Google’s strategy for bringing new customers to its cloud is to focus on the enterprise and specific verticals like healthcare, energy, financial service and retail, among others. It’s healthcare efforts recently experienced a bit of a setback, with Epic now telling its customers that it is not moving forward with its plans to support Google Cloud, but in return, Google now got to announce two new customers in the travel business: Lufthansa Group, the world’s largest airline group by revenue, and Sabre, a company that provides backend services to airlines, hotels and travel aggregators.
For Sabre, Google Cloud is now the preferred cloud provider. Like a lot of companies in the travel (and especially the airline) industry, Sabre runs plenty of legacy systems and is currently in the process of modernizing its infrastructure. To do so, it has now entered a 10-year strategic partnership with Google “to improve operational agility while developing new services and creating a new marketplace for its airline, hospitality and travel agency customers.” The promise, here, too, is that these new technologies will allow the company to offer new travel tools for its customers.
When you hear about airline systems going down, it’s often Sabre’s fault, so just being able to avoid that would already bring a lot of value to its customers.
“At Google we build tools to help others, so a big part of our mission is helping other companies realize theirs. We’re so glad that Sabre has chosen to work with us to further their mission of building the future of travel,” said Google CEO Sundar Pichai . “Travelers seek convenience, choice and value. Our capabilities in AI and cloud computing will help Sabre deliver more of what consumers want.”
The same holds true for Google’s deal with Lufthansa Group, which includes German flag carrier Lufthansa itself, but also subsidiaries like Austrian, Swiss, Eurowings and Brussels Airlines, as well as a number of technical and logistics companies that provide services to various airlines.
“By combining Google Cloud’s technology with Lufthansa Group’s operational expertise, we are driving the digitization of our operation even further,” said Dr. Detlef Kayser, Member of the Executive Board of the Lufthansa Group. “This will enable us to identify possible flight irregularities even earlier and implement countermeasures at an early stage.”
Lufthansa Group has selected Google as a strategic partner to “optimized its operations performance.” A team from Google will work directly with Lufthansa to bring this project to life. The idea here is to use Google Cloud to build tools that help the company run its operations as smoothly as possible and to provide recommendations when things go awry due to bad weather, airspace congestion or a strike (which seems to happen rather regularly at Lufthansa these days).
Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.
Today we’re taking a moment to discuss the amount of money going into startups building OKR software. After covering WorkBoard’s recent round, I’ve noticed OKR software and services everywhere, even in Twitter ads that I somehow can’t avoid.
But surely there can’t be too many startups focused on OKR-related software and services? To answer that, let’s take a moment to detail out some of the startups in the space and their venture history. Leaning on my own research and some work by G2, this should be an entertaining way to spend our morning. Doubly so as several startups that we’ll discuss below (WorkBoard and Gtmhub, among others) are growing their ARR by several hundred percent each year, at the moment.
We’ll start with the world’s fastest definition of what OKRs are, and then dive in.
Losing access to Google software and services understandably threw Huawei for a loop. The Chinese hardware giant has clearly been working on a contingency plan to deal with the loss of access to things like Android and the Play Store, but Google’s offering formed so much of the devices’ software core — as they do so many of its competitors.
Huawei just lined up a pretty big name in its attempts to rebuild a competitive software suite. Dutch mapping giant TomTom has agreed to provide access to its navigation, mapping and traffic information. The two companies finalized a deal this week, per Reuters, letting Huawei use that information to build its own proprietary apps.
TomTom confirmed the deal, but declined to offer additional information. The move comes as the mapping company has taken a step back from hardware offerings, in favor of monetizing its software services. Given Huawei’s pretty massive footprint in the global smartphone market, this presents a pretty big deal for TomTom, which had previously provided info for AppleMaps.
Huawei was left reeling from U.S. sanctions that cut off access to U.S.-produced software and components. The company has been working to build its own Android competitor behind the scenes, though what we’ve seen of HarmonyOS has thus far been fairly muted. Rumors have also swirled around Huawei developing its own Maps competitor, so it’s hard to say how much it views this new deal as a stopgap.
