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Cisco open sources MindMeld conversational AI platform

Posted by on May 9, 2019 in Artificial Intelligence, Cisco, Developer, Enterprise, MindMeld, open source, TC, voice recognition | 0 comments

Cisco announced today that it was open-sourcing the MindMeld conversation AI platform, making it available to anyone who wants to use it under the Apache 2.0 license.

MindMeld is the conversational AI company that Cisco bought in 2017. The company put the technology to use in Cisco Spark Assistant later that year to help bring voice commands to meeting hardware, which was just beginning to emerge at the time.

Today, there is a concerted effort to bring voice to enterprise use cases, and Cisco is offering the means for developers to do that with the MindMeld tool set. “Today, Cisco is taking a big step towards empowering developers with more comprehensive and practical tools for building conversational applications by open-sourcing the MindMeld Conversational AI Platform,” Cisco’s head of machine learning Karthik Raghunathan wrote in a blog post.

The company also wants to make it easier for developers to get going with the platform, so it is releasing the Conversational AI Playbook, a step-by-step guide book to help developers get started with conversation-driven applications. Cisco says this is about empowering developers, and that’s probably a big part of the reason.

But it would also be in Cisco’s best interest to have developers outside of Cisco working with and on this set of tools. By open-sourcing them, the hope is that a community of developers, whether Cisco customers or others, will begin using, testing and improving the tools; helping it to develop the platform faster and more broadly than it could, even inside an organization as large as Cisco.

Of course, just because they offer it doesn’t necessarily automatically mean the community of interested developers will emerge, but given the growing popularity of voice-enabled used cases, chances are some will give it a look. It will be up to Cisco to keep them engaged.

Cisco is making all of this available on its own DevNet platform starting today.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Equity Shot: Pinterest and Zoom file to go public

Posted by on Mar 22, 2019 in alex wilhelm, Bessemer Venture Partners, ceo, Cisco, economy, Equity podcast, Eric Yuan, Finance, FirstMark Capital, Kate Clark, katy perry, Lyft, money, photo sharing, Pinterest, Startups, TC, TechCrunch, Uber, unicorn, Venture Capital, video conferencing, web conferencing, WebEX, zoom | 0 comments

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

What a Friday. This afternoon (mere hours after we released our regularly scheduled episode no less!), both Pinterest and Zoom dropped their public S-1 filings. So we rolled up our proverbial sleeves and ran through the numbers. If you want to follow along, the Pinterest S-1 is here, and the Zoom document is here.

Got it? Great. Pinterest’s long-awaited IPO filing paints a picture of a company cutting its losses while expanding its revenue. That’s the correct direction for both its top and bottom lines.

As Kate points out, it’s not in the same league as Lyft when it comes to scale, but it’s still quite large.

More than big enough to go public, whether it’s big enough to meet, let alone surpass its final private valuation ($12.3 billion) isn’t clear yet. Peeking through the numbers, Pinterest has been improving margins and accelerating growth, a surprisingly winsome brace of metrics for the decacorn.

Pinterest has raised a boatload of venture capital, about $1.5 billion since it was founded in 2010. Its IPO filing lists both early and late-stage investors, like Bessemer Venture Partners, FirstMark Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, Fidelity and Valiant Capital Partners as key stakeholders. Interestingly, it doesn’t state the percent ownership of each of these entities, which isn’t something we’ve ever seen before.

Next, Zoom’s S-1 filing was more dark horse entrance than Katy Perry album drop, but the firm has a history of rapid growth (over 100 percent, yearly) and more recently, profit. Yes, the enterprise-facing video conferencing unicorn actually makes money!

In 2019, the year in which the market is bated on Uber’s debut, profit almost feels out of place. We know Zoom’s CEO Eric Yuan, which helps. As Kate explains, this isn’t his first time as a founder. Nor is it his first major success. Yuan sold his last company, WebEx, for $3.2 billion to Cisco years ago then vowed never to sell Zoom (he wasn’t thrilled with how that WebEx acquisition turned out).

Should we have been that surprised to see a VC-backed tech company post a profit — no. But that tells you a little something about this bubble we live in, doesn’t it?

