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October 23, 2017
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ActionIQ nabs $30M led by A16Z to bring big data targeting to marketers

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The trend of using big data analytics to glean more targeted insights for your business continues to be democratized, with an increasing number of startups hitting the market to help those who are not data scientists nor engineers take advantage of these kinds of tools.

In the latest development, a startup called ActionIQ — a marketing activation platform that gives marketers better audience insights in order to run their campaigns in a more effective way, corralling a vast trove of big data behind a “user-friendly interface built for marketers” in the words of CEO Tasso Argyros — has picked up $30 million in funding.

The Series B is being led by Andreessen Horowitz, with participation also from previous investors Sequoia Capital and Firstmark Capital, as well as new strategic investor Shutterstock, a customer of ActionIQ’s.

You might recall that it was only in March of this year that ActionIQ announced a Series A of $13 million. The reason for the swift follow-up, according to Argyros, is because of higher-than-expected demand for ActionIQ’s services, and the company quickly scaling to strike while the iron is hot.

“We were achieving huge growth rates and adoption by a variety of name brands, and so we decided to expand more quickly than we thought,” he said in an emailed interview.

It may have also helped that Argyros, who co-founded the company with Nitay Joffe (the CTO), has a track record in building big data analytics startups to help businesses tackle the opportunity of how to handle and better use the disparate amounts of information that they can now access: his previous big data company, Aster, was acquired by Teradata for $300 million back in 2011 (and he then stayed on for several years leading its big data division).

“ActionIQ’s traction to date made our investment extremely attractive,” said Martin Casado, partner at Andreessen Horowitz, in a statement. “The pedigree of the management team and the deep understanding of both marketing technology and data will be a strategic advantage in helping the world’s best B2C marketers triumph. We look forward to adding ActionIQ to our list of disruptive companies.” Casado is joining the board with this round.

Argyros would not say how many customers ActionIQ has today, except to note that there are three times the number of customers that it had in January of this year, “and we expect that trend to continue.” Those customers span all verticals with an emphasis today in financial, publishing, subscription and retail. “We are looking for the world’s most sophisticated marketers from the global 5000,” he added.

Adtech has been a persistent trend in the media business for years now: the idea here is to use smart data science and new tools to identify users on the web and serve them more targeted advertising relevant to their interests. More emergent now is the concept of marketing tech, or “martech” — which aims to do the same for the marketers of the world.

ActionIQ sits specifically in marketing “activation,” meaning the executing part that comes between planning a campaign and trying to figure out how effective that campaign actually was.

You could argue that in some regard it is perhaps the most important part of that sequence, and will be the part that will, longer term, make marketing a more accountable discipline overall (and in turn make ActionIQ and companies like it, which include Marketo, more valuable).

ActionIQ is part of another trend that is worth watching, which is the idea of taking tools created by and for engineers and data scientists, and making them more usable by “normals,” in this case, marketeers. Others in the field of marketing that have tapped this idea include Origami Logic, and Clari in the world of sales.

“We don’t really have direct competitors who can handle the scale and complexity of large datasets that the world’s best brands are trying to wrangle,” Argyros said. “There are companies who are trying to solve this for specific e-commerce companies, or smaller and less complex clients, but we really compete with corporate internal IT departments. And building in house is very hard to do due to the immense amount of engineering talent required, which most companies (unless you are Amazon, Facebook, etc.) do not have access to. We give them access to the best engineers in the world through our product.”

The company is not commenting on its valuation. Argyros describes it as a “significant increase” compared to its Series A. The company has now raised $45 million to date.

Featured Image: Credit: ANDRZEJ WOJCICKI/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/Getty Images

News Source = techcrunch.com

Intuit’s Turbo wants to help you better understand your financial health

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Few companies have more data about the financial health of individuals in the U.S. than Intuit, thanks to its TurboTax, Mint and QuickBooks tools. For the longest time, though, the company didn’t bring these tools together. That’s slowly starting to change however, as the company is realizing that in this new age of machine learning, it’s this kind of data that allows it to offer a range of new products for its users. One of the first of these is Turbo, a new service that allows you to go beyond your credit score to better understand your financial health (and that will allow Intuit to run a more efficient and hyper-targeted partner platform for connecting its users with lenders and other financial institutions).

The company unveiled Turbo at the Money 20/20 conference today and plans to make it widely available in January 2018, once the next tax season opens up.

