Okta nabs ScaleFT to build out ‘Zero Trust’ security framework

Okta, the cloud identity management company, announced today it has purchased a startup called ScaleFT to bring the Zero Trust concept to the Okta platform. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

While Zero Trust isn’t exactly new to a cloud identity management company like Okta, acquiring ScaleFT gives them a solid cloud-based Zero Trust foundation on which to continue to develop the concept internally.

“To help our customers increase security while also meeting the demands of the modern workforce, we’re acquiring ScaleFT to further our contextual access management vision — and ensure the right people get access to the right resources for the shortest amount of time,” Okta co-founder and COO Frederic Kerrest said in a statement.

Zero Trust is a security framework that acknowledges work no longer happens behind the friendly confines of a firewall. In the old days before mobile and cloud, you could be pretty certain that anyone on your corporate network had the authority to be there, but as we have moved into a mobile world, it’s no longer a simple matter to defend a perimeter when there is effectively no such thing. Zero Trust means what it says: you can’t trust anyone on your systems and have to provide an appropriate security posture.

The idea was pioneered by Google’s “BeyondCorp” principals and the founders of ScaleFT are adherents to this idea. According to Okta, “ScaleFT developed a cloud-native Zero Trust access management solution that makes it easier to secure access to company resources without the need for a traditional VPN.”

Okta wants to incorporate the ScaleFT team and, well, scale their solution for large enterprise customers interested in developing this concept, according to a company blog post by Kerrest.

“Together, we’ll work to bring Zero Trust to the enterprise by providing organizations with a framework to protect sensitive data, without compromising on experience. Okta and ScaleFT will deliver next-generation continuous authentication capabilities to secure server access — from cloud to ground,” Kerrest wrote in the blog post.

ScaleFT CEO and co-founder Jason Luce will manage the transition between the two companies, while CTO and co-founder Paul Querna will lead strategy and execution of Okta’s Zero Trust architecture. CSO Marc Rogers will take on the role of Okta’s Executive Director, Cybersecurity Strategy.

The acquisition allows the Okta to move beyond purely managing identity into broader cyber security, at least conceptually. Certainly Roger’s new role suggests the company could have other ideas to expand further into general cyber security beyond Zero Trust.

ScaleFT was founded in 2015 and has raised $2.8 million over two seed rounds, according to Crunchbase data.

Reali raises $20M for its flat-fee real estate platform

Reali, a real estate platform that replaces traditional real estate transaction fees with a flat-fee model, today announced that it has raised a $20 million Series B funding round led by Zeev Ventures, with participation from Signia Venture Partners and other investors. This round brings Reali’s total funding to $30 million.

The basic idea behind Reali is to do away with the current agent-centric commission model and replace it with a technology platform and agents that are paid a flat fee per transaction. To do this more efficiently in the future, Reali is looking to machine learning and artificial intelligence.

We are fusing AI with human intelligence and optimized workflows around buyer and seller journeys — all towards a superior customer experience for real estate transactions that also result in significant savings for buyers and sellers,” Reali CEO and founder Amit Haller told me.

It’s no surprise, then, that much of the new funding will go toward expanding the company’s expertise in this area. In addition, the service is also looking at expanding its service geographically. Currently, it’s only available in the Bay Area and Sacramento. Reali now wants to add Southern California to this list. “We are in the process of recruiting and training a team of Reali Experts and on-the-ground Brand Ambassadors, and we expect to begin servicing buyers and sellers later this summer,” said Haller. “We will be covering all of California this year, followed by out-of-state markets.”

So far, Reali says, the platform has processed “hundreds of millions of dollars in homes bought and sold.” The company boasts that its agents are far more efficient than other brokers on a per-transaction basis and that they have a Net Promotor Score of 85.2. The company’s app has only been downloaded 30,000 times since January 2017, though that number doesn’t mean much given that the service is only available in a very limited area.

Custom framing startup Framebridge picks up $30 million Series C

D.C.-based Framebridge today announced the close of a $30 million Series C financing round led by T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc. with participation from existing investors SWaN & Legend Venture Partners, Revolution Ventures, and NEA.

Launched in 2014, Framebridge offers affordable and convenient custom framing via its website and mobile app. The idea for the company started when founder and CEO Susan Tynan went to get four National Parks posters framed. After a multi-hour consultation, she ended up spending $1,600.

“I left thinking ‘What did I just do?’” said Tynan. “The framing cost more than my couch, and that experience just really stuck with me.”

