AWS adds user monitoring and A/B testing to CloudWatch

Amazon CloudWatch was introduced way back in 2009 to help AWS customers view data about their cloud usage and spending. Today at the dawn of AWS re:Invent, the company’s cloud customer conference taking place in Las Vegas this week, the cloud division announced a couple of enhancements to the product.

Amazon has been building on the types of data provided by CloudWatch, and today it added user monitoring. With Real User Monitoring, AWS customers can understand when there is a problem with a deployment and take corrective action before customers really begin to feel it.

“Amazon CloudWatch RUM will help you to collect the metrics that give you the insights that will help you to identify, understand, and improve this experience. You simply register your application, add a snippet of JavaScript to the header of each page and deploy,” Amazon’s Jeff Barr wrote in a blog post announcing the feature.

This doesn’t exactly fall under the category of stunning innovation. It’s something companies like AppDynamics and New Relic have been doing for years, but as with most things Amazon they are providing a soup-to-nuts experience for customers inside AWS, and this type of monitoring lets you know when things could be going wrong with your AWS application.

The other new feature is a new experiments tool called CloudWatch Evidently, which helps developers set feature flags and run A/B tests inside an application they are building on top of AWS. Rather than just updating an app for every user, developers may want to test it on a limited subset of users and see if the new feature breaks anything, or if users prefer a particular approach or design more.

They can limit the people who see a new feature by setting a feature flag in the code and setting up the parameters for that feature. In addition, you can do A/B testing, another form of experimentation, that lets you test features with a certain subset of users to see which feature or design people prefer.

Neither of these is new either. Companies like Split.io have been doing more broad feature flag management for some time, and companies like Optimizely have been building companies around A/B testing.

CloudWatch Evidently is already available in 9 Amazon cloud regions with pay-as-you-go pricing, while CloudWatch RUM is also available now in 10 regions at a cost of $1 per 100,000 events collected.

Labor board authorizes new Amazon union vote

The director of the National Labor Relation Board’s 10th region has authorized a new union election for workers at Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama fulfillment center. An NLRB representative has confirmed the decision with TechCrunch, which would see the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union getting a second chance to unionize workers at the site, following its defeat back in April.

The victory was a lopsided one for the mega-retailer, though the RWDSU immediately called shenanigans in what was expected to be a major test for unionizing efforts for blue collar tech workers. At the time, the union accused Amazon of “gaslighting” employees through “egregious and blatantly illegal action.”

Amazon naturally denied the accusations, stating, “It’s easy to predict the union will say that Amazon won this election because we intimidated employees, but that’s not true. Our employees heard far more anti-Amazon messages from the union, policymakers, and media outlets than they heard from us.”

RWDSU head Stuart Appelbaum said in a statement today that the new ruling serves as vindication for those earlier claims, “Today’s decision confirms what we were saying all along – that Amazon’s intimidation and interference prevented workers from having a fair say in whether they wanted a union in their workplace – and as the Regional Director has indicated, that is both unacceptable and illegal. Amazon workers deserve to have a voice at work, which can only come from a union.”

A date for a new election has yet to be determined. It will, however, no doubt become another national flashpoint for unionization efforts that have only grown in momentum during the pandemic and subsequent economic slowdowns.

“The National Labor Relations Board will conduct a second secret ballot election among the unit employees,” the board noted in its ruling. “Employees will vote whether they wish to be represented for purposes of collective bargaining by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. The manner, date, time, and place of the election will be specified in a Notice of Second Election.”

Amazon expressed displeasure at today’s ruling. Spokesperson Kelly Nantel noted in a statement,

Our employees have always had the choice of whether or not to join a union, and they overwhelmingly chose not to join the RWDSU earlier this year. It’s disappointing that the NLRB has now decided that those votes shouldn’t count. As a company, we don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees. Every day we empower people to find ways to improve their jobs, and when they do that we want to make those changes—quickly. That type of continuous improvement is harder to do quickly and nimbly with unions in the middle. The benefits of direct relationships between managers and employees can’t be overstated—these relationships allow every employee’s voice to be heard, not just the voices of a select few. While we’ve made great progress in important areas like pay and safety, we know there are plenty of things that we can keep doing better, both in our fulfillment centers and in our corporate offices, and that’s our focus—to work directly with our employees to keep getting better every day.

