Targetprocess lands Series A 14 years after launching

Targetprocess launched in 2004 in Minsk, Belarus with a mission of making it simpler to manage agile-driven programming projects. It announced it has taken its first funding in its 14-year history, a $5 million Series A led by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and Zubr Capital, a private equity firm in Minsk.

Why take money after all these years? It’s a long journey from 2004 to now, but Andrey Mihailenko, co-founder of Targetprocess, says the time is simply right to take on more money to expand its market vision. “The goal of taking on this funding is to get bigger. We see the opportunity right now because more companies understand the value of agile to provide faster response to change agents and quicker delivery,” he said.

He said the founders often debated over the years when to take on external investment, but decided to wait until they felt it was the right time to expand. “We delayed because venture capital is not just about money, but giving up some control and having someone else influence some of the decisions. We wanted our vision fulfilled and now seems like a perfect time because agile is [moving beyond] IT into other parts of the organization,” Mihailenko explained.

Like many startups, this one was born out of necessity when one of Mihailenko’s co-founders became fascinated with the agile programming methodology. When he couldn’t find tools to adequately manage the process, he decided to build them, and from that early work Targetprocess was born.

Today, he says his company focuses on agile teams of all sizes as the agile concept has become popularized over time and mainstreamed as an accepted practice. “Our focus is on providing a platform to enable agile teams to visualize the workflow, how they work and making sure their priorities align and that they work in an agile way,” Mihailenko said.

Their persistence appears to have paid off. From the five co-founders, they have grown to 115 employees with over 1000 clients worldwide, according to Mihailenko.The development team remains in Minsk, but they have small offices in Buffalo, NY, London and Berlin.

They plan to use the money to push into new markets by hiring new sales and marketing professionals, who can help them expand and grow. They also intend to enhance the R&D team in Minsk and expect to reach 160 employees in the next 12-18 months.

Brexit data transfer gaps a risk for UK startups, MPs told

The uncertainty facing digital businesses as a result of Brexit was front and center during a committee session in the UK parliament today, with experts including the UK’s information commissioner responding to MPs’ questions about how and even whether data will continue to flow between the UK and the European Union once the country has departed the bloc — in just under a year’s time, per the current schedule.

The risks for UK startups vs tech giants were also flagged, with concerns voiced that larger businesses are better placed to weather Brexit-based uncertainty thanks to greater resources at their disposal to plug data transfer gaps resulting from the political upheaval.

Information commissioner Elizabeth Denham emphasized the overriding importance of the UK data protection bill being passed. Though that’s really just the baby step where the Brexit negotiations are concerned.

Parliamentarians have another vote on the bill this afternoon, during its third reading, and the legislative timetable is tight, given that the pan-EU General Data Protection Act (GDPR) takes direct effect on May 25 — and many provisions in the UK bill are intended to bring domestic law into line with that regulation, and complete implementation ahead of the EU deadline.

Despite the UK referendum vote to pull the country out of the EU, the government has committed to complying with GDPR — which ministers hope will lay a strong foundation for it to secure a future agreement with the EU that allows data to continue flowing, as is critical for business. Although what exactly that future data regime might be remains to be seen — and various scenarios were discussed during today’s hearing — hence there’s further operational uncertainty for businesses in the years ahead.

“Getting the data policy right is of critical importance both on the commercial side but also on the security and law enforcement side,” said Denham. “We need data to continue to flow and if we’re not part of the unified framework in the EU then we have to make sure that we’re focused and we’re robust about putting in place measures to ensure that data continues to flow appropriately, that it’s safeguarded and also that there is business certainty in advance of our exit from the EU.

“Data underpins everything that we do and it’s critically important.”

Another witness to the committee, James Mullock, a partner at law firm Bird & Bird, warned that the Brexit-shaped threat to UK-EU data flows could result in a situation akin to what happened after the long-standing Safe Harbor arrangement between the EU and the US was struck down in 2015 — leaving thousands of companies scrambling to put in place alternative data transfer mechanisms.