As Intuit’s executive VP and GM of its consumer group Dan Wernikoff told me, the company did a lot of testing and experimenting since it first announced its plan of turning TurboTax into more of a platform last year. “So we decided to launch an application that would help people with their finances — but do it very passively,” he told me. The result of this is Turbo, which brings together your data from TurboTax and the aggregate data of millions of Mint users to help you get a better idea of your financial health. “There’s never been a connection between [TurboTax and Mint] — that was a lost opportunity,” Wernikoff added.

You may think that if all your data already flows into Mint, then that’s essentially the same as using Turbo, but Wernikoff noted that Mint users tend to use the service to gain a deep understanding of how they spend their money. It’s only once you combine this data with the highly verified data from TurboTax (chances are, you’re not going to file a fraudulent tax return, after all, right?), that you get a full picture of somebody’s income and spend, though.

In this first version, Turbo is going to focus on your credit score, debt-to-income ratio and income. Using anonymized data from across its user base, Turbo can then benchmark you against others in your location, age group and life stage to help you improve your debt-to-income ratio and other markers of financial help. “From the customer’s standpoint, there’s no work,” said Wernikoff. “We are hustling in the background for the consumer because we understand their income, life events, etc.”

Intuit isn’t just doing this out of the goodness of its heart, though, of course. The idea here is that it can also offer its users highly curated offers from its partners. “It’s a two-sided platform where you are working hard to get the consumer the best service possible and the financial industry enough context to put the best deal forward,” said Wernikoff. So if you are looking to pay off a loan or mortgage, Turbo could connect you to a financial institution that can give you a lower rate, for example.

The first six providers on the platform are Discover, Honest Dollar by Goldman Sachs, Marcus by Goldman Sachs, Quicken Loans, SoFi and TransUnion.

“We are excited to partner with Intuit’s Turbo,” said Abhinav Anand, Head of Consumer Lending at Marcus by Goldman Sachs.  “This partnership will allow Turbo users to seamlessly access our fixed rate, no fee personal loan, which our consumers have found to be a helpful way to manage their debt. Partners like Turbo are important to us as we seek like-minded, consumer-centric brands to help Americans manage their debt better.”

Intuit is clearly aware that many users may be hesitant to give the service the ability to do even more with their tax returns. Wernikoff stressed that this process if fully consent-driven and that the company takes its data stewardship very seriously and that this process is also highly regulated. He also noted that TurboTax won’t sell any of its customer’s data. “It’s a trust business and our brand has a high level of trust because that’s the foundation to what we do,” he noted. After the Equifax breach, though, this may be more of an uphill struggle than only a few months ago.

  1. Turbo-DTI

  2. Turbo-CreditScore

  3. Turbo-Discover

News Source = techcrunch.com

Kaspersky fights spying claims with code review plan

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Russian cybersecurity software maker Kaspersky Labs has announced what it’s dubbing a “comprehensive transparency initiative” as the company seeks to beat back suspicion that its antivirus software has been hacked or penetrated by the Russian government and used as a route for scooping up US intelligence.

In a post on its website today the Moscow-based company has published a four point plan to try to win back customer trust, saying it will be submitting its source code for independent review, starting in Q1 2018. It hasn’t yet specified who will be conducting the review but says it will be “undertaken with an internationally recognized authority”.

It has also announced an independent review of its internal processes — aimed at verifying the “integrity of our solutions and processes”. And says it will also be establishing three “transparency centers” outside its home turf in the next three years — to enable “clients, government bodies and concerned organizations to review source code, update code and threat detection rules”.

It says the first center will be up and running in 2018, and all three will be live by 2020. The locations are listed generally as: Asia, Europe and the U.S.

Finally it’s also increasing its bug bounty rewards — saying it will pay up to $100K per discovered vulnerability in its main Kaspersky Lab products.

That’s a substantial ramping up of its current program which — as of April this year — could pay out up to $5,000 per discovered remote code execution bugs. (And, prior to that, up to $2,000 only.)

Kaspersky’s moves follow a ban announced by the US Department of Homeland Security on its software last month, citing concerns about ties between “certain Kaspersky officials and Russian intelligence and other government agencies, and requirements under Russian law that allow Russian intelligence agencies to request or compel assistance from Kaspersky and to intercept communications transiting Russian networks”.