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercast, Pocket Casts, Downcast and all the casts.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Zoom, a profitable unicorn, files to go public

Posted by on Mar 22, 2019 in Cisco, Cisco Systems, Emergence Capital, Eric Yuan, Fundings & Exits, Goldman Sachs, jp morgan, morgan stanley, oracle, sequoia capital, TC, telecommunications, unicorn, Venture Capital, Video, video conferencing, web conferencing, WebEX, zoom | 0 comments

Zoom, the video conferencing startup valued at $1 billion in early 2017, has filed to go public on the Nasdaq as soon as next month.

The company joins a growing list of tech unicorns making the leap to the public markets in 2019, but it stands out for one very important reason: It’s actually profitable.

Zoom was founded in 2011 by Eric Yuan, an early engineer at WebEx, which sold to Cisco for $3.2 billion in 2007. Before launching Zoom, he spent four years at Cisco as its vice president of engineering. In a conversation with TechCrunch last month, he said he would never sell another company again, hinting at his dissatisfaction at WebEx’s post-acquisition treatment being his motivation for taking Zoom public as opposed to selling.

Zoom, which raised a total of $145 million to date, posted $330 million in revenue in the year ending January 31, 2019, a remarkable 2x increase year-over-year, with a gross profit of $269.5 million. The company similarly more than doubled revenues from 2017 to 2018, wrapping fiscal year 2017 with $60.8 million in revenue and 2018 with $151.5 million.

The company’s losses are shrinking, from $14 million in 2017, $8.2 million in 2018 and just $7.5 million in the year ending January 2019.

Zoom is backed by Emergence Capital, which owns a 12.5 percent pre-IPO stake, according to the IPO filing. Other investors in the business include Sequoia Capital (11.4 percent pre-IPO stake); Digital Mobile Venture (9.8 percent), a fund affiliated with former Zoom board member Samuel Chen; and Bucantini Enterprises Limited (6.1 percent), a fund owned by Li Ka-shing, a Chinese billionaire and among the richest people in the world.

Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs have been recruited to lead the offering.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Rebuilding employee philanthropy from the bottom up

Posted by on Aug 26, 2018 in Bill Gates, Bright Funds, Cisco, Cloud, Contently, Enterprise, eventbrite, fundraising, GitHub, giving, Jan Koum, Marc Benioff, Mark Zuckerberg, nicholas woodman, Philanthropy, SaaS, Startups, vmware, Wealthfront, WhatsApp | 0 comments

In tech circles, it would be easy to assume that the world of high-impact charitable giving is a rich man’s game where deals are inked at exclusive black tie galas over fancy hors d’oeuvre. Both Mark Zuckerberg and Marc Benioff have donated to SF hospitals that now bear their names. Gordon Moore has given away $5B – including $600M to Caltech – which was the largest donation to a university at the time. And of course, Bill Gates has already donated $27B to every cause imaginable (and co-founded The Giving Pledge, a consortium of billionaires pledging to donate most of their net worth to charity by the end of their lifetime.)

For Bill, that means he has about $90B left to give.

For the average working American, this world of concierge giving is out of reach, both in check size, and the army of consultants, lawyers and PR strategists that come with it. It seems that in order to do good, you must first do well. Very well.

Bright Funds is looking to change that. Founded in 2012, this SF-based startup is looking to democratize concierge giving to every individual so they “can give with the same effectiveness as Bill and Melinda Gates.” They are doing to philanthropy what Vanguard and Wealthfront have done for asset management for retail investors.

In particular, they are looking to unlock dollars from the underutilized corporate benefit of matching funds for donations, which according to Bright Funds is offered by over 60% of medium to large enterprises, but only used by 13% of employees at these companies. The need for such a service is clear — these programs are cumbersome, transactional, and often offline. Make a donation, submit a receipt, and wait for it to churn through the bureaucratic machine of accounting and finance before matching funds show up weeks later.

Bright Funds is looking to make your company’s matching funds benefit as accessible and important to you as your free lunches or massages. Plus, Bright Funds charges companies per seat, along with a transaction fee to cover the cost of payment processing, sparing employees any expense.

It’s a model that is working. According to Bright Fund’s CEO Ty Walrod, Bright Funds customers see on average a 40% year-over-year increase in funds donated through the platform. More importantly, Bright Funds not only transforms an employee’s relationship to personal philanthropy, but also to the company they work for.

