China splits the internet while the U.S. dithers

There are few stories as important right now as the internet being ripped asunder by the increasing animosity between the U.S. and China. Eric Schmidt, the former chairman of Alphabet, said last week at a private event in San Francisco that “I think the most likely scenario now is not a splintering, but rather a bifurcation into a Chinese-led internet and a non-Chinese internet led by America.”

He should know: Alphabet and its Google subsidiary are on the front lines of that split, experiencing a massive furor over the company’s Project Dragonfly to launch a censored search engine in the Middle Kingdom. It’s hardly alone though, with Apple facing militant criticism from Chinese netizens over its iPhone presentation and Facebook finding its application for a corporate entity on the mainland being returned and rejected.

At the heart of this split is the death of the internet as we once knew it: a unified layer for the transfer of human knowledge. As the internet has gained more and more power over society and our everyday lives, the need by governments worldwide to tame its engineering to political and moral ends has increased dramatically.

About four years ago, I wrote a piece called “From internet to internets” in which I argued that this sort of split was obvious. As I wrote at the time: “Across the world, it is becoming abundantly clear that the internet is no longer the independent and self-reliant sphere it once was, immune to the peculiarities of individual countries and their laws. Rather, the internet is firmly under the control of every government, simultaneously.”

Yet, the rules that countries like Spain put in place around media and news didn’t split the internet as I had predicted. The economic power of the U.S. and China did. Alibaba, Tencent, and Baidu may have declined in value this year, but their combined market caps is still in the trillions of dollars. WeChat, which is owned by Tencent, has more than a billion users, and while only 10% of its user base is estimated to be outside China, the ties are growing as more countries build economic bridges with the mainland.

Sometimes, those bridges are quite literal. Through the Belt and Road initiative and fledgling institutions like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, China has provided massive outlays to other nations primarily around infrastructure, building partnerships and deepening economic ties.

China and the U.S. are increasingly fighting a global battle for tech legitimacy (Photo by Jason Lee / AFP / Getty Images)

That infrastructure is sometimes roads, but it can also be in areas like telecommunications. Huawei has made massive inroads into Africa, both in smartphones and in core infrastructure. Chinese-owned Transsion, which most Westerners have probably never heard of, is the dominant smartphone manufacturer on the continent.

Chinese-made telecom infrastructure. Chinese handsets. Increasingly Chinese apps. For all of the concerns of Congress and national security officials about Huawei and ZTE equipment entering the American or Australian markets, the real fight for the future of the internet is going to be in precisely these developing regions which have no incumbent technology.

That’s what has made the Trump administration’s strategy toward trade negotiations with China so miserable to watch. The focus has been on repeated rounds of tariffs that will ensure that Chinese goods — particularly in high-tech industries — are more expensive to American consumers, allowing domestic manufacturers to better compete. Yet, the policies have done nothing to ensure that American values around the internet are exported to continents like Africa or South America, or that Cisco’s equipment will be chosen over Huawei’s.

That might be changing at long last. The Financial Times reported yesterday that the Trump administration is preparing to double down on the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, which offers commercial lending facilities to developing countries. It would be merged into another agency and given a much more rich budget (as high as $60 billion) to go and compete with Chinese financing around the world.

Maybe that measure will be successful in closing the strategic distance between the two countries. Maybe rumors that the administration is going to broadly double down on the trade war will lead to a much more comprehensive set of policies.

But along the way, regardless of what happens, these skirmishes will lead to a fracturing of the internet, and along with it, the death of the internet as a bastion and voice of freedom and knowledge for all people everywhere.

Rebuilding employee philanthropy from the bottom up

In tech circles, it would be easy to assume that the world of high-impact charitable giving is a rich man’s game where deals are inked at exclusive black tie galas over fancy hors d’oeuvre. Both Mark Zuckerberg and Marc Benioff have donated to SF hospitals that now bear their names. Gordon Moore has given away $5B – including $600M to Caltech – which was the largest donation to a university at the time. And of course, Bill Gates has already donated $27B to every cause imaginable (and co-founded The Giving Pledge, a consortium of billionaires pledging to donate most of their net worth to charity by the end of their lifetime.)