“If we have anything like that it would be extremely disruptive,” warned Mullock. “And it will, I think, be extremely off-putting in terms of businesses looking at where they will headquarter themselves in Europe. And therefore the long term prospects of attracting businesses from many of the sectors that this country supports so well.”

“Essentially what you’re doing is you’re putting the burden on business to find a legal agreement or a legal mechanism to agree data protection standards on an overseas recipient so all UK businesses that receive data from Europe will be having to sign these agreements or put in place these mechanisms to receive data from the European Union which is obviously one of our very major senders of data to this country,” he added of the alternative legal mechanisms fall-back scenario.

Another witness, Giles Derrington, head of Brexit policy for UK technology advocacy organization, TechUK, explained how the collapse of Safe Harbor had saddled businesses with major amounts of bureaucracy — and went on to suggest that a similar scenario befalling the UK as a result of Brexit could put domestic startups at a big disadvantage vs tech giants.

“We had a member company who had to put in place two million Standard Contractual Clauses over the space of a month or so [after Safe Harbor was struck down],” he told the committee. “The amount of cost, time, effort that took was very, very significant. That’s for a very large company.

“The other side of this is the alternatives are highly exclusionary — or could be highly exclusionary to smaller businesses. If you look at India for example, who have been trying to get an adequacy agreement with the EU for about ten years, what you’ve actually found now is a gap between those large multinationals, who can put in place binding corporate rules, standard contractual clauses, have the kind of capital to be able to do that — and it gives them an access to the European market which frankly most smaller businesses don’t have from India.

“We obviously wouldn’t want to see that in a UK tech sector which is an awful lot of startups, scale-ups, and is a key part of the ecosystem which makes the UK a tech hub within Europe.”

Denham made a similar point. “Binding corporate rules… might work for multinational companies [as an alternative data transfer mechanism] that have the ability to invest in that process,” she noted. “Codes of conduct and certification are other transfer mechanisms that could be used but there are very few codes of practice and certification mechanisms in place at this time. So, although that could be a future transfer mechanism… we don’t have codes and certifications that have been approved by authorities at this time.”

“I think it would be easier for multinational companies and large companies, rather than small businesses and certainly microbusinesses, that make up the lion’s share of business in the UK, especially in tech,” she added of the fall-back scenarios.

Giving another example of the scale of the potential bureaucracy nightmare, Stephen Hurley, head of Brexit planning and policy for UK ISP British Telecom, told the committee it has more than 18,000 suppliers. “If we were to put in place Standard Contractual Clauses it would be a subset of those suppliers but we’d have to identify where the flows of data would be coming from — in particular from the EU to the UK — and put in place those contractual clauses,” he said.

“The other problem with the contractual clauses is they’re a set form, they’re a precedent form that the Commission issues. And again that isn’t necessarily designed to deal with the modern ways of doing business — the way flows of data occurs in practice. So it’s quite a cumbersome process. And… [there’s] uncertainty as well, given they are currently under challenge before the European courts, a lot of companies now are already doing a sort of ‘belt and braces’ where even if you rely on Privacy Shield you’ll also put in place an alternative transfer mechanism to allow you to have a fall back in case one gets temporarily removed.”

A better post-Brexit scenario than every UK business having to do the bureaucratic and legal leg-work themselves would be the UK government securing a new data flow arrangement with the EU. Not least because, as Hurley mentioned, Standard Contractual Clauses are subject to a legal challenge, with legal question marks now extended to Privacy Shield too.

But what shape any such future UK-EU data transfer arrangement could take remains tbc.

The panel of witnesses agreed that personal data flows would be very unlikely to be housed within any future trade treaty between the UK and the EU. Rather data would need to live within a separate treaty or bespoke agreement, if indeed such a deal can be achieved.

Another possibility is for the UK to receive an adequacy decision from the EC — such as the Commission has granted to other third countries (like the US). But there was consensus on the panel that some form of bespoke data arrangement would be a superior outcome — for legal reasons but also for reciprocity and more.

Mullock’s view is a treaty would be preferable as it would be at lesser risk of a legal challenge. “I’m saying a treaty is preferable to a decision but we should take what we can get,” he said. “But a treaty is the ultimate standard to aim for.”

