JFrog acquires Shippable, adding continuous integration and delivery to its DevOps platform

JFrog, the popular DevOps startup now valued at over $1 billion after raising $165 million last October, is making a move to expand the tools and services it provides to developers on its software operations platform: it has acquired Shippable, a cloud-based continuous integration and delivery platform (CI/CD) that developers use to ship code and deliver app and microservices updates, and plans to integrate it into its Enterprise+ platform.

Terms of the deal — JFrog’s fifth acquisition — are not being disclosed, said Shlomi Ben Haim, JFrog’s co-founder and CEO, in an interview. From what I understand, though, it was in the ballpark of Shippable’s most recent valuation, which was $42.6 million back in 2014 when it raised $8 million, according to PitchBook data.  (And that was the last time it had raised money.)

Shippable employees are joining JFrog and plan to release the first integrations with Enterprise+ this coming summer, and a full integration by Q3 of this year.

Shippable, founded in 2013, made its name early on as a provider of a containerized continuous integration and delivery platform based on Docker containers, but as Kubernetes has overtaken Docker in containerized deployments, the startup had also shifted its focus beyond Docker containers.

The acquisition speaks to the consolidation that is afoot in the world of DevOps, where developers and organizations are looking for more end-to-end toolkits not just to help develop, update, and run their apps and microservices, but to provide security and more — or at least, makers of DevOps tools hope they will be, as they themselves look to grow their margins and business.

As more organizations run ever more of their opertions as apps and microservices, DevOps have risen in prominence and are offered both toolkits from standalone businesses as well as those whose infrastructure is touched and used by DevOps tools. That means a company like JFrog has an expanding pool of competitors that include not just the likes of Docker, Sonatype and GitLab, but also AWS, Google Cloud Platform and Azure and “the Red Hats of the world,” in the words of Ben Haim.

For Shippable customers, the integration will give them access to security, binary management and other enterprise development tools.

“We’re thrilled to join the JFrog family and further the vision around Liquid Software,” said Avi Cavale, founder and CEO of Shippable, in a statement. “Shippable users and customers have long enjoyed our next-generation technology, but now will have access to leading security, binary management and other high-powered enterprise tools in the end-to-end JFrog Platform. This is truly exciting, as the combined forces of JFrog and Shippable can make full DevOps automation from code to production a reality.”

On the part of JFrog, the company will be using Shippable to provide a native CI/CD tool directly within JFrog.

“Before most of our users would use Jenkins, Circle CI and other CI/CD automation tools,” Ben Haim said. “But what you are starting to see in the wider market is a gradual consolidation of CI tools into code repository.”

He emphasized that this will not mean any changes for developers who are already happy using Jenkins or other integrations: just that it will now be offering a native solution that will be offered alongside these (presumably both with easier functionality and with competitive pricing).

JFrog today has 5,000 paying customers, up from 4,500 in October, including “most of the Fortune 500,” with marquee customers including the likes of Apple and Adobe, but also banks, healthcare organizations and insurance companies — “conservative businesses,” said Ben Haim, that are also now realizing the importance of using DevOps.

Opendoor files to raise another $200M at a $3.7B valuation, documents show

The housing market is predicted to cool this year, but the market for startups selling houses? It seems to be heating up. Opendoor, the company that aims to bypass real estate agents and brokers by providing an online platform — by way of a mobile app — for people to buy and sell properties direct, has filed papers in Delaware indicating that it would like to raise around $200 million more, at a valuation of about $3.7 billion.

The raise comes just one month after Knock, an Opendoor competitor, raised $400 million.

Eric Wu, Opendoor’s CEO and co-founder, did not respond to a request for comment, and a spokesperson for Opendoor declined to comment.

The Delaware documents (embedded below) do not make it clear if this would come in the form of an outside round, or a secondary sale, or a combination of the two; nor is it clear if the funding has closed already. The documents are dated February 8th of this year.

The shares are described as a “Series E-2”, which likely means this is an extension on Opendoor’s last round, from September 2018, of $400 million. That itself was an expansion of a previous E round, which Opendoor had raised in June 2018, of $325 million. Opendoor had been valued at around $2.47 billion post-money in September, according to PitchBook, and the shares in the document are around 37 percent higher — hence the $3.7 billion estimation here.

