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Rows, formerly dashdash, raises $16M to build and populate web apps using only spreadsheet skills

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Spreadsheet software — led by products like Microsoft’s Excel, Google’s Sheets and Apple’s Numbers — continues to be one of the most-used categories of business apps, with Excel alone clocking up more than a billion users just on its Android version. Now, a startup called Rows that’s built on that ubiquity, with a low-code platform that lets people populate and analyze web apps using just spreadsheet interfaces, is announcing funding and launching a freemium open beta of its expanded service.

The Berlin-based startup — which rebranded from dashdash at the end of last year — closed a Series B round of $16 million, money that it is using to continue investing in its platform as well as in sales and marketing.

The round was led by Lakestar, with past investors Accel (which led its $8 million Series A in 2018) and Cherry Ventures also participating. Christian Reber has also invested in this round. Reber knows a thing or two about software disrupting legacy products — he is the co-founder and CEO of presentation software startup Pitch and the former CEO and founder of Microsoft-acquired Wunderlist — and notably he is joining Rows’ Advisory Board along with the investment.

A little detail about this Series B: CEO Humberto Ayres Pereira tells us that the round actually was quietly closed over a year ago, in January 2020 — just ahead of the world shutting down amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The startup chose to announce that round today to coincide with adding more features to its product and moving it into an open beta, he said.

That open beta is free in its most basic form — free is limited to 10 users or less and a minimal amount of integration usage. Paid tiers, which cover more team members and up to 100,000 integration tasks (which are measured by how many times a spreadsheet queries another service), start at $59 per month.

One strong sign of interest in this latest iteration of the software will be in the lasting popularity of spreadsheets. Another is Rows’ traction to date: in invite-only mode, it picked up 10,000 users, and hundreds of companies, as customers.

No-code and low-code software, which let people create and work with apps and other digital content without delving deep into the lines of code that underpin them, have continued to pick up traction in the market in the last several years.

The reason for this is straightforward: non-technical employees may not code, but they are getting increasingly adept at understanding how services function and what can be achieved within an app.

No-code and low-code platforms let them get more hands-on when it comes to customizing and creating the services that they need to use everyday to get their work done, without the time and effort it might take to get an engineer involved.

“People want to create their own tools,” said Ayres Pereira. “They want to understand and test and iterate.” He said that the majority of Rows’ users so far are based out of North America, and typical use cases include marketing and sales teams, as well as companies using Rows spreadsheets as a dynamic interface to manage logistics and other operations.

Stephen Nundy, the partner at Lakestar who led its investment, describes the army of users taking up no-code tools as “citizen developers.” 

Rows is precisely the kind of platform that plays into the low-code trend. For people who are already au fait with the kinds of tools that you find in spreadsheets — and something like Excel has hundreds of functions in it — it presents a way of leaning on those familiar functions to trigger integrations with other apps, and to subsequently use a spreadsheet created in Rows to both analyse data from other apps, as well as update them.

You might ask, why is it more useful, for example, to look at content from Twitter in Rows rather than Twitter itself? A Rows document might let a person search for a set of Tweets using a certain chain of keywords, and then organise those results based on parameters such as how many “likes” those Tweets received.

Or users responding to a call to action for a promotion on Instagram might then be cross referenced with a company’s existing database of customers, to analyze how those respondents overlap or present new leads.

There have been a number of other startups building tools that are providing similar no- and low-code approaches. Gyana is focusing more on data science, Tray.io provides a graphical interface to integrate how apps work together, Zapier and Notion also provide simple interfaces to integrate apps and APIs together, and Airtable has its own take on reinventing the spreadsheet interface. For now, Ayres Pereira sees these more as compatriots than competitors.

“Yes, we overlap with services like Zapier and Notion,” he said. “But I’d say we are friends. We’re all raising awareness about people being able to do more and not having to be stuck using old tools. It’s not a zero sum game for us.”

When we covered Rows’s Series A two years ago, the startup had built a platform to let people who are comfortable working with data in spreadsheets to use that interface to create and populate content in web apps. It had a lot of extensibility, but mainly geared at people still willing to do the work to create those links.

Two years on, while the spreadsheet has remained the anchor, the platform has grown. Ayres Pereira, who co-founded the company with Torben Schulz (both pictured above), said that there are some 50 new integrations now, including ways to analyse and update content on social media platforms like Instagram, YouTube, CrunchBase, Salesforce, Slack, LinkedIn and Twitter, as well as some 200 new features in the platform itself.

It also has a number of templates available for people to guide them through simple tasks, such as looking up LinkedIn profiles or emails for a list of people; tracking social media counts and so on.

One of the most common details of spreadsheets, however, has yet to be built. The interface is still banked around rows and columns, with no graphical tools to visualize data in different ways such as pie charts or graphs as you might have in a typical spreadsheet program.

It’s for this reason that Rows has yet to exit beta. The feature is one requested a lot, Pereira said, describing it as “the final frontier.” When Rows is ready to ship with that functionality, likely by Q3 of this year, it will tick over to general “1.0” release, he added.

