera system at home, and the other was her Gmail account she used during the Gamergate controversy, during which Wu was a frequent target of vitriol and death threats. TechCrunch agreed to keep the details of the breach off the record as to not give any potential attackers an advantage. Attribution in cyberattacks, however, can be notoriously difficult because hackers can mask their tracks using proxies and other anonymity tools.

“I don’t believe anyone in Russia is targeting me specifically. I think it’s more likely they target everyone running for office,” she tweeted.

Wu said that both of her accounts had “solid protection measures” in place, including “unique, randomly generated passwords for both accounts.” She said that she reported the intrusions to the FBI.

“The worry is obviously that it could hurt the campaign,” she told TechCrunch. But she remains concerned that it could be an “active measure,” a term often used to describe Russian-led political interference in U.S. politics.

Politicians and political candidates are frequently targeted by hackers both in the U.S. and overseas. During the 2016 presidential election, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager John Podesta had his personal email account hacked and thousands of emails published by WikiLeaks. The recently released report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller blamed hackers working for Russian intelligence for the intrusion as part of a wider effort to discredit then-candidate Clinton and get President Trump elected.

Yet to this day, political campaigns remain largely responsible for their own cybersecurity.

“There is only so much the feds can do here, given the sheer size of the candidate pool for federal office,” said Joseph Lorenzo Hall, an election security expert and senior vice president at the Internet Society.

Hall said much of the federal government’s efforts have been on raising awareness and on “low-hanging fruit,” like enabling two-factor authentication. Homeland Security continues to brief both parties to the major cybersecurity threats ahead of voting later in November, and the FBI has online resources for political campaigns.

It’s only been in the past few months that tech companies have been allowed to step in to help.

Fearing a repeat of 2016, the Federal Elections Commission last year relaxed the rules to allow federal political campaigns to receive discounted cybersecurity help. That has also allowed companies like Cloudflare to enter the political campaign space, offering cybersecurity services to campaigns — which was previously considered a campaign finance violation.

It’s not a catch-all fix. A patchwork of laws and rules across the U.S. make it difficult for campaigns to prioritize internal cybersecurity efforts. It’s illegal in Maryland, for example, to use campaign finances for securing the personal accounts of candidates and their staff — the same kind of accounts that hackers used to break into Podesta’s email account in 2016. It’s an attack that remains in hackers’ arsenals. Just last year, Microsoft found Iranian-backed hackers were targeting personal email accounts “associated” with a 2020 presidential candidate — which later transpired to be President Trump’s campaign.

Both of the major U.S. political parties have made efforts to bolster cybersecurity at the campaign level. The Democrats recently updated their security checklist for campaigns and published recommendations for countering disinformation, and the Republicans have put on training sessions to better educate campaign officials.

But Wu said that the Democrats could do more to support campaign cybersecurity, and that she was speaking out to implore others who are running for Congress to do more to bolster their campaign’s cybersecurity.

“There is absolutely no culture of information security within the Democratic Party that I have seen,” said Wu. Fundraising lists are “freely swapped in unencrypted states,” she said, giving an example.

“There is generally not a culture of updating software or performing security audits,” she said. “The fact that this is not taken seriously is really underscored by Iowa and the Shadow debacle,” she said, referring to the Iowa caucus last week, in which a result-reporting app failed to work. It was later reported that the app, built by Shadow Inc., had several security flaws that made it vulnerable to hacking.

Spokespeople for the FBI and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee did not respond to a request for comment prior to publication.

“Infosec is expensive, and I know for many campaigns it may seem like a low priority,” Wu told TechCrunch.

“But how can we lead the country on cybersecurity issues if we don't hold ourselves to the same standards we’re asking the American people to follow?” she said.

CurieMD is using telehealth to plug the menopause support gap

Posted: 10 Feb 2020 01:22 PM PST

U.S. femtech startup CurieMD is offering menopause diagnosis and treatment prescription via a telehealth platform — beginning in California, where it launched late last year.

Founder Dr. Leslie Meserve  says the goal is to widen access to treatment and support services for mid-life women, spying a business opportunity in offering an auxiliary digital service targeting an area of women’s health which she says is often overlooked within standard health service provision and suffers from a lack of trained physicians.

She also suggests there is a "unique fear" in the U.S. around the use of hormone therapy for treating the menopause that’s left an access gap in support services — blaming concerns sparked by misleading publicity attached to the 2003 Women’s Health Initiative study which implied a link with breast cancer.

“The authors of the study released a press release prematurely that then became an overnight sensationalized story about hormone therapy causing breast cancer,” she explains. “What they didn’t say was that in the estrogen-only arm of the trial there was actually a lower incidence of breast cancer. So that was never stated anywhere. The other thing they failed to state was that the slight increased risk was not statistically significant… They did women a huge disservice by releasing this press release prematurely.”

More than 15 years on, Meserve believes the time is right for telehealth services to help plug the information and support gap that still orbits menopause, in part as a consequence of “deeply rooted” but misplaced fear of hormone therapy.

Investment in products targeted women’s health and wellness has also been jumping up in recent years as VCs cotton on to an underinvested opportunity which more founders are also focusing on — led by female entrepreneurs driving attention toward women’s issues.

There are now a number of femtech startups specifically focused on menopause. Asked about competitors, Meserve points to several other U.S. startups — including Gennev and Elektra Health.

“There is a lot more interest in telehealth and I believe the time is absolutely right for more information to be given to the world… to make sure that women know that going through menopause is not the end of anything — it’s the beginning of a wonderful second half of life,” she suggests, arguing that the regular healthcare services women are accessing often don’t have the time to dedicate to discussing menopausal symptoms and potential treatments with their patients.

