Microsoft delves deeper into IoT with Express Logic acquisition

Microsoft has never been shy about being acquisitive, and today it announced it’s buying Express Logic, a San Diego company that has developed a real-time operating system (RTOS) aimed at controlling the growing number of IoT devices in the world.

The companies did not share the purchase price.

Express Logic is not some wide-eyed, pie-in-the-sky startup. It has been around for 23 years building (in its own words), “industrial-grade RTOS and middleware software solutions for embedded and IoT developers.” The company boasts some 6.2 billion (yes, billion) devices running its systems. That number did not escape Sam George, director of Azure IoT at Microsoft, but as he wrote in a blog post announcing the deal, there is a reason for this popularity.

“This widespread popularity is driven by demand for technology to support resource constrained environments, especially those that require safety and security,” George wrote.

Holger Mueller, an analyst with Constellation Research, says that market share also gives Microsoft instant platform credibility. “This is a key acquisition for Microsoft: on the strategy side Microsoft is showing it is serious with investing heavily into IoT, and on the product side it’s a key step to get into the operating system code of the popular RTOS,” Mueller told TechCrunch.

The beauty of Express Logic’s approach is that it can work in low-power and low resource environments and offers a proven solution for a range or products. “Manufacturers building products across a range of categories — from low capacity sensors like lightbulbs and temperature gauges to air conditioners, medical devices and network appliances  –leverage the size, safety and security benefits of Express Logic solutions to achieve faster time to market,” George wrote.

Writing in a blog post to his customers announcing the deal, Express Logic CEO William E. Lamie, expressed optimism that the company can grow even further as part of the Microsoft family. “Effective immediately, our ThreadX RTOS and supporting software technology, as well as our talented engineering staff join Microsoft. This complements Microsoft’s existing premier security offering in the microcontroller space,” he wrote.

Microsoft is getting an established company with a proven product that can help it scale its Azure IoT business. The acquisition is part of a $5 billion investment in IoT the company announced last April that includes a number of Azure pieces such as Azure Sphere, Azure Digital Twins, Azure IoT Edge, Azure Maps and Azure IoT Central.

“With this acquisition, we will unlock access to billions of new connected endpoints, grow the number of devices that can seamlessly connect to Azure and enable new intelligent capabilities. Express Logic’s ThreadX RTOS joins Microsoft’s growing support for IoT devices and is complementary with Azure Sphere, our premier security offering in the microcontroller space,” George wrote.

Spotinst, the startup enabling companies to purchase and manage excess cloud capacity, acquires StratCloud

Spotinst, the cloud automation and optimization startup founded in Tel Aviv but now with offices in San Francisco, New York, and London too, has acquired AWS partner StratCloud. Terms of the deal remain undisclosed, although I’m hearing it combines both cash and stock and was somewhere in the region of $5 million.

As part of the acquisition, StratCloud’s team of 15 people will be joining Spotinst, including founder Patrick Gartlan, who will become VP, Cloud Services at Spotinst. StratCloud hadn’t raised any venture capital but instead was bootstrapped by Gartlan, who was the former CTO of Cloud Optimization company CloudCheckr.

Founded in 2015, Spotinst enables enterprises to optimize their cloud infrastructure usage by automating the process of using excess — and therefore cheaper — capacity from leading cloud providers.

As TechCrunch’s Ron Miller previously explained, cloud platforms like AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform, all of which Spotinst supports, have to maintain more resources than they need at any given time. All three companies offer steep discounts to customers who want to access these resources, but they come with a strict condition that the platforms can take those resources back whenever they need them. Which is where Spotinst (and today’s acquisition of StratCloud) comes in.

Spotinst’s platform manages the process of acquiring spare capacity, powered by predictive AI, and seamlessly switches providers before it’s withdrawn. This ensures that cloud computing “workloads” keep functioning, while the customer still receives the best possible price.

Meanwhile, StratCloud tech is described as an “optimization platform” that buys, sells and converts reserved capacity, therefore maximizing savings for on-demand infrastructure. “This leads to lower compute payments, without engineers having to change anything in the applications and infrastructure they manage,” explains Spotinst.

Related to this, Spotinst will migrate StratCloud’s several dozen customers to the Spotinst Platform where they’ll continue to receive all of the current functionality.

Overall, the acquisition means Spotinst can now offer a complete solution for cloud users, including offering reserved instances and unused computer power so that enterprises can run any workload and support large-scale migrations on any cloud provider. In addition, Spotinst says the combined technologies give Managed Service Providers (MSPs) a comprehensive tool to optimize cloud workloads for all of their managed customers.

