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Tealium, a big data platform for structuring disparate customer information, raises $55M at $850M valuation

Posted by on May 15, 2019 in big data, Enterprise, Recent Funding, silver lake waterman, Startups, Tealium | 0 comments

The average enterprise today uses about 90 different software packages, with between 30-40 of them touching customers directly or indirectly. The data that comes out of those systems can prove to be very useful — to help other systems and employees work more intelligently, to help companies make better business decisions — but only if it’s put in order: now, a startup called Tealium, which has built a system precisely to do just that and works with the likes of Facebook and IBM to help manage their customer data, has raised a big round of funding to continue building out the services it provides.

Today, it is announcing a $55 million round of funding — a Series F led by Silver Lake Waterman, the firm’s late-stage capital growth fund; with ABN AMRO, Bain Capital, Declaration Partners, Georgian Partners, Industry Ventures, Parkwood and Presidio Ventures also participating.

Jeff Lunsford, Tealium’s CEO, said the company is not disclosing valuation, but he did say that it was “substantially” higher than when the company was last priced three years ago. That valuation was $305 million in 2016, according to PitchBook — a figure Lunsford didn’t dispute when I spoke with him about it, and a source close to the company says it is “more than double” this last valuation, and actually around $850 million.

He added that the company is close to profitability and is projected to make $100 million in revenues this year, and that this is being considered the company’s “final round” — presumably a sign that it will either no longer need external funding and that if it does, the next step might be either getting acquired or going public.

This brings the total raised by Tealium to $160 million.

The company’s rise over the last eight years has dovetailed with the rapid growth of big data. The movement of services to digital platforms has resulted in a sea of information. Much of that largely sits untapped, but those who are able to bring it to order can reap the rewards by gaining better insights into their organizations.

Tealium had its beginnings in amassing and ordering tags from internet traffic to help optimise marketing and so on — a business where it competes with the likes of Google and Adobe.

Over time, it has expanded and capitalised to a much wider set of data sources that range well beyond web and commerce, and one use of the funding will be to continue expanding those data sources, and also how they are used, with an emphasis on using more AI, Lunsford said.

“There are new areas that touch customers like smart home and smart office hardware, and each requires a step up in integration for a company like us,” he said. “Then once you have it all centralised you could feed machine learning algorithms to have tighter predictions.”

That vast potential is one reason for the investor interest.

“Tealium enables enterprises to solve the customer data fragmentation problem by integrating and enriching data across sources, in real-time, to create audiences while providing data governance and fidelity,” said Shawn O’Neill, managing director of Silver Lake Waterman, in a statement. “Jeff and his team have built a great platform and we are excited to support the company’s continued growth and investment in innovation.”

The rapid growth of digital services has already seen the company getting a big boost in terms of the data that is passing through its cloud-based platform: it has had a 300% year-over-year increase in visitor profiles created, with current tech customers including the likes of Facebook, IBM, Visa and others from across a variety of sectors, such as healthcare, finance and more.

“You’d be surprised how many big tech companies use Tealium,” Lunsford said. “Even they have a limited amount of bandwidth when it comes to developing their internal platforms.”

People like to say that “data is the new oil,” but these days that expression has taken on perhaps an unintended meaning: just like the overconsumption of oil and fossil fuels in general is viewed as detrimental to the long-term health of our planet, the overconsumption of data has also become a very problematic spectre in our very pervasive world of tech.

Governments — the European Union being one notable example — are taking up the challenge of that latter issue with new regulations, specifically GDPR. Interestingly, Lunsford says this has been a good thing rather than a bad thing for his company, as it gives a much clearer directive to companies about what they can use, and how it can be used.

“They want to follow the law,” he said of their clients, “and we give them the data freedom and control to do that.” It’s not the only company tackling the business opportunity of being a big-data repository at a time when data misuse is being scrutinised more than ever: InCountry, which launched weeks ago, is also banking on this gap in the market.

