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.

Elizabeth Warren wants to break up Google, Amazon and Facebook

The influential Massachusetts Senator and Presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren has been a longtime critic of the consolidation of economic power by Amazon, Google, and Facebook. Now she’s making their break-up a key component of her Presidential platform.

Warren has just released her plan for breaking up big tech, in what seems like a watershed moment for a Democratic nominee. Since Al Gore famously (infamously?) “invented the internet”, Democratic candidates have turned away from serious regulation of technology companies, preferring instead to receive their campaign contributions.

Eric Schmidt and Google donors were hugely important to the Obama campaign, and big tech companies were among his biggest supporters.

Now, Warren has said (on Medium no less) that the massive market power that Google, Facebook, and Amazon wield is a threat and will be treated accordingly.

“Twenty-five years ago, Facebook, Google, and Amazon didn’t exist,” writes Warren. “Now they are among the most valuable and well-known companies in the world. It’s a great story — but also one that highlights why the government must break up monopolies and promote competitive markets.”

The parallel she uses to make her case is the breakup of Microsoft, which she weirdly calls “the tech giant of its time” (Microsoft is still a tech giant), and holds as perhaps the last example when government went toe to toe with the technology industry.

“The government’s antitrust case against Microsoft helped clear a path for Internet companies like Google and Facebook to emerge,” Warren writes.

But now the companies that flourished in the wake of the Microsoft case have, themselves, become too powerful, she argues.

“They’ve bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit, and tilted the playing field against everyone else. And in the process, they have hurt small businesses and stifled innovation,” writes Warren.

The key components of the Warren plan include passing legislation that would designate companies with annual global revenue above $25 billion that provide marketplace, exchange, or third-party connectivity as “platform utilities” and prohibit those companies from owning participants on their platforms.

It’s a dragnet that now encompasses Alphabet and Amazon (but I don’t think it touches Facebook?). The new law would also be required to meet a standard of fair and non-discriminatory use with their users, and platforms would be restricted from sharing user data with third parties.

For companies with revenues below $25 billion, they’d be required to adhere to the fair use standard.

Warren would give state attorneys general and private parties the right to sue a platform for conduct that violates those requirements and the government could fine a company 5% of their annual revenue for violating the terms of the new legislation.

As Warren notes, “Amazon Marketplace, Google’s ad exchange, and Google Search would be platform utilities under this law. Therefore, Amazon Marketplace and Basics, and Google’s ad exchange and businesses on the exchange would be split apart. Google Search would have to be spun off as well.”

The part of Warren’s plan would be the rollback of acquisitions that Warren deems anti-competitive. In Amazon’s case that means Whole Foods and Zappos, would have to be spun back out. Alphabet would have to unwind Google’s acquisitions fo Waze, Nest, and DoubleClick (but not YouTube?), and Facebook would have to part with WhatsApp and Instagram.

“Unwinding these mergers will promote healthy competition in the market — which will put pressure on big tech companies to be more responsive to user concerns, including about privacy,” Warren writes.

Her call for regulation is a big moment for the tech industry, it should also serve as a wake-up call for these companies to do more than just pay lip service to the problems their dominance is causing in the marketplace.

6D.ai opens up its beta

After wrestling for more than a decade with the development of a technology that would create a three-dimensional map of the physical world, the team at 6D.ai is finally ready to open up to developers its toolkit that the company says has done exactly that.

When company chief executive Matt Miesnieks announced the launch of 6D in March, he laid out a vision for its growth that had three goals: The company would build APIs to capture the three-dimensional geometry of the world; it would apply that three-dimensional data to build semantic APIs so applications can understand the world; and it would partner and extend those APIs to create an operating system for reality.

Having achieved the first goal, the company is now working on the second.

“The whole purpose of this company wasn’t ‘Hey there’s this new technology!’ It’s what can AR do in its fully realized form and what is a native experience for AR that hadn’t worked in prior mediums and what’s stopping that stuff from being effective and how do you solve those problems,” says Miesnieks.

For Miesnieks the problems confronting augmented reality come down to creating believable visual objects that integrate seamlessly into the world. That act of creation depends on persistence, occlusion and interaction, according to Miesnieks.

Interactivity, to Miesnieks should happen seamlessly rather than requiring a multi-step process that the 6D chief executive calls “just a bridge too far.”

“What needs to happen is you say, ‘Hey join my game.’ And it just works.”

Miesnieks argues that the kind of precision that synchronization requires demands a kind of on-device localization, which is exactly what 6D has claimed it enables.

