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Pipe17 closes $8M to connect a range of e-commerce tools without any code required

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This morning Pipe17, a software startup focused on the e-commerce market, announced that it has closed $8 million in funding.

Pipe17’s service helps smaller e-commerce merchants connect their digital tools, without the need to code. With the startup’s service, e-commerce operations that may lack an in-house IT function can quickly connect their selling platform to shipping, or point-of-sale data to their ERP.

The venture arm of a large logistics investor GLP, GLP Capital Partners led the round.

Pipe17 co-founders Mo Afshar and Dave Shaffer told TechCrunch in an interview that the idea for their startup came from examining the e-commerce market, noting the energy to be found concerning selling platforms, and the comparative dearth of software to help get e-commerce tools to work together; Shopify and BigCommerce and Shippo are just fine, but if you can’t code you might wind up schlepping data from one platform to the next to keep your e-commerce operation humming.

So they built Pipe17 to fill in the gap.

According to Afshar, Pipe17 wants to simplify operations for e-commerce merchants through the lens of connection; the pair of co-founders believe that easy cross-compatibility is the key missing ingredient in the modern-day e-commerce software stack, likening the current e-commerce maket to the IT and datacenter worlds before the advent of Splunk and Datadog.

The prevailing view in the e-commerce industry, the co-founders explained, is that to fix a problem e-commerce players should purchase another application. Pipe17 thinks that most ecommerce companies probably have enough tooling, and that they instead need to get their existing tooling to communicate.

What’s neat about the startup is that it’s building something that we might call no-code-no-code, or no-code to a higher degree. Instead of offering a interface for non-developers to visually map out connections between different software services, it has pre-built what might need to be mapped. Just pick the two e-commerce services you want to link, and Pipe17 will connect them for you in an intelligent manner. For folks who find any sort of coding hard (which probably describes a lot of indie online store operators), the method could be an attractive pitch.

The startup’s customer target are sellers doing single-digit millions to nine-figures in year sales.

Why did Pipe17 raise capital now? The co-founders said that there are only so many chances to simplify a large market, akin to what Plaid and Twilio did for their own niches, so taking on funds now made sense. In Afshar’s view, e-commerce operations is going to be simply massive. Given the growth in digital selling that we saw last year, it’s a perspective that is hard to dispute.

The niche that Pipe17 wants to fill has more than one player. While the startups themselves might quibble about just how much competitive space they share, Y Combinator-backed Alloy recently raised $4 million to build a no-code e-commerce automation service. Which is related to what Pipe17 does. It will be interesting to see if they wind up in competition, and, if so, who comes out on top.

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

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Meet Smash Ventures, the low-flying outfit that has quietly funded Epic Games among others

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When in 2018, Smash Ventures showed up as an investor in a $1.25 billion round for Epic Games — reportedly the largest ever investment in a video game company at the time — it was the first time many had heard of the investing outfit.

When the brand showed up again last summer in an even bigger round for Epic —  last August, the games giant announced $1.78 billion in fresh funding at a post-money equity valuation of $17.3 billion — a diner near Epic’s Cary, North Carolina headquarters that sells “smash waffles” started getting calls from reporters, says Eric Garland, who used to lead venture and growth deals for The Walt Disney Company after selling his company, BigChampagne, to Live Nation in 2011.

“Some reporters really turned over rocks,” he says.

Garland knows this, he says, because he cofounded Smash Ventures with Evan Richter, a former member of Disney’s corporate strategy and business development team (and who, before that, was an investor at Insight Partners).

They pair say they weren’t trying to duck the press after striking out on their own a few years ago; they were mostly just trying to get their firm off the ground, which they’ve seemingly done and then some. First, there’s the newly closed $75 million debut fund from strategic partners and notable investors like Kevin Mayer, the former CEO of TikTok and the former Disney executive; Pixar cofounder Ed Catmull; and journalist Willow Bay, who is now dean of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Yet it’s just small notable piece of what they have assembled.

Indeed, at a time when money is more of a commodity than ever and can be accessed easily by many founders, Smash has a few tricks up its sleeve, Richter and Garland suggest.

One thing to know, for example, is that the two apparently have little spinning up side vehicles when they wedge their way into an interesting deal. While they got to know Epic Games through Disney (it made an investment in the company in 2017 when Epic took part in its accelerator program), when they persuaded founder Tim Sweeney to take a bigger check from Smash Ventures in 2018, they were able to package together “several hundred million dollars” from their LPs for a stake in the business.

The also “flexed up” with the help of its limited partners to put a separate $200 million into others of its handful of portfolio companies. These include DraftKings, before it went public through a blank-check company last year; the footwear, apparel and accessory brand Nobull; the men’s grooming company Manscaped; and India’s biggest e-learning startup, Byju’s.

Disney — one of the world’s most powerful brands —  is a common thread throughout. In addition to inviting Epic into its accelerator program, Disney began work on an education app with Byju back in 2018 and it owned 6% of DraftKings when it went public last year.

Mayer, the former Disney exec who more recently began launching special purpose acquisition vehicles, credits Richter and Garland with finding “a lot of really cool companies like Epic” while inside Disney, saying he has “been supporting them ever since, because I think they’re great.”

Underscoring the strength of that former Disney network — another apparent advantage here — Mayer says that in addition to being a limited partner, he will sometimes “try and talk to their CEOs, give strategic advice, and talk about exits and M&A with some of their portfolio companies.” (Catmull, who was the president of Walt Disney Animation Studios after Disney acquired Pixar in 2006, was also pulled in to help seal the Epic deal, says Garland.)

As for whether Smash’s dealings have irritated current execs at Disney — it isn’t hard to imagine the entertainment giant would have liked a bigger stake in Epic — Garland says no, adding that “Disney is not generally in the venture business.”

