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RPA market surges as investors, vendors capitalize on pandemic-driven tech shift

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When UIPath filed its S-1 last week, it was a watershed moment for the robotic process automation (RPA) market. The company, which first appeared on our radar for a $30 million Series A in 2017, has so far raised an astonishing $2 billion while still private. In February, it was valued at $35 billion when it raised $750 million in its latest round.

RPA and process automation came to the fore during the pandemic as companies took steps to digitally transform. When employees couldn’t be in the same office together, it became crucial to cobble together more automated workflows that required fewer people in the loop.

RPA has enabled executives to provide a level of workflow automation that essentially buys them time to update systems to more modern approaches while reducing the large number of mundane manual tasks that are part of every industry’s workflow.

When UIPath raised money in 2017, RPA was not well known in enterprise software circles even though it had already been around for several years. The category was gaining in popularity by that point because it addressed automation in a legacy context. That meant companies with deep legacy technology — practically everyone not born in the cloud — could automate across older platforms without ripping and replacing, an expensive and risky undertaking that most CEOs would rather not take.

RPA has enabled executives to provide a level of workflow automation, a taste of the modern. It essentially buys them time to update systems to more modern approaches while reducing the large number of mundane manual tasks that are part of just about every industry’s workflow.

While some people point to RPA as job-elimination software, it also provides a way to liberate people from some of the most mind-numbing and mundane chores in the organization. The argument goes that this frees up employees for higher level tasks.

As an example, RPA could take advantage of older workflow technologies like OCR (optical character recognition) to read a number from a form, enter the data in a spreadsheet, generate an invoice, send it for printing and mailing, and generate a Slack message to the accounting department that the task has been completed.

We’re going to take a deep dive into RPA and the larger process automation space — explore the market size and dynamics, look at the key players and the biggest investors, and finally, try to chart out where this market might go in the future.

Meet the vendors

UIPath is clearly an RPA star with a significant market share lead of 27.1%, according to IDC. Automation Anywhere is in second place with 19.4%, and Blue Prism is third with 10.3%, based on data from IDC’s July 2020 report, the last time the firm reported on the market.

Two other players with significant market share worth mentioning are WorkFusion with 6.8%, and NTT with 5%.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/04/02/rpa-market-surges-investors-vendors-capitalize-pandemic-tech-shift/

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Twitter Tip Jar lets you pay people for good tweetin’

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Twitter today confirmed earlier reports that it’s testing a new Tip Jar feature. The new addition utilizes a number of different payment platforms, including PayPal, Venmo, Patreon, Cash App and Bandcamp (all region-dependent).

“Tip Jar is an easy way to support the incredible voices that make up the conversation on Twitter,” the company wrote in a blog post confirming the news. “This is a first step in our work to create new ways for people to receive and show support on Twitter — with money.”

Image Credits: Twitter

Currently available on both iOS and Android, the feature is designed to give users a way to quickly tip creators with a few taps. Tip Jar is beginning to roll out to select groups of users, including nonprofits, journalists, experts and creators. The company has further plans to roll it out to additional groups and languages.

For now, those using Twitter in English will be able to send a tip. Those profiles that have enabled it will show the Tip Jar icon on their profile page to the left of the Follow button. Hitting that will show a list of the aforementioned third-party money transfer apps. The opt-in feature will pop up in the mobile app, letting qualified users choose which payment platforms they’ll accept.

In addition to the above, Android users will be able to send money via Twitter’s Clubhouse competitor, Spaces. The company says it won’t be taking a percentage of those transactions.

The feature comes as the service looks to become a more well-rounded content-creation platform. In addition to the audio feature, Spaces (which recently saw a much wider roll out), Twitter has also been looking to take on the likes of Substack with its own newsletter-style offering.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/05/06/twitter-tip-jar-lets-you-pay-people-for-good-tweetin/

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Yale’s longtime — and legendary — endowment chief, David Swensen, has passed away at age 67

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David Swensen, among the most highly regarded money managers in the world after growing Yale’s endowment from $1 billion when he joined as a 31-year-old former grad student of the school, to the second-largest school endowment in the country after Harvard, has passed away at age 67. The cause was cancer, which Swensen had been battling since first being diagnosed in 2012.