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen will talk Section 230 reform with Congress this week

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen will go before Congress again this week, this time offering her unique perspective on the company’s moderation and policy failures as they relate to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the key legal shield that protects online platforms from liability for the user-created content they host.

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology will hold the hearing, titled “Holding Big Tech Accountable: Targeted Reforms to Tech’s Legal Immunity,” this Wednesday, December 1 at 10:30 AM ET. Color of Change President Rashad Robinson and Common Sense Media CEO James Steyer will also testify on Wednesday.

The hearing is the latest Section 230-focused discussion from the House committee. In March, the chief executives of Facebook, Google and Twitter went before lawmakers to defend the measures they’ve taken to fight misinformation and disinformation — two major areas of concern that have inspired Democratic lawmakers to reexamine tech’s longstanding liability shield.

In an October Senate hearing, Haugen advocated for changes to Section 230 that would hold platforms accountable for the content that they promote algorithmically. While Haugen isn’t an expert on legislative solutions to some of social media’s current ills, given her time with Facebook’s since-dismantled civic integrity team, she’s uniquely positioned to give lawmakers insight into some of the most dangerous societal outcomes of algorithmically amplified content.

“User-generated content is something companies have less control over. But they have 100% control over their algorithms,” Haugen said. “Facebook should not get a free pass on choices it makes to prioritize growth, virality and reactiveness over public safety.”

Facebook’s former News Feed lead and current Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri is also set to testify before the Senate for the first time next week, addressing revelations in leaked documents that the company knows its business takes a toll on the mental health of some of its youngest, most vulnerable users.

In its announcement, the House Energy and Commerce committee cited four tech reform bills that Congress is currently mulling: the Justice Against Malicious Algorithms Act of 2021, the SAFE TECH Act, the Civil Rights Modernization Act of 2021 and the Protecting Americans from Dangerous Algorithms Act. The first bill, proposed by the committee holding Wednesday’s hearing, would lift Section 230’s liability protections in cases when a platform “knowingly or recklessly” recommends harmful content using algorithms.

Alms is a social app focused on real-world impact and positive change

A number of startups are experimenting with what a better social app could look like. For a startup called Alms, the answer is a social network that focuses on users’ well-being through participation in creator-led challenges in areas like personal growth, sustainability, and others with positive impacts. Instead of driving the collection “likes,” as on other social apps, Alms aims to encourage real-world engagement through its challenges and the specific steps and actions that must be taken.

The idea, explains Alms founder Alexander Nevedovsky, is to design an app that guides users to a happier and more meaningful life when they use it. That’s something modern social platforms can’t really promise to do.

Work on the project began during the early days of the pandemic in 2020, Nevedovsky says.

“A lot of us were feeling depressed and sad, at home without much access to friends and family,” he explains. “I felt like the world really needed something that’s a bit more than just meditation, journaling, or mood tracking — all those apps and techniques are great, but they’re not designed to improve your life on a day-to-day basis, interacting in the real world.”

However, the original version of Alms released last year was lacking something that would make the app “sticky.” Users would sign up because they liked the concept, but at some point would drop out and stop participating in the activities. The startup knew it needed something more to tie users to their journeys, which is why it has now shifted to become more of a social community.

Image Credits: Alms

When you first launch the newly designed Alms app, you’re taken through a brief onboarding process where you select your interests from three main topical areas: personal growth, sustainability, and impact. For example, “personal growth” interests may include things like mental health, wellness, spirituality, or relationships. “Sustainability” focuses on interests related to the environment and nature. And “impact” would wrap in things like activism, volunteering, local community, and more.

After setup is complete, you can follow creators who post challenges or choose to join individual challenges, each with their own set of steps that have to be taken in order to fully complete them. For instance, in a challenge focused on improving your work-from-home lifestyle, the steps guide users to take steps to improve their workspace and their work-life balance (by scheduling breaks and hard stops to their day, e.g.), and asks them to add physical activity to their routines, among other concrete actions.

As you participate in a challenge by completing and checking off each step, you’re prompted to post a story about that step in that challenge’s feed to inspire others, who may add an encouraging comment. But gathering likes and comments is not Alms’ goal, says Nevedovsky.

“We see tremendous possibility in allowing more and more people with expertise in these topics — personal growth, sustainability, and impact of various sorts — to basically try to scale their impact with us,” he notes. “We allow them to put all their knowledge or their content in a scalable way so that people can actually — not like it, not comment under it — but actually try to repeat it.”

