Datafold is solving the chaos of data engineering

It seemed so simple. A small schema issue in a database was wrecking a feature in the app, increasing latency and degrading the user experience. The resident data engineer pops in a fix to amend the schema, and everything seems fine — for now. Unbeknownst to them, that small fix completely clobbered all the dashboards used by the company’s leadership. Finance is down, ops is pissed, and the CEO — well, they don’t even know whether the company is online.

For data engineers, it’s not just a recurring nightmare — it’s a day-to-day reality. A decade plus into that whole “data is the new oil” claptrap, and we’re still managing data piecemeal and without proper systems and controls. Data lakes have become data oceans and data warehouses have become … well, whatever the massive version of a warehouse is called (a waremansion I guess). Data engineers bridge the gap between the messy world of real life and the precise nature of code, and they need much better tools to do their jobs.

As TechCrunch’s unofficial data engineer, I’ve personally struggled with many of these same problems. And so that’s what drew me into Datafold.

Datafold is a brand-new platform for managing the quality assurance of data. Much in the way that a software platform has QA and continuous integration tools to ensure that code functions as expected, Datafold integrates across data sources to ensure that changes in the schema of one table doesn’t knock out functionality somewhere else.

Founder Gleb Mezhanskiy knows these problems firsthand. He’s informed from his time at Lyft, where he was a data scientist and data engineer, and later transformed into a product manager “focused on the productivity of data professionals.” The idea was that as Lyft expanded, it needed much better pipelines and tooling around its data to remain competitive with Uber and others in its space.

His lessons from Lyft inform Datafold’s current focus. Mezhanskiy explained that the platform sits in the connections between all data sources and their outlets. There are two challenges to solve here. First, “data is changing, every day you get new data, and the shape of it can be very different either for business reasons or because your data sources can be broken.” And second, “the old code that is used by companies to transform this data is also changing very rapidly because companies are building new products, they are refactoring their features … a lot of errors can happen.”

In equation form: messy reality + chaos in data engineering = unhappy data end users.

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.

The key efficiency here is that Datafold aggregates changes in datasets — even datasets with billions of entries — into summaries so that data engineers can understand even subtle flaws. The goal is that even if an error transpires in 0.1% of cases, Datafold will be able to identify that issue and also bring a summary of it to the data engineer for response.

Datafold is entering a market that is, quite frankly, as chaotic as the data being processed. It sits in the key middle layer of the data stack — it’s not the data lake or data warehouse for storing data, and it isn’t the end user BI tools like a Looker, Tableau or many others. Instead, it’s part of a number of tools available for data engineers to manage and monitor their data flows to ensure consistency and quality.

The startup is targeting companies with at least 20 people on their data team — that’s the sweet spot where a data team has enough scale and resources that they are going to be concerned with data quality.

Today Datafold is three people, and will be debuting officially at YC’s Demo Day later this month. Its ultimate dream is a world where data engineers never again have to get an overnight page to fix a data quality issue. If you’ve been there, you know precisely why such a product is valuable.

Startups – TechCrunch

Berlin-based Segmentive secures €2 million to launch new live video editing tools for mobile

Deep-tech computer vision startup, Segmentive, today announced closing its €2 million seed round in a bid to deliver whole-body video segmentation, in real-time and on mobile.

Founded in 2019, Segmentive allows users to intelligently remove themselves from live backgrounds to be transported into a scene of their choice, enabling a broad range of AR/VR use cases. Segmentive’s cutting-edge approach combines deep learning techniques with the industry’s most advanced online learning neural network algorithms to replicate and scale human understanding of scene identification. The startup is actually a spin-off from parent company, Cinector, with years of special effect experience in movies. 

To date, removing the background from a video of a moving person on a mobile device in real-time has been impossible. The technology is designed to be used by social media platforms looking for unique features to transport users to different worlds by changing their backgrounds. Segmentive has applications with mobile phone manufacturers and tech giants looking to push the boundaries of computer vision to create new commercial applications.

Lutz Roellig, Segmentive CEO commented: “[This] funding will accelerate the delivery of our multi-layer segmentation technology mobile prototype and allow us to make key hires to support execution. VR and AR use cases have been held back by an inability to display crisp edges on mobile devices as humans move around in virtual environments –  Segmentive’s technology breaks through this barrier to deliver fine details in real-time video on modern mobile devices.”