“Telehealth is not going to be appropriate for every single medical issue, that’s for sure, but the diagnosis and treatment of menopausal symptoms is really based on a discussion,” she says. “We do let patients know that we are an adjunct to the regular care that they need to be receiving from their gynecologist and primary care physicians. But menopausal treatment requires a lot of discussion, a lot of talk therapy — it’s a very cognitive diagnosis and treatment. And many OB-GYNs and primary care doctors really don’t have the time needed to explain the pros and cons of hormone therapy to their patients.

“They do the physical. They address immediate, urgent needs, but they may not have the time to address something that doesn’t feel as urgent. Menopausal symptoms — from insomnia to hot flushes — they don’t feel as urgent to practitioners so I don’t think that they’re always given the time needed. And we know that physicians and other practitioners are very rushed. The way our insurance models go they have to see patients every nine to 15 minutes and sometimes a 15-minute office visit just isn’t enough to perform both a pap smear, a physical and answer all of these questions. So we’re an adjunct. We’re not in place of their regular physical exams — we’re an addition to those.”

Meserve practiced in primary care for close to two decades before moving into specializing in menopause services herself — a shift that led to the idea of setting up a company to address mid-life women’s health issues via a web-based telehealth platform.

“I’ve kind of grown up with my patients and a few years ago I was noticing that my patients were having lots of menopausal symptoms so I self-trained in the treatment of menopause and then became a certified menopause practitioner,” she tells TechCrunch, explaining her own transition from practicing in primary care to focusing on menopause care. 

“I realized obviously I was only going to be able to see a very small number of patients and patients in my community. And I know that women across the country are suffering with these symptoms and they’re not able to find physicians that are comfortable talking about menopause and treating menopause. And so, through friends of friends, I was connected to another physician in our community, along with his friend who has expertise in startups and we had the idea [for the company].”

“We know that there’s a lack of trained physicians in this area, we know that women want this relief — they want symptom relief, they want to live wonderful lives,” she adds, saying the key idea is to use telehealth consultations and algorithmic triage to reach “as many women as are wanting the treatment.”

CurieMD patients fill in an online quiz about themselves and their symptoms to get treatment suggestions — which can include a prescription for an oral contraceptive or, in cases where there may be a risk associated with taking estrogen, an antidepressant for perimenopausal symptom relief; and a plant-based hormone therapy for menopausal women — with the startup using an algorithm to help the telehealth practitioners offer the right treatment suggestions.

“Based on the way that patients answer questions in our questionnaire they’re driven down a certain path to help our practitioners choose the right therapy,” she explains, noting that they’re not using AI to drive recommendations. Rather, patients’ responses are used to determine which additional questions they get asked to pull out other relevant information — in a classic decision tree algorithm.

“The first thing we have to determine is whether they’re in perimenopause or menopause,” she says, discussing the decision flow. “So in perimenopause their cycles are fluctuating, their ovaries are coming in and out of retirement. That happens in their 40s. And women start to have perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms at that time — many of them do. So they”ll be having hot flushes, night sweats, irritability, mood symptoms. But the treatment for perimenopause is different from menopause. Perimenopausal patients can be treated very effectively with low-dose oral contraceptive pills — so one of the algorithm’s branches is, first of all, are you in menopause or perimenopause?

“And then for menopausal patients they have the option of choosing bioidentical hormone therapy. And if they have had a hysterectomy they only need estrogen — and so they would go down the pathway asking about their estrogen needs. And then if they still have a uterus they will need both estrogen and progesterone. So then they have the choice of what type of estrogen they want to choose — whether they want oral estrogen or estrogen delivered through the skin, which is a patch.”

In cases where a woman is having vasomotor symptoms such as insomnia and hot flushes but has had breast cancer or where there’s another contra-indication to estrogen (such as having previously had a blood clot), CurieMD’s platform may prescribe an antidepressant to treat her symptoms.

“They are candidates for an antidepressant called Venlafaxine [that’s] very effective for treating vasomotor symptoms in all patients — but we use it mostly for women who are unable to take estrogen,” says Meserve.

For now the platform has just three doctors performing remote consultations for the “dozens” of early sign-ups it’s seen so far — with a third-party company supplying the trained physicians that are conducting the remote consultations.

“We’re working with a large, national company that hires physicians who have chosen to provide telehealth,” she says. “They’re board certified and we provide additional training in women’s health for them — especially in the medications… that we offer.”

Per Meserve CurieMD applies “narrower” prescribing guidelines than an in-person physician might use — exactly “because it is a telehealth company.”

She gives the example of a patient who has had a blood clot in the past — where an in-person physician might be able to discuss with a patient’s haematologist and come up with a plan for them to be on a very low-dose estrogen patch. In this case, CurieMD’s remote service would not be able to offer such a joined-up approach to prescribing a treatment.

“In telehealth we don’t know all the physicians in each patient’s community so we’re not going to be able to do co-ordinated care as well with specialist, outside of the box patients,” she says. “So if they have any risk factors, such as a history of clotting, or of course if they have a history of breast cancer we’re not going to be able to treat those patients with hormone therapy. So if they really want hormone therapy that’s going to be an in-person visit with a physician.”

Another exception would be patients who have migraines and who may want to be on an oral birth control pill. “It depends on the type of migraines they have,” she says. “So that’s beyond the scope of what we’re going to prescribe.”

As part of the questionnaire process patients are also asked to rate the severity of their symptoms. Meserve says she’s confident this will enable it to not only demonstrate to individual patients the efficacy of the prescribed treatment but also enable it to present findings to the wider medical community — with the aim of demonstrating “the safety and efficacy of telehealth” for this particular use-case.

“One of the things that I’d like to make sure that we’re doing is really convincing the medical community at large about the safety of telehealth in certain medical conditions,” she says. “It’s not appropriate for every medical condition… There are certain things that need to have an in-person visit. But the medical community is starting to understand and adapt and trust telehealth — but I think the more data that we have the more we’re going to be able to convince them that this is a nice adjunct to in-person visits.”