At launch, Alms has around 30 creators sharing their content in the form of challenges on its app, and 15 more are in the pipeline. It hopes to reach a couple of hundred over the next few months. So far, the new version of the app has attracted a couple of thousand users, as well.

Image Credits: Alms

Many of the challenges on the app have been joined by hundreds of users, so you do feel some sense of participating in a larger event when you click to join. However, I’d personally prefer that posting a story and sharing it to the feed was optional — not every step deserves its own post, I feel. (And sometimes, you may not have anything to say about the minor steps you completed and end up feeling like you’ve cluttered the feed with less-than-helpful posts.)

Alms was co-founded with startup studio Palta, a home to apps like Flo.Health, Simple Fasting, and Zing Fitness Coach. Palta owns a majority stake in Alms, and the company has no other outside investment. A remotely distributed team of fourteen works on the Alms app, which isn’t currently monetized.

Nevedovsky says the team is considering adding some sort of token-based economy or perhaps a DAO which would convey some sort of real-world rewards. This could include being able to participate in Alms’ governance or joining a creator fund, for example. The tokens, at least in the near term, would not be tradeable. The company may also consider simpler ideas, like in-app tipping. But nothing has yet been determined as Alms is still working on product-market fit at this time, and scaling its userbase.

Overall, Alms seems like it could appeal to those who want to be more mindful and impactful about how they’re spending their time on social apps, but who are in search of inspiration that comes with more specific direction.

“I think, a lot of the time, people place hopes on what will happen in the future without actually influencing it. So I think that having an app that helps you with ideas and inspiration from people who know what they share, what they recommend, is super helpful — especially when it’s all about support,” notes Nevedovsky. “People [on Alms] actually care.”

The app, we found, is well-built and attractively designed. But it could still face the original issue of having users drop off, despite its new social components, given the competition for screen time on today’s mobile devices.

Alms is a free download on iOS only for the time being.

Algeria’s Yassir picks up $30M to build a super app in North Africa

Yassir, an Algerian startup that provides on-demand services such as ride-hailing and last-mile delivery, has raised a $30 million Series A round.

The investment came from a long list of VCs and angel investors. VCs include WndrCo, DN Capital, Kismet Capital, Spike Ventures, Quiet Capital, Endeavor Catalyst, FJ Labs, VentureSouq, Nellore Capital and Moving Capital. The angel investors include Cleo Sham of Uber; Thomas Layton of Upwork, Opentable and Metaweb; Rohan Monga of Gojek; and Hannes Graah of Spotify and Revolut.

The company said in a statement that most of the investors from its $13.25 million seed round, which was previously undisclosed, participated as well.  

After earning a Ph.D. at Stanford and spending most of his professional life in Silicon Valley working at various companies, CEO Noureddine Tayebi returned to Algeria to get involved in the country’s nascent tech scene to start a company and build technical talent in the Maghreb region (Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia).

Most people in French-speaking Africa are unbanked due to a lack of trust in incumbents and inefficient banking solutions. Tayebi felt that providing on-demand services — which solves essential needs and, more importantly, builds trust to then provide payment services — was the catalyst to enable financial inclusion in the region.

He founded Yassir with Mahdi Yettou in 2017. The company started with ride-hailing services because the cities it targeted had dense populations and inefficient transportation services. Yassir progressed to offer last-mile delivery services, creating a multi-sided marketplace that brings drivers, couriers, merchants, suppliers and wholesalers to individual users on one platform.

Yassir

Yassir CEO Noureddine Tayebi. Image Credits: Yassir

According to Tayebi, the plan is to use the marketplace model to offer payment services to all parties involved and create a super app in the process.

“Our approach of solving the unbanked population problem is unique in the region by offering more of a ‘banking as a platform’ solution where daily services are at the heart of it all via a super-app marketplace,” he told TechCrunch.

“Such services not only build trust for all the sides of the marketplace but also use them as channels to offer these payment services, which we think is the approach that is most suited to the region. Most of our competitors are either on-demand services — ride-hailing or last-mile delivery only — or pure payment solutions. This gives us an edge over them as we build the network, the channels and the trust that are all key ingredients for the adoption of payment services at large scale.”

