With Hyperforce, Salesforce lets you move your data to any public cloud

For much of its existence, Salesforce was a cloud service on its own with its own cloud resources available for its customers, but as the company and cloud computing in general has evolved, Salesforce has moved some of its workloads to other clouds like AWS, Azure and Google. Now, it wants to allow customers to do the same.

To help facilitate that, the company announced Hyperforce today at its Dreamforce customer conference, a new architecture designed from the ground up to help customers deliver workloads to the public cloud of choice.

The idea behind Hyperforce is to enable customers to take all of the data in what Salesforce calls Customer 360 — that’s the company’s detailed view of the customer across channels, Salesforce products and even other systems outside the Salesforce family — and be able to store that in whichever public cloud you want in whatever region you happen to operate. For now, they are in India and Germany, but there are plans to add support for 10 additional countries over the next year.

Company president and CTO Bret Taylor introduced the new approach. “We call this new capability Hyperforce. Simply put, we’ve been working to enable us to deliver Salesforce on public cloud infrastructure all around the world,” Taylor said.

Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research, says the underlying architecture running the Salesforce system is long overdue for an overhaul. At over 20 years old, it’s been around a long time now, but Mueller says that it’s about more than modernizing. “The pandemic requires SaaS vendors to move their offerings from their own data centers to [public cloud] data centers, so they can offer both architectural and commercial elasticity to their customers,” he said.

Mueller added that by bringing Salesforce data into the public cloud, besides the obvious data sovereignty issues it solves, it bring all of the advantages of using public cloud resources.

“Salesforce can now offer both architectural and commercial elasticity to their customers. Commercial elasticity matters a lot to CIOs and CTOs these days because when your business slows down, you pay less, and when your business accelerates, then you can afford to pay more,” he said. He says that Salesforce is bringing an early generation SaaS product and pulling it into the modern age, something that is imperative at this point in the company’s evolution.

But while moving forward, Taylor was careful to point out that they rebuilt the system in such a way as to be fully backwards compatible, so you don’t have to throw out all of the applications and investment you’ve made over the years, something that most companies couldn’t afford to do.”For you developers out there, This is the most remarkable thing. It is 100% backwards compatible, your apps will work with no changes and you can benefit from all of this automatically,” he said.

The company will be rolling out Hyperforce over the next year and beyond as it opens in more regions.


Source: Tech Crunch

From surviving to thriving as a hardware startup

When a friend forwarded this tweet from Paul Graham, it hit close to home:

Startups are subject to something like infant mortality: before they’re established, one thing going wrong can kill the company. Hardware companies seem to be subject to infant mortality their whole lives.
I think the reason is that the evolution of the product is so discontinuous. The company has to keep shipping, and customers to keep buying, new products. Which in practice is like relaunching the company each time.
I don’t know if there is an answer to this, but if there were a way for hardware companies to evolve more the way software companies do, they’d be a lot more resilient.

Looking back on our startup journey at Minut, I remember several moments when we could have died. However, surviving several near misses we learned to tackle these challenges and have become more resilient over time. While there will never be one fully exhaustive answer, here are some of the lessons we learned over the years:

Subscription revenue is the only revenue that counts

While you can sell hardware with a margin and make important early revenue, it’s not a sustainable business model for a company that requires both software and hardware. You can’t cover an indefinite commitment with a finite amount of money.

Many hardware companies don’t consider subscriptions early enough. While it can be hard to command a subscription from the start (if you can, you might have waited too long to launch), it needs to be in the plan from the beginning. Look for markets where paying subscriptions is the norm rather than markets that operate on a one-time sale model.

Set high margins and earn them over time

It’s tempting to set low prices for hardware to attract customers, but in the beginning you should do the opposite. Margins allow for mistakes to be rectified. A missed deadline might mean you have to opt for freight by air rather than boat. You might have to scrap components or buy them expensively in a supply crunch. Surprises are seldom positive, and you don’t want to use your venture capital to pay for them.