“Patients are more accepting of [telehealth] than physicians are. Physicians are very conservative and very slow to change and so I feel that one of our missions is to present the data to physicians and help them understand that this is not a substitute for good in-person care, it’s just an addition,” she adds.

The business model for the service is direct to patient — which means CurieMD is not plugging into the U.S. insurance healthcare market. Rather, there’s a sign-up fee (currently waived), a per consultation fee and recurring subscription (taken via credit card) for any ongoing prescriptions which are shipped to patients by a mail-order pharmacy contracted for that piece of the service. (In an FAQ on its website, the startup claims its consultation fees “are lower than that of most co-pays and our medication pricing is competitive with that of most pharmacies.”)

The team has raised around $1 million in angel and VC investment to fund development of the business so far.

Meserve says the plan is to scale nationwide, taking a state by state approach to building out coverage in order to get the necessary contracts and physician licences in place.

“I would like to be in another 20 states by the end of this year,” she adds.

In terms of differentiation versus the growing number of femtech startups that have also supported an opportunity to offer menopause-related treatment support, she says: “We believe we’re the only one that contracts with a pharmacy and has the prescription delivered through a mail order service.”

She also flags that the hormone therapy CurieMD’s service prescribes — and delivers “right to the door in discreet packaging” — is a bioidentical plant-based “FDA-approved” treatment, suggesting that’s another point of differentiation for its approach.

Trump administration slashes basic science research while boosting space, AI and quantum tech funding

Posted: 10 Feb 2020 01:03 PM PST

The new fiscal year 2021 budget proposal from the Trump administration would increase funding for research and development by $142 billion over the administration’s previous year’s budget, but will still reduce overall spending for science and technology from alternative proposals coming from the U.S. House of Representatives.

Basic science funding would be hard hit under the Trump administration priorities.

A rundown of all the programs that would be cut under the administration’s budget was published by Science Magazine; it includes:

  • National Institutes of Health: a cut of 7%, or $2.942 billion, to $36.965 billion
  • National Science Foundation (NSF): a cut of 6%, or $424 million, to $6.328 billion
  • Department of Energy's (DOE's) Office of Science: a cut of 17%, or $1.164 billion, to $5.760 billion
  • NASA science: a cut of 11%, or $758 million, to $6.261 billion
  • DOE's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy: a cut of 173%, which would not only eliminate the $425 million agency, but also force it to return $311 million to the U.S. Department of the Treasury
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) Agricultural Research Service: a cut of 12%, or $190 million, to $1.435 billion
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology: a cut of 19%, or $154 million, to $653 million
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: a cut of 31%, or $300 million, to $678 million
  • Environmental Protection Agency science and technology: a cut of 37%, or $174 million, to $318 million
  • Department of Homeland Security science and technology: a cut of 15%, or $65 million, to $357 million
  • U.S. Geological Survey: a cut of 30%, or $200 million, to $460 million

However, certain areas where venture investors and startups spend a lot of time should see a funding boost. These include new money for research and development in industries developing new machine learning and quantum computing technologies.

Artificial intelligence allocations across the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Department of Defense’s Joint AI Center will reach a combined $1.724 billion — with portions of an additional $150 million allocation for the Department of Agriculture and the National Institutes of Health going to AI research.

Quantum information science is another area that’s set for a windfall of government dollars under the proposed Trump administration budget. The National Science Foundation will receive $210 million for quantum research, while the Department of Energy will receive a $237 million boost and an additional carve out of $25 million for the Depart of Energy to begin development of a nationwide Quantum Internet.

“Quantum computing, networking and sensing technologies are areas of incredible potential,” said Paul Dabbar, the under secretary for science at the Department of Energy.

As part of this development, Dabbar pointed to the work underway at the University of Chicago, where partners, including the Argonne National Laboratory, Fermi Laboratory and the university, have already launched a 52-mile quantum communication loop in Chicago.

There are plans underway to create six quantum internet nodes in the Midwest and another node in Long Island near New York City to create a Northeastern quantum network hub.

“This will be the backbone of a national quantum internet extending coast to coast and border to border,” said Dabbar. “If we don't, others will do it,” he said. “China and the EU have announced plans for investments in the area.”

Space is another area where spending will see a boost, under the Trump budget.

A key part of the package is a 12% boost to the budget of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, as the administration aims to get astronauts back on the surface of the Moon by 2024. In all, the new budget will add $3 billion to funding for NASA to develop things like human landers and other technologies to capitalize on the potential assets and strategic importance of space. In all, NASA will receive $25.2 billion, while the newly created Space Force will see an allocation of $15.4 billion in the new budget.

The budget will double research and development spending for quantum information science and non-defense artificial intelligence by the 2022 fiscal year, according to a statement from the administration.

Much of the administration’s budget seems focused on spending to catch up in areas where the U.S. may be losing its technological edge. China already spends tens of billions of dollars on research in both quantum computing and artificial intelligence.

While spending on quantum computing and artificial intelligence advances, the Trump administration continues to slash budgets in other areas dependent on scientific study — where the discoveries of the scientific community and their implications contradict the political wishes of the president.

That includes the Environmental Protection Agency, which would see its total budget slashed by 26.5% over the next year. The Department of Health and Human Services would see its budget allocation shrink by 9% — although the administration actually plans to avoid cutting the budget for combating infections diseases through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Few of these allocations will actually make it through the congressional budgeting process, since the Democrats control the House of Representatives and the most draconian parts of the budget proposed by the administration couldn’t even pass a Congress controlled by Republicans.

Activist gig workers seek to form nonprofit to support fellow workers

Posted: 10 Feb 2020 12:17 PM PST

Vanessa Bain (pictured above), a well-known gig worker-activist, has teamed up with fellow gig worker-activist Sarah Clarke (pseudonym) to form the Gig Workers Collective. It’s early days for the organization, which is a pending 501(c)(3) organization, but its ambitions are big.