I’d argue that this could potentially be one more reason why Tealium is keen on expanding to areas like IoT and other sources of customer information: just like the sea, the pool of data that’s there for the tapping is nearly limitless.

Source: The Tech Crunch

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VDOO secures $32M for a platform that uses AI to detect and fix vulnerabilities on IoT devices

Posted by on Apr 24, 2019 in Artificial Intelligence, Enterprise, IoT, Security | 0 comments

Our universe of connected things is expanding by the day: the number of objects with embedded processors now exceeds the number of smartphones globally and is projected to reach some 18 billion devices by 2022. But just as that number is growing, so are the opportunities for malicious hackers to use these embedded devices to crack into networks, disrupting how these objects work and stealing information, a problem that analysts estimate will cost $18.3 billion to address by 2023. Now, an Israeli startup called VDOO has raised $32 million to address this, with a platform that identifies and fixes security vulnerabilities in IoT devices, and then tests to make sure that the fixes work.

The funding is being led by WRVI Capital and GGV Capital and also includes strategic investments from NTT DOCOMO (which works with VDOO), MS&AD Ventures (the venture arm of the global cyber insurance firm), and Avigdor Willenz (who founded both Galileo Technologies and Annapurna Labs, respectively acquired by Marvell and Amazon). 83North, Dell Technology Capital and David Strohm, who backed VDOO in its previous round of $13 million in January 2018, also participated, bringing the total raised by VDOO now to $45 million.

VDOO — a reference to the Hebrew word that sounds like “vee-doo” and means “making sure” — was cofounded by Netanel Davidi (co-CEO), Uri Alter (also co-CEO) and Asaf Karas (CTO). Davidi and Alter previously co-founded Cyvera, a pioneer in endpoint security that was acquired by Palo Alto Networks and became the basis for its own endpoint security product; Karas meanwhile has extensive experience coming to VDOO of working, among other places, for the Israeli Defense Forces.

In an interview, Davidi noted that the company was created out of one of the biggest shortfalls of IoT.

“Many embedded systems have a low threshold for security because they were not created with security in mind,” he said, noting that this is partly due to concerns of how typical security fixes might impact performance, and the fact that this has typically not been a core competency for hardware makers, but something that is considered after devices are in the market. At the same time, a lot of security solutions today in the IoT space have focused on monitoring, but not fixing, he added. “Most companies have good solutions for the visibility of their systems, and are able to identify vulnerabilities on the network, but are not sufficient at protecting devices themselves.”

The sheer number of devices on the market and their spread across a range of deployments from manufacturing and other industrial scenarios, through to in-home systems that can be vulnerable even when not connected to the internet, also makes for a complicated and uneven landscape.

VDOO’s approach was to conceive of a very lightweight implementation that sits on a small group of devices — “small” is relative here: the set was 16,000 objects — applying machine learning to “learn” how different security vulnerabilities might behave to discover adjacent hacks that hadn’t yet been identified.

“For any kind of vulnerability, using deep binary analysis capabilities, we try to understand the broader idea, to figure out how a similar vulnerability can emerge,” he said.

Part of the approach is to pare down security requirements and solutions to those pertinent to the device in question, and providing clear guidance to vendors for how to best avoid problems in the first place at the development stage. VDOO then also generates specific “tailor-made on-device micro-agents” to continue the detection and repair process. (Davidi likened it to a modern approach to some cancer care: preventive measures such as periodic monitoring checks; followed by a “tailored immunotherapy” based on prior analysis of DNA.)

It currently supports Linux- and Android-based operating systems, as well as FreeRTOS and support for more systems coming soon, Davidi said. It sells its services primarily to device makers, who can make over the air updates to their devices after they have been purchased and implemented to keep them up to date with the latest fixes. Typical devices currently secured with VDOO tech include safety and security devices such as surveillance cameras, NVRs & DVRs, fire alarm systems, access controls, routers, switches and access points, Davidi said.

It’s the focus on providing security services for hardware makers, in fact, that helps VDOO stand out from the others in the field.

