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Zero-day exploits, breaking into Japan, algorithmic VC investing – TechCrunch

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We work with contributors to develop guest posts that will help TechCrunch+ readers solve actual problems, so it’s always a delight to present a comprehensive “how to” article.

In this case, Barnabas Birmacher, CEO of Platform as a Service company Bitrise, shared the lessons he learned as his team attempted to enter Japan.

Launching a product in a foreign market where you’re unfamiliar with the language and culture is a necessary step for growing companies, “but the barriers to entry are high” in Japan, Birrmacher notes, which is why building community was foundational to their expansion.

Instead of relying solely on strategic partners, his team visited Japan before ramping up to host events and engage directly with early adopters.


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Setting aside traditional media and marketing tactics, Bitrise hired a manga artist to create a comic featuring a mobile developer, developed “Japan-first” swag to hand out, and even crafted a full-sized mascot costume for conferences.

“We left the suit with one of our customers and now people wear it while they’re drinking,” he writes.

If your startup is at or near the point where you’re considering an international expansion, this post contains several tactics you can adapt and test.

“Whether or not these things make sense for you, the most important thing to do while you’re there is to show up and be a part of the community,” says Birmacher.

Thanks very much for reading TechCrunch+, and I hope you have a great week.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch+
@yourprotagonist

A CISO’s playbook for responding to zero-day exploits

Football play strategy drawn out on a chalk board

Image Credits: Kalawin (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

The Log4Shell exploit that gave bad actors the ability to execute malicious code on infiltrated servers made global headlines and ruined many cybersecurity professionals’ holidays.

Despite a series of high-profile attacks, many companies still lack a response plan, writes Jonathan Trull, SVP of customer solutions, architecture and engineering at Qualys.

Drawing on his experience as a CISO, Trull outlines three steps companies can take to develop a playbook:

  • Establish a standard operating procedure
  • Inventory, inventory, inventory
  • Information gathering, sharing and analysis

For the first time in 4 years, profitability beats growth

Origami Tortoise and the Hare

Image Credits: gabetcarlson (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Venture capitalists pin their hopes and expectations on revenue because it’s a clear signal of how quickly their investment may grow.

But lately, profitability has quietly overtaken revenue growth as the metric of choice, according to Jeremy Abelson and Jacob Sonnenberg of Irving Investors.

“In 2021, profitability — measured by free cash flow (FCF) margins — not revenue growth, had the higher correlation to positive stock returns in the software sector. This broke a four-year trend of revenue growth being the more important driver of software company stock performance.”

Abelson and Sonnenberg unpack the factors that are pushing investors to sell high-growth stocks and share “some of our favorite metrics as the profitability versus growth dynamic continues to play out.”

2022 crypto predictions from Prime Trust CFO Rodrigo Vicuna

Full length of young woman looking back over shoulder while walking on pink currency symbols against white background

Image Credits: Klaus Vedfelt (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

New York City Mayor Eric Adams converted his first paycheck into Ether and Bitcoin; Burger King is slapping QR codes on 6 million meal boxes that unlock NFTs.

Cryptocurrency is having a cultural moment, but we’ve yet to reach mass adoption, despite what marketing campaigns might have you believe.

Rodrigo Vicuna, CFO at fintech-focused bank Prime Trust, shares his predictions for this year’s crypto market, suggesting that tighter rules might bring more consumers into the fold:

“It might seem counterintuitive, but more regulation provides more guidance, which provides reassurance for institutional and mass use.”

Will the latest selloff finally shake up how investors value startups?

The public markets have gone downhill in the past few weeks, but early-stage investments in startups aren’t showing any signs of slowing.

It may be that investors are taking off their hype hats and valuing companies based on how profitable they are rather than how fast they’re growing their revenue, wrote Alex Wilhelm in the Exchange.

“A shift toward a more P/E world for tech companies over a P/S stance would make profit more, well, profitable for companies. More valuable, in other words. That, in turn, could change how companies — startups included — invest and what they prioritize.”

Is algorithmic VC investment compatible with due diligence?

Pole lifting rubber duck with hook in its head

Image Credits: Andy Roberts (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Increasingly, investors are spending more time looking at the numbers and less on founders’ personalities before cutting a check.

