Diving deep into Africa’s blossoming tech scene

Source: Microsoft more

Jumia may be the first startup you’ve heard of from Africa. But the e-commerce venture that recently listed on the NYSE is definitely not the first or last word in African tech.

The continent has an expansive digital innovation scene, the components of which are intersecting rapidly across Africa’s 54 countries and 1.2 billion people.

When measured by monetary values, Africa’s tech ecosystem is tiny by Shenzen or Silicon Valley standards.

But when you look at volumes and year over year expansion in VC, startup formation, and tech hubs, it’s one of the fastest growing tech markets in the world. In 2017, the continent also saw the largest global increase in internet users—20 percent.

If you’re a VC or founder in London, Bangalore, or San Francisco, you’ll likely interact with some part of Africa’s tech landscape for the first time—or more—in the near future.

That’s why TechCrunch put together this Extra-Crunch deep-dive on Africa’s technology sector.

Tech Hubs

A foundation for African tech is the continent’s 442 active hubs, accelerators, and incubators (as tallied by GSMA). These spaces have become focal points for startup formation, digital skills building, events, and IT activity on the continent.

Prominent tech hubs in Africa include CcHub in Nigeria, Pan-African incubator MEST, and Kenya’s iHub, with over 200 resident members. More of these organizations are receiving funds from DFIs, such as the World Bank, and aid agencies, including France’s $76 million African tech fund.

Blue-chip companies such as Google and Microsoft are also providing money and support. In 2018 Facebook opened its own Hub_NG in Lagos with partner CcHub, to foster startups using AI and machine learning.

Huawei bars staff from having technical meetings with US contacts

Source: Microsoft more

Reeling from the ongoing U.S.-China trade war, Chinese technology giant Huawei has found itself in yet another dilemma: How to pursue internal communications with its own U.S. employees? For now, the company has ordered its Chinese employees to bar technical meetings with their U.S. contacts and sent home the American workers deployed in Shenzhen headquarters.

Dang Wenshuan, Huawei’s chief strategy architect, told the Financial Times that the company has also limited general communications between its Chinese and U.S. workers. The move comes as the Chinese technology giant scrambles to comply with the murky laws after its weeks-long tension with the U.S. government sees no signs of resolution in the immediate future.

The Chinese giant is also controlling the subjects of interactions workers in its campus have with overseas visitors. The conversations cannot touch topics related to technology, the FT report said. Dang said the company was just trying to ensure it was on the right side of the law.

It remains unclear exactly how export controls could mandate disruption of internal communications within an organization. Huawei could be using this tack as a bargaining chip, showing the U.S. that its own citizens are being hurt by its policies. A Huawei spokesperson declined to comment on queries sent by TechCrunch.

Earlier this month, Huawei and 68 affiliates were put on an “entity list” by the U.S. Commerce Department over national security concerns, forcing American companies to take approval from the government before conducting any business with the Chinese giant. In the aftermath, a range of companies including chipmakers, Google and Microsoft have made significant changes to their business agreements with Huawei.

In recent weeks, several Huawei executives have spoken out about the significance of the U.S. government order on its business. In the meantime, the company has also explored ways to fight back the order. Earlier this week, Huawei filed a legal motion to challenge the U.S. ban on its equipment, calling it “unconstitutional.”

At stake is the future of one of the largest suppliers of smartphones and networking equipments. A significant portion of the company’s business comes from outside of China. For smartphones, one of its core businesses, the company says it is already working on an operating system that does not rely on technologies sourced from the U.S. companies. But it is yet to provide any evidence on how — and if — that operating system would function.

The U.S. government earlier this month offered some relief to Huawei by granting a temporary general export license for 90 days, which allows companies such as Google to continue to provide critical support to the Chinese company for three months.


Huawei bars staff from having technical meetings with US contacts

Foursquare buys Placed from Snap Inc. on the heels of $150M in new funding

Source: Tech News – Enterprise

Foursquare just made its first acquisition. The location tech company has acquired Placed from Snap Inc on the heels of a fresh $150 million investment led by the Raine Group. The terms of the deal were not disclosed. Placed founder and CEO David Shim will become President of Foursquare.