“Among all startups for embedded systems, VDOO is the first to introduce a unique, holistic approach focusing on the device vendors which are the focal enabler in truly securing devices,” said Lip-Bu Tan, founding partner of WRVI Capital. “We are delighted to back VDOO’s technology, and the exceptional team that has created advanced tools to allow vendors to secure devices as much as possible without in-house security know-how, for the first time in many decades, I see a clear demand for security, as being raised constantly in many meetings with leading OEMs worldwide, as well as software giants.”

Over the last 18 months, as VDOO has continued to expand its own reach, it has picked up customers along the way after identifying vulnerabilities in their devices. Its dataset covers some 70 million embedded systems’ binaries and more than 16,000 versions of embedded systems, and it has worked with customers to identify and address 150 zero-day vulnerabilities and 100,000 security issues that would have potentially impacted 1.5 billion devices.

Interestingly, while VDOO is building its own IP, it is also working with a number of vendors to provide many of the fixes. Davidi says that VDOO and those vendors go through fairly rigorous screening processes before integrating, and the hope is that down the line there will more automation brought in for the “fixing” element using third-party solutions.

“VDOO brings a unique end-to-end security platform, answering the global connectivity trend and the emerging threats targeting embedded devices, to provide security as an essential enabler of extensive connected devices adoption. With its differentiated capabilities, VDOO has succeeded in acquiring global customers, including many top-tier brands. Moreover, VDOO’s ability to uncover and mitigate weaknesses created by external suppliers fits perfectly into our Supply Chain Security investment strategy,” said Glenn Solomon, managing partner at GGV Capital, in a statement. “This funding, together with the company’s great technology, skilled entrepreneurs and one of the best teams we have seen, will allow VDOO to maintain its leadership position in IoT security and expand geographies while continuing to develop its state-of-the-art technology.”

Valuation is currently not being disclosed.

Source: The Tech Crunch

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Lyft sets $62-68 price range for its IPO to raise $2B, will trade as LYFT on Nasdaq

Posted by on Mar 18, 2019 in Finance, IPO, Lyft, NASDAQ, ride-sharing, TC, Transportation | 0 comments

Ride-sharing startup Lyft this morning announced that it is kicking off the roadshow for its IPO — setting the clock ticking for its IPO likely in around two weeks. Around that, it also filled in some more details. The stock will trade as “LYFT” on Nasdaq and the IPO range is currently set for between $62 and $68 per share to raise $2 billion from 30,770,000 shares of Class A common stock.

Lyft also said in its updated S-1 that at the high end of the range, the maximum offering aggregate price — the maximum that it would raise at that range — will be $2,406,214,000 when considering the full range of Class A stock that will be registered, 35,385,500 shares.

In addition to the 30,770,000 shares of Class A common stock, the company said it has an additional 4,615,500 shares in options for the underwriters, adding up to the 35 million share figure. 

J.P. Morgan Securities LLC, Credit Suisse Securities (USA) LLC, Jefferies LLC, UBS Securities LLC, Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, Incorporated, RBC Capital Markets, LLC and KeyBanc Capital Markets Inc. are book-running managers for the offering, the company added.

The news kicks off the timer on Lyft’s public listing at a time when all eyes are on how ride-sharing companies will progress to the next stage of their growth, with Uber expected to file and also go public this year. Lyft’s revenues are growing fast — Lyft took $8.1 billion in bookings and made $2.1 billion in revenues in 2018, covering 30.7 million riders and 1.9 million drivers — but the company remains unprofitable. The company posted a net loss of $911.3 million in 2018, a figure that has grown in line with revenues, but notably shrunk proportionately. In 2016, revenues were $343.3 million while net loss was $682 million.

This public listing provides a road map for how Lyft can continue to fund its operations and growth while providing liquidity for investors as it continues working on getting into the black.

More to come.

