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Lawyers hate timekeeping Ping raises $13M to fix it with AI

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Counting billable time in six-minute increments is the most annoying part of being a lawyer. It’s a distracting waste. It leads law firms to conservatively under-bill. And it leaves lawyers stuck manually filling out timesheets after a long day when they want to go home to their families.

Life is already short, as Ping CEO and co-founder Ryan Alshak knows too well. The former lawyer spent years caring for his mother as she battled a brain tumor before her passing. “One minute laughing with her was worth a million doing anything else,” he tells me. “I became obsessed with the idea that we spend too much of our lives on things we have no need to do — especially at work.”

That’s motivated him as he’s built his startup Ping, which uses artificial intelligence to automatically track lawyers’ work and fill out timesheets for them. There’s a massive opportunity to eliminate a core cause of burnout, lift law firm revenue by around 10% and give them fresh insights into labor allocation.

Ping co-founder and CEO Ryan Alshak (Image Credit: Margot Duane)

That’s why today Ping is announcing a $13.2 million Series A led by Upfront Ventures, along with BoxGroup, First Round, Initialized and Ulu Ventures. Adding to Ping’s quiet $3.7 million seed co-led by First Round and Initialized last year, the startup will spend the cash to scale up enterprise distribution and become the new timekeeping standard.

I was a corporate litigator at Manatt Phelps down in LA and joke that I was voted the world’s worst timekeeper,” Alshak tells me. “I could either get better at doing something I dreaded or I could try and build technology that did it for me.”

The promise of eliminating the hassle could make any lawyer who hears about Ping an advocate for the firm buying the startup’s software, like how Dropbox grew as workers demanded easier file sharing. “I’ve experienced first-hand the grind of filling out timesheets,” writes Initialized partner and former attorney Alda Leu Dennis. “Ping takes away the drudgery of manual timekeeping and gives lawyers back all those precious hours.”

Traditionally, lawyers have to keep track of their time by themselves down to the tenth of an hour — reviewing documents for the Johnson case, preparing a motion to dismiss for the Lee case, a client phone call for the Sriram case. There are timesheets built into legal software suites like MyCase, legal billing software like TimeSolv and one-off tools like Time Miner and iTimeKeep. They typically offer timers that lawyers can manually start and stop on different devices, with some providing tracking of scheduled appointments, call and text logging, and integration with billing systems.

Ping goes a big step further. It uses AI and machine learning to figure out whether an activity is billable, for which client, a description of the activity and its codification beyond just how long it lasted. Instead of merely filling in the minutes, it completes all the logs automatically, with entries like “Writing up a deposition – Jenkins Case – 18 minutes.” Then it presents the timesheet to the user for review before they send it to billing.

The big challenge now for Alshak and the team he’s assembled is to grow up. They need to go from cat-in-sunglasses logo Ping to mature wordmark Ping.  “We have to graduate from being a startup to being an enterprise software company,” the CEO tells meThat means learning to sell to C-suites and IT teams, rather than just build a solid product. In the relationship-driven world of law, that’s a very different skill set. Ping will have to convince clients it’s worth switching to not just for the time savings and revenue boost, but for deep data on how they could run a more efficient firm.

Along the way, Ping has to avoid any embarrassing data breaches or concerns about how its scanning technology could violate attorney-client privilege. If it can win this lucrative first business in legal, it could barge into the consulting and accounting verticals next to grow truly huge.

With eager customers, a massive market, a weak status quo and a driven founder, Ping just needs to avoid getting in over its heads with all its new cash. Spent well, the startup could leap ahead of the less tech-savvy competition.

Alshak seems determined to get it right. “We have an opportunity to build a company that gives people back their most valuable resource — time — to spend more time with their loved ones because they spent less time working,” he tells me. “My mom will live forever because she taught me the value of time. I am deeply motivated to build something that lasts . . . and do so in her name.”

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2019/11/12/ping-legal-timesheets/

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German football league Bundesliga teams with AWS to improve fan experience

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Germany’s top soccer (football) league, Bundesliga, announced today it is partnering with AWS to use artificial intelligence to enhance the fan experience during games.

Andreas Heyden, executive vice president for digital sports at the Deutsche Fußball Liga, the entity that runs Bundesliga, says that this could take many forms, depending on whether the fan is watching a broadcast of the game or interacting online.

“We try to use technology in a way to excite a fan more, to engage a fan more, to really take the fan experience to the next level, to show relevant stats at the relevant time through broadcasting, in apps and on the web to personalize the customer experience,” Heyden said.

This could involve delivering personalized content. “In times like this when attention spans are shrinking, when a user opens up the app the first message should be the most relevant message in that context in that time for the specific user,” he said.

It also can help provide advanced statistics to fans in real time, even going so far as to predict the probability of a goal being scored at any particular moment in a game that would have an impact on your team. Heyden thinks of it as telling a story with numbers, rather than reporting what happened after the fact.

“We want to, with the help of technology, tell stories that could not have been told without the technology. There’s no chance that a reporter could come up with a number of what the probability of a shot [scoring in a given moment]. AWS can,” he said.

Werner Vogels, CTO at Amazon, says this about using machine learning and other technologies on the AWS platform to add to the experience of watching the game, which should help attract younger fans, regardless of the sport. “All of these kind of augmented customer fan experiences are crucial in engaging a whole new generation of fans,” Vogels told TechCrunch.