Backers of the company include SoftBank, along with some 36 others that include some of the biggest names in VC, such as Andreessen Horowitz, Coatue, General Atlantic, GV, Initialized, Khosla, NEA, Norwest and many more.

The premise of Opendoor — co-founded by Wu, Ian Wong, Justin Ross and Keith Rabois on the back of an idea that Rabois had many years before — is to cut out some of the steps, and subsequent money and time spent, that come with buying or selling a property. (For those who have been through it, you know that the extra fees and rigmarole can be a killer and sometimes feels like it could be done better; that’s what Opendoor is addressing, in part with a very transparent pricing structure.)

Opendoor does this by becoming the virtual middle man. As Opendoor describes it, “If you’re selling, sell your home to us to eliminate the hassles of showings and months of uncertainty. If you’re buying, we make it incredibly easy to tour hundreds of Opendoor homes so you can find the perfect one.” It also has created a streamlined process to cut down the paperwork and work that agents do around transactions.

As of September last year, Opendoor had raised $2 billion in debt to finance these purchases — although the company today said that it is now “buying homes at a run rate of almost $4 billion a year” and that its transaction rate is currently at over 2,000 customers per month, including both buyers and sellers, and it has served some 30,000 customers to date across 19 metro regions covering more than 20 cities:

It’s proving to be a popular proposition. In 2018, more than 800,000 people toured Opendoor homes.

While housing prices had largely recovered in a lot of U.S. cities hurt by the previous crash, experts have said that a rise in inventory, coupled with rising mortgage rates and tax uncertainly, are set to cool the overall market in 2019.

But with the housing industry regularly rebounding and growing over the longer term — the saying “safe as houses” doesn’t come from thin air — it may be that investors are still prepared to make further-reaching bets on platforms that could prove to be strong players when the market is on a high.

Interestingly, Wu has hinted that the company will be making some moves in the area of mortgages and home improvement loans, which could free up and encourage more transactions at a time when traditional mortgage rates are rising.

“We’re doing some things around mortgages that will be integrated into the shopping experience,” Wu said in September, adding that the company “also wants to enable home buyers to personalize their experience.”

We’ll update this post as we learn more.

Ebay restructures regional leadership, laying off a percentage of its workforce

E-commerce marketplace eBay has been rethinking its operations in a bid to bring the company back to growth amid strong competition from the likes of Amazon and a plethora of other online marketplaces. Today came the latest chapter in that development. The company announced that it would be reorganizing its business units, and specifically consolidating its geographical regions into a single team, to be led by Jay Lee, as SVP and GM for markets. As part of that, TechCrunch understands that the company will be laying off a percentage of its global workforce.

According to eBay, the company currently employs 14,100 people, and it’s not specifying exactly how many employees will be affected. (At least one source on Twitter appears to have a specific number of around 400.)

The company said all geographic regions will be reporting to Lee. These include Americas, APAC, UK, Central and Southern Europe, and well as Cross-Border Trade. Also as part of the restructure, Scott Cutler, who had been SVP of the Americas for the company and before that the president of StubHub, will be leaving the company. Lee will oversee that role as well in the interim until a new head of the Americas is appointed.

The company has been under a lot of heat from activist investors such as Elliott and Starboard, who believe the company needs to be shaken up and reorganised to return to growth. (Indeed, in its last quarterly earnings, the company performed well in terms of analysts’ expectations for revenue and earnings per share, but it only saw gross merchandise value go up by one percent, pointing to very sluggish growth.) Earlier this year, Elliott published an open letter calling for eBay to overhaul its main Marketplace, refresh management and rethink its other businesses like StubHub and classifieds.

Ebay, naturally, would say that it’s not responding directly to those activist investors by making this change — even if it happens to be one of the moves that was requested. Instead, in a statement announcing the management shifts (but not the layoffs… we confirmed those ourselves), it highlights that this will give it “strategic alignment of global priorities (buyer growth, conversion, payments, advertising) across the company’s largest markets; faster decision making and execution; streamlined resource allocation with a greater impact on global priorities; and improved and simplified collaboration with the Core Product and Technology (CPT) organization, led by CTO Steve Fisher.”

Lee is a longtime veteran of the company, having been with eBay since 2002 leading APAC, and then EMEA. There will always be a debate in business about whether veterans, who “knew the company when it was in better shape”, are the best to restructure it, or if fresh talent and a fresh pair of eyes are what is best. (There have been examples in favor of both.) eBay may not be what it once was, but there is still a huge and profitable business there, and given that e-commerce is only going one way — up — that means the opportunity for eBay to come back is still there.