Source: The Tech Crunch

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Rakuten TV expands to 42 European countries, gets direct button on Samsung, LG, Philips and Hisense remotes

Posted by on Mar 14, 2019 in Entertainment, Europe, Media, rakuten, video streaming | 0 comments

Rakuten TV, the Japanese e-commerce giant’s effort to take on Netflix and Amazon in the world of video streaming, has been a minor player when it comes to market share for online entertainment, with a mere 7 million users of its service. But today, it’s unveiling two key pieces of news that it hopes will help reverse that. The company is adding 30 new countries in Europe where the service will operate, bringing the total across the region and Japan to 42. And it’s inked a deal with big names in connected TV entertainment systems — specifically Samsung, LG, Philips and Hisense — to embed a dedicated “Rakuten TV” button on their remotes.

The two moves together underscore how Rakuten may not have been among those riding the wave as video streaming has exploded in popularity — compare its 7 million users with the 139 million users Netflix reported in its most recent earnings — but it does not seem ready to throw in the towel on it, either.

“We are here to continue running the marathon,” Jacinto Roca, the CEO of Rakuten TV, said in an interview this week. “This is another step for us to become a global player in this industry.”

It’s about time that Netflix and Amazon had some competition in the over-the-top video market — that is, video entertainment delivered to consumers over their existing broadband connections to compete with costly cable or satellite packages — but if they are perhaps some of the most obvious competition, they’re not the only ones. Apple, Google, a number of content owners themselves, and device makers all believe they have a shot at muscling in and becoming the go-to destination for consumers’ video entertainment needs.

Rakuten TV in some ways looks directly like the Japanese e-commerce company’s answer to Amazon’s video service: both have moved into the area as a natural extension of their e-commerce businesses, which sell consumer electronics and already have extensive operations around content — namely books and e-books, and both would have already build a lot of the infrastructure needed to run these services as a by-product of those e-commerce operations. And, alongside other Rakuten-owned assets like Viber and Ebates, this is one more move by the company to diversify not just its revenues and services, but the ecosystem in which customers are interacting with its brand.

But Rakuten TV has taken a different approach in at least three important ways. The first of these is in how it prices the service. There are no monthly subscriptions, and people watch and pay for movies on an a la carte basis. Roca said that this is unlikely to change anytime in the future. 

“We think that the simplicity of our offer is one of the key value propositions for us so we have no plans to introduce monthly bundles,” he said. He added that in the case of Rakuten TV the company has found that customers watch more than one movie per month, and when you look at the average prices of its films — promotions might come in (in the UK) at 99 pence for one film, but a top release like the Crimes of Grindlewald costs £13.99 to view — “that is definitely a healthy ARPU for us,” he said. “The focus today is making sure that we have people enjoying at least one movie per month on our platform.”

He notes that the economics are ironically trickier in bundles for popular providers where multiple views are happening under one price, which can impact the margins on the overall service. (Something that has been argued with music streaming, too.)

The second area where Rakuten TV is trying to stand apart from others in the streaming video space is its decision not to create original content, or at least not on any scale. The company last year put out a film that it produced, Hurricane, which Roca described to me as an “experiment.”

“We will do three or four more films this year, to start learning about production, but we have no big strategy behind this right now,” he said, noting that content providers have some regulatory requirements in Europe to also contribute investment to grow the content production industry locally in the face of over-domination from the US. “It’s more an experiment, with but no strategic initiative.”

Content efforts can run into the hundreds of millions or even billions in terms of investment, as they collectively had for Rakuten TV’s competitors, and while there is clearly some glory and cred that comes with that, for a smaller player it may not be a tenable option given the challenges of distribution. It also puts Rakuten into a better bargaining position with other content rightsholders, who will not eye it as a rival for eyeballs who might also use their own might as a bargaining chip when agreeing on licensing.

That brings us to the third area where Rakuten is trying to be a bit different, and one excuse of Roca’s for why the company has taken so long to expand to more countries: localization. He says that Rakuten TV will stand out from the field by offering a wider and better selection of content for each local market, using data to see not just what locals like to watch on TV, but what were popular cinematic releases that Rakuten should definitely try to get for those markets. This takes time, he said.