Healthy margins can also be used to cover marketing costs while you learn what kind of messaging works and what channels you can sell through. If that wasn’t enough reason, starting with relatively high prices will help you avoid another common mistake, selling too much at launch.

This might seem counterintuitive — why wouldn’t you want great success out of the gate? The reason is that you will inevitably make mistakes with your early launches, and the bigger the launch, the bigger the blow. There are plenty of companies who achieved amazing crowdfunding success and then failed to deliver even the first units. Startups tend to chase growth at all costs, but for hardware startups in the first few years there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.


Source: Tech Crunch

Okay nabs funding from Sequoia to build performance dashboards for engineering managers

Amid the pandemic, workplace cultures have been turned on their heads. Meanwhile investment and growth haven’t slowed for many tech companies, requiring them to still onboard new engineering managers even while best practices for remote management are far from codified.

Because of remote work habit shifts, plenty of new tools have popped up to help engineers be more productive, or quickly help managers interface with direct-reports more often. Okay is taking a more observatory route, aiming to give managers dashboards that quantify the performance of their teams so that they can get a picture of where they have room to improve.

The startup, which launched out of Y Combinator earlier this year, tells TechCrunch they’ve raised $2.2 million in funding led by Sequoia and are launching the open beta of their service.

Co-founders Antoine Boulanger and Tomas Barreto met while working at Box — Boulanger as a senior director of engineering and Barreto as a VP of engineering. They told TechCrunch that in the process of building out a suite of in-house tools designed to help managers at Box understand their teams better, they realized the opportunity for a subscription toolset that could help managers across companies. For the most part, Boulanger says that today Okay is largely replacing tools built in-house as well.

Getting a picture of an engineering team’s productivity means plugging into these toolsets and gathering data into a digestible feed. Okay can be integrated with a number of toolsets, including software like GitHub, PagerDuty, CircleCI and Google Calendar.

“Part of the problem for managers is that there are so many tools, so how do you get signal from the noise?” Barreto tells TechCrunch.

A large part of Okay’s sell seems to be ensuring that managers can keep an active eye on the common pitfalls of rapid scaling and keep them in check so they can keep direct-reports satisfied. On the individual basis, managers can quickly see stats related to how much of an individual manager’s time is being spent in meetings compared to uninterrupted “maker time” where they actually have the ability to get work done.

People don’t like to be micromanaged and the idea that everything you do is feeding into a pie chart that judges whether you’re a good employee isn’t the most savory sell for engineers. Okay’s founders hope they can strike a balance and give managers data that they’re not tempted to over-rely on, instead defaulting to team-level insights when they can so that managers are dialed into general trends like how long projects are taking on average or how long it takes for pull requests to be reviewed.

Investors have been bankrolling remote work tools at a heightened pace for the last several months and things have been especially fortunate for young companies that were ahead of the trend. Barreto, for his part, has served as a scout at Sequoia since 2018 according to his LinkedIn.

The team says their product, as it stands today, is best fit for companies with 50-200 engineers that are high growth and perhaps going through some of those growing pains. The company’s early customers include teams at Brex, Plaid and Split.


Source: Tech Crunch

YC-backed Heru raises $1.7M to build software services for Latin American gig workers

Given the attention that TechCrunch pays to Y Combinator’s Demo Days, we also try to keep tabs on the same startups as they scale and raise more capital. Yesterday we covered YC Winter 2020 participant BuildBuddy, for example. Today we’re taking a look at Heru, a startup based in Mexico City that is announcing a $1.7 million raise after taking part in YC’s Summer 2019 session.

The pre-seed round was led by Mountain Nazca, and participated in by Magma Partners, Xtraordinary Venture Partners, Flourish Ventures, YC itself and a handful of angels. The investment was raised in two pieces: a $500,000 check in February and the other $1.2 million closing a few weeks ago.

Heru wants to provide software-based services for gig workers in Mexico, and eventually other countries. Its founders, Mateo Jaramillo and Stiven Rodríguez Sánchez, are both ex-Uber employees, which is how they wound up in Mexico from their native Colombia.