We’ll update this post as we learn more.

Item tracking startup Adero is laying off 45% of staff, just weeks after it pivoted

Pivots can be the making of a startup, helping teams refocus on a good idea when previous things haven’t worked. But sometimes, they are just one more step on a difficult track. TechCrunch has learned and confirmed that Adero — an Amazon-backed maker of Bluetooth-enabled tracking tags that until last December was known as TrackR — is laying off at least 45 percent of its staff. The cuts come as Adero refocuses on building software instead of hardware products, and attempts to build a B2B business that reduces its emphasis on the consumer market, ahead of plans to raise another round of funding.

The layoffs, which started last week, follow a pivot about two months ago from selling individual tracking tags — a business that had become increasingly commoditized — to developing solutions to organise and track groups of items that tend to be used together (such as the contents of a school backpack).

It’s not clear exactly how many employees are being affected, but when the pivot was announced at the end of November, the company had 60 employees, which would work out to 27 employees in this latest cut.

A spokesperson said that layoffs were  being made to put more focus on building software instead of hardware.

“As our new brand grows, we can now move to the next chapter in developing the intelligent organization platform,” he said. “As a result, we’ve parted ways with a portion of the team that was brought on to help design and deliver the consumer product. We will both support the consumer products and focus new energy on developing the platform that powers our consumer products so it can power the experiences of our strategic partners.”

The layoffs and shift at Adero underscore the more general, continuing challenges of building hardware startups. If the product is unique, chances are that the economies of scale to manufacture it will be too capital-intensive for even well-capitalised startups.

But often, the products are just not unique enough. Adero, for example, competes with Tile and a plethora of smaller brands selling tracking dongles are either very similar, or fulfil a similar purpose, and that in turn commoditizes the core product. The mission then becomes building services around the hardware that are in themselves distinctive, or at least trying to be.

“It took a superhuman effort to develop and deliver a new product from scratch — hardware, software, cloud — in nine months,” CEO Nate Kelly wrote in an emailed statement when contacted to provide more detail about the layoffs.

“We threw everything we had into that work and are happy to say that not only did we launch but we have, since launch, delivered two updates to iOS, one to Android and will be delivering… a firmware update that increases the reliability of the product and releases new functionality like removing the limits on the number of taglets.”

Adero’s relaunch in December saw the company building a new line of large and small tags that allowed users to group items that often travelled together to help track them more logically, with plans to add more predictive and other intelligent features over time. “We did more than launch new products, we also built a platform, Activefield, that can scale across many products, many companies and unlimited use cases,” Kelly said.

He added that now the company is trying to work with more (unnamed) strategic partners. That B2B shift also has translated to cutting costs and streamlining particularly in “areas where we had bulked up” to launch the consumer product. “We don’t need that level of support anymore,” he said.

“Now that we’ve launched on our website and on Amazon” — which is an investor in Adero — “we will continue to take our product into other channels and countries, but the push in consumer comes second in focus to the further development of the platform and the deployment into a number of strategic partners,” he said. “This is all very ambitious and we are a small company with limited resources so I’m having to make some changes to the org that makes us leaner and sharpens our focus on deploying our ‘powered by Activefield’ strategy.”

He said that while Adero will continue to support its consumer products, “we hope to come back to you soon to share some good news on partnerships.”

He added that Adero also hoped to have more news of a new round of funding later this quarter. To date, the company has raised about $50 million, but its valuation has yo-yoed from $150 million in August 2017, to just $40 million in July 2018. Investors in the company, in addition to Amazon, include Foundry Group, NTT and Revolution.

While the company would only confirm 45 percent of employees were laid off, our tipsters paint a slightly more dire picture of the company. One tip we received described the layoffs as covering “almost everyone” and another noted that “the majority of the team” at the Santa Barbara-based startup were now gone. “Very few remain to help close the business,” it said.

The news caps off a tricky year for Adero. In January 2018, still branded TrackR, it laid off around 42 employees — at the time just under half its employees. The layoffs came as it was emerging that the startup’s core product, its Bluetooth tag, was becoming increasingly commoditized, with dozens of me-too trackers sold alongside it on Amazon and other marketplaces. (Its biggest rival, Tile, has also seen some big changes and also appears to be shifting its focus to a wider home IoT play.)