The US Senate swiftly followed suit, voting to oust Kaspersky software from federal use. While three months earlier the General Services Administration also removed Kaspersky Lab from a list of approved federal vendors.

The extensive system-wide permissions of antivirus software could certainly make it an attractive target for government agents seeking to spy on adversaries and scoop up data, given the trust it demands of its users.

The WSJ has previously reported that Russian hackers working for the government were able to obtain classified documents from an NSA employee who had stored them on a personal computer that ran Kaspersky software.

Earlier this month CEO Eugene Kaspersky blogged at length — rebutting what he dubbed “false allegations in U.S. media”, and writing: “Our mission is to protect our users and their data. Surveillance, snooping, spying, eavesdropping… all that is done by espionage agencies (which we occasionally catch out and tell the world about), not us.”

But when your business relies so firmly on user trust — and is headquartered close to the Kremlin, to boot — words may evidently not be enough. Hence Kaspersky now announcing a raft of “transparency” actions.

Whether those actions will be enough to restore the confidence of US government agencies in Russian-built software is another matter though.

Kaspersky hasn’t yet named who its external reviewers will be, either. But reached for comment, a company spokeswoman told us: “We will announce selected partners shortly. Kaspersky Lab remains focused on finding independent experts with strong credentials in software security and assurance testing for cybersecurity products. Some recommended competencies include, but are not limited to, technical audits, code base reviews, vulnerability assessments, architectural risk analysis, secure development lifecycle process reviews, etc. Taking a multi-stakeholder approach, we welcome input and recommendations from interested parties at transparency@kaspersky.com

She also sent the following general company statement:

Kaspersky Lab was not involved in and does not possess any knowledge of the situation in question, and the company reiterates its willingness to work alongside U.S. authorities to address any concerns they may have about its products as well as its systems.

As there has not been any evidence presented, Kaspersky Lab cannot investigate these unsubstantiated claims, and if there is any indication that the company’s systems may have been exploited, we respectfully request relevant parties responsibly provide the company with verifiable information. It’s disappointing that these unverified claims continue to perpetuate the narrative of a company which, in its 20 year history, has never helped any government in the world with its cyberespionage efforts.

In addition, with regards to unverified assertions that this situation relates to Duqu2, a sophisticated cyber-attack of which Kaspersky Lab was not the only target, we are confident that we have identified and removed all of the infections that happened during that incident. Furthermore, Kaspersky Lab publicly reported the attack, and the company offered its assistance to affected or interested organisations to help mitigate this threat.

Contrary to erroneous reports, Kaspersky Lab technologies are designed and used for the sole purpose of detecting all kinds of threats, including nation-state sponsored malware, regardless of the origin or purpose. The company tracks more than 100 advanced persistent threat actors and operations, and for 20 years, Kaspersky Lab has been focused on protecting people and organisations from these cyberthreats — its headquarters’ location doesn’t change that mission.

“We want to show how we’re completely open and transparent. We’ve nothing to hide,” added Kaspersky in another statement.

Interestingly enough, the move is pushing in the opposite direction of US-based cybersecurity firm Symantec — which earlier this month announced it would no longer be allowing governments to review the source code of its software because of fears the agreements would compromise the security of its products.

Featured Image: CeBIT Australia/Flickr UNDER A CC BY 2.0 LICENSE

News Source = techcrunch.com

Apple Pay now in 20 markets, nabs 90% of all contactless transactions where active

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While we are going to have to wait a little longer for Apple to launch payments in iMessage, this weekend, Jennifer Bailey, Apple’s VP of Apple Pay, announced a series of other milestones for the digital wallet and payments service that competes against the likes of Android Pay from Google, Samsung’s wallet and others efforts from retailers and banks.

The advances point to how Apple wants to steal a march when it comes to using phones as a proxy for a card or cash, and there is some anecdotal evidence that it’s working: merchants and others who have partnered with Apple say that Apple Pay is accounting for 90 percent of all mobile contactless transactions globally in markets where it’s available.

“Apple Pay is the future of everyday spend,” said Bailey on stage at the Money 20/20 conference that kicked off in Las Vegas yesterday.

Bailey announced that the service is launching in Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and the UAE in the next few days, bringing the total number of countries where it is used up to 20. And she said that 4,000 issuers worldwide now work with the wallet (that is, there are now 4,000 credit and debit card issuers whose cards can now be uploaded to and used via Apple Pay).