Segmentive unlocks new computer vision capabilities, never seen before by pre-classifying each frame into background and foreground using a pre-trained, convolutional neural network. Using online learned classifiers, Segmentive can achieve super-sharp edges in real-time dynamic videos.

The €2 million seed round was led by Leipzig based Technologiegruenderfonds Sachsen (TGFS). TGFS is an early-stage VC fund targeting high tech startups with strong growth potential and has invested in over 120 companies in its 20-year history.

TGFS’s Investment Director, Friedemann Stier commented: “Segmentive has proven the technology works and TGFS is pleased to be able to fund the growing team of computer vision experts to deliver the first working prototype. Leadership, combined with the teams’ skill and ingenuity makes Segmentive stand out as a winning combination.”

EU-Startups

Dear Sophie: Can I bypass H-1B and sponsor a grad for a green card?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

“Dear Sophie” columns are accessible for Extra Crunch subscribers; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie:

A very bright and promising foreign national who graduated from a U.S. university has been working for our firm and just received a STEM OPT extension. We would like to keep her on after her STEM OPT ends. We registered her in this year’s H-1B lottery, but unfortunately, she wasn’t selected.

Given the challenges of getting an H-1B through the lottery and the #h1bvisaban, how can we bypass the H-1B and potentially sponsor her for a green card?

— Eager in Emeryville

Dear Eager,

Happy to hear you’re willing to sponsor a promising graduate from an American university for a green card. Sounds like you’re interested in exploring the EB-2 or EB-3 green card with the PERM process. For additional resources, feel free to check out my recent podcast on PERM.

Just because U.S. immigration policy often runs counter to retaining the best and the brightest college graduates in the U.S. doesn’t mean there isn’t hope. Some options exist for these talented folks and the companies that want to hire them, even though many employment-based green cards require candidates who are outstanding in their field. Recent graduates often haven’t yet built up their work experience and credentials, but there can be paths forward.

Although it may present some immigration risks to the candidate that should be weighed carefully in collaboration with an experienced business immigration attorney, many employers have been doing as you suggested: sidestepping the H-1B visa and directly pursuing a green card. This is often due to the extremely competitive H-1B lottery and high denial rates for initial H-1B petitions and extensions. Also, a moratorium on all green cards, H-1B, H-2B, J and L visas for individuals currently outside the U.S. is in effect until the end of this year. This now makes it nearly impossible for most employers to sponsor individuals to come to the U.S. unless their work is in the national interest or essential to the U.S. food supply chain.

So, many people are seeking solutions. First, the basics: Because your STEM OPT employee is already in the U.S., and the H-1B lottery now only costs $ 10 to register a candidate, I suggest that your company continue to enter her in the lottery as a backup option in case her F-1 STEM OPT status ends before you can secure her a green card.

The green cards for which most recent graduates would be eligible require the sponsoring employer to go through the PERM labor certification process before filing a green card petition. Separately there are other green cards for extraordinary ability which I’ve also written about.

PERM, which stands for Program Electronic Review Management, is the system used for applying for labor certification from the U.S. Department of Labor . Please speak with an attorney about the timing of this process and consider any risks to your employee’s personal immigration situation given her current F-1 nonimmigrant status.

Labor certification must be submitted to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) with EB-2 and EB-3 green card petitions. Labor certification confirms that no U.S. workers are qualified and available to accept the job offered to the green card candidate and employing the green card candidate won’t adversely affect the wages and working conditions of American workers.

Without knowing more about your STEM OPT employee’s background and qualifications, I would surmise that she might be able to qualify for one of these employment-based green cards:

Both of these green card categories require the employer sponsor to go through the PERM labor certification process. Because PERM is a complex process and will determine if you can proceed with sponsoring your employee for a green card, I recommend that you work with an experienced immigration attorney.

In general, PERM requires employers to take these steps:

  • Determine in detail the duties and minimum requirements of the position
  • File a prevailing wage request
  • Go through an extensive recruitment process
  • Get a certification

The duties and requirements of the position should be detailed and typical for your company — not tailored to the green card candidate. These duties and requirements will be used for job posting during the recruitment process.

In more detail, employers must file a prevailing wage request to the National Prevailing Wage Center of the Labor Department. The prevailing wage is determined based on the position, the geographical location of the position and economic conditions. The employer must pay the prevailing wage or higher for the position to ensure that hiring a foreign national would not adversely affect the wages of U.S. workers in similar positions. This process can take a few months.

