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Proxy raises $13.6M to unlock anything with Bluetooth identity – TechCrunch

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You know how kings used to have trumpeters heralding their arrival wherever they went? Proxy wants to do that with Bluetooth. The startup lets you instantly unlock office doors and reserve meeting rooms using Bluetooth Low Energy signal. You never even have to pull out your phone or open an app. But Proxy is gearing up to build an entire Bluetooth identity layer for the world that could invisibly hover around its users. That could allow devices around the workplace and beyond to instantly recognize your credentials and preferences to sign you into teleconferences, pay for public transit or ask the barista for your usual.

Today, Proxy emerges from stealth after piloting its keyless, badgeless office entry tech with 50 companies. It’s raised a $13.6 million Series A round led by Kleiner Perkins to turn your phone into your skeleton key. “The door is a forcing function to solve all the hard problems — everything from safety to reliability to the experience to privacy,” says Proxy co-founder and CEO Denis Mars. “If you’re gonna do this, it’s gonna have to work right, and especially if you’re going to do this in the workplace with enterprises where there’s no room to fix it.”

But rather than creepily trying to capitalize on your data, Proxy believes you should own and control it. Each interaction is powered by an encrypted one-time token so you’re not just beaming your unprotected information out into the universe. “I’ve been really worried about how the internet world spills over to the physical world. Cookies are everywhere with no control. What’s the future going to be like? Are we going to be tracked everywhere or is there a better way?” He figured the best path to the destiny he wanted was to build it himself.

Mars and his co-founder Simon Ratner, both Australian, have been best buddies for 10 years. Ratner co-founded a video annotation startup called Omnisio that was acquired by YouTube, while Mars co-founded teleconferencing company Bitplay, which was bought by Jive Software. Ratner ended up joining Jive where the pair began plotting a new startup. “We asked ourselves what we wanted to do with the next 10 or 20 years of our lives. We both had kids and it changed our perspective. What’s meaningful that’s worth working on for a long time?”

They decided to fix a real problem while also addressing their privacy concerns. As he experimented with Internet of Things devices, Mars found every fridge and light bulb wanted you to download an app, set up a profile, enter your password and then hit a button to make something happen. He became convinced this couldn’t scale and we’d need a hands-free way to tell computers who we are. The idea for Proxy emerged. Mars wanted to know, “Can we create this universal signal that anything can pick up?”

Most offices already have infrastructure for badge-based RFID entry. The problem is that employees often forget their badges, waste time fumbling to scan them and don’t get additional value from the system elsewhere.

So rather than re-invent the wheel, Proxy integrates with existing access control systems at offices. It just replaces your cards with an app authorized to constantly emit a Bluetooth Low Energy signal with an encrypted identifier of your identity. The signal is picked up by readers that fit onto the existing fixtures. Employees can then just walk up to a door with their phone within about six feet of the sensor and the door pops open. Meanwhile, their bosses can define who can go where using the same software as before, but the user still owns their credentials.

“Data is valuable, but how does the end user benefit? How do we change all that value being stuck with these big tech companies and instead give it to the user?” Mars asks. “We need to make privacy a thing that’s not exploited.”

Mars believes now’s the time for Proxy because phone battery life is finally getting good enough that people aren’t constantly worried about running out of juice. Proxy’s Bluetooth Low Energy signal doesn’t suck up much, and geofencing can wake up the app in case it shuts down while on a long stint away from the office. Proxy has even considered putting inductive charging into its sensors so you could top up until your phone turns back on and you can unlock the door.

Opening office doors isn’t super exciting, though. What comes next is. Proxy is polishing its features that auto-reserve conference rooms when you walk inside, that sign you into your teleconferencing system when you approach the screen and that personalize workstations when you arrive. It’s also working on better office guest check-in to eliminate the annoying iPad sign-in process in the lobby. Next, Mars is eyeing “Your car, your home, all your devices. All these things are going to ask ‘can I sense you and do something useful for you?’ ”

After demoing at Y Combinator, thousands of companies reached out to Proxy, from hotel chains to corporate conglomerates to theme parks. Proxy charges for its hardware, plus a monthly subscription fee per reader. Employees are eager to ditch their keycards, so Proxy sees 90 percent adoption across all its deployments. Customers only churn if something breaks, and it hasn’t lost a customer in two years, Mars claims.

