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Origin launches protocol for building cheaper decentralized Ubers & Airbnbs

The sharing economy ends up sharing a ton of labor’s earnings with middlemen like Uber and Airbnb, and $38 million-funded Origin wants the next great two-sided marketplace to be decentralized on the blockchain so drivers and riders or hosts and guests can connect directly and avoid paying steep fees that can range up to 20 percent or higher. So today Origin launches its decentralized marketplace protocol on the ethereum mainnet that replaces a central business that connects users and vendors with a smart contract. “Marketplaces don’t redistribute the profits they make to members. They accrue to founders and venture capitalists,” said Origin co-founder Matt Liu, who was the third product manager at YouTube. “Building these decentralized marketplaces, we want to make them peer-to-peer, not peer-to-corporate-monopoly-to-peer.” When people transact through Origin, it plans to issue them tokens that will let them participate in the governance of the protocol, and could incentivize them to get on these marketplaces early as well as convince others to use them. Origin’s in-house marketplace DApp Today’s mainnet beta sees Origin offering its own basic decentralized app that operates like a Craigslist on the blockchain. Users can create a profile, connect their ethereum wallet through services like MetaMask, browse product and service listings, message each other to arrange transactions through smart contracts with no extra fees, leave reviews and appeal disputes to Origin’s in-house arbitrators. Eventually, with the Origin protocol, developers will be able to quickly build their own sub-marketplaces for specific services like dog walking, house cleaning, ridesharing and more. These developers can opt to charge fees, though Origin hopes the cost-savings from its blockchain platform will let them undercut non-blockchain services. And vendors can offer a commission to any marketplace that gets their listing matched/sold. It might be years before the necessary infrastructure like login systems and simple wallets make it easy for developers and mainstream users to build and adopt DApps built on Origin. But it has plenty of runway thanks to $3 million in seed token sale funding from Pantera Capital, $6.6 million raised through a Coinlist token sale, plus $26.4 million in traditional…

Scaleway adds object storage

Cloud hosting company Scaleway is launching object storage in public beta. The company uses an Amazon S3-compatible API, which means you could easily replace your Amazon S3 bucket with a Scaleway bucket by changing the API end point. The basic object storage package starts at $5.75 per month (€5 per month), which includes 500GB of storage and 500GB of outgoing transfer. You then pay €0.01 per month for every extra GB of storage and €0.02 per month for every extra GB of outgoing transfer. And there’s no limit. You can transfer data back and forth between a Scaleway server instance and your object storage bucket for free. You also can create a bucket for free during the public beta phase. When it comes to the service-level agreement, the company promises 99.9 percent availability and 99.999 percent redundancy and protection of your files. It’s hard to compare Scaleway’s pricing with big competitors, such as Amazon S3, Google Cloud Storage and Microsoft Azure’s blob storage. Pricing differs depending on the region and the level of availability. But they tend to be more expensive than Scaleway if you choose standard storage options. Backblaze’s B2 charges $0.005 per GB of storage per month and $0.01 per GB of outgoing transfer per month. DigitalOcean’s Spaces costs $5 per month for 250 GB of storage, 1TB of outgoing transfer and then $0.02 per extra GB of storage, $0.01 per extra GB of transfer. But pricing is just one thing. Chances are you don’t want to work with multiple vendors and pay for outgoing transfer by hosting your computing instances with one cloud hosting company and your object storage with another. Having object storage could help convince more clients to switch to Scaleway for everything.