Placed is the biggest competitor to Foursquare’s Attribution product, which allows brands to track the physical impact (foot traffic to store) of a digital campaign or ad. Up until now, Placed and Attribution by Foursquare combined have measured over $3 billion in ad-to-store visits.

Placed launched in 2011 and raised $13.4 million (according to Crunchbase) before being acquired by Snap Inc. in 2017.

As part of the deal with Foursquare, the company’s Attribution product will henceforth be known as Placed powered by Foursquare. The acquisition also means that Placed powered by Foursquare will have more than 450 measureable media partners, including Twitter, Snap, Pandora, and Waze. Moreover, more than 50 percent of the Fortune 100 are partnered with Placed or Foursquare.

It’s also worth noting that this latest investment of $150 million is the biggest financing round for Foursquare ever, and comes following a $33 million Series F last year.

Here’s what Foursquare CEO Jeff Glueck had to say about the financing in a prepared statement:

This is one of the largest investments ever in the location tech space. The investment will fund our acquisition and also capitalize us for our increased R&D and expansion plans, allowing us to focus on our mission to build the world’s most trusted, independent location technology platform.

That last bit, about an independent location technology platform, is important here. Foursquare is ten years old and has transformed from a consumer-facing location check-in app — a game, really — into a location analytics and development platform.

Indeed, when Glueck paints his vision for the company, he lists five key areas of focus:

  1. Developer Tools to build smarter apps and customer engagement, using geo-context;
  2. Analytics, including consumer insights for planning;
  3. Audiences, so businesses can reach the right consumer segments for their message;
  4. Attribution, to test and learn which messages, segments and channels work best;
  5. Consumer, where through our own apps and Foursquare Labs’ R&D efforts we showcase what’s possible and inspire developers via our innovations around contextual location.

You’ll notice that its consumer apps, Foursquare and Swarm, are at the bottom of the list. But that’s because Foursquare’s real technological and strategic advantage isn’t in building the best social platform. In fact, Glueck said that more than 90 percent of the company’s revenue came from the enterprise side of the business. Foursquare’s advantage is in the accuracy of its technology, as afforded by the decade of data that has come from Foursquare, Swarm, and the users who have expressly verified their location.

The Pilgrim SDK fits into that top item on the list: developer tools. The Pilgrim SDK allows developers to embed location-smart experiences and notifications into their apps and services. But it also expands Foursquare’s access to data from beyond its own apps to the greater ecosystem, yielding the data it needs to power analytics tools for brands and publishers.

With this acquisition, Placed will be able to leverage Foursquare’s existing map of 105 million places of interest across 190 countries, as well as tap into the measured U.S. audience of over 100 million monthly devices.

Foursquare and Placed share a similar philosophy of building against a truth set of real consumer responses. Getting real people to confirm the name of their location is the only way to know if your technology is accurate or not. Placed has leveraged over 135 million survey responses in its first-party Placed survey apps, all from consumers opted-in to its rewards app. Foursquare expands the truth set for machine learning exponentially by adding in our over 13 billion consumer confirmations.

The hope is that Foursquare is accurate enough to become the de facto location analytics and services company for measuring ad spend. With enough scale, that may allow the company to break into the walled gardens where most of that ad spend is going, Facebook and Google.

Of course, to win as the “world’s most trusted, independent location technology platform,” consumers have to trust the platform. After all, one’s location may be the most sensitive piece of data about them. Foursquare has taken steps to be clear about what its technology is capable of. In fact, at SXSW this year, Foursquare offered a limited run of a product called Hypertrending, which was essentially an anonymized view of real-time location data showing activity in the Austin area.

Here’s what Chairman of the Board and cofounder Dennis Crowley had to say at the time:

We feel the general trend with internet and technology companies these days has been to keep giving users a more and more personalized (albeit opaquely personalized) view of the world, while the companies that create these feeds keep the broad “God View” to themselves. Hypertrending is one example of how we can take Foursquare’s aggregate view of the world and make it available to the users who make it what it is. This is what we mean when we talk about “transparency” – we want to be honest, in public, about what our technology can do, how it works, and the specific design decisions we made in creating it.