The status quo of keycards, competitors like Openpath and long-standing incumbents all typically only handle doors, while Proxy wants to build an omni-device identity system. Now Proxy has the cash to challenge them, thanks to the $13.6 million from Kleiner, Y Combinator, Coatue Management and strategic investor WeWork. In fact, Proxy now counts WeWork’s headquarters and Dropbox as clients. “With Proxywe can give our employees, contractors and visitors a seamless smartphone-enabled access experience they love, while actually bolstering security,” says Christopher Bauer, Dropbox’s physical security systems architect.

The cash will help answer the question of “How do we turn this into a protocol so we don’t have to build the other side for everyone?,” Mars explains. Proxy will build out SDKs that can be integrated into any device, like a smoke detector that could recognize which people are in the vicinity and report that to first responders. Mars thinks hotel rooms that learn your climate, wake-up call and housekeeping preferences would be a no-brainer. Amazon Go-style autonomous retail could also benefit from the tech.

When asked what keeps him up at night, Mars concludes that “the biggest thing that scares me is that this requires us to be the most trustworthy company on the planet. There is no ‘move fast, break things’ here. It’s ‘move fast, do it right, don’t screw it up.’ “

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AIOps startup BigPanda raises Series E extension, bringing its total capital to $340M – TechCrunch

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BigPanda, a startup developing AI to audit changes in IT environments and recommend how to fix them, has raised $20 million in an extension of its Series E round. UBS Next and Wells Fargo Strategic Capital contributed to the tranche, bringing BigPanda’s total raised to $340 million. The company’s valuation remains unchanged at $1.2 billion.

As my colleague Christine Hall recently reported, BigPanda works to prevent corporate network outages by analyzing data from observability and monitoring services. The platform can automate aspects of incident response, like ticketing, and optionally connect to third-party runbook automation tools to run automated workflows. BigPanda also provides analytics to track incident trends and metrics and to enable teams to measure progress toward company goals.

BigPanda was founded in 2012 by Assaf Resnick and Elik Eizenberg. Resnick was an analyst at Moody’s before becoming a principal at Sequoia Capital and a member at Jibe Ventures. Eizenberg, formerly head of IT operations at IDF, worked on algorithms and software at stock-trading startup MarketWindows prior to joining BigPanda.

“In 2011, Eizenberg and I had launched an adtech company built on a very modern and sophisticated cloud infrastructure,” Resnick told TechCrunch via email. “However, like many companies, we started running into issues keeping services running in that complex environment. With more monitoring data than we could humanly process, and yet no insights as to what was causing performance issues or outages, we quickly built a tool to help them identify incidents as they were happening. That’s when we realized there was a bigger unmet need we wanted to solve.”

Resnick believes the capital infusion — particularly during this tough economic climate — highlights the demand for BigPanda and AIOps, or software that correlates events in IT systems. To his point, the AIOps market grew rapidly during the pandemic, particularly as the worker shortage in IT worsened. Gartner predicts 40% of companies will be using AIOps for app and infrastructure monitoring by 2023.

BigPanda competes for AIOps dominance with startups like ScienceLogic, Coiled and OpsRamp. And in recent months, larger vendors have entered the ring. New Relic expanded its AIOps services with the launch of an anomaly detection service last March, and ServiceNow — signaling its ambitions — acquired AIOps vendor Loom Systems in January 2020.

“COVID-19 forced organizations to modernize or suffer the consequences. This economic recession will force companies to do more with less,” Resnick said. “While we sit in the broad category of AIOps with a dozen other vendors, there is no competitor singularly focused on delivering vendor-agnostic event correlation and automation to improve incident management.”