Grassroots Giving

This model of bottoms-up giving is a welcome change from the big foundation model which has recently been rocked by scandal. The Silicon Valley Community Foundation was the go-to foundation for The Who’s Who of Silicon Valley elite. It rode the latest tech boom to become the largest community foundation in eleven short years with generous stock donations from donors like Mark Zuckerberg ($1.8 billion), GoPro’s Nicholas Woodman ($500 million), and WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum ($566 million). Today, at $13.5 billion, it surpasses the 80+ year old Ford Foundation in endowment size.

However, earlier this year, their star fundraiser Mari Ellen Loijens (credited with raising $8.3B of the $13.5B) was accused of repeatedly bullying and sexually harassing coworkers, allegations that the Foundation had “known about for years” but failed to act upon. In 2017, a similar case occurred when USC’s star fundraiser David Carrera  stepped down on charges of sexual harassment after leading the university’s historic $6 billion fundraising campaign.

While large foundations and endowments do important work, their structure relies too much on whale hunting for big checks, giving an inordinate amount of power to the hands of a small group of talented fund raisers.

This stands in contrast to Bright Funds’ ethos — to lead a grassroots movement in empowering individual employees to make their dollar of giving count.

Rebuilding charitable giving for the platform age

Bright Funds is the latest iteration of a lineup of workplace giving platforms. MicroEdge and Cybergrants paved the way in the 80s and 90s by digitizing the giving experience, but was mainly on-premise, and lacked a focus on user experience. Benevity and YourCause arrived in 2007 to bring workplace giving to the cloud, but they were still not turnkey solutions that could be easily implemented.

Bright Funds started as a consumer platform, and has retained that heritage in its approach to product design, aiming to reduce friction for both employee and company adoption. This is why many of their first customers were midsized tech startups with limited resources and looking for a turnkey solution, including Eventbrite, Box, Github, and Contently . They are now finding their way upmarket into larger, more established enterprises like Cisco, VMWare, Campbell’s Soup Company, and Sunpower.

Bright Funds approach to product has brought a number of innovations to this space.

The first is the concept of a cause-focused “fund.” Similar to a mutual fund or ETF, these funds are portfolios of nonprofits curated by subject-matter experts tailored to a specific cause area (e.g. conservation, education, poverty, etc.). This solves one of the chief concerns of any donor — is my dollar being put to good use towards the causes I care about? Passionate about conservation? Invest with Jim Leape from the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, who brings over three decades of conservation experience in choosing the six nonprofits in Bright Fund’s conservation portfolio. This same expertise is available across a number of cause areas.

Additionally, funds can also be created by companies or employees. This has proven to be an important rallying point for emergency relief during natural disasters, where employees at companies can collectively assemble a list of nonprofits to donate to. In 2017, Cisco employees donated $1.8 million (including company matching) through Bright Funds to Hurricanes Harvey, Maria, and Irma as well as the central Mexico earthquakes, the current flooding in India and many more.

The second key feature of their product is the impact timeline, a central news feed to understand where your dollars are going across all your cause areas. This transforms giving from a black box transaction to an ongoing dialogue between you and your charities.

Lastly, Bright Funds wants to take away all the administrative burden that might come with giving and volunteering — everything from tracking your volunteer opportunities and hours, to one-click tax reporting across all your charitable donations. In short, no more shoeboxes of receipts to process through in April.

Doing good & doing well

Although Bright Funds is focused on transforming the individual giving experience, it’s paying customer at the end of the day is the enterprise.

And although it is philanthropic in nature, Bright Funds is not exempt from the procurement gauntlet that every enterprise software startup faces — what’s in it for the customer? What impact does workplace giving and volunteering have on culture and the bottom line?

To this end, there is evidence to show that corporate social responsibility has a an impact on recruiting the next generation of workers. A study by Horizon Media found that 81% of millennials expect their companies to be good corporate citizens. A separate 2015 study found that 62% of millennials said they’d take a pay cut to work for a company that’s socially responsible.

Box, one of Bright Fund’s early customers, has seen this impact on recruiting firsthand (disclosure: Box is one of my former employers). Like most tech companies competing for talent in the Valley, Box used to give out lucrative bonuses for candidate referrals. They recently switched to giving out $500 in Bright Funds gift credit. Instead of seeing employee referrals dip, Box saw referrals “skyrocket,” according to Box.org Executive Director Bryan Breckenridge. This program has now become “one of the most cherished cultural traditions at Box,” he said.