“In practice, attempts to remove bias can create newer, blind spots that are harder to identify,” writes Natasha Mascarenhas, who interviewed people who use algorithmic investment to guide their decision-making.

“Every little while, we hear more rumblings that the industry will shift to lean in this direction, but candidly, it’s hard,” said Clearco co-founder Michele Romanow.

“It requires deep technical expertise and a product to match, so while it sounds nice on the surface, people generally revert to what they know, which is the traditional gated system with humans making decisions based on intangible factors.”

3 ways investors can assess the strength of an NFT opportunity

Choosing between Orange fruit and peeled orange skin without fruit.

Non-fungible tokens are highly speculative, but Clara Bullrich, co-founder of TheVentureCity, says green flags are just as easy to spot as red ones — if investors know what to look for.

“Investors need to know the basics of NFTs and their potential, but they don’t need deep technical knowledge,” writes Bullrich.

“That’s because the real value of any NFT project lies with the people building it.”



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Howie Mandel gets a digital twin from DeepBrain AI

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Howie Mandel is stepping into the metaverse. DeepBrain AI has created a pretty realistic AI version of comedian and actor Mandel.

Deepbrain AI, based in South Korea and Palo Alto, California, calls its creation “AI Howie,” and it’s an interactive virtual human and digital twin for immersive and personalized fan experiences. AI Howie mentions VentureBeat and talks to me in the attached videos.

Unlike the “deepfakes” of Tom Cruise and other actors, the real Howie Mandel cooperated with DeepBrain AI to create the virtual human AI replica of the famous comedian, actor, host, and technology enthusiast. We used “virtual Paris” AI character at our recent MetaBeat event in San Francisco.

“I am equally thrilled, excited, and terrified to finally have the ability of showing up and doing things without going anywhere or doing anything,” said Mandel, in a statement. “Thank you, DeepBrain.”

DeepBrain AI applies deep learning technology to create hyper-realistic virtual humans through its AI Studios and the AI Human platforms. These virtual humans are digital twins of the real person, with the same appearance, voice, gestures, and subtle mannerisms. The AI Studios platform enables script-to-video software that synthesizes dynamic video content in seconds, producing the quickest and most
realistic AI-generated videos. The script-to-video editor makes it easy for customers to select a model and then make it say something based on a script. Within a minute or so the video is made.

This is a powerful communication and marketing tool for celebrities, professional athletes, news anchors, and even politicians. Before working with Howie Mandel, the DeepBrain AI team created digital twins of Premier League soccer superstar Son Heung-Min, multiple news anchors across Asia, and South Korean president Yoon Suk-yeol.

Joe Murphy, business development manager for DeepBrain AI, said in an interview with VentureBeat that the virtual Howie is a conversational model that you pepper with questions. DeepBrain AI designs and develops these virtual humans for the purpose of creating digital twins (like Howie Mandel), digital people, and avatars.

It takes about four weeks of machine learning work to create a Howie Mandel digital twin.

“We create models of real people,” Murphy said. “We also have completely synthetic virtual humans. That is what we’ll call digital people. And then avatars are just the basic Roblox type of avatars. But where our technology comes in with the digital twins is we go through a deep learning process to clone the person’s voice, their mannerisms, their face, the way their eyes move, the way their lips move.”

He added, “So we create what we call the digital twin of the real person with all the uniqueness of that person. Our mission is to use this technology that we’ve developed throughout Asia and bring it to America.”

In addition to the script-to-video capabilities, the company provides fully conversational experiences with its AI Human software. The AI Human solution enables fans to interact and engage with AI Howie by simply asking questions. For example, when asked, “What was your favorite act on AGT this season?” the AI Howie model responds in real-time to support interactive, fun, and engaging fan experiences.

AI Humans are available within mobile apps, web browsers, or voice-activated kiosks.

“Our vision is to humanize digital experiences and empower creative teams to generate immersive content at scale,” said Eric Jang, DeepBrain AI CEO. “Working with Howie Mandel was a fun experience, and we are excited to see how the AI Howie collaboration will connect with his fans worldwide.”

DeepBrain AI, (formerly Moneybrain), a conversational AI startup based in Seoul, South Korea, has raised $44 million in a series B round led by Korea Development Bank at a post-money valuation of $180 million. The company started in 2016 and it has raised $54 million to date. The company has 130 employees.