For Bill, that means he has about $90B left to give.

For the average working American, this world of concierge giving is out of reach, both in check size, and the army of consultants, lawyers and PR strategists that come with it. It seems that in order to do good, you must first do well. Very well.

Bright Funds is looking to change that. Founded in 2012, this SF-based startup is looking to democratize concierge giving to every individual so they “can give with the same effectiveness as Bill and Melinda Gates.” They are doing to philanthropy what Vanguard and Wealthfront have done for asset management for retail investors.

In particular, they are looking to unlock dollars from the underutilized corporate benefit of matching funds for donations, which according to Bright Funds is offered by over 60% of medium to large enterprises, but only used by 13% of employees at these companies. The need for such a service is clear — these programs are cumbersome, transactional, and often offline. Make a donation, submit a receipt, and wait for it to churn through the bureaucratic machine of accounting and finance before matching funds show up weeks later.

Bright Funds is looking to make your company’s matching funds benefit as accessible and important to you as your free lunches or massages. Plus, Bright Funds charges companies per seat, along with a transaction fee to cover the cost of payment processing, sparing employees any expense.

It’s a model that is working. According to Bright Fund’s CEO Ty Walrod, Bright Funds customers see on average a 40% year-over-year increase in funds donated through the platform. More importantly, Bright Funds not only transforms an employee’s relationship to personal philanthropy, but also to the company they work for.

Grassroots Giving

This model of bottoms-up giving is a welcome change from the big foundation model which has recently been rocked by scandal. The Silicon Valley Community Foundation was the go-to foundation for The Who’s Who of Silicon Valley elite. It rode the latest tech boom to become the largest community foundation in eleven short years with generous stock donations from donors like Mark Zuckerberg ($1.8 billion), GoPro’s Nicholas Woodman ($500 million), and WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum ($566 million). Today, at $13.5 billion, it surpasses the 80+ year old Ford Foundation in endowment size.

However, earlier this year, their star fundraiser Mari Ellen Loijens (credited with raising $8.3B of the $13.5B) was accused of repeatedly bullying and sexually harassing coworkers, allegations that the Foundation had “known about for years” but failed to act upon. In 2017, a similar case occurred when USC’s star fundraiser David Carrera  stepped down on charges of sexual harassment after leading the university’s historic $6 billion fundraising campaign.

While large foundations and endowments do important work, their structure relies too much on whale hunting for big checks, giving an inordinate amount of power to the hands of a small group of talented fund raisers.

This stands in contrast to Bright Funds’ ethos — to lead a grassroots movement in empowering individual employees to make their dollar of giving count.

Rebuilding charitable giving for the platform age

Bright Funds is the latest iteration of a lineup of workplace giving platforms. MicroEdge and Cybergrants paved the way in the 80s and 90s by digitizing the giving experience, but was mainly on-premise, and lacked a focus on user experience. Benevity and YourCause arrived in 2007 to bring workplace giving to the cloud, but they were still not turnkey solutions that could be easily implemented.

Bright Funds started as a consumer platform, and has retained that heritage in its approach to product design, aiming to reduce friction for both employee and company adoption. This is why many of their first customers were midsized tech startups with limited resources and looking for a turnkey solution, including Eventbrite, Box, Github, and Contently . They are now finding their way upmarket into larger, more established enterprises like Cisco, VMWare, Campbell’s Soup Company, and Sunpower.

Bright Funds approach to product has brought a number of innovations to this space.

The first is the concept of a cause-focused “fund.” Similar to a mutual fund or ETF, these funds are portfolios of nonprofits curated by subject-matter experts tailored to a specific cause area (e.g. conservation, education, poverty, etc.). This solves one of the chief concerns of any donor — is my dollar being put to good use towards the causes I care about? Passionate about conservation? Invest with Jim Leape from the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, who brings over three decades of conservation experience in choosing the six nonprofits in Bright Fund’s conservation portfolio. This same expertise is available across a number of cause areas.

