Turbotodd

Ruminations on tech, the digital media, and some golf thrown in for good measure.

Archive for the ‘venture capital’ Category

Tablets and Slackers

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Happy Friday.

Feels like this week blew by pretty quickly

So what’s the close of the week looking like for tech news?

First thing that caught my attention was Computerworld reporting that Google is officially done making its own tablets.

The last model, the Pixel Slate, was introduced into the market last year, and though Google apparently had two smaller-sized tablets under development, it opted to drop work on those devices and refocus its efforts on laptops.

For the record, I’m writing this post on a Google Pixelbook from 2018, a hybrid laptop-tablet that has exceeded my expectations (in terms of performance, etc.)

And Google also has its Pixel line of smartphones, so it probably makes sense to focus on a couple of form factors that represent where the market is leading, and to orient those efforts around Chrome OS.

Meanwhile, if you’re wondering which telco provider has the fastest mobile network in the U.S., PC Mag is reporting AT&T overtook Verizon this year for first place with its not-quite-full-5G offering, "5G Evolution."

AT&T has also secretly been helped by improvements in smartphone modems over the past two years. Wireless spectrum forms the lanes on which all smartphone traffic travels, and AT&T has more LTE spectrum than T-Mobile or Verizon, according to Fierce Wireless. But AT&T’s spectrum is typically highly fragmented, coming in many small pieces rather than a few large chunks. New modems are better able to aggregate a lot of small channels into one fast connection, which is working to AT&T’s advantage.

Next time you’re in a Walmart and thinking to yourself, "I think I’ll just walk out of here with this George Foreman Grill hidden under my jacket." Well, think again.

According to a report from The Verge, Walmart has been surveilling its checkout registers with a computer vision technology called "Missed Scan Detection" to identify when items move past the scanner without having been scanned.

The system runs on cameras that watch as items move across the register. If an unusual activity occurs, such as an item moving into a bag without being scanned, a checkout attendant will be notified to take action. Missed Scan Detection was designed to help reduce theft and other losses, a problem that has cost US retailers up to $47 billion in 2017.

And if you were wondering how Slack’s IPO worked out yesterday, it closed the day at $38.62, 48% above its $26 reference price (and valuing Slack at $20B).

Hardly a Slacker of an IPO…Keep an eye out for the floats of Postmates and Peloton soon.

Written by turbotodd

June 21, 2019 at 11:36 am

Apple’s Supply Chain, RapidAPI’s Boost

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So what happens if this U.S.-China trade war gets outta hand? What, in particular, happens to Apple, whose supply chain purposely extends throughout the Middle Kingdom?

Bloomberg is reporting that Apple has a fallback plan, that its primary manufacturing partner, Foxconn (also known as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. Ltd), "has enough capacity to make all iPhones bound for the U.S. outside of China, if necessary."

“Twenty-five percent of our production capacity is outside of China and we can help Apple respond to its needs in the U.S. market,” said [Foxconn semiconductor division chief, Young] Liu, adding that investments are now being made in India for Apple. “We have enough capacity to meet Apple’s demand."

According to the report, Apple has not given Foxconn instructions to move production out of China…yet.

Foxconn is now running quality tests for the iPhone Xr series there and plans to begin mass production at a facility in the suburbs of Chennai. Older models are already assembled at a Wistron plant in Bangalore.

Foxconn had also committed to building a 13,000-worker facility in Wisconsin, but the fate of that plant seems to have been up and down. But Foxconn executives maintain the employment goal remains, and that "construction remains on schedule and that it will hire as many as 2,000 Americans by the end of 2020."

Meanwhile, the tech consolidation buying spree continues.

Intel is acquiring Barefoot Networks, which specializes in programmable networking chips, for $155M. Interesting to note that Barefoot’s fund raises amounted to $155M from a variety of firms, including Chinese Internet giants Tencent and Alibaba.

TechCrunch provides a backgrounder:

Based in Santa Clara, Calif., Barefoot Networks was launched from stealth in late 2016 by Dr. Craig Barratt, a former Stanford University professor whose work was critical to the development of the networking architectures that allowed Alphabet, Facebook and others to operate at the massive scale they now have.

As these companies demanded more customized hardware ranging from chipsets to enable their various machine learning algorithms to manage and monitor content (and win Go games), to the servers and routers that they’ve put up in their own internal networks Barratt realized they’d need chipsets that they could modify.

With the acquisition, Intel adds a core knowledge set around p4-programmable high speed data paths, switch silicon development, P4 compilers, drivers oftware, network telemetry and computational networking.

It’s not just speed in the chips that will transform cloud-based AI…it’s speed in the networking infrastructure and at the edge of the network.

H&R Block is acquiring Toronto-based Wave Financial, a financial planning platform for small business owners (surely you’ve seen their TV spots!) for $537 million CAD (Canadian dollars).