She poured herself into understanding how the framing industry works, and soon after, Framebridge was born.

On the consumer side, the process is really simple. Users can either upload a picture to be framed, or request shipping materials from Framebridge to send in an existing photo, poster, or piece of art. Users can then ship in their art and choose the framing style on the website or app, with the finished product returning back at their house within seven to ten days.

Because Framebridge does all its own production, the company has been able to implement some automation and refine the production process to lower cost. The highest price a user will pay on Framebridge is $199, with the lowest price at $39 for a framed 10×10 Instagram.

Unlike some other direct-to-consumer, custom-framing startups that outsource their products, Framebridge handles all of its own production. This means that, as the company grows, its margins get healthier and the business gets stronger.

Another benefit of in-house production is that Framebridge gets to see what its users are framing, which has turned out to be much more than your average poster or picture. Tynan recalled seeing baseball tickets, hand-written vows, and other sentimental items come through the facility, and said that up to 65 percent of the items Framebridge customers framed with the startup are things they wouldn’t have taken to a traditional custom framer.

Tynan says that balancing supply and demand is one of the biggest challenges of the company.

“Every time we sell something, we have to produce it,” said Tynan. “We’re getting more sophisticated as we grow, but we’re not a SaaS company. Unlike a lot of other startups, we had to get a lot of disciplines right from the very beginning.”

The new funding will go toward expanding manufacturing capabilities, refining the delivery process, marketing and brand awareness, as well innovation in the product itself.

Greycroft raises $250M for its fifth early-stage fund

Greycroft, the venture capital firm that’s backed companies like the Huffington Post, Plated and Venmo, is announcing that it has raised $250 million for its latest fund.

The firm was founded in 2006 by Alan Patricof, Ian Sigalow and Dana Settle, and it now invests from a fund for seed and Series A deals (this is its fifth early-stage fund) and a separate fund focused on growth investments. Recent bets include scooter startup Bird and podcast network Wondery.

Sigalow told me that for the most part, the firm’s strategy isn’t changing, though it has adapted to what he called “the rise of the institutional seed round” by making more seed investments of its own.

“I think it’s mostly a change in nomenclature,” Sigalow said — where a funding round of a few million dollars would previously have been called a Series A, it’s now considered seed funding. (And anything before that becomes “pre-seed.”) “There is, on the margin, more capital being deployed industry-wide now than there was five or 10 years ago. That’s true at every stage. Rounds have gotten slightly larger.”

And while Greycroft has offices in New York and Los Angeles, the firm notes that some of its recent successes have come from Birmingham, Alabama (Shipt, which was acquired by Target) and Chicago (Trunk Club, acquired by Nordstrom, as well as Braintree, acquired by PayPal).

Settle said Greycroft tries to look at “opportunities in all kinds of markets.” Sigalow added that one of the “big unsung advantages” of being in LA and NYC is “true access to virtually direct flights everywhere.”

The firm also says that nearly half of its investments go into startups founded by women and other underrepresented groups — its female-founded startups include BaubleBar, BitPesa, Clique, Cuyana, Eloquii, HopSkipDrive, theRealReal, Thrive Global and theSkimm.

While many of Greycroft’s best-known investments have been consumer startups, Settle and Sigalow said the firm has always had a pretty even split between business-to-business and business-to-consumer models. It’s just that the consumer startups tend to get more attention from the press.

Sigalow also said that lately, more enterprise and non-consumer startups seem interested in working with Greycroft because of its consumer successes, because they’re looking to incorporate “what was traditionally B2C functionality.”

“I really think there’s an advantage to all these cross-discipline approaches,” he said.

Swim.ai raises $10M to bring real-time analytics to the edge

Once upon a time, it looked like cloud-based serviced would become the central hub for analyzing all IoT data. But it didn’t quite turn out that way because most IoT solutions simply generate too much data to do this effectively and the round-trip to the data center doesn’t work for applications that have to react in real time. Hence the advent of edge computing, which is spawning its own ecosystem of startups.

Among those is Swim.ai, which today announced that it has raised a $10 million Series B funding round led by Cambridge Innovation Capital, with participation from Silver Creek Ventures and Harris Barton Asset Management. The round also included a strategic investment from Arm, the chip design firm you may still remember as ARM (but don’t write it like that or their PR department will promptly email you). This brings the company’s total funding to about $18 million.