On Anbox Cloud, Android becomes the guest operating system that runs containerized applications. This opens up a range of use cases, ranging from bespoke enterprise app to cloud gaming solutions.
The result is similar to what Google does with Android apps on Chrome OS, though the implementation is quite different and is based on the LXD container manager, as well as a number of Canonical projects like Juju and MAAS for provisioning the containers and automating the deployment. “LXD containers are lightweight, resulting in at least twice the container density compared to Android emulation in virtual machines – depending on streaming quality and/or workload complexity,” the company points out in its announcements.
Anbox itself, it’s worth noting, is an open-source project that came out of Canonical and the wider Ubuntu ecosystem. Launched by Canonical engineer Simon Fels in 2017, Anbox runs the full Android system in a container, which in turn allows you to run Android application on any Linux-based platform.
What’s the point of all of this? Canonical argues that it allows enterprises to offload mobile workloads to the cloud and then stream those applications to their employees’ mobile devices. But Canonical is also betting on 5G to enable more use cases, less because of the available bandwidth but more because of the low latencies it enables.
“Driven by emerging 5G networks and edge computing, millions of users will benefit from access to ultra-rich, on-demand Android applications on a platform of their choice,” said Stephan Fabel, Director of Product at Canonical, in today’s announcement. “Enterprises are now empowered to deliver high performance, high density computing to any device remotely, with reduced power consumption and in an economical manner.”
Outside of the enterprise, one of the use cases that Canonical seems to be focusing on is gaming and game streaming. A server in the cloud is generally more powerful than a smartphone, after all, though that gap is closing.
Canonical also cites app testing as another use case, given that the platform would allow developers to test apps on thousands of Android devices in parallel. Most developers, though, prefer to test their apps in real — not emulated — devices, given the fragmentation of the Android ecosystem.
Anbox Cloud can run in the public cloud, though Canonical is specifically partnering with edge computing specialist Packet to host it on the edge or on-premise. Silicon partners for the project are Ampere and Intel .
I’m still going through some of the comments I received on last week’s articles about the heightened competition among VCs for the best (typically SaaS) venture deals. Some more notes on whether large funds investing in small rounds causes VC signaling risk in a moment, but first, a fun anecdote about how lame LPs (still) are.
I was catching up with an ambitious founder of a VC firm this weekend, and we were taking about fundraising for VC firms and particularly the process of connecting with limited partners. Like startup founders, investment firms typically submit fund proposal decks and data rooms to potential LPs, who are then supposed to evaluate said material and either move toward an investment, ask for more information, or run the hell away.
Unlike VCs, however, LPs have apparently not caught on to the fact that access to this information is much more trackable than it was in the past. VCs now realize that their perusal of a deck on DocSend is being monitored by founders, and I have heard from more than one VC over the years that they have their executive assistants click through a deck in a deliberately slow fashion to make it look like they are putting more thought and attention into reading a founder’s fundraise deck than they really are.
LPs though have no such inkling that this is going on apparently. From the VC firm founder this weekend (paraphrasing), “What’s amazing is that I get asked for my data room, and then the potential LP will setup a time two weeks in the future to meet again. Fifteen minutes before our meeting, I get an email notification that they finally opened up the data room and started accessing its files.”
The best part is where the potential LP then waxes on about how much thought they put into their feedback to the VC.
As I explained last week, the paradox of big VC funds today is that they are actually doing more of the smaller startup fundraises as a way to secure access to later-stage deals.
So for many deals today, those later-stage cap tables are essentially locking out new investors, because there is already so much capital sitting around the cap table just salivating to double down.
That gets us straight to the paradox. In order to have access to later-stage rounds, you have to already be on the cap table, which means that you have to do the smaller, earlier-stage rounds. Suddenly, growth investors are coming back to early-stage rounds (including seed) just to have optionality on access to these startups and their fundraises.
One response I heard from a seed VC is that they focus on “founder referenceability.” What they mean by that is they use their existing portfolio founders as the key persuasion tool to convince new founders to take their term sheet over other (larger) competitors.