In the meantime, Smash also says it’s getting into deals by helping companies tell stories to their respective, captive audiences. As Richter explains it, “The leading consumer software and internet businesses are building massive, and dedicated, user bases, and media, whether it’s a Travis Scott experience within Epic Games, or an IP collaboration between Marvel or Disney [and Byju’s], or whether it’s doing something with the UFC [which last year partnered with Manscaped], can be an incredible way to keep and grow a user base.”

The firm certainly appears to spend a lot of time with its portfolio companies on these efforts. While Smash wrote its first check in 2018, it has just five portfolio companies to date, and it plans only to invest in 10 to 12 companies altogether with that $75 million pool of capital, writing checks as small as $5 million to $10 million, with the ability to write far larger checks when the opportunity arises and its LP network says yes to it.

Asked why the firm is suddenly going public with those efforts, Richter suggests it’s time to cast a wider net. Even still, Garland says that “we like to stay focused. We make a lot of noise for our portfolio companies,” he adds,” but we are ourselves very heads down.”

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SpaceX’s floating oil rig spaceship launch pad could be operating later this year according to Elon Musk

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SpaceX’s grand vision for Starship, the next-generation spacecraft it’s currently in the process of developing, includes not only trips to Mars, but also regular point-to-point flights right here on Earth. These would skim the Earth’s outer atmosphere, reducing travel times for regular international flights from many hours to around 30 minutes. They’ll need to take off from somewhere, however, and rockets are a bit more disturbing to their local environs than traditional aircraft, so part of SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s plan for their regular use is covering oil rig platforms into floating spaceports.

Musk has talked about these plans before, and SpaceX recently went so far as to purchase two rigs – which it nicknamed Phoibos and Deimos after the moons of Mars. These are currently in the process of being retrofitted for use with Starship, and they’ll be stationed in the Gulf of Mexico near SpaceX’s Brownsville, Texas development site.

On Wednesday, Musk said on Twitter that one of the two platforms could be at least partially operational by the end of 2021. The SpaceX CEO is known for his optimistic timelines, but a lot of them have actually been relatively accurate lately – or at least not quite as unrealistic as in years past.

What he means by “in limited operation” isn’t necessarily clear. That could mean that they’re floating where they’re supposed to be, and technically capable of playing host to a Starship prototype, but not that SpaceX will be actively launching Starships from one by end of year. He did add that the plan is to put floating launchpads for Starship not only in the Gulf, but also at various points around the world – which is in keeping with the bold plan he shared via CG concept videos when Starship debuted, which depicted launch and landing facilities stationed in bodies of water near urban destinations.

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Google Cloud puts its Kubernetes Engine on autopilot

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Google Cloud today announced a new operating mode for its Kubernetes Engine (GKE) that turns over the management of much of the day-to-day operations of a container cluster to Google’s own engineers and automated tools. With Autopilot, as the new mode is called, Google manages all of the Day 2 operations of managing these clusters and their nodes, all while implementing best practices for operating and securing them.

This new mode augments the existing GKE experience, which already managed most of the infrastructure of standing up a cluster. This ‘standard’ experience, as Google Cloud now calls it, is still available and allows users to customize their configurations to their heart’s content and manually provision and manage their node infrastructure.

Drew Bradstock, the Group Product Manager for GKE, told me that the idea behind Autopilot was to bring together all of the tools that Google already had for GKE and bring them together with its SRE teams who know how to run these clusters in production — and have long done so inside of the company.

“Autopilot stitches together auto-scaling, auto-upgrades, maintenance, Day 2 operations and — just as importantly — does it in a hardened fashion,” Bradstock noted. “[…] What this has allowed our initial customers to do is very quickly offer a better environment for developers or dev and test, as well as production, because they can go from Day Zero and the end of that five-minute cluster creation time, and actually have Day 2 done as well.”

Image Credits: Google

From a developer’s perspective, nothing really changes here, but this new mode does free up teams to focus on the actual workloads and less on managing Kubernetes clusters. With Autopilot, businesses still get the benefits of Kubernetes, but without all of the routine management and maintenance work that comes with that. And that’s definitely a trend we’ve been seeing as the Kubernetes ecosystem has evolved. Few companies, after all, see their ability to effectively manage Kubernetes as their real competitive differentiator.

All of that comes at a price, of course, at a flat fee of $0.10 per hour and cluster (there’s also a free GKE tier that provides $74.40 in billing credits), plus, of course, the usual fees for resources that your clusters consume. Google offers a 99.95% SLA for the control plane of its Autopilot clusters and a 99.9% SLA for Autopilot pods in multiple zones.

Autopilot for GKE joins a set of container-centric products in the Google Cloud portfolio that also include Anthos for running in multi-cloud environments and Cloud Run, Google’s serverless offering. “[Autopilot] is really [about] bringing the automation aspects in GKE we have for running on Google Cloud, and bringing it all together in an easy-to-use package, so that if you’re newer to Kubernetes, or you’ve got a very large fleet, it drastically reduces the amount of time, operations and even compute you need to use,” Bradstock explained.

And while GKE is a key part of Anthos, that service is more about brining Google’s config management, service mesh and other tools to an enterprise’s own data center. Autopilot of GKE is, at least for now, only available on Google Cloud.

“On the serverless side, Cloud Run is really, really great for an opinionated development experience,” Bradstock added. “So you can get going really fast if you want an app to be able to go from zero to 1000 and back to zero — and not worry about anything at all and have it managed entirely by Google. That’s highly valuable and ideal for a lot of development. Autopilot is more about simplifying the entire platform people work on when they want to leverage the Kubernetes ecosystem, be a lot more in control and have a whole bunch of apps running within one environment.”

 

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