Wealthfront, the automated investment services company that competes with traditional financial advisory behemoths like Fidelity, has today crossed the $2 billion mark in terms of assets managed.
The achievement for a company, which two years ago was managing approximately $500 million in client assets, is impressive, and it makes Wealthfront the first in its space to rake in that much cash.
Most of Wealthfront’s clients are in their 20’s and 30’s, and their account with Wealthfront is most often their first investment account ever. Nash says that of the ~22,000 clients, the average puts around $90,000 in the hands of Wealthfront, with the biggest account topping out at $10 million.
“We’re not very concerned about the large companies being able to keep pace,” said CEO Adam Nash. “They simply can’t innovate and deliver features fast enough. Instead, we’re focused on defining a better way to invest for this generation.”
Though Wealthfront has shown tremendous growth, $2 billion is but a grain of sand compared to the trillions of dollars in assets managed by incumbents Charles Schwab and Fidelity.
Massive players are not only competing through traditional means, but giants like Charles Schwab (with more than $2.5 trillion in assets managed) have announced algorithmic asset management tools as well. CS’s “Intelligent Portfolios” product, which is branded as a horror film set in cyber space, is set to launch later this month.
Schwab and Fidelity also have a leg up in industries outside of technology, where they’re the default asset manager for many of the largest companies in the U.S.
Wealthfront has made its name (and carved out the bulk of its user base) mainly among the tech companies who also put their trust in algorithms.
The company uses its own set of complex algorithms and software to make financial advisory decisions for clients looking to save up for their future, a job traditionally handled by (ostensibly) very intelligent humans. Alongside managing more than $2 billion in client assets, Wealthfront also says that it has saved its clients a total of nearly $10 million in fees they would have been charged with a traditional advisor.
Two years ago, Wealthfront hired Adam Nash to take the CEO position. At the time, the company had less than $100 million in management.
Wealthfront raised roughly $70 million in October of 2014, preceded by a $35 million raise in April that was led by Index. In total, the company has raised nearly $130 million across five rounds.
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Last August, payments startup Square acquired San Francisco-based food delivery startup Caviar for a reported $90 million. Since then, the company has been growing fast, both in terms of order volume and the size of the internal team.
For Square, the acquisition follows a trend of diversifying the company’s portfolio of products and services. As it moves beyond just providing a card reader and processing payments for SMBs, the company has added inventory, invoicing, analytics, and financing products.
On the consumer side, the company has launched apps that enable customers to place orders at local restaurants ahead of time, as well as to easily exchange cash. But its acquisition of Caviar is perhaps its biggest bet on wooing new customers to using its products, both on the consumer and enterprise side.
“It is part of our strategy to provide a suite of services that can help businesses grow,” Square product engineering lead Gokul Rajaram told me in an interview at Square’s offices. He said that part of the reason Square made the acquisition was that during due diligence, every partner restaurant they talked to reported significant increases in businesses after working with Caviar.
That’s given them confidence to make a big investment in the food delivery service. On top of the reported $90 million it paid to acquire the startup, Square has also throwing a lot of resources behind Caviar since it came in-house. A year ago, the company had just 10 employees, and was at a headcount of 40 when Square acquired it. But the team has grown to well above 100 and now occupies a separate floor in Square’s Mid-Market office building.
In the short term, Square’s support of Caviar has been about accelerating its expansion to new markets and adding new products. The service is now available in 15 markets, including the San Francisco Bay Area, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Manhattan and Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Portland, Seattle, and Washington D.C.
Square’s backing has also enabled the company to move a lot more quickly on product rollouts. When Caviar was acquired, it had a web-only ordering system, but it was able to launch an iOS app four months after being bought. That product focus continues with the launch of an Android app, which rolls out today.
Due to the number of new markets it serves, as well as the recent availability of a mobile app, it’s not a big surprise that order volume is accelerating. According to Caviar founder Jason Wang, the number of orders it delivers has tripled in the past six months since acquisition, and that volume shows no sign of slowing down.
Despite the demand — or maybe because of it — Caviar has actually been able to reduce its average order delivery time by 20 percent. As more orders come in, it’s necessary to have more couriers to service that demand, which means it’s more likely orders will be picked up, and delivered, more quickly.
For now, both Rajaram and Wang says Caviar is laser-focused on the task at hand — that is, making its service as widely available as possible. And why not? People have to eat, and food is a $1.6 trillion market opportunity, according to Rajaram.
That said, It’s not hard to see how the use of Caviar in different restaurants could lead to adoption of other Square products and services — e.g. its register point-of-sale system, or its accounting and analytics offerings. One could also Caviar restaurants becoming integrated into Square’s Order app, or Caviar logistics being applied to enable deliveries from merchants using that app.
Who knows? Given the order volume it sees, Square could possibly even extend financing to eligible Caviar restaurant partners through its Square Capital offering.
