Opal secures $10M for dynamic access management

Opal, a platform that decentralizes access management for enterprise customers, today announced that it raised $10 million in a Series A funding round led by Greylock. CEO Stephen Cobbe says that the proceeds will be put toward product development and expanding the size of Opal’s 25-person team.

It’s Cobbe’s assertion that companies give out too much access to systems. To his point, a 2021 survey by cloud infrastructure security startup Ermetic found that enterprises with over 20,000 employees experienced at least 38% cloud data breaches due to unauthorised access. Employees use systems like Amazon Web Services (AWS), GitHub, and Salesforce in their day-to-day work, and each of these systems has its own way of defining access control (e.g., via roles, groups, resources, permission sets, or policies). With so much variety, defining the right role-based abstraction can be challenging.

“Being an ‘engineer’ might have a well-defined meaning in Jira, where it involves having access to the ‘engineering’ ticketing project. However, in a more complicated system like AWS, being an ‘engineer’ may offer little insight into what a user needs to do their job,” Cobbe explained. “Opal solves this problem by leveraging a more dynamic model of access.”

Opal was founded in 2019 by Cobbe, a former software engineer at Dropbox. Umaimah Khan, Opal’s other co-founder and head of product, came from Collective Health, a self-funded employer health benefits firm.


Image Credits: Opal

Opal offers employees a self-serve catalog that allows them to request and receive access to systems. An analytics dashboard provides usage-based suggestions, visualizations, and insights about access to a customer’s security team. If a user hasn’t accessed a resource in many months, for instance, Opal’s analytics dashboard might recommend that the user’s access be removed.

“Opal brings a unique approach to the problem of access management, combining insights with workflows. Most products are one or the other,” Cobbe said. “Opal decentralizes away from overburdened teams like security and IT to resource owners with the most context.”

Opal can automatically discover databases, servers, internal tools, and apps, delegating access requests to the relevant teams and managers. The platform can also automatically remove access when it’s no longer needed, sending reminders to reviewers through Slack and email and monitoring for any changes to access.

“Opal was built to give teams a single pane of glass to manage access scalably and according to the security principle of least privilege where only the minimum amount of access necessary is granted,” Cobbe said. “Broadly, Opal helps enterprises move nimbly while staying secure and maintaining compliance … [We do] this by establishing a culture in which least privilege, the act of giving the least amount of access for someone to complete a ‌task, is an established norm and everyday practice.”

Opal competes with companies large and small in the access management space, including DoControl. But Cobbe, while declining to answer questions about Opal’s revenue, said he’s confident his company can stand out with a customer base that includes Databricks, Blend, and Marqeta.

“Security and compliance are crucial for most companies. Even amidst the current economic environment, we believe there will continue to be a budget for products that drive value in these spaces,” he added.

Amira Yahyaoui wants Mos to be a ‘radical’ fintech startup

Human rights activist and Mos founder Amira Yahyaoui couldn’t afford to go to college, so when she first launched a platform to connect students to scholarships, the innovation felt full circle. Since its 2017 inception, Mos has opened access to a pool of over $160 billion in financial aid to the more than 400,000 students within its community.

Now, hoping to tear down yet another financial barrier that she herself faced, Yahyaoui is expanding Mos into a challenger bank. It’s an evolution from Mos as an edtech business built to help students navigate their way through applying and attending college into a fintech that can support the same user base through all of life’s similarly complicated demands.

“We’re pretty radical about why we’re doing what we’re doing,” she said. “We don’t want to be elitist, we don’t want to do this for a very small category of people because we really want to become the incumbent bank in the U.S.,” Yahyaoui said, starting with students. “That’s the goal.”

The goal convinced a slew of investors to compete for a spot in Mos’ newest funding round, a $40 million Series B that values the company at $400 million, up from a $50 million valuation in May 2020. The round, led by Tiger Global with participation from Sequoia, Lux Capital, Emerson Collective, Plural VC and more, came together in less than 24 hours, Yahyaoui noted. She turned down multiple term sheets, and didn’t use a pitch deck.