With regards to today’s acquisition of Placed, Jeff Glueck had this to say:

Both companies also share a commitment to privacy and consumers being in control. Our Foursquare credo of “data as a privilege” only deepens as our company expands. We believe location should only be shared when consumers can see real value and visible benefits driven by location. We remain dedicated to elevating the industry through respect for transparency, user control, and instituting layers of privacy safeguards.

This new financing brings Foursquare’s total funding to $390.4 million.


Foursquare buys Placed from Snap Inc. on the heels of 0M in new funding

The Slack origin story

Source: Tech News – Enterprise

Let’s rewind a decade.

It’s 2009. Vancouver, Canada.

Stewart Butterfield, known already for his part in building Flickr, a photo-sharing service acquired by Yahoo in 2005, decided to try his hand — again — at building a game. Flickr had been a failed attempt at a game called Game Neverending followed by a big pivot. This time, Butterfield would make it work.

To make his dreams a reality, he joined forces with Flickr’s original chief software architect Cal Henderson, as well as former Flickr employees Eric Costello and Serguei Mourachov, who like himself, had served some time at Yahoo after the acquisition. Together, they would build Tiny Speck, the company behind an artful, non-combat massively multiplayer online game.

Years later, Butterfield would pull off a pivot more massive than his last. Slack, born from the ashes of his fantastical game, would lead a shift toward online productivity tools that fundamentally change the way people work.

Glitch is born

In mid-2009, former TechCrunch reporter-turned-venture-capitalist M.G. Siegler wrote one of the first stories on Butterfield’s mysterious startup plans.

“So what is Tiny Speck all about?” Siegler wrote. “That is still not entirely clear. The word on the street has been that it’s some kind of new social gaming endeavor, but all they’ll say on the site is ‘we are working on something huge and fun and we need help.’”

Siegler would go on to invest in Slack as a general partner at GV, the venture capital arm of Alphabet .

“Clearly this is a creative project,” Siegler added. “It almost sounds like they’re making an animated movie. As awesome as that would be, with people like Henderson on board, you can bet there’s impressive engineering going on to turn this all into a game of some sort (if that is in fact what this is all about).”

After months of speculation, Tiny Speck unveiled its project: Glitch, an online game set inside the brains of 11 giants. It would be free with in-game purchases available and eventually, a paid subscription for power users.

Fintech and clean tech? An odd couple or a perfect marriage?

Source: Tech News – Enterprise

The Valley’s rocky history with clean tech investing has been well-documented.

Startups focused on non-emitting generation resources were once lauded as the next big cash cow, but the sector’s hype quickly got away from reality.

Complex underlying science, severe capital intensity, slow-moving customers, and high-cost business models outside the comfort zones of typical venture capital, ultimately caused a swath of venture-backed companies and investors in the clean tech boom to fall flat.

Yet, decarbonization and sustainability are issues that only seem to grow more dire and more galvanizing for founders and investors by the day, and more company builders are searching for new ways to promote environmental resilience.

While funding for clean tech startups can be hard to find nowadays, over time we’ve seen clean tech startups shift down the stack away from hardware-focused generation plays towards vertical-focused downstream software.

A far cry from past waves of venture-backed energy startups, the downstream clean tech companies offered more familiar technology with more familiar business models, geared towards more recognizable verticals and end users. Now, investors from less traditional clean tech backgrounds are coming out of the woodworks to take a swing at the energy space.

An emerging group of non-traditional investors getting involved in the clean energy space are those traditionally focused on fintech, such as New York and Europe based venture firm Anthemis — a financial services-focused team that recently sat down with our fintech contributor Gregg Schoenberg and I (check out the full meat of the conversation on Extra Crunch).

The tie between clean tech startups and fintech investors may seem tenuous at first thought. However, financial services has long played a significant role in the energy sector and is now becoming a more common end customer for energy startups focused on operations, management and analytics platforms, thus creating real opportunity for fintech investors to offer differentiated value.

Finance powering the world?