The possibilities are seemingly endless, but Wang downplays any integration between Caviar and Square’s other products, at least in the short term. After all, he says, any engineer he commits to building links with Square apps is one less engineer he has to work on Caviar’s core products.
Until they get that down, you can expect Caviar to continue operating more or less as an independent entity within Square. And that seems to be just how each side likes it.
UPDATE: An earlier version of this story said Caviar had 10 employees when it was acquired. That was the headcount from a year ago. At the time of acquisition, Caviar had about 40 employees.
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Crowdsourcing company CrowdFlower allows businesses to tap into a distributed workforce of 5 million contributors for basic tasks like sentiment analysis. Today it’s releasing some of that data to the public through its new Data for Everyone initiative.
Founder and CEO Lukas Biewald (a friend of mine from college) told me that last year, the company quietly began asking some of its customers if they were willing to make the data they gathered through CrowdFlower public, and now it’s officially launching the initiative with its first batch of data sets.
Biewald said this grew out of his own frustrations about the lack of open data during his time as a grad student and as a scientist at search startup Powerset. His hope is to turn CrowdFlower into a central repository where open data can be found by researchers and entrepreneurs. (Factual was another startup trying to become a hub for open data, though in recent years, it’s become more focused on gathering location data to power mobile ads.)
The company has also changed its pricing to reflect this goal — it won’t charge a licensing fee for customers who are willing to share their data (they still have to pay their contributors to actually gather that data, though).
As for the data that’s available now, well, it’s an interesting peek at how people have been using CrowdFlower. There’s a lot of Twitter sentiment analysis covering things like from attitudes towards brands and products, yogurt (?), and climate change. Among the more recent data sets, I was particularly taken in the gender breakdown of who’s been on the cover of Time magazine and, yes, the analysis of who thought the dress (you know the one) was gold and white versus blue and black.
As for whether there are any privacy risks in releasing this data (CrowdFlower has been used to analyze some interesting stuff), Biewald said the company is avoiding that by hand-picking the data sets.
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“But sometimes you want your hub protected on your own servers, behind your own firewall for certain geographic reasons,” Dutch co-founder of GitLab Sytse Sijbrandij told me over the phone from the apartment he shares with his co-founder Dmitriy Zaporozhets in Mountain View, California. Of course, GitHub also offers this feature with its Enterprise version.
I’m no programmer so forgive me if I’m missing something but other than that GitHub has been around longer and thus has a larger community, the two seem pretty hard to distinguish. Right on its homepage, GitLab even claims it is “better than GitHub,” and it had to write a blog post explaining the difference between the two.
“It’s better because the GitLab version is easier to scale and modify,” Sijbrandij explained to me. You can make changes to GitLab, on an Enterprise Edition license or install a different type of web-server, for instance. You can also do this with GitHub Enterprise.
I turned to the programmers for help. There are dozens of discussions about GitLab versus GitHub on Reddit, Quora and Product Hunt. A friend showed me a private discussion on Slack discussing the two as well.
The common thread in favor of GitLab is that it integrates well with DigitalOcean servers and is the cheaper option. Those in favor of GitHub say it is better for the support and community in the long run and that the price isn’t that much higher. But both sides seem to agree there is a pretty strong similarity between the two.
GitLab starts at $19.90 a year per user. It’s $10 a month on Digital Ocean’s most popular plan. GitHub doesn’t share upfront pricing information for Enterprise on its site. However, a Quora post from a GitHub user notes GitHub’s Enterprise pricing is $21 per month.
GitLab claims NASA, SpaceX, O’Reilly Media, ATT, Comcast and IBM as users of GitLab and says it has been downloaded half a million times since it launched in 2011.
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Editor’s note: Sam Curry is the chief technology and security officer at Arbor Networks.
President Barack Obama proposed in January the first federal standard for data breaches, requiring that companies notify customers of privacy-related breaches within 30 days of discovery. Other standards and regulations exist (47 states at last count had some form of regulation regarding breach disclosure), but there is currently no federal standard to act as a baseline.
This isn’t a new proposal, however, as the debate on the Hill has been ongoing for nearly three years. In the run-up to the State of the Union, all things “cyber” seemed to leap to the top of the agenda in the wake of the high-profile attacks and breaches in late 2014. It should come as no surprise that talk of cyber security, online privacy and a focus on governance for good electronic corporate citizenship became part of the national dialogue.
These are subjects that matter, and the degree to which it could impact us all — corporations and citizens alike — is growing. A quick survey of the blogosphere shows that security people in general tend to back this, but the merits or strengths of a particular measure shouldn’t be confused with the processes of legislation. Security folks should be careful not to be cited out of context as the legislative machine starts up.
Regulations are always sensitive and polarizing in the corporate world. No one wants more cost and complexity for having to follow yet another regulation. Breach notification will require new processes and oversight, new understandings of risk and new processes and personnel. But the critical point here is that this is needed anyway, with or without a federal regulation. If the government doesn’t demand better disclosure policies for breaches, consumers will soon enough.