Mos’ initial debit card has a few key features, including zero overdraft fees, late fees, or in-network ATM fees. There’s also no minimum balance required in order to open a Mos account.

mos banking

Image Credits: Mos

“Students don’t have a lot of money, so they are at the forefront of all kinds of abuses — overdraft, scams, everything,” she said. Surely, other fintechs have seen a similar opportunity to serve a vulnerable, yet sticky population — given that a solid chunk of students don’t change their bank after graduation. Stride Funding and LeverEdge are taking on the student loan industry, Thrive Cash offers money based on offer letters and Frank, a financial aid tool for students, just got acquired by JPMorgan Chase.

“I see it as JPMorgan, and all the banks, knowing that their future is different from their past,” she said. “Banks are trying to become relevant, but students don’t buy the BS that incumbents are doing.” Mos, meanwhile, has helped students unlock more than $1.5 billion in declared scholarship money as of last year.

Mos has historically built trust with students by making their purchasing power higher through scholarships, a relationship that Yahyaoui thinks will help her team compete with other fintechs. It’s a community-first approach that we’ve seen replicated across other industries: build up a user base of people who trust and recognize you, and then introduce them to products and services using language that resonates.

“We cater to you in those first years of adulthood, and in the future we’ll grow up with you because you will be getting out of college, having apartments, renting and paying for rent,” she added.

Amira Yahyaoui, the founder of Mos. Photo Credits: Cayce Clifford.

Lux Capital’s Deena Shakir, who participated in the round, said that banking was always “the missing piece” of Mos. Originally, she thought Mos could expand in a ton of different ways, taking on other aspects of public information or serving as a platform for other financial instruments focused on students. Now, with the network effects of those first few years, she thinks it is set for the unsurprising natural next step.

“Rather than being a player tangentially on the side of financial access and inclusion, they recognize that they have the unique opportunity to be the primary bank, credit card and home [for] their students,” she said.

Beyond the mission, the startup’s new goal could attract some solid revenue. Mos originally made money through fees for access to its scholarship pool. Now the startup makes money through interchange fees, and that knowledge is free for whoever starts an account. Yahyaoui said that Mos currently makes “a few millions” in ARR, but that the TAM has exploded since it pursued the challenger bank route. “Our market cap is 10 times higher than what we were before,” she said.

In the future Mos will create a suite of products that students can pay to access, such as more hands-on advisor consultations or specific banking features.

One question for all fintechs, as underscored by PayPal’s recent earnings, is the quality of its users long-term. Mos enjoyed a massive spike in growth around November, a few months after it launched its debut debit card. While Yahyaoui declined to share specific growth metrics given the competitive fintech landscape, she did share that over 100,000 students opened accounts with Mos in the first quarter of launch. She estimates that the growth makes Mos the tenth largest neobank in the United States.

Whether or not those referrals are sticky customers, or just students hacking their way through college, is yet to be seen. Giveaways and referral bonuses are exciting, but do they move the needle long-term?

Julieta Silva, a first-generation college student, grew up in a small town in Texas. Her entire 500-person school had one college counselor, so she got most of her higher-ed help on TikTok. (Indeed, the MOS social media platform has over 52,000 followers on its account.) She first joined the platform in August 2020 to unlock scholarship money, but the platform has grown to become a “simpler version of the complicated banking system.” The student, now a freshman at Northeastern University, still uses her Bank of America card, but relies on the Mos card for day to day expenses. She makes referral money if she can get her friends to sign up.

“It’s still not prominently used on campus, but every time I use my card…people ask me [about it],” she said. “So then I tell them all the little perks, and the thing that really captures their attention is the financial advisor, and the help for funding for their college.”

