May
08
2018
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Intel Capital pumps $72M into AI, IoT, cloud and silicon startups, $115M invested so far in 2018

Intel Capital, the investment arm of the computer processor giant, is today announcing $72 million in funding for the 12 newest startups to enter its portfolio, bringing the total invested so far this year to $115 million. Announced at the company’s global summit currently underway in southern California, investments in this latest tranche cover artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, cloud services, and silicon. A detailed list is below.

Other notable news from the event included a new deal between the NBA and Intel Capital to work on more collaborations in delivering sports content, an area where Intel has already been working for years; and the news that Intel has now invested $125 million in startups headed by minorities, women and other under-represented groups as part of its Diversity Initiative. The mark was reached 2.5 years ahead of schedule, it said.

The range of categories of the startups that Intel is investing in is a mark of how the company continues to back ideas that it views as central to its future business — and specifically where it hopes its processors will play a central role, such as AI, IoT and cloud. Investing in silicon startups, meanwhile, is a sign of how Intel is also focusing on businesses that are working in an area that’s close to the company’s own DNA.

It’s hasn’t been a completely smooth road. Intel became a huge presence in the world of IT and early rise of desktop and laptop computers many years ago with its advances in PC processors, but its fortunes changed with the shift to mobile, which saw the emergence of a new wave of chip companies and designs for smaller and faster devices. Mobile is area that Intel itself acknowledged it largely missed out.

Later years have seen still other issues hit the company. For example, the Spectre security flaw (fixes for which are still being rolled out). And some of the business lines where Intel was hoping to make a mark have not panned out as it hoped they would. Just last month, Intel shut down development of its Vaunt smart glasses and reportedly the entirety of its new devices group.

The investments that Intel Capital makes, in contrast, are a fresher and more optimistic aspect of the company’s operations: they represent hopes and possibilities that still have everything to play for. And given that, on balance, things like AI and cloud services still have a long way to go before being truly ubiquitous, there remains a lot of opportunity for Intel.

“These innovative companies reflect Intel’s strategic focus as a data leader,” said Wendell Brooks, Intel senior vice president and president of Intel Capital, in a statement. “They’re helping shape the future of artificial intelligence, the future of the cloud and the Internet of Things, and the future of silicon. These are critical areas of technology as the world becomes increasingly connected and smart.”

Intel Capital since 1991 has put $12.3 billion into 1,530 companies covering everything from autonomous driving to virtual reality and e-commerce and says that more than 660 of these startups have gone public or been acquired. Intel has organised its investment announcements thematically before: last October, it announced $60 million in 15 big data startups.

Here’s a rundown of the investments getting announced today. Unless otherwise noted, the startups are based around Silicon Valley:

Avaamo is a deep learning startup that builds conversational interfaces based on neural networks to address problems in enterprises — part of the wave of startups that are focusing on non-consumer conversational AI solutions.

Fictiv has built a “virtual manufacturing platform” to design, develop and deliver physical products, linking companies that want to build products with manufacturers who can help them. This is a problem that has foxed many a startup (notable failures have included Factorli out of Las Vegas), and it will be interesting to see if newer advances will make the challenges here surmoutable.

Gamalon from Cambridge, MA, says it has built a machine learning platform to “teaches computers actual ideas.” Its so-called Idea Learning technology is able to order free-form data like chat transcripts and surveys into something that a computer can read, making the data more actionable. More from Ron here.

Reconova out of Xiamen, China is focusing on problems in visual perception in areas like retail, smart home and intelligent security.

Syntiant is an Irvine, CA-based AI semiconductor company that is working on ways of placing neural decision making on chips themselves to speed up processing and reduce battery consumption — a key challenge as computing devices move more information to the cloud and keep getting smaller. Target devices include mobile phones, wearable devices, smart sensors and drones.

Alauda out of China is a container-based cloud services provider focusing on enterprise platform-as-a-service solutions. “Alauda serves organizations undergoing digital transformation across a number of industries, including financial services, manufacturing, aviation, energy and automotive,” Intel said.

CloudGenix is a software-defined wide-area network startup, addressing an important area as more businesses take their networks and data into the cloud and look for cost savings. Intel says its customers use its broadband solutions to run unified communications and data center applications to remote offices, cutting costs by 70 percent and seeing big speed and reliability improvements.

Espressif Systems, also based in China, is a fabless semiconductor company, with its system-on-a-chip focused on IoT solutions.