Around the time of those layoffs, first one and then both of the company’s founders — Chris Herbert and Christain Smith — stepped away from day-to-day roles at the company. Herbert had been CEO and he was replaced by Kelly, who had been the COO.

Then came the funding round at a big devaluation. “Foundry and Revolution [two of the startup’s investors] were hoping that they would put this money in and I could fix and scale things, similar to how I’d scaled Sonos and so on,” Kelly said about the funding in November (his experience includes Sonos, Tesla and Facebook). “But within six weeks, it became evident that we didn’t need to scale but figure out what the future was and where this is going.”

Where this is going continues to be the question as Adero takes its next steps.

Spotify reports 29% rise in MAUs to 207M but misses on Q4 revenues of $1.702B

Spotify continues to see growing uptake for its all-you-can-eat streaming music (and increasingly podcast) services, even as it fell short of analyst expectations on sales in its earnings.

In Q4 results reported today alongside the blockbuster news that it was acquiring Gimlet and Anchor to step up its podcast push, the company said that monthly active users have hit 207 million, up nearly percent on a year ago, and that it is for the first time reporting positive operating profit — of €94 million — and net income — of €442 million, making this Spotify’s first ever quarter to post positive operating profit, net income, and free cash flow.

But those strong numbers were also dimmed by one of the big downsides of being a public company: failing to meet analyst expectations on its financials.

The company reported revenues of €1,495 million, up 30 percent on the same quarter a year ago. This works out to $1,702 million, falling short of the $1.71 billion analysts collectively were expecting.

On the earnings per share front, however, the company’s strong net income helped it well exceed estimates. Spotify noted diluted EPS of $0.36, while analysts had expected a loss per share of $0.22.

Spotify is still a relatively young company, and as it continues to face competition from the likes of Apple, Amazon and Google, it’s still showing very strong growth despite not meeting some targets.

With a push into more countries in the Middle Eastern region, Spotify is now active in 78 countries and it said it has plans to add more this year. Across that footprint, listening time is growing, both in its free (ad-supported) and paid tiers, with 15 billion hours of content consumed in the quarter.

While the company continues to build out its free tier with more adtech both across its music and now podcast offerings, its Premium tier is also continuing to grow and still represents the bulk of the company’s revenues.

Subscribers now stand at 96 million for its paid services, up 36 percent, with Spotify attributing some of the strong performance to promotions with Google Home — its first-ever hardware bundle — and the holiday season rush. The company has been increasingly diversifying its paid tiers, now offering student and family plans alongside its individual subscriptions.

Revenues from paid subs account for nearly all of Spotify’s turnover. In Q4 it was €1,320 million, or 88 percent of the total, and in line with revenue growth overall, were also up 30 percent over last year. Average revenue per user was €4.89, Spotify said.

Ad-Supported revenue, meanwhile, accounted for just €175 million of its total turnover.

The company’s B2B sales are similarly being developed in earnest. Spotify for Artists — which helps to measure how tracks are played and other business aspects of an artists’ profile on Spotify — is now used by 300,000 creators, the company said.

Now that there is also a supplementary Spotify for Podcasters service, given that Spotify is now amping up its spoken content with the Gimlet and Anchor acquisitions, that may also start to see a bump in usage. Currently Spotify says that 10,000 podcasters are using its analytics tool for audience and other insights, which is a relatively small number. The jury is still out on this and Spotify’s other pushing analytics efforts.

Retail technology platform Relex raises $200M from TCV

Amazon’s formidable presence in the world of retail stems partly from the fact that it’s just not a commerce giant, it’s also a tech company — building solutions and platforms in house that make its processes, from figuring out what to sell, to how much to have on hand and how best to distribute it — more efficient and smarter than those of its competition. Now, one of the startups that is building retail technology to help those that are not Amazon compete better with it, has raised a significant round of funding to meet that challenge.

Relex — a company out of Finland that focuses on retail planning solutions by helping both brick-and-mortar as well as e-commerce companies make better forecasts of how products will sell using AI and machine learning, and in turn giving those retailers guidance on how and what should be stocked for purchasing — is today announcing that it has raised $200 million from TCV. The VC giant — which has backed iconic companies like Facebook, Airbnb, Netflix, Spotify and Splunk — last week announced a new $3 billion fund and this is the first investment out of it that is being made public.

