SoftBank Vision Fund is reportedly laying off 30% of its workforce, or at least 150 employees

The Vision Fund, a venture capital arm of SoftBank, has launched a sweeping layoff process, cutting at least 30% of its workforce globally, or approximately 150 of the 500 employees, according to a report by Bloomberg.

The news comes nearly two months after SoftBank chief executive officer and founder Masayoshi Son said the company would review the organization’s size and structure and that it planned to do some cost-cutting due to a record 3.2 trillion JPY (about $23.4 billion) loss in the three months ended in June.

It is unclear which regional offices would be affected by the layoffs. The London-headquartered VC firm has offices in the U.S. and Asia. SoftBank declined to comment when reached by TechCrunch.

The majority of SoftBank’s record loss — approximately $17.3 billion — ties to the Vision Fund, which has backed more than 470 startups globally in the past six years. Son also said during SoftBank’s earning report in August that some unicorn founders are unwilling to accept lower valuations in fresh funding, which has led him to believe the winter may be longer for unlisted startups. During the earnings call, the Japanese tech firm said it had marked down 284 of its portfolios in the latest quarter, including listed corporations and still-private startups.

SoftBank recently cut the valuation of its portfolio company Oyo to $2.7 billion, for example; the India-based hotel chain startup is months away from its IPO. In another major readjustment, Klarna, a SoftBank-backed firm, raised $800 million in new financing in July a $6.7 billion valuation, down from the $45.6 billion valuation that SoftBank assigned the company a year ago.

Despite the massive losses, the Japanese tech conglomerate is reportedly considering launching a third Vision Fund, according to a recent WSJ piece.

SoftBank Vision Fund is reportedly laying off 30% of its workforce, or at least 150 employees by Kate Park originally published on TechCrunch

Google Colaboratory launches a pay-as-you-go option, premium GPU access

Google Colaboratory (Colab for short), Google’s service designed to allow anyone to write and execute arbitrary Python code through a web browser, is introducing a pay-as-a-you-go plan. In its first pricing change since Google launched premium Colab plans in 2020, Colab will now give users the option to purchase additional compute time in Colab with or without a paid subscription.

Google says that the update won’t affect the free-of-charge Colab tier, which remains in its current form. The only material change is that users can buy access to compute in the form of “compute units,” starting at $9.99 for 100 units or $49.99 for 500.

As Google Colab product lead Chris Perry explains in a blog post:

Paid users now have the flexibility to exhaust compute quota, measured in compute units, at whatever rate they choose. As compute units are exhausted, a user can choose to purchase more with pay-as-you-go at their discretion. Once a user has exhausted their compute units their Colab usage quota will revert to our free of charge tier limits.

In tandem with the pay-as-you-go rollout, Google announced that paid Colab users can now choose between standard or “premium” GPUs in Colab — the latter typically being Nvidia V100 or A100 Tensor Core GPUs. (Standard GPUs in Colab are usually Nvidia T4 Tensor Core GPUs.) However, the company notes that getting a specific GPU chip type assignment isn’t guaranteed and depends on a number of factors, including availability and a user’s paid balance with Colab.

It goes without saying, but premium GPUs will also deplete Colab compute units faster than the standard GPUs.

Google began telegraphing the rollout of pay-as-you-go options in Colab several weeks ago, when it notified Colab users via email that it was adopting the aforementioned compute units system for subscribers. It framed the shift as a move toward transparency, allowing user to “have more control over how and when [they] use Colab.”

Some perceived the move as user-hostile — an attempt to charge more for or clamp down on Colab usage. But in a statement to TechCrunch, a Google spokesperson pointed out that limits have always applied to all tiers of Colab usage paid plans.

“[T]hese updates are meant to give users more visibility into … limits,” the spokesperson said via email. “Colab will continue supporting its free of charge tier, including basic GPU access.”

The sensitivity around pricing changes reflects how much Colab has grown since it spun out from an internal Google Research project in late 2017. The platform has become the de facto digital breadboard for demos within the AI research community — it’s not uncommon for researchers who’ve written code to include links to Colab pages on or alongside the GitHub repositories hosting the code.

Google Colaboratory launches a pay-as-you-go option, premium GPU access by Kyle Wiggers originally published on TechCrunch

Reflect brings data visualization to HR teams

Meet Reflect, a new analytics tool that has been specifically designed for HR teams. While many teams now rely on sophisticated data visualization and business planning tools, HR teams can’t easily measure different metrics and see how they evolve over time.