VenueNext is a “smart venue” platform to deliver various services to visitors’ smartphones, providing analytics and more to the facility providing the services. Hospitals, sports stadiums and others are among its customers.

Lyncean Technologies is nearly 18 years old (founded in 2001) and has been working on something called Compact Light Source (CLS), which Intel describes as a miniature synchrotron X-ray source, which can be used for either extremely detailed large X-rays or very microscopic ones. This has both medical and security applications, making it a very timely business.

Movellus “develops semiconductor technologies that enable digital tools to automatically create and implement functionality previously achievable only with custom analog design.” Its main focus is creating more efficient approaches to designing analog circuits for systems on chips, needed for AI and other applications.

SiFive makes “market-ready processor core IP based on the RISC-V instruction set architecture,” founded by the inventors of RISC-V and led by a team of industry veterans.

May
01
2018
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Cisco is acquiring business intelligence startup Accompany for $270M

Cisco just announced an agreement to acquire Accompany, which uses artificial intelligence to build databases of people and relationships at companies.

Founder and CEO Amy Chang has compared the product to a digital chief of staff or personal assistant, giving executives the context they need before conversations and meetings. Cisco plans to incorporate Accompany technology into its collaboration products, for example by introducing company and individual profiles into Webex meetings.

Cisco says it will pay $270 million in cash and stock in the deal.

The company probably didn’t have to search too hard to find Accompany, since Chang (who previously served as the head of product for Google’s ad measurement and reporting) has been on Cisco’s board of directors since October 2016. As part of the transaction, she’s resigning from the board, effective immediately.

In addition, Chang will be taking over the company’s Collaboration Technology Group. Rowan Trollope, who currently leads the collaboration group, is departing to become CEO at cloud software company Five9.

“Amy has proven to be an effective and innovative leader through her years as an entrepreneur, an engineer, and CEO, and I couldn’t be more pleased to have her and the Accompany team join Cisco,” said Cisco chairman and CEO Chuck Robbins in the announcement. “Together, we have a tremendous opportunity to further enhance AI and machine learning capabilities in our collaboration portfolio and continue to create amazing collaboration experiences for customers.”

According to Crunchbase, Accompany has raised around $40 million in funding from investors including CRV, Cowboy Ventures, Iconiq Capital and Ignition Partners.

Cisco also announced today that it’s selling off some of its NDS video assets.

Apr
30
2018
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Suki raises $20M to create a voice assistant for doctors

When trying to figure out what to do after an extensive career at Google, Motorola, and Flipkart, Punit Soni decided to spend a lot of time sitting in doctors’ offices to figure out what to do next.

It was there that Soni said he figured out one of the most annoying pain points for doctors in any office: writing down notes and documentation. That’s why he decided to start Suki — previously Robin AI — to create a way for doctors to simply start talking aloud to take notes when working with patients, rather than having to put everything into a medical record system, or even writing those notes down by hand. That seemed like the lowest hanging fruit, offering an opportunity to make it easier for doctors that see dozens of patients to make their lives significantly easier, he said.

“We decided we had found a powerful constituency who were burning out because of just documentation,” Soni said. “They have underlying EMR systems that are much older in design. The solution aligns with the commoditization of voice and machine learning. If you put it all together, if we can build a system for doctors and allow doctors to use it in a relatively easy way, they’ll use it to document all the interactions they do with patients. If you have access to all data right from a horse’s mouth, you can use that to solve all the other problems on the health stack.”

The company said it has raised a $15 million funding round led by Venrock, with First Round, Social+Capital, Nat Turner of Flatiron Health, Marc Benioff, and other individual Googlers and angels. Venrock also previously led a $5 million seed financing round, bringing the company’s total funding to around $20 million. It’s also changing its name from Robin AI to Suki, though the reason is actually a pretty simple one: “Suki” is a better wake word for a voice assistant than “Robin” because odds are there’s someone named Robin in the office.

The challenge for a company like Suki is not actually the voice recognition part. Indeed, that’s why Soni said they are actually starting a company like this today: voice recognition is commoditized. Trying to start a company like Suki four years ago would have meant having to build that kind of technology from scratch, but thanks to incredible advances in machine learning over just the past few years, startups can quickly move on to the core business problems they hope to solve rather than focusing on early technical challenges.