This particular seed investor argued (whether true or not) that they spend copious amounts of time in a concentrated manner with their portfolio companies, helping them with recruiting, business strategy, and customer development. That’s compared to larger firms, who have dozens (perhaps even hundreds) of seed investments and where founders can easily feel abandoned and without any support. “We win every time when founders talk to our portfolio companies,” was the general sentiment.
And yet. For founders living and dying by the ambiguity of their market, their product, their talent and their future, that imprimatur of a big-brand-name VC firm — even with paltry founder recommendations — is extremely hard to turn down. As a founder, do you want the VC who is going to work his or her ass off to help build your company, or the VC whose selection of your startup gives you (and likely your employees and your customers) the peace of mind that things are going really, really well?
The sense I get is that the viewpoint is shifting to the former from the latter, but the reality is that most founders can’t turn down the allure of the big name fund, even if they get an abundant set of glowing references about a lesser-known firm. Ultimately, that hard-working VC can help you with key hires and customers, but the reputation of a big firm will grease the wheel of every decision that gets made about your startup.
The other line of responses I got — including an extensive missive from a partner at a top 20 firm — is that VC signaling still limits the impact of a lot of the largest funds to invest earlier. Founders realize, the thinking goes, that taking money from a fund that can lead the next three rounds is bad, since if their investor doesn’t lead those rounds, it signals to other VCs that something is wrong with the company.
I increasingly feel VC signaling is a completely phantom pattern these days (disagree? Tell me your story → firstname.lastname@example.org). Not only do I think that VCs increasingly ignore these types of signals, I think the VCs who hustle the most aggressively are targeting the early seed checks of other funds in particular and intercepting their best deals.
Why does this work? For one, large firms haven’t really figured out how to manage the information flows from hundreds of portfolio companies simultaneously, so they consistently miss the inflection points of their own startups — points that smart VCs with good noses for opportunity identity faster.
Second, there is indeed something about referenceability and founder abandonment — a number of founders have told me that they send out a multitude of tweaked investor updates that include more or less information based on the relationship they have with an investor. Often their lead investor is getting the least information — and doesn’t even realize it. It’s a subtle hack for handling what could otherwise be an awkward situation. It also helps to create FOMO around a round that is particularly exploited by startup angels eager to find the largest early uptick in their portfolio.
Third and finally, as with all good VC investors, seeing an investment with a fresh pair of eyes rather than through the cynical air of experience can often lead to radically different investment decisions. An incumbent investor may have heard all the data and promises from a founder for one, two, or three years, and fails to see the slight changes happening at the end, while a new investor without that background can make a new decision based on the best evidence in front of them today.
The lesson to me isn’t that investors suddenly decided to ignore signals. It is that with so much competition for startup cap tables, having the right numbers and a great product story and narrative will overcome any other VC signal, positive or negative. And for the VCs themselves, there’s nothing quite like snatching the best golden egg from a competitor’s nest while they are out flying around searching for the next great deal, which if they had looked a little closer, just happened to be right in front of them.
A construction worker installs a rooftop on to a new home being built in Fairfax, Virginia.
Paul J. Richards | AFP | Getty Images
Homebuilding took a sharp turn higher to end 2019, but it is far from enough to satisfy the current demand. The U.S. housing market is short nearly 4 million homes, according to new analysis from realtor.com.
Analyzing Census data, the report showed that the 5.9 million single family homes built between 2012 and 2019 do not offset the 9.8 million new households formed during that time. Even with an above average pace of construction, it would take builders between four and five years to get back to a balanced market.
The shortfall today can be blamed on the epic housing crash of more than a decade ago, brought on by irrational and unscrupulous mortgage lending. With loans available to even the riskiest buyers, builders responded by putting up 1.7 million single-family homes at the peak of the construction boom in 2005, according to the U.S. Census. That was about 5 million more than the 20 year average.
When the lion’s share of those bad mortgages defaulted, and millions of homes went into foreclosure, home construction plummeted, landing at just 430 starts by 2011. In addition, about 5 million homes were bought by investors and turned into rentals during and after the crisis, further lowering for-sale inventory.