Spotinst claims over 1,500 enterprise customers in 52 countries, including Samsung, N26, Duolingo, Ticketmaster and Wix. The company currently employs approximately 150 staff across its four offices and has raised $52 million in VC funding to date.

Salesforce is buying MapAnything, a startup that raised over $84 million

Salesforce announced today it’s buying another company built on its platform. This time it’s MapAnything, which as the name implies, helps companies build location-based workflows, something that could come in handy for sales or service calls.

The companies did not reveal the selling price, and Salesforce didn’t have anything to add beyond a brief press release announcing the deal.

“The addition of MapAnything to Salesforce will help the world’s leading brands accurately plan: how many people they need, where to put them, how to make them as productive as possible, how to track what’s being done in real time and what they can learn to improve going forward,” Salesforce wrote in the statement announcing the deal.

It was a logical acquisition on many levels. In addition to being built on the Salesforce platform, the product was sold through the Salesforce AppExchange, and over the years MapAnything has been a Salesforce SI Partner, an ISV Premier Partner, according the company.

“Salesforce’s pending acquisition of MapAnything comes at a critical time for brands. Customer Experience is rapidly overtaking price as the leading reason companies win in the market. Leading companies like MillerCoors, Michelin, Unilever, Synchrony Financial and Mohawk Industries have all seen how location-enabled field sales and service professionals can focus on the right activities against the right customers, improving their productivity, and allowing them to provide value in every interaction,” company co-founder and CEO John Stewart wrote in a blog post announcing the deal.

MapAnything boasts 1900 customers in total, and that is likely to grow substantially once it officially becomes part of the Salesforce family later this year.

MapAnything was founded in 2009, so it’s been around long enough to raise over $84 million, according to Crunchbase. Last year, we covered the company’s $33.1 million Series B round, which was led by Columbus Nova.

At the time of the funding CEO John Stewart told me that his company’s products present location data more logically on a map instead of in a table. ‘“Our Core product helps users (most often field-based sales or service workers) visualize their data on a map, interact with it to drive productivity, and then use geolocation services like our mobile app or complex routing to determine the right cadence to meet them,” Stewart told me last year.

It raised an additional $42.5 million last November. Investors included General Motors Ventures and (unsurprisingly) Salesforce Ventures.

Google Cloud brings on 27-year SAP veteran as it doubles down on enterprise adoption

Thomas Kurian, the newly-minted CEO of Google Cloud, used the company’s Cloud Next conference last week to lay out his vision for the future of Google’s cloud computing platform. That vision involves, in part, a hiring spree to give businesses that want to work with Google more people to talk to and get help from. Unsurprisingly, Kurian is also looking to put his stamp on the executive team, too, and today announced that former SAP executive Robert Enslin is joining Google Cloud as its new President of Global Customer Operations.

Enslin’s hire is another clear signal that Kurian is focused on enterprise customers. Enslin, after all, is a veteran of the enterprise business, with 27 years at SAP, where he served on the company’s executive board until he announced his resignation from the company earlier this month. After leading various parts of SAP, including as president of its cloud product portfolio, president of SAP North America and CEO of SAP Japan, Enslin announced that he had “a few more aspirations to fulfill.” Those aspirations, we now know, include helping Google Cloud expand its lineup of enterprise customers.

“Rob brings great international experience to his role having worked in South Africa, Europe, Asia and the United States—this global perspective will be invaluable as we expand Google Cloud into established industries and growth markets around the world,” Kurian writes in today’s announcement.

For the last two years, Google Cloud already had a President of Global Customer Operations, though, in the form of Paul-Henri Ferrand, a former Dell exec who was brought on by Google Cloud’s former CEO Diane Greene . Kurian says that Ferrand “has decided to take on a new challenge within Google.”

 

The Exit: an AI startup’s McPivot

Five years ago, Dynamic Yield was courting an investment from The New York Times as it looked to shift how publishers paywalled their content. Last month, Chicago-based fast food king McDonald’s bought the Israeli company for $300 million, a source told TechCrunch, with the purpose of rethinking how people order drive-thru chicken nuggets.

The pivot from courting the grey lady to the golden arches isn’t as drastic as it sounds. In a lot of ways, it’s the result of the company learning to say “no” to certain customers. At least, that’s what Bessemer’s Adam Fisher tells us.

The Exit is a new series at TechCrunch. It’s an exit interview of sorts with a VC who was in the right place at the right time but made the right call on an investment that paid off. 