But Heru didn’t have a straightforward path to existence. The founding duo told TechCrunch their original idea, something similar to OYO, was what they went through Y Combinator and initially raised money for. But after finding OYO already in their target market, the company took three months to rethink and, keeping investors on board, pivoted to Heru.

Heru is a package of software products aimed at delivery drivers and the like, helping provide insurance, credit and tax preparation support. The tax element is key, as the company’s founders explained to TechCrunch that Mexico now expects independent workers to file taxes on a monthly basis. Folks need help with that, so Heru built them a tool to do so.

There’s competition to that element of its product, Heru said, noting that there are accountants in the market that will do the work for $25 to $30. Heru’s tax service, in contrast, costs a smaller $5 each month (100 pesos). Insurance is another $5 each month for accident-related coverage. The startup worked with an insurance provider to build what it describes as a “tailor-made” policy for gig workers who need low-cost coverage.

The founding duo, via the company.

Heru is not only targeting Uber drivers and their like, however. The company noted that it also wants to support freelancers more broadly, a population that is much larger than the three million gig workers it counts in the Mexican market.

The company’s app has been soft-launched in the market for a few weeks, with the startup now making more noise about its existence. According to its founders, around 1,200 users were accepted during its test period. Another 20,000 are in line.

Among its early user base, customers are buying on average 1.2 Heru products, a number that I’ll track as the startup scales.

Heru’s app is neat, its market large and the need it is serving material. But in the background of the software story is a brick-and-mortar tale. The startup, in addition to building its app, put together a number of so-called “Heru Casas,” places where gig workers can recharge their phones and use a bathroom. You need the app to enter a Heru Casa, helping the startup find early users.

Currently all Heru Casas are located in Mexico City. The startup is not sure about expanding that part of its efforts to more cities where its app may attract users. Why? It’s hard to scale physical build-outs, it told TechCrunch. Software is much better for quick expansion, and as that’s the name of the startup game, holding off on more physical locations could make good sense until the company can raise more capital.

Heru has big plans to double-down its product work, and eventually add more countries to its roster. The Latin American market is a ripe place for startups to shake things up. Let’s see how quickly Heru can make its mark.


Source: Tech Crunch

Fylamynt raises $6.5M for its cloud workflow automation platform

Fylamynt, a new service that helps businesses automate their cloud workflows, today announced both the official launch of its platform as well as a $6.5 million seed round. The funding round was led by Google’s AI-focused Gradient Ventures fund. Mango Capital and Point72 Ventures also participated.

At first glance, the idea behind Fylamynt may sound familiar. Workflow automation has become a pretty competitive space, after all, and the service helps developers connect their various cloud tools to create repeatable workflows. We’re not talking about your standard IFTTT- or Zapier -like integrations between SaaS products, though. The focus of Fylamynt is squarely on building infrastructure workflows. While that may sound familiar, too, with tools like Ansible and Terraform automating a lot of that already, Fylamynt sits on top of those and integrates with them.

Image Credits: Fylamynt

“Some time ago, we used to do Bash and scripting — and then [ … ] came Chef and Puppet in 2006, 2007. SaltStack, as well. Then Terraform and Ansible,” Fylamynt co-founder and CEO Pradeep Padala told me. “They have all done an extremely good job of making it easier to simplify infrastructure operations so you don’t have to write low-level code. You can write a slightly higher-level language. We are not replacing that. What we are doing is connecting that code.”

So if you have a Terraform template, an Ansible playbook and maybe a Python script, you can now use Fylamynt to connect those. In the end, Fylamynt becomes the orchestration engine to run all of your infrastructure code — and then allows you to connect all of that to the likes of DataDog, Splunk, PagerDuty Slack and ServiceNow.

Image Credits: Fylamynt

The service currently connects to Terraform, Ansible, Datadog, Jira, Slack, Instance, CloudWatch, CloudFormation and your Kubernetes clusters. The company notes that some of the standard use cases for its service are automated remediation, governance and compliance, as well as cost and performance management.

The company is already working with a number of design partners, including Snowflake.