Yassir has seen exponential growth since launching four years ago. Last year, it was part of Y Combinator’s winter batch as the first Algerian startup in the accelerator. In terms of traction, over 3 million people and 40,000 partners in all its markets now use the platform. Tayebi said that Yassir generates revenues by taking a commission on the services it offers.  

This round of funding makes Yassir the most funded startup in Algeria and one of the most funded in the Maghreb and MENA region. Tayebi isn’t coy about saying his company aims for regional dominance in its category. Yassir also plans to gain market share outside the region into other markets, primarily sub-Saharan Africa and other “strategic geographies.”

The company will use the investment to achieve that as well as consolidate growth in its existing markets by launching new products and improving existing ones.

Yassir also plans to triple the size of its engineering team, a department the company is also particular about building locally.

“We are [a] 100% local champion, including tech talent, as we want to empower the tech talent in the region and hire them in each country we operate in. We want a success model that is fully from the region,” Tayebi said.

“Yassir is a natural evolution of companies seen elsewhere in the world,” WndrCo partner Anthony Saleh said in a statement.The moment we met the team, we saw the opportunity of entering an enormous market with a service taking the best of models we have seen elsewhere. We’re thrilled to be part of this supercharged journey.”

How one founder is turning complex decision-making into a developer tool anyone can use

Carolyn Mooney wants you to make your decision-making process code. She is the co-founder and CEO of Nextmv which helps companies make efficient decisions on a mass scale—think Amazon delivering packages or Uber plotting a route for an uber pool. In this week’s episode, she talks with Darrell and Jordan about Nextmv’s software that doesn’t just optimize decision making and route planning but also enables engineers to work on many different types of teams. Plus she talks about how coaching high school volleyball has made her a better leader and forced her to prioritize a work-life balance.

Take our listener survey and let us know a bit about yourself and what you think of FOUND.

Connect with us:

On Twitter
On Instagram
Via email: found@techcrunch.com
Call us and leave a voicemail at (510) 936-1618

Jack is leaving Twitter and we have ~thoughts~

Well, so much for a relaxed post-holiday week on Monday.

News broke this morning that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is stepping down from the company entirely. The company’s CTO, Parag Agrawal, will be taking over at the helm. Saleforce exec Bret Taylor will take over as board chairman.

So, Amanda and Natasha and Alex jumped into onto the mics — and, ironically, a Twitter space — to riff on all things Jack and future of Twitter. From the show:

  • Crypto and the CTO, what can we read from the tea leaves?
  • Jack’s dual role, and its detractors.
  • The fact that Twitter’s product work has been great lately, which we don’t want to stop. When is a good time to leave a company, is it on the up and up or when things are quiet?
  • And, finally, Jack’s somewhat biting words regarding founder-led companies, which are, frankly, a bit at odds with his own behavior until now.

The show is back on Wednesday, unless some other major CEO resigns.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 a.m. PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

AWS Braket gets improved support for hybrid quantum-classical workloads

In 2019, AWS launched Braket, its quantum computing service that makes hardware and software tools from its partners Rigetti, IonQ and D-Wave available in its cloud. Given how quickly quantum computing is moving ahead, it’s maybe no surprise that a lot has changed since then. Among other things, hybrid algorithms that use classical computers to optimize quantum algorithms — a process similar to training machine learning models — have become a standard tool for developers. Today, AWS announced improved support for running these hybrid algorithms on Braket.

Previously, to run these algorithms, developers would have to set up and manage the infrastructure to run the optimization algorithms on classical machines and then manage the integration with the quantum computing hardware, in addition to the monitoring and visualization tools for analyzing the results.

Image Credits: AWS

But that’s not all. “Another big challenge is that [Quantum Processing Units] are shared, inelastic resources, and you compete with others for access,” AWS’s Danilo Poccia explains in today’s announcement. “This can slow down the execution of your algorithm. A single large workload from another customer can bring the algorithm to a halt, potentially extending your total runtime for hours. This is not only inconvenient but also impacts the quality of the results because today’s QPUs need periodic re-calibration, which can invalidate the progress of a hybrid algorithm. In the worst case, the algorithm fails, wasting budget and time.”

With the new Amazon Braket Hybrid Jobs feature, developers get a fully managed service that handles the hardware and software interactions between the classical and quantum machines — and developers will get priority access to quantum processing units to provide them with more predictability. Braket will automatically spin up the necessary resources (and shut them down once a job is completed). Developers can set custom metrics for their algorithms and, using Amazon CloudWatch, they can visualize the results in near real time.