Fisher

Fisher was Dynamic Yield founder Liad Agmon’s first call when he started looking for funds from institutional investors. Bessemer bankrolled the bulk of a $1.7 million funding round which valued the startup at $5 million pre-money back in 2013. The firm ended up putting about $15 million into Dynamic Yield, which raised ~$85 million in total from backers including Marker Capital, Union Tech Ventures, Baidu and The New York Times.

Fisher and I chatted at length about the company’s challenging rise and how Israel’s tech scene is still being underestimated. Fisher has 11 years at Bessemer under his belt and 14 exits including Wix, Intucell, Ravello and Leaba.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity. 


Saying “No”

Lucas Matney: So, right off the bat, how exactly did this tool initially built for publishers end up becoming something that McDonalds wanted?

Adam Fisher: I mean, the story of Dynamic Yield is unique. Liad, the founder and CEO, he was an entrepreneur in residence in our Herzliya office back in 2011. I’d identified him earlier from his previous company, and I just said, ‘Well, that’s the kind of guy I’d love to work with.’ I didn’t like his previous company, but there was something about his charisma, his technology background, his youth, which I just felt like “Wow, he’s going to do something interesting.” And so when he sold his previous company, coincidentally to another Chicago based company called Sears, I invited him and I think he found it very flattering, so he joined us as an EIR.

Enterprise events management platform Bizzabo scores $27M Series D

Bizzabo, the New York and Tel Aviv-based events management platform, has raised $27 million in Series D funding. Leading the round is Viola Growth, along with new investor Next47.

We’re also told that previous backers, including Pilot Growth, followed on. The new funding brings the total raised by the company to $56 million.

Originally launched in 2012 as a networking app for event attendees, Bizzabo now claims to be the leading end-to-end “Event Success Platform”. As it exists today, one way to describe the cloud-based software is akin to ‘Salesforce for events’: helping enterprises create, manage and execute every aspect of a live event.

As TechCrunch’s Catherine Shu previously wrote, the SaaS automates time-consuming event tasks related to email, social media and web marketing, and contact management.

There’s an increasing data play, too, with the ability to crunch and analyse event data to help event organisers garner more registrations, increase revenue, and improve the overall attendee experience.

“Our vision is to provide a data-driven and personalized journey for attendees,” Bizzabo CEO and co-founder Eran Ben-Shushan tells me. “An 800-person conference should feel like 800 unique in-person event experiences. By leveraging hundreds of data points throughout the attendee journey, our customers can deliver extremely personalised promotion campaigns, custom-tailor the event agenda and proactively cater to each attendee action”.

As an example, Ben-Shushan says an attendee at a user conference can receive recommended sessions, business introductions, and even sponsored offers based on interest and intent expressed before, during, and after the event.

To that end, Bizzabo says its Series D will be used to expand the platform’s capabilities and continue to help enterprise and mid-market organizations “build data-driven, personalized and engaging professional event experiences”. The will include growing its R&D and own marketing teams, adding to the more than 120 current employees in its New York and Tel-Aviv offices.

Ben-Shushan reckons that on average 25 percent of a B2B company’s marketing budget is spent on live events. This has resulted in the number of professional events increasingly exponentially each year, such as conferences and seminars, trade shows or other experiences.

However, it remains a challenge to create, manage, market and measure the success of events while maximizing ROI — which is where Ben-Shushan says Bizzabo comes in.

Bizzabo’s better known customers include Inbound, SaaStr, Forbes, Dow Jones, Gainsight, and Drift. Meanwhile, the event management space as a whole is said to be worth $500 billion.

Google expands its container service with GKE Advanced

With its Kuberntes Engine (GKE), Google Cloud Google has long offered a managed service for running containers on its platform. Kubernetes users tend to have a variety of needs, but so far, Google only offered a single tier of GKE that wasn’t necessarily geared toward the high-end enterprise users the company is trying to woo. Today, however, the company announced a new advanced edition of GKE that introduces a number of new features and an enhanced financially backed SLA, additional security tools and new automation features. You can think of GKE Advanced as the enterprise version of GKE.

The new service will launch in the second quarter of the year and hasn’t yet announced pricing. The regular version of GKE is now called GKE Standard.

Google says the service builds upon the company’s own learnings from running a complex container infrastructure internally for years.

For enterprise customers, the financially backed SLA is surely a nice bonus. The promise here is 99.95% guaranteed availability for regional clusters.

