As GE and Amazon move on, Google expands presence in Boston and NYC

NYC and Boston were handed huge setbacks this week when Amazon and GE decided to bail on their commitments to build headquarters in the respective cities on the same day. But it’s worth pointing out that while these large tech organizations were pulling out, Google was expanding in both locations. Yesterday upon hearing about Amazon’s decision […]

NYC and Boston were handed huge setbacks this week when Amazon and GE decided to bail on their commitments to build headquarters in the respective cities on the same day. But it’s worth pointing out that while these large tech organizations were pulling out, Google was expanding in both locations.

Yesterday upon hearing about Amazon’s decision to scrap its HQ2 plans in Long Island City, New York City Mayor De Blasio had this to say: “Instead of working with the community, Amazon threw away that opportunity. We have the best talent in the world and every day we are growing a stronger and fairer economy for everyone. If Amazon can’t recognize what that’s worth, its competitors will.” One of them already has. Google had already announced a billion dollar expansion in Hudson Square at the end of last year.

In fact, the company is pouring billions into NYC real estate with plans to double its 7000 person workforce over the next 10 years. As TechCrunch’s Jon Russell reported, “Our investment in New York is a huge part of our commitment to grow and invest in U.S. facilities, offices and jobs. In fact, we’re growing faster outside the Bay Area than within it, and this year opened new offices and data centers in locations like Detroit, Boulder, Los Angeles, Tennessee and Alabama,” wrote Google CFO Ruth Porat.”

Just this week, as GE was making its announcement, Google was announcing a major expansion in Cambridge, the city across the river from Boston that is home to Harvard and MIT. Kendall Square is also is home to offices from Facebook, Microsoft, IBM, Akamai, Digital Ocean and a plethora of startups.

Google will be moving into a brand new building that currently is home to the MIT Coop bookstore. It plans to grab 365,000 square feet of the new building when it’s completed, and as in NYC will be adding hundreds of new jobs to the 1500 already in place. Brian Cusack, Google Cambridge Site lead points out the company began operations in Cambridge back in 2003 and has been working on Search, Android, Cloud, YouTube, Google Play, Research, Ads and more.

“This new space will provide room for future growth and further cements our commitment to the Cambridge community. We’re proud to call this city home and will continue to support its vibrant nonprofit and growing business community,” he said in a statement.

As we learned this week, big company commitments can vanish just as quickly as they are announced, but for now at least, it appears that Google is serious about its commitment to New York and Boston and will be expanding office space and employment to the tune of thousands of jobs over the next decade.

Zendesk just hired three former Microsoft, Salesforce and Adobe execs

Today, Zendesk announced it has hired three new executives — Elisabeth Zornes, former general manager of global support for Microsoft Office, as Zendesk’s first chief customer officer; former Adobe executive Colleen Berube as chief information officer and former Salesforce executive Shawna Wolverton as senior vice president, product. The company emphasized that the hirings were about […]

Today, Zendesk announced it has hired three new executives — Elisabeth Zornes, former general manager of global support for Microsoft Office, as Zendesk’s first chief customer officer; former Adobe executive Colleen Berube as chief information officer and former Salesforce executive Shawna Wolverton as senior vice president, product.

The company emphasized that the hirings were about expanding the executive suite and bringing in top people to help the company grow and move into larger enterprise organizations.

From left to right: Shawna Wolverton, Colleen Berube and Elizabeth Zornes

Zornes comes to Zendesk with 20 years of experience at Microsoft working in a variety of roles around Microsoft Office. She says that what attracted her to Zendesk was its focus on the customer.

“When I look at businesses today, no matter what size, what type or what geography, they can agree on one thing: customer experience is the rocket fuel to drive success. Zendesk has positioned itself as a technology company that empowers companies of all kinds to drive a new level of success by focusing on their customer experience, and helping them to be at the forefront of that was a very intriguing opportunity for me,” Zornes told TechCrunch.

New CIO Berube, who comes with two decades of experience, also sees her new job as a chance to have an impact on customer experience and help companies that are trying to transform into digital organizations. “Customer experience is the linchpin for all organizations to succeed in the digital age. My background is broad, having shepherded many different types of companies through digital transformations, and developing and running modern IT organizations,” she said.