Fylamynt CEO Padala has quite a bit of experience in the infrastructure space. He co-founded ContainerX, an early container-management platform, which later sold to Cisco. Before starting ContainerX, he was at VMWare and DOCOMO Labs. His co-founders, VP of Engineering Xiaoyun Zhu and CTO David Lee, also have deep expertise in building out cloud infrastructure and operating it.

“If you look at any company — any company building a product — let’s say a SaaS product, and they want to run their operations, infrastructure operations very efficiently,” Padala said. “But there are always challenges. You need a lot of people, it takes time. So what is the bottleneck? If you ask that question and dig deeper, you’ll find that there is one bottleneck for automation: that’s code. Someone has to write code to automate. Everything revolves around that.”

Fylamynt aims to take the effort out of that by allowing developers to either write Python and JSON to automate their workflows (think “infrastructure as code” but for workflows) or to use Fylamynt’s visual no-code drag-and-drop tool. As Padala noted, this gives developers a lot of flexibility in how they want to use the service. If you never want to see the Fylamynt UI, you can go about your merry coding ways, but chances are the UI will allow you to get everything done as well.

One area the team is currently focusing on — and will use the new funding for — is building out its analytics capabilities that can help developers debug their workflows. The service already provides log and audit trails, but the plan is to expand its AI capabilities to also recommend the right workflows based on the alerts you are getting.

“The eventual goal is to help people automate any service and connect any code. That’s the holy grail. And AI is an enabler in that,” Padala said.

Gradient Ventures partner Muzzammil “MZ” Zaveri echoed this. “Fylamynt is at the intersection of applied AI and workflow automation,” he said. “We’re excited to support the Fylamynt team in this uniquely positioned product with a deep bench of integrations and a nonprescriptive builder approach. The vision of automating every part of a cloud workflow is just the beginning.”

The team, which now includes about 20 employees, plans to use the new round of funding, which closed in September, to focus on its R&D, build out its product and expand its go-to-market team. On the product side, that specifically means building more connectors.

The company offers both a free plan as well as enterprise pricing and its platform is now generally available.


Source: Tech Crunch

Bottom-up SaaS: A framework for mapping pricing to customer value

A few years ago, building a bottom-up SaaS company – defined as a firm where the average purchasing decision is made without ever speaking to a salesperson – was a novel concept. Today, by our count, at least 30% of the Cloud 100 are now bottom-up.

For the first time, individual employees are influencing the tooling decisions of their companies versus having these decisions mandated by senior executives. Self-serve businesses thrive on this momentum, leveraging individuals as their evangelists, to grow from a single use-case to small teams, and ultimately into whole company deployments.

In a truly self-service model, individual users can sign up and try the product on their own. There is no need to get compliance approval for sensitive data or to get IT support for integrations — everything can be managed by the line-level users themselves. Then that person becomes an internal champion, driving adoption across the organization.

Today, some of the most well-known software companies such as Datadog, MongoDB, Slack and Zoom, to name a few, are built with a primarily bottom-up product-led sales approach.

In this piece, we will take a closer look at this trend — and specifically how it has fundamentally altered pricing — and at a framework for mapping pricing to customer value.

Aligning value with pricing

In a bottom-up SaaS world, pricing has to be transparent and standardized (at least for the most part, see below). It’s the only way your product can sell itself. In practice, this means you can no longer experiment as you go, with salespeople using their gut instinct to price each deal. You need a concrete strategy that aligns customer value with pricing.

To do this well, you need to deeply understand your customers and how they use your product. Once you do, you can “MAP” them to help align pricing with value.

The MAP customer value framework

The MAP customer value framework requires deeply understanding your customers in order to clearly identify and articulate their needs across Metrics, Activities and People.

Not all elements of MAP should determine your pricing, but chances are that one of them will be the right anchor for your pricing model:

Metrics: Metrics can include things like minutes, messages, meetings, data and storage. What are the key metrics your customers care about? Is there a threshold of value associated with these metrics? By tracking key metrics early on, you’ll be able to understand if growing a certain metric increases value for the customer. For example:

  • Zoom — Minutes: Free with a 40-minute time limit on group meetings.
  • Slack — Messages: Free until 10,000 total messages.
  • Airtable — Records: Free until 1,200 records.