Most users who opt for a managed Kubernetes environment do so because they don’t want to deal with the hassle of managing these clusters themselves. With GKE Standard, there’s still some work to be done with regard to scaling the clusters. Because of this, GKE Advanced includes a Vertical Pod Autoscaler that keeps on eye on resource utilization and adjusts it as necessary, as well as Node Auto Provisioning, an enhanced version of cluster autoscaling in GKE Standard.

In addition to these new GKE Advanced features, Google is also adding existing GKE security features like the GKE Sandbox and the ability to enforce that only signed and verified images are used in the container environment.

The Sandbox uses Google’s gVisor container sandbox runtime. With this, every sandbox gets its own user-space kernel, adding an additional layer of security. With Binary Authorization, GKE Advanced users can also ensure that all container images are signed by a trusted authority before they are put into production. Somebody could theoretically still smuggle malicious code into the containers, but this process, which enforces standard container release practices, for example, should ensure that only authorized containers can run in the environment.

GKE Advanced also includes support for GKE usage metering, which allows companies to keep tabs on who is using a GKE cluster and charge them according.

 

Adobe launches an Adobe XD accelerator to woo developers

The design world is in a state of full-fledged competition. Never in history have designers and their respective teams had so many options to choose from. As both demand and supply grow, design players are working to build out the most comprehensive experience possible for their users.

Adobe, the incumbent in the space, is today launching the Adobe Creative Cloud Plugin Accelerator. Essentially, individuals and teams interested in taking some time to build out plugins for Adobe XD can get themselves three months at Adobe’s HQ, access to Adobe’s product, design and engineering team, as well as a $20K per person stipend to offset expenses.

To be clear, Adobe is not taking equity in these projects and participants will leave Adobe HQ with 100 precent ownership over their built IP.

The Adobe Creative Cloud Plug-in Accelerator is supported by Adobe’s Fund for Design, a $10 million venture fund launched in May 2018. Both the fund and the accelerator are meant to open up Adobe, which has historically been a more closed ecosystem.

“For a company like Adobe, we’re flexing a new muscle by working with outside parties, in house, at Adobe Headquarters,” said Design Principal at Adobe Khoi Vinh. “It’s a real change of thinking from the Adobe of five or ten years ago, but we’re embracing the community’s energy here.”

It was less than a year ago that Adobe opened up Adobe XD to integrate with other tools, such as UserTesting and Airtable, among others.

Vinh says that, for now, Adobe isn’t sure exactly how many teams or individuals it will accept into the accelerator. As it’s the first time the company has done something like this, it’s not adhering to a specific number of participants or a rigid curriculum. Vinh says that some teams might have a clear vision of what they’re building and simply seek one-to-one advice from the engineering or product teams, whereas others might want a more collaborative environment to brainstorm and build out the idea itself.

One thing that is clear, however, is that Adobe is looking for hyper early-stage projects.

“What ended up happening with the Fund for Design is that the grants and investments made a lot of sense for people who were founders and already had companies,” said Vinh. “The Plug-In Accelerator is meant to target people who are even earlier stage than a founder and maybe not ready to start their own company.”

The hope is that teams of one to three will have the chance to build great plug-ins for Adobe XD, making the platform more attractive to clients as Figma and InVision make a run for those same users.

Adobe isn’t the first design tool firm to launch a venture fund. InVision launched the $5 million Design Forward Fund in late 2017.

Folks interested in the Creative Cloud Plugin Accelerator can apply here.

Logistics startup Zencargo raises $20M to take on the antiquated business of freight forwarding

Move over, Flexport. There is another player looking to make waves in the huge and messy business of freight logistics. Zencargo — a London startup that has built a platform that uses machine learning and other new technology to rethink how large shipping companies and their customers manage and move cargo, or freight forwarding as it’s known in the industry — has closed a Series A round of funding of about $19 million.

Zencargo’s cofounder and head of growth Richard Fattal said in an interview that the new funds will be used to continue building its software, specifically to develop more tools for the manufacturers and others who use its platform to predict and manage how cargo is moved around the world.

The Series A brings the total raised by Zencargo to $20 million. This latest round was led by HV Holtzbrinck Ventures. Tom Stafford, managing partner at DST Global; Pentland Ventures; and previous investors Samos, LocalGlobe and Picus Capital, all also participated in the round.

Zencargo is not disclosing its valuation, nor its current revenues, but Fattal said that in the last 12 months it has seen its growth grow six times over. The company (for now) also does not explicitly name clients but Fattal notes that they include large e-commerce companies, retailers and manufacturers, including several of the largest businesses in Europe. (One of them at least appears to be Amazon: Zencargo provides integrated services to ship goods to Amazon fulfilment centers.)