And yet, human resources have become a key component for tech startups and innovative businesses in general.

“The reason why we started Reflect is that we thought HR people needed some help,” co-founder and CEO Léopold Adam told me. The job has gotten a lot more complex with the COVID-19 pandemic, diversity, equity and inclusion objectives, mental health issues and remote work policies.

“They don’t have a comprehensive tool to manage the situation,” Adam said. According to him, the average HR team uses 2 to 10 different software-as-a-service products. Reflect connects to all these tools and centralizes the data.

After that, Reflect acts as a single repository for all HR metrics. Users can then select data points and track progress. For instance, companies use Reflect to track the total headcount in each department, attrition, the number of salary increases per quarter, the proportion of women in leadership positions, etc.

Reflect then lets you share a dashboard with team managers, executives and anyone who want a comprehensive view of HR data in general. And once the CEO is using the tool, you can be sure that it will become essential.

Of course, many companies create Excel spreadsheets and send them across the company. But that requires a ton of manual exports and it’s not that easy to change some parameters to see a different view.

Some companies already have a data visualization tool like Tableau and Power BI. But the issue is that HR departments deal with sensitive info, like salaries and sick leaves. You don’t want to grant access to your HR data to the entire company.

In the future, Reflect thinks it can help you compare your own metrics with your industry’s metrics. As more companies start using the product, it will become easier to compare attrition for instance.

Reflect raised a €2 million ($2 million) pre-seed round led by XAnge with the participation of Evolem, Kima Ventures and several business angels, such as Roxanne Varza, Matthieu Birach and Thibaud Elzière. And the first companies using the product include Pennylane, Welcome to the Jungle, Batch, Partoo and SmallPDF.

Image Credits: Reflect

Reflect brings data visualization to HR teams by Romain Dillet originally published on TechCrunch

As extreme weather events worsen, 7Analytics meshes AI and big data to predict flooding

Anyone who has followed global news events of late will have noticed the devastating floods that have engulfed pretty much every corner of the world, from the U.S. and Europe, to Africa, Australia, and Asia, where India and Pakistan have been hit by some of their worst floods in recent memory.

By pretty much all accounts, such climate change-driven disasters are only going to get worse. And while there are varying opinions on what — if anything — we can do to avert such catastrophes in the future, some companies are looking at ways to plan for this new reality, and at least go some way toward mitigating the impact of flooding.

One of these companies is 7Analytics, a Norwegian startup founded back in 2020 by a team of data scientists and geologists to reduce the risks of flooding for construction and energy infrastructure companies. With its first product, FloodCube, 7Analytics serves customers with AI and advanced machine learning techniques to calculate current surface water and where it’s flowing today (the “runoff”), then models how that will look in the future with increased rainfall.

So in effect, FloodCube is more about predicting how a flood will unfold, showing exactly where water is likely to accumulate based on various environmental factors. While it’s possible to achieve this already today through combining multiple software programs and manual calculations, FloodCube brings everything together under one roof.

FloodCube in action Image Credits: 7Analytics

Show me the data

As with just about any AI and ML-infused software, large data sets are pivotal to 7Analytics’ promise — it gathers data from openly available sources spanning digital elevation models (DEM) for terrain, satellite imaging, and climate data, then integrates these sources to make it easier for users to derive insights from. Its customers include the Municipality of Bergen where 7Analytics is headquartered, multinational construction giant Skanska, and engineering consultancy Multiconsult. And this gives a strong indication as to who 7Analytics is targeting, and who is most likely to care about predicting future flooding scenarios — protecting urban infrastructure is very much the name of the game here.

“Today, most developers and real estate owners know very little about their exposure to flood risk,” 7Analytics cofounder Jonas Toland told TechCrunch. “We close this gap with a high-precision risk tool.”

While its technology is mainly used by construction companies in Norway for now, 7Analytics is expanding into new areas such as energy infrastructure, and is currently in talks with a handful of energy companies in the U.S. To help, 7Analytics’ has partnered with StormGeo, a weather service and meteorological company that essentially tailors risk data for specific business use-cases — such as disaster management in ship-routing, or energy production sites. In short, 7Analytics is helping StormGeo “enhance” its existing offering to its oil and gas customers, which includes companies in Houston, Texas.