The news is likely sending shockwaves and sadness throughout endowment offices, many of which closely followed the moves of Swensen, who famously pulled the school into non-traditional asset classes like hedge funds, private equity, venture funds, and real estate.

Many endowment heads learned from working with him directly, in fact. As a WSJ piece about his death notes, Princeton’s endowment chief for the past 26 years, Andrew Golden, spent five years as a senior associate in Yale’s investment office in the 1980s, yet it helped him form a blueprint for his career. As he told the outlet in 2017, “90% of my good ideas on how to organize the office and develop a culture I’ve stolen from Yale.”

The University of Pennsylvania, Bowdoin College, Wesleyan University and MIT also recruited Swensen protégés over the years. Robert Wallace, who has headed up the Stanford Management Company since 2015, is another former Yale investment manager.

As wealth management recruiter David Barrett told the WSJ in 2015, when hiring an investment chief, wealthy universities often asked the same question, which was: “Is there anyone at Yale?”

Even as he battled cancer, Swensen was pushing Yale forward in new directions. In 2018, despite, or because of, extreme volatility in the world of cryptocurrencies, he approved investments in two then-new crypto funds: the inaugural crypto fund of Andreessen Horowitz and the debut fund of Paradigm, cofounded by the cofounder of Coinbase, Fred Ehrsam, and former Sequoia Capital partner Matt Huang. Yale was among the first schools of its stature to make such a bet.

In a separate but meaningful decision that’s expected to have lasting impact on the broader industry, Swensen last fall told the firms that manage Yale’s money that they risked losing the school’s backing if they didn’t hire more women and minorities into their ranks — and keep them there.

It was a decision that was years in the making, Swensen suggested, telling the Journal that he’d held off on any kind of systematic effort relating to diversity because he long believed there existed an insufficient pipeline of diverse candidates; he said the Black Lives Matter movement helped him to recognize that far more needed to be done — and that Yale could do nothing or that it could be part of the solution.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/05/06/yales-longtime-and-legendary-endowment-chief-david-swensen-has-passed-away-at-age-67/

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80% of the 22 million comments on net neutrality rollback were fake, investigation finds

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Of the 22 million comments submitted to the FCC regarding 2017’s controversial rollback of net neutrality, some 18 million were fake, an investigation by the New York Attorney General’s office has found. The broadband industry funded the fraudulent creation of about 8.5 million of those, while a 19-year-old college student submitted 7.7 million, and the remainder came from unknown but spurious sources.

The damning report, issued today, is the result of years of work; it set up a tip line early on so people could report fraudulent comments, and no doubt received plenty, as people were already independently finding themselves, dead relatives, and other obviously fake submissions among the record.

It turns out that a huge number of these comments were paid for by a consortium of broadband companies called Broadband for America, which laid out about $4.2 million for the purpose. They contracted with several “lead generator” companies, the kind of shady operations that offer you free trials of “male enhancement pills” or the like if you fill out a form — in this case, asking the person to write an anti-net-neutrality comment.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the lead generation companies didn’t even bother plying their shady trade in what passes for an honest way; instead they fabricated the lists and comments with years-old data and in one case with identities stolen in a major data breach. The practice was near universal:

In all, six lead generators funded by the broadband industry engaged in fraud. As a result, nearly every comment and message the broadband industry submitted to the FCC and Congress was fake, signed using the names and addresses of millions of individuals without their knowledge or consent.

The broadband companies are off the hook on a technicality, since they were careful to firewall themselves from the practices of those they were contracting with, even though the record shows it was plain that the information being collected and used was fraudulent. But because the actions were, ostensibly, independently taken by the enterprising lead generators, the buck stops there.