The most time-consuming of these steps is the recruitment process to determine whether qualified U.S. workers are available for the position. To do that, an employer must advertise the job in two Sunday editions of a local newspaper, submit a job order with the state workforce agency (CalJOBS in California) and file an internal company notice of the filing. Plan ahead with your legal team to consider running some things in parallel to decrease the overall time.

For professional positions, employers need to use three additional recruitment methods, such as using a job recruiting website, an employment firm, a job fair, a posting at a career placement center at a local university or college, or incentives for employee referrals.

The job order with the state workforce agency must run for at least 30 consecutive days. The internal job posting must be up for 10 consecutive business days. Employers must allow 30 days for candidates to apply and interview U.S. workers who apply.

Generally, if there are no qualified applicants, employers then file ETA Form 9089 to the Labor Department. No supporting documents need to be submitted with the form, but the documents must be maintained for five years, especially as there could be an audit. The Labor Department will send a verification email to the employer along with a sponsorship questionnaire, which the employer should fill out within a week of receiving it. It’s important to not miss this email!

The PERM process can take anywhere from three to eight months as long as the Labor Department does not audit your case. The Labor Department conducts two types of audit: random audits and targeted audits. Random audits are done to make sure employers are following the PERM procedure.

Some common reasons for targeted audits could include:

  • The employer recently laid-off employees
  • The candidate appears unqualified for the position
  • The job does not require a bachelor’s degree
  • A company executive is related to the candidate

The Labor Department usually issues an audit notice within six months of receiving the labor certification application, and the employer must respond within 30 days. An audit does not mean an employer’s PERM will not be approved. However, it can add nine to 18 months to the process. If an employer does not respond to the audit notice, the Labor Department will deem the case abandoned, and for any future PERM applications, the employer may be required to conduct supervised recruitment.

Once the Labor Department approves the PERM Labor Certification for that position, you must file the green card petition to USCIS within 180 days. If your employee was born in any country other than China or India and you are sponsoring her for an EB-2 green card, you can file the I-140 green card petition and the I-485 adjustment of status from F-1 STEM OPT to EB-2 at the same time, assuming the “priority date” is still current.

If eligible, your STEM OPT employee could also enter the diversity green card lottery in the fall to increase her chances of getting a green card. Each year, 50,000 green cards are reserved for individuals born in countries that have low rates of immigration to the U.S.

Let me know if you have any other questions. Good luck!

— Sophie


Have a question? Ask it here. We reserve the right to edit your submission for clarity and/or space. The information provided in “Dear Sophie” is general information and not legal advice. For more information on the limitations of “Dear Sophie,” please view our full disclaimer here. You can contact Sophie directly at Alcorn Immigration Law.

Sophie’s podcast, Immigration Law for Tech Startups, is available on all major podcast platforms. If you’d like to be a guest, she’s accepting applications!

Startups – TechCrunch

N26 vs. Revolut: The battle of the challenger banks

Dubbed as “challenger banks” not that long ago, the digital banks N26 and Revolut have acquired over 15 million registered users (10 million for Revolut and 5.5 million for N26) as of the first quarter of this year, putting both on a hyper-growth track. They also dominated headlines when they raised huge funding rounds in the last 6 months – N26 extended it’s series D round with an additional €92 million in May, bringing the series D total to around €520 million and an approximate €3.2 billion valuation, while Revolut raised around €460 million for its series D and an approximate €5 billion valuation in February.

Aside from the race to dominate the global markets in terms of registered users, app downloads and huge funding and valuations, how do these digital banks really compare against each other? Which one offers the best options for managing your money digitally? Which one is the best for travelling? What are the fees involved and how easy (or difficult) is it to open and maintain an account?

Check-out our side by side comparison of N26 and Revolut standard plans and see for yourself:

The free plans of both N26 and Revolut are convenient and less expensive alternatives to traditional bank accounts. Both offer flexibility for overseas transactions and international money transfers, as well as options for freelancers and small businesses. The main differences are that as N26 has a German banking license, deposits are guaranteed up to €100K while a similar guarantee is not yet available for Revolut in the EU and N26 does not charge anything for card transactions in foreign currency. Unlike Revolut, N26 is no longer available in the UK but has been available in the US by 2019, while Revolut became available in the US only in March 2020. N26 is available in both the web and mobile app versions, while Revolut is only in mobile app. Revolut has features that are not available in N26 like access to cryptocurrencies.