Additionally, funds can also be created by companies or employees. This has proven to be an important rallying point for emergency relief during natural disasters, where employees at companies can collectively assemble a list of nonprofits to donate to. In 2017, Cisco employees donated $1.8 million (including company matching) through Bright Funds to Hurricanes Harvey, Maria, and Irma as well as the central Mexico earthquakes, the current flooding in India and many more.

The second key feature of their product is the impact timeline, a central news feed to understand where your dollars are going across all your cause areas. This transforms giving from a black box transaction to an ongoing dialogue between you and your charities.

Lastly, Bright Funds wants to take away all the administrative burden that might come with giving and volunteering — everything from tracking your volunteer opportunities and hours, to one-click tax reporting across all your charitable donations. In short, no more shoeboxes of receipts to process through in April.

Doing good & doing well

Although Bright Funds is focused on transforming the individual giving experience, it’s paying customer at the end of the day is the enterprise.

And although it is philanthropic in nature, Bright Funds is not exempt from the procurement gauntlet that every enterprise software startup faces — what’s in it for the customer? What impact does workplace giving and volunteering have on culture and the bottom line?

To this end, there is evidence to show that corporate social responsibility has a an impact on recruiting the next generation of workers. A study by Horizon Media found that 81% of millennials expect their companies to be good corporate citizens. A separate 2015 study found that 62% of millennials said they’d take a pay cut to work for a company that’s socially responsible.

Box, one of Bright Fund’s early customers, has seen this impact on recruiting firsthand (disclosure: Box is one of my former employers). Like most tech companies competing for talent in the Valley, Box used to give out lucrative bonuses for candidate referrals. They recently switched to giving out $500 in Bright Funds gift credit. Instead of seeing employee referrals dip, Box saw referrals “skyrocket,” according to Box.org Executive Director Bryan Breckenridge. This program has now become “one of the most cherished cultural traditions at Box,” he said.

Additionally, like any corporate benefit, there should be metrics tied to employee retention. Benevity released a study of 2 million employees across 118 companies on their platform that showed a 57% reduction in turnover for employees engaged in corporate giving or volunteering efforts. VMware, one of Bright Fund’s customers, has seen an astonishing 82% of their 22,000 employees participate in their Citizen Philanthropy program of giving and volunteering, according to VMware Foundation Director Jessa Chin. Their full-time voluntary turnover rate (8%) is well below the software industry average of 13.2%.

Towards a Brighter Future

Bright Funds still has a lot of work to do. CEO Walrod says that one of his top priorities is to expand the platform beyond US charities, finding ways to evaluate and incorporate international nonprofits.

They have also not given up their dream of becoming a truly consumer platform, perhaps one day competing in the world of donor-advised funds, which today is largely dominated by big names like Fidelity and Schwab who house over $85B of assets. In the short term, Walrod wants to make every Bright Funds account similar to a 401K account. It goes wherever you work, and is a lasting record of the causes you care about, and the time and resources you’ve invested in them.

Whether the impetus is altruism around giving or something more utilitarian like retention, companies are increasingly realizing that their employees represent a charitable force that can be harnessed for the greater good. Bright Funds has more work to do like any startup, but it is empowering the next set of donors who can give with the same effectiveness as Gates, and one day, at the same scale as him as well.

LinkedIn’s China rival Maimai raises $200M ahead of planned US IPO

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on TechNode, an editorial partner of TechCrunch based in China.

Maimai, China’s biggest rival to LinkedIn, has revealed today that it received a $200 million D Series investment back in April in what the company claims to be the largest investment in the professional networking market. That’s surprising but correct: LinkedIn went public in 2011 and was bought by Microsoft for $26 million in 2016, but it raised just over $150 million from investors as a private company.

Global venture capital DST led the round for Maimai which include participation from existing investors of IDG, Morningside Venture Capital, and DCM.