“Our product takes a real-time StormGeo weather forecast — for example, the risk of rainfall tomorrow — and translates it into actionable risk info, such as their site is at risk of x-inches of flooding tomorrow,” Toland explained. “This information can be used to inform them whether their staff will be able to use the parking lot, or to reroute supply trucks [for example].”

Startups to the rescue?

Recent data from reinsurance company Swiss Re suggests that extreme global weather events cost insurers $101 billion last year, apparently only the third time since 1970 this figure has surpassed $100 billion. And Hurricane Ida alone reportedly caused at least $50 billion in damages, depending on what figures we’re to believe. As such, we’re seeing all manner of climate-tech startups enter the fray, even companies that weren’t initially focused on climate at all. Yesterday, TechCrunch wrote about a six-year-old company called VRAI, which initially delivered VR simulation training to the aerospace and defence sectors, but is now expanding into renewable energy, where it will focus on helping to upskill the European workforce and support plans to increase offshore wind energy capacity in the coming decade.

Elsewhere, Australia’s FloodMapp recently raised $8.5 million to serve real-time flood forecasts, while last year we wrote about New York-based Forerunner, which is developing a flood plain management platform.

To take things to the next level now that it’s officially entered the U.S. market, 7Analytics today announced that it has raised $2.5 million in a seed round of funding led by sustainability-focused VC firm Momentum Partners, with participation from Construct Venture and Obos VC. While this funding will help 7Analytics expand both in Europe and the U.S., the company said that it eventually plans to use its technology to model for other “nature risks,” including landslides and biodiversity.

“Everything we build is rigged for global use, so we are scaling our model fast across continents,” Toland said. “At the same time, we need to consider that our cities are different both in terms of topography, climate, and how they are built. Our models are easy to adapt for new use cases which is underlined by the various customer groups we have onboarded  — from construction developers to municipal caseworkers and infrastructure owners.”

As extreme weather events worsen, 7Analytics meshes AI and big data to predict flooding by Paul Sawers originally published on TechCrunch

How to make coaching work for your sales team

The advent of SaaS and cloud-based software services has all but obliterated the traditional sales model, but not many organizations are actually helping their sales teams adapt to this new world order.

Sales training statistics paint a grim picture. Even if business leaders know their employees need support, they often aren’t providing the right kind of support. Some organizations provide no sales training at all, and others simply miss the mark. According to one study, roughly 44% of sales representatives felt their training “needed improvement.”

How can sales leaders and other stakeholders improve how they train the modern sales force?

It’s important to recognize that today’s sales teams are more problem-solvers than deal-closers — soft skills are more important here than technical capabilities. They need to develop flexible ways of thinking and solving problems, become able to navigate ever-present uncertainty, manage time well, and be resilient.

Every sales team is composed of vastly different individuals who possess distinctive soft skills, behaviors and mindsets. That’s why personalized approaches to learning and development initiatives, like one-on-one coaching, can be so transformative.

A coach should design each coaching journey based on an individual’s growth and learning goals.

Personalized coaching programs meet sales professionals where they are to help them become better versions of themselves. To realize the power of personalized coaching, sales leaders and other stakeholders should create a coaching culture that supports sales professionals at every level of their career.

Here’s how:

Identify a sales coach

Generally speaking, there are two kinds of business coaches — external and internal. External coaches are typically certified third-party partners. Conversely, internal coaches work for the company and could be sales leaders, HR executives or other managers.

While both types of coaches can be effective, internal coaches face some barriers and must proactively:

  1. Commit to confidentiality: Coaches must create psychologically safe environments for employees to express concerns like professional weaknesses, interpersonal challenges and known biases. If employees fear repercussions from their coaching sessions, they won’t be honest, and the coaching won’t achieve its full potential.
  2. Prevent role confusion: Internal coaches could interact with employees outside of regular coaching sessions, so they must set clear expectations for how the coach-learner relationship differs from other professional relationships.
  3. Exercise objectivity: While internal coaches have the benefit of understanding a workplace’s cultural nuances, politics and strategy, they must avoid institutional biases and approach coaching sessions with impartiality.