Shipping — be by land, air or sea — is one of the cornerstones of the global economy. While we are increasingly hearing a mantra to “buy local”, the reality of how the mass-market world of trade works, is that components for things are not often made in the same place where the ultimate item is assembled, and our on-demand digital culture has created an expectation and competitive market for more than what we can source in our backyards.

For companies like Zencargo, that creates a two-fold opportunity: to ship finished goods — be it clothes, food or anything — to meet those consumer demands wherever they are; and to ship components for those goods — be it electronics, textiles or flour — to produce those goods elsewhere, wherever that business happens to be.

Ironically, while we have seen a lot of technology applied to other aspects of the economics equation — we can browse an app anytime and anywhere to buy something, for example — the logistics of getting the basics to the right place are now only just catching up.

Alex Hersham, another of Zencargo’s co-founders who is also the CEO (the third is Jan Riethmayer, the CTO), estimates that there is some $1.1 trillion “left on the table” from all of the inefficiencies in the supply chain related to things not being in stock when needed, or overstocked, and other inventory mistakes.

Fattal notes that a lot of what Zencargo is not only trying to replace things like physical paperwork, faxes, and silos of information variously held by shipping companies and the businesses that use them — but the whole understanding and efficiency (or lack thereof) that underlies how everything moves, and in turn the kinds of businesses that can be built as a result.

“Global trade is an enormous market, one of the last to be disrupted by technology,” Fattal said. “We want not just to be a better freight forwarder but we want people to think differently about commerce. Given a choice, where is it best to situate a supplier? Or how much stock do I order? How do I move this cargo from one place to another? When you have a lot of variability in the supply chain, these are difficult tasks to manage, but by unlocking the data in the supply chain you can really change the whole decision making process.”

Zencargo is just getting started on that. Flexport, one of its biggest startup competitors, in February raised $1 billion at a $3.2 billion valuation led by Softbank to double down on its own freight forwarding business, platform and operations. But as Christian Saller, a partner at HV Holtzbrinck Ventures describes it, there is still a lot of opportunity out there and room for more than one disruptor.

“It’s such a big market that is so broken,” he said. “Right now it’s not about winner-take-all.”

Leapwork raises $10M for its easy process automation platform, plans US expansion

Most work involving computers is highly repetitive, which is why companies regularly have developers write code to automate repetitive tasks. But that process is not very scalable. Ideally, individuals across an entire business would be able to create automated tasks, not just developers. This problem has created a new category called process automation. Startups in this space are all about making companies more efficient.
Most of the existing tools on the market are code-based and complicated, which tends to make it tough for non-technical people to automate anything. Ideally, you would allow them to train software robots to handle repetitive and mundane tasks.

This is the aim of Leapwork, which today announces a Series A investment of $10m, from Londons’s DN Capital and e.ventures out of Berlin. The company already has many clients, from tier one banks and global healthcare firms, to aerospace and software companies, and now plans to expand in the US. Its customers typically already have a lot of experience with tools such as Tricentis, MicroFocus, UiPath and BluePrism, but employ Leapwork when code-based tools prove limiting.

Founded in 2015 and launched in April 2017, Leapwork has an entirely visual system, backed by a modern tech stack. Instead of using developer time, staff automate tasks themselves, without writing any code, with a simple user interface that is likened to learning Powerpoint or Excel. Leapwork estimates it can save 75% of an employee’s time.

Christian Brink Frederiksen, Leapwork’s CEO and co-founder said: “About half of our business comes from the US and this investment will enable us to serve those customers better as well as reaching new ones.”

Leapwork has found traction in the areas of software testing, data migration, and robotic process automation in finance and healthcare. Based in Copenhagen, Denmark, Leapwork has offices in London, UK, San Francisco, USA, Minsk, Belarus, and Gurugram, India.

Thomas Rubens, of DN Capital, said: “From the outset we were impressed by Leapwork’s product, which we believe will change the automation landscape. Every company has repetitive tasks that could be automated and few have the developer resource to make it happen.”

The founders began in June 2015 in Copenhagen, Denmark, after having worked for almost two decades in enterprise software and business-critical IT. They launched their first pilot in July 2016 and after working with Global2000 pilot customers in the US and Europe, went live with the Leapwork automation platform in March 2017.
Prior to this funding the company was bootstrapped by the founders as both had previous successful exits.