Additionally, like any corporate benefit, there should be metrics tied to employee retention. Benevity released a study of 2 million employees across 118 companies on their platform that showed a 57% reduction in turnover for employees engaged in corporate giving or volunteering efforts. VMware, one of Bright Fund’s customers, has seen an astonishing 82% of their 22,000 employees participate in their Citizen Philanthropy program of giving and volunteering, according to VMware Foundation Director Jessa Chin. Their full-time voluntary turnover rate (8%) is well below the software industry average of 13.2%.

Towards a Brighter Future

Bright Funds still has a lot of work to do. CEO Walrod says that one of his top priorities is to expand the platform beyond US charities, finding ways to evaluate and incorporate international nonprofits.

They have also not given up their dream of becoming a truly consumer platform, perhaps one day competing in the world of donor-advised funds, which today is largely dominated by big names like Fidelity and Schwab who house over $85B of assets. In the short term, Walrod wants to make every Bright Funds account similar to a 401K account. It goes wherever you work, and is a lasting record of the causes you care about, and the time and resources you’ve invested in them.

Whether the impetus is altruism around giving or something more utilitarian like retention, companies are increasingly realizing that their employees represent a charitable force that can be harnessed for the greater good. Bright Funds has more work to do like any startup, but it is empowering the next set of donors who can give with the same effectiveness as Gates, and one day, at the same scale as him as well.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Freshworks raises $100M

Posted by on Jul 31, 2018 in Accel Partners, AppDynamics, Artificial Intelligence, ceo, CFO, Cisco, CRM, freshworks, honda, Sequoia, TC, Toshiba | 0 comments

Freshworks, a company that offers a variety of business software tools ranging from IT management to CRM for sales and customer support software, today announced that it has raised a $100 million funding round co-led by Sequoia and Accel Partners, with participation from CaptialG.

The company’s last funding round came in the form of a $55 million Series F round led by Sequoia in 2016. Today’s round brings the San Bruno-based company’s total funding to $250 million, at a valuation that’s now north of $1.5 billion, the company tells us. Freshworks also today noted that it now pulls in over $100 million in annual recurring revenue.

In addition to the new funding, Freshworks also today announced that it has hired a former AppDynamics VP of finance and treasury Suresh Seshardi as its CFO. Seshardi helped AppDynamics prepare for its IPO, so it’s a fair bet that he’ll do the same at Freshworks. AppDynamics, of course, famously didn’t actually IPO but was instead acquired by Cisco only hours before the team was supposed to ring the bell on Wall Street.

Freshworks CEO Girish Mathrubootham tells us we shouldn’t hold our breath waiting for his company to IPO. “Freshworks hasn’t started the IPO process but we do feel that we will eventually go public in the U.S.,” he said. “With that said, our primary focus right now is on growing the business and investing in our platform. When the timing is right, we’ll make that decision.”

Freshworks, which launched its first product back in 2010, also tells us that it plans to use the new cash to invest in its platform and especially in looking at how it can use AI to bring new innovations to its tools.

Current Freshworks users include the likes of Sling TV, Honda, Hugo Boss, Toshiba and Cisco. In total, the company’s tools are now in use by about 150,000 businesses, making it one of the larger SaaS providers you have probably never heard of.

 


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Balbix raises $20M for a predictive approach to enterprise cybersecurity

Posted by on Jun 27, 2018 in Asia, balbix, bromium, Cisco, equifax, Fundings & Exits, john chambers, mayfield fund, san jose, Security, Singapore, singtel, SingTel Innov8, Southeast Asia, TC | 0 comments

Security breaches are a disaster for corporate companies, but good news if you’re someone who offers preventative solutions. Today in 2018, wide-ranging attacks on the likes of Equifax, Sony Pictures and Target have only added value to those charged with safeguarding companies.

Balbix, one such solutions provider, has pulled in a $20 million Series B to grow its business and try to prevent high-profile cybersecurity disasters using a predictive model of measuring and assessing threats.

The round is led by Singtel Innov8, the corporate fund of Singapore telco Singtel which owns Trustwave and is active in the security space, and Mubadala Ventures, the Abu Dhabi firm that’s well known for backing SoftBank’s $100 billion Vision Fund. Existing Balbix investor Mayfield Fund also took part alongside angels including ex-Cisco CEO John Chambers, former Cisco EVP Pankaj Patel and entrepreneurs BV Jagadeesh and Gary Gauba.