Determine an employee’s vision of success

How to make coaching work for your sales team by Ram Iyer originally published on TechCrunch

Ox Security lands $34M in seed funding to strengthen software supply chains

The rise in software supply chain attacks, like the SolarWinds hack, prompted last year’s executive order from the Biden Administration requiring vendors to provide a software bill of materials (SBOM). SBOMs can help security teams understand if a newly disclosed vulnerability impacts them — in theory. But industry experts caution that they aren’t always comprehensive enough to prevent attacks or address the challenges of securing supply chains.

One startup, Ox Security, is forging ahead with an alternative to SBOMs it’s calling Pipeline Bill of Materials (PBOM), which Ox claims goes further by covering not only the code in final software products but also the procedures and processes that impacted the software throughout its development. PBOM seems to be gaining traction. Despite being founded less than a year ago, Ox has raised $34 million in seed funding — a fact that it disclosed today — and has 30 customers including FICO, Kaltura and Marqeta.

Investors to date include Evolution Equity Partners, Team8, Rain Capital and M12, Microsoft’s venture fund.

“When the infamous SolarWinds attack took place, I recall the amount of stress that was felt across the industry,” CEO Neatsun Ziv, a former Check Point executive, told TechCrunch in an email interview. “When brainstorming on ideas with my co-founder Lior Arzi, we talked about the need for an end-to-end supply chain solution — something that doesn’t only look at the code that goes into the end product but also at all of the procedures and processes that could have impacted the software throughout the whole development lifecycle. At the end of 2021, we founded Ox Security to build this solution.”

In developing PBOM, Ziv claims that Ox undertook “extensive” research on the root causes of more than 70 attacks from the past year. PBOM was designed to contain information that might’ve prevented the attacks had it been readily available at the time, he says, and to be shared with stakeholders so that they can verify that the software they’re using is derived from a trusted, secure build.

Ox Security

Image Credits: Ox Security

Ox’s platform, leveraging PBOM, integrates with existing software development tools and infrastructure to record actions affecting software throughout the development lifecycle. It connects to an organization’s code repository and performs a scan of the environment from “code to cloud,” producing a map of detectable assets, apps and pipelines.

Ox also attempts to identify which security tools are in use, verify that they’re operational, and determine if additional tools are needed. Then, the platform highlights any security issues it found, prioritized by their business impact alongside automated fixes and recommendations.

“Most IT departments are understaffed, lack visibility and are struggling to prioritize security projects across engineering and DevOps. This results in ‘shadow dev’ and DevOps — where software development tools and processes are outside of the control and ownership of the security teams,” Ziv continued. “There is also a severe lack of automation that results in manual work and causes a high attrition rate for people in these roles. The Ox platform solves these issues by providing continuous visibility, prioritizing risks, automating manual workflows and securing the posture of [software development] elements like GitLab, Jenkins, artifact registry and production.”

PBOM is — at least at present — a voluntary spec. And Ox competes with vendors like Legit Security, Cycode, and Apiiro, the last of which Palo Alto Networks is reportedly close to acquiring for $550 million. But Ziv asserts that OX is gaining mindshare, pointing to the startup’s client base of just over 30 brands.

“We are fully focused on building the company and scaling the number of customers we serve. So far we only see an increase in demand due to the increasing number of attacks,” Ziv said. “If you look at previous downturns, there were very successful companies that got started in each one of them. So we try to obsess about solving the security risk, rather than what could happen with the market. We are going on this journey with strong partners who want to see this vision come to life.”

Added M12 managing partner Mony Hassid in an emailed statement: “Supply chain attacks are on the rise, and the attack surface is growing. When it comes to software security and integrity, you have to look beyond which components were used and consider the overall security posture throughout the development process. Ox is pioneering a standard that will be transformative for supply chain security. We’re proud to work with OX to improve software security.”

With the proceeds from the seed round, Ox plans to double its 30-employee headcount by the end of 2023.

Ox Security lands $34M in seed funding to strengthen software supply chains by Kyle Wiggers originally published on TechCrunch

Airplane lands $32M in new cash to make it easier for companies to build internal dev tools

Software-as-a-service dev platform Airplane today closed a $32 million Series B funding round led by Thrive Capital with participation from Benchmark, bringing the startup’s total raised to $40.5 million. Ravi Parikh says that the new funds will be put toward growing Airplane’s 19-person team while expanding its product to new markets.

