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November 19, 2018
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Google looks to former Oracle exec Thomas Kurian to move cloud business along

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Diane Greene announced on Friday that she was stepping down after three years running Google’s cloud business. She will stay on until the first of the year to help her successor, Thomas Kurian in the transition. He left Oracle at the end of September after more than 20 years with the company, and is charged with making Google’s cloud division more enterprise-friendly, a goal that has oddly eluded the company.

Greene was brought on board in 2015 to bring some order and enterprise savvy to the company’s cloud business. While she did help move them along that path, and grew the cloud business, it simply hasn’t been enough. There have been rumblings for months that Greene’s time was coming to an end.

So the torch is being passed to Kurian, a man who spent over two decades at a company that might be the exact opposite of Google. He ran product at Oracle, a traditional enterprise software company. Oracle itself has struggled to make the transition to a cloud company, but Bloomberg reported in September that one of the reasons Kurian was taking a leave of absence at the time was a difference of opinion with Chairman Larry Ellison over cloud strategy. According to the report, Kurian wanted to make Oracle’s software available on public clouds like AWS and Azure (and Google Cloud). Ellison apparently didn’t agree and a couple of weeks later Kurian announced he was moving on.

Even though Kurian’s background might not seem to be perfectly aligned with Google, it’s important to keep in mind that his thinking was evolving. He was also in charge of thousands of products and helped champion Oracle’s move to the cloud. He has experience successfully nurturing products enterprises have wanted, and perhaps that’s the kind of knowledge Google was looking for in its next cloud leader.

Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research says Google still needs to learn to support the enterprise, and he believes Kurian is the right person to help the company get there. “Kurian knows what’s required to make a cloud company work for enterprise customers,” Wang said.

If he’s right, perhaps an old-school enterprise executive is just what Google requires to turn its Cloud division into an enterprise-friendly powerhouse. Greene has always maintained that it was still early days for the cloud and Google had plenty of time to capture part of the untapped market, a point she reiterated in her blog post on Friday. “The cloud space is early and there is an enormous opportunity ahead,” she wrote.

She may be right about that, but marketshare positions seem to be hardening. AWS, which was first to market, has an enormous marketshare lead with over 30 percent by most accounts. Microsoft is the only company with the market strength at the moment to give them a run for their money and the only other company with double digit market share numbers. In fact, Amazon has a larger marketshare than the next four companies combined, according to data from Synergy Research.

While Google is always mentioned in the Big 3 cloud companies with AWS and Microsoft, with around $4 billion revenue a year, it has a long way to go to get to the level of these other companies. Despite Greene’s assertions, time could be running out to make a run. Perhaps Kurian is the person to push the company to grab some of that untapped market as companies move more workloads to the cloud. At this point, Google is counting on him to do just that.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Former Oracle exec Thomas Kurian to replace Diane Greene as head of Google Cloud

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Diane Greene announced in a blog post today that she would be stepping down as CEO of Google Cloud and will be helping transition former Oracle executive Thomas Kurian to take over early next year.

Greene took over the position almost exactly three years ago when Google bought Bebop, the startup she was running. The thinking at the time was that the company needed someone with a strong enterprise background and Greene, who helped launch VMware, certainly had the enterprise credentials they were looking for.

In the blog post announcing the transition, she trumpeted her accomplishments. “The Google Cloud team has accomplished amazing things over the last three years, and I’m proud to have been a part of this transformative work. We have moved Google Cloud from having only two significant customers and a collection of startups to having major Fortune 1000 enterprises betting their future on Google Cloud, something we should accept as a great compliment as well as a huge responsibility,” she wrote.

The company had a disparate set of cloud services when she took over, and one of the first things Greene did was to put them all under a single Google Cloud umbrella. “We’ve built a strong business together — set up by integrating sales, marketing, Google Cloud Platform (GCP), and Google Apps/G Suite into what is now called Google Cloud,” she wrote in the blog post.

As for Kurian, he stepped down as president of product development at Oracle at the end of September. He had announced a leave of absence earlier in the month before making the exit permanent. Like Greene before him, he brings a level of enterprise street cred, which the company needs as it continues to try to grow its cloud business.

After three years with Greene at the helm, Google, which has tried to position itself as the more open cloud alternative to Microsoft and Amazon, has still struggled to gain market share against its competitors, remaining under 10 percent consistently throughout Greene’s tenure.

As Synergy’s John Dinsdale told TechCrunch in an article on Google Cloud’s strategy in 2017, the company had not been particularly strong in the enterprise to that point. “The issues of course are around it being late to market and the perception that Google isn’t strong in the enterprise. Until recently Google never gave the impression (through words or deeds) that cloud services were really important to it. It is now trying to make up for lost ground, but AWS and Microsoft are streets ahead,” Dinsdale explained at the time. Greene was trying hard to change that perception.