The new capital takes Maimai to $300 million raised from investors, according to CrunchbaseCaixin reports that the valuation of the company is more than $1 billion which would see the firm enter the global unicorn club.

Beyond the fundraising, the firm said it plans to invest RMB 1 billion (around $150 million) over the next three years in a career planning program that it launched in partnership with over 1,000 companies. Those partners include global top-500 firm Cisco and Chinese companies such as Fashion Group and Focus Media.

This investment could be the last time Maimai taps the private market for cash. That’s because the company is gearing up for a U.S. IPO and overseas expansion in the second half of 2019, according to the company founder and CEO Lin Fan.

Launched in the fall of 2013, Maimai aims particularly at business people as a platform to connect professional workers and offer employment opportunities. The service now claims over 50 million users. As a Chinese counterpart of LinkedIn, Maimai has competed head-on with Chinese arm of the U.S. professional networking giant since its establishment and gradually gained an upper hand with features tailored to local tastes.

maimai

It can be hard to gauge the population of social networks, but Chinese market research firm iResearch ranked Maimai ahead of LinkedIn for the first time in the rankings of China’s most popular social networking apps in April last year. The firm further gained ground this year as its user penetration rate reaching 83.8 percent in June, far higher than LinkedIn China’s 11.8 percent, according to data from research institute Analysys.

As a China-born company, Maimai gained momentum over the past two years with localized features, such as anonymous chat, mobile-first design, real-name registration, and partnerships with Chinese corporations. But like all Chinese tech services, it is subject to the state’s tight online regulation. The government watchdog has ordered Maimai to remove the anonymous posting section on its platform last month. The same issue applies to LinkedIn, which has been criticized for allowing its Chinese censorship to spill over and impact global users.

With assistance from Jon Russell

Cisco’s $2.35 billion Duo acquisition front and center at earnings call

When Cisco bought Ann Arbor, Michigan security company, Duo for a whopping $2.35 billion earlier this month, it showed the growing value of security and security startups in the view of traditional tech companies like Cisco.

In yesterday’s earnings report, even before the ink had dried on the Duo acquisition contract, Cisco was reporting that its security business grew 12 percent year over year to $627 million. Given those numbers, the acquisition was top of mind in CEO Chuck Robbins’ comments to analysts.

“We recently announced our intent to acquire Duo Security to extend our intent-based networking portfolio into multi- cloud environments. Duo’s SaaS delivered solution will expand our cloud security capabilities to help enable any user on any device to securely connect to any application on any network,” he told analysts.

Indeed, security is going to continue to take center stage moving forward. “Security continues to be our customers number one concern and it is a top priority for us. Our strategy is to simplify and increase security efficacy through an architectural approach with products that work together and share analytics and actionable threat intelligence,” Robbins said.

That fits neatly with the Duo acquisition, whose guiding philosophy has been to simplify security. It is perhaps best known for its two-factor authentication tool. Often companies send a text with a code number to your phone after you change a password to prove it’s you, but even that method has proven vulnerable to attack.

What Duo does is send a message through its app to your phone asking if you are trying to sign on. You can approve if it’s you or deny if it’s not, and if you can’t get the message for some reason you can call instead to get approval. It can also verify the health of the app before granting access to a user. It’s a fairly painless and secure way to implement two-factor authentication, while making sure employees keep their software up-to-date.

Duo Approve/Deny tool in action on smartphone.

While Cisco’s security revenue accounted for a fraction of the company’s overall $12.8 billion for the quarter, the company clearly sees security as an area that could continue to grow.

Cisco hasn’t been shy about using its substantial cash holdings to expand in areas like security beyond pure networking hardware to provide a more diverse recurring revenue stream. The company currently has over $54 billion in cash on hand, according to Y Charts.

Cisco spent a fair amount money on Duo, which according to reports has $100 million in annual recurring revenue, a number that is expected to continue to grow substantially. It had raised over $121 million in venture investment since inception. In its last funding round in September 2017, the company raised $70 million on a valuation of $1.19 billion.