Airplane was founded in 2020 by Parikh and Josh Ma, who was formerly the CTO at Benchling, a cloud-based platform for biotechnology R&D. Parikh previously co-founded analytics startup Heap, which offers tools to analyze customer journeys online. Parikh and Ma left their respective companies in 2020 after realizing that one of the biggest challenges in software development is a lack of internal tooling.

It wasn’t just a hunch on their parts. According to one recent vendor survey, developers spent more than 30% of their time building internal apps in 2021. The pandemic worsened matters, with 87% of respondents saying that they increased or maintained their time spent on internal apps in response to the health crises.

“[We’ve spoken] to tons of engineers who spend 25% to 50% of their time responding to customer requests, building and maintaining internal admin panels, maintaining cron jobs, on-call runbooks and more instead of pushing the product forward … At Heap, we had tons of one-off customer requests, like deleting data, merging accounts, GDPR operations and billing operations,” Parikh said. “We created Airplane to make it easy to take these one-off engineering operations and turn them into tools anyone at a company can use.”

Airplane

Building an app using Airplane. Image Credits: Airplane

Parikh acknowledges there are platforms already addressing these internal tooling challenges, like Retool and Superblocks — both of which recently secured tens of millions in venture capital backing. But he argues that Airplane is more developer-centric and “code-first,” eschewing a low-code, drag-and-drop approach to creating apps for more specialized tools and workflows.

With Airplane, developers can select from a library of tables, forms, charts and more to built apps, which can be integrated with APIs and custom components or libraries. The platform supports databases and messaging platforms out of the box and can be deployed on-premises or in the cloud, giving devs the raw tools to launch apps like billing dashboards and content moderation queues.

Airplane today launched Airplane Views, a framework for creating internal tooling visual interfaces. Airplane was previously focused on code-heavy internal apps for tasks like deleting user data, refunding a charge and banning a user. But Airplane Views allows developers to create app components that act like dashboards, for example to display certain key metrics.

“One of the most common use cases is software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies using Airplane Views to build internal admin panels for their customer success and support teams. SaaS companies use Airplane to create [interfaces] where they can look up customer data, view account metrics and make account changes like suspending users or upgrading a customer’s account,” Parikh said. “Another important use case is fraud detection … [W]ith Views, companies can build more sophisticated fraud monitoring [interfaces] where the right user data is displayed contextually next to these operations, making the lives of ops and risk teams significantly easier when using Airplane.”

Eric Vishria, a general partner at Benchmark who recently joined Airplane’s board of directors, highlighted what he sees as the other benefits of the platform, such as controls that allow engineers to grant access to data deletion requests to anyone in a business. In theory, these minimize the need for engineers to get involved with every such request — removing a common bottleneck.

Airplane

Image Credits: Airplane

“Today, virtually every company runs a software service,” Vishria said via email. “Disney used to make content, now it also has to run Disney+. Banks used to store money, now they compete on their apps. Every one of these cloud services has an unmanaged mountain of scripts, cron jobs, SQL statements and internal dashboards that keep it running. Airplane is the first company taking a developer-first approach to bringing order to this 50% of ‘code’ that lives in the wilderness today.”

Parikh cautions that it’s early days; he declined to share revenue metrics. But he revealed that Airplane has almost 100 paying customers currently, including startups Vercel, Panther Labs and Flatfile.

“We’re not yet profitable, but this funding round plus our current revenue gives us several years of runway even with aggressive growth plans … We’re fortunate to have a product that can save a lot of engineering time as well as significantly improve customer experience. During a period when companies are tightening their belts and looking for ways to improve efficiency, Airplane is easy to justify,” Parikh said with confidence. “[But] our product today only solves a small portion of this huge problem and there’s a lot more we need to build to create a broad platform for internal tool development.”

Airplane lands $32M in new cash to make it easier for companies to build internal dev tools by Kyle Wiggers originally published on TechCrunch

Detectify secures $10M more to expand its ethical hacking platform

Detectify, a security platform that employs ethical hackers to conduct attacks designed to highlight vulnerabilities in corporate systems, today announced that it raised $10 million in follow-on funding led by Insight Partners. CEO Richard Carlsson says that the new cash, which brings Detectify’s total raised to $42 million, will be put toward product development and improving the overall user experience.

