Kolide raises $8M to turn application and device management into a smart database

More devices are coming onto the Internet every single day, and that’s especially true within organizations that have a fleet of devices with access to sensitive data — which means there are even more holes for potential security breaches.

That’s the goal of Kolide. The aim is to ensure that companies have access to tools that give them the ability to get a thorough analysis of every bit of data they have — and where they have it. The Kolide Cloud, its initial major rollout for Mac and Linux devices, turns an entire fleet of apps and devices into what’s basically a table that anyone can query to get an up-to-date look at what’s happening within their business. Kolide looks to provide a robust set of tools that help analyze that data. By doing that, companies may have a better shot at detecting security breaches that might come from even mundane miscalculations or employees being careless about the security of that data. The company said today it has raised $8 million in new venture financing in a round led by Matrix Partners.

“It’s not just an independent event,” Kolide CEO Jason Meller said. “The way I think about it, if you look at any organization, there’s a pathway to a massive security incident, and the pathway is rather innocuous. Let’s say I’m a developer that works at one of these organizations and I need to fix a bug, and pull the production database. Now I have a laptop with this data on this, and I did this and didn’t realize my disk wasn’t encrypted. I went from these innocuous activities to something existentially concerning which could have been prevented if you knew which devices weren’t encrypted and had customer data. A lot of organizations are focused on these very rare events, but the reality is the risk that they face is mishandling of customer data or sensitive information and not thinking about the basics.”

Kolide is built on top of Osquery, a toolkit that allows organizations to essentially view all their devices or operations as if it were a single database. That means that companies can query all of these incidents or any changes in the way employees use data or the way that data is structured. You could run a simple select query for, say, apps and see what is installed where. It allows for a level of granularity that could help drill down into those little innocuous incidents Meller talks about, but all that still needs some simpler approach or interface for larger companies that are frantically trying to handle edge cases but may be overlooking the basics.

Like other companies looking to build a business on top of open source technology, the company looks to offer ways to calibrate those tools for a company’s niche needs that they necessarily don’t actively cover. The argument here is that by basing the company and tools on open source software, they’ll be able to lean on that community to rapidly adapt to a changing environment when it comes to security, and that will allow them to be more agile and have a better sales pitch to larger companies.

There’s going to be a lot of competition in terms of application monitoring and management, especially as companies adopt more and more devices in order to handle their operations. That opens up more and more holes for potential breaches, and in the end, Kolide hopes to create a more granular bird’s-eye view of what’s happening rather than just creating a flagging system without actually explaining what’s happening. There are some startups attacking device management tools, like Fleetsmith does for Apple devices (which raised $7.7 million), and to be sure provisioning and management is one part of the equation. But Kolide hopes to provide a strong toolkit that eventually creates a powerful monitoring system for organizations as they get bigger and bigger.

“We believe data collection is an absolute commodity,” Meller said. “That’s a fundamentally different approach, they believe the actual collection tools are proprietary. We feel this is a solved problem. Our goal isn’t to take info and regurgitate it in a fancy user interface. We believe we should be paid based on the insights and help manage their fleet better. We can tell the whole industry is swinging this way due to the traction OSQuery had. It’s not a new trend, it’s really the end point as a result of companies that have suffered from this black box situation.”

Osama Hashmi on “Exponential Social Impact challenges”

This week on Technotopia I talked to Osama Hashmi, founder of Mocha 7 and a deep thinker on the topics of AI, blockchain, and the future. Hashmi was a bit of a downer in my optimistic view of the future but he had plenty to say, especially on the topic of human growth and improvement.

“There are many Exponential Social Impact challenges ahead and a positive future that can come from that,” he said. “We can put together an innovation ecosystem to solve this in a very positive way – but we have to start thinking about this.”

Take a listen and see what this positive – if wary – founder has to say about our collective futures. You can also read his book, Innovation Thinking.

Technotopia is a podcast by John Biggs about a better future. You can subscribe in Stitcher, RSS, or iTunes and listen the MP3 here.

Teachable raises $4M to create a tool to turn any online class into a true business

Online coursework is exploding across all kinds of verticals and fields of expertise — but those courses inevitably end up on platforms like Udemy, and for Ankur Nagpal, that’s really not a way to build a true business.

That’s why Nagpal started Teachable, a platform for experts that want to create a business around their coursework that helps them build an entire online education suite beyond just platforms like Coursera or Udemy. Niche expertise can be way too valuable for just a simple marketplace like Coursera, Nagpal says, and experts in those areas — even seminars on mindfulness or Feng Shui — should be able to make more than just a few thousand dollars a year off that coursework. Nagpal said the company has raised an additional $4 million in equity from existing investors Accomplice Ventures and AngelList co-founder Naval Ravikant.

