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Datafold raises seed from NEA to keep improving the lives of data engineers

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Data engineering is one of these new disciplines that has gone from buzzword to mission critical in just a few years. Data engineers design and build all the connections between sources of raw data (your payments information or ad-tracking data or what have you) and the ultimate analytics dashboards used by business executives and data scientists to make decisions. As data has exploded, so has their challenge of doing this key work, which is why a new set of tools has arrived to make data engineering easier, faster and better than ever.

One of those tools is Datafold, a YC-backed startup I covered just a few weeks ago as it was preparing for its end-of-summer Demo Day presentation.

Well, that Demo Day presentation and the company’s trajectory clearly caught the eyes of investors, since the startup locked in $2.1 million in seed funding from NEA, the company announced this morning.

As I wrote back in August:

With Datafold, changes made by data engineers in their extractions and transformations can be compared for unintentional changes. For instance, maybe a function that formerly returned an integer now returns a text string, an accidental mistake introduced by the engineer. Rather than wait until BI tools flop and a bunch of alerts come in from managers, Datafold will indicate that there is likely some sort of problem, and identify what happened.

Definitely read our profile if you want to learn more about the product and origin story.

Not a whole heck of a lot has changed over the past few weeks (some new features, some new customers), but with more money in its billfold, Datafold is going to keep on growing, hiring and taking on the world of data engineering.

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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The fragmentation of everything

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The rise of technonationalism. Diverging regulatory regimes. The spread of “walled gardens.” Polarization like nothing we’ve seen before. The confluence of several trends is poised to completely fragment our real and digital worlds. For companies, this raises a host of new risks, from cybersecurity threats to reputation risk—which, in turn, will require new responses and approaches.

The techonomic cold war

A “techonomic cold war” is already under way—an ongoing, often-invisible state of conflict at the intersection of technology and geopolitics.

Competition to dominate the next generation of technology infrastructure—such as electric vehicles, 5G networks, and quantum computing—is becoming increasingly heated. It’s a high-stakes contest and the countries setting the rules for these technologies could secure significant economic advantage, much as the United States benefited over several decades from pioneering the personal computer and the internet.

At the same time, populist and nationalist leaders have been ascendant in much of the world. These leaders have protectionist and interventionist instincts, and a willingness to buck established norms. It’s a combination which has resulted in the deployment of unconventional tools to favor domestic companies—not just tariffs and trade wars, but company bans and new forms of cyberattacks such as weaponized disinformation.

All of this is leading to the partitioning of both the real world (e.g., trade, labor mobility, and investment) and the digital world (e.g., tech platforms and standards). In this fragmented future, companies once used to operating on a global stage will instead find themselves restricted to operating within the spheres of influence of their home states. (For more, see “Techonomic Cold War” in EY’s Megatrends 2020 report and MIT Technology Review’s “Technonationalism” issue).

Regulators aren’t the only ones fragmenting the digital world. To a large extent, tech companies have been doing it themselves.

Divergent social contracts

Technology platforms are today’s basic infrastructure, increasingly inseparable from the economies and societies in which they exist. These platforms are increasingly where citizens get news, engage in political debate, network professionally, and more.

But while tech companies might seek to create seamless, integrated global platforms, they in fact deliver their offerings in vastly different societies. The social contract of the US is fundamentally different from that of China, Saudi Arabia, or even the European Union (EU). So, governments and regulators in different markets have been moving to recast tech platforms in the image of their social contracts. An early example was China, which developed its own platforms that better align with its social contract than do US-developed offerings.

Meanwhile, the EU has become increasingly active and visible in regulating technology. The most prominent recent example, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), is a precursor of things to come. The GDPR tackles privacy and data protection, but much bigger regulatory issues loom, from the explainability of algorithms to the safety of autonomous vehicles (for more, see EY’s Bridging AI’s trust gaps report). As these technologies come of age and become more prominent in the lives of citizens, expect governments in different regions to become more active in regulating them. Over time, increasingly complex regulatory issues and divergent ideologies will create either separate platforms, or platforms that ostensibly have the same name but deliver fundamentally different user experiences in different geographies.

Walled gardens

Regulators aren’t the only ones fragmenting the digital world. To a large extent, tech companies have been doing it themselves. Walled gardens—closed, self-contained tech platforms or ecosystems—have endured because they are good for the bottom line. They allow companies to extract more value from customers and their data while offering a more curated user experience. In recent months, there has been a growing fragmentation of “over-the-top” media streaming services, with individual studios and networks developing their own subscriber platforms. Instead of streaming platforms that hosted content from a wide variety of creators, platforms will offer exclusive access to their own content—fragmenting the streaming media experience.

Hyperpolarization

It’s no secret that political polarization has been growing at an alarming rate and that social media platforms—while not solely responsible—have been fueling the trend. Filter bubbles in social media platforms have enabled the spread of misinformation, leaving platforms with the tricky and unenviable task of policing the truth.

Worrying as it may be, everything we have seen so far may be nothing compared with what lies ahead. As social media platforms become more active in stemming the flow of misinformation, its purveyors are starting to seek new homes free from policing. In the weeks since the recent US Presidential election, a growing number of Trump voters have started leaving mainstream social media platforms for alternatives such as Parler and Telegram. By the time the next Presidential election rolls around, it’s not farfetched to anticipate that we could see today’s social media filter bubbles replaced by entirely separate social media platforms catering to conservatives and liberals.