Though the conversation around energy resources and decarbonization often focuses on politics, a significant portion of decisions made in the energy generation business is driven by pure economics — Is it cheaper to run X resource relative to resources Y and Z at a given point in time? Based on bid prices for Request for Proposals (RFPs) in a specific market and the cost-competitiveness of certain resources, will a developer be able to hit their targeted rate of return if they build, buy or operate a certain type of generation asset?

Alternative generation sources like wind, solid oxide fuel cells, or large-scale or even rooftop solar have reached more competitive cost levels – in many parts of the US, wind and solar are in fact often the cheapest form of generation for power providers to run.

Thus as renewable resources have grown more cost competitive, more, infrastructure developers, and other new entrants have been emptying their wallets to buy up or build renewable assets like large scale solar or wind farms, with the American Council on Renewable Energy even forecasting cumulative private investment in renewable energy possibly reaching up to $1 trillion in the US by 2030.

A major and swelling set of renewable energy sources are now led by financial types looking for tools and platforms to better understand the operating and financial performance of their assets, in order to better maximize their return profile in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Therefore, fintech-focused venture firms with financial service pedigrees, like Anthemis, now find themselves in pole position when it comes to understanding clean tech startup customers, how they make purchase decisions, and what they’re looking for in a product.

In certain cases, fintech firms can even offer significant insight into shaping the efficacy of a product offering. For example, Anthemis portfolio company kWh Analytics provides a risk management and analytics platform for solar investors and operators that helps break down production, financial analysis, and portfolio performance.

For platforms like kWh analytics, fintech-focused firms can better understand the value proposition offered and help platforms understand how their technology can mechanically influence rates of return or otherwise.

The financial service customers for clean energy-related platforms extends past just private equity firms. Platforms have been and are being built around energy trading, renewable energy financing (think financing for rooftop solar) or the surrounding insurance market for assets.

When speaking with several of Anthemis’ clean tech portfolio companies, founders emphasized the value of having a fintech investor on board that not only knows the customer in these cases, but that also has a deep understanding of the broader financial ecosystem that surrounds energy assets.

Founders and firms seem to be realizing that various arms of financial services are playing growing roles when it comes to the development and access to clean energy resources.

By offering platforms and surrounding infrastructure that can improve the ease of operations for the growing number of finance-driven operators or can improve the actual financial performance of energy resources, companies can influence the fight for environmental sustainability by accelerating the development and adoption of cleaner resources.

Ultimately, a massive number of energy decisions are made by financial services firms and fintech firms may often times know the customers and products of downstream clean-tech startups more than most.  And while the financial services sector has often been labeled as dirty by some, the vital role it can play in the future of sustainable energy offers the industry a real chance to clean up its image.


Fintech and clean tech? An odd couple or a perfect marriage?

Medivis gets FDA approval for its augmented reality surgical planning toolkit

Source: Microsoft more

Augmented reality is coming to the operating room theater sooner than anyone may have predicted.

Medivis, which launched its product suite earlier this year, has now received approvals from the Food and Drug Administration and will begin rolling out its service in hospitals around the country.

The SurgicalAR platform is a visualization tool that guides surgical navigation, which the company claims can decrease complications and improve patient outcomes, while lowering surgical costs.

The New York-based company, which was founded by Osamah Choudhry and Christopher Morley who met as senior residents at NYU Medical Center, raised $2.3 million in financing led by Initialized Capital  and has secured partnerships with Dell and Microsoft to supply its hardware.

“Holographic visualization is the final frontier of surgical imaging and navigation,” said Osamah Choudhry, a trained neurosurgeon who serves as the chief executive at Medivis, in a statement. “The surgical world continues to primarily rely on two-dimensional imaging technology to understand and operate on incredibly complex patient pathology. Medivis introduces advancements in holographic visualization and navigation to fundamentally advance surgical intervention, and revolutionize how surgeons safely operate on their patients.”

In addition to its hardware partnership with Microsoft, Medivis has also lined up Verizon (whose media group owns TechCrunch) as a partner for its much ballyhooed 5G network.