“Humberto and Torben have really impressed us with their ambition to disrupt the market with a new spreadsheet paradigm that tackles the significant shortcomings of today’s solutions,” said Nundy at Lakestar. “Data integrations are native, the collaboration experience is first class and the ability to share and publish your work as an application is unique and will create more ‘Citizen developers’ to emerge. This is essential to the growing needs of today’s technology literate workforce. The level of interest they’ve received in their private beta is proof of the desirability of platforms like Rows, and we’re excited to be supporting them through their public beta launch and beyond with this investment.” Nundy is also joining Rows’ board with this round.

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

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Google says it won’t adopt new tracking tech after phasing out cookies

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While we’ve written about attempts to build alternatives to cookies that track users across websites, Google says it won’t be going down that route.

The search giant had already announced that it will be phasing out support for third-party cookies in its Chrome browser, but today it went further, with David Temkin (Google’s director of product management for ads privacy and trust) writing in a blog post that “once third-party cookies are phased out, we will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products.”

“We realize this means other providers may offer a level of user identity for ad tracking across the web that we will not — like [personally identifiable information] graphs based on people’s email addresses,” Temkin continued. “We don’t believe these solutions will meet rising consumer expectations for privacy, nor will they stand up to rapidly evolving regulatory restrictions, and therefore aren’t a sustainable long term investment.”

This doesn’t mean ads won’t be targeted at all. Instead, he argued that thanks to “advances in aggregation, anonymization, on-device processing and other privacy-preserving technologies,” it’s no longer necessary to “track individual consumers across the web to get the performance benefits of digital advertising.”

As an example, Temkin pointed to a new approach being tested by Google called Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), which allows ads to be targeted at large groups of users based on common interests. He said Google will begin testing FLoCs with advertisers in the second quarter of this year.

It’s worth noting, however, that the Electronic Frontier Foundation has described FLoCs as “the opposite of privacy-preserving technology” and compared them to a “behavioral credit score.”

And while cookies seem to be on the way out across the industry, the U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority is currently investigating Google’s cookie plan over antitrust concerns, with critics suggesting that Google is using privacy as an excuse to increase its market power. (A similar criticism has been leveled against Apple over upcoming privacy changes in iOS.)

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Yugabyte announces $48M Series C as cloud native database makes enterprise push

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As demand for cloud native applications is growing, Yugabyte, makers of the cloud native, open source YugabyteDB database are seeing a corresponding rise in demand for their products, especially with large enterprise customers. Today, the company announced a $48 million Series C financing round to help build on that momentum.

Lightspeed Venture Partners led the round with participation from Greenspring Associates, Dell Technologies Capital, Wipro Ventures and 8VC. Today’s round comes on the heels of the startup’s $30 million Series B last June, and brings the total raised to $103 million, according to the company.

Kannan Muthukkaruppan, Yugabyte co-founder and president, says the startup saw a marked increase in interest in both the open source and commercial offerings in 2020 as the pandemic pushed many companies to the cloud faster than they might have gone otherwise, something many startup founders have pointed out to me.

“The distributed SQL space is definitely heating up, and if anything over the last six months almost in every vector in terms of enterprise customers — from Fortune 500 companies across financial, retail, ISP or telcos — are putting Yugabyte in production to be the system of record database to meet some of their business critical services needs,” Muthukkaruppan told me.

In addition, he’s seeing a similar rise in the level of interest from the open source version of the product.”Similarly, the groundswell on the community and the open source adoption has been phenomenal. Our Slack [open source] user community quadrupled in 2020,” he said.

That kind of momentum led to the increased investor interest, says co-founder and CTO Karthik Ranganathan. “Some of the primary reasons to go and even ask for funding was that we realized we could accelerate some of this stuff, and we couldn’t do that with the original $30 million we had raised,” he said. The original thinking was to do a secondary raise in the $15-20 million, but multiple investors expressed interest in participating, and it ended up being a $48 million round when all was said and done.

Former Pivotal president Bill Cook came on board as CEO at the same time they were announcing their last funding round in June and brought some enterprise chops to the table. It was his job to figure out how to expand the market opportunity with larger high-value enterprise clients. “And so the last six or seven months has been about that, dealing with enterprise clients on one hand and then this emerging developer led cloud offering as well,” Cook said.

The company has a three tier offering that includes the open source YugabyteDB. Then there is a fully managed cloud version called Yugabyte Cloud, and finally there is a self-managed cloud version of the database called Yugabyte Platform. The latter is especially attractive to large enterprise customers, who want to be in the cloud, but still want to maintain control of their data and infrastructure, and so choose to manage the cloud installation themselves.

The company started last year with 50 employees, doubled that to this point, and now expects to reach 200 by the end of this year. As they add employees, the leadership team is cognizant of the importance of building a diverse and inclusive workforce, while recognizing the challenges in doing so.

“It’s work in progress as always. We’ve added diversity candidates right along the whole spectrum as we’ve grown but from my perspective it’s never sufficient, and we just need to keep pushing on it hard, and I think as a leadership team we recognize that,” Cook said.