Builders crawled back after that, focusing on mostly higher-end homes, where the margins are more attractive. But lower mortgage rates and the aging millennial population have ignited demand in the last few years, and while builders put up 888,000 homes in 2019, it was still not enough.
“Simply put, new home starts are not keeping pace with demand. Homebuilders have a mountain of opportunity, but a big hill to climb,” said Javier Vivas, director of economic research at realtor.com. “The current inventory crisis and the need for 3.8 million new homes means a nearly insatiable appetite from potential buyers, especially in the lower end of the market.”
Builders are starting to address the entry-level market, offering smaller, more basic floor-plans with stripped-down amenities. That should help, but only if millennials are willing to move further away from the cities.
Adding to the supply crunch is the new desire among baby boomers to age in place. Older Americans are not freeing up their homes at the same rate as previous generations did at their age. Part of that is because so many millennials moved back in with their parents during the recession, unable to afford to either rent or buy their own space. That has left a shortage of move-up homes in some communities.
“Large populations of renters and well-qualified potential buyers with strong incomes are waiting in the wings,” added Vivas.
This week, on my way to check out a little ride debuting at Disneyland in California, I stopped by Walt Disney Animation Studios in Burbank to check out Myth: A Frozen Tale. Myth is a new VR experience created by a team working at the studio that debuted with the movie but has not yet launched for the public.
It uses Frozen 2 as a jumping off point but is not a continuation of the story.Instead, it builds off of the story of the movie and uses the tech to put the viewer into the world to experience the “spirits” of the film up close.
It’s incredibly effective, and an example of what can be done with VR when you have both expansive resources and full intellectual buy-in from an animation master foundry like WDAS.
I tried out Myth in the same building where Frozen 2 was made, the building itself is a living pipeline with story development on the top floor and departments working on animation and effects filling out the building in a cascade. The VR studio just off the main gathering space is right in the center of this activity and the team says that they used as much of the animation pipeline that was making Frozen 2 as was possible or effective.
Despite the Frozen 2 connection, Myth is not just a marketing stunt for the film, it’s a real animation title from a team that has already produced the lovely and touching Cycles VR short. A team backed by the most effective animation studio on the planet and with access to and integration to that apparatus.
Myth is an introduction to and encounter with the elemental spirits that play a large role in Frozen 2. We’re brought into the world through a family gathering around the fire for story time and are thrust quickly into another era where we see the spirits alive and active.
The project is presented as a sort of inverse theater in the round, with little movement required on the part of the audience. There are no interactive elements, but viewers will likely react to the scenes anyway as they’re quite effective. The spirits of fire, earth, air and water make an appearance and the sense of presence that is such a big part of VR’s innate appeal is put to real work here. Especially when it comes to earth and water.
Artist Brittney Lee served as Myth’s production designer and the impetus behind its 2D-in-3D aesthetic. If you’re familiar with Lee’s design work then you know the general look and feel of the fantasy landscape. But the surprise is exactly how well they nailed translating a sort of 2D multi-media look into three dimensional space.
If living illustrations in the vein of Mary Blair excites you, Myth is going to blow your shit.
The effectiveness of Myth has a lot to do with the set of affordances the team has built in. Audio, as always in VR, is an effective tool to guide the viewer’s attention around the space and through an unfolding narrative. But Myth uses a few additional tricks that I think would be wise for other creators to study.
As you watch, the focus gently and naturally moves around you in a circle (never quite making you turn a full circumference, which is important to avoid distraction for wired setups). There is also, quite deliberately, no aggressive changes in attention that would require a viewer to do a 180 degree turn. Even the surprising and impactful moments are carefully telegraphed to avoid VR whiplash.
“We talked about how much interactivity we wanted against how cinematic we needed it to be,” says Producer Nicholas Russel. “And, we make cinema, we make films and we wanted to make sure it felt like that.”
As that focus changes, the scene gradually desaturates in areas that are not currently in play and eventually will dim and darken. A sort of organic-feeling ‘hot or cold’ game that it plays with your eyes. This leads to the viewer getting the point pretty quickly that the action is taking place over there not over here.