BigPanda claims to have 100 customers, including strategic clients like UBS and Wells Fargo. Revenue remains “under $100 million” with an 80% gross margin profile, in line with the figures Resnick gave TechCrunch in January.

Part of the new cash will go toward hiring, Resnick says. BigPanda plans to exit 2022 with over 350 employees, up from its current headcount of 330.

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HyperTrack, which provides last-mile routing software, raises $25M – TechCrunch

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In a sign that the market for logistics and transportation tech isn’t cooling (economic downturn be damned), HyperTrack, a startup offering APIs for freight order planning, assignment and tracking, today closed a $25 million Series A funding round. Led by Westbridge Capital with participation from Nexus Venture Partners, the round will be put toward expanding HyperTrack’s engineering team and “doubling down” on broader growth, CEO Kashyap Deorah told TechCrunch in an interview this month.

As supply chain challenges endure, VCs view logistics startups — including HyperTrack — as a safe bet in choppy market waters. While investment slowed in early 2022 compared to 2021, startups developing transportation and logistics technologies still collected $14 billion in Q1 alone, according to PitchBook.

“The pandemic significantly accelerated on-demand delivery, the growth of the gig economy and software automation. All three factors have served as tailwinds for HyperTrack’s growth,” Deorah told TechCrunch via email. “Two of the toughest challenges for technology leaders are hiring talent and optimizing cloud bills. Business demands speed-to-market while development roadmaps continue becoming delayed. APIs help technology teams to build their apps their own way with predictable time and cost.”

Prior to launching HyperTrack, Deorah co-founded blogging platform RightHalf.com and restaurant payments app Chalo (among other startups), which were acquired by Stratify and OpenTable, respectively. After spending a little over a year at OpenTable as GM of payments after the Chalo acquisition, Deorah says he was inspired to found HyperTrack due to the growing demand in the “on-demand” economy (e.g., food and goods delivery services) for location and mapping tech.

Image Credits: HyperTrack

“In the early days of DoorDash, Instacart and Postmates, then called ‘Uber-for-X,’ I recognized the on-demand economy as the convergence of physical and digital commerce across multiple industries and regions,” Deorah said. “HyperTrack has witnessed too many enterprises building their own logistics tech solutions, especially for on-demand fulfillment by gig workers. Our APIs deliver a better solution, support and price predictability than hyperscalers.”

As Deorah explains, traditionally, companies making on-demand deliveries have taken a “linear approach” to geocoding customers’ addresses. (“Geocoding” refers to transforming a description of a location, like an address or place name, to geographic coordinates.) But the addresses aren’t always accurate. A recent study found that the coordinates vary widely across commercial vendors, with one vendor accurately mapping addresses only 30% of the time.

HyperTrack, by contrast, claims to use “ground truth” delivery data — data from orders fulfilled and routes taken to destinations, for example — to compute address accuracy in addition to metrics like service time, route deviations and live driver locations. The platform loops this data back into AI systems to “continuously” improve delivery order planning and assignment, Deorah says — ideally preventing delayed orders, lowballed payments to drivers and wrong ETAs.

To customers, HyperTrack offers software development kits and APIs specifically for logistics around the last mile, or the last leg of an order’s journey. The toolkit allows companies to build workflows that help predict things like capacity utilization and per-order costs, plus capabilities like nearby search, geotags, geofences and “flex routes” in consumer and delivery driver apps.

HyperTrack tackles a logistics roadblock that other vendors, including Google and Amazon, have long aimed to address, too, with their own solutions. For example, AWS’ Amazon Location Service lets developers add location functionality like maps, routing and tracking to their apps, while Google’s Last Mile Fleet Solution ships with APIs, SDKs and a backend service for mapping and routing functionality.

But Deorah asserts that HyperTrack is one of the few offerings on the market that bridges mobile, cloud and maps for a per-order price. He takes aim at startups like Onfleet, Bringg (which became a unicorn last June) and Locus as well, which he says only provide proprietary packaged apps as opposed to unbundled APIs and development kits.