JFrog lands $165M investment as valuation jumps over $1 billion

JFrog wants to change the way we deal with software updates. Instead of large numbered updates you have to manually download, it sees a future of continuous delivery where software is delivered as binaries and updated in the background. Investors must like that vision very much because they showered the company with a $165 million Series D investment today, which it says pushes its valuation past the billion-dollar mark. The round was led by Insight Venture Partners, and as part of the deal Insight’s co-founder and managing director, Jeff Horing will be joining the JFrog board. Other investors joining the round included new investors and Silicon Valley Funds, Spark Capital and Geodesic Capital, as well as existing investors Battery Ventures, Sapphire Ventures, Scale Venture Partners, Dell Technologies Capital and Vintage Investment Partners. Today’s investment pushes the total invested to-date to over $226 million. What the company has done to justify this kind of investment is offer a series of products that enable customers to deliver code in the form of binaries. That in turn allows them to deliver updates on a regular basis in the background without disturbing the user experience. In a world of continuous delivery, this approach is essential. You couldn’t deliver multiple updates a day if you had to take down your service every time you did it. The JFrog platform is actually made up of multiple products, but the main one is JFrog Artifactory where companies can add the latest binaries (updates) and deliver them to customers in the background. It’s not unlike, GitHub, but whereas GitHub is a repository for downloading software and updates, the Artifactory is a place to deliver these updates automatically without user involvement. It also handles other DevOps functions like security, access control and distribution. JFrog platform. Diagram: JFrog CEO and co-founder Shlomi Ben Haim was happy to reveal that the company’s valuation had entered unicorn territory, but he wasn’t willing to share an exact number. “I don’t want to get into details, but we exceeded the billion dollar valuation. We are north of $1 billion already and we are building…

MariaDB acquires Clustrix

MariaDB, the company behind the eponymous MySQL drop-in replacement database, today announced that it has acquired Clustrix, which itself is a MySQL drop-in replacement database, but with a focus on scalability. MariaDB will integrate Clustrix’s technology into its own database, which will allow it to offer its users a more scalable database service in the long run. That by itself would be an interesting development for the popular open source database company. But there’s another angle to this story, too. In addition to the acquisition, MariaDB also today announced that cloud computing company ServiceNow is investing in MariaDB, an investment that helped it get to today’s acquisition. ServiceNow doesn’t typically make investments, though it has made a few acquisitions. It is a very large MariaDB user, though, and it’s exactly the kind of customer that will benefit from the Clustrix acquisition. MariaDB CEO Michael Howard tells me that ServiceNow current supports about 80,000 instances of MariaDB. With this investment (which is actually an add-on to MariaDB’s 2017 Series C round), ServiceNow’s SVP of Development and Operations Pat Casey will join MariaDB’s board. Why would MariaDB acquire a company like Clustrix, though? When I asked Howard about the motivation, he noted that he’s now seeing more companies like ServiceNow that are looking at a more scalable way to run MariaDB. Howard noted that it would take years to build a new database engine from the ground up. “You can hire a lot of smart people individually, but not necessarily have that experience built into their profile,” he said. “So that was important and then to have a jumpstart in relation to this market opportunity — this mandate from our market. It typically takes about nine years, to get a brand new, thorough database technology off the ground. It’s not like a SaaS application where you can get a front-end going in about a year or so. Howard also stressed that the fact that the teams at Clustrix and MariaDB share the same vocabulary, given that they both work on similar problems and aim to be compatible with MySQL, made this a good…

Committed to privacy, Snips founder wants to take on Alexa and Google, with blockchain

Earlier this year we saw the headlines of how the users of popular voice assistants like Alexa and Siri and continue to face issues when their private data is compromised, or even sent to random people. In May it was reported that Amazon’s Alexa recorded a private conversation and sent it to a random contact. Amazon insists its Echo devices aren’t always recording, but it did confirm the audio was sent. The story could be a harbinger of things to come when voice becomes more and more ubiquitous. After all, Amazon announced the launch of Alexa for Hospitality, its Alexa system for hotels, in June. News stories like this simply reinforce the idea that voice control is seeping into our daily lives. The French startup Snips thinks it might have an answer to the issue of security and data privacy. Its built its software to run 100% on-device, independently from the cloud. As a result, user data is processed on the device itself, acting as a potentially stronger guarantor of privacy. Unlike centralized assistants like Alexa and Google, Snips knows nothing about its users. Its approach is convincing investors. To date, Snips has raised €22 million in funding from investors like Korelya Capital, MAIF Avenir, BPI France and Eniac Ventures. Created in 2013 by 3 PhDs, and now employing more than 60 people in Paris and New York, Snips offers its voice assistant technology as a white-labelled solution for enterprise device manufacturers. It’s tested its theories about voice by releasing the result of a consumer poll. The survey of 410 people found that 66% of respondents said they would be apprehensive of using a voice assistant in a hotel room, because of concerns over privacy, 90% said they would like to control the ways corporations use their data, even if it meant sacrificing convenience. “Сonsumers are increasingly aware of the privacy concerns with voice assistants that rely on cloud storage — and that these concerns will actually impact their usage,” says Dr Rand Hindi, co-founder and CEO at Snips. “However, emerging technologies like blockchain are helping us to create safer…