Her boss, CEO and co-founder Mikkel Svane, sees someone who can help continue to grow the company and develop the product. “We looked specifically for a CIO with a modern mindset who understands the challenges of large organizations trying to keep up with customer expectations today,” Svane told TechCrunch.

As for senior VP of product Wolverton, she comes with 15 years of experience, including a stint as head of product at Salesforce. She said that coming to Zendesk was about having an impact on a modern SaaS product. “The opportunity to build a modern, public, cloud-native CRM platform with Sunshine was a large part of my decision to join,” she said.

The three leaders have already joined the organization — Wolverton and Berube joined last month and Zornes started just this week.

Boston and NY share high tech losses as Amazon and GE bail on same day

Boston and New York have been sporting rivals for decades, constantly fighting over bragging rights across all four major sports, but today the two cities had something in common neither was probably hoping for. Both had major tech companies back out of massive deals on the same day. It turns out, however, the two cities […]

Boston and New York have been sporting rivals for decades, constantly fighting over bragging rights across all four major sports, but today the two cities had something in common neither was probably hoping for. Both had major tech companies back out of massive deals on the same day.

It turns out, however, the two cities lost the deals for entirely different reasons. For NY, Amazon wasn’t pleased with the political greeting it received and decided it wasn’t going to be friendly enough for its liking. In the Boston case, it was entirely an economic decision as GE’s fortunes have changed considerably since it made its plans in 2016.

Photo: Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

In New York, Amazon announced it was canceling plans to put its HQ2 in Long Island City. Folks who bought speculative real estate are certainly bumming today, but it turns out that Amazon had trouble with even just a little political push-back. In a statement, it laid the blame on politicians, who had the audacity to question Amazon about its employment practices.

“While polls show that 70% of New Yorkers support our plans and investment, a number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships that are required to go forward with the project we and many others envisioned in Long Island City,” Amazon said in a statement.

As for Boston, it wasn’t quite so political as that. It was more that GE decided to build its headquarters in the Fort Point area of Boston at a time when it was doing reasonably well. Since that time, the company has gone through a couple of CEOs and the stock price has plummeted. It has sold or spun off divisions including its Industrial IoT business.

It has not been on a positive trend for some time, and it resulted in the announcement today that the company plans to sell the new Boston headquarters and pay Massachusetts the $87 million it received in incentives to come there. While the Boston Globe reports the company will still have a presence in Boston, it won’t be generating the 800 jobs it once promised and won’t be in the shiny new building in Fort Point.

These aren’t the first deals to go south this year. In Wisconsin, Foxconn announced it was canceling plans to build a factory there after receiving massive incentives from the state. It took intervention from the president to get the deal back on track, but it’s still not entirely clear it’s going to happen. There has been criticism of the size of the tax breaks the company received to build in Wisconsin.

As I wrote in an article last year in an article on high tech tax breaks, Amazon isn’t alone in getting them, and they don’t always turn out the way you hope:

It’s not hard to find projects that didn’t work out. A $2 million tax subsidy deal between Massachusetts and Nortel Networks in 2008 to keep 2200 jobs in place and add 800 more failed miserably. By 2010 there were just 145 jobs left at the facility and the tax incentive lasted another 4 years, according to a Boston.com report.

Regardless, for today at least both New York and Boston face similar fates when it comes to their reliance on big companies to provide them jobs in exchange for big tax incentives. It’s a lesson for every government and tax payer to beware the fickle minds of large corporations looking for the friendliest terms. Sometimes you might not get what you were bargaining for.

AWS announces new bare metal instances for companies who want more cloud control

When you think about Infrastructure as a Service, you typically pay for a virtual machine that resides in a multi-tenant environment. That means, it’s using a set of shared resources. For many companies that approach is fine, but when a customer wants more control, they may prefer a single tenant system where they control the […]

When you think about Infrastructure as a Service, you typically pay for a virtual machine that resides in a multi-tenant environment. That means, it’s using a set of shared resources. For many companies that approach is fine, but when a customer wants more control, they may prefer a single tenant system where they control the entire set of hardware resources. This approach is also known as “bare metal” in the industry, and today AWS announced five new bare metal instances.