“In the past, if you wanted to teach courses, you could either put it in the marketplace or have it on your own website — with your brand and domain name and full control of everything — but there’s no easy way to do it,” Nagpal said. “It’s the difference between listing a physical good on Amazon and having your own storefront. While you could make a few thousand dollars on Udemy, you couldn’t build a sustainable business selling courses for $10 to $15.”

That fundraise, however, comes with a whopping $134 million valuation in the end as the company expects to be profitable by the end of Q4 this year. Teachable has around 10 million students across 125,000 courses, with 12,000 paying customers on the platform. Nagpal says it is aiming for a business that will generate more than $200 million in sales this year, which might not be so far off given the speed at which it has ramped up from just $5 million in 2015 to around $90 million in 2017.

In Teachable’s earliest days, instructors focused on marketing or programming, which is where a lot of online coursework got its start when the value of knowledge skills like Ruby or Python skyrocketed. But since then, Teachable has grown into a platform where users with niche skill sets can create robust coursework, and if they already have content ready to go like videos, can get their domain up and running in just a few hours. Teachable has a multi-tier pricing structure ranging from taking small transaction fees to a paid subscription of nearly $299 a month in order to manage its online domains, which is designed to appeal to a wide variety of potential instructors looking to get their start.

“If you look at our top 10 or 20 instructors, there’s virtually no pattern of verticals that are successful,” Nagpal said. “[The popular courses are based on] professional skills, or learning to play a musical instrument, or fly a drone, or even financial empowerment. There’s almost an anti-pattern.”

And again, these aren’t supposed to be courses that get wrapped up into a $49 per-month subscription. Courses in highly specific verticals — like something like Feng shui — can cost up to a hundred dollars or more. But the idea is that these seminars have so much value that students who are looking to dive deep into them are willing to go beyond the cost of just a Udemy in order to get the most valuable content. Teachable aims to make it easy to port the kind of content instructors might post on one of those marketplaces to quickly get them up and running with their own independent online course.

That free plan with a transaction fee is ultimately what at least piques the interest of potential instructors, and Teachable also hosts workshops to try to get them more excited about the opportunity — and then get them to start paying as they look to attract more and more students and need a more robust toolkit, like advanced reporting. or priority product support. The company doesn’t really focus on paid marketing because Nagpal says it’s “not very good at it,” as it primarily leans on word of mouth and affiliates.

“Courses on marketplaces are effectively commoditized,” he said. “I would buy the top-rated courses, but the first course is as valuable as the second or third. On our platform, if people are buying the Ruby on Rails course, it’s probably because they’ve followed an expert on that for a year. What I’m buying is not commoditized, I have a relationship with that person. Their content is much more valuable. All the sales are generated through an instructor.”

Nagpal said he got his start building a bunch of, well, bad Facebook apps like personality quizzes and really simple flash games in the early days of the Facebook Platform. Getting such an early glimpse at that behavior on the Facebook Platform is pretty controversial today with the massive privacy scandal Facebook faces after Cambridge Analytica, a political research firm, ended up with personal data of up to 87 million people through a simple app on the Facebook Platform. Nagpal, however, said what now seems like a treasure trove of data was at the time not really all that useful for that business.

“We got some of that data, but to us it was junk and we never stored it,” he said. “It just seemed like noise.”

The biggest challenge for Teachable, Nagpal says, is making sure instructors actually want to remain instructors. The free tier might attract them to getting started, but instructors might just get burnt out from being instructors in general — whether that’s on Teachable or a marketplace like Udemy. The real competition, he says, are platforms like YouTube and other time sinks for content creators. To keep them on board, Teachable hopes to expand to other verticals of content like coaching and services. That, too, might keep it ahead of marketplaces like Coursera and eventually woo instructors with the opportunity to build an entire online business on Teachable.

“Every month we have 50 people getting more [than the top paid instructor on a platform like Skillshare],” he said. “The sustainability of the business is very different. It’s really hard to make a living selling $10 courses. On our platform, the average price point is closer to $100, which in turn gets reinvested to create actually good content. We’re finding most of the instructors don’t just sell courses, and they have multiple income streams. We’re trying to see if we can get our checkout product powering all that. That creates network lock-in.”

Teachable also took on a few smaller investors including Shopify founder Tobias Lutke, Weebly founder Chris Fanini, Lynda.com CEO Eric Robison, and Getty Images founder Jonathan Klein.