N26 and Revolut both have premium/paid plans that offer travel insurance features like overseas travel, luggage, and trip insurances. N26 premium plans offer extra lifestyle features such as mobility insurance for shared vehicles as well as winter sports insurance.

N26 and Revolut’s stories

N26 was founded in 2013 in Berlin by Valentin Stalf and Maximilian Tayenthal, with the aim of making banking easier and more transparent for millions around the world. In 2015, it launched its first products with its free N26 bank accounts and N26 Mastercards in Germany and Austria. It secured a full European banking license from the European Central Bank in 2016 and in 2017 introduced its premium account with N26 Metal. As mentioned above, 2019 proved to be a banner year for N26 in terms of fundraising. This year, N26 has over 5 million customers across 25 markets, with a team of more than 1,500 employees across its main offices in Berlin, New York, Barcelona, Vienna, and São Paulo. In 2020, N26 closed their operations in the UK, citing Brexit as the cause.

Revolut was founded two years later than N26, in 2015 in London, by Nik Storonsky and Vlad Yatsenko. Its aim from day one was to become a global financial superapp. By 2016, Revolut registered 100,000 users and secured its Series A funding. In 2017, it launched crypto trading and Revolut for business as well as secured its Series B funding of around €55 million. Next up, 2018 saw the launch of its premium service Revolut Metal while in 2019, it launched donations (partnering with 20 charities) and trading which brought fractional trading to its customers. This year, it expanded to the US, secured a €460 million Series D funding, and enabled open banking that allowed customers to all their external accounts in one place. Revolut has surpassed over 12 million in customers across 35 countries with over 30 in-app currencies. It has over 2,000 employees across its 20 locations globally that include offices in London, New York, San Francisco, Paris, Berlin, Melbourne, São Paulo, and Tokyo.

What’s next?

From the beginning, N26 has positioned itself as a neobank, a digital and convenient alternative to traditional banking while Revolut on the other hand rather as peer-to-peer payments and currency exchange, more on alternative financial services not readily available with traditional banks. With its recent funding, N26 intends to double down on its most promising markets (EU, US, Brazil) while Revolut wants to double down on its core features, down to providing full bank accounts in Europe in the future, replicating the many services currently available in the UK. Revolut also intends to launch in the US and Japan.

EU-Startups

7 Ways Every Entrepreneur Should Evaluate A New Idea

Board-Artificial-RobotAs an advisor to entrepreneurs, one of the most common requests I get is for an evaluation of a next startup idea. I try to explain that even the most innovative idea will fail if it is not a good fit for you at this time, so the question I ask them is “why you now” rather than “why this solution now?” The right person can make any idea a business success, and the wrong one will always struggle.

The reality is that I can’t judge any idea in your context, because I don’t know your passions, knowledge base, and experiences. If you show me a written business plan, I can assess it from a technical perspective, but that doesn’t tell me if you are the right person to create the business. Thus I can only recommend some context for you to make your own idea and business decisions:

  1. Play to your passions and personal interests. Pick an arena that gets your creative juices flowing, rather than one that everyone says is the next big thing. If your goals in life revolve around social change or the environment, aim in that direction for your startup, rather than maximizing revenue and profit. If you are not motivated, you won’t succeed.

    Entrepreneur Tony Hsieh, who founded Zappos, was passionate in his belief that he could “deliver happiness” to customers, before making a profit, through innovative moves like surprising 80% of customers with free overnight shipping. He succeeded well in both.

  2. Trust your background and intellectual strengths. The most successful entrepreneurs focus on solving a problem that they personally have experienced, and are convinced they fully understand. Also the same applies to dealing with the business elements, such as marketing, business operations, and finances. You may need a partner on this one.

    Bill Gates learned to appreciate the power of computers at a very young age, but was frustrated that available models were large and hard to program. He invented BASIC and Windows, snagged Steve Ballmer for marketing, and Microsoft helped change the world.

  3. Consider your access to resources for startup efforts. Take a realistic view of your ability to assemble the necessary funding, and attract the right people. Your strengths in physics and electronics may be excellent, but most of us could never attract the funding required for a new microchip process. Maybe you need to start with a smaller idea.

    Experts estimate the cost of the first next-generation chip factory to be at least $ 10 billion. Unless you have deep pockets, you probably need some strong connections and support from the people at Intel or AMD before committing your entrepreneurial life to this effort.