Denham agreed, underlining how an adequacy decision would be much more limiting. “I would say that a bespoke agreement or a treaty is preferable because that implies mutual recognition of each of our data protection frameworks,” she said. “It contains obligations on both sides, it would contain dispute mechanisms. If we look at an adequacy decision by the Commission that is a one-way decision judging the standard of UK law and the framework of UK law to be adequate according to the Commission and according to the Council. So an agreement would be preferable but it would have to be a standalone treaty or a standalone agreement that’s about data — and not integrate it into a trade agreement because of the fundamental rights element of data protection.”

Such a bespoke arrangement could also offer a route for the UK to negotiate and retain some role for her office within EU data protection regulation after Brexit.

Because as it stands, with the UK set to exit the EU next year — and even if an adequacy decision was secured — the ICO will lose its seat at the table at a time when EU privacy laws are setting the new global standard, thanks to GDPR.

“Unless a role for the ICO was negotiated through a bespoke agreement or a treaty there’s no way in law at present that we could participate in the one-stop shop [element of GDPR, which allows for EU DPAs to co-ordinate regulatory actions] — which would bring huge advantages to both sides and also to British businesses,” said Denham.

“At this time when the GDPR is in its infancy, participating in shaping and interpreting the law I think is really important. And the group of regulators that sit around the table at the EU are the most influential blocs of regulators — and if we’re outside of that group and we’re an observer we’re not going to have the kind of effect that we need to have with big tech companies. Because that’s all going to be decided by that group of regulators.”

“The European Data Protection Board will set the weather when it comes to standards for artificial intelligence, for technologies, for regulating big tech. So we will be a less influential regulator, we will continue to regulate the law and protect UK citizens as we do now, but we won’t be at the leading edge of interpreting the GDPR — and we won’t be bringing British values to that table if we’re not at the table,” she added.

Hurley also made the point that if the ICO is not inside the GDPR one-stop shop mechanism then UK companies will have to choose another data protection agency within the EU to act as their lead regulator — describing this as “again another burden which we want to avoid”.

The panel was asked about opportunities for domestic divergence on elements of GDPR once the UK is outside the EU. But no one saw much advantage to be eked out outside a regulatory regime that is now responsible for the de facto global standard for data protection.

“GDPR is by no means perfect and there are a number of issues that we have with it. Having said that because GDPR has global reach it is now effectively being seen as we have to comply with this at an international level by a number of our largest members, who are rolling it out worldwide — not just Europe-wide — so the opportunities for divergence are quite limited,” said Derrington. “Particularly actually in areas like AI. AI requires massive amounts of data sets. So you can’t do that just from a UK only data-set of 60 million people if you took everyone. You need more data than that.

“If you were to use European data, which most of them would, then that will require you to comply with GDPR. So actually even if you could do things which would make it easier for some of the AI processes to happen by doing so you’d be closing off your access to the data-sets — and so most of the companies I’ve spoken to… see GDPR as that’s what we’re going to have to comply with. We’d much rather it be one rule… and to be able to maintain access to [EU] data-sets rather than just applying dual standards when they’re going to have to meet GDPR anyway.”

He also noted that about two-thirds of TechUK members are small and medium sized businesses, adding: “A small business working in AI still needs massive amounts of data.

“From a tech sector perspective, considering whether data protection sits in the public consciousness now, actually don’t see there being much opportunity to change GDPR. I don’t think that’s necessarily where the centre of gravity amongst the public is — if you look at the data protection bill, as it went through both houses, most of the amendments to the bill were to go further, to strengthen data protection. So actually we don’t necessarily see this is idea that we will significantly walk back GDPR. And bear in mind that any company which are doing any work with the EU would have to comply with GDPR anyway.”

The possibility for legal challenges to any future UK-EU data arrangement were also discussed during the hearing, with Denham saying that scrutiny of the UK’s surveillance regime once it is outside the EU is inevitable — though she suggested the government will be able to win over critics if it can fully articulate its oversight regime.

