Boston Tech Watch: Scooter Regs, Threat Stack, iRobot, Teikametrics

Cybersecurity layoffs, higher import tariffs on robotic vacuum cleaners, funding deals, and a push for e-scooter regulations make up the pulse of technology news this week in Boston. Read on for more.

—A bill proposed in the Massachusetts State House would apply the same regulatory system that oversees ride-hailing app businesses such as Uber and Lyft to upstart bicycle and scooter sharing companies like Lime and Bird. The idea being floated by Boston Rep. Michael Moran on the “micro-mobility devices” offered for rental via mobile apps would also let cities and towns impose additional regulations and fees for the companies to operate.

Bird, which rents electric scooters, was a flash in the pan in Massachusetts, showing up in Cambridge and Somerville, MA, reportedly with no notice, then disappearing after pushback from local officials. Lime rents its dock-less bikes in 16 eastern Massachusetts towns—so far not Boston, which has a docked bike-share program.

“I just find it odd that in this micro-economy we’re living in, that people just think they can walk in and do stuff,” Moran told the State House News. “‘We’re just going to throw some bikes on the street.’ I guess I don’t understand that, having owned a business myself. There’s a thing called regulations; there’s a thing called insurance.”

—Cloud cybersecurity firm Threat Stack issued layoffs this week, the company said, to “reallocate resources.” In a prepared statement, the Boston startup said it made the decision “from a position of strength, with a significant portion of our Series C investment still on the balance sheet so we can capitalize on the market opportunity.” Threat Stack said once the company fills 17 open positions, its headcount will be back to where it was before the job cuts. “This is the typical evolution of a company that moves upmarket,” the company said.

Threat Stack completed a $45 million funding round in September 2017 led by Fidelity Investments-affiliated funds F-Prime Capital Partners and Eight Roads. In all, the company has raised more than $70 million from investors.

—iRobot (NASDAQ: IRBT) said it absorbed $5 million in extra costs from U.S. tariffs slapped on its Chinese-made automated vacuum cleaners. President Donald Trump instituted the 10 percent import duties on $200 billion worth of imports from China starting Sept. 24, and threatened to boost the tariffs to 25 percent on Jan. 1. “We made the decision not to pass on those additional costs to U.S. retailers or consumers in 2018,” iRobot CEO Colin Angle said on a conference call with investors. The Roomba maker narrowed its focus to smart-home consumer robotics after shedding its defense and other commercial businesses in 2016.

The $2.2 billion Bedford, MA-based company—whose stock sank 14 percent after the news of the tariff hit—said if next year’s tariffs become a reality, it’s considering passing along the costs to consumers. After next year, Angle said the company could potentially move manufacturing operations out of China to avoid the higher tariffs.

—Boston content marketing platform Skyword merged with Washington, DC-based market insight firm TrackMaven. Deal terms weren’t disclosed. The two firms said they hope to give companies insights and the technological infrastructure to battle for consumers’ attention online. Skyword founder Tom Gerace will lead the combined company as CEO, and TrackMaven founder Allen Gannett will serve as chief strategy officer and head of corporate development.

In January, Skyword raised $25 million in “growth equity” from Rho Acceleration and established a $5 million line of working capital through Cambridge Trust.

—Retail optimization software firm Teikametrics raised $10 million in a Series A funding round led by Granite Point Capital, Jump Capital, and FJ Labs. The Boston company’s machine-learning “Flywheel” product—designed for sellers on Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN)—gives brands data modeling tools to try and find the best keywords for products and ad campaigns. Teikametrics said companies using its system can generate higher returns on ad dollars.

Brian Dowling is a Senior Editor at Xconomy, based in Boston. You can reach him at bdowling [at] xconomy.com. Follow @be_d

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