The AI is being used for AI news anchors in South Korea and China at four different television networks. The networks flag that the anchor is an AI avatar so that no one gets confused.

The real Howie Mandel spent about a day shooting video with DeepBrain AI.

While multiple companies are working on virtual humans, DeepBrain AI’s avatars are hyperrealistic. One of Asia’s largest insurance companies is also using it, as is a “brand ambassador” for a soccer team.

“When we worked with Howie Mandel, we went down to his studio in Los Angeles, we provided a script, and fed our training data into our neural network,” Murphy said.

It took about a day to do a video shoot with Mandel and about three to four weeks of machine learning time on the computers to generate the first AI model.

Back in January, DeepBrain AI opened its office in Palo Alto, California, and it is talking to partners in Silicon Valley and the rest of the U.S. Over time, Murphy said that the hope is to create AI avatars in realistic 3D for the metaverse. In South Korea, kiosks are appearing in places like banks with both 2D avatars and 3D avatars.

Over time, Murphy said the avatars have gotten better at mannerisms, lip sync, and subtle gestures. The speed of real-time responses in conversations has also gotten faster. The company is talking about doing more with game companies and major brands.

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These are the 12 big bets of future disruptive technologies

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The 12 big bets on future technologies as per Nasscom report

The National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) and Boston Consultancy Group (BCG) have identified 12 big bet technologies that can potentially disrupt markets in the next 3-5 years.

A report titled “Sandboxing into the Future: Decoding Technology’s Biggest Bets”, has identified these technologies of the future: autonomous analytics, Artificial Reality and Virtual Reality, autonomous driving, computer vision, deep learning, distributed ledger, edge computing, sensortech, smart robots, spacetech, sustainability tech, and 5G/6G.

AR VR concept image

The report noted that these 12 technologies will unravel in diverse ways, giving way to regional and vertical-specific big bets. While buyers in North America and Europe are betting on technologies such as autonomous analytics, APAC is likely to focus more on 5G/6G technologies, sensortech and smart robotics. Overall, technology buyers anticipate that investments in emerging technologies will account for 70%- 80% of tech spending by 2030.

“Going forward, it will be interesting to see how businesses will put their bets on emerging technologies and how they would be taking ahead the tech revolution for the larger good of the society,” said NASSCOM President Debjani Ghosh.

Cognizant acquires Utegration

Leading technology services company Cognizant has said it bought Houston-based Utegration LLC, a full-service consulting and solutions provider specializing in SAP  technology and SAP-certified products for the energy and utilities sectors.

Cognizant will gain approximately 350 employees in North America and India upon the close of this acquisition.

“We believe Utegration’s rich industry expertise and differentiated portfolio of energy and utilities-focused products and accelerators is a perfect complement to our SAP practice,” said Rob Vatter, Executive Vice President of Cognizant’s Enterprise Platform Services.

Utegration serves over 50 North America-based clients in the energy and utilities sector with solutions across four domains aligned to market needs: customer experience, billing and advanced metering infrastructure, managed services, data science and analytics, and finance and asset performance management.

HCLTech partners with Intel and Mavenir for 5G solutions

HCLTech, a leading Indian technology services company revealed a new collaboration with Intel Corporation and Mavenir to develop and provide scalable private 5G network solutions for communication service providers (CSP) and broader cross-vertical enterprises.

Through this new collaboration, the companies will work closely on a range of projects and activities across enablement, go-to-market and sales acceleration, with the goal of delivering more 5G solutions to CSPs, Internet of Things (IoT) and enterprise verticals, a statement said.

HCL

The three companies will work cross-functionally to add new offerings and help generate greater value for enterprises. The companies will develop a cloud-native enterprise-to-enterprise (E2E) architecture of an Intel Xeon processor-based 5G solution leveraging Mavenir RAN, Intel SmartEdge and HCLTech’s management, orchestration and automation services.

“There is currently a great need for scalable, reliable 5G solutions across nearly every enterprise and industry,” said Kalyan Kumar, Chief Technology Officer, HCLTech. “This need represents a major opportunity to innovate and deliver solutions that will have a major impact on business operations and outcomes.”