  4. Assess the time and effort you are willing to commit. Most startup ideas will fail, if you approach them like a hobby that you can work on occasionally and on weekends. It’s hard to win when other entrepreneurs, such as Elon Musk, are known to work hundred-hour weeks, and don’t have a family to balance. Your time is a critical limited resource.

  5. Count the depth of your relationships with key people. Most successful startups have deep relationships with experts who can mentor and support them, or provide access to critical resources and funding. There is no entitlement in this business. You need to enjoy building the new relationships you need, and nurturing the ones you have, to succeed.

  6. Check your interest in learning how to fill the gaps. No matter how experienced and knowledgeable you are, every startup is a new learning process. If you don’t enjoy learning, stick to ideas and businesses that are “cookie-cutter” versions of what you already know. Your success depends on enjoying the journey as well as the destination.

  7. Test your ability to communicate value to others. Some of the highest potential ideas and businesses require a massive educational and sales effort, which may not be your forte or interest. Very few ideas these days have such obvious value that “if we build it, they will come.” Most startups require leading a team of people, and engaging customers.

So before you make those cold calls to me, or any other constituency, for an assessment of the viability of your next great idea, my advice if for you to take a hard look at your own drivers and resources, per the items listed here. I’m convinced that there are more than enough startup ideas around, such that you can pick one to match your profile, and we all win with your success.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 07/21/2020 ***

Startup Professionals Musings

Direct-to-consumer cat food startup Smalls raises $9M

While dog owners have plenty of direct-to-consumer options if they want to order pet food online, we haven’t seen a similar wave of startups for cats. But that may be starting to change.

Earlier this year, I wrote about Cat Person, a startup backed by Harry’s Labs offering a variety of cat care products, including food. And Smalls, a cat food startup that launched in 2018, is announcing today that it has raised $ 9 million in Series A funding.

Co-founders Matt Michaelson (CEO) and Calvin Bohn (COO) said that it’s not simply a matter of taking the D2C dog food model and applying it to cats.

“The traditional sort of MO for companies in the pet care space is to do everything for dogs first,” and then expand into cat products, Bohn said.

Michaelson argued that this means companies “often overlooked the nutritional needs of cat.” In particular, he said, “We found that we needed a much broader range of products to really succeed. Cats are picky because they’re apex predators.”

So Smalls offers a variety of food options, including what it says is fresh, human-grade chicken and beef; freeze-dried chicken, turkey and duck; plus other treats (and non-food products like litter and toys).

Smalls

Image Credits: Smalls

Michaelson and Bohn started out by cooking the food in the kitchen of their New York City apartments, then moved into what was then known as Brooklyn Foodworks. Smalls now manufactures its cat food in a facility in Chicago.

They acknowledged that the cost can be a bit higher than what cat owners are used to paying — the exact comparison will depend on the brand and quality you currently buy, but after taking a quick quiz on the Smalls website, I was offered subscription plans that cost around $ 3 or $ 4 per cat per day. Michaelson noted that “retention is not correlated to income” (so Smalls customers aren’t just wealthy cat owners), and he argued that investing healthy food for your cat could save money down the road

“We don’t have studies to say that yet, but at the same time, you would naturally assume eating better food is going to be a good investment in yourself,” he said.

Bohn added that when cat owners switch to Smalls, they quickly notice the difference: “Within weeks, their cats were sleeping better at night, their coats were more lustrous, their stool smelled better.” (Journalists who tried it out seem to agree.)

The Series A brings Smalls’ total funding to $ 12 million. It was led by Left Lane Capital (whose partner Jason Fiedler previously invested in The Farmer’s Dog), with participation from Founder Collective and Companion Fund.

“While we’ve seen a proliferation of highly successful healthy dog food brands, the cat food market has remained completely ignored,” Fiedler said in a statement. “Smalls has successfully developed a brand, product mix, supply chain and customer experience that is specifically optimized for cats that no one else has.”

Michaelson said Smalls currently has “several thousand” active subscribers, up 4x year-over-year. And while the pandemic has created some supply chain challenges, it also led to “a huge rise in pet adoption,” as well as convincing some owners that they should look for alternatives to their local pet store.

“Because we’re seeing this big movement towards the direct-to-consumer side of things with COVID, it’s really an opportunity to lean into that and grow faster,” he said.

Startups – TechCrunch

TechCabal Daily – This African telco is reportedly planning to layoff a third of its staff – TechCabal

TechCabal Daily – This African telco is reportedly planning to layoff a third of its staff  TechCabal
“nigeria startups when:7d” – Google News