"We want to be the first responders that, whenever gig workers find out there is a pay cut or some type of issue, they'll feel comfortable coming to us,” Clarke told TechCrunch.

The plan is to continue fighting for fair pay and better treatment for gig workers, whether they shop for Instacart, drive for Uber or Lyft or deliver for Postmates and DoorDash. Through the organization, Clarke hopes to be able to help other gig workers effectively organize, file grievances and advocate for themselves.

“Vanessa and I have been organizing for four years,” Clarke said. “We’ve been doing it on the side while also maintaining working 40 hours a week gig jobs. If we focus solely on organizing, we can accomplish so much more.”

Over the years, Bain and Clarke have led a number of campaigns. More recently, they led a nationwide campaign that entailed six days of action in protest of Instacart. Last year, they also went on strike for 72 hours in demand of a better tip and fee structure.

Right now, the organization has a board of five gig workers and six workers who are contributing to the organization.

“Assuming we get funding, we can pay for everything they do,” Clarke said. “Right now, everything we pay for is out of pocket. With proper funding, we can pay workers who are working on the campaign.”

The next steps for the young organization are to try to get funding. However, Clarke said they will be selective about who they take funding from in order to ensure those funders don’t try to exert too much control.

She said, “the workers will always need to come first.”

Nearly 70% of US smart speaker owners use Amazon Echo devices

Posted: 10 Feb 2020 11:56 AM PST

Amazon’s dominant position in the U.S. smart speaker market will continue through this year and the next, with rivals like Google and Apple only making slight dents in Amazon Echo market share, according to a report published today by eMarketer. The analyst firm estimates Amazon will easily hold onto its top spot through 2021, when nearly 70% of total U.S. smart speaker owners will continue to use an Amazon Echo device.

Specifically, 69.7% of U.S. smart speaker users will use an Echo in 2020, down slightly from 72.9% last year. In 2021, the number will drop a bit further, with then 68.2% of U.S. smart speaker owners using an Echo device. Meanwhile, 31.7% of smart speaker owners in 2020 will use a Google-branded device, and only 18.4% will use some other brand — like Apple HomePod, Sonos One or Harmon Kardon Invoke, for example. (The percentages total more than 100% because some smart speaker owners do own more than one brand, the report notes.)

These figures indicate the challenges ahead for Apple HomePod, Google Home and others in claiming a significant portion of the U.S. smart speaker market.

After all, once a consumer buys their first device, they’re not as likely to change brands for their next one. Instead, the first device gives the company — like Amazon — a foot in the door to prove their smart speaker’s usefulness. When the customer is readying to expand by adding a new device for the bedroom or kitchen, perhaps, they typically return to buy the same brand again as devices are designed to work together across the home.

That’s not always the case, but it’s more often than not.

Amazon is keenly aware of this trend and has been practically giving away its entry-level device, the Echo Dot. The low-end device is currently selling on the retailer’s site for $29.99, and is often found on sale. During Amazon’s annual Prime Day sale, the retailer slashes Alexa device prices even further — making the Echo Dot a Prime Day bestseller for several years now.

Outside the U.S., however, Amazon’s Echo may not have the same advantages, the report notes.

The Echo is less competitive in some markets because it supports fewer non-English languages than major competitors, like the Google Home.

That said, the U.S. remains a key market for smart speaker adoption, so Amazon’s strengths here should not be discounted.

“Since Amazon first introduced the Echo, it has built a convincing lead in the U.S. and continues to beat back challenges from top competitors,” said Victoria Petrock, a principal analyst at eMarketer. “We had previously expected Google and Apple to make more inroads in this market, but Amazon has remained aggressive. By offering affordable devices and building out the number of Alexa skills, the company has maintained Echo's appeal,” she added.

The firm also said it expects the number of U.S. smart speaker users to continue to rise over the next several years, but growth will slow. Currently, 28.9% of internet users also use a smart speaker. Next year, that number is expected to reach 30.5%.

This year, the number of smart speaker users in the U.S. will grow by 13.7% to reach 83.1 million. But in 2021, growth will dip into the single digits, eMarketer forecasts.

That doesn’t necessarily mean those users aren’t using voice assistants, however. Instead, smart speakers will only be one way in which consumers interact with technology via voice. Over time, consumers will also begin to use voice assistant built into other devices, like vehicles, appliances, other smart home devices and more. And let’s not forget that both Google and Apple offer smartphone voice assistants — Google Assistant and Siri, respectively — whose usage numbers dwarf Echo adoption.

There are some half a billion plus Siri-capable devices out there, and half a billion Google Assistant users. In other words, people interacting with a voice assistant today are probably doing it on their iOS or Android phone, not by talking to Alexa. But on the flip side, it’s fairly remarkable that Amazon was able to create a new market for its Echo speakers, given the massive lead in voice assistants held by its rivals.

The eMarketer report is not the first to estimate Amazon has claimed a 70% market share in the smart speaker market — a report last year by CIRP also said the same.

Develop a serious cybersecurity strategic plan that incorporates CCM

Posted: 10 Feb 2020 11:52 AM PST

It’s a new year and corporate concerns about cybersecurity risk are high. Which means top executives at Fortune 500 companies will do what they always do — spend big on security technology. Global cybersecurity spending is on a path to exceed $1 trillion cumulatively over the five-year period from 2017 to 2021.

But increasing budgets each year with little strategic forethought is a corporate failing. Further, the lack of proactive monitoring of cyber risk profile almost ensures gaps and vulnerabilities that will be exploited by hackers.