You end up paying more for this kind of service because you are getting more control over the processor, storage and other resources on your own dedicated underlying server. This is part of the range of products that all cloud vendors offer. You can have a vanilla virtual machine, with very little control over the hardware, or you can go with bare metal and get much finer grain control over the underlying hardware, something that companies require if they are going to move certain workloads to the cloud.

As AWS describes it in the blog post announcing these new instances, these are for highly specific use cases. “Bare metal instances allow EC2 customers to run applications that benefit from deep performance analysis tools, specialized workloads that require direct access to bare metal infrastructure, legacy workloads not supported in virtual environments, and licensing-restricted Tier 1 business critical applications,” the company explained.

The five new products, called m5.metal, m5d.metal, r5.metal, r5d.metal, and z1d.metal (catchy names there, Amazon) offer a variety of resources:

Chart courtesy of Amazon

These new offerings are available starting today as on-demand, reserved or spot instances, depending on your requirements.

Pinpoint grabs $16.5M Series A to bring data discipline to engineering

Sales and marketing are steeped in data to explain just how well they are doing, but engineering, the department charged with creating the products these departments sell has lacked the tools to measure engineering effectiveness. Pinpoint wants to change that by making engineering a more data-driven endeavor. Today it announced a $16.5 million Series A […]

Sales and marketing are steeped in data to explain just how well they are doing, but engineering, the department charged with creating the products these departments sell has lacked the tools to measure engineering effectiveness. Pinpoint wants to change that by making engineering a more data-driven endeavor. Today it announced a $16.5 million Series A round.

The round was led by Bessemer Venture Partners with participation from seed investors Storm Ventures, Boldstart Ventures, Bloomberg Beta, Slack Fund, Social Capital and Cherubic Ventures. That’s quite a lineup of investors for an early-stage startup.

Perhaps that’s because the company was founded by a couple of industry veterans, Jeff Haynie and Nolan Wright, who co-founded Appcelerator. That company was acquired by Axway in 2016. One of the issues the two founders observed running a company was the difficulty in measuring the effectiveness of their engineering group, and that there were a dearth of tools to help.

Sure if you were Facebook, Google, Apple or similarly large organization, maybe you could create such a product in-house, but the founders saw that engineering groups at most companies lacked a centralized, data-driven approach to understand how well the group’s efforts aligned with the broader goals of the organization. So they did what all good entrepreneurs do, they started a company to do just that.

Taking advantage of machine learning, the company built an application that taps into engineering tools like Jira and Github to manage, understand and even predict engineering outcomes. The approach doesn’t actually require engineers to do anything differently. They simply use their regular systems of organization and connect Pinpoint to them to gather data.

Team performance graph. Screenshot: Pinpoint

It wasn’t an easy tool to build because they needed actual data to train the machine learning models. The company used its own engineering efforts and those of several design partners to help launch the product. The founders also recognized that companies may be reluctant to move their engineering data to the cloud, so they came up with a solution, using an open source agent that sits on the customer’s systems, and only moves metadata to the cloud.

Pinpoint was founded in 2016. It’s based in Austin and currently has 25 employees. That is likely to increase fairly dramatically as they put today’s investment to use.

Block Kit helps deliver more visually appealing content in Slack

Slack has become a critical communications tool for many organizations. One of the things that has driven its rapid success has been the ability to connect to external enterprise apps inside of Slack, giving employees what is essentially a centralized workhub. This ability has led to some unintended consequences around formatting issues, which Slack addressed […]

Slack has become a critical communications tool for many organizations. One of the things that has driven its rapid success has been the ability to connect to external enterprise apps inside of Slack, giving employees what is essentially a centralized workhub. This ability has led to some unintended consequences around formatting issues, which Slack addressed today with two new tools, Block Kit and Block Kit Builder.