Microsoft acquires Lobe, a drag-and-drop AI tool

Microsoft today announced that is has acquired Lobe, a startup that lets you build machine learning models with the help of a simple drag-and-drop interface. Microsoft plans to use Lobe, which only launched into beta earlier this year, to build upon its own efforts to make building AI models easier, though, for the time being, Lobe will operate as before. “As part of Microsoft, Lobe will be able to leverage world-class AI research, global infrastructure, and decades of experience building developer tools,” the team writes. “We plan to continue developing Lobe as a standalone service, supporting open source standards and multiple platforms.” Lobe was co-founded by Mike Matas, who previously worked on the iPhone and iPad, as well as Facebook’s Paper and Instant Articles products. The other co-founders are Adam Menges and Markus Beissinger. In addition to Lobe, Microsoft also recently bought Bonsai.ai, a deep reinforcement learning platform, and Semantic Machines, a conversational AI platform. Last year, it acquired Disrupt Battlefield participant Maluuba. It’s no secret that machine learning talent is hard to come by, so it’s no surprise that all of the major tech firms are acquiring as much talent and technology as they can. “In many ways though, we’re only just beginning to tap into the full potential AI can provide,” Microsoft’s EVP and CTO Kevin Scott writes in today’s announcement. “This in large part is because AI development and building deep learning models are slow and complex processes even for experienced data scientists and developers. To date, many people have been at a disadvantage when it comes to accessing AI, and we’re committed to changing that.” It’s worth noting that Lobe’s approach complements Microsoft’s existing Azure ML Studio platform, which also offers a drag-and-drop interface for building machine learning models, though with a more utilitarian design than the slick interface that the Lobe team built. Both Lobe and Azure ML Studio aim to make machine learning easy to use for anybody, without having to know the ins and outs of TensorFlow, Keras or PyTorch. Those approaches always come with some limitations, but just like low-code tools, they…

InVision deepens integrations with Atlassian

InVision today announced a newly expanded integration and strategic partnership with Atlassian that will let users of Confluence, Trello and Jira see and share InVision prototypes from within those programs. Atlassian’s product suite is built around making product teams faster and more efficient. These tools streamline and organize communication so developers and designers can focus on getting the job done. Meanwhile, InVision’s collaboration platform has caught on to the idea that design is now a team sport, letting designers, engineers, executives and other shareholders be involved in the design process right from the get-go. Specifically, the expanded integration allows designers to share InVision Studio designs and prototypes right within Jira, Trello and Confluence. InVision Studio was unveiled late last year, offering designers an alternative to Sketch and Adobe. Given the way design and development teams use both product suites, it only makes sense to let these product suites communicate with one another. As part of the partnership, Atlassian has also made a strategic financial investment in InVision, though the companies declined to share the amount. Here’s what InVision CEO Clark Valberg had to say about it in a prepared statement: In today’s digital world creating delightful, highly effective customer experiences has become a central business imperative for every company in the world. InVision and Atlassian represent the essential platforms for organizations looking to unleash the potential of their design and development teams. We’re looking forward to all the opportunities to deepen our relationship on both a product and strategic basis, and build toward a more cohesive digital product operating system that enables every organization to build better products, faster. InVision has been working to position itself as the Salesforce of the design world. Alongside InVision and InVision Studio, the company has also built out an asset and app store, as well as launched a small fund to invest in design startups. In short, InVision wants the design ecosystem to revolve around it. Considering that InVision has raised more than $200 million, and serves 4 million users, including 80 percent of the Fortune 500, it would seem that the strategy is…

