Mar
12
2018
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Twilio launches Flex, a fully programmable contact center

Earlier this year we reported that Twilio was going to launch a full contact center solution called Flex on March 12 — lo and behold, today is March 12 and Twilio today announced the launch of Flex at the Enterprise Connect conference in Orlando. Flex brings together virtually every part of the existing Twilio infrastructure and platform for developers that already power nearly 40 billion interactions a year and bundles it with a rather slick user interface for companies that want to set up an out-of-the-box contact center or update their existing deployments.

Twilio’s expertise has long been in providing backend communications services and its design expertise is mostly in building APIs, not user interfaces. With this move, though, the company is giving enterprises (and this product is meant for the kind of companies that have hundreds or thousands of people in a contact center) a full stack contact center with a full graphical user interface.

As the company’s head of its contact center business Al Cook told me, though, the main design philosophy behind Flex is to give users maximum flexibility. He argues that business today have to choose between going with products that they can’t customize themselves, so that they have to rely on expensive outside vendors that will do the customization for them (which also tends to take a lot of time), or a SaaS contact center that can be quickly deployed but is hard to scale and lacks customization options. “Think of Flex as an application platform,” Cook told me. It takes its cues from Twilio’s experience in working with developers and gives enterprises an easy API interface for customizing the service to their liking, but also provides all of the necessary tools out of the box.

“The reason why APIs were very transformative to the industry is because you are unconstrained in what you can do,” Cook explained. “Once you put a user interface on that, you constrain users.” So for Flex, the team had to ask itself some new questions. “How do you build user interfaces in a fundamentally different way that gives people the best features they want without constraining them?”

Out of the box, Flex supports all of the standard messaging channels that contact centers are now expected to support. These include Voice, video, text, picture messaging, Facebook Messenger, Twitter, LINE and WeChat. The service also supports screen sharing and co-browsing. Twilio is also integrating its own intelligent TaskRouter service into Flex to automatically route questions to the right agent. A single Flex deployment can support up to 50,000 agents.

Cook argues that getting started with Flex is a one-click affair, though once it’s up and running, most users will surely need to customize the service a bit for their own needs and embed chat widgets and other functions on their websites and into their apps (think click-to-call, for example). Some of the more in-depth customization can be done in Twilio Studio, the company’s drag and drop application builder, too.

Most large enterprises already have contact centers, though, so it’s maybe no surprise that some of the thinking behind making Flex as… well… flexible as possible is about giving those users the ability to mix and match features from Flex with their existing tools to allow for a slow and steady migration.

As we reported last month, Flex will also integrate with all the standard CRM tools like Salesforce and Zendesk, as well as workforce management and optimization tools that are currently in use in most contact centers.

Before launching the product today, Twilio already worked with ING, Zillow, National Debt Relief and RealPage to test Flex. In addition, it lined up a number of tech and consulting partners to support new users.

Mar
12
2018
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Dropbox sets IPO range $16-18, valuing it below $10B, as Salesforce ponies up $100M

After announcing an IPO in February, today Dropbox updated its S-1 filing with pricing. The cloud services and storage company said that it expects to price its IPO at between $16 and $18 per share when it sells 36,000,000 shares to raise $648 million as “DBX” on the Nasdaq exchange.

In addition to that, Dropbox announced that it will be selling $100 million in stock to Salesforce — its new integration partner — right after the IPO, “at a price per share equal to the initial offering price.”

A specific date has not yet been set for Dropbox’s listing later this month.

The IPO pricing values the company at between $7 billion and nearly $8 billion when you factor in restricted stock units — making it the biggest tech IPO since Snap last year, but still falling well below the $10 billion valuation that Dropbox crept up to back in 2014 when it raised $350 million in venture funding.

Many will be watching Dropbox’s IPO to see if it stands up longer term and becomes a bellwether for the fortunes and fates of many other outsized “startups” that many have also expecting to list, including those that have already filed to go public like Spotify, as well as those that have yet to make any official pronouncements, like Airbnb.

Some might argue that it’s illogical to compare a company whose business model is built around cloud storage with a travel and accommodation business, or a music streaming platform. Perhaps especially now: at a time when people are still wincing from Snap’s drastic drop — the company is trading more than 30 percent down from its IPO debut — Dropbox presents a challenging picture.