Activity: How do your customers really use your product and how do they describe themselves? Are they creators? Are they editors? Do different customers use your product differently? Instead of metrics, a key anchor for pricing may be the different roles users have within an organization and what they want and need in your product. If you choose to anchor on activity, you will need to align feature sets and capabilities with usage patterns (e.g., creators get access to deeper tooling than viewers, or admins get high privileges versus line-level users). For example:


Source: Tech Crunch

AWS announces Panorama a device adds machine learning technology to any camera

AWS has launched a new hardware device, the AWS Panorama Appliance, which, alongside the AWS Panorama SDK, will transform existing on-premises cameras into computer vision enabled super-powered surveillance devices.

Pitching the hardware as a new way for customers to inspect parts on manufacturing lines, ensure that safety protocols are being followed, or analyze traffic in retail stores, the new automation service is part of the theme of this AWS re:Invent event — automate everything.

Along with computer vision models that companies can develop using Amazon SageMaker, the new Panorama Appliance can run those models on video feeds from networked or network-enabled cameras.

Soon, AWS expects to have the Panorama SDK that can be used by device manufacturers to build Panorama-enabled devices.

Amazon has already pitched surveillance technologies to developers and the enterprise before. Back in 2017, the company unveiled DeepLens, which it began selling one year later. It was a way for developers to build prototype machine learning models and for Amazon to get comfortable with different ways of commercializing computer vision capabilities.

As we wrote in 2018:

DeepLens is deeply integrated with the rest of AWS’s services. Those include the AWS IoT service Greengrass, which you use to deploy models to DeepLens, for example, but also SageMaker, Amazon’s newest tool for building machine learning models… Indeed, if all you want to do is run one of the pre-built samples that AWS provides, it shouldn’t take you more than 10 minutes to set up … DeepLens and deploy one of these models to the camera. Those project templates include an object detection model that can distinguish between 20 objects (though it had some issues with toy dogs, as you can see in the image above), a style transfer example to render the camera image in the style of van Gogh, a face detection model and a model that can distinguish between cats and dogs and one that can recognize about 30 different actions (like playing guitar, for example). The DeepLens team is also adding a model for tracking head poses. Oh, and there’s also a hot dog detection model.

 

Amazon has had a lot of experience (and controversy) when it comes to the development of machine learning technologies for video. The company’s Rekognition software sparked protests and pushback which led to a moratorium on the use of the technology.

And the company has tried to incorporate more machine learning capabilities into its consumer facing Ring cameras as well.

Still, enterprises continue to clamor for new machine learning-enabled video recognition technologies for security, safety, and quality control. Indeed, as the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, new protocols around building use and occupancy are being adopted to not only adapt to the current epidemic, but plan ahead for spaces and protocols that can help mitigate the severity of the next one.

 


Source: Tech Crunch

Amazon announces a bunch of products aimed at industrial sector

One of the areas that is often left behind when it comes to cloud computing is the industrial sector. That’s because these facilities often have older equipment or proprietary systems that aren’t well suited to the cloud. Amazon wants to change that, and today the company announced a slew of new services at AWS re:Invent aimed at helping the industrial sector understand their equipment and environments better.

For starters, the company announced Amazon Monitron, which is designed to monitor equipment and send signals to the engineering team when the equipment could be breaking down. If industrial companies can know when their equipment is breaking, it allows them to repair on it their own terms, rather than waiting until after it breaks down and having the equipment down at what could be an inopportune time.

As AWS CEO Andy Jassy says, an experienced engineer will know when equipment is breaking down by a certain change in sound or a vibration, but if the machine could tell you even before it got that far, it would be a huge boost to these teams.

“…a lot of companies either don’t have sensors, they’re not modern powerful sensors, or they are not consistent and they don’t know how to take that data from the sensors and send it to the cloud, and they don’t know how to build machine learning models, and our manufacturing companies we work with are asking [us] just solve this [and] build an end-to-end solution. So I’m excited to announce today the launch of Amazon Monotron, which is an end-to-end solution for equipment monitoring,” Jassy said.