Corporations that don't formulate a thorough cybersecurity plan and monitor its implementation will encounter more breaches and increasingly become mired in scuttled M&A opportunities. Market research firm Gartner says that 60% of organizations engaging in M&A activity are already weighing a target's cybersecurity track record, posture and strategy as a key factor in their due diligence. A company that has been hacked is a less attractive acquisition target — hardly a minor point, given that M&A activity globally, led by the U.S., has set records in recent years and is widely expected to maintain or exceed this level going forward.

The most highly publicized example of an M&A-related cybersecurity headache was Verizon's discovery of a prior data breach at Yahoo a couple of years ago, after formulating an acquisition agreement. The discovery almost killed the deal and ultimately resulted in a $350 million reduction in Verizon's purchase price.

Enterprises must step up to the plate once and for all and develop meaningful metrics to assess the quality of their cybersecurity protection and monitor its completeness and effectiveness. And the best way to do this is to begin taking steps to incorporate continuous controls monitoring (CCM).

SoftBank-backed Brandless shuts its doors for good

Posted: 10 Feb 2020 11:41 AM PST

It was a roller coaster ride — a short one.

Brandless, a San Francisco-based e-commerce company that made and sold an assortment of “cruelty-free” products in beauty and personal care, household, baby and pet categories, has shut its doors less than three years after officially opening them in July 2017.

In a statement provided to the news outlet Protocol, the company cited a “fiercely competitive” retail market. As part of its shut-down, the company will reportedly lay off 70 employees, with 10 staying aboard to resolve outstanding orders and presumably figure out how to sell its remaining assets.

The company’s short run won’t come as a complete surprise to industry watchers. In July of 2018, Brandless announced that SoftBank's $100 billion Vision Fund had invested $240 million in the company in a deal that valued Brandless at a little over $500 million. It was a surprising development, given the company’s relatively nascent business.

As has happened across numerous companies backed by the Vision Fund, including Wag and more recently WeWork, it also meant an executive shake-up. Indeed, by March of last year,  CEO Tina Sharkey, who’d co-founded the company with Ido Leffler, resigned from her position, saying she was moving into a “more focused role” as the board’s co-chair.

At the time, Evan Price, Brandless’s then CFO, became the company’s interim CEO. In May, John Rittenhouse, the former COO of Walmart.com, took the job. His plan, according to Protocol, was to get more of Brandless’s products into brick-and-mortar stores, but by this past December, he’d quietly stepped down and left Brandless. (Sharkey, meanwhile, left the company’s board last fall.)

Impacts

Certainly, the development undermines SoftBank’s already shaky reputation for savvy deal-making. In fairness, however, Brandless entered into an industry that has grown cluttered with new entrants, many of them with a good story about the quality of their products but also in heated competition with products that taste and perform similarly to many others on the market in similar price brands.

It’s also worth noting that of the $240 million in SoftBank dollars announced in 2018, less than half that amount ultimately made it to Brandless, says a source close to the company.

According to a report last year in The Information, SoftBank, eager to see Brandless turn a profit, was providing some of its promised funding to Brandless via installments and was holding back a large chunk of capital until the company met certain financial targets.

Because that didn’t happen, SoftBank wound up investing $100 million altogether, and, according to Protocol, Brandless’s board, including Price, Leffler, SoftBank managing director Jeff Housenbold, Redpoint’s Jeff Brody and Colin Bryant of NEA, decided to close the company while still able to provide severance packages for employees.

Tesla ramps up solar tile roof installations in US, eyes China and Europe expansion

Posted: 10 Feb 2020 11:17 AM PST

Tesla appears to be ramping up installations of its solar tile roofs in the San Francisco Bay area and will eventually roll out to Europe and China, according to CEO Elon Musk, who, in a series of tweets, provided the first substantial update since the company launched the third iteration of its product in October.

The solar tile roof, which Tesla calls Solarglass, is being produced at the company’s factory in Buffalo, N.Y. Musk announced in one of the tweets plans to host a “company talk” in April at the Buffalo factory, an event that will include media and customer tours of the facility.

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment seeking more information about Solarglass, including how many installations have been made to date. We will update the article if Tesla responds.

Four months ago, Musk said the company would begin installations in the “coming weeks” and that it hopes to ramp production to as many as 1,000 new roofs per week.

Tesla’s solar roof tiles are designed to look like normal roof tiles when installed on a house, while doubling as solar panels to generate power. The company first unveiled the solar tiles in 2016 and has been tinkering with them ever since. Tesla has conducted trial installations with the first two generations of the solar tiles and opened up pre-orders in 2017.

In an earnings call last October, Musk suggested that the tiles were ready for a widespread deployment, noting that “version three is finally ready for the big time.”

The solar tile roof will initially be offered in textured black, but Musk reiterated Monday plans to offer other color and finish variants “hopefully later this year.”

A pricing estimator on the Tesla website says a solar tile roof with 10 kW of solar on an average 2,000 square-foot home costs $42,500 before federal tax incentives. It also lists $33,950 as the price after an $8,550 federal tax incentive.

Facebook quietly acquired another UK AI startup and almost no one noticed

Posted: 10 Feb 2020 10:47 AM PST

Over the last few years, Facebook has been busy building out AI capabilities in areas like computer vision, natural language processing (NLP) and 'deep learning,' in part by acquiring promising startups in the space.

Understandably, this has seen the U.S. social networking giant look to the U.K. for AI talent, including an acqui-hire of NLP startup Bloosbury AI in 2018, and most recently, acquiring Scape Technologies, a British company using computer vision to offer more accurate location positioning for augmented reality.

Now TechCrunch has learned that a third U.K. acquisition quietly took place this December, seeing Facebook acquire Deeptide Ltd., the company behind Atlas ML, which is also the custodian of "Papers With Code," the free and open resource for machine learning papers and code.

A regulatory filing for Deeptide reveals that Facebook became a majority owner on 13th December 2019. The same day, Atlas ML co-founder Robert Stojnic published a Medium post titled "Papers with Code is joining Facebook AI," which went largely unnoticed outside of the machine learning research community.