“As application developers, Braket Hybrid Jobs gives us the opportunity to explore the potential of hybrid variational algorithms with our customers,” said Vic Putz, head of engineering at QCWare. “We are excited to extend our integration with Amazon Braket and the ability to run our own proprietary algorithms libraries in custom containers means we can innovate quickly in a secure environment. The operational maturity of Amazon Braket and the convenience of priority access to different types of quantum hardware means we can build this new capability into our stack with confidence.”

Hear how growth investors spot space companies ready to blast off at TC Sessions: Space 2021

The space economy is booming and for the first time ever, there’s a fair amount of exit event activity. That should have later stage investors who focus on the area excited, and we’ll be able to ask them about it directly at our virtual TechCrunch Sessions: Space event on December 14-15.

Joining us for a panel focused on later stage investing in space tech, we’ll have Tess Hatch, partner at Bessemer Ventures, Sequoia’s Shaun Maguire and Lisa Rich of Xplore all on our stage at the event. We’ll look at the significant changes in the growth investment industry when it comes to space startups that have taken place this past year, and what it means to have a lot more companies actually shipping product and growing their customer base rather than being focused more on the research and development of groundbreaking tech.

Hatch, who herself has experience at both Boeing and SpaceX in addition to her investment experience, also stays close to the pulse of the industry (in addition to her investment work) by co-teaching a Stanford course on helping researchers commercialize their academic work.

Maguire’s focus as partner at Sequoia is on frontier tech, as well as fintech and enterprise (there’s a lot more crossover than you might expect!). His track record includes leading Sequoia’s investment in SpaceX, and he also led GV’s investment in Spinlaunch when he was a partner there prior to joining Sequoia in 2019.

Rich is herself an entrepreneur and founder, and has an extensive history of investing in both early stage and growth stage space companies, including Axiom Space, Made in Space, PlanetIQ and more. Rich’s own company, Xplore, also offers ‘space-as-a-service’ to customers, providing everything needed to host and operate a payload.

TC Sessions: Space 2021 takes place on December 14-15. Celebrate Cyber Monday and buy your 2-for-1 pass before November 29 at 11:59 pm (PT).

Is your company interested in speaking at TC Sessions: Space 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Product-led growth and signal substitution syndrome: Bringing it all together

A few years back, my former colleagues and I at SiriusDecisions introduced what we called the Intent Data Framework (IDF). About a year ago, we updated the model to include non-behavioral signals and called it the Buyer Signals Framework (BSF).

Already, it’s clear we left something out of the IDF and even BSF: product-led growth.

Signal substitution syndrome

Both versions of the framework were attempts to address a misunderstanding that was, and still is, so rampant in B2B that I have a name for it — signal substitution syndrome. The nature of this syndrome is simple: In B2B, both marketing and sales practitioners tend to see each new source of information about their potential buyers — each signal type — as a substitute for the last one that didn’t work.

If people are using the product, the need is not prospective or theoretical, it is actual.

The history of B2B could be written in the successive failure of these signals to be what we all hoped for. Whether it was people showing up at trade show booths, people filling out bingo cards from the back of magazines, the people and bots filling out website forms, webinar registrations, syndicated content leads, third-party intent signals, review site users, etc.

The misunderstanding that underwrites signal substitution syndrome is that any of these signals should be considered as sufficient — or even halfway decent — signals of buyer intent unto themselves. To be sure, by happenstance, some leads have occasionally turned into business in a way that can be seen and understood.


Help TechCrunch find the best growth marketers for startups.

Provide a recommendation in this quick survey and we’ll share the results with everybody.


But if there’s one thing that my time as an analyst taught me, it’s that leads are a depressingly high failure rate (95%-99%) signal. Intent data by itself is worse. However, they are both better than whatever we had before. In fact, none of these signals are, by themselves, actually expressions of intent. Expressions of interest? Sure. Intent, not so fast.

How product-led growth fits in

Along comes product-led growth (PLG) with the idea that we’ll offer a free or very low-cost version of our solutions and use adoption of them as the new signals that will lead to enterprise deal generation. Of course, not every product is amenable to a PLG motion. It’s pretty hard to imagine Oracle PLG-ing their manufacturing cloud, for example.