Datree gets $3M seed round to build DevOps policy engine in GitHub

Datree, an early-stage startup based in Israel, wants to help companies create a set of policies for their applications, and apply them in GitHub before a commit goes live. Today, it announced $3 million in seed funding from TLV partners. The check was actually written last September, according to the founders, and they are making the investment public today. Like many Israeli startups, before they wrote a line of code, they did their research talking to 40 companies, and found a common pain point in modern development techniques. Code was being committed ever faster and teams were more widely distributed. Instead of a monolithic application, you had containerized microservices, often being built by disparate teams. All of this came together in GitHub . The team decided that the best way to deal with this kind of chaos was to try to bring some order to it by creating a catalogue of development teams and their work. The idea was to bring these teams and their work together in a central place, then apply a set of internal best practices to their code to catch any policy violations before they committed the code. It’s important to note that they only extract metadata to build this catalogue. Datree Smart Policy Editor. Screenshot: Datree If you can use Datree to confirm that each pull request in GitHub complies with a set of internal policies in an automated fashion, you could potentially save your development teams a lot of pain trying to track down issues after the commit. This is of course, the whole idea behind the DevOps model. The developers develop as fast as they can and operations is responsible for making sure the code is in decent shape, secure and complies with company policy before it gets published. Datree has created a report engine to scan all this code and report on what aligns with the policies and what doesn’t in an automated fashion. They also recognized that not every policy is rigid and that there will be exceptions, and they allow for that too. Right now, it’s early days and the company…

Very Good Security makes data ‘unhackable’ with $8.5M from Andreessen

“You can’t hack what isn’t there,” Very Good Security co-founder Mahmoud Abdelkader tells me. His startup assumes the liability of storing sensitive data for other companies, substituting dummy credit card or Social Security numbers for the real ones. Then when the data needs to be moved or operated on, VGS injects the original info without clients having to change their code. It’s essentially a data bank that allows businesses to stop storing confidential info under their unsecured mattress. Or you could think of it as Amazon Web Services for data instead of servers. Given all the high-profile breaches of late, it’s clear that many companies can’t be trusted to house sensitive data. Andreessen Horowitz is betting that they’d rather leave it to an expert. That’s why the famous venture firm is leading an $8.5 million Series A for VGS, and its partner Alex Rampell is joining the board. The round also includes NYCA, Vertex Ventures, Slow Ventures and PayPal mafioso Max Levchin. The cash builds on VGS’ $1.4 million seed round, and will pay for its first big marketing initiative and more salespeople. “Hey! Stop doing this yourself!,” Abdelkader asserts. “Put it on VGS and we’ll let you operate on your data as if you possess it with none of the liability.” While no data is ever 100 percent unhackable, putting it in VGS’ meticulously secured vaults means clients don’t have to become security geniuses themselves and instead can focus on what’s unique to their business. “Privacy is a part of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. We should be able to build innovative applications without sacrificing our privacy and security,” says Abdelkader. He got his start in the industry by reverse-engineering games like StarCraft to build cheats and trainer software. But after studying discrete mathematics, cryptology and number theory, he craved a headier challenge. Abdelkader co-founded Y Combinator-backed payment system Balanced in 2010, which also raised cash from Andreessen. But out-muscled by Stripe, Balanced shut down in 2015. While transitioning customers over to fellow YC alumni Stripe, Balanced received interest from other companies wanting it to store their data…

Spotinst, excess cloud capacity management service, snares $35M Series B

Spotinst, the startup that helps companies purchase and manage excess cloud infrastructure capacity, announced a hefty $35 million Series B today led by Highland Capital. Existing investors Leaders Fund, Intel Capital and Vertex Ventures also participated. Today’s round brings the total investment to over $52 million. Cloud infrastructure vendors like Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform run massive data centers to have enough capacity at any given moment to respond to customer demand. That means there are always going to be some machines sitting idle. To make use of this excess capacity, the vendors offer deep discounts of up to 80 percent, but there’s a catch. If the vendor needs that virtual machine at any given moment, the discount customers are going to get kicked off. That leaves developers wary of putting anything critical on the discounted servers, no matter how much they are saving. That’s where Spotinst comes in. “With machine learning and artificial intelligence, Spotinst can predict trends of availability. We know how long an instance will live and we can smoothly move our customers from one instance to another, allowing them to run complex or mission critical applications,” Spotinst co-founder and CEO Amiram Shachar told TechCrunch. He sees the two trends of developers moving toward serverless and containerization really helping to drive his business growth. The company announced support for Lambda, AWS’s serverless product, last fall and they are also seeing a big rise in the use of containers. “What we’ve seen in the past six months is that our containers offering is growing exponentially month over month. And as customers are deploying containers we’re able to run them on excess capacity, and save them huge amounts of money,” he explained. Spotinst management console. Screenshot: Spotinst. Shachar is clear that they are not offering a brokerage service here. Instead, his customers sign up for Spotinst as a cloud service, and his company makes money by taking a percentage of the money customers save by using this spot capacity. The company began by working with AWS spot instances, but has since expanded its market to…

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