To be clear: the right behavior is to disclose, every time.
Requiring breach notification establishes a level playing field that makes it clear to companies: if you have a breach, get ready to talk about it. It also will help reduce the bayonetting of the wounded when breaches occur. Breaches are inevitable, but data theft is not. There is much that can be done after an attacker gets inside a network to prevent them from leaving with valuable information.
Today, the majority of network security spend is focused on the early stages of an attack, and the late stages of an attack. The early stage is trying to prevent them from getting into the network in the first place, protecting their perimeter with things like web application firewalls, next-gen firewalls, intrusion prevention systems, anti-viruses and more. The late stage of an attack would be once you know an attacker has gotten in, trying to aggregate all those alerts, piecing together how they got in, what they did inside, and information they left with.
What’s missing is a solid understanding of the middle, what happens after a threat gets in, but before they get out. It’s time to pay attention to security and make sure that prevention, containment and post-event ethical process and management are top priorities at the C-level and with corporate boards. I would go so far as to say that one of the first principles of any regulation should be to make clear that it is not only arrogant but also unethical to determine risk for someone else and to deprive them of the opportunity to make their own risk decisions, no matter how obvious a corporate board room might think the choices are for victims.
A breach notification law, taken in isolation of other digital and communications requirements, sets the right tone for what to do and what not to do.
In many situations, the conversation isn’t about the right thing to do for the victims (i.e. the end users or businesses whose data is lost) but is instead about the right thing to do for the breached company (e.g. how to avoid legal exposure, bad press, and other risks to the bottom line). That approach has to end.
It’s also important to establish that the specific moment a breach occurs isn’t always simple to understand. There’s a popular perspective that it’s easy to know if and when a breach has occurred, but this isn’t like looking in a bank vault and seeing that the money is missing. It isn’t always clear, and it often requires forensic work and proving negatives.
That makes it important to also stress that investigations have to happen promptly, that documented and effective policies exist on calling an incident, and that investigators and executives don’t drag their heels to avoid having to call the time of breach. Once that’s done, setting the time frame to 30 days gives enough time to be sure a breach really has occurred and determine who the victims are and leaves no wiggle room for delaying the need to notify victims in a timely manner.
A well-written breach-notification law will make it clear that the risk decisions to be made at the top of an affected company are not just about the risk to those that have the privilege of holding data. The time to worry about a breached company’s risk is beforehand in building a cyber-security program and contingencies. Once an incident happens, the needs of the victims become the biggest priority.
Believe it or not, post-breach notification and best practices can be a competitive differentiator. It is inevitable that consumers will begin to pay more attention to their personal privacy and data security, and judge businesses, in part, by their post-breach disclosure behavior. In short, having to disclose is not the end of the world for businesses, and can become something of a check in their favor when done correctly.
A rule like this will make it quite clear that non-disclosure isn’t an option. It will enable us all to focus on making sure that inevitable infrastructure breaches don’t mean data breaches or, when they do, that they are containable. We can also focus in the right areas to improve best practices, work on prevention, invest in new technologies and plan to minimize damage from attacks and frustrate the attackers who commit them.
Most compelling of all, it will enable an approach that always puts the real victims in the center and guides the right behaviors from the outset. Having data isn’t a right for corporations; it’s a privilege and one that must always be treated as such, before, during and after breaches.
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Apple will hire its contract security staff on a full-time basis, a decision that continues a nascent trend of technology giants reducing their use of external labor for non-technical roles. Google made a similar move with its security staff late last year.
According to a media report, Apple will bring “the majority” of its contractual security staffers in-house.
In the current financial climate, wealthy technology companies have come under increased scrutiny in regards to their hiring procedures. Firms willing to spend millions to acquire talent from small or failing startups that have been unwilling to pay their on-campus staff as regular employees have been a sore point.
Current contract employees will be able to apply for the new, full-time security roles at Apple. In a statement, the company said it is “working closely” with its current “security vendor” to allow for the hiring of many current contractors of the smaller firm.
Many technology companies employ shuttle buses to move their employees up and down the San Francisco peninsula. Those buses have been a flashpoint in the current Bay Area unrest concerning increasing wealth inequality and rapid gentrification. Drivers for Facebook, Yahoo and Apple have recently voted to unionize.
Technology companies have been on a tear since 2009 following the last recession. The NASDAQ is currently trading at levels not seen since the last large tech bubble, and the largest firms in the industry each sit on tens of billions in cash. Those facts make it impossible for the companies to make a cost argument when it comes to the labor they depend on to keep their workforces happy and productive.
Apple and Google will not be the last to increase their in-house labor pools. Taking care of the people who take care of you is just good sense.
This story has been updated to include a statement from Apple.
Featured Image: Paul Sakuma/AP
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