The company builds a machine learning model that understands what a normal state looks like, then uses that information to find anomalies and send back information to the team in a mobile app about equipment that needs maintenance now based on the data the model is seeing.

For those companies who may have a more modern system and don’t need the complete package that Monotron offers, Amazon has something for these customers as well. If you have modern sensors, but you don’t have a sophisticated machine learning model, Amazon can ingest this data and apply its machine learning algorithms to find anomalies just as it can with Monotron.

“So we have something for this group of customers as well to announce today, which is the launch of Amazon Lookout for Equipment, which does anomaly detection for industrial machinery,” he said.

In addition, the company announced the Panorama Appliance for companies using cameras at the edge who want to use more sophisticated computer vision, but might not have the most modern equipment to do that. “I’m excited to announce today the launch of the AWS Panorama Appliance which is a new hardware appliance [that allows] organizations to add computer vision to existing on premises smart cameras,” Jassy told AWS re:Invent today.

In addition, it also announced a Panorama SDK to help hardware vendors build smarter cameras based on Panorama.

All of these services are designed to give industrial companies access to sophisticated cloud and machine learning technology at whatever level they may require depending on where they are on the technology journey.


Source: Tech Crunch

AWS updates its edge computing solutions with new hardware and Local Zones

AWS today closed out its first re:Invent keynote with a focus on edge computing. The company launched two smaller appliances for its Outpost service, which originally brought AWS as a managed service and appliance right into its customers’ existing data centers in the form of a large rack. Now, the company is launching these smaller versions so that its users can also deploy them in their stores or office locations. These appliances are fully managed by AWS and offer 64 cores of compute, 128GB of memory and 4TB of local NVMe storage.

In addition, the company expanded its set of Local Zones, which are basically small extensions of existing AWS regions that are more expensive to use but offer low-latency access in metro areas. This service launched in Los Angeles in 2019 and starting today, it’s also available in preview in Boston, Houston and Miami. Soon, it’ll expand to Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland and Seattle. Google, it’s worth noting, is doing something similar with its Mobile Edge Cloud.

The general idea here — and that’s not dissimilar from what Google, Microsoft and others are now doing — is to bring AWS to the edge and to do so in a variety of form factors.

As AWS CEO Andy Jassy rightly noted, AWS always believed that the vast majority of companies, “in the fullness of time” (Jassy’s favorite phrase from this keynote), would move to the cloud. Because of this, AWS focused on cloud services over hybrid capabilities early on. He argues that AWS watched others try and fail in building their hybrid offerings, in large parts because what customers really wanted was to use the same control plane on all edge nodes and in the cloud. None of the existing solutions from other vendors, Jassy argues, got any traction (though AWSs competitors would surely deny this) because of this.

The first result of that was VMware Cloud on AWS, which allowed customers to use the same VMware software and tools on AWS they were already familiar with. But at the end of the day, that was really about moving on-premises services to the cloud.

With Outpost, AWS launched a fully managed edge solution that can run AWS infrastructure in its customers’ data centers. It’s been an interesting journey for AWS, but the fact that the company closed out its keynote with this focus on hybrid — no matter how it wants to define it — shows that it now understands that there is clearly a need for this kind of service. The AWS way is to extend AWS into the edge — and I think most of its competitors will agree with that. Microsoft tried this early on with Azure Stack and really didn’t get a lot of traction, as far as I’m aware, but it has since retooled its efforts around Azure Arc. Google, meanwhile, is betting big on Anthos.


Source: Tech Crunch

Gift Guide: Camping and backpacking gear that the outdoors lover in your life really wants

Welcome to TechCrunch’s 2020 Holiday Gift Guide! Need help with gift ideas? We’re here to help! We’ll be rolling out gift guides from now through the end of December. You can find our other guides right here.