I have to admit there is something to this: if you have ever travelled to various far-flung places and attempted to watch Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, you might notice that not only do you get a much more limited choice of titles, but they are nearly the same from country to country and put a heavy emphasis on the services’ original content — likely one other reason why they have created it in the first place, to populate their services without having to do lots of tricky licensing deals.

In any case, Rakuten is putting investment in another, more basic area first before it can start to double down more on original content. The company is not disclosing how much it had to pay the smart TV makers to create a button on their remotes, but said that it made the investment based on strong results on existing handsets from Roku and Hisense.

“We’ve had buttons on those for a couple of years, and we can see that we are bringing in new users from those buttons,” Roca said. “So after two years with those, we decided it was the right moment to invest and go into brands that have big market shares in Europe.” He says this will give Rakuten TV potentially access to buttons on TVs from providers that collectively have a 35 percent market share in the region. Of course, getting people handsets with those Rakuten buttons is predicated on consumers actually buying new TVs, so this is a bet that very much has yet to pay off.

The investment in smart TV placement is notable also because at the same time, Rakuten is not expanding its presence in any notable way on mobile. That also is down to data, Roca said: today, some 60 percent of its content is consumed on smart TVs. The company also touts that it has the largest catalog of 4K HDR movies in Europe and is about to start trialling 8K.

Looking forward, Roca said that Rakuten TV’s plan is to enter completely different markets now that it has largely covered Europe. That will include, most likely, Latin America, which has a cultural and linguistic synergy with Spain, the home market of Rakuten TV (the Japanese giant spearheaded its TV strategy around its 2012 acquisition of, founded by Roca, which it eventually rebranded). And it is also looking at which markets it might target in Asia. Another Rakuten acquisition, of Viki, which provides crowdsourced subtitles for online videos, could play a key part of its strategy in Asia, where Viki has a large usage base.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Google removed 2.3B bad ads, banned ads on 1.5M apps + 28M pages, plans new Policy Manager this year

Posted by on Mar 14, 2019 in adsense, Advertising, Advertising Tech, bad ads, Google | 0 comments

Google is a tech powerhouse in many categories, including advertising. Today, as part of its efforts to improve how that ad business works, it provided an annual update that details the progress it’s made to shut down some of the more nefarious aspects of it.

Using both manual reviews and machine learning, in 2018, Google said removed 2.3 billion “bad ads” that violated its policies, which at their most general forbid ads that mislead or exploit vulnerable people. Along with that, Google has been tackling the other side of the “bad ads” conundrum: pinpointing and shutting down sites that violate policies and also profit from using its ad network: Google said it removed ads from 1.5 million apps and nearly 28 million pages that violated publisher policies.

On the more proactive side, the company also said today that it is introducing a new Ad Policy Manager in April to give tips to publishers to avoid listing non-compliant ads in the first place.

Google’s ad machine makes billions for the company — more than $32 billion in the previous quarter, accounting for 83 percent of all Google’s revenues. Those revenues underpin a variety of wildly popular, free services such as Gmail, YouTube, Android and of course its search engine — but there is undoubtedly a dark side, too: bad ads that slip past the algorithms and mislead or exploit vulnerable people, and sites that exploit Google’s ad network by using it to fund the spread of misleading information, or worse.

Notably, Google’s 2.3 billion figure is nearly 1 billion less ads than it removed last year for policy violations.

While Google has continued to improve its ability to track and stop these ads before they make their way to its network, Google said in a response to TC that the lower number was actually because it has shifted its focus to removing bad accounts rather than individual bad ads — the idea being that one can be responsible for multiple bad ads.

Indeed, the number of bad accounts that got removed in 2018, nearly 1 million, was double the figure in 2017, and that would mean the bad ads are not hitting the network in the first place.