“Once you have that 3D model then the virtual content can bounce off the 3D model. You can do shadows correctly. Extend that over large areas so that it doesn’t just work in a corner of my living room, but that it can work everywhere,” Miesnieks said. “We need these models and the only way to get there is to use a depth camera or offline photogrammetry.”

6D has already done some work with bands like Massive Attack and Aphex Twin that put its technology through some early paces. And the Victoria and Albert Museum have also used the technology. Soon it will launch a game with an undisclosed Japanese game developer (which has intellectual property similar to Pokémon) and a virtual YouTube-like application with the Japanese social network, Gree.

For Miesnieks perhaps the most interesting application is with a big, undisclosed transportation company that is interested in navigation for terrestrial and other mobility.

“When we set the company up, we are pretty convicted that we want to say to the developers that this is reality. We will give you shared coordinates for multi-player,” said Miesnieks.

Underlying all of this are concerns about security related to who can see what in the space that users map. But Miesnieks said that the company had solved that problem as well.

“You can only get the data for a space if you’re physically in that space,” said Miesnieks. “I hold my phone up, it looks at your living room, based on what it sees it queries the server and if there’s a match it will serve that data up to that location.”

Based on research, the point cloud that 6D generates isn’t directly connected to the geographic structure. It’s slightly randomized so a user can’t look at the point cloud and see what is what.

“It’s unable to be reverse engineered by any known science into a human readable image,” said Miesnieks. “All the image would look like is a whole bunch of dots and blobs. That’s kind of what we’re doing so far.”

As the company builds out its three-dimensional map of the world, it’s encouraging developers to think of it as a new kind of augmented reality platform.

“Our business is web services meet Waze,” said Miesnieks.

RideOs raises $25M to become the traffic control center for self-driving cars

A mere sprinkling of autonomous vehicles exist in a few dozen cities today. A smattering in San Francisco and Silicon Valley. A dusting in the greater Phoenix area and Pittsburgh. A few drops in Boston, Detroit, Gothenburg, Shenzhen and Singapore.

And none of them—at least not yet—have been deployed as a true commercial enterprise.

While the bulk of this nascent industry fixates on the system of sensors, maps, and AI necessary for vehicles to drive without a human behind the wheel, the founders of startup RideOS are directing their efforts to the day when fleets of self-driving cars hit the streets.

It’s there, where human-driven and automated vehicles will be forced to mingle, that RideOS co-founders Chris Blumenberg and Justin Ho see opportunity. And so do investors.

The company, which has existed for all of 11 months, has raised $25 million in a Series B funding round led by Next47, the venture arm of Siemens. Sequoia, an existing investor, and Singapore-based ST Ventures, also participated in the round.

The Series B round brings the company’s total funding to $34 million. RideOS announced in June that it was partnering with Ford Motor subsidiary Autonomic and had raised $9 million in a Series A round led by Sequoia Capital.

In July, RideOS announced it had partnered with ST Engineering to accelerate the deployment of autonomous vehicles in Singapore.

What did they build anyway?

Blumenberg and Ho contend that unless there’s a coordinating layer that can communicate information between all automated vehicles—like say how air traffic control works in aviation—there will be traffic congestion and accidents.

The founders, who met at Uber Advanced Technologies Group, have developed a cloud-based fleet management platform that pulls mapping, traffic, and detection data to suggest to all self-driving vehicles operating in a given geography the safest, most efficient routes. The aim is to be an independent platform that can orchestrate communication between self-driving vehicle services that may be competitors.

RideOS is taking a similar approach to Waze, explained Blumenberg, the company’s CTO and a veteran of Apple. “Except we’re not relying on human input; we’re relying on things that can be detected automatically such as critical interventions or what is captured from computer vision or GPS data.”

Present-day platform

However, RideOS isn’t sitting around for a day when automated vehicles hit the road en masse. The company’s platform is designed to work for human-driven fleets too. RideOS has already signed partnerships with mobility companies, Ho said without naming them.

“We’re working on this grand future, but there are many, many use cases we can support prior to that,” Ho said.

RideOS plans to use the additional funds to expand its services to global transportation markets. It just so happens that a team within Next47 is dedicated to helping startups tap into Siemens’ global network. In other words, RideOS stands to benefit from Siemen’s global footprint and partnerships, in addition to its access to capital.

Next47 will also join the RideOS board and will be integral in guiding RideOS in European transportation markets, the company said.

“There’s a tremendous amount of innovation in AVs at the moment,” Mike Vernal, a new partner at Sequoia Capital who led the company’s Series A round, told TechCrunch. “There’s probably 50, 60,70 teams working on getting a single autonomous vehicle working. But no one is focused on what happens next.”