Like plenty of others, I dug much deeper into the great outdoors and camping this summer amid social distancing restrictions. It’s pretty easy to stay COVID-safe when you’re several days’ wander into the wilderness. Whether it’s a fun day hike, a car camping excursion or a multi-day backcountry backpacking trip, there’s plenty of great camping and hiking gear that can make life easier for the outdoors person (without going overboard).

I bought a ton of camping gear online this year. I had the fortune of timing a 40-mile backpacking excursion through the Los Padres national forest with one of REI’s annual sales, a time when the majority of online camping retailers also tend to offer steep discounts on their stuff. Most of my gear was optimized for backpacking and I ended up replacing most of my decade-old gear with some lighter, better-quality stuff. Backpacking leaves room for fewer luxuries, but add a few car camping trips and you’ll see the fun in bringing in the nice-to-haves to your outdoors gear repertoire.

With camping gear, you can almost always find a good sale on any individual item during the year so stay patient and keep an eye out. Plenty of sites offer one-off discounts for first time buyers or have pretty reliably timed, wide-ranging seasonal sales so if you’re smart about your purchase you can get it at a discount.

One note to hammer home: when buying gear, one of the main things to consider is whether you anticipate getting bit by the backpacking bug. It’s not always easy to tell ahead of time, but if you do think you’ll end up using your gear on backpacking trips, you’ll want to account pretty heavily for the weight of any new gear. You can certainly upgrade later too, but it’s always good to future-proof when you can. If you’re just planning to hop into the car and hit up a nice drive-in campsite, you have a lot less to worry about in terms of size and weight restrictions which makes things much simpler.

These are all things I bought with my own money or am planning to buy at some point, so no sponsored suggestions here. That said, this article contains links to affiliate partners where available. When you buy through these links, TechCrunch may earn an affiliate commission.

Mpowerd Luci Solar String Lights

Image: MPOWERD

When it comes to camping, light can really expand your options for what you can do at night. I’ve been one to rely on campfire light during the evenings but with campfire bans hitting plenty of campsites in California this season, I upped my lighting game this year.

These string lights come in a nicely designed package and are perfect for adding some ambiance and solidly bright light to your campsite. They’re a bit of a luxury but they provide a good bit of light on multiple brightness settings. The company now also makes a version with colored lights if you want to get festive.

They lights do suck up a decent amount of power so they may only last you a night or two on a single charge depending on your usage, but the handy built-in solar charger can help there. Truthfully I’ve always had mixed success with relying on solar charging, so I might save this one for the car-camping trips where you have easy access to somewhere to charge the light with its integrated USB cable.

Price: $28 from Amazon

Sea to Summit dry sacks

Image: Sea to Summit

Though mobile gear is increasingly gaining waterproof IP ratings, especially when it comes to higher-end camera gear, not everything is friendly with moisture. One purchase I made this year that felt like a no-brainer was a set of small dry-bags. They are certainly a more expensive option than the humble zip-locks which I’ve been using for years, but while a wet roll of toilet paper or map can be a bummer, a wet mirrorless camera is a disaster.

Dry bags keep the wetness out. They’re also just a nice and functional organizational tool to keep all of your tech gear together and protected from the elements. Earlier this summer I bought this small 3-pack which is sized perfectly for the tech gear I tend to bring along. Later I bought a much larger 35L sack to house gear like my sleeping bag and clothes that I really need to keep dry while hiking through river beds or while it’s raining.

I opted for a set of Sea to Summit bags which seem to be the gold standard, but if you search for dry bags on the web, you’ll come across plenty of sets with some good ratings. Just be sure to peruse the reviews to get a sense of their durability which is the only thing that matters.

Price: $43 from REI

Garmin inReach Explorer+

Image: Garmin

I have two big items on my next wish list for backpacking gear upgrades to make before next season. One is a bear can to stuff my food and toiletries into when backpacking through Tahoe’s Desolation Wilderness as I soon hope to. The other is the inReach Explorer+. I’ve relied on friends with handheld GPS units in the past but Garmin’s option, which seems to be quite popular, bundles a GPS unit with a phone that operates on a satellite network.