Instead, Suki’s problem is one of understanding language. It has to ingest everything that a doctor is saying, parse it, and figure out what goes where in a patient’s documentation. That problem is even more complex because each doctor has a different way of documenting their work with a patient, meaning it has to take extra care in building a system that can scale to any number of doctors. As with any company, the more data it collects over time, the better those results get — and the more defensible the business becomes, because it can be the best product.

“Whether you bring up the iOS app or want to bring it in a website, doctors have it in the exam room,” Soni said. “You can say, ‘Suki, make sure you document this, prescribe this drug, and make sure this person comes back to me for a follow-up visit.’ It takes all that, it captures it into a clinically comprehensive note and then pushes it to the underlying electronic medical record. [Those EMRs] are the system of record, it is not our job to day-one replace these guys. Our job is to make sure doctors and the burnout they are having is relieved.”

Given that voice recognition is commoditized, there will likely be others looking to build a scribe for doctors as well. There are startups like Saykara looking to do something similar, and in these situations it often seems like the companies that are able to capture the most data first are able to become the market leaders. And there’s also a chance that a larger company — like Amazon, which has made its interest in healthcare already known — may step in with its comprehensive understanding of language and find its way into the doctors’ office. Over time, Soni hopes that as it gets more and more data, Suki can become more intelligent and more than just a simple transcription service.

“You can see this arc where you’re going from an Alexa, to a smarter form of a digital assistant, to a device that’s a little bit like a chief resident of a doctor,” Soni said. “You’ll be able to say things like, ‘Suki, pay attention,’ and all it needs to do is listen to your conversation with the patient. I’m, not building a medical transcription company. I’m basically trying to build a digital assistant for doctors.”

Apr
28
2018
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Emissary wants to make sales networking obsolete

There is nothing meritocratic about sales. A startup may have the best product, the best vision, and the most compelling presentation, only to discover that their sales team is talking to the wrong decision-maker or not making the right kind of small talk. Unfortunately, that critical information — that network intelligence — isn’t written down in a book somewhere or on an online forum, but generally is uncovered by extensive networking and gossip.

For David Hammer and his team at Emissary, that is a problem to solve. “I am not sure I want a world where the best networkers win,” he explained to me.

Emissary is a hybrid SaaS marketplace which connects sales teams on one side with people (called emissaries, naturally) who can guide them through the sales process at companies they are familiar with. The best emissaries are generally ex-executives and employees who have recently left the target company, and therefore understand the decision-making processes and the politics of the organization. “Our first mission is pretty simple: there should be an Emissary on every deal out there,” Hammer said.

Expert networks, such as GLG, have been around for years, but have traditionally focused on investors willing to shell out huge dollars to understand a company’s strategic thinking. Emissary’s goal is to be much more democratized, targeting a broader range of both decision-makers and customers. It’s product is designed to be intelligent, encouraging customers to ask for help before a sales process falters. The startup has raised $14 million to date according to Crunchbase, with Canaan leading the last series A round.

While Emissary is certainly a creative startup, its the questions spanning knowledge arbitrage, labor markets, and ethics it poses that I think are most interesting.

Sociologists of science generally distinguish between two forms of knowledge, concepts descended from the work of famed scholar Michael Polanyi. The first is explicit knowledge — the stuff you find in books and on TechCrunch. These are facts and figures — a funding round was this size, or the CEO of a company is this individual. The other form is tacit knowledge. The quintessential example is riding a bike — one has to learn by doing it, and no number of physics or mechanics textbooks are going to help a rider avoid falling down.

While org charts may be explicit knowledge, tacit knowledge is the core of all organizations. It’s the politics, the people, the interests, the culture. There is no handbook on these topics, but anyone who has worked in an organization long enough knows exactly the process for getting something done.

That knowledge is critical and rare, and thus ripe for monetization. That was the original inspiration for Hammer when he set out to build a new startup.“Why does Google ever make a bad decision?” Hammer asked at the time. Here you have the company with the most data in the world and the tools to search through it. “How do they not have the information they need?” The answer is that it has all the explicit knowledge in the world, but none of the implicit knowledge required.

That thinking eventually led into sales, where the information asymmetry between a customer and a salesperson was obvious. “The more I talked to sales people, the more I realized that they needed to understand how their account thinks,” Hammer said. Sales automation tools are great, but what message should someone be sending, and to who? That’s a much harder problem to solve, but ultimately the one that will lead to a signed deal. Hammer eventually realized that there were individuals who could arbitrage their valuable knowledge for a price.