Google has not released many revenue numbers related to the cloud, but in February it indicated they were earning a billion dollars a quarter, a number that Greene felt put Google in elite company. Amazon and Google were reporting numbers like that for a quarter at the time. Google stopped reporting cloud revenue after that report.

Regardless, the company will turn to Kurian to continue growing those numbers now. “I will continue as CEO through January, working with Thomas to ensure a smooth transition. I will remain a Director on the Alphabet board,” Greene wrote in her blog post.

Interestingly enough, Oracle has struggled with its own transition to the cloud. Kurian gets a company that was born in the cloud, rather than one that has made a transition from on-prem software and hardware to one solely in the cloud. It will be up to him to steer Google Cloud moving forward.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Canonical plans to raise its first outside funding as it looks to a future IPO

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It’s been 14 years since Mark Shuttleworth first founded and funded Canonical and the Ubuntu project. At the time, it was mostly a Linux distribution. Today, it’s a major enterprise player that offers a variety of products and services. Throughout the years, Shuttleworth self-funded the project and never showed much interest in taking outside money. Now, however, that’s changing.

As Shuttleworth told me, he’s now looking for investors as he looks to get the company on track to an IPO. It’s no secret that the company’s recent re-focusing on the enterprise — and shutting down projects like the Ubuntu phone and the Unity desktop environment — was all about that, after all. Shuttleworth sees raising money as a step in this direction — and as a way of getting the company in shape for going public.

“The first step would be private equity,” he told me. “And really, that’s because having outside investors with outside members of the board essentially starts to get you to have to report and be part of that program. I’ve got a set of things that I think we need to get right. That’s what we’re working towards now. Then there’s a set of things that private investors are looking for and the next set of things is when you’re doing a public offering, there’s a different level of discipline required.”

It’s no secret that Shuttleworth, who sports an impressive beard these days, was previously resistant to this, and he acknowledged as much. “I think that’s a fair characterization,” he said. “I enjoy my independence and I enjoy being able to make long-term calls. I still feel like I’ll have the ability to do that, but I do appreciate keenly the responsibility of taking other people’s money. When it’s your money, it’s slightly different.”

Refocusing Canonical on the enterprise business seems to be paying off already. “The numbers are looking good. The business is looking healthy. It’s not a charity. It’s not philanthropy,” he said. “There are some key metrics that I’m watching, which are the gate for me to take the next step, which would be growth equity.” Those metrics, he told me, are the size of the business and how diversified it is.

Shuttleworth likens this program of getting the company ready to IPO to getting fit. “There’s no point in saying: I haven’t done any exercise in the last 10 years but I’m going to sign up for tomorrow’s marathon,” he said.

The move from being a private company to taking outside investment and going public — especially after all these years of being self-funded — is treacherous, though, and Shuttleworth admitted as much, especially in terms of being forced to setting short-term goals to satisfy investors that aren’t necessarily in the best interest of the company in the long term. Shuttleworth thinks he can negotiate those issues, though.

Interestingly, he thinks the real danger is quite a different one. “I think the most dangerous thing in making that shift is the kind of shallowness of the unreasonably big impact that stock price has on people’s mood,” he said. “Today, at Canonical, it’s 600 people. You might have some that are having a really great day and some that are having a shitty day. And they have to figure out what’s real about both of those scenarios. But they can kind of support each other. […] But when you have a stock ticker, everybody thinks they’re having a great day, or everybody thinks they’re having a shitty day in a way that may be completely uncorrelated to how well they’re actually doing.”

Shuttleworth does not believe that IBM’s acquisition of its competitor Red Hat will have any immediate effect on its business, though. What he does think, however, is that this move is making a lot of people rethink for the first time in years the investment they’ve been making in Red Hat and its enterprise Linux distribution. Canonical’s promise is that Ubuntu, as well as its OpenStack tools and services, are not just competitive but also more cost-effective in the long run, and offer enterprises an added degree of agility. And if more businesses start looking at Canonical and Ubuntu, that can only speed up Shuttleworth’s (and his bankers’) schedule for hitting Canonical’s metrics for raising money and going public.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Cognigo raises $8.5M for its AI-driven data protection platform

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Cognigo, a startup that aims to use AI and machine learning to help enterprises protect their data and stay in compliance with regulations like GDPR, today announced that it has raised an $8.5 million Series A round. The round was led by Israel-based crowdfunding platform OurCrowd, with participation from privacy company Prosegur and State of Mind Ventures.

The company promises that it can help businesses protect their critical data assets and prevent personally identifiable information from leaking outside of the company’s network. And it says it can do so without the kind of hands-on management that’s often required in setting these kinds of systems up and managing them over time. Indeed, Cognigo says that it can help businesses achieve GDPR compliance in days instead of months.

To do this, the company tells me, it’s using pre-trained language models for data classification. That model has been trained to detect common categories like payslips, patents, NDAs and contracts. Organizations can also provide their own data samples to further train the model and customize it for their own needs. “The only human intervention required is during the systems configuration process which would take no longer than a single day’s work,” a company spokesperson told me. “Apart from that, the system is completely human-free.”