Review: 2018 Lincoln Navigator

Michigan saw a historic amount of snowfall in 2018. And it’s not done. It’s snowing as I write this and it snowed nearly every day since I took delivery of this burgundy 2018 Lincoln Navigator. Excuse the dirty car shown in the photos. That’s life in the Midwest: half the year it’s impossible to keep cars clean of salt and grime and, to me, that’s the best time to review a vehicle. I’m happy to report the new Navigator is a comfortable refuge from the snowy winter.

I spent a week in the 2018 Navigator running from Flint, Michigan to Ann Arbor to Detroit. I filled up the 23 gallon tank enough to know take it easy on the lively 3.5L EcoBoost V6. The 2018 Lincoln Navigator is luxurious, confident but thirsty.

This is a luxury SUV. It’s not a sport truck and it’s not high-tech paradise though can play the part of both. The new Navigator was clearly built to be as comfortable as possible and along the way Lincoln constructed one of the best luxury SUVs on the market.

Review

Winter hit Michigan hard this year and I found the ditch in my 2012 Dodge Durango R/T several times. It started snowing in December and didn’t stop until half way through March. I grew up in Michigan and still live in the state. Driving in snow doesn’t bother me though jumping into an unfamiliar vehicle and navigating snow-covered roads can be challenging. But not in this Navigator. I found it handles snow and slush and ice without an issue.

The 2018 Lincoln Navigator is a full-size SUV. It sits as high as a Ford F-150 and tends to lumber about as such. The ride is confident and stable. There’s little sway on tight expressway ramps and the automatic four-wheel drive quickly activates when a tire starts to spin.

This Navigator isn’t a sport truck but it gets up and goes thanks to Ford’s fantastic 3.5L EcoBoost V6. This six cylinder twin-turbo kit has found its way into nearly every full-size platform Ford offers. The Navigator is gifted with an updated version of the engine and it offers ample power across its range. The 3.5L surprises in this massive luxury SUV. It’s lively and powerful and more than enough to make the ride comfortable. During my time with the truck, I never felt at a loss of power though I tried.

The engine is key to the Navigator’s appeal on several levels. First, 3.5L V6 offers decent fuel economy if driven conservatively while offering a decent bit of excitement if driven with that intent. Second, it allows Lincoln to say the Navigator is able to tow 600 lbs more than the Cadillac Escalade, which features a massive 6.2L V8. While both vehicles can ably pull a pontoon, the Lincoln does so with 510 lb.-ft of torque over Cadillac’s 460 — though without a boat of my own, I’m unable to confirm if the difference is felt in the real world.

The steering is light and responsive though it’s impossible to forget this is a massive vehicle. It drives like a truck — though not your grandfather’s work truck. The driver sits in a commanding position that makes for good visibility. The vehicle’s suspension lets it cruise over rough roads and most bumps are absorbed. It’s a big SUV and there’s a fair amount of body roll on on-ramps. Parking isn’t an issue. There are plenty of cameras positioned around the vehicle to help maneuver this land yacht.

The interior of the new Navigator stuns. Wood, leather and chrome adorn the surfaces and walks close to the line of bling. It begs the confirmation that it ultimately comes from an American automaker. Take the badging off the interior and it could easily be mistake as a luxury European SUV — though this Navigator is bigger than anything offered across the pond.

It’s roomy inside. Storage is abundant but cleverly hidden so not to look like a minivan. There’s plenty of legroom for second row passengers while the third row is surprisingly roomy.

The seats are something special. Sure, they’re comfortable and supportive like any found in high-end SUVs. It’s their design that sets them apart. The cushions jet out from a large back support making them look more like an Eames lounger than an overstuffed leather recliner. The design is a stark departure from most automotive seats and I’m a fan.

The back seats are not nearly as comfortable. They’re supportive and offer several seating positions. In this tester, the rear seat is equipped with a center console that sports a small LCD screen that displays the media currently playing. The kids love it and I’m sure Uber passengers would too. As a parent to two kids, I found it annoying to cede control of the radio to the backseat. Thankfully there’s a button above the climate controls that disables the backseat controls because I can only listen to Radio Disney for so long.

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Tech

There’s an LCD screen mounted in the center of the dash. It’s large enough to be usable though not distracting. The best part? The screen doesn’t show fingerprints. There’s clearly a coating over the screen that somehow, magically, makes fingerprints invisible. Glare doesn’t seem to be an issue, though, as previously mentioned, it’s been snowing for a week and I haven’t seen the sun at all during my testing.