Relex is not disclosing its valuation but from what I understand it’s a minority stake, which would put it at between $400 million and $500 million. The company has been around for a few years but has largely been very capital efficient, raising only between $20 million and $30 million before this from Summit Partners, with much of that sum still in the bank.

That lack of song and dance around VC funding also helped keep the company relatively under radar, even while it has quietly grown to work with customers like supermarkets Albertson’s in the US, Morrisons in the UK and a host of others. Business today is mostly in North America and Europe, with the US growing the fastest, CEO Mikko Kärkkäinen — who co-founded the company with Johanna Småros and Michael Falck — said in an interview.

While the company has already been growing at a steady clip — Kärkkäinen said sales have been expanding by 50 percent each year for a while now — the plan now will be to accelerate that.

Relex competes with management systems from SAP, JDA and Oracle, but Kärkkäinen said that these are largely “legacy” solutions, in that they do not take advantage of advances in areas like machine learning and cloud computing — both of which form the core of what Relex uses — to crunch more data more intelligently.

“Most retailers are not tech companies, and Relex is a clear leader among a lot of legacy players,” said TCV general partner John Doran, who led the deal.

Significantly, that’s an approach that the elephant in the room pioneered and has used to great effect becoming one of the biggest companies in the world.

“Amazon has driven quite a lot of change in the industry,” Kärkkäinen said (he’s very typically Finnish and understated). “But we like to see ourselves as an antidote to Amazon.”

Brick-and-mortar stores are an obvious target for a company like Relex, given that shelf space and real estate are costs that these kinds of retailers have to grapple with more than online sellers. But in fact Kärkkäinen said that e-commerce companies (given that’s also where Amazon primarily operates too) have been an equal target and customer base. “For these, we might be the only solution they have purchased that has not been developed in house.”

The funding will be used in two ways. First, to give the company’s sales a boost especially in the US, where business is growing the fastest at the moment. And second, to develop more services on its current platform.

For example, the focus up to now has been on demand forecasting, Kärkkäinen said, and how that effects prices and supply, but it would like to expand its coverage also to labor optimisation alongside that; in other words, how best to staff a business according to forecasts and demands.

Of course, while Amazon is the big competition for all retailers, they potentially also exist as a partner. The company regularly productizes its own in-house services, and it will be interesting to see how and if that translates to Amazon emerging as a competitor to Relex down the line.

Hatch, Rovio’s ‘Netflix for gaming’, picks up NTT Docomo as a strategic investor

Rovio’s efforts to diversify beyond its Angry Birds franchise is getting a little investment boost today. The company announced that Japan’s NTT Docomo is taking a stake in Hatch, a Rovio subsidiary that describes itself as the “Netflix of gaming”, providing subscribers with a rotating mix of freemium games from a mix of publishers, with the option of paying a single monthly fee for a wider mix.

Docomo and Rovio are not discussing the size or value of the stake, but a spokesperson for Rovio told TechCrunch that prior to this deal, Hatch was 80 percent owned by Rovio and 20 percent by Hatch personnel. He didn’t specify who had sold shares to Docomo in this latest transaction.

The deal will cover not just investment to expand the Hatch platform and number of games on offer — currently the selection numbers over 100 — but to bring Hatch specifically to the Japanese market.

This will include, starting next week (February 13), a soft launch of Hatch on Android devices in the country, as well as prominent placement of Hatch on Docomo’s Android TV service, sweetening the deal with three-month free trials of the Premium tier.

The Android TV offering is a key OTT play for Docomo. Known primarily as one of the country’s biggest mobile carriers (and, historically, a trail blazer in mobile services, setting the pace for how much was building in the world of mobile content globally in the earliest days of mobile phones), like other network service providers, Docomo has been hit hard by the huge wave of services that bypass carriers and strike billing deals directly with consumers.

Hatch will be one more feather in Docomo’s cap to try to lure more people to its service, which can be subscribed to and paid for by way of Docomo’s ‘d Account’, an iTunes-style platform that people can use regardless of which network carrier they contract with.

Like Netflix, Amazon and other OTT video streaming plays, the concept behind Hatch is to offer a mix of games from various publishers, as well as developing its own selection of games in house that it hopes will be popular enough to help differentiate the service from the rest of the field.