Collins Aerospace to expand operations in India

Collins Aerospace, which is part of Raytheon Technologies has announced that it will be expanding its operations in India. The company inaugurated its Global Engineering & Tech Centre and a new India Operations Centre to mark its 25th year in Bengaluru.

Collins Aerospace has also pledged significant capital and manpower investments over the next five years given that the Indian aerospace & defence (A&D) market is projected to reach $70 billion by 2030.

The team at Collins India is actively collaborating with Indian R&D organisations like NAL, CMTI, DRDO for study into materials, additive manufacturing, pre-qualification tests and other important projects.

Wipro bags top honour for workplace inclusion

Wipro Limited, a leading Indian technology services and consulting company, has been recognised as a ‘Gold’ employer by the India Workplace Equality Index (IWEI) 2022.

Awarded to the top employers by IWEI, the gold employer is the highest of 3 levels, where an organisation is credited with ‘embedding inclusion in the workplace.’ Highlights of Wipro’s efforts in this journey include recognition of Wipro’s leadership in India to advance LGBTQ+ inclusion in the workplace, from organisational policies to external communications.

wipro

It also demonstrates a long-term and in-depth commitment towards LGBTQ+ inclusion, where Wipro has implemented several initiatives enabling its employees to become active allies for the community.

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Corraling Kafka: New ecosystem simplifies, democratizes event-streaming data for enterprises

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Aiven, a cloud-data platform based in Helsinki, has fleshed out an open-source ecosystem for Apache Kafka, a popular event-streaming platform. The new offerings promise to help enterprises consolidate their Kafka infrastructure using open-source components. 

“Event streaming is transitioning toward the main stack of the IT infrastructure,” Filip Yonov, director of data streaming product management at Aiven, told VentureBeat. “At Aiven, we have witnessed the fastest growth in the event-streaming domain compared to all other products.”

Apache Kafka provides the infrastructure for wiring streams of data together from databases, apps, IoT devices, and third-party sources. Kafka helps organize raw data into event streams that reduce data size and are easier to integrate into event-driven apps and analytics. Enterprises use it to improve customer experiences, build the industrial metaverse and monitor patients. 

However, building out a Kafka infrastructure involves a lot of moving parts. Aiven has consolidated all the necessary tooling into one place to simplify this process. Key new enhancements include support for Apache Flink and data governance. These complement existing tools for connecting services, replicating data and managing schemas for Kafka deployments.

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The need for simplicity

LinkedIn originally developed Kafka to integrate data across its large microservices infrastructure and open-sourced it in 2011. Over the intervening years, large enterprises have customized the tooling for their own needs, and several vendors have rolled out proprietary enhancements to fill in gaps around governance and integration. Many organizations use Kafka for various data pipeline scenarios, such as transferring data between applications in real-time or moving data from a database to a data warehouse.

Yonov told VentureBeat that as Kafka clusters become larger and more complex, they require additional tooling and governance to ensure proper operation and management. “Unlike existing Kafka solutions, Aiven’s offering does not require organizations to choose between proprietary tools and vendor lock-in or open-source technologies without support,” he said.

Improving the developer experience with event streaming

One essential aspect has been to democratize the experience for working with event-streaming data. The open-source tool, Klaw, provides a self-service interface for managing Kafka clusters. Kafkawize, which develops Klaw, recently joined Aiven’s open-source development office in September to help integrate their tools together. Now they are working together to improve self-service, simplify user management and enforce data governance. 

Another significant development was to connect streaming data to SQL queries familiar to data engineers. The new Aiven for Apache Flink tools allows teams to process larger volumes of events and run real-time analytics using SQL. Aiven provides this as a fully managed service that reduces the complexity of deploying a Flink cluster. It also simplifies the integration with Aiven for Apache Kafka to filter, enrich and aggregate events on the fly. 

Aiven hopes to replicate the success of other open-source frameworks like PostgreSQL, Kubernetes and Linux, built by a healthy mix of contributions from various communities. 

“We truly believe that fostering an open-source, community-driven and inclusive ecosystem of technologies around Apache Kafka can drive further innovations and new developments in the data-streaming domain, ensuring the long sustainment of the technology in the future,” Yonov said.

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