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The top 7 startups from Y Combinator’s W18 Demo Day 1

Autonomous cargo shipping, voice games and a camera that fits in a catheter were amongst the most impressive startups that launched yesterday at the Y Combinator Winter 2018 Demo Day 1. You can read about all 64 startups that launched in verticals like biotech and robotics, and our full coverage of all the companies from Day 2. Based on investor buzz and what interested TechCrunch’s writers, click (web) or scroll (mobile) to see our picks for Day 1’s top seven startups.

Additional reporting by Greg Kumparak, Katie Roof, Megan Rose Dickey and Lucas Matney

Oracle’s cloud biz heading in the wrong direction right now

Oracle announced its quarterly earnings last night, detailing that its cloud business grew 32 percent to $1.6 billion in the quarter. That might sound good at first blush, but it’s part of three straight quarters of reduced growth — a fact that had investors jittery over night. It didn’t get better throughout the day today with Oracle’s stock plunging over 9 percent as of this writing.

When you consider that enterprise business is shifting rapidly to the cloud, and that the cloud business in general is growing quickly, Oracle’s cloud numbers could be reason for concern. While it’s hard to nail down what “cloud” means when it comes to technology companies’ earnings because it varies so much in how each one counts infrastructure, software, or platform; the general trend from Oracle seems contrary to the eye-popping growth numbers we have seen from other companies.

Oracle against the world

Oracle’s cloud revenue broke down as follows: SaaS, up 33 percent to $1.2 billion, and platform and infrastructure revenue combined up 28 percent to $415 million. To put those figures into context, consider that last quarter Alibaba reported overall cloud revenue of $533 million,which was up a whopping 104 percent year over year.

Looking purely at Infrastructure services, Canalys reported that in the third quarter of 2017, Microsoft grew at around 90 percent year over year, while Google grew around 75 percent YoY. Even market leader Amazon, which controls over 30 percent of the market, had around a 40 percent growth rate, fairly remarkable given its size.

All of that suggests that Oracle, which came to the cloud late, should be on a higher growth trajectory than it’s currently showing.That’s because it’s generally easier to grow from a small number than it is from a big number to bigger number (as Amazon has had to do).

The company’s on-prem software revenue continues to grow (which includes lucrative license and maintenance revenue from existing customers), and still accounts for the vast majority of its top line. However, at this point, you would think Oracle would want to see that revenue growth shifting away from on-prem and towards its cloud business.

What’s worse is that co-CEO Safra Catz predicted in the earnings call with analysts that the cloud growth could dive even further next quarter. “Cloud revenues including SaaS, PaaS and IaaS [all cloud business combined] are expected to grow 19% to 23% in USD, 17% to 21% in constant currency,” she told analysts this week.

Oracle co-CEO Safra Catz Photo: KIMIHIRO HOSHINO/AFP/Getty Images

Looking for a brighter future

Chairman Larry Ellison tried to point to the fully automated cloud database product announced at Oracle OpenWorld last fall as a proof point of a brighter cloud future, but so far the numbers are not bearing that out. It’s worth noting that he did also indicate that more automated cloud products are on the way.

Oracle has spent the last several years putting a lot of cloud pieces together, and as Catz pointed out, they don’t have to invest further to handle additional capacity in their SaaS business, but with the numbers heading in the wrong direction that may not be the problem.

Oracle certainly has enterprise credibility, and that should bode well for its cloud business, but as a late comer to the market we should be seeing much brisker overall growth than this. Over time that may happen, but for now Wall Street was not happy with Oracle’s results and the firm probably has to show more from its cloud products before they can change investors’ minds.

Windows Server 2019 is now available in preview

Microsoft today announced the next version of Windows Server, which launches later this year under the not completely unexpected moniker of “Windows Server 2019.” Developers and operations teams that want to get access to the bits can now get the first preview build through Microsoft’s Insider Program.

This next version comes with plenty of new features, but it’s also worth noting that this is the next release in the Long-Term Servicing Channel for Windows Server, which means that customers will get five years of mainstream support and can get an extra five years of extended support. Users also can opt for a semi-annual channel that features — surprise — two releases per year for those teams that want to get faster access to new features. Microsoft recommends the long-term option for infrastructure scenarios like running SQL Server or SharePoint.

So what’s new in Windows Server 2019? Given Microsoft’s focus on hybrid cloud deployments, it’s no surprise that Windows Server also embraces these scenarios. Specifically, this means that Windows Server 2019 will be able to easily connect to Microsoft Azure and that users will be able to integrate Azure Backup, File Sync, disaster recover and other services into they Windows Server deployments.

Microsoft also added a number of new security features, which are mostly based on what the company has learned from running Azure and previous version of Windows. These include new shielded VMs for protecting Linux applications and support for Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection, one of Microsoft’s flagship security products that helps guard machines against attacks and zero-day exploits.