That is critical, because Hatch and Rovio are not the only ones vying for the title of “Netflix for gaming.” Other formidable hopefuls include AmazonMicrosoft, Apple, Google, and perhaps maybe even Netflix itself.

The current selection of games on Hatch include Monument Valley, Space Invaders Infinity Gene and Hitman GO, with a new game called Arkanoid Rising — “a bold new reimagining of the arcade classic produced in association with Japanese gaming legends TAITO” — coming in the spring, which will be “the first Hatch Original exclusive to the platform.”

Down the line, there will also be collaborations to develop eSports events and more titles, Rovio said.

The move is a natural one for Hatch, given gaming culture and how strong it is in Japan.

“Japan is the world’s third largest games market and where the video games industry as we know it was born. In this extremely competitive market we couldn’t be happier to work with a partner like Docomo to help take our vision of cloud gaming mainstream,” says Juhani Honkala, Hatch founder and CEO, in a statement. “Docomo’s leading contributions to 5G technology and infrastructure and commitment to amazing new 5G-enabled services make the company an ideal strategic partner in Japan, and we look forward to a long and fruitful collaboration.”

“We are excited to work together with Hatch, a great example of the new type of consumer services, which can bring out its potential towards the 5G era,” added Takanori Ashikawa, Director, Consumer Business Department of Docomo, in a separate statement. “Hatch’s vision for cloud gaming changes the way people play and discover games, and our shared goal to enrich the everyday lives of our customers makes Hatch an excellent strategic partner for the long term.”

Since its lacklustre public debut in September 2017, Rovio has been facing a lot of growth challenges,   in part because of strong competition in the gaming industry and the company’s over-reliance on a nearly ten-year-old franchise amid a bigger industry shift to new tastes in games — marked by the rise of streamed, multiplayer titles like Fortnite.

But while overall profits have continued to decline at the company, sales of some titles have actually grown, with Angry Birds 2 — now almost three years old — surprisingly seeing a surge of growth in 2018.

In that context, a different focus by way of Hatch, with a little financial help from NTT, could be the bet that helps catapult Rovio to a new level of the gaming playing field.

Twilio closes acquisition of email specialist SendGrid in all-stock deal now worth $3B

Twilio’s bid to become the go-to platform for all of a business’s external communication needs took a big step ahead today. The company said that it has closed its acquisition of email specialist SendGrid. First announced four months ago, Twilio today said the all-stock deal is valued at $3 billion — up from a $2 billion price tag when it was initially announced.

Specifically, this is because the prices of both company’s stocks have been on a roll. Based on the closing price of Twilio Class A common stock on Jan. 31, 2019 and an exchange ratio of 0.485 shares of Twilio Class A common stock per share of SendGrid common stock, Twilio said SendGrid stockholders received $53.99 of aggregate value per share of SendGrid common stock. (SendGrid has now ceased trading and has been removed from the NYSE, as it becomes a full subsidiary of Twilio led by its CEO Sameer Dholakia.)

The name of the game these days when it comes to communications with customers is omnichannel, and this acquisition aims to address that.

The deal brings together Twilio, a powerhouse in messaging and voice communications — by way of a set of APIs, Twilio allows developers of apps, web sites and other digitial properties easily to integrate custom phone numbers and to manage messaging communications with customers covering not just voice and SMS but also custom messaging channels like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, as well as video — with SendGrid, a company that has made similar innovations in email, which had been a gap in Twilio’s range of services.

Together the companies will be managing 140,000 active customer accounts covering some 600 billion interactions on an annualized basis.

“Effective customer engagement is a strategic imperative for every company. With SendGrid now a part of Twilio, our goal is to provide a complete platform for every form of customer engagement,” said Jeff Lawson, Twilio co-founder and CEO, in a statement. “Through our mutual developer-first approach, we empower the builders of the world to create magical customer experiences unique to every interaction.”

“Together, we serve more than 140,000 active customer accounts and power more than 600 billion annualized interactions each year. We have a shared vision, a shared model and shared values that will set us up for success,” said . “As we join forces today, I’m more confident than ever that we can accelerate our vision of creating one unquestioned platform of choice for developers and companies around the world and help them transform the way they engage with their customers,” added Dholakia in a statement.