“Whether the UK proceeds with an adequacy assessment or whether we go down the road of looking at a bespoke agreement or a treaty we know, as we’ve seen with the Privacy Shield, that there will be scrutiny of our intelligence services and the collection, use and retention of data. So we can expect that,” she said, before arguing the UK has a “good story” to tell on that front — having recently reworked its domestic surveillance framework and included accepting the need to make amendments to the law following legal challenges.

“Accountability, transparency and oversight of our intelligence service needs to be explained and discussed to our [EU] colleagues but there is no doubt that it will come under scrutiny — and my office was part of the most recent assessment of the Privacy Shield. And looking at the US regime. So we’re well aware of the kind of questions that are going to be asked — including our arrangement with the Five Eyes, so we have to be ready for that,” she added.

Review: Huawei’s P20 Pro is a shiny phone with a strong personality

It’s been a month since Huawei unveiled its latest flagship device. I’ve played with this phone for a few weeks and it’s one of the most interesting Android phones currently available.

The P20 Pro is a solid successor to the P10 and a good alternative to other flagship phones, such as the iPhone X and Samsung Galaxy S9.

But it isn’t the perfect phone either. Some features are missing for no apparent reason. Some of Huawei’s choices are also questionable.

Looking for the perfect Android phone

A few years ago, many Android phones paled in comparison with the latest iPhone. Most of them were made out of plastic. And Android was simply too clunky back then.

2018 is a completely different story as you have a lot of options. Maybe you like Samsung devices or the pure Android experience of the Pixel 2. And maybe you’ve been looking at Huawei devices from afar. But if you live in the U.S., you won’t be able to buy the P20 Pro any time soon.

Let’s start with the overall design of the phone. It features a gigantic 6.1-inch OLED display with a now familiar notch at the top. It’s not as prominent as the one in the iPhone X, but it’s clear that Apple has started the next trend in smartphone design.

The frame of the design is made out of polished aluminium. It’s shiny and looks like stainless steel — but it’s lighter than steel. It feels good in your hand and is a great indication of what an iPhone X Plus could be.

The glass back comes in multiple colors. My review device had the twilight back. It’s a nice gradient from purple to blue that makes the P20 Pro stand out from the crowd. It’s much more distinctive than unified (boring) colors.

You can also use the P20 Pro as a portable mirror to fix your makeup or your hair when you’re on the subway. But the back of the device is so shiny that it was covered in fingerprints most of the time. That’s increasingly the case when you have a smartphone with a glass back.

Below the display, you’ll find a good old fingerprint sensor. In my experience it works well and I like having it on the front of the device when my phone is resting on a table. Unfortunately, it makes the phone quite tall overall.

Why stop at two when you can have three cameras

Everybody laughed when smartphone manufacturers started putting two camera sensors at the back of their devices. And yet, many people upgrade their phone to get a better camera. Some people even choose their next phone based on the camera exclusively.

And Huawei went a bit crazy on this front as the company integrated three cameras at the back of the device. There’s a 40 megapixels lens combined with a 20 megapixels monochrome lens and an 8 megapixels telephoto lens. And the phone supports super slow-motion videos at 960 frames per second.

On paper, it sounds like a bit too much. But it’s true that those three cameras are the most important and remarkable feature of the P20 Pro.

I used both an iPhone X and the P20 Pro on my last vacation to Cambodia. And here’s a gallery of some sample photos:

Let’s be honest, I’m not a great photographer. So I wanted to use the P20 Pro in the most normal use case. The P20 Pro has so many options and manual triggers that it feels a bit overwhelming for a normal user. But Huawei keeps saying that the P20 Pro is smart and can automatically capture the best shot for you.

If you use the normal photo mode, the camera tries to detect the content of the photo and adjust the settings automatically. For instance, if you’re shooting a portrait of a person, the P20 Pro automatically switches to Portrait mode. If you’re shooting at night, the phone will take a night mode photo by capturing multiple under- and overexposed photos and recompositioning the scene.

In my experience, the camera performed extremely well. It was quite hard to get a blurry, unfocused shot. But it was also something completely different from the iPhone X camera.