Block Kit lets developers present dense content in a much more visually appealing way, while Block Kit Builder is a prototyping tool for building more attractive apps inside Slack. The idea is to provide a way to deliver content inside of Slack without having to do work-arounds to make the content look good.

Before and after applying Block Kit. Screen: Slack

Bear Douglas, who is Slack’s director of developer of relations, says developers have been quite creative up until now when it comes to formatting, but the company has been working to simplify it. Today’s announcement is the culmination of that work.

“Block Kit makes it easier for people to quickly design a customized app in Slack. We’ve launched a no-code builder that will let people design the messages that they show inside Slack,” she explained.

She said, that while this tool is really designed for people with some programming or Slack admin-level knowledge, the ultimate goal is to make it easy enough for non-technical end users to build apps in Slack, something that is on the road map. What enhancing these tools does, however, is show people just what is possible inside of Slack.

“When people see Block Kit in action, it is illuminating about what can be done, and it helps them understand that it doesn’t just need to be your communications center or [something that pings you] when your website blows up. You can actually get work done inside of Slack,” she said.

One other advantage of using Block Kit is that apps will display messages consistently, whether you are using the web or mobile. Prior to having these tools, work-arounds might have looked fine on the web, but the spacing might have been off on mobile or vice versa. Block Kit lets you design consistent interfaces across platforms.

Among the tools Slack is offering, none is actually earth shattering, but in total they provide users with the ability to format their content in a way that makes sense using common design elements like image containers, dividers and sections. They are also offering buttons, drop-down menus and a calendar picker.

Both of these tools are available starting today in the Block Kit hub.

Elevate Security announces $8M Series A to alter employee security behavior

It’s well understood that many network breaches begin with phishing emails designed to trick users into giving hackers their credentials. They don’t even have to work to find a vulnerability, they can just waltz in the front door. Elevate Security, a San Francisco startup, wants to change that by helping employees understand phishing attacks better […]

It’s well understood that many network breaches begin with phishing emails designed to trick users into giving hackers their credentials. They don’t even have to work to find a vulnerability, they can just waltz in the front door. Elevate Security, a San Francisco startup, wants to change that by helping employees understand phishing attacks better using behavioral techniques. Today, the company announced an $8 million Series A round to build on this idea.

The investment was led by Defy Partners. Existing investor Costanoa Ventures also participated. Today’s round brings the total raised to $10 million, according to the company.

What has the company created to warrant this investment? “We have a solution that motivates, measures and rewards employees to change their security habits, while at the same time giving security teams unprecedented visibility into the security habits and actions of their employees,” co-founder Masha Sedova told TechCrunch.

Specifically, the company has built a Security Behavior platform. “Our platform pulls in data sets that allow employees or security teams to see where the strengths and weaknesses of their organization lie, and then apply a suite of solutions that are rooted in behavioral science that helps them change behavior,” she explained.

Sedova and co-founder Robert Fly started working on this problem when both were part of the Salesforce security team. They began working with the idea of gamifying security to teach employees and customers how to be more security aware.

Elevate Security dashboard

When Fly’s team at Salesforce dug into the root of security problems, it found that it was often simply human error. He said it wasn’t malicious on the employee’s part, but they had jobs to do, and expected the security team to handle these issues. He realized that shifting employees to become more security aware was as much a behavioral psychology problem as a technology one and the roots of Elevate began to take shape.

The first product they built on top of the platform is called Hacker’s Mind, a tool designed to help employees understand how hackers think and operate.

The company launched in 2017 and currently has 15 employees, half of which are women. It also boasts an entirely female board of directors, and the startup plans to continue this trend as it staffs up with the new funding. Its headquarters are in San Francisco, but it just opened an engineering office in Montreal. Current customers include AutoDesk, Exxon and Illumio.

Google and IBM still trying desperately to move cloud market share needle

When it comes to the cloud market, there are few known knows. For instance, we know that AWS is the market leader with around 32 percent of market share. We know Microsoft is far back in second place with around 14 percent, the only other company in double digits. We also know that IBM and […]

When it comes to the cloud market, there are few known knows. For instance, we know that AWS is the market leader with around 32 percent of market share. We know Microsoft is far back in second place with around 14 percent, the only other company in double digits. We also know that IBM and Google are wallowing in third or fourth place, depending on whose numbers you look at, stuck in single digits. The market keeps expanding, but these two major companies never seem to get a much bigger piece of the pie.