The three leaders of the company have been working together remotely now since the announcement in June, and had only met briefly in person prior to the pandemic shutting down offices, but they say that it has gone smoothly. And while they would obviously like to meet in person again when the time is right, the momentum the company is experiencing shows that things are moving in the right direction, regardless of where they are getting their work done.

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$1.3M in grants go towards making the web’s open source infrastructure more equitable

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Open source software is at the core of… well, practically everything online. But while much of it is diligently maintained in some ways, in others it doesn’t receive the kind of scrutiny that something so foundational ought to. $1.3 million worth of grants were announced today, split among 13 projects looking to ensure open source software and development is being done equitably, sustainably, and responsibly.

The research projects will look into a number of questions about the way open source digital infrastructure is being used, maintained, and otherwise affected. For instance, many municipalities rely on and create this sort of infrastructure constantly as the need for government software solutions grows, but what are the processes by which this is done? Which approaches or frameworks succeed, and why?

And what about the private companies that contribute to major open-source projects, often without consulting one another — how do they communicate and share priorities and dependencies? How could that be improved, and with what costs and benefits?

These and other questions aren’t the type that any single organization or local government is likely to take on spontaneously, and of course the costs of such studies aren’t trivial. But they were deemed interesting enough (and possibly likely to generate new approaches and products) by a team of experts who sorted through about 250 applications over the last year.

The grantmaking operation is funded and organized by the Ford Foundation, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Omidyar Network, and the Mozilla Open Source Support Program in collaboration with the Open Collective Foundation.

“There’s a dearth of funding for looking at the needs and potential applications of free and open source infrastructure. The public interest issues behind open source have been the missing piece,” said Michael Brennan, who’s leading the grant program at the Ford Foundation.

“The president of the foundation [Darren Walker] once said, ‘a just society relies on a just Internet,’ ” he quoted. “So our question is how do we create that just Internet? How do we create and sustain an equitable Internet that serves everyone equally? We actually have a lot more questions than answers, and few people are funding research into those questions.”

Even finding the right questions is part of the question, of course, but in basic research that’s expected. Early work in a field can seem frustratingly general or inconclusive because it’s as much about establishing the scope and general direction of the work as it is about suggesting actual courses of action.

“The final portfolio wasn’t just about the ‘objectively best’ ones, but how do we find a diversity of approaches and ideas, and tackle different aspects of this work, and also be representative of the diverse and global nature of the project?” Brennan said. “This year we also accepted proposals for both research and implementation. We want to see that the research is informing the building of that equitable and sustainable infrastructure.”

You can read the full research abstracts here, but these are the short versions, with the proposer’s name:

  • How are COVID data infrastructures created and transformed by builders and maintainers from the open source community? – Megan Finn (University of Washington, University of Texas, Northeastern University)
  • How is digital infrastructure a critical response to fight climate change? – Narrira Lemos de Souza
  • How do perceptions of unfairness when contributing to an open source project affect the sustainability of critical open source digital infrastructure projects? – Atul Pokharel (NYU)
  • Supporting projects to implement research-informed best practices at the time of need on governance, sustainability, and inclusion. – Danielle Robinson (Code for Science & Society)
  • Assessing Partnerships for Municipal Digital Infrastructure – Anthony Townsend (Cornell Tech)
  • Implement recommendations for funders of open source infrastructure with guides, programming, and models – Eileen Wagner, Molly Wilson, Julia Kloiber, Elisa Lindinger, and Georgia Bullen (Simply Secure & Superrr)
  • How we can build a “Creative Commons” for API terms of Service, as a contract to automatically read, control and enforce APIs Terms of service between infrastructure and applications? – Mehdi Medjaoui (APIdays, LesMainteneurs, Inno3)
  • Indian case study of governance, implementation, and private sector role of open source infrastructure projects – ​Digital Asia Hub
  • Will cross-company visibility into shared free and open source dependencies lead to cross-company collaboration and efforts to sustain shared dependencies? – ​Duane O’Brien
  • How do open source tools contribute towards creating a multilingual internet? – Anushah Hossain (UC Berkeley)
  • How digital infrastructure projects could embrace cooperatives as a sustainable model for working – ​Jorge Benet (Cooperativa Tierra Común)
  • How do technical decision-makers assess the security ramifications of open source software components before adopting them in their projects and where can systemic interventions to the FOSS ecosystem be targeted to collectively improve its security? – Divyank Katira (Centre for Internet & Society in Bangalore)
  • How can African participation in the development, maintenance, and application of the global open source digital infrastructure be enhanced? – Alex Comninos (Research ICT Africa (RIA) and the University of Cape Town)

The projects will receive their grants soon, and later in the year (or whenever they’re ready) the organizers will coordinate some kind of event at which they can present their results. Brennan made it clear that the funders take no stake in the projects and aren’t retaining or publishing the research themselves; they’re just coordinating and offering support where it makes sense.

$1.3 million is an interesting number. For some, it’s peanuts. A startup might burn through that cash in a month or two. But in an academic context, a hundred grand can be the difference between work getting done or being abandoned. The hope is that small injections at the base layer produce a better environment for the type of support the Ford Foundation and others provide as part of their other philanthropic and grantmaking efforts.

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