The acquisition price ended up more than doubling that valuation. That could be because it’s a security company with recurring revenue, and Cisco clearly wanted it badly as another piece in its security solutions portfolio, one it hopes can help keep pushing that security revenue needle ever higher.

Chinese Tesla rival Nio files to raise $1.8 billion in US IPO

Tesla may be looking to go private, but Chinese rival Nio is going the other way after it filed to raise $1.8 billion in an IPO on the New York Stock Exchange.

Nio was started in 2014, initially as NextCar, by Bin Li, an entrepreneur who founded online automotive services platform Bitauto. The company is backed by Chinese internet giants Baidu and Tencent among others, and it has developed two vehicles so far: the EP9 supercar and ES8.

The former is really a concept/racer car — it broke the electric vehicle speed record last year — but the ES8, pictured above, is a car designed for the masses which is priced at 448,000 RMB, or around $65,000.

Nio opened sales for the ES8 last year but it only began shipping in June. Thus, to date, it has fulfilled just 481 orders, although it claims that there are 17,000 customers who put down reservations waiting in the wings.

That means that, essentially, it is pre-revenue at this point.

The company reported revenue of $6.9 million as of the end of June — so one month of deliveries — with a total loss of $502 million for 2018 to date. Last year, Nio lost $759 million in 2017, that included no revenue and nearly $400 million spent on R&D.

Nio may be in the same space as Tesla, but its approach differs from the U.S. firm. The company operates ‘clubhouses’ where it sells to new customers and allows existing owners to come to spend time, while it also goes direct to consumer with mobile-based sales. (Not, unlike, say an early Xiaomi model.)

Nio’s pricing is more focused on mid-market and, without a charger network like Tesla (most Chinese households would struggle to charge at home), it has developed its own unique way to handle battery charging. Its vehicles support battery swapping at dedicated stations while it operates a range of roaming charging trucks can  reach users who are low on juice.

Those on-demand charging services come as part of a subscription-based package which will add further revenue beyond car sales. Further down the line, the company said its vehicles will be compatible with the national EV charging network China is developing so that’ll help on the charging front, too.

Like China’s infrastructure play, Nio itself is very much a work in progress.

Indeed, case in point, it doesn’t yet operate its own factory.

Right now, state-owned JAC Motors handles product but Nio has pledged to invest $650 million to construct its own manufacturing plant in Shanghai. Nio’s current order backlog will take six to nine months to process, according to the filing, but its own factory could mean orders are dispatched to customers within 28 days of purchase.

The company’s focus is China, but Nio has global roots. Shanghai is its headquarters and home to nearly 2,500 staff, but it also has teams in Munich (design), San Jose (software and self-driving) and London and Oxford in the UK, which handle vehicle concepts.

Its executive team is predominantly Chinese but one familiar name is Padmasree Warrior who is the head of Nio’s U.S. business. The former Motorola CTO joined the company in 2015 after calling time on Cisco, where she spent seven years and had been chief technology and strategy officer.

Despite an international setup, there’s no word in the filing on whether Nio has a timeframe for selling vehicles outside of China. For now, the company cites analyst data claiming that “China is a clear leader in the global EV market” with sales growing from 21,800 in 2013 to 740,900 units last year. That’s despite the Chinese government cutting back on some of its generous subsidies aimed at encouraging early ownership of EVs and eco-friendly hybrid cars.

Hollywood gets its own open source foundation

Open source is everywhere now, so maybe it’s no surprise that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (yes, the organization behind the Oscars) today announced that it has partnered with the Linux Foundation to launch the Academy Software Foundation, a new open source foundation for developers in the motion picture and media space.

The founding members include a number of high-powered media and tech companies, including Animal Logic, Blue Sky Studios, Cisco, DreamWorks, Epic Games, Google, Intel, SideFX, Walt Disney Studios and Weta Digital.