Swim.ai has an interesting take on edge computing. The company’s SWIM EDX product combines both local data processing and analytics with local machine learning. In a traditional approach, the edge devices collect the data, maybe perform some basic operations against the data to bring down the bandwidth cost and then ship it to the cloud where the hard work is done and where, if you are doing machine learning, the models are trained. Swim.ai argues that this doesn’t work for applications that need to respond in real time. Swim.ai, however, performs the model training on the edge device itself by pulling in data from all connected devices. It then builds a digital twin for each one of these devices and uses that to self-train its models based on this data.

“Demand for the EDX software is rapidly increasing, driven by our software’s unique ability to analyze and reduce data, share new insights instantly peer-to-peer – locally at the ‘edge’ on existing equipment. Efficiently processing edge data and enabling insights to be easily created and delivered with the lowest latency are critical needs for any organization,” said Rusty Cumpston, co-founder and CEO of Swim.ai. “We are thrilled to partner with our new and existing investors who share our vision and look forward to shaping the future of real-time analytics at the edge.”

The company doesn’t disclose any current customers, but it is focusing its efforts on manufacturers, service providers and smart city solutions. Update: Swim.ai did tell us about two customers after we published this story: The City of Palo Alto and Itron.

Swim.ai plans to use its new funding to launch a new R&D center in Cambridge, UK, expand its product development team and tackle new verticals and geographies with an expanded sales and marketing team.

BuzzFeed launches a new website for its real journalism

It’s not news at this point that BuzzFeed has a serious news organization — one whose reporting on Russia made it a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize this year.

But it’s also a news organization whose stories are published alongside the social media friendly quizzes and lists that BuzzFeed remains known for — which can be confusing, or even provide easy ammunition to those who want to criticize the reporting.

Yes, the company already taken steps to give the more serious reporting its own home and identity, with a BuzzFeed News app, a section on the main BuzzFeed site and a “BuzzFeed News” label on every story.

Still, Senior Product Manager Kate Zasada said the company’s own research has found that some readers “don’t completely understand” that while BuzzFeed is famous for GIF-filled lists, it also produces “deeply researched and fact-checked” journalism. (The snarky comments I get whenever I write about BuzzFeed seem to back this up.)

So the company is making that distinction a clearer with the launch of a new BuzzFeed News website.

News stories will still run on the main BuzzFeed homepage, and the BuzzFeed News site will include links to other BuzzFeed content. But it looks and feels more like a standalone site, giving the team what Zasada said is “a new domain and a new brand.”

BuzzFeed News

The site won’t be divided into traditional topics like politics, sports and so on — Product Manager Sam Kirkland argued that these divisions “didn’t make much sense with how we work internally or how we consume news.” Instead, there’s a Trending News Bar at the top of the page, highlighting the most important topics of the day, as chosen by BuzzFeed News editors.

And while the new site will include advertising, such as links to sponsored BuzzFeed posts, Zasada said there won’t be any sponsored posts hosted on BuzzFeed News itself.

Of course, not every reader will actually find these stories by typing buzzfeednews.com into their web browser. But Zasada said that even if you click over from social media or elsewhere on the web, you’ll see each news article is accompanied by not just the BuzzFeed News logo, but also the Trending News Bar.

And it won’t just be photos and text dominating the page. Zasada said the site will also support YouTube videos and GIFs, and Editor in Chief Ben Smith added that the site will provide “a very seamless way” to promote BuzzFeed’s broadcast-style video programming like its Twitter series AM to DM and Follow This, a Netflix series about BuzzFeed reporters.

BuzzFeed News article

Smith also noted that while the company is creating a new home for its journalism, that doesn’t mean the site will be unrelentingly serious and highbrow. As we spoke yesterday afternoon, he said that some of the most popular BuzzFeed News stories included multiple articles about Trump, a long essay about Gwen Stefani and a story on the sadly neglected aerial tram emoji.

In other words, he said, it’s a “general interest news organization” that covers the “full range” of relevant topics.

And even as it’s competing with all that other BuzzFeed content, it’s still drawing an audience. The company says BuzzFeed News stories receive 200 million pageviews each month, and that one third of BuzzFeed’s total audience reads news stories each month.

In Smith’s view, the new website reflects “an organizational change that’s already happened.”

“I don’t think anybody finds it confusing that ABC does news programming and scripted shows on prime time,” he said. “On the web, the conventions are less clear. I think we’re trying to be very clear. We feel our audience wants that.”