Balbix raised $8.6 million a year ago when it came out of stealth although the company was first founded 2.5 years ago by CEO Gaurav Banga (photographed above), who was a founder of Bromium, a fellow security company that has raised over $115 million from investors.

This time around with Balbix, Banga is turning predictive. The company’s platform uses a combination of smarts like artificial intelligence and machine learning to essentially map out all potential vulnerabilities within an organization. That could range from varying operating system version numbers to weak employee passwords, one employee’s poorly-secured laptop and beyond. The Balbix system plugs into existing operational security products to offer reactive responses and to create a real-time view of an organization’s security health and any weaknesses.

“At enterprise scale, keeping everything up to snuff is very hard,” CEO Gauba told TechCrunch in an interview. “Most organizations have little visibility into attack surfaces, the right decisions aren’t made and projects aren’t secured.”

“We started this company so that we could use cutting-edge machine learning algorithms to automatically and comprehensively measure the security and attack surface, and to produce relevant insights for all stakeholders,” he added. “You look at the numbers and you could easily have hundreds of millions or tens of billions of data points to watch for vulnerabilities — you have to make sure they are ok.”

The timing certainly seems opportune, with data breaches seemingly in the headlines on a regular basis. In particular, in the case of Equifax, the implications of the attack went to the C-level management and boardroom.

“2017 was special,” Gauba said. “Ask any CIO, CEO, or board member of a public company and that was the year that everyone woke up [and] figured their careers were at risk. It should have happened before but it took he Equifax breach… they realized this thing is real and it can have a career-altering impact on their work and personal life.”

“The CSO was always the fall guy before, but now it can go all the way up,” he added. “One of our challenges we face now is how do you answer a board member or CEO’s questions on security. For us, the answer is simple: if you can’t measure something then you can’t improve it, the right decisions are based on data so go ahead and find that data.”

Unlike other solutions, Balbix doesn’t charge security companies by the event — aka attacks — so it remains invested in preventing those kinds of scenarios from happening.

For this round, Gauba said that the company was focused on raising “smart money” that goes beyond simply providing capital to offer strategic value, too. The company does have international reach in terms of customers — which include both enterprise customers and global managed security service providers (MSSP) — and sales but for now its only office is San Jose.

Internationalization is certainly an area where Singtel Innov8 and Mubadala Ventures — located in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, respectively — can lend a hand, and the company itself is weighing up international offices.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Cisco drops a mega-vulnerability alert for VPN devices [Updated]

Posted by on Jan 30, 2018 in Biz & IT, Cisco, Cisco Systems, firewalls, VPN, WebVPN | 0 comments

Enlarge (credit: US Air Force)

On January 29, Cisco released a high-urgency security alert for customers using network security devices and software that support virtual private network connections to corporate networks. Firewalls, security appliances, and other devices configured with WebVPN clientless VPN software are vulnerable to a Web-based network attack that could bypass the devices’ security, allowing an attacker to run commands on the devices and gain full control of them. This would give attackers unfettered access to protected networks or cause the hardware to reset. The vulnerability has been given a Common Vulnerability Scoring System rating of Critical, with a score of 10—the highest possible on the CVSS scale.

WebVPN allows someone outside of a corporate network to connect to the corporate intranet and other network resources from within a secure browser session. Since it requires no client software or pre-existing certificate to access from the Internet, the WebVPN gateway can be generally reached from anywhere on the Internet—and as a result, it can be programmatically attacked. A spokesperson for the Cisco security team said in the alert that Cisco is not aware of any active exploits of the vulnerability right now. But the nature of the vulnerability is already publicly known, so exploits are nearly certain to emerge quickly.

The vulnerability, discovered by Cedric Halbronn of the NCC Group, makes it possible for an attacker to use multiple, specially formatted XML messages submitted to the WebVPN interface of a targeted device in an attempt to “double-free” memory on the system. Executing a command to free a specific memory address more than once can cause memory leakage that allows an attacker to write commands or other data into blocks of the system’s memory. By doing so, the attacker could potentially cause the system to execute commands or could corrupt the memory of the system and cause a crash.

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Source: Ars Technica

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