Image Credits: Mos

The co-founder, meanwhile, has been paying attention to what does attract buzz, such as NFTs or credit cards with fancy branding (and weight!). But, with new venture backing and support, she’s set on building for the masses.

“I wish I had to only convince 1,000 nerds,” Yahyaoui said. “But we need to convince 20 million students.”

Product Managers Deal With The Microsoft Office Problem

Microsoft Office Changes Very Slowly
Microsoft Office Changes Very Slowly
Image Credit: Stephen Edgar

How about a quick show of hands: who uses Microsoft Office every day? Hmm, I believe that I see just about everyone’s hands in the air. Let’s face it, outside of the Microsoft Windows operating system, Microsoft Office is just about the most popular piece of software out there. Sure, there are some competitors such as Google Office and Libra Office; however, the biggest share of the market is owned by Microsoft and has been for roughly the past 30 years or so. So why are the Microsoft product managers so slow to make improvements to Microsoft Office?

Change Comes Slowly To Microsoft Office

So how many people use Microsoft Office every day? It turns out that the answer is hundreds of millions of people. They use Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook and all of the other bundled applications. The people who use these applications (myself included) understand how they work and have learned over the years how to deal with their quirky unique features. What this means is that when Microsoft’s Office product managers decide to make a change to their product development definition, they understand that they are messing with fire and may not be able to add this to their product manager resume.

The impact of any change to Microsoft Office is huge. This might be the reason why Office always looks like it is so behind the times. The competing software has a sleek modern feel to it while Office seems to be stuck in a kind of time warp. Microsoft has extended Office to work on the web and on mobile devices; however, those versions of the Office application all look like the older desktop application. What seems to be going on here is that the Microsoft product managers are very scared of making any changes to Office that might accidentally end up making any of their existing users mad at them.

One of the challenges that users of the Office applications face today is that the design of the screen when you are using Office seems to be stuck in the past. At the top of the screen is Office’s signature “ribbon bar” where just about every feature that you could ever imagine using is located. The problem with this feature is that it is so large that it currently takes up almost 1/3 of the screen leaving precious little room for the user to interact with the document that they are creating.

Finally Real Change Is Coming To Microsoft Office

It’s starting to look like the Microsoft product managers have been listening to what their users have been telling them. Microsoft has said that they are going to be rolling out changes that will result in an Office product that is faster, cleaner, and able to be used more collaboratively. The changes will first come to the Word and Outlook applications. One of the key changes will have to do with the ribbon bar. Microsoft is going to be simplifying this space. The ribbon will be shrunk with the goal of making it both smaller and more legible. The new ribbon will display roughly 12 different actions and other actions will be accessible via a drop down menu. The user will be able to customize the ribbon bar by pinning actions that they like to it and removing ones that they don’t use.

Another area of the Office suite of applications that will be changing will be its search feature. One way that Microsoft is going to be making this better is by adding a predictive search capability. What this means is that it will suggest the message or file that you might be searching for even before you begin typing. Along the same lines, Google has done a better job than Microsoft in building collaboration tools into their version of an Office software suite. One thing that Microsoft’s Office suite does do a good job of is permitting collaboration between users that are making use of the desktop, mobile, and web based versions of the Office product. The redesign is going to group the sharing and collaboration options into a single corner of the ribbon bar.

The Office product managers are facing a unique problem. In redesigning Office they are trying to appeal to two very different groups of users. One group of users are the roughly one billion users who have been long time Office users and who are very familiar with its look and feel. The other group is the remaining one billion users who have never used an Office suite from any vendor before. This second group of users is often found in developing countries. Both groups of users are looking for software that can provide them with both intelligence and simplicity. However, the challenge comes from the group of existing users who basically hate it when Microsoft either changes or removes things. This means that the Microsoft product managers need to find a way to balance simplicity vs power.