Terms of the deal — or even that the acquisition took place — weren't announced by Facebook at the time, beyond Stojnic's sanctioned post. However, according to my sources within London's tech community, the ballpark price is thought to have been around $40 million or thereabouts.

Founded in 2018 by Stojnic and Ross Taylor, Atlas ML wanted to "make it easier to discover and apply deep learning research". The young startup was an alumni of Entrepreneur First (EF) — along with Bloomsbury and Scape — and raised subsequent seed funding from Episode1 and Kindred Capital.

I’ve contacted Facebook for comment and will update this post if and when I hear back.

SpaceX’s first astronaut mission could take off in May

Posted: 10 Feb 2020 10:09 AM PST

SpaceX is getting very close to its goal of flying actual astronauts aboard its Crew Dragon spacecraft. After a successful in-flight abort (IFA) test in January, it had basically crossed off all the major milestones needed before flying people, first on a demonstration mission referred to as “Demo-2” by SpaceX and its commercial crew partner NASA.

We now know the working date that SpaceX is aiming for with that crucial mission: May 7. To be clear, that’s very much a working date and the actual mission could slip either later, or even earlier, according to Ars Technica’s Eric Berger who first reported the timeline.

We knew before today that SpaceX was getting very close to be mission-ready in terms of its spacecraft. The Government Accountability Office released a report last week detailing progress on the commercial crew program and noted that the Crew Dragon capsule that will be used to fly astronauts for Demo-2 was on track to be completed “3 months earlier” than was expected based on most recent timelines.

Demo-2 will be the second demonstration mission of Crew Dragon, following a Demo-1 uncrewed mission that flew in March of last year. That mission saw the SpaceX spacecraft fly to the International Space Station (ISS), dock with the orbital lab, undock and return safely to Earth with a controlled landing, all using automated processes and without anyone on board.

The Demo-2 mission will fly two crew, Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, both NASA astronauts who will be completing their third spaceflight during the mission. Bob and Doug will at least fly aboard Crew Dragon to the ISS, replicating the Demo-1 mission, but with a crew on board, and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine recently shared that it would be looking into the possibility of extending the duration of the mission (which had been planned for two weeks) to allow it to actually rotate the crew of the ISS, just like what currently happens with Soyuz astronaut flights.

As always with space, expect some movement in that target date, but we are getting close enough now that the general ballpark should be a pretty accurate reflection of when things go down, barring any major issues between now and then.

Daily Crunch: MWC faces coronavirus concerns

Posted: 10 Feb 2020 10:08 AM PST

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. As top exhibitors pull out of MWC, organizers implement stringent safeguards

A couple of weeks before the event, the organizers of Mobile World Congress have issued some fairly sweeping safeguards over growing concerns around the coronavirus. After a number of high-profile back-outs, the organizers announced a ban of visitors originating from the Hubei province, whose capital Wuhan is believed to be the origin of the epidemic.

Following this news on Sunday, Sony and Amazon also pulled out of MWC.

2. NASA and ESA's Solar Orbiter begins its nearly two-year journey to the Sun

After years of development, an exciting new scientific research spacecraft has launched on its journey to study our solar system's central player: the Sun.

3. Netflix's movies only won two Oscars this year

Two Oscars — Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Laura Dern’s performance in “Marriage Story” and Best Documentary Feature for “American Factory” — are a respectable showing for a studio that only started making movies a few years ago. Yet it still feels like a disappointment, given Netflix’s 24 nominations and its aggressive Oscar campaigns.

4. Starling Bank raises another £60M from existing backers

Starling Bank, the U.K.-based challenger bank founded by banking veteran Anne Boden, has raised another £60 million from its existing investors, Merian Global Investors and Harry McPike's JTC. Starling is also disclosing that customers have opened 1.25 million consumer and business accounts since its banking app launched in May 2017.

5. The team behind Apple's 'Mythic Quest' says video games aren't the punch line

When video game publisher Ubisoft first approached "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" stars Rob McElhenney and Charlie Day about creating a new show set in the game industry, McElhenney said they weren't interested — at least not initially. But a visit to Ubisoft’s Montreal office changed his mind.

6. Index Fund's portfolio is driving long-overdue innovation in femcare

We chatted with Index principal Hannah Seal about the fund's investment in tampon startup Daye and her broader thoughts on a new generation of female-focused startups. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

7. This week’s TechCrunch podcasts

The Equity team has some thoughts about Casper’s IPO, as well as the strong post-IPO performance of One Medical. And over on Original Content, we review Netflix’s Taylor Swift documentary “Miss Americana” — even if you’re not a Swiftie, I think we had a fun conversation about celebrity culture.

Localytics founders announce Demand Sage, a startup bringing marketing intelligence to small and mid-sized businesses

Posted: 10 Feb 2020 10:02 AM PST

Just a couple days after mobile analytics and marketing company Localytics was acquired by Upland Software, two of its founders are announcing their new startup, Demand Sage.

CEO Raj Aggarwal and CTO Henry Cipolla previously co-founded and served in the same roles at Localytics, and they founded Demand Sage with Chief Product Officer Randy Dailey — whom Aggarwal described as the “perpetual all star” of the Localytics product team.

Aggarwal explained that the idea for Demand Sage emerged from their time at Localytics, where the team worked with large enterprises and used customer data to “refine their customer experience.” But he discovered that “even for a mid-sized company like ourselves, it was impossible, infeasible to take advantage of those same capabilities.”

At least, it was impossible in the past, but Aggarwal said the landscape has changed in ways that allow Demand Sage to now bring “the best of a large enterprise's marketing intelligence capabilities to small and medium-sized companies,” (as he put it in a blog post introducing the company).

First, there’s cost. Aggarwal told me that while a smaller business can’t afford the “massive cost to cleanse and manipulate data,” many are now using online software that collects and structures the data for them, so Demand Sage can take advantage of that work.