At that point, we will have moved from an era of polarization to one of hyperpolarization. For anyone worried social media platforms are doing too little to curb misinformation, imagine how much worse things will be with platforms that don’t even try.

Risks and challenges

The techonomic cold war necessitates a new approach to cybersecurity. “Companies need to guard against not just malware and phishing attacks, but weaponized disinformation,” says Kris Lovejoy, EY’s global consulting cybersecurity leader. “We’ve seen disinformation used to attack elections, but there’s no reason it couldn’t be used to target companies. Most companies today do not have the safeguards and protections they will need in the next frontier of cybersecurity.”

A second challenge is lack of transparency. Commerce thrives on transparency, yet instruments such as company bans are opaque and seemingly arbitrary. To the extent these instruments undermine transparency, they create uncertainty for businesses.

The regional fragmentation of platforms by regulation and divergent social contracts increases the complexity of regulatory compliance and the risk of regulatory noncompliance. Beyond mere compliance, companies face significant brand and reputation risk if consumers perceive platforms to be misaligned with societal values.

A hyperpolarized future will create some of the most significant challenges of all. Losing the last tenuous bridges between our divergent echo chambers would threaten everything from social stability to the future of democracy and the very existence of a shared reality.

This content was produced by EY. It was not written by MIT Technology Review’s editorial staff.

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Zephr raises $8M to help news publishers grow subscription revenue

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Zephr has raised $8 million in a new funding round led by Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments (owned by media giant Bertelsmann).

The London-headquarteed startup’s customers already include publishers like McClatchy, News Corp Australia, Dennis Publishing and PEI Media. CEO James Henderson told me via email that rather than creating “a monolithic product that tries to do a bit of everything,” Zephr is “focused entirely on the experience and journey for the prospect or customer,” driving an average 150% increase in conversion rates and 25% increase in subscription revenue within the first six months.

Henderson added, “By offering the right product, package or message at the right time to the right person, Zephr improves conversion rates, drastically decreases churn and drives new, stable revenue.”

To do this, Zephr largely relies on the publisher’s first-party data about its readers — Henderson said that this data is “by far the most important and powerful type of data that Zephr both uses and generates.” But it also takes advantage of contextual data, such as “time of day, to location, device or consumption patterns.”

He also noted that Zephr is a no-code tool, allowing non-technical members of the marketing, revenue and product teams to use a drag-and-drop editor to create different customer journeys.

Zephr

Image Credits: Zephr

Asked how the pandemic has affected the startup’s business, Henderson said that there were both “positive and negative indicators,” with newsrooms seeing record readership but in some cases also freezing spending.

“As firms prepare for a ‘post-pandemic’ world, we are beginning to see our markets seize the opportunity of all these new potential subscribers and invest in subscription models – and in Zephr.” he said. “In publishing and news media, the old model of dominant advertising revenue is on the way out and we are well-placed to capitalize on that interest.”

The new funding also includes financing from Silicon Valley Bank UK Branch and brings Zephr’s total funding to $11 million. Previous investors include Knight Capital and Nauta Capital. According to the company’s funding announcement, this money will go towards further product development (with a focus on increased personalization), as well as expansion across the United States, Europe and Asia.

“The recent weakness in the advertising market increased pressure for media companies to diversify revenue streams and aim to introduce or optimize subscription models,” said BDMI Managing Director Urs Crete in a statement. “We recognise Zephr’s excellent technology that empowers publishers to galvanise the online subscription opportunity and create customer journeys that are truly unique.”

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PrimaHealth Credit offers a buy-now, pay-later lending service for elective procedures

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The Newport Beach, Calif.-based healthcare lending service PrimaHealth Credit  is now pitching point-of-sale lending services for elective medical procedures.

Taking the kinds of financial lending services that have been popularized by companies like Klarna and Affirm, PrimaHealth Credit is bringing them into elective surgical space for things like cataract surgery, orthodontic work, dental care, or LASIK.

“For many dental, orthodontics, LASIK, and cataract surgery patients, our BNPL product is a ‘last resort’ – the difference between getting the treatment they need, or not,” said Brendon Kensel, founder and CEO of PrimaHealth Credit, in a statement.

The company expects that patients will pay somewhere between 25% and 50% of the cost of their treatment up front with repayment durations for the loans ranging between two and four months.

Rates for the loans will range from 19.99% to 24.99% APR with average loan sizes coming in at around $1,800 across dental, orthodontics, and LASIK, according to the company.

“Until now, when providers couldn’t approve patients for an existing payment plan, they’d either forego providing them care or take them on anyway, exposing themselves to significant liability as they struggle with adequately assessing creditworthiness and properly servicing and collecting loans,” Kensel said.

The program not only handles loan origination for healthcare practices, but handles the back-office tasks for payment and servicing.

“Our goal as a company is to remove barriers to patient acceptance and help people who have the means but not necessarily the credit score to get the quality care that everyone deserves,” Kensel said.

Using the PrimaHealth Credit mobile app, patients can receive instant credit decisions and choose the payment plan that works best for them. The company said the service is currently available in Arizona, California, Florida, Oklahoma, and Texas and will be expanded to all 50 states by 2021.

 

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