And the potency of the short also has a lot to do with the music-driven narrative. Composer Joe Trapanese roughed out the score early for the project and was able to come to the studio as well, which meant that, very unlike most Disney features the team was able to animate to the music itself. Gipson says that this leads a lot of people to make a comparison to Fantasia or Peter and the Wolf, which I definitely think is valid.
I mentioned before that the team was able to use the animation pipeline of Frozen 2 to help them realize the spirit characters. One of the most visceral of these is the Nokk, the water horse that features heavily in the film.
As a part of my visit I got to talk to Svetla Radivoeva, Animation Supervisor and Marc Bryant, Effects Lead on the Nokk for Frozen 2. They worked for 7 months along with the 38 members of the Technical Animation, Tech Anim, team to make the Nokk happen. There were 8 technical artists working full time on the water Nokk and 7 on the ice Nokk alone.
Bryant says that robust communication, being in the same building together and continuous sharing of tools and strong simulation rigs allowed them to pull off such a complex character.
That intensely developed character was then brought into the world of Myth, adapting its design to one of living and moving illustration using Epic’s Unreal engine. Though the strength and beauty of the horse is one of the more technically impressive and emotive moments in the movie, actually being in its presence wasn’t something a Frozen fan could expect to happen.
Myth does that and it’s a testament to the interlinked way that the animation and VR teams worked on this project that it actually plays. It’s damn good, and so was Director Jeff Gipson’s previous title Cycles. Disney is doing some great filmmaking work that just happens to be in VR.
“What does it mean to have Disney animation in VR vs we have to make it for this reason or this purpose,” Gipson says, “instead it’s how do we continue to innovate [in filmmaking].”
“It wasn’t a marketing study,” notes VR Technology Supervisor Jose Luis Gomez Diaz, “because we’d say oh let’s use Olaf who everybody loves. We could have done something with those characters, but this is more the story that Jeff wanted to tell and it’s a good companion to the movie.”
The short is designed, they say, to transmit that feeling of what it’s like to be Elsa in front of the Nokk. And it works. You feel that intense sense of presence.
After Cycles and A Kite’s Tale, Myth is a strong new entry into Disney’s canon of VR productions, and it’s a clear bright spot in the landscape of virtual filmmaking. Cycles will debut on Disney+ on January 24th after premiering in the US at NYFF 2018, but the VR version isn’t out there yet. It’s a real emotional gut punch of a short and I hope it hits in VR soon.
The eventual viewers of Myth will not have to intellectually appreciate the energy and cleverness with which this project was tackled, but they will feel it emotionally. It’s quite simply one of the best VR presentations like this I’ve ever seen executed and it should be studied by anyone trying to execute a non-interactive cinematic story in VR.
Myth: A Frozen Tale is showing in VR at Sundance next week but Disney says is still exploring different ways to bring it to audiences.
Roku announced this morning it’s expanding into Brazil, a sizable market that could have a notable impact on the streaming device maker’s advertising business. The company last summer was said to be considering a Brazil expansion, at a time when over 90% of its advertising business’s revenue came from the U.S. Since then, Roku expanded its TV licensing program to Europe, and at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show revealed plans to add new international Roku TV partners, including its first in the U.K., bringing its total global brand partners to 15.
In Brazil, Roku is entering the market by way of a partnership with AOC to launch the AOC Roku TV in the country. The TV will come in two models: a 32-inch HD TV with integrated wired and wireless connectivity ($1.199,00 Reais), and a 43-inch FHD TV also with both wired and wireless connectivity ($1.599,00 Reais).
Like other Roku TVs, the TV will also offer Roku’s personalized home screen, built-in search, a Roku remote with dedicated channel shortcut buttons, automatic software updates, and support for the Roku mobile app. The Roku Channel Store in Brazil will allow customers to choose from over 5,000 streaming channels for watching movies and TV.
One of the first market-specific channels will be local streaming service Globoplay, which will offer users live TV as well as on-demand movies and TV shows. It also will grab one of the coveted shortcut buttons on the Roku remote control.