Neither company is satisfied with that, of course. Google so much so that it moved on from Diane Greene at the end of last year, bringing in Oracle veteran Thomas Kurian to lead the division out of the doldrums. Meanwhile, IBM made an even bigger splash, plucking Red Hat from the market for $34 billion in October.

This week, the two companies made some more noise, letting the cloud market know that they are not ceding the market to anyone. For IBM, which is holding its big IBM Think conference this week in Las Vegas, it involved opening up Watson to competitor clouds. For a company like IBM, this was a huge move, akin to when Microsoft started building apps for iOS. It was an acknowledgement that working across platforms matters, and that if you want to gain market share, you had better start thinking outside the box.

While becoming cross-platform compatible isn’t exactly a radical notion in general, it most certainly is for a company like IBM, which if it had its druthers and a bit more market share, would probably have been content to maintain the status quo. But if the majority of your customers are pursuing a multi-cloud strategy, it might be a good idea for you to jump on the bandwagon — and that’s precisely what IBM has done by opening up access to Watson across clouds in this fashion.

Clearly buying Red Hat was about a hybrid cloud play, and if IBM is serious about that approach, and for $34 billion, it had better be — it would have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. As IBM Watson CTO and chief architect Ruchir Puri told my colleague Frederic Lardinois about the move, “It’s in these hybrid environments, they’ve got multiple cloud implementations, they have data in their private cloud as well. They have been struggling because the providers of AI have been trying to lock them into a particular implementation that is not suitable to this hybrid cloud environment.” This plays right into the Red Hat strategy, and I’m betting you’ll see more of this approach in other parts of the product line from IBM this year. (Google also acknowledged this when it announced a hybrid strategy of its own last year.)

Meanwhile, Thomas Kurian had his coming-out party at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference in San Francisco earlier today. Bloomberg reports that he announced a plan to increase the number of salespeople and train them to understand specific verticals, ripping a page straight from the playbook of his former employer, Oracle.

He suggested that his company would be more aggressive in pursuing traditional enterprise customers, although I’m sure his predecessor, Diane Greene, wasn’t exactly sitting around counting on inbound marketing interest to grow sales. In fact, rumor had it that she wanted to pursue government contracts much more aggressively than the company was willing to do. Now it’s up to Kurian to grow sales. Of course, given that Google doesn’t report cloud revenue it’s hard to know what growth would look like, but perhaps if it has more success it will be more forthcoming.

As Bloomberg’s Shira Ovide tweeted today, it’s one thing to turn to the tried and true enterprise playbook, but that doesn’t mean that executing on that approach is going to be simple, or that Google will be successful in the end.

These two companies obviously desperately want to alter their cloud fortunes, which have been fairly dismal to this point. The moves announced today are clearly part of a broader strategy to move the market share needle, but whether they can or the market positions have long ago hardened remains to be seen.

Glide helps you build mobile apps from a spreadsheet without coding

The founders of Glide, a member of the Y Combinator Winter 2019 class, had a notion that building mobile apps in the enterprise was too hard. They decided to simplify the process by starting with a spreadsheet, and automatically turning the contents into a slick mobile app. David Siegel, CEO and co-founder at Glide, was […]

The founders of Glide, a member of the Y Combinator Winter 2019 class, had a notion that building mobile apps in the enterprise was too hard. They decided to simplify the process by starting with a spreadsheet, and automatically turning the contents into a slick mobile app.

David Siegel, CEO and co-founder at Glide, was working with his co-founders Jason Smith, Mark Probst and Antonio Garcia Aprea at Xamerin, a cross-platform mobile development company that Microsoft acquired for $500 million in 2016. There, they witnessed first-hand the difficulty that companies were having building mobile apps. When their two-year stint at Microsoft was over, the four founders decided to build a startup to solve the problem.