The company has also launched a toolkit for educational training in augmented reality. The AnatomyX platform for medical training is available on Hololens and Magic Leap’s devices and is already in use at West Coast University.

Medivis is one of a number of companies that are looking to bring new technologies like AR and VR into the OR.

Vicarious Surgical is another upstart that’s got a vision for medicine’s future that includes augmented or extended reality. That company is combining visualization tools with robotics to enable remote surgeries that could, one day, happen across the country or across globe.

What these technologies have in common, and the reason why Verizon is likely very happy to partner with a company like Medivis, is the huge amounts of bandwidth that are going to be required to make their visions of the future come true.

As high speed networks begin cropping up, the attendant use cases haven’t kept pace. And new visualization tools that hoover up data are just the thing to keep money flowing into my corporate overlord’s pockets.

Not that it’s a bad thing. As Medivis’ chief operating officer, Dr. Christopher Morley said in a statement. “We are achieving this by rethinking core limitations in current medical visualization pipelines, and continuously pushing the limits of what’s possible.”


Medivis gets FDA approval for its augmented reality surgical planning toolkit

Apple, Google, Microsoft, WhatsApp sign open letter condemning GCHQ proposal to listen in on encrypted chats

Source: Microsoft more

An international coalition of civic society organizations, security and policy experts and tech companies — including Apple, Google, Microsoft and WhatsApp — has penned a critical slap-down to a surveillance proposal made last year by the UK’s intelligence agency, warning it would undermine trust and security and threaten fundamental rights.

“The GCHQ’s ghost protocol creates serious threats to digital security: if implemented, it will undermine the authentication process that enables users to verify that they are communicating with the right people, introduce potential unintentional vulnerabilities, and increase risks that communications systems could be abused or misused,” they wrire.

“These cybersecurity risks mean that users cannot trust that their communications are secure, as users would no longer be able to trust that they know who is on the other end of their communications, thereby posing threats to fundamental human rights, including privacy and free expression. Further, systems would be subject to new potential vulnerabilities and risks of abuse.”

GCHQ’s idea for a so-called ‘ghost protocol’ would be for state intelligence or law enforcement agencies to be invisibly CC’d by service providers into encrypted communications — on what’s billed as targeted, government authorized basis.

The agency set out the idea in an article published last fall on the Lawfare blog, written by the National Cyber Security Centre’s (NCSC) Ian Levy and GCHQ’s Crispin Robinson (NB: the NCSC is a public facing branch of GCHQ) — which they said was intended to open a discussion about the ‘going dark’ problem which robust encryption poses for security agencies.

The pair argued that such an “exceptional access mechanism” could be baked into encrypted platforms to enable end to end encryption to be bypassed by state agencies would could instruct the platform provider to add them as a silent listener to eavesdrop on a conversation — but without the encryption protocol itself being compromised.

“It’s relatively easy for a service provider to silently add a law enforcement participant to a group chat or call. The service provider usually controls the identity system and so really decides who’s who and which devices are involved — they’re usually involved in introducing the parties to a chat or call,” Levy and Robinson argued. “You end up with everything still being end-to-end encrypted, but there’s an extra ‘end’ on this particular communication. This sort of solution seems to be no more intrusive than the virtual crocodile clips that our democratically elected representatives and judiciary authorise today in traditional voice intercept solutions and certainly doesn’t give any government power they shouldn’t have.”

“We’re not talking about weakening encryption or defeating the end-to-end nature of the service. In a solution like this, we’re normally talking about suppressing a notification on a target’s device, and only on the device of the target and possibly those they communicate with. That’s a very different proposition to discuss and you don’t even have to touch the encryption.”

“[M]ass-scale, commodity, end-to-end encrypted services… today pose one of the toughest challenges for targeted lawful access to data and an apparent dichotomy around security,” they added.

However while encryption might technically remain intact in the scenario they sketch, their argument glosses over both the fact and risks of bypassing encryption via fiddling with authentication systems in order to enable deceptive third party snooping.

As the coalition’s letter points out, doing that would both undermine user trust and inject extra complexity — with the risk of fresh vulnerabilities that could be exploited by hackers.