On the plus side, the company has helped bring the concept of cloud storage services to the masses. Riding on the wave of mobile devices, lightweight apps, and faster internet connections, it has changed the conversation about how many conceive of handling their data and offloading it off of their devices. Today, Dropbox has more than 500 million users in more than 180 countries.

On the minus side, only around 11 million of those customers are paying users. The company reported around $1.1 billion in revenues in 2017, representing a rise on $845 million in 2016 and $604 million in 2015. But it’s unprofitable, reporting a loss of $112 million in 2017.

Again, that’s a large improvement when you compare Dropbox’s 2016 loss of $210 million in 2016 and $326 million in 2015. But it does raise more pressing questions: Does Dropbox have a big plan for how to convert more people into paying users? And will its investors have the patience to watch its business models play out?

In that regard, the Salesforce investment and integration, and its timing of being announced alongside the sober IPO range, is a notable vote of confidence in Dropbox. Salesforce has staked its whole business model around cloud services — its ticker may be “CRM,” but its logo is its name inside a cloud — and it’s passed into the pantheon of tech giants with flying colors.

Having Salesforce buy into Dropbox not only shows how it’s bolstering its new partner Dropbox in the next phase, but I’d argue also gives Dropbox one potential exit strategy. Salesforce, after all, has been interested in playing more directly in this space for years at this point.

Jan
29
2018
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SuperPhone is building a Salesforce for texting

 The address book is the last, worst default app you rely on. It’s time it got as smart as the rest of our phones. That’s the idea behind SuperPhone. Email isn’t how you build relationships anymore. Yet most business software sanctifies the spammy inbox when it’s the immediacy of text messaging that keeps people in touch today. Musician Ryan Leslie learned that when… Read More

Jan
17
2018
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Google and Salesforce unveil first elements of partnership

 Last fall at Dreamforce, Google and Salesforce announced a partnership. Today, the two companies unveiled the first pieces of that agreement. For starters, Google Analytics 360 users can now import data from the Salesforce CRM tool such as leads and opportunities, among other pieces. This could allow marketers to have a more complete view of the customer journey from first contact to sale… Read More

Nov
06
2017
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Salesforce to offer more customized AI with myEinstein

 It’s been just over a year since Salesforce introduced Einstein, a set of artificial intelligence technologies that are designed to underlie and enhance the Salesforce product set. Today, at Dreamforce, the company’s enormous customer conference taking place this week in San Francisco, it announced myEinstein, a package of tools it created to help developers and Salesforce… Read More

Oct
06
2017
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Spiro raises $3M to build CRM tools for businesses that don’t like CRM

Spiro Laptop and iPhone Spiro aims to sell CRM software to businesses that have been avoiding traditional CRM products. CEO Adam Honig told me that he and his co-founders originally set out to build artificial intelligence products that could assist with CRM. But then they started hearing from companies that weren’t using any CRM at all. So the team ended up broadening its approach. Read More

Oct
04
2017
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Apple ‘acqui-hired’ the team from messaging assistant Init.ai to work on Siri

 Earlier this week, a small startup called Init.ai announced that it soon would be discontinuing its service — a smart assistant for customer representatives to parse and get better insights from their interactions with users, as well as automate some of the interactions — because the team was (according to a notice on the site) “joining a project that touches the lives of… Read More

Sep
26
2017
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ProsperWorks raises $53M for its G Suite-centric CRM service

 ProsperWorks, a service that offers a set of Google-centric CRM tools, today announced that it has raised a $53 million Series C round led by Norwest Venture Partners, with participation from GV (the fund you probably still remember as Google Ventures). This new round brings the company’s total funding to $87 million, which, in ProsperWorks’ own words, makes t the “#1 funded… Read More

Sep
19
2017
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Agent AI aims to turbocharge its AI tools by offering free CRM

 Agent AI is looking to automate more of the customer service process. To do that, it’s built its own customer relationship management product, as well as AI tools that sit on top — and now it’s making the CRM part available for free. While giant software businesses have been built around CRM, CEO Fred Hsu said the market has changed, with the software becoming less… Read More

Sep
19
2017
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Salesforce Einstein celebrates its first birthday with several new features

 Salesforce launched Einstein, its artificial intelligence platform just one year ago this week. As it celebrates its first birthday, it’s worth taking a look back at the first year and looking at a couple of enhancements they’re adding as a birthday surprise. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that Einstein isn’t actually a product at all, even though Salesforce markets… Read More

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