While these may not sound like a massive numbers on their own, 20 markets represents a full 70 percent of the world’s card transaction volume. This underscores how Apple is approaching the roll out of its payment service: it is moving first to where the money is.

With that expansion, she also revealed a bit more about how Apple Pay is going to become more ubiquitous, not just in terms of retailers where you can use it, but in terms of use cases.

When Apple Pay Cash it turned on, for example, it will operate like Venmo, allowing users to transfer money quickly to each other via iMessage, Siri and other channels — a service that “thousands” of Apple employees are now using in a closed beta before the service is turned on more widely later this year in an iOS 11 update.

But in addition to that, users will also be able to take that money and spend it directly at retailers and others that accept Apple Pay.

This is notable because it’s an early example of how Apple might potentially (not now, but in the future) provide a wallet service where it acts not just as the place where you can store other payment instruments, but becomes the payment and storage instrument itself.

That’s not to say that Apple is only working on new use cases. Bailey also provided a long list of new stats that speak to new retailers that are now accepting Apple Pay, and older partners that are seeing strong use of the service:

— Apple Pay is now at more than 50 percent of all retail locations in the U.S., including 67 of the top 100 US retailers. Full roll-outs include the supermarket chain Albertsons (2,300 locations) and Dick’s Sporting Goods (675 locations).
— Bailey said that “everyday commerce” categories — transportation, ordering coffee or meals ahead of getting them, and contactless tickets — are “booming.” (Ticketmaster is now rolling out contactless tickets to U.S. sports stadiums and concert venues.)
— Apple estimates that the number of transactions across everyday categories is already twice the number of transactions in traditional e-commerce, and growing five times faster than physical retail.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Countingup, a startup from founder of Clear Books, raises ​$750K to merge banking and accounting

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Countingup, a new fintech startup from Tim Fouracre, who previously founded cloud accounting software Clear Books, wants to simplify the life of sole traders by reinventing the business bank account. Specifically, Fouracre’s vision is that for one-person enterprises, business banking and accounting software should be merged so that book keeping and filing accounts can be automated.

To make this a reality, the young company has picked up €750,000 in founding led by Frontline Ventures. Others participating in the round include ​Will ​Neale (Founder ​of ​Fonix ​& ​Grabyo), ​Ben ​Grol ​(Partner ​at ​Atomico), ​Ben ​Heald ​(Chair of ​Sift, ​Edo, ​eFiling ​& ​Bristol ​Pound), and ​Andy ​Chung ​(AngelList).

The capital will be used to launch the Countingup banking account in the U.K. later this year, with the combined accounting functionality to follow early next year.

“I first had the idea for combining accounting and banking about three years ago,” Fouracre tells me. “Earlier this year I began to realise the idea was a real possibility and in September I officially got to work on the project full time”.

After downloading the ​Countingup for iOS or Andriod, ​you’ll ​be ​able ​to ​open ​a ​current ​account ​on your ​smartphone ​in ​around ​5 ​minutes. ​The account will ​come ​with ​a ​U.K. ​sort ​code/account ​number ​and ​a ​contactless ​Mastercard.

So far, so neobank, such as the offerings of Revolut or Tide, or even Starling and Monzo.

However, once rolled out, the ​Countingup ​app ​will ​also ​automate your ​accounting, including reconciliation of expenses. It will ​submit ​VAT ​returns, generate ​a ​profit ​and ​loss ​report and ​create ​invoices.

“If you are running a business then bookkeeping is a chore, wastes your time and is boring,” adds Fouracre. “Your bank surprises you with hidden fees and you’ve probably lost faith in their customer service. Countingup is making starting and running a business really simple for sole traders. We’re doing that by combining accounting and banking into one simple smarthphone app”.

The Countingup founder says there are as many as 4.2 million sole traders in the UK i.e. businesses with no more than one employee in the business, and that this is the market the fintech startup is working hard on serving. “This includes everyone from your construction sub contractor to your IT freelancer, whether they are self employed or operating as a limited company,” he says.

In addition to the banks, Countingup counts pure accounting software plays as competitors, such as Sage and Xero, who are increasingly integrating with bank account products. As an example, Curve, the London fintech startup that lets you consolidate all your bank cards into a single card and track your spending, recently partnered with accounting software Xero to automate the filing of business expenses.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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