“The problem is that the enterprise solutions are built in a way that requires customization or data manipulation as the first step to really understand what that data is,” he said. “That's what makes it cost tens of thousands of dollars, often. That's the first piece that we think we can eliminate immediately.”

Second, there’s the fact that marketers are increasingly creating their reports in Google Sheets, because of its flexibility. And third, Aggarwal said that while “the raw cost of computation has gone down,” the data remains “pretty difficult to access and challenging for a non-data scientist to use it.”

So Demand Sage was built to take advantage of and address these shifts. It initially plugs into HubSpot (with plans to integrate with other marketing platforms) and Google Sheets, automatically generating what Aggarwal said are “spreadsheets that are well-formatted and well structured” to highlight trends and anomalies that are relevant to marketers, which can then be used for “communicating those insights back into organizations.”

To be clear, we're not talking about basic analytics data, but rather more nuanced analysis, the kind of thing that Dailey said smaller businesses struggled with in the past.

“We might ask them what factors influenced customer converting down the funnel, and they would say we don’t do that analysis,” Dailey said. “They often just left it on the cutting room floor.”

As for whether Demand Sage can perform this kind of analysis across different industries, Cipolla added, “Because the data is coming from a really opinionated API, typical data science tasks like anomaly detection and basic predictions should work for any industry.”

2021 NASA budget request includes $3.3B for human lunar landers, $430M for Moon resource development

Posted: 10 Feb 2020 09:58 AM PST

The Trump White House today issued its fiscal 2021 budget request, and it included a 12% increase in requested funding to NASA’s coffers, as expected. That puts the total request for NASA at $25.2 billion, nearly half, or $12.3 billion, of which is earmarked specifically to support NASA’s efforts to return to the surface of the Moon and to eventually land people on Mars.

Highlights from the proposed budget, which was issued by the Office of Management and Budget on Monday, include $3.3 billion specifically designate to develop human lunar lander systems that will be used to take astronauts to the Moon’s surface from staging positions in lunar orbit. It outlines that these will rely on “competition, industry innovation and robust Government oversight” to produce safe and reliable systems for “sustainable exploration.”

It also adds $4 billion for continued development of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft, which combined will be used to provide transportation of astronauts from Earth to the Moon. The budget specifically says that these funds will be used by the agency to “complete these systems and start to establish a regular flight cadence.”

Also included in the request are $175 million for spacesuits to be used by astronauts on the surface of the Moon, along with $212 million for rovers that will be used for transportation. There’s $254 million included for the Commercial Lunar Landing Services (CLPS) program through which NASA is sourcing private partners to deliver scientific and cargo payloads to the Moon’s surface ahead of sending astronauts back in 2024.

A $430 million pool is included to specifically fund a “Lunar Surface Innovation Initiative,” which includes the development and demonstration of technologies that will be employed to take advantage of Moon-based resources for power generation, astronaut habitats and exploration tools. These will be used to support Moon exploration, both robotic and human, according to the proposed budget, and also to then be leveraged for similar use in eventual Mars missions.

Another $529 million is set aside for the “robotic exploration of Mars,” including a return mission to bring a Martian soil sample back to Earth for the first time ever, and a mission that will involve mapping water ice near the surface of the planet for the use of eventual human explorers.

Other considerations in the budget proposal include support for “new space stations” to ensure continued American presence in low Earth orbit, as well as astronaut training. It also continues to fund the X-59 supersonic flight demonstrator that NASA is developing with a target first flight of 2022, which is meant to provide a blueprint for future commercial supersonic overland passenger aircraft.

It also includes a proposed cut of a number of science missions, as well as the Office of STEM Engagement, which supports STEM activities in schools. This is not the first time the STEM office has been on the chopping block, however, and so far it has managed to survive the ax.

NASA is addressing the budget request and what it means for the administration’s plans in a briefing later today. We’ll provide updates about salient details as they become available.

Facebook Workplace co-founder launches downtime fire alarm Kintaba

Posted: 10 Feb 2020 09:55 AM PST

“It's an open secret that every company is on fire,” says Kintaba co-founder John Egan. “At any given moment something is going horribly wrong in a way that it has never gone wrong before.” Code failure downtimes, server outages and hack attacks plague engineering teams. Yet the tools for waking up the right employees, assembling a team to fix the problem and doing a post-mortem to assess how to prevent it from happening again can be as chaotic as the crisis itself.

Text messages, Slack channels, task managers and Google Docs aren’t sufficient for actually learning from mistakes. Alerting systems like PagerDuty focus on the rapid response, but not the educational process in the aftermath. Finally, there’s a more holistic solution to incident response with today’s launch of Kintaba.

The Kintaba team experienced these pains firsthand while working at Facebook after Egan and Zac Morris’ Y Combinator-backed data transfer startup Caffeinated Mind was acqui-hired in 2012. Years later, when they tried to build a blockchain startup and the whole stack was constantly in flames, they longed for a better incident alert tool. So they built one themselves and named it after the Japanese art of Kintsugi, where gold is used to fill in cracked pottery, “which teaches us to embrace the imperfect and to value the repaired,” Egan says.

With today’s launch, Kintaba offers a clear dashboard where everyone in the company can see what major problems have cropped up, plus who’s responding and how. Kintaba’s live activity log and collaboration space for responders let them debate and analyze their mitigation moves. It integrates with Slack, and lets team members subscribe to different levels of alerts or search through issues with categorized hashtags.

“The ability to turn catastrophes into opportunities is one of the biggest differentiating factors between successful and unsuccessful teams and companies,” says Egan. That’s why Kintaba doesn’t stop when your outage does.