You need a plan for the device to use the satellite network, which you can activate on a monthly basis whenever you need it. That network is good for a couple things: sending off text messages with GPS points to friends and relatives so they can see your progress and know you’re safe, while also being able to reach the outside world if you find yourself in an emergency and might need to be rescued. While these evacuations are assuredly going to be a pricey affair, it’s never worth gambling with your life or opting for a backup plan that you might not make it back from.

Garmin also sells a mini version of the inReach that eschews GPS navigation and a decent screen size for a much smaller footprint, more of a “don’t use it unless you absolutely need to” version. I will also quickly note that satellite phones are actually illegal to have on you in some countries so be sure to check out whether that’s the case before you pack one in your bag.

Price: $450 from Garmin

Helinox Chair Zero

Image: Helinox

These chairs are probably some of the best things I’ve ever purchased. Oddly, I actually haven’t used them that much while backpacking, which seems to be the intent of the product given how light they are at just over 1 pound, but they’ve been amazing for tossing in a tote bag for a day at the park.

I’ve gotten so much use of them partially because I live in a city and don’t own a car. If I had a car, I might just opt for a larger and cheaper folding chair that I could keep in the trunk. That said, what’s great about these is that they are light enough to bring backpacking — though they are definitely still a luxury item to bring along. My one complaint is that these chairs don’t play so nicely with the sand or mud so you want to find a fairly hard surface to set them up on if you want to feel fully secure placing your full weight on these tiny chairs.

I got these for about half-off when I bought them, but there are definitely cheaper options than those from Helinox if you can’t find a deal and don’t mind an extra pound of weight or so. I have friends who are particularly big fans of the REI versions.

Side note: this year I also found a deal on a lightweight Helinox hard-top table which has been great for playing board games on or setting up a cook station.

Price: $150 from Amazon

A giant duffel bag

Image: REI

One of the big issues with amassing a collection of camping gear is storing it all during those non-camping months. The best solution for this is a big ‘ole duffel bag. They’re great to store your gear in, and it’s so easy to just toss a duffel in your car when you’re ready to go camping and not have to deal with a dozen little trips to the car and back.

I ended up buying a 90-liter REI bag during a sale, but I’ve seen great things on the bags from North Face and Patagonia as well. This size fits a ton and has the added advantage of being just about the maximum size for a standard checked bag on a flight, anything larger will require an oversized baggage fee. These bags all go on sale in pretty often so I wouldn’t rush into buying especially if you don’t need one ASAP.

Price: Varies; the one above is $140 right now from REI

Travel chess set

Image: Kidami

Cards are great, but sometimes you want to spice up your options for games. For those of you who have just binged through Queen’s Gambit, I’ll recommend searching for a good travel chess board.

I ended up going for this very random travel chess set on Amazon because the magnetic board made me feel confident I wouldn’t lose all of the pieces immediately. It’s not the most high quality-feeling but the price was right and it strikes a good balance. There are definitely plenty of options that are more robust or more lightweight.

Price: $18 from Amazon

Nalgene Mini Bottles

Image: REI

One thing every camper should have in their gear collection is a bunch of different sized mini Nalgene bottles. These things are great and can hold your soap, shampoo, oil, sauces, booze and other liquids securely and (as long as you’re religious about tightening the screw-top bottles) can ensure that you won’t have any accidental spills.

I use these aggressively for meal planning and measure out the various quantities of a liquid or sauce I’ll need for a given meal and toss them inside a bigger plastic bag with all of the ingredients. As such, I have a few sizes ranging from an ounce to 4 ounces. That’s not a use case everyone needs when you’re car-camping and don’t have the luxury of measuring everything ahead of time, but they’re also awesome for toiletry kits and I use the 2 ounce bottle for shampoo and soap when I’m flying and want to bring my own stuff.

One complaint is that these will hold onto the smell of some more pungent liquids even after you wash them so keep that in mind and maybe be careful to separate the ones you’re storing your toiletries in from the ones holding sauces.

Price: $2 from REI


Source: Tech Crunch