That monetization creates a new labor market for these sorts of consultants. For employees at large companies, they can now leave, take a year off or even retire, and potentially get paid to talk about what they know about an organization. Hammer said that “people are fundamentally looking for ways to be helpful,” and while the pay is certainly a major highlight, a lot of people see an opportunity to just get engaged. Clearly that proposition is attractive, since the platform has more than 10,000 emissaries today.

What makes this market more fascinating long-term though is whether this can transition from a part-time, between-jobs gig into something more long-term and professional. Could people specialize in something like “how does Oracle purchase things,” much as how there is an infrastructure of people who support companies working through the government procurement system?

Hammer demurred a bit on this point, noting that “so much of that is being on the other side of those walls.” It’s not any easier for a potential consultant to learn the decision-making outside of a company than it is for a salesperson. Furthermore, the knowledge of an internal company’s processes degrades, albeit at different rates depending on the organization. Some companies experience rapid change and turnover, while knowledge of other companies may last a decade or more.

All that said, Hammer believes that there will come a tipping point when companies start to recommend emissaries to help salespeople through their own processes. Some companies who are self-aware and acknowledge their convoluted procurement procedures may eventually want salespeople to be advised by people who can smooth the process for all sides.

Obviously, with money and knowledge trading hands, there are significant concerns about ethics. “Ethics have to be at the center of what we do,” Hammer said. “They are not sharing deep confidential information, they’re sharing knowledge about the culture of the organization.” Emissary has put in place procedures to monitor ethics compliance. “Emissaries can not work with competitors at the same time,” he said. Furthermore, emissaries obviously have to have left their companies, so they can’t influence the buying decision itself.

Networking has been the millstone of every salesperson. It’s time consuming, and there is little data on what calls or coffees might improve a sale or not. If you take Emissary’s vision to its asymptote though, all that could potentially be replaced. Under the guidance of people in the know, the fits and starts of sales could be transformed into a smooth process with the right talking points at just the right time. Maybe the best products could win after all.

Apr
25
2018
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Rocketrip raises $15 million to reward cost-saving employees

If your company lets you expense the nicest hotel when you travel, why wouldn’t you?

But what if you got to split the savings with your employer by selecting a less expensive hotel?

A New York-based startup called Rocketrip believes most employees will opt to save companies money if they are incentivized to do so. It’s built an enterprise platform that rewards employees with gift cards if they go under budget on travel and transportation.

After five years of signing up business clients like Twitter and Pandora, Rocketrip is raising $15 million in Series C funding led by GV (Google Ventures) to keep expanding. Existing investors Bessemer Venture Partners and Canaan Partners are also in the round.

Inspired by Google’s internal travel system, Rocketrip CEO Dan Ruch calls his solution a “behavioral change platform.” Employees “always optimize for self-preservation, self-interest,” and are likely to book a cheaper flight if it means a gift card at a place like Amazon, Bloomingdale’s or Home Depot, Ruch claims. He said that the average business trip booked by Rocketrip saves companies $208.

Ruch believes that Rocketrip has built a currency that motivates teams. He says some employees even gift Rocketrip points to congratulate colleagues on birthdays and promotions.

When it comes to enterprise platforms, Rocketrip is “one of those unique situations where everyone is really excited to use it,” said Canaan Partners’ Michael Gilroy, who holds a board seat.

Yet Rocketrip is not the only startup looking to help employees make money by cutting on costs. TripActions and TravelBank have also created similar businesses. 

Gilroy insists that “Rocketrip was first” and that he views the others a “validation of the model.”

Rocketrip hopes to someday expand beyond travel to incentivize healthcare choices, like quitting smoking. It also thinks companies will use Rocketrip points to reward employees for community service. “Any time we can motivate an employee,” there’s an opportunity for Rocketrip, Ruch believes.

Apr
25
2018
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Drew Houston to upload his thoughts at TC Disrupt SF in September

Dropbox is a critically important tool for more than 500 million people, which is why we’re so excited to have founder and CEO Drew Houston on the Disrupt stage in September.

Dropbox launched back in 2007 and Houston has spent the last decade growing Dropbox to the behemoth it is today.

During that time, Houston has made some tough decisions.

A few years ago, Houston decided to move the Dropbox infrastructure off of AWS. In 2014, Houston chose to raise $500 million in debt financing to keep up pace with Box, which was considering an IPO at the time. And in March 2017, Dropbox took another $600 million in debt financing from JP Morgan.