Kintaba Founders (from left): John Egan, Zac Morris and Cole Potrocky

As the fire gets contained, Kintaba provides a rich text editor connected to its dashboard for quickly constructing a post-mortem of what went wrong, why, what fixes were tried, what worked and how to safeguard systems for the future. Its automated scheduling assistant helps teams plan meetings to internalize the post-mortem.

Kintaba’s well-pedigreed team and their approach to an unsexy but critical software-as-a-service attracted $2.25 million in funding led by New York’s FirstMark Capital.

“All these features add up to Kintaba taking away all the annoying administrative overhead and organization that comes with running a successful modern incident management practice,” says Egan, “so you can focus on fixing the big issues and learning from the experience.”

Egan, Morris and Cole Potrocky met while working at Facebook, which is known for spawning other enterprise productivity startups based on its top-notch internal tools. Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz built a task management system to reduce how many meetings he had to hold, then left to turn that into Asana, which filed to go public this week.

The trio had been working on internal communication and engineering tools as well as the procedures for employing them. “We saw firsthand working at companies like Facebook how powerful those practices can be and wanted to make them easier for anyone to implement without having to stitch a bunch of tools together,” Egan tells me. He stuck around to co-found Facebook’s enterprise collaboration suite Workplace while Potrocky built engineering architecture there and Morris became a mobile security lead at Uber.

Like many blockchain projects, Kintaba’s predecessor, crypto collectibles wallet Vault, proved an engineering nightmare without clear product market fit. So the team ditched it and pivoted to build out the internal alerting tool they’d been tinkering with. That origin story sounds a lot like Slack’s, which began as a gaming company that pivoted to turn its internal chat tool into a business.

So what’s the difference between Kintaba and just using Slack and email or a monitoring tool like PagerDuty, Splunk’s VictorOps or Atlassian’s OpsGenie? Here’s how Egan breaks a site downtime situation handled with Kintaba:

You're on call and your pager is blowing up because all your servers have stopped serving data. You're overwhelmed and the root cause could be any of the multitude of systems sending you alerts. With Kintaba, you aren't left to fend for yourself. You declare an incident with high severity and the system creates a collaborative space that automatically adds an experienced IMOC (incident manager on call) along with other relevant on calls. Kintaba also posts in a company-wide incident Slack channel. Now you can work together to solve the problem right inside the incident's collaborative space or in Slack while simultaneously keeping stakeholders updated by directing them to the Kintaba incident page instead of sending out update emails. Interested parties can get quick info from the stickied comments and #tags. Once the incident is resolved, Kintaba helps you write a postmortem of what went wrong, how it was fixed, and what will be done to prevent it from happening. Kintaba then automatically distributes the postmortem and sets up an incident review on your calendar.

Essentially, instead of having one employee panicking about what to do until the team struggles to coordinate across a bunch of fragmented messaging threads, a smoother incident reporting process and all the discussion happens in Kintaba. And if there’s a security breach that a non-engineer notices, they can launch a Kintaba alert and assemble the legal and PR team to help, too.

Alternatively, Egan describes the downtime fiascoes he’d experience without Kintaba like this:

The on call has to start waking up their management chain to try and figure out who needs to be involved. The team maybe throws a Slack channel together but since there's no common high severity incident management system and so many teams are affected by the downtime, other teams are also throwing slack channels together, email threads are happening all over the place, and multiple groups of people are trying to solve the problem at once. Engineers begin stepping all over each other and sales teams start emailing managers demanding to know what's happening. Once the problem is solved, no one thinks to write up a postmortem and even if they do it only gets distributed to a few people and isn't saved outside that email chain. Managers blame each other and point fingers at people instead of taking a level headed approach to reviewing the process that led to the failure. In short: panic, thrash, and poor communication.

While monitoring-apps like PagerDuty can do a good job of indicating there’s a problem, they’re weaker at the collaborative resolution and post-mortem process, and designed just for engineers rather than everyone, like Kintaba. Egan says, “It’s kind of like comparing the difference between the warning lights on a piece of machinery and the big red emergency button on a factory floor. We're the big red button . . . That also means you don't have to rip out PagerDuty to use Kintaba,” since it can be the trigger that starts the Kintaba flow.

Still, Kintaba will have to prove that it’s so much better than a shared Google Doc, an adequate replacement for monitoring solutions or a necessary add-on that companies should pay $12 per user per month. PagerDuty’s deeper technical focus helped it go public a year ago, though it has fallen about 60% since to a market cap of $1.75 billion. Still, customers like Dropbox, Zoom and Vodafone rely on its SMS incident alerts, while Kintaba’s integration with Slack might not be enough to rouse coders from their slumber when something catches fire.

If Kintaba can succeed in incident resolution with today’s launch, the four-person team sees adjacent markets in task prioritization, knowledge sharing, observability and team collaboration, though those would pit it against some massive rivals. If it can’t, perhaps Slack or Microsoft Teams could be suitable soft landings for Kintaba, bringing more structured systems for dealing with major screw-ups to their communication platforms.

When asked why he wanted to build a legacy atop software that might seem a bit boring on the surface, Egan concluded that, “Companies using Kintaba should be learning faster than their competitors . . . Everyone deserves to work within a culture that grows stronger through failure.”

Is this what an early-stage slowdown looks like?

Posted: 10 Feb 2020 09:06 AM PST

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

Today we’re exploring some fascinating data from Silicon Valley Bank markets report for Q1 2020. We’re digging into two charts that deal with the early-stage funding market, and after we unpack what the local Iron Bank of Braavos has to share, we’ll bring in some other data and see if we can back up our conclusions.

To avoid keeping you waiting, it appears that global early-stage deal counts could be slipping. But is this is a real early-stage slowdown?

For founders hoping to get their company out of their minds and into the world, it’s a key question. Without ample early-stage funding, the startup and venture pipeline begins to constrict, eventually limiting late-stage activity after crimping its early-stage sibling.

So let’s dig in and parse out what we can. To the charts!

A global slowdown