Cost is indeed a major challenge for logistics providers in last-mile delivery. According to Statista, more than half cite increasing delivery costs as their main challenge, followed by reliable order fulfillment and a lack of workers. Eighty-two percent of brands feel they need to improve their customers’ last-mile experiences, a separate survey showed — in part by increasing delivery options and promoting sustainability.

The stakes can be high. In 2021, a Florida trucking contractor contended that the U.S. Postal Service’s reliance on dynamic route optimization software shorted it $110 million, forcing it to slash hundreds of jobs and opening it up to lawsuits. Amazon’s cost-saving routing algorithm reportedly had drivers walking into traffic.

HyperTrack

Image Credits: HyperTrack

“Builders of logistics technology can often become confused by the various route solvers, mapping platforms, cloud technologies and smartphone APIs they need to stitch together to build simple use cases — not to mention inflexible fleet management applications that confuse developers with their APIs,” Deorah said. “[Using HyperTrack,] logistics tech builders no longer need to develop for months with a team of engineers to build out the consumer and driver apps for mobile, live location tracking, operations dashboard and cloud infrastructure.”

Up against the formidable competition, HyperTrack appears to have fared well, with 3,000 apps using the platform, including technician firm Jobox and home services company Spiritzone. Deorah — who declined to reveal revenue numbers — claims that the platform is now coordinating 10 million orders per month across a fleet of 150,000 drivers.

“In 2022 alone, HyperTrack has grown from 15 to 30 employees and we plan to grow to 40 within the next few months.” Deorah said. “[HyperTrack] has been a complex product to build, yet here we are with a great product and many production users, and it is time to now double down on growth.”

The Series A tranche brings HyperTrack’s total raised capital to $32 million.

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Spotify and Samsung expand their partnership in 2022, with more pre-installs, integrations and free trials – TechCrunch

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Spotify is again expanding its 2018 partnership with Samsung in 2022, the company announced. This year, Samsung and Spotify are working together on a number of cross-platform integrations involving Samsung phones, earbuds, watches, TVs and more. The deal will again include pre-installations of Spotify’s app on Samsung Galaxy phones and Smart TVs, the streamer also noted.

The original partnership was meant to give Samsung a better means of competing with Apple after the failure of its own music streaming service, Milk Music, in 2016. Instead of trying to operate its own music business, it now points users to Spotify, offering deep integrations, as well as subscription deals and discounts along the way. Picking Spotify as a key partner made sense as it’s a clear frontrunner in the streaming space.

This week, Spotify announced a continuation of its pre-install agreement, which will see anyone who purchases a 2022 Samsung Smart TV or Samsung Galaxy phone receiving the Spotify app already installed on the device. In addition, new Spotify users will be able to access a free three-month offer to Spotify Premium. Spotify and Samsung have previously done pre-installations with various devices, including Galaxy S10, S10+, S10e, S10 5G and Galaxy Fold, among other Galaxy A devices.

In addition, Samsung users with Android devices will be able to play Spotify Group Sessions during video calls on Google Meet. Galaxy Watch5 Pro users can use Spotify with Google Assistant on WearOS. And Galaxy Buds2 Pro will be enabled with Spotify Tap, allowing users to play a song when they tap and hold.

Plus, Spotify is offering three free months of Spotify Premium to Samsung users in 85 markets — a list that now includes some newer markets like Austria, Czech Republic, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kosovo, Luxembourg, Slovakia, South Korea, Vietnam and parts of Ukraine. (Spotify is excluding the Republic of Crimea, the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic.)

Since the August 2018 unveiling of the partnership between Spotify and Samsung, the deal has allowed users to switch between devices and carry on listening to a Spotify song or podcast. It’s a win-win for both companies as Spotify has the opportunity to reach new listeners and customers continue using Samsung devices.

A free trial to more markets is Spotify’s way of trying to gain more premium subscribers in its battle with rivals like Apple Music, YouTube Music and Amazon Music. Spotify’s subscriber growth exceeded expectations in the recent quarter, with an added 11 million net new listeners and six million premium subscribers, bringing the total to 188 million premium subscribers and 433 million monthly active users.

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