With this release, Microsoft is also bringing its container technologies from the semi-annual release channel to the long-term release channel. These include the ability to run Linux containers on Windows and the Windows Subsystem for Linux that enables this, as well as the ability to run Bash scripts on Windows. And for those of you who are really into containers, Microsoft also today noted that it will offer more container orchestration choices, including Kubernetes support, soon. These will first come to the semi-annual channel, though.

You can find a more detailed breakdown of what’s new in this release here.

Salesforce is reportedly in talks to acquire Mulesoft and the stock is going nuts

After previously investing in Mulesoft, it looks like Salesforce may finish off the deal and is in advanced talks to acquire the data management software provider altogether, according to a report from Reuters this morning.

Mulesoft works with companies to bring together different sources of data like varying APIs. That’s important for companies that have data coming in from all over the place, whether that’s online applications or actual devices, and the company says it has Netflix and Spotify as customers. It would also give Salesforce another piece of the lock-in puzzle for enterprises that need to increasingly manage larger and larger pools of data as they look to start pumping out machine learning tools that can act on all that data.

As usual, these talks could fall apart — we saw this happen with Twitter a few years ago after the company looked at buying what was essentially the largest customer service channel on the planet (as in, great for whining at brands) — but Reuters reports that the deal could be announced as soon as this week. Mulesoft’s stock jumped nearly 20% this year after it went public last year amid a wave of enterprise IPOs jumping through the so-called IPO window while it’s open.

Salesforce is increasingly making a push into AI with products like Einstein, which it launched in 2016. Those tools give businesses predictive services and recommendations, a hallmark of what can come out of increasing piles of data based on customer activity. But all of that data has to come from somewhere, and for now, there are providers outside of the Salesforce ecosystem that stitch all that together. Having it all in one central place makes it easier to parse them through these machine learning algorithms and start building predictive models for their operations.

We reached out to Salesforce and Mulesoft for comment and will update the post when we hear back.

8bitdo’s wireless adapter adds flexibility to Xbox, PlayStation and Switch controllers

Game controller compatibility is a labyrinthine nightmare most of the time: Some controllers work with some platforms some of the time, but it’s very hard to keep track of how and when. 8bitdo’s latest accessory adds some simplicity to the mix, enabling use of Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch controllers with Switch, Windows and macOS systems quickly and easily.

Yes, that means you can play your PC or Mac games with your favorite Xbox One X/S or DualShock 3/4 controller, or even use a Joy-Con. It also means that you can use a DualShock controller to play Breath of the Wild on the Switch, if that’s what you want to do.

The USB dongle also works with Android TV hardware, and with Raspberry Pi-based devices. It supports DualShock 4 vibration and 6-axis motion control on Switch, and it works lag-free for low latency gaming requirements. It’s also a tiny bit smaller than either the dedicated Xbox or PlayStation dedicated PC wireless controller USB adapters (and supports a broader range of platforms).

Oh, and it’s also just $20 from Amazon. I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks now and it performs exactly as advertised. If you’re looking to cut down your controller clutter or just have a strong preference for once design over another, this is definitely a smart buy.

Cleo, the chatbot that wants to replace your banking apps, has stealthily entered the U.S.

With little fuss or fanfare, Cleo, the London-based startup that offers an AI-powered chatbot as a replacement for your banking apps, has begun quietly offering its service to U.S. customers. Just 21 days in, I understand the U.K. fintech is already signing up 1,000 users across the pond per day.

Described as an “alpha version” by the chatbot itself (see screenshot below), the U.S. version sees Cleo add support for 647 banks and counting, a reflection of how fragmented the banking market in the U.S. is. As you’d expect, Cleo keeps the same conversational interface as its U.K. counterpart, albeit with what I’m told is a developing U.S. dialect (and selection of Gifs!). You can ask for and receive insights into your spending across multiple accounts and credit cards, broken down by transaction, category or merchant.

In addition, Cleo also lets you take a number of actions, including some based on the financial data it has gleaned. You can send money to your Facebook Messenger contacts via Cleo, donate to charity, and set spending goals and alerts and other fun financial antics.

The bigger picture is to offer Cleo’s mostly millennial users a more accessible and intelligent way to manage their money, and ultimately become their default financial control centre, including recommending ways to save money and automatically switching to the best value products, whether that be financial or other services such as utilities.

It is a proposition that appears to be resonating with users. In the U.K., Cleo now claims more than 150,000 users, while I understand, following the startup’s stealthy, although tentative, U.S. expansion it is on track for 200,000 users globally. A source tells me the company is also eyeing up further international moves, citing Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Singapore, and South Africa as next up on the road map.

What is fascinating now that we can see Cleo’s global ambitions begin to play out is the potential speed the U.K. startup can move because of the decision not to become a bank in its own right, which would otherwise bring significant capital and regulatory friction, not least in the fragmented U.S. market.

Cleo co-founder Barney Hussey-Yeo has always said that it is better to focus on building a better and smarter UI/UX than re-inventing the current account itself, even if the ultimate goal is somewhat the same. Or, to put it more simply, he argues that “nobody needs to be a bank to replace your banking app“.