The acquisition, which is still subject to regulatory approval and closing conditions, expands H&R Block’s product and client portfolio with Wave’s accounting, invoicing, payroll, and payments software solutions and will also see Wave adding H&R Block tax solutions to its suite of products.

In 2014, Wave reached over 2.5 million customers worldwide, and launched its Invoice feature the following year. Last year, the company surpassed 3.5 million customers, and launched Wave Plus, launching its Receipts and Payments features the following year.

Wave provides its software for free to more than four million customers in 200 countries worldwide. Revenue is generated from Wave’s paid financial services, including Payments and Payroll by Wave. The company’s general software is free, rather than “freemium” model, meaning that its tools can be used without tiers or limitations.

Upon closing, writes BetaKit, the deal "would make one of the largest ever Canadian tech exits."

And if you’re a developer, this one’s for you: RapidAPI, which devs used to search for, pay, and connect to public APIs, has closed a Series B round of $25 million.

The funding comes at a time of decent growth for the startup. The company now counts 10,000 APIs in its marketplace, which it estimates covers 33% of all publicly available APIs globally (leaving lots of room still to grow); with developers using RapidAPI, now standing at 1 million, who now collectively make 500 billion API calls each month from a wide variety of companies big and small, including Microsoft, SendGrid, Nexmo, Telesign, Google, Skyscanner and Crunchbase.

TechCrunch reports that the funding will help bolster development of its tools, including RapidAPI for Teams, "which will help them not only manage their use of public APIs but also organse and use their own internal APIs and microservices.

If you build it (your API), they will come…but they have to find it first!

RapidAPI currently has 1 million developers and counting…I would expect somebody will take them off the board and soon. Microsoft may have first right of refusal, as RapidAPI’s Series B was led by the company’s venture arm, M12.

Written by turbotodd

June 11, 2019 at 10:00 am

Unicorns Fold

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Well this has been a week.

If you’ve not been keeping up with the Samsung Galaxy fold saga, The Verge’s latest report indicates that iFixit has “decided to honor a Samsung request to pull its Galaxy Fold teardown off the Internet,” even though the company apparently didn’t make the request directly.

Why is Samsung doing this? We’ve asked for comment, obviously, but we suspect an answer may not be forthcoming. That leaves us with a whole pile of possible reasons we can only speculate on.
On the charitable end of the interpretation scale is that Samsung is definitely reworking the Fold, the design will change, and Samsung doesn’t want to have a teardown out there for a device it isn’t ever going to ship. Possibilities get successively less charitable from there. Perhaps the partner who provided the Fold to iFixit wasn’t supposed to, and Samsung is just enforcing a contract.

It’s too easy, I know, but I can’t help myself…

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’

When the dealin’s done

Thank you, Kenny Rogers.

Okay, well, now that the country music interlude is over, let’s see what’s up on the unicorn IPO front.

CNBC is reporting that Slack has filed for an IPO via a direct listing, indicating the company took a loss of $138M on $400M in revenue.

What, all those free Zooms I do aren’t making Zoom zoom faster??

Uber, on the other hand, has set an IPO range of $44 to $50 per share, and is expecting to raise up to $10.35B on an $84B valuation.

And here’s a blast from your DoCoMo past. For those of you remember NTT’s DoCoMo iMode phone service from Japan, one of the world’s first mobile app ecosystems way back in 1998…well, NTT DoCoMo (which is now Japan’s biggest cellphone service provider) is backing the magic AR unicorn Magic Leap to the tune of $280M.

Magic Leap has already raised $2.3B, so what’s $280M more among unicorns?

This move would obviously allow ML to make the magic leap right into the Japanese market.

The New York Times is reporting that the company is already planning to reopen its Series D fund-raising, acknowledging the “costs of its business.”

Damn, those unicorns are expensive, though some more than others.

Written by turbotodd

April 26, 2019 at 12:21 pm

A $1B AI School

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Happy Tuesday. It’s still raining here in Austin, and about 80 miles west of us the Llano River has reached a 40-foot flood stage. Please stop the rain, at least for a little while. We’ve had enough.

If you need a ride away from the floods, or were simply wondering what’s been going on with Uber, The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the company could be valued at 120 billion dollars in an IPO as early as 2019, which would nearly double its valuation from just two months ago.

As the Journal story points out, that “eye-popping” figure would make Uber worth more than General Motors, Ford Motor, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles combined.

While Uber is focused on making smarter car rides, Paperspace has scored $13 million in investment for its AI-fueled application development platform.

According to a report from TechCrunch, Paperspace wants to help developers build AI and machine learning apps with a software and hardware development platform powered by GPUs and other powerful chips.

Last spring, the company released gradient, a serverless tool to make it easier to deploy and manage Ai and machine learning workloads.

By making Gradient a serverless management tool, customers don’t have to think about the underlying infrastructure. Instead, Paperspace handles all of that for them providing the resources as needed. “We do a lot of GPU compute, but the big focus right now and really where the investors are buying into with this fundraise, is the idea that we are in a really unique position to build out a software layer and abstract a lot of that infrastructure away [for our customers].