“Open Source Software has enabled developers and engineers to create the amazing effects and animation that we see every day in the moves, on television and in video games,” said Linux Foundation CEO Jim Zemlin.” With the Academy Software Foundation, we are providing a home for this community of open source developers to collaborate and drive the next wave of innovation across the motion picture and broader media industries.”

The Academy Software Foundation’s mission statement notes that it wants to be a neural forum “to coordinate cross-project efforts; to provide a common built and test infrastructure; and to provide individuals and organizations a clear path to participation in advancing out open source ecosystem.”

According to a survey by the Academy, 84 percent of the industry uses open source software already, mostly for animation and visual effects. The group also found that what’s holding back open source development in the media industry is the siloed nature of the development teams across the different companies in this ecosystem.

“The creation of the Academy Software Foundation is an important and exciting step of the motion picture industry,” said Nick Cannon, the chief technology officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios. “By increasing collaboration within our industry, it allows all of us to pool our efforts on common foundation technologies, drive new standards for interoperability and increase the pace of innovation.”

The fact that even Hollywood is now embracing open source and its collaborative nature is yet another sign of how the world of software development has changed in recent years. Over the last few years, traditional enterprises realized that whatever technology they developed to run their software infrastructure isn’t what actually delivers value to their customers, so it made sense to collaborate in this area, even with their fiercest competitors  — and the same, it seems, now holds true for the Hollywood studios, too (or at least for those that have now joined the new foundation).

Heads-up: 2FA provider Duo Security to be acquired by Cisco (ugh)

US-based two-factor authentication provider Duo Security announced this morning that it is in talks to be acquired by networking giant Cisco. According to Duo’s press release, Duo will become a “business unit” under Cisco’s Security Business Group, and current Duo CEO Dug Song will become the unit’s general manager.

Ars is a happy Duo customer, and we use the product extensively to apply 2FA to a variety of our internal services; beyond that, several Ars staffers (myself included) use Duo’s free tier to wrap 2FA around our own personal stuff, like Linux PAM authentication and Mac/Windows logins. Duo’s flexibility and ease of use has been a huge driver of success for the company, which says it has about 12,000 customers.

But the worry here is that Cisco is going to murder the golden goose—and, as a former Cisco customer, I’m struggling to feel anything but dread about all the ways in which this acquisition might kill everything that’s good about Duo.

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Cisco is buying Duo Security for $2.35B in cash

Cisco today announced its intent to buy Ann Arbor, MI-based security firm, Duo Security. Under the terms of the agreement, Cisco is paying $2.35 billion in cash and assumed equity awards for Duo.

Duo Security was founded in 2010 by Dug Song and Jonathan Oberheide and went on to raise $121.M through several rounds of funding. The company has 700 employees with offices throughout the United States and in London, though the company has remained headquartered in Ann Arbor, MI.

Co-founder and CEO Dug Song will continue leading Duo as its General Manager and will join Cisco’s Networking and Security business led by EVP and GM David Goeckeler. There’s no word if Duo will continue to operate out of Ann Arbor if the deal closes.

The acquisition feels like a good fit for Cisco. Duo’s security apparatus lets employees use their own device for adaptive authentication. Instead of issuing key fobs with security codes, Duo’s solution works securely with any device. And within Cisco’s environment, the technology should feel like a natural fit for CTOs looking for secure two-factor authentication.

“Our partnership is the product of the rapid evolution of the IT landscape alongside a modernizing workforce, which has completely changed how organizations must think about security,” said Dug Song, Duo Security’s co-founder and chief executive officer. “Cisco created the modern IT infrastructure, and together we will rapidly accelerate our mission of securing access for all users, with any device, connecting to any application, on any network. By joining forces with the world’s largest networking and enterprise security company, we have a unique opportunity to drive change at a massive scale, and reshape the industry.”

Over the last few years, Cisco has made several key acquisitions: OpenDNS, Sourcefire, Cloudlock, and now Duo. This latest deal is expected to close in the first quarter of Cisco’s fiscal year 2019.


Duo Security’s Dug Song On Company Priorities | Disrupt NY 2017