“The partnership with Roku has a strategic importance for the development of the streaming market in Brazil. Globoplay content will allow Roku to have an excellent position in our market in the long run,” said Fernando Ramos, Executive Director of G2C Globo, in a statement. “Given the importance of the Roku platform in other countries, we believe Roku has a great opportunity in our country,”
Other services available at launch include the Apple TV app (Apple TV+), BabyFirst TV, sports streaming service DAZN, Deezer, Google Play, Happy Kids, HBO GO, Brazilian streaming service Looke, Netflix, Spotify, and YouTube.
“I’m delighted to bring Roku to Brazil, one of the largest streaming markets in the world,” said Anthony Wood, Founder and CEO of Roku, in a statement. “With the arrival of Roku, consumers in Brazil will now be able to enjoy their favorite TV programs and movies on the easy to use Roku platform. We want to bring streaming to everyone in Brazil.”
The expansion should have an impact in terms of Roku’s revenue — the majority of which today comes from its advertising business, not its device sales. In Q3 2019, Roku platform revenue, led by advertising, reached $179.3 million versus $81.6 million for device revenue. However, most of Roku’s focus to date has been on the North American market, where it’s now the No. 1 licensed TV operating system and No. 1 media platform in the U.S. by hours streamed.
Roku’s rival, Amazon Fire TV, meanwhile, has focused more on international markets. In addition to the U.S., Fire TV has been available in Canada, the U.K., Germany, Ireland, Austria, and India, and Amazon plans to launch more Fire TV Edition smart TVs in these markets and others (including Italy, Spain, and Mexico) in 2020.
The two are often very close in active user numbers, with Amazon Fire TV having just announced over 40 million active users — more than the 32.3 million Roku reported in Q3. (It will report Q4 results in February, where those numbers may be updated).
The new AOC Roku TVs will be available starting January 22 in Casas Bahia, Ponto Frio and Extra, and in other stores as of early February.
Lego is releasing an official International Space Station kit, which includes a scale model of the orbital platform, along with a miniature dockable Space Shuttle, a deployable satellite and two astronaut minifigurines. The kit is made up of 864 pieces, and celebrates the science station’s over 20 years in operation. It was originally suggested through Lego’s Ideas platform, which crowdsources ideas from the Lego fan community.
The new kit will be available starting in February, and will retail for $69.99. It looks like a fairly involved kit, and that’s backed up by the recommended age for the assembly being pegged at 16+. The station is presented in al its glory, including its large, fan-like solar power arrays, as well as its docking station, which works with both the Space Shuttle mini model and a cargo capsule that’s also included as part of the set.
The real ISS, a collaborative effort between NASA, Russia’s Roscosmos, Europe’s ESA and Canada’s CSA, was first launched in 1998, and has been operating continuously with people on board for just over 19 years (its official 20th ‘operational’ anniversary is this November. The station has exceeded its original intended mission lifespan, but it’s expected to continue serving as an orbital science facility until at least 2030 thanks to mission expansions.
Good morning, friends, and welcome back to TechCrunch’s Equity Monday, a short-form audio hit to kickstart your week. Equity’s regular, long-form shows still land each and every Friday, including this entry from just a few days ago.
This morning, coming to you early from the frozen tundra of the American East Coast, it’s Tuesday. That’s because yesterday was a holiday in the United States, so we took the day to work a little bit less than usual. But that doesn’t mean we’d skip an episode, so let’s dive into topics:
Uber is cutting its losses in India, selling its Eats business for a stake in Zomato. Zomato is well-funded, and Uber now loses less money. However, where it will find growth is the next question.
Earnings season is upon us. This week, Netflix, IBM, and Intel will announce their results. Naturally, those aren’t the companies that we care about the most on Equity, but they are big enough to generate quite a lot of noise. Noise that will help set market sentiment regarding technology companies, both public and private.
Captrace also put together a round, though we don’t know how large. What happens if you cross the cap table with blockchain? We may find out.
Finally, a reminder as to why Uber is leaving Eats in India behind. Globally, Uber Eats turned $3.66 billion in GMV into $392 million in adjusted net revenue in Q3 2019. That wound up generating -$316 million in adjusted EBITDA. Damn.
And that was all the time that we had. We’re back Friday and Monday.