Detectify was founded by four ethical hackers from Stockholm, including Carlsson, who realized the business potential in combining security research with automation. In an interview with TechCrunch, Carlsson pointed out that product development workflows have changed dramatically over the past few years, with new teams within organizations spinning up internet-facing apps and adding potentially vulnerable assets to their employer’s environment. The trend toward low- and no-code tools has lowered the app development barrier to entry, but it’s also made the jobs of security specialists that much harder.

Illustrating the challenges, a recent Dark Reading survey found that 26% of IT and security experts don’t trust the platforms used to create low- and no-code apps. Roughly as many — 25% — said that they don’t even know which apps within their companies are being created by these tools.

“While companies should integrate security best practices earlier in their development cycle and try to catch vulnerabilities in development, production is what truly matters,” Carlsson added via email. “Unless you have a completely linear development process, which no company actually has, you will never catch everything. And this legacy mindset and over-reliance on ‘shifting left’ instills a sense of false confidence in organizations that actually increases their risk level.”

Detectify

Image Credits: Detectify

Detectify’s approach crowdsources real payloads — pieces of code that execute when hacker exploits a vulnerability — from a private community of ethical hackers and uses these contributions for payload-based tests. Carlsson claims that Detectify tests customers’ entire attack surfaces, exposing how malicious attackers might exploit internet-facing apps in production. 

In the near future, Detectify plans to roll out new functionality that’ll give security teams the ability to create custom alert policies. Teams will be notified if attacks on vectors like hosts, domains or DNS records are detected, Carlsson says. 

“With Detectify, organizations can maintain an external point-of-view of exactly how attackers would exploit their attack surface, manage exposure, and prioritize their remediation efforts,” Carlsson said.

Detectify currently has 2,000 customers, including “large government digital services” in Europe, and a user base exceeding 10,000. Carlsson asserts that demand remains robust in the face of competition like Cycognito, Crowdstrike’s Reposify, IBM’s Randori, Google’s Mandiant and Microsoft’s RiskIQ, driven by digital transformation efforts around the pandemic. 

To put it simply, the external attack surface has never been more complicated and harder to defend. This insulates Detectify against market headwinds,” he added. “While no company is immune to market trends, in cybersecurity, the pressure to reduce spend is pitted against cybersecurity teams’ need for best-of-breed solutions to protect the business against nation-state-level attacks.”

Detectify secures $10M more to expand its ethical hacking platform by Kyle Wiggers originally published on TechCrunch

Klaus secures fresh capital to automatically categorize and score customer interactions

Martin Kõiva was at Pipedrive, leading the company’s customer support organization, when he says he came to the realization that the best way to prevent bad customer interactions is to analyze previous ones, give agents regular check-ins and not rely too strictly on customer feedback. But Kõiva was hampered in his efforts to implement these practices at scale because the tools to do so didn’t exist, he says.

Seeking to build them himself, Kõiva teamed up with Kair Käsper (also ex-Pipedrive) and Egon Sale to co-found Klaus, a customer support product that integrates with clients’ customer relationship management platforms (e.g., Zendesk, Salesforce Service Cloud) to automatically review customer support conversations from channels like web chats. Klaus today closed a €12 million (~$11.49 million) Series A equity round led by Acton Capital, which Kõiva says will be used to support the development and further expansion of Klaus’s software.

For large companies that have millions of support tickets, it is crucial that managers are able to find the conversations that have a meaningful impact on performance. It’s a needle in a haystack,” Kõiva told TechCrunch in an email interview. “Klaus is able to automatically analyze the entire customer support volume and pinpoint which conversations require attention.”

Drawing on customer support tickets, input from managers reviewing agent conversations and customer satisfaction feedback, Klaus trains AI algorithms to perform tasks like automatically categorizing comments from customers and sorting conversations by attributes like complexity. Klaus can perform sentiment analysis in a number of languages out of the box, Kõiva claims, a capability the platform uses to score the “quality” of customer-agent conversations. 

Klaus

Image Credits: Klaus

“Klaus [can] piece together what ‘good’ and ‘bad’ looks like for each individual customer and, with the help of data science, deliver actionable insights that improve customer service for companies that have millions of support tickets every month,” Kõiva said. “Klaus technology is currently analyzing two million customer conversations every day.”

Automated scoring systems, particularly those that rely on potentially biased sentiment analysis techniques, raise questions about whether customer agents might be evaluated inaccurately or unfairly. When asked about factors like bias, Kõiva said that Klaus takes mitigating steps like removing color-, region-, and gender-specific emojis in the customer feedback data that its algorithms analyze. 