The 2018 Lincoln Navigator is equipped with a Lincoln-badged version the Ford Sync 3 infotainment system. The automaker rolled this system out with 2016 models and it’s a massive improvement over previous Sync versions. It’s not the best infotainment system available but it’s good enough. Vehicle functions and controls are in logical places and Ford’s AppLink system offers support for some third party apps now including Waze .

Android Auto and CarPlay are also available when used with compatible devices. I’ve grown to avoid these systems and prefer to stick with most systems developed by automakers. I was initially a fan of CarPlay, but Apple has yet to advance the platform, and now several years after its launch, it feels dated and unusable.

The Navigator’s smartphone app is clever. Need to put in navigation info? With the Lincoln Way app, drivers can input a destination on their smartphone app before they get into the vehicle and send those directions to the Navigator. It’s much easier than entering the destination through the in-vehicle system. The app also lets drivers start the car, order roadside assistance or service and locate the car.

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Competition

This new Navigator is in a class of its own. The Cadillac Escalade’s interior is vastly inferior, the Mercedes-Benz GLS is dated and much less roomy. The Lexus LX and Toyota Land Cruiser have better off-road chops but the platform is over 10 years old and it shows. Land Rover’s SUVs are more expensive and its three row models are much smaller and less powerful than the Navigator though new models are coming out soon.

There simply isn’t a more luxurious, roomy six or seven passenger vehicle available than the new Navigator.

I’m in the market for a new vehicle and recently test driven several used 2017 Lincoln Navigators. It’s a nice truck but lacks the wow factor of the 2018 Navigator. Where past models were clearly a rebadged Ford, complete with similar plastic trim and equipment, the new Navigator is a fresh departure from its Ford counterpart, the Expedition. Similarities between the two models still exist, though they’re less pronounced with the Lincoln clearly getting the nod towards luxury.

The Navigator of today is much better than the Navigator of yesterday. Lincoln improved the Navigator in nearly every way. The ride, the comfort, the technology. Everything is better and that’s impressive and must be noted.

The Navigator is 25 years old this year. It was one of the first American-made luxury SUVs but it has nearly always been overshadowed by the Escalade — and for good reason. The Escalade has always offered more everything than the Navigator. But not anymore.

The new Navigator sets the bar. It’s luxurious. It’s powerful. The Navigator is wonderful.

Family networking app Life360 acqui-hires PathSense team to boost location-based services

Life360, the app for networking families together via mobile devices, has acquired the developer team behind PathSense, responsible for the creation of a location-based mobile application toolkit, to build out its location-based offerings.

The San Francisco-based Life360 will see all of PathSense’s employees joining its staff, while the tech that PathSense developed will be licensed by the family networking and security monitoring service.

PathSense uses location software and sensing technologies that use less battery power than other GPS apps, according to the company.

“For Life 360 it is very critical to have accurate geofencing to locate assets especially family members and if they leave specific geofenced areas,” wrote Neil Shahe, an analyst for Counterpoint Research.

Specifically, Life360 is applying the technology to crash detection services for families in the event of an accident.

“The PathSense technology, and the team’s expertise in utilizing all of the sensors available on smartphones in a unique way, provides our users with a world-class car crash detection and response system,” said Alex Haro, co-founder and CTO of Life360. “This ensures we fulfill our vision to make every family member a safer driver and be there for them when accidents happen.”

That service will detect when an accident occurs and initiates a call to the phone of whichever subscriber was in the accident. If the user needs assistance, Life360 says it will notify emergency contacts and dispatch emergency services to a location.

The feature is part of the company’s Driver Protect subscription service — which also includes monitoring of phone usage in cars.

PathSense’s team, now a part of Life360 was behind the development of Trapster — a Waze -like app using crowd-sourced data to provide traffic and accident alerts.

As part of the talent acquisition, Life360 gets a new technology development hub in San Diego — which the company intends to continue to staff up as it develops new location-based applications.

PathSense will also remain a going concern and will look to bring on new clients in its Southern California office.

 

Ford adds Waze to its Sync 3 AppLink for iOS users

 While some carmakers and others worry about Google’s domination in mapping and how that will play out in the auto industry, we are continuing to see announcements that point, if not to Google’s influence growing, its place in the market and how some may be testing the waters for more. Today, Ford announced that it is integrating the Waze traffic and navigation app into its Sync… Read More

Waze to expand Carpool service across California on June 6

 Google’s Waze is growing its Carpool offering, expanding the ride-sharing service to all of California after successful trials in San Francisco, Sacramento and Monterey. The service expansion also comes after Waze has been running carpooling services in Israel, where it originally debuted the offering back in 2015. Carpool will open to all California residents beginning Tuesday, June 6.… Read More