In other news, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced yesterday it was creating a new college focused on better preparing students to adapt to the increasingly disruptive AI wave through a planned $1 billion investment, $350 million of which came from private equity guru Stephen Schwarzman.

According to a report in The New York Times:

Mr. Schwarzman said he hoped that the M.I.T. move might trigger others to invest in America’s A.I. future, not just commercially. He points to the major push the Chinese government is making, and notes the fruits of United States government-funded research in the past — technologies that helped America take the global lead in industries from the personal computer to the internet.

Just last month, IBM and MIT announced a 10-year, 240 million dollar investment to create the MIT-IBM Watson AI lab, which will carry out fundamental AI research and seek to propel scientific breakthroughs than unlock the potential of AI.

Written by turbotodd

October 16, 2018 at 12:10 pm

Automation Nation

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Happy Tuesday.

On the World Cup schedule today: Sweden vs. Switzerland, and Columbia vs. England.

Meanwhile, it’s back to automation nation. Automation Anywhere, a San Jose, California-based robotic process automation startup has announced it raised $250 million in a funding round led by New Enterprise Associates and Goldman Sachs.

According to a report from Venture Beat, Automation Anywhere’s platform employs software robots, or bots, that make business processes self-running:

Using a combination of traditional RPA and cognitive elements such as unstructured data processing and natural language understanding, the system is able to crunch through tasks that normally take hundreds of thousands of human employees.

As to what the company will do with this new round:

The firm plans to spend the bulk of the new capital on deepening customer engagements in North America, India, Europe, Australia, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore, CEO and cofounder Mihir Shukla said in a statement. It also intends to invest in “specialized” machine learning capabilities and new integrations designed to drive “higher operational efficiency” and “flexibility.”

The company’s CEO, Mihir Shukla, was also quoted in the piece as saying that “We believe our Intelligent Digital Workforce Platform can automate up to 80 percent of [an enterprise’s business processes].

That’s far more than its own customers claim can be automated (20 percent).

Written by turbotodd

July 3, 2018 at 10:07 am

Turning Up the Heat on Crypto

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The cryptocurrency juggernaut continues to build momentum. It seems as though there’s a new initial coin offering every day now.

Multicoin Capital is looking to raise $250 million in capital by the end of June, and Reuters is reporting that Marc Andreessen and a “slew of big individual and institutional investors” have invested thus far.

Multicoin views cryptocurrencies as a long-term investment (three to four years), as opposed to the short-termism we’ve been seeing in recent weeks.

Other investors include PayPay’s first COO, David Sacks, and Elad Gil, co-founder of genomic testing company Color Genomics. 

In related news, Bitcoin’s price has now settled down to around $9,000, and this as Japan suspended trading on two cryptocurrencies on Thursday following a reported $530 million cyber heist at Coincheck, one of the country’s largest crypto platforms.

According to a story in Fortune, Japan’s Financial Services Agency has ordered Bitstation and FSHO to suspend business for at least one month, the first due to an executive using customer funds for personal transactions, and the second for allegedly failing to shore up customer protection.

And finally, in the better cryptocurrency mousetrap category, French startup Qarnot has unveiled a new computing heater made specifically for cryptocurrency mining.

A heater. With a computer. Just for mining bitcoins. And heating you.

Three words, people: Picks and shovels.

Addendum: Check out Paul Ford’s Bloomberg story, “Bitcoin is Ridiculous, Blockchain is Dangerous” where he compares to the emerging crypto tulip-mania to the early days of the WWW. 

Written by turbotodd

March 9, 2018 at 9:34 am

WeChat, We Invest

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Building on last week’s post about the overinflux of venture capital money into the Chinese tech market, China Money Network is reporting that China’s Baidu, Inc. has teamed up with China Life Insurance Co., Ltd. to jointly launch a RMB 14 billion (U.S. $2.12 billiion) investment fund to back companies in the mobile Internet, AI, fintech, and other tech sectors.

Chinese insurers were permitted by regulators in 2014 to invest in venture capital.

The Baidu-China Life fund is to be managed by Baidu Capital, Baidu’s private investment arm. It will focus on making middle and late-stage investments in areas surrounding Internet and its applications in traditional sectors, in addition to AI, fintech and consumer upgrade.
– via China Money Network

In unrelated Chinese Internet play news, Tencent Holdings Ltd said on Monday it would lead an $863 million investment in apparel platform Vipshop Holdings.

The deal extends a recent push by Tencent into Alibaba’s home turf of retail, where the firm hopes to leverage its messaging service WeChat and its online payment systems to drive shopping demand.
– via U.S.

Tencent’s WeChat has nearly a billion users, and the app has become a lifeline for both mainland Chinese and the Chinese diaspora around the globe.

The app provides everything from text messaging to video games and conferencing to sharing photographs to apps that allow users to pay for municipal utility services.

Written by turbotodd

December 18, 2017 at 9:24 am

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