He adds that this kind of experience simply wasn’t possible until recently because the technology didn’t exist. “These things were impossible five or 10 years ago, mostly because now with all the machine learning software, as well as how the [pace of technology] has accelerated at such a [rate] at AWS, we’re now able to do these things in real time for sports fans.”

Bundesliga is not just any football league. It is the second biggest in the world in terms of revenue, and boasts the highest stadium attendance of all football teams worldwide. Today’s announcement is an extension of an ongoing relationship between DFL and AWS, which started in 2015 when Heyden helped move the league’s operations to the cloud on AWS.

Heyden says that it’s not a coincidence he ended up using AWS instead of another cloud company. He has known Vogels (who also happens to be a huge soccer fan) for many years, and has been using AWS for more than a decade, even well before he joined the DFL. Today’s announcement is an extension of that long-term relationship.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2020/01/24/german-football-league-bundesliga-teams-with-aws-to-improve-fan-experience/

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Delta Air Lines startup partnerships are fueling innovation

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For the first time, this year Delta Air Lines had a large presence at CES. The carrier used much of its space to highlight the “parallel reality” screens developed by Misapplied Sciences and Sarcos Robotics, which brought its latest Guardian exoskeleton. At the show, I sat down with COO Gil West, an industry veteran with years of experience at a number of airlines and airplane manufacturers, to talk about how the company works with these startups.

Like all large companies, Delta has gone through a bit of a digital transformation in recent years by rebuilding a lot of the technical infrastructure that powers its internal and external services (though like all airlines, it also still has plenty of legacy tech that is hard to replace). This work enabled the company to move faster, rethink a lot of its processes and heightened the reality that a lot of this innovation has to come from outside the company.

“If you think about where we are as a world right now, it’s a Renaissance period for transportation,” West said. “Now, fortunately, we’re right in the middle of it, but if you think about the different modes of transportation and autonomous and electrification — and the technologies like AI and ML — everything is converging. There’s truly, I think, a transportation revolution — and we’ll play in it.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2020/01/14/delta-air-lines-startup-partnerships-are-fueling-innovation/

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Scientist Alan Turing’s degree, medal and memorabilia recovered in Colorado

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Computer pioneers items were taken from British school in 1984 and seized after woman offered them for loan to university

The British scientist Alan Turings Princeton doctoral degree, OBE medal and other items of memorabilia have been recovered in Colorado, 35 years after they were taken from Sherborne School in Dorset.

Turing, a great of British science, was persecuted for his homosexuality and died in 1954, aged 41, his death ruled a suicide. His reputation has since been fully restored and celebrated.

In July 2019 a member of the government committee which decided he should appear on the new 50 note, Dr Emily Grossman, wrote in the Guardian: His contribution to science is clear.

[He was] the father of computer science, a significant influence on the modern field of artificial intelligence and most importantly, his work at Bletchley Park during the second world war led a team of code-breakers to crack the German Enigma code.

In 2008, the Princeton Alumni Weekly named Turing the colleges second-most influential graduate, behind only James Madison, the fourth American president who was one of the authors of the US constitution. Six years later, in The Imitation Game, a film directed by Morten Tyldum, Turing was played by Benedict Cumberbatch.

On Friday, in court filings reported by the Boulder Daily Camera and other outlets, federal officials said they had recovered and were seeking the forfeiture of Turings degree certificate, the medal and photos, reports and letters from his time at boarding school.

The items were stolen in 1984, the filing said, after a woman asked to see the Turing archive at Sherborne. A note was later found which said: Please forgive me for taking these materials into my possession. They will be well taken care of while under the care of my hands and shall one day all be returned to this spot.

In 2018 a woman named Julia Turing offered the items on loan to the University of Colorado Boulder. The court filing said the woman was not related to the British scientist but changed her surname from Schwinghamer in 1988.

In a letter cited in the filing and reported by the Planet Princeton website, a Sherborne employee wrote: I am familiar with the eccentricities of Americans but I got the impression that she has a crush on Turing.

One of my staff took her over to the librarian who gave her access to Turings bits n pieces. I did not see her again but she wrote expressing her joy at having a collection of Turing items and included a photo of them laid out on a table his photo, OBE & so on. I was not aware that she had taken them, nor indeed was the librarian! I asked him to make a list of the missing items but it proved to be incomplete because we had no inventory anyway.

I gave up any hope of ever getting ATs things back til one day she wrote saying she was sending them back. A parcel arrived. It contained more than the librarian had listed, which made me cross. I wrote thanking her and she told me she intended to join the US Army and was training hard for the US Olympic team (track). I wished her luck and heard no more.

That package evidently did not contain the certificate, medal and other items. In 2018, prompted by their being offered to the Colorado university library, federal officials searched a home and recovered the items. Should they ever reach the market, they could prove valuable: in 2015 one of Turings notebooks sold for more than $1m at auction in New York.

In her piece for the Guardian last year, Grossman wrote: Turings importance goes beyond science.

Shortly after the war, he was prosecuted by the British government for gross indecency due to his relationship with another man. He chose to undergo a year of chemical castration rather than face a prison sentence, but he died two years later, aged 41. The inquest found that his death from cyanide poisoning had been suicide.

In 2009 Gordon Brown issued Turing an apology on behalf of the government and in 2013 the Queen officially pardoned him.

This may have seemed too little, too late, but such public acknowledgment of his mistreatment by the state helped pave the way for the subsequent government pardoning of nearly 50,000 homosexual men who had been historically cautioned or convicted for homosexual acts.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2020/jan/21/alan-turing-degree-medal-memorabilia-recovered-colorado

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