Compromising authentication would also result in platforms themselves gaining a mechanism that they could use to snoop on users’ comms — thereby circumventing the wider privacy benefits provided by end to end encryption in the first place, perhaps especially when deployed on commercial messaging platforms.

So, in other words, just because what’s being asked for is not literally a backdoor in encryption that doesn’t mean it isn’t similarly risky for security and privacy and just as horrible for user trust and rights.

“Currently the overwhelming majority of users rely on their confidence in reputable providers to perform authentication functions and verify that the participants in a conversation are the people that they think they are, and only those people. The GCHQ’s ghost protocol completely undermines this trust relationship and the authentication process,” the coalition writes, also pointing out that authentication remains an active research area — and that work would likely dry up if the systems in question were suddenly made fundamentally untrustworthy on order of the state.

They further assert there’s no way for the security risk to be targeted to the individuals that state agencies want to specifically snoop on. Ergo, the added security risk is universal.

“The ghost protocol would introduce a security threat to all users of a targeted encrypted messaging application since the proposed changes could not be exposed only to a single target,” they warn. “In order for providers to be able to suppress notifications when a ghost user is added, messaging applications would need to rewrite the software that every user relies on. This means that any mistake made in the development of this new function could create an unintentional vulnerability that affects every single user of that application.”

There are more than 50 signatories to the letter in all, and others civic society and privacy rights groups Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, Liberty, Privacy International and the EFF, as well as veteran security professionals such as Bruce Schneier, Philip Zimmermann and Jon Callas, and policy experts such as former FTC CTO and Whitehouse security advisor, Ashkan Soltani .

While the letter welcomes other elements of the article penned by Levy and Robinson — which also set out a series of principles for defining a “minimum standard” governments should meet to have their requests accepted by companies in other countries (with the pair writing, for example, that “privacy and security protections are critical to public confidence” and “transparency is essential”) — it ends by urging GCHQ to abandon the ghost protocol idea altogether, and “avoid any alternative approaches that would similarly threaten digital security and human rights”.

Reached for a response to the coalition’s concerns, the NCSC sent us the following statement, attributed to Levy:

We welcome this response to our request for thoughts on exceptional access to data — for example to stop terrorists. The hypothetical proposal was always intended as a starting point for discussion.

It is pleasing to see support for the six principles and we welcome feedback on their practical application. We will continue to engage with interested parties and look forward to having an open discussion to reach the best solutions possible.

Back in 2016 the UK passed updated surveillance legislation that affords state agencies expansive powers to snoop on and hack into digital comms. And with such an intrusive regime in place it may seem odd that GCHQ is pushing for even greater powers to snoop on people’s digital chatter.

Even robust end-to-end encryption can include exploitable vulnerabilities. One bug was disclosed affecting WhatsApp just a couple of weeks ago, for example (since fixed via an update).

However in the Lawfare article the GCHQ staffers argue that “lawful hacking” of target devices is not a panacea to governments’ “lawful access requirements” because it would require governments have vulnerabilities on the shelf to use to hack devices — which “is completely at odds with the demands for governments to disclose all vulnerabilities they find to protect the population”.

“That seems daft,” they conclude.

Yet it also seems daft — and predictably so — to suggest a ‘sidedoor’ in authentication systems as an alternative to a backdoor in encrypted messaging apps.


Apple, Google, Microsoft, WhatsApp sign open letter condemning GCHQ proposal to listen in on encrypted chats

Microsoft hints at a new “modern” operating system designed to support different form factors

Source: Microsoft more

In a week where AMD, Intel and Qualcomm have already made major announcements, Microsoft’s keynote yesterday at Computex in Taipei was relatively lowkey. Instead of revealing new products, the company hinted at what it wants in a modernized operating system. Intriguingly, Microsoft’s blog post about the keynote does not mention Windows, lending credence to speculation that it is developing a new “super-secure” OS.

According to the blog post by Nick Parker, corporate vice president of consumer and device sales, a modern OS should enable “form factor agility” by being flexible enough to be integrated into different types of devices, which is noteworthy because last year the company hinted at new additions to the Surface lineup, which some have speculated might mean the line is adding a smartphone.