Notably, these scams were also involved in more than a hundred other advocacy campaigns, including submitting over a million fake comments for an EPA proceeding and millions of other letters and digital comments.

The wholesale undermining of the processes of government earned fines of $3.7M, $550K, and $150K for Fluent Inc, React2Media, and Opt-Intelligence respectively. There are also “comprehensive reforms” imposed on them, though it may be best not to expect much from those.

Internet rights advocacy organization Fight for the Future issued a king-size “I told you so” noting that they had flagged this process at the time and helped bring it to the attention of both government officials and ordinary folks.

Another 7.7 million fake comments were submitted by a single person, a California college student who simply combined a fake name generation site with disposable email service to provide plausible identities. The person automated an individual comment submission process, and somehow the FCC’s systems didn’t flag it. Another unknown person used similar means to submit another 1.6 million fake comments.

Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement that “Today’s report demonstrates how the record informing the FCC’s net neutrality repeal was flooded with fraud. This was troubling at the time because even then the widespread problems with the record were apparent. We have to learn from these lessons and improve because the public deserves an open and fair opportunity to tell Washington what they think about the policies that affect their lives.”

Indeed at the time Rosenworcel suggested delaying the vote, joining many in the country who felt the scale of the shenanigans warranted further investigation — but then-Chairman Ajit Pai brushed aside their concerns, one of many decisions that have considerably tarnished his legacy.

Altogether it’s a pretty sad situation, and the broadband companies and their lobbyists get off without so much as a slap on the wrist. The NY AG report has a variety of recommendations, some of which no doubt have already been implemented or suggested as the FCC’s comment debacle became clear, but the bad guys definitely won this time.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/05/06/80-of-the-22-million-comments-on-net-neutrality-rollback-were-fake-investigation-finds/

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Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne is returning to space in June

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Orbital launch company Virgin Orbit has scheduled its next mission to space.

Virgin Orbit will be returning its LauncherOne rocket to orbit in June to deliver payloads for the U.S. Department of Defense Space Test Program, SatRevolution, and the Royal Netherlands Air Force.

The manifest includes three CubeSat satellites as part of the DoD’s Rapid Agile Launch Initiative; a CubeSat satellite called BRIK II, Norway’s first military satellite to go to space; and two optical imaging satellites from SatRevolution for Earth observation. DoD awarded the launch to Virgin Orbit’s defense-focused subsidiary VOX Space last April.

LauncherOne will take its payload to a target orbit of around 310 miles above Earth.

This will be the LauncherOne’s first take-off since a demonstration mission in January, during which the LauncherOne carried satellites to low Earth orbit on behalf of NASA. That most recent demonstration was the first time Virgin Orbit proved that its unique hybrid aircraft/orbital rocket system actually works. The first try, which took place in May of last year, ended after the rocket initiated an automatic safety shutdown after detaching from the Boeing 747 that takes it to launch altitude.

The mission will be conducted from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California on a yet-to-be-announced date in June. The rocket will be shipped out to the Mojave site “in the coming days” for prelaunch operations, the company said. Virgin Orbit will offer a public livestream of the mission on its website.

Virgin Orbit is part of a small cohort of private orbital launch companies that have actually sent payloads to space. As opposed to providers like SpaceX, which uses massive rockets similar to legacy designs from agencies like NASA, LauncherOne is essentially a 747 that’s been retrofitted with a rocket. Besides being smaller and able to take off from traditional airplane runways, the 747 saves on costs by being completely reusable.

Virgin Orbit was spun out of Virgin Galactic in 2017, with the latter focusing exclusively on commercial human spaceflight services. In homage to its beginnings as a humble record company, the mission has been christened “Tubular Bells, Part One,” so named after the first track on the first album ever released by Virgin Records.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/05/06/virgin-orbits-launcherone-is-returning-to-space-in-june/

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