Colors are oversaturated in most cases. It looks too bright, too shiny and quite far from reality. And that wasn’t just the case on the smartphone itself (by default, the color profile of the display is quite saturated too). It was particularly true with nature shots. And I prefer the more natural tone of iPhone X photos.

When it comes to night photos, the P20 Pro is the best performing smartphone I’ve used. It performed incredibly well and it’s quite impressive that you can shoot these photos with a smartphone.

You can feel the strong personality of the P20 Pro when you’re taking selfies too. The camera app has a built-in beautifying effect that makes you look better. It is enabled by default, and you can’t disable it completely. Even when you set it to 0, it’ll make your skin smoother.

Overall, I’m impressed with the P20 Pro camera. But that doesn’t mean I like it better than the iPhone X. In some ways, it feels too complicated to get the perfect shot. In other ways, it corrects photos with software features that make them look a bit fake.

Many people will love the P20 Pro camera. It just depends on what you’re looking for.

Fine prints

Let’s go through some miscellaneous items. The P20 Pro doesn’t feature wireless charging. While it’s not a dealbreaker, it’s hard to go back to plugging a cable if you were already using wireless charging.

The system-on-a-chip is a Kirin 970 made by Huawei. Instead of boring you with benchmarks, let’s just say that it was perfectly fine and I didn’t feel limited at any moment. The P20 Pro is on par with other flagship Android devices. But it was particularly well optimized for power consumption. Battery life on the P20 Pro was very good.

The P20 Pro doesn’t have a microSD slot, but comes with 128GB of internal storage by default. There’s a single USB Type-C port (no headphone jack) and you’ll find both USB Type-C earbuds and a USB Type-C to headphone jack adapter.

My device had two SIM slots, but be careful if you plan on buying the P20 Pro. Huawei said that some versions of the device will only have one SIM slot.

When it comes to software, the P20 Pro runs Android 8.1 with Huawei’s EMUI custom skin. I’m not a fan of EMUI as the company regularly pushes you to create a Huawei account. The company has also developed its own version of many of Google’s apps.

It can be confusing if you’re just looking for Google’s own apps. But this is understandable as all Google services are still blocked in China. Chinese users need Huawei’s alternatives.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the P20 Pro. It ticks all the right boxes to become a strong Samsung Galaxy S9 contender.

But more importantly, Huawei didn’t just build a safe phone. The P20 Pro has a strong personality and the company made some polarizing choices. You can see it across the board, from the back of the device to the beautifying effect when you’re taking selfies.

Huawei has been using the camera as the main element of its advertising campaign for the P20 Pro. The company is right to brag about its camera as it performs incredibly well. But software correction and saturated colors sometimes go too far, depending on your taste.

For years, most people looked at the new Samsung Galaxy S phone and the new iPhone to see what’s next in the smartphone world. But Huawei is now also pushing the needle forward with this phone.

Emily Weiss and Kirsten Green will join us on the Main Stage at TC Disrupt SF

Since forever, companies have made products for people to buy, but the evolution and reach of the internet has given rise to entirely new brands, some of which are growing at unprecedented speeds thanks to platforms like Instagram and other social media channels — not to mention strong storytelling.

Two of the people leading the e-commerce charge are Glossier’s Emily Weiss and Forerunner Ventures founding partner and managing director Kirsten Green . We’re thrilled to announce that both of them will sit down on stage at TC Disrupt SF to discuss Glossier’s continued rise and the evolution of e-commerce.

Emily Weiss – Glossier

Glossier isn’t even four years old yet, and the brand has already become a household name. The company was launched in 2014 off the back of Weiss’ staggeringly successful beauty blog Into The Gloss.

The premise of the brand is simple. Glossier products are designed for women who love makeup but don’t love looking garish. Part of selling that effortlessly beautiful aesthetic centers on marketing  a narrow product line, one that’s focused on skin care products; a handful of lipsticks, cream cheek colors, and eyebrow mascaras; and well as a single fragrance called “You” that comes in both liquid and solid form.

Beyond the success of the products, Weiss has become a role-model, even a superstar, to many of Glossier’s young customers. Weiss built a foundation of trust with her audience on Into The Gloss, and that has carried over to the Glossier brand.