He added that a modern OS should include seamless updates, done invisibly in the background without forcing people to stop using their computers and be secure by default, preventing attacks by separating the state from the operating system and the compute from applications.

A modern OS would constantly be connected to LTE 5G and use AI to help make apps more efficient. It would also support different kinds of input, including pen, voice, touch and even the ability to use your eyes to control apps or write—two things that likely to fuel more speculation that the new OS will be developed with mobile products (like a possible Surface Phone) and lightweight or dual-screen laptops in mind.


Microsoft hints at a new “modern” operating system designed to support different form factors

How we scaled our startup by being remote first

Source: Tech News – Enterprise

Startups are often associated with the benefits and toys provided in their offices. Foosball tables! Free food! Dog friendly! But what if the future of startups was less about physical office space and more about remote-first work environments? What if, in fact, the most compelling aspect of a startup work environment is that the employees don’t have to go to one?

A remote-first company model has been Seeq’s strategy since our founding in 2013. We have raised $35 million and grown to more than 100 employees around the globe. Remote-first is clearly working for us and may be the best model for other software companies as well.

So, who is Seeq and what’s been the key to making the remote-first model work for us?  And why did we do it in the first place?

Seeq is a remote-first startup – i.e. it was founded with the intention of not having a physical headquarters or offices, and still operates that way – that is developing an advanced analytics application that enables process engineers and subject matter experts in oil & gas, pharmaceuticals, utilities, and other process manufacturing industries to investigate and publish insights from the massive amounts of sensor data they generate and store.

To succeed, we needed to build a team quickly with two skill sets: 1) software development expertise, including machine learning, AI, data visualization, open source, agile development processes, cloud, etc. and 2) deep domain expertise in the industries we target.

Which means there is no one location where we can hire all the employees we need: Silicon Valley for software, Houston for oil & gas, New Jersey for fine chemicals, Seattle for cloud expertise, water utilizes across the country, and so forth. But being remote-first gives has made recruiting and hiring these high-demand roles easier much easier than if we were collocated.

Image via Seeq Corporation

Job postings on remote-specific web sites like FlexJobs, Remote.co and Remote OK typically draw hundreds of applicants in a matter of days. This enables Seeq to hire great employees who might not call Seattle, Houston or Silicon Valley home – and is particularly attractive to employees with location-dependent spouses or employees who simply want to work where they want to live.

But a remote-first strategy and hiring quality employees for the skills you need is not enough: succeeding as a remote-first company requires a plan and execution around the “3 C’s of remote-first”.

The three requirements to remote-first success are the three C’s: communication, commitment and culture.

Talkspace picks up $50 million Series D

Source: Tech News – Enterprise

Talkspace, the platform that lets patients and therapists communicate online, has today announced the close of a $50 million financing round led by Revolution Growth. Existing investors, such as Norwest Venture Partners, Omura Capital, Spark Capital, and Compound Ventures are also participating in the round.

As part of the deal, Revolution Growth’s Patrick Conroy will join the Talkspace Board of Directors.

Talkspace launched back in 2012 with a mission to make therapy accessible to as many people as possible. The platform allows users to pay a subscription fee for unlimited messaging with one of the company’s 5,000 healthcare professionals. Since launch, Talkspace has rolled out products specific to certain users, such as teenagers or couples.

The company also partners with insurance providers and employers to offer Talkspace services to their members/employees as part of a commercial business. Today, Talkspace has announced a partnership with Optum Health. This expands TalkSpace’s commercial reach to 5 million people.

According to the release, Talkspace will use the funding to accelerate the growth of its commercial business.

Here’s what Talkspace CEO and cofounder Oren Frank had to say in a prepared statement:

Our advanced capabilities in data science enable us to not only open access to therapy, but also identify the attributes of successful therapeutic relationships and apply that knowledge throughout the predictive products we build, to the therapists that use our platform, and in the content we provide.

This brings Talkspace’s total funding to $106.7 million, according to Crunchbase.


Talkspace picks up million Series D