What All Of This Means For You

As product managers, the one thing that we’d all like to have is the ability to be responsible for a successful product at a successful company. I think that we can all agree that the product managers at Microsoft who are responsible for the Office suit of products fit this description. One of the challenges that these product managers are facing is that because there are so many people who use their product, they have to be very careful how they go about making changes.

Part of the problem that the Microsoft product managers are facing is that because so many people use their software each and every day, they have become used to even the smallest details about how the software works. Microsoft’s Office software is starting to look dated especially when you compare it to newer offerings from companies like Google. The Microsoft product managers appear to be worried about using their product manager job description to make changes that might offend anyone. The Microsoft Office’s applications use a screen design that has a “ribbon bar” at the top of the screen that takes up way too much of the screen. The changes that the Product Managers are getting ready to make to Office include changing the ribbon bar so that it is much smaller. Other changes will be made to Office’s search feature. The goal going forward is to make Microsoft Office become more simple and intelligent.

The challenge that is facing Microsoft’s product managers is that they have to keep making changes to Office in order to keep up with the times. Their large installed base of users really don’t like change because it causes them to have to go back and relearn something that they used to know. What the product managers are going to have to do is to make good decisions about what needs to be changed and then take the time to sell it to their user base. If they can get this right, then Office can once again become a sleek modern application that everyone enjoys using.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that the Microsoft product managers should change all of the Office applications at the same time or do it one-by-one?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

We should all have such problems. The product managers over at that very, very successful company called Amazon are now facing a new challenge. A while back Amazon paid US$13.5B to purchase the high-end grocery store chain called Whole Foods. The Amazon product managers are now under the gun to change their product development definition and apply what they have been able to do so well for selling books and home goods to food. Just exactly how should they go about doing this?

The post Product Managers Deal With The Microsoft Office Problem appeared first on The Accidental Product Manager.

Byton enlists ViacomCBS, Accuweather, Xperi and more to take on Tesla’s in-car entertainment

Byton is starting to amass key partners such as global media giant ViacomCBS to bring video content as well as information and other services to the eye-popping 48-inch wraparound digital dashboard screen in its upcoming electric M-Byte SUV.

The China-based electric car startup is calling its dashboard screen the “Byton Stage” and the plan to turn it  — along with several other displays — into an interactive experience that delivers everything from entertainment and navigation to health stats and even review powerpoint slides is part of a bigger goal to compete against Tesla.

“In a world where Tesla has prominently taken its place during the past years, people are constantly telling me they are ready for an alternative option in choosing a new premium electric vehicle,” Byton CEO Daniel Kirchert said during a press conference Sunday ahead of CES in Las Vegas. “I believe Byton’s ready to be that alternative.”

Byton showed off a production version of the M-Byte on Sunday during a press conference ahead of CES, the annual tech trade show in Las Vegas. The M-Byte, which is expected to go into volume production later this year, will be priced a $45,000, Kirchert said.

Byton announced Sunday several partnerships to bring content into the vehicle, including ViacomCBS, Access, Accuweather, Aiqudo, Cloud Car, Road.Travel and Xperi.

Each partnership is filling out that interactive content ecosystem. Access Twine is the platform that Byton will use to deliver the content to its “stage,” whole Cloud Car will handle the cloud-connected natural language recognition. Aiqudo’s Voice to Action platform enables customers to use voice commands and integrates with the mobile apps on their smartphones. Road.Travel lets users plan and book trips and Xperi will deliver digital HD Radio and DTS Connected Radio.

Some of that content, such as video from ViacomCBS is meant to be viewed while the M-Byte is parked, following in the footsteps of Tesla, which has a number of games as well as video streaming in its vehicles.

When the vehicle is parked, users can hit “cinema mode” to view videos or “office mode” to review PowerPoint slides. And soon there will be more. Byton also announced it is launching an app developer program.

“Our aim is to make the Byton M-Byte a seamless part of your digital life and easy access to compelling video content will be integral to that experience,” Andreas Schaaf, the company’s chief customer officer said in a prepared statement.