Klaus competes with companies such as MaestroQA, Playvox and Stella Connect. Beyond those, there’s ScopeAI, acquired by Observe.AI in 2021 for its technology that helps companies analyze customer feedback, and Zendesk-owned Cleverly, which automatically tags incoming customer service requests to help categorize the workflow.

Kõiva believes Klaus is well-positioned, however, with a customer base totaling “hundreds” of companies, including Epic Games, SoundCloud and WordPress.com. To continue to stand out, Klaus recently added customer satisfaction survey functionality with automatic tagging, allowing admins to spot trends that they might otherwise miss.  

Klaus has … seen an uptick in interest from companies that are looking to optimize their customer service operations,” Kõiva continued. “Large enterprises also tend to use more outsourced customer service to keep costs flexible during uncertain [economic] times, and Klaus provides a degree of confidence that the quality of the outsourced service is under control.”

Klaus currently employs around 60 people, a number Kõiva expects will grow to over 100 within the next six months. To date, the startup has raised more than $19 million in venture capital.

Klaus secures fresh capital to automatically categorize and score customer interactions by Kyle Wiggers originally published on TechCrunch

Aiven’s first acquisition is Kafkawize, an open source data governance tool for Kafka

Aiven, which provides fully-managed and hosted services for major open source projects including Kafka, Cassandra, and Grafana, has announced its first ever acquisition — the Finnish company has snapped up Kafkawize, a self-service open source data governance tool for Apache Kafka. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The acquisition comes amid a renewed focus on the security of open source software, with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently warning of legal action against any organization that failed to patch the much-publicized Log4j flaw which emerged last year. Elsewhere, a new bipartisan U.S. Senate bill called the Securing Open Source Software Act emerging last week to help bolster open source software, particularly in relation to how it’s leveraged in federal agencies.

Securing open source

Founded out of Helsinki in 2016, Aiven essentially solves many of the headaches involving in running open source software, which permeates just about every modern technology stack.  From scripts that speed up servers to databases and beyond, open source is what makes the modern software world tick. But open source software is time-consuming to configure, deploy, and maintain, which is where Aiven enters the fray by absorbing much of the heavylifting involved in running and securing open source data infrastructure across all the main public clouds, freeing up companies to focus on building their core “differentiated” products.

Fresh from a $210 million fundraise that valued it at $3 billion, Aiven is now doubling down on its existing support for Kafka, an open source data streaming project that emerged from LinkedIn back in 2011. Some 80% of Fortune 100 companies apparently use Kafka to access real-time data in their applications, essential for use-cases such as matching passengers with drivers in ride-sharing apps or processing ecommerce payments.

Kafkawize, for its part, is an open source project started back in 2018 by Murali Basani to help companies embed proper data governance across their Kafka deployments, specifically around the hundreds of “topics” Kafka generates — a topic is basically a category name to which records are organized and stored. This raises significant security questions, including who is authorized to create and consume a topic — and who owns it? Moreover, how does a company backup their Kafka configuration?

And that essentially is what Kafkawize does — it’s designed to fill the data governance gaps in Kafka.

What this acquisition means is that Aiven now owns the intellectual property (IP) including the Kafkawise trademark, and it has employed Basani to continue working on the project as part of Aiven’s open source program office (OSPO). And Aiven’s first move as owner has been to rebrand Kafkawize as Klaw.

“We were looking for an open source tool that can provide self service governance with enterprise grade security and user-management functionality,” Aiven CEO Oskari Saarenmaa explained to TechCrunch. “We believe that the Kafka community deserves open source tooling, which is why we hired the creator and maintainer of Klaw, have placed these responsibilities into our Open Source Program Office, and will properly resource the technology to ensure its continued open source development.”

While any open source project joining a commercial enterprise often raises eyebrows in terms of what will eventually become of the community-driven project, joining Aiven goes some way toward safeguarding its future viability. Funding remains a major issue for open source projects, which in turn puts barriers in place in terms of scalability — enterprises can be hesitant to put their trust in a product that has limited support.

As Basani noted in his own blog post today: “This project is fully developed by me in my free time… with Aiven’s support, Klaw can reach its full potential in the coming years.”

Aiven’s first acquisition is Kafkawize, an open source data governance tool for Kafka by Paul Sawers originally published on TechCrunch