“We saw how desperate some of the world’s largest companies were to have a mobile strategy, and also how painful and expensive it is to develop mobile apps. And we haven’t seen significant progress on that 10 years after the smartphone debuted,” Siegel told TechCrunch.

The founders began with research, looking at almost 100 no-code tools and were not really satisfied with any of them. They chose the venerable spreadsheet, a business tool many people use to track information, as the source for their mobile app builder, starting with Google Sheets.

“There’s a saying that spreadsheets are the most the most successful programming model of all time, and smartphones are the most successful computers of all time. So when we started exploring Glide we asked ourselves, can these two forces be combined to create something very valuable to let individuals and businesses build the type of apps that we saw Xamerin customers needed to build, but much more quickly,” Siegel said.

Photo: Glide

The company developed Glide, a service that lets you add information to a Google Sheet spreadsheet, and then very quickly create an app from the contents without coding. “You can easily assemble a polished, data-driven app that you can customize and share as a progressive web app, meaning you can get a link that you can share with anybody, and they can load it in a browser without downloading an app, or you can publish Glide apps as native apps to app stores,” Siegel explained. What’s more, there is a two-way connection between app and spreadsheet, so that when you add information in either place, the other element is updated.

The founders decided to apply at Y Combinator after consulting with former Xamerin CEO, and current GitHub chief executive, Nat Friedman. He and other advisors told them YC would be a great place for first-time founders to get guidance on building a company, taking advantage of the vast YC network.

One of the primary lessons he says that they have learned is the importance of getting out in the field and talking to customers, and not falling into the trap of falling in love with the act of building the tool. The company has actually helped fellow YC companies build mobile apps using the Glide tool.

Glide is live today and people can create apps using their own spreadsheet data, or using the templates available on the site as a starting point. There is a free tier available to try it without obligation.

PerimeterX secures $43M to protect web apps from bot attacks

We know by now that modern website attacks are typically automated, as armies of bots knock on doors until they inevitably find vulnerabilities and take advantage. PerimeterX, a San Francisco startup wants to protect sites from these automated assaults. Today, it announced a $43 million Series C. The round was led by Scale Venture Partners […]

We know by now that modern website attacks are typically automated, as armies of bots knock on doors until they inevitably find vulnerabilities and take advantage. PerimeterX, a San Francisco startup wants to protect sites from these automated assaults. Today, it announced a $43 million Series C.

The round was led by Scale Venture Partners . New investor Adams Street Partners joined existing investors Canaan Partners, Vertex Ventures and Data Collective in the round. Ariel Tseitlin, a partner at Scale will be joining the company’s board under the terms of the deal. Today’s investment brings the total raised to over $77 million, according to Crunchbase data.

Omri Iluz, co-founder and CEO at PerimeterX says bots have become the preferred way of hackers to attack websites and mobile apps, and his company has developed a way to defend against that kind of approach. It uses an approach called behavioral fingerprinting to blunt these automated attacks.

“Once we gain visibility into the behavior of the user, we are able to discern between normal behavior and an anomalous behavior that looks like it’s coming from an automated tool,” he said. The solution looks at attributes like mouse movements and swipes. It also analyze the hardware to understand the graphics driver and audio driver of whatever device the bot is purporting to be.

To achieve this kind of identification requires massive amounts of data and PerimeterX uses machine learning to help understand normal behavior and shut down anomalous behavior in an automated fashion.

The company was founded in 2014 and currently has 140 employees. Ariel Tseitlin from Scale Venture Partners, whose firm is leading the round, says as companies reach this level of maturity, the Series C money tends to go into sales and marketing to push the revenue pedal and scale the company.

“While there is a lot of opportunity in R&D, generally at this stage most of the dollars are going for sales and marketing, so hiring more salespeople, hiring more marketers more sales ops.
That’s where a big part of the expansion comes from, and that tends to be pretty closely correlated to revenue growth, and pretty closely correlated to just greater growth in general,” he explained

We wrote about Signal Sciences’ funding last week, a company that also works to protect web apps using a firewall approach. Iluz says that the two companies often work together in the same customers, rather than competing because they attack the problem differently.