The company tells me that it plans to use the new funding to expand its R&D, marketing and sales teams, all with the goal of expanding its market presence and enhancing awareness of its product. “Our vision is to ensure our customers can use their data to make smart businesses decisions while making sure that the data is continuously protected and in compliance,” the company tells me.

News Source = techcrunch.com

“Rent tech” focused RET closes first fund; pours $5M into management platform SmartRent

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Today, Real Estate Technology Ventures (RET) Ventures announced the final close of $108 million for its first fund.  RET focuses on early-stage investments in companies that are primarily looking to disrupt the North American multifamily rental industry, with the firm boasting a roster of LPs made up of some of the largest property owners and operators in the multifamily space.

RET is one of the latest in a rising number of venture firms focused on the real-estate sector, which by many accounts, has yet to experience significant innovation or technological disruption. 

The firm was founded in 2017 by managing director, John Helm, who possesses an extensive background as an operator and investor in both real estate and real estate technology.  Helm’s real-estate journey began with a position right out of college and eventually led him to the commercial brokerage giant Marcus Millichap, where he worked as CFO before leaving to build two venture-backed real estate technology companies.  After successfully selling both companies, Helm worked as a Venture Partner at Germany-based DN Capital, where he invested in companies such as PurpleBricks and Auto1. 

Speaking with investors and past customers, John realized that there was a need for a venture fund specifically focused on the multifamily rental sector.  RET points out that while multifamily properties have traditionally fallen under the commercial real estate umbrella, operators are forced to deal with a wide set of idiosyncratic dynamics unique to the vertical.  In fact, outside of a select group, most of the companies and real estate investment trusts that invest in multifamily tend to invest strictly within the sector.

Now, RET has partnered with leading multifamily owners to help identify innovative startups that can help the LPs better run their portfolios, which account for nearly a million units across the country in aggregate.  With its deep sector expertise and its impressive LP list, RET believes it can bring tremendous value to entrepreneurs by providing access to some of the largest property owners in the US, effectively shortening a notoriously lengthy sales cycle and making it much easier to scale.

Photo: Alexander Kirch/Shutterstock

One of the first companies reaping the benefits of RET’s deep ties to the real estate industry is SmartRent, the startup providing a property analytics and automation platform for multifamily property managers and renters.  Today, SmartRent announced it had closed $5 million in series A financing, with seed investor RET providing the entire round. 

SmartRent essentially provides property managers with many of the smart home capabilities that have primarily been offered to consumers to date, making it easier for them to monitor units remotely, avoid costly damages and streamline operations, all while hopefully enhancing the resident experience through all-in-one home controls.

By combining connected devices with its web and mobile platform, SmartRent hopes to provide tools that can help identify leaks or faulty equipment, eliminate energy waste, and provide remote access control for door locks.  The functions provided by SmartRent are particularly valuable when managing vacant units, in which leaks or unnecessary energy consumption can often go unnoticed, leading to multimillion-dollar damage claims or inflated utility bills. SmartRent also attempts to enhance the leasing process for vacant units by pre-screening potential renters that apply online and allowing qualified applicants to view the unit on their own without a 3rd party sales agent.

Just like RET, SmartRent is the brainchild of accomplished real-estate industry vets. Founder and CEO, Lucas Haldeman, was still the CTO of Colony Starwood’s single-family portfolio when he first rolled out an early version of the platform in around 26,000 homes.  Haldeman quickly realized how powerful the software was for property managers and decided to leave his C-suite position at the publicly-traded REIT to found SmartRent.

According to RET, the strong industry pedigree of the founding team was one of the main drivers behind its initial investment in SmartRent and is one of the main differentiators between the company and its competitors.

With RET providing access to its leading multifamily owner LPs, SmartRent has been able to execute on a strong growth trajectory so far, with the company on pace to complete 15,000 installations by the end of the year and an additional 35,000 apartments committed for 2019.  And SmartRent seems to have a long runway ahead.  The platform can be implemented in any type of rental property, from retrofit homes to high rises, and has only penetrated a small portion of the nearly one million units owned by RET’s LPs alone.

SmartRent has now raised $10 million to date and hopes to use this latest round of funding to ramp growth by broadening its sales and marketing efforts.  Longer-term, SmartRent hopes to permeate throughout the entire multifamily industry while continuing to improve and iterate on its platform.

“We’re so early on and we’ve made great progress, but we want to make deep penetration into this industry,” said Haldeman.  “There are millions of apartment units and we want to be over 100,000 by year one, and over a million units by year three.  At the same time, we’re continuing to enhance our offering and we’re focused on growing and expanding.”

As for RET Ventures, the firm hopes the compelling value proposition of its deep LP and industry network can help RET become the go-to venture firm startups looking to disrupt the real estate rental sector.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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