“By removing one bad account, we’re blocking someone who could potentially run thousands of bad ads,” a company spokesperson said. “This helps to address the root cause of bad ads and allows us to better protect our users.”

Meanwhile, while the ad business continues to grow, that growth has been slowing just a little in competition with other players like Facebook and Amazon.

The more cynical question one might ask here is whether Google removed less ads to improve its bottom line. But in reality, remaining vigilant about all the bad stuff is more than just Google doing the right thing. It’s been shown that some advertisers will walk away rather than be associated with nefarious or misleading content. Recent YouTube ad pulls by huge brands like AT&T, Nestle and Epic Games — after it was found that pedophiles have been lurking in the comments of YouTube videos — shows that there are still more frontiers that Google will need to tackle in the future to keep its house — and business — in order.

For now, it’s focusing on ads, apps, website pages, and the publishers who run them all.

On the advertising front, Google’s director of sustainable ads, Scott Spencer, highlighted ads removed from several specific categories this year: there were nearly 207,000 ads for ticket resellers, 531,000 ads for bail bonds and 58.8 million phishing ads taken out of the network.

Part of this was based on the company identifying and going after some of these areas, either on its own steam or because of public pressure. In one case, for ads for drug rehab clinics, the company removed all ads for these after an expose, before reintroducing them again a year later. Some 31 new policies were added in the last year to cover more categories of suspicious ads, Spencer said. One of these included cryptocurrencies: it will be interesting to see how and if this one becomes a more prominent part of the mix in the years ahead. 

Because ads are like the proverbial trees falling in the forest — you have to be there to hear the sound — Google is also continuing its efforts to identify bad apps and sites that are hosting ads from its network (both the good and bad).

On the website front, it created 330 new “detection classifiers” to seek out specific pages that are violating policies. Google’s focus on page granularity is part of a bigger effort it has made to add more page-specific tools overall to its network — it also introduced page-level “auto-ads” last year — so this is about better housekeeping as it works on ways to expand its advertising business. The efforts to use this to ID “badness” at page level led Google to shut down 734,000 publishers and app developers, removing ads from 1.5 million apps and 28 million pages that violated policies.

Fake news also continues to get a name check in Google’s efforts.

The focus for both Google and Facebook in the last year has been around how its networks are used to manipulate democratic processes. No surprise there: this is an area where they have been heavily scrutinised by governments. The risk is that, if they do not demonstrate that they are not lazily allowing dodgy political ads on their network — because after all those ads do still represent ad revenues — they might find themselves in regulatory hot water, with more policies being enforced from the outside to curb their operations.

This past year, Google said that it verified 143,000 election ads in the US — it didn’t note how many it banned — and started to provide new data to people about who is really behind these ads. The same will be launched in the EU and India this year ahead of elections in those regions.

The new policies it’s introducing to improve the range of sites it indexes and helps people find are also taking shape. Some 1.2 million pages, 22,000 apps and 15,000 sites were removed from its ad network for violating policies around misrepresentative, hateful or other low-quality content. These included 74,000 pages and 190,000 ads that violated its “dangerous or derogatory” content policy.

Looking ahead, the new dashboard that Google announced it would be launching next month is a self-help tool for advertisers: using machine learning, Google will scan ads before they are uploaded to the network to determine whether they violate any policies. At launch, it will look at ads, keywords and extensions across a publisher’s account (not just the ad itself).

Over time, Google said, it will also give tips to the publishers in real time to help fix them if there are problems, along with a history of appeals and certifications.

This sounds like a great idea for ad publishers who are not in the market for peddling iffy content: more communication and quick responses are what they want so that if they do have issues, they can fix them and get the ads out the door. (And that, of course, will also help Google by ushering in more inventory, faster and with less human involvement.)

More worrying, in my opinion, is how this might get misused by bad actors. As malicious hacking has shown us, creating screens sometimes also creates a way for malicious people to figure out loopholes for bypassing them.

Source: The Tech Crunch

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