Airbnb acquires Denmark’s Gaest to expand in bookings for meetings and offsites

Airbnb, now valued upwards of $30 billion and inching to an IPO possibly as early as this year, has made an acquisition to continue to diversify its revenues beyond basic booking services for overnight accommodations in private homes. It has acquired Gaest, a startup out of Aarhus, Denmark that provides a marketplace-style platform for people to post and book venues in hourly or daily increments for meetings and other work-related events like offsites in Europe and elsewhere.

Gaest’s team — it was founded in 2015 by Anders Boelskifte Mogensen (the CEO), Chris Kjær Sørensen, Christian Schwarz Lausten and Jonas Grau Sigtenbjerggaard — will be joining Airbnb and will report to President of Homes Greg Greeley. Airbnb says the service — which currently has listings for some 3,000 venues from hotels to co-working spaces and other rooms — will remain operational on its own platform “for the foreseeable future”. It’s not clear if the Gaest brand will remain as a part of that.

“We’re thrilled to join one of the world’s most innovative companies and become an integral part of their mission to make it easier for professionals to feel a sense of belonging at work,” said Mogensen in a statement. “Our dream from day one has been to make it easier, faster, and more cost-effective to list, discover, and book unique spaces that spark creativity, motivate interaction and encourage knowledge sharing.”

Terms of the deal are not disclosed but we are trying to find out. According to Crunchbase, Gaest had raised $3.5 million.

The acquisition points to two strategic developments at Airbnb, both aimed at helping the company diversity and grow its revenues.

The first is that it will build on Airbnb’s expansion into services for the business market.

This is an area where Airbnb has already been building inroads: it’s had a program in place since last year called Airbnb for Work, aimed at the business travel market and booking accommodations for business travellers, and it says that to date some 700,000 companies have seen employees sign up and book accommodation through the programme.

Even before that, Airbnb had inked partnerships with corporate travel apps like Concur that are standard tools in large enterprises, so that its listings can also be discoverable alongside more classic hotels. That’s before you consider the number of people who may be booking on Airbnb for work trips but using their personal accounts to do so.

The idea of Airbnb for Work also taps into the trend of “consumerization” and how it has played out in the world of business travel. While some people will prefer to stay in business hotels and the amenities that come with that, others will opt for more individualised options that tap into local life.

That’s before you consider the average price differences between the two, where business hotels tend to reach into premium price points and Airbnb homes tend to come at a wider range of prices. To be sure, Airbnb is not the only one eyeing up ways of serving business users with their travel and meeting needs. A number of startups like 2nd Address and Homelike have sprung up to address the growth of business travellers looking for Airbnb-style options instead of business hotels for longer-term work trips.

And you can’t not consider the competitive threat here also from We (FKA WeWork), which had its start in co-working and meeting spaces, but now has ambitions to extend into providing space to companies and business types to cover other needs like sleeping and more. Like Airbnb, it’s also going to be working hard to expand and diversify its business to capture more revenues from existing and new customers.

And this leads to the second area where Gaest will help Airbnb: providing more value to existing and future hosts on the platform.

Today, the mainstay of making money on Airbnb if you’re a host is to offer your house for overnight stays. But Airbnb has been adding options beyond that, for example by giving hosts the chance to offer paid experiences to visitors, to help them increase their options for monetizing guests.

Homes head Greeley, Airbnb notes, is “leading a robust and aggressive plan to both support the hosts who have always powered Airbnb and expand our accommodation and service offerings into new areas.”

Airbnb noted in September 2018 that informally, some business users had already started to use Airbnb for Work to book homes for offsites. This Gaest acquisition could help formalise some of that by providing a platform for Airbnb hosts to list their homes specifically for this use case, and of course a pool of potential customers to make bookings.

“We imagine a world where anyone can share their space for professional events and, in the longer term, for celebrations,” said David Holyoke, Global Head of Airbnb for Work, in a statement. “Bringing in a leadership team with strong domain knowledge allows us to accelerate our work in this area, and more importantly Gaest.com and Airbnb share a vision of helping every space owner become entrepreneurs through sharing their spaces with those who need it.”

Wiliot nabs $30M from Amazon, Avery Dennison, Samsung for a chip that runs on power from ambient radio frequencies

As we continue the quest for better and more efficient sources of energy to link up our connected world, companies that are developing new power solutions are attracting attention.