The originally direct-to-consumer company has also started an offline business with a pop-up shop in NYC, a now converted Dunkin Donuts that generates more sales revenue per square foot than the average Apple Store, according to Weiss.

Glossier has attracted a number of large investments from VCs like Index Venture Partners, Thrive Capital and Forerunner Ventures, bringing its total amount raised to more than $86 million. And sitting on the board is none other than Kirsten Green.

Kirsten Green – Forerunner Ventures

Eight years ago, Kirsten Green launched Forerunner Ventures. Since then, she’s risen to be one of the most prominent and successful investors in Silicon Valley and beyond, with a particular knack for e-commerce investments.

Green has raised more than $300 million and invested in more than 50 companies. Portfolio companies include Glossier, Outdoor Voices, Ritual, Inturn and Indigo Fair, as well as exited companies like Jet.com, Dollar Shave Club, and Bonobos.

She’s a founding member of All Raise, a female mentorship collective, and has been named one of Time’s 100 Most influential people, in Forbes’ 2017 and 2018 Midas List and World’s 100 Most Powerful Women. And lest we forget, she was also named VC of the year at the 2017 Crunchies Awards.

Green’s ability to identify stellar founders and foster e-commerce brands is unparalleled across the ecosystem, and we’re thrilled to learn from her on the Disrupt SF stage.

On Fridays, HQ Trivia will let you see your friends’ answers during the game

HQ, the live trivia game that is now seeing up to 2 million players per game, is introducing some new social features, including answer sharing with friends.

The company has been testing this feature across a small group of users already, but on Friday the feature will roll out to all HQ users.

Here’s how it works: Users can connect their address book to HQ and add their friends. Once they have added friends, they can see which of their friends are playing the game alongside them. Users can put their own avatar on the answer to a question to share their choice, which is viewable by friends.

The idea is that answer sharing mimics what many people do while playing HQ IRL, yelling out answers to their coworkers in the office or sharing with their friends and family in a bar or at home.

“We understand the power of the crowd and playing together,” said HQ product manager James Ruben. “That doesn’t necessarily exist everywhere. Our goal is to spread that power to people who maybe aren’t playing in the office together.”

This comes on the heels of HQ’s introduction of “Friends on HQ” from April, which let users see friends playing in the same quiz and see their progress through the game. Answer sharing simply takes that a step further.

Interestingly, answer sharing won’t be available on each HQ Trivia quiz. Instead, the feature will debut on Friday of this week, and continue to be available on Friday games.

“We understand that it’s a change to the game play,” said Ruben. “Friday is an interesting time to experiment and try out answer sharing because Fridays tend to be a bit more social than other days.”

Alongside answer sharing, HQ is also adding yet another social layer to the game with Nearby Friends. The feature will allow HQ players to see other people (not in their address book) who are in the same quiz as them and physically nearby, perhaps in the same office building or in the same bar or restaurant.

Finally, HQ is making it easier to upload the address book and connect with friends on the app.

HQ is an interesting business in that it’s taking an almost old-school approach to advertising/sponsorship. As opposed to social networks like Facebook, which collect as much data as possible about users to sell advertisements against that data, HQ is focused more on getting as many engaged eyeballs in the same place as possible, a bit like television advertising.

HQ doesn’t have that much information on users beyond their phone number, device type, username, and other basic information commonly gleaned by app developers. With the introduction of Friends on HQ, the company gets a bit more insight into users. But that’s not necessarily the reason for the update.

Instead, HQ wants to make these games as engaging as possible, and what’s more engaging than competing with or cheering along your friends and family.

The company is also taking a measured approach to advertising and sponsorship, working with partners that make sense for the HQ community and making those sponsorships as native as possible.

For example, HQ recently ran a $250,000 game with Warner Brothers as a sponsor, plugging the film Ready Player One within the graphics and even in some of the questions. The company also had Duane “The Rock” Johnson host a $300,000 game as part of the actor’s promotion of his upcoming movie Rampage.

Answer sharing will be available to everyone on Friday, but easier address book upload and Nearby Friends are soon to come for Android users.