Seattle Week in Review: Read It While You Still Can

A hard rain’s a gonna fall, and the wind begins to howl. Quick, before Typhoon Songda goes through bombogenesis and knocks out the power, catch up on this week’s leaf-clogged, overflowing storm drain of Seattle-area tech news:

PitchBook, the Seattle-based venture capital data provider, will become a unit of investment research firm Morningstar (NASDAQ: MORN) under an acquisition deal announced Friday. The Chicago-based company bought out the 80 percent share of PitchBook it didn’t already own for $180 million, valuing the latter at $225 million.

PitchBook, which recently began providing data to the National Venture Capital Association, will remain in Seattle under the leadership of founder and CEO John Gabbert. The company has upwards of 300 employees, most of whom are in Seattle, and 300 contract workers in Ukraine and India.

The company’s revenues during the 12 months ended June 30 were $31.1 million.

—Seattle-based real estate company Redfin is one of the smaller tech businesses to release diversity statistics. Last year, it started with data on gender. Now the company has added details on race and ethnicity. CEO Glenn Kelman breaks it down in this post.

On gender, Redfin is making progress. “The percentage of Redfin engineers, product managers, and designers who are female increased from 25 percent in 2015 to 30 percent in 2016, as compared to 16 percent of Facebook’s technical workforce and 22 percent of Apple’s,” Kelman writes. The company as a whole—including its business operations and real estate agents in the field—is 58 percent female.

But as Kelman notes, race is perhaps the bigger issue for a real estate company, given this country’s history of explicit and de facto racial discrimination in housing.

“Technology will over time contribute to the desegregation of American cities, simply by empowering anyone to see all the homes for sale, in all the neighborhoods, but Redfin can pair that technology with a diverse agent population too,” he writes.

Redfin real estate agents are still more than three-quarters white, but that’s more diverse than the real estate industry as a whole, Kelman says. He makes a case for the Internet’s potential to address this fundamental inequity, and it’s worth reading in full.

Igneous Systems, a Seattle data storage startup that raised $23.6 million in 2014 and has stayed quiet since, this week announced what it’s been building: A storage system that tries to give customers the benefits of cloud computing with the security, speed, and data-transfer capabilities of on-premises infrastructure. Like Qumulo, another data storage startup founded by former executives of Isilon Systems, Igneous is building its own data storage servers to be installed on customers’ networks, behind their security firewalls.

Igneous differentiates its offering from an old-school IT setup and newer private cloud computing models in this way: It owns the data storage servers and manages them remotely, handling inevitable drive failures and other operational issues itself, thereby relieving its customers’ IT departments of a potentially large and costly chore.

“Companies don’t want to be in the business of IT infrastructure management,” says Igneous co-founder and CEO Kiran Bhageshpur. “They want the value of the cloud, local to where their apps live.”

Customers pay an annual subscription for the service with costs starting at around $40,000 a year for 212 terabytes of storage.

CloudCoreo, a Seattle startup taking a DevOps approach to manage and secure cloud infrastructure, has raised a $2.9 million seed funding round from Madrona Venture Group, with Divergent Ventures, Aristos Ventures, and Data Collective participating. Co-founders Tom Hull, Paul Allen (not the billionaire Paul Allen), and Jason Needham previously founded, built, and sold Union Bay Networks. They’re not saying much more about their plans.

BitTitan—a cloud services company that took its first venture funding this summer, nine years after it was founded—is expanding significantly in the region. The company intends to open a new office in Bellevue, WA, with room for more than 400 employees. It has been headquartered in nearby Kirkland, WA, but could not find adequate space on the expansion timeline it needed, according to a news release from the Economic Development Council of Seattle & King County, which worked to keep the company in the region.

—Some stats on the region’s growing virtual and augmented reality cluster: Upwards of 40 companies are working on aspects of the technology in the Seattle area. That’s according to the Washington Interactive Network, which released a new look at the industry in connection with the Immerse Summit in Bellevue, WA, this week. Those VR/AR companies are part of a broader interactive entertainment industry cluster with more than 420 companies, employing some 20,800 people and providing work for an estimated 2,400 freelancers.

—Seattle-based Spaceflight Industries’ launch services business announced a new customer for its planned 2017 rocket launch: Terra Bella, a unit of Google. Terra Bella SkySats will be ferried to a sun-synchronous orbit aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that Spaceflight is buying for its first dedicated rideshare launch. (Spaceflight previously brokered surplus space for smaller payloads on other companies’ rockets. That’s still a big part of its business.) The first dedicated launch is 90 percent booked with some 20 payloads, ranging from microsatellites to larger commercial and government imaging satellites.

—The University of Washington established a new freight transportation research effort, focusing on the unique challenges of delivering goods in dense urban areas. The problem of the last 50 feet “begins at the city-owned curb, commercial vehicle load zone, or sidewalk; extends through privately owned building freight bays; and may end in the common areas within a building, such as the lobby.” The UW is working with initial partners including the city of Seattle, Nordstrom, UPS, and Costco.

—Recommended reading this weekend—download now to your charged-up device, or find a print copy to read via candlelight:

President Barack Obama’s edition of Wired, beginning with this interview with editor Scott Dadich and MIT Media Lab’s Joi Ito.

(By the way, if you’re interested in how policy—including policies set by the nation’s chief executive—impacts innovation, come to Xconomy Intersect in Seattle on Dec. 8. One of our speakers, University of Washington historian Margaret O’Mara has researched this topic extensively and will help us understand the innovation landscape heading into 2017. Here’s a great recent essay on this from O’Mara.)

This Atlantic profile of Tristan Harris—“the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience”—resonated with me. It’s all about the broad “design failure” of our current ecosystem of WMDs—that’s wireless mobile devices—and apps built to maximize user engagement. Harris, through his organization, Time Well Spent, advocates for a new ethics of software design that focuses on benefitting people rather than constantly distracting them with alerts, vibrations, and other prods to draw them back into the bottomless digital well.

Another option if the power goes out is to take the opportunity to sit quietly in the dark and enjoy the sound of the wind in the trees—provided they’re not toppling down on you, of course. Stay safe, everyone!

Benjamin Romano is editor of Xconomy Seattle. Email him at bromano [at] xconomy.com. Follow @bromano

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