Today, a startup called Wiliot, which makes semiconductors that harness ambient nanowatts of electromagnetic energy from cellular, WiFi and Bluetooth networks to work without batteries or other traditional wired power sources, announced that it has closed a $30 million round of funding.

The backers are a notable mix of strategic and financial names: they include Amazon, Avery Dennison, Samsung and previous investors Norwest Venture Partners, 83North Venture Capital, Grove Venture Partners, Qualcomm Ventures, and M Ventures. Another “retail giant” is also involved in this round but the name is not being disclosed.

Sources close to the company tell me the valuation of it is $120 million post-money. It has raised $50 million to date.

Co-headquartered in San Diego and Israel, it’s important to note that the startup has yet to manufacture or commercialise its chips, which are being publicly unveiled for the first time today.

(I’ve seen a demo of them, and they definitely appear to work: Wiliot chips pasted to small pieces of paper, and supported by clothes pins arranged on a desk but linked up no way to anything else, were hooked up to small buttons and other items. When you press a button, for example, the chip transmits that information to the cloud, where you can in turn see the activity on a dashboard.)

The plan, according to co-founder and CEO Tal Tamir, will be to use this latest Series B funding to work on that next stage of the business: figuring out how to produce its chips at scale and at a competitive price point versus other solutions like RFID tags, as well as secure its first customers.

There are potentially a number of applications where you might imagine a battery-free chip and sensor — today the Wiliot chip can measure temperature, location, air pressure, and can transmit data back to the cloud — could come in handy, such as in manufacturing, logistics, and tagging and providing data about anything that isn’t inherently an electronic device, expanding the universe of what can be covered in an internet-of-things network.

But Steve Statler, Wiliot’s SVP of marketing and business development, said that likely first customers will be in the apparel industry, where the startup’s chips could be embedded on the care labels both to help track items of clothes from manufacture to sale, and subsequently to provide services to the people who buy those items.

“That can cover anything from washing instructions to helping provide wardrobing recommendations,” he noted. That will, of course, depend on whether the customer opts in for such assistance and/or doesn’t cut the label off the clothes.

Wiliot’s chip has yet to roll out commercially, but the company is banking on its investors to help it get there.

Avery Dennison is one of the world’s biggest label makers and producers of RFID tags; Samsung (and Qualcomm) have a huge presence in the global semiconductor market; and Amazon is apparently most interested by way of its cloud services business AWS — the Wiliot chip architecture hinges on most of the computing happening in the cloud — but don’t forget that Amazon has also been making some interesting moves into apparel and AI-based fashion assistance itself.

“We think that at some point in future every item will have its own identity,” said Francisco Melo, VP & GM, Global RFID, in an interview, who points out that Wiliot’s primary way of transmitting information out — by way of Bluetooth — makes the information “readable” by the most basic of devices these days, the smartphone. “How do we take that digital identity to help consumers at the end of line to know what they should or could do with a product? There are a number of use cases that you can think of and trigger with Bluetooth that you couldn’t do with RFID.”

Another boost to the company is the track record of its founders. Tamir and co-founders Yaron Elboim and Alon Yehevkely, as well as others on the founding team of Wiliot, had previously founded and worked at another startup, Wilocity, a maker of 60 GHz wireless chipsets, which was acquired by Qualcomm for about $400 million. Before that the three co-founders were together at Intel, speaking to a strong track record of chip-making.

Ambient energy harnessing has to date focused on a variety of natural, non-human produced sources such as solar energy, geothermal energy, wind, waves, river currents and so on.

A newer iteration on that has been tapping into the vast amount of electromagnetic energy that gets produced through existing wireless services, potentially a much bigger and readily available source in areas where wireless services already exist, and that is where Wiliot plays.

Of course, this will mean that Wiliot’s chips will not work in the most remote of areas where there is no connectivity at all. That is one of the challenges that the startup has yet to tackle. Another is, of course, more energy efficiency on devices themselves to operate on nanowatts rather than watts of power.

But ultimately, Wiliot and others in the same area like France’s Sigfox are taking the first steps that could open the door to more sophisticated ambient power solutions.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Tamir said. “We think many edge devices will come that will harvest radio frequency energy. But the problem is not what you harvest but how much you need. If you get nanowatts of energy and a phone consumes 3-5 watts when active, you can see where this has to go.”