Houston also reportedly turned down a nine-figure acquisition offer from Apple.

All the while, Houston led Dropbox to be cash-flow positive and grew the company to see a $1 billion revenue run rate as of last year.

And, of course, we can’t forget the decision to go public earlier this year.

Interestingly, Houston first told his story to a TechCrunch audience at TC50 in 2008 as part of the Startup Battlefield. In fact, you can check out the original pitch from TC50 right here.

At Disrupt SF in September, we’re excited to sit down with Houston to discuss his journey thus far, the decision to go public and the future of Dropbox.

The show runs from September 5 to September 7, and for the next week, our super early-bird tickets are still available.

Apr
24
2018
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Etleap scores $1.5 million seed to transform how we ingest data

Etleap is a play on words for a common set of data practices: extract, transform and load. The startup is trying to place these activities in a modern context, automating what they can and in general speeding up what has been a tedious and highly technical practice. Today, they announced a $1.5 million seed round.

Investors include First Round Capital, SV Angel, Liquid2, BoxGroup and other unnamed investors. The startup launched five years ago as a Y Combinator company. It spent a good 2.5 years building out the product, says CEO and founder Christian Romming. They haven’t required additional funding until now because they have been working with actual customers. Those include Okta, PagerDuty and Mode, among others.

Romming started out at adtech startup VigLink and while there he encountered a problem that was hard to solve. “Our analysts and scientists were frustrated. Integration of the data sources wasn’t always a priority and when something broke, they couldn’t get it fixed until a developer looked at it.” That lack of control slowed things down and made it hard to keep the data warehouse up-to-date.

He saw an opportunity in solving that problem and started Etleap . While there were (and continue to be) legacy solutions like Informatica, Talend and Microsoft SQL Server Integration Services, he said when he studied these at a deeply technical level, he found they required a great deal of help to implement. He wanted to simplify ETL as much as possible, putting data integration into the hands of much less technical end users, rather than relying on IT and consultants.

One of the problems with traditional ETL is that the data analysts who make use of the data tend to get involved very late after the tools have already been chosen, and Romming says his company wants to change that. “They get to consume whatever IT has created for them. You end up with a bread line where analysts are at the mercy of IT to get their jobs done. That’s one of the things we are trying to solve. We don’t think there should be any engineering at all to set up an ETL pipeline,” he said.

Etleap is delivered as managed SaaS or you can run it within your company’s AWS accounts. Regardless of the method, it handles all of the managing, monitoring and operations for the customer.

Romming emphasizes that the product is really built for cloud data warehouses. For now, they are concentrating on the AWS ecosystem, but have plans to expand beyond that down the road. “We want to help more enterprise companies make better use of their data, while modernizing data warehousing infrastructure and making use of cloud data warehouses,” he explained.

The company currently has 15 employees, but Romming plans to at least double that in the next 12-18 months, mostly increasing the engineering team to help further build out the product and create more connectors.

Apr
24
2018
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Catalyst brothers find capital success with $2.4M from True

Over the past few years, the old language of “customer support” has been supplanted by the new language of “customer success.” In the old model, companies would essentially disappear following the conclusion of a sale, merely handling customer problems when they arose. Now, companies are actively reaching out to customers, engaging them with education and training and monitoring them with analytics to ensure they have the best time with the product as possible.

What’s changing is the nature of product and services today: subscription. Customers no longer just make a single buying decision about a product, but instead must actively commit to using the product, or else they churn.

New York-based Catalyst, founded by brothers Edward and Kevin Chiu, wants to rebuild customer success from the ground up with an integrated software platform. They have received some capital success of their own, securing $2.4 million in venture capital from Phil Black of True Ventures with participation from Ludlow Ventures and Compound.

New York has had something of an increase in founder mafias, as TechCrunch reported this weekend. Catalyst is no exception to this trend, with the Chiu brothers both working at DigitalOcean, one of New York’s many high-flying enterprise startups. Edward Chiu was director of customer success at the company for a number of years, but had a unique background in sales and also in coding before starting.

Kevin Chiu was head of inside sales at DigitalOcean . “I brought my brother on to do sales at DigitalOcean,” Edward Chiu explains. “We always knew that we wanted to start a company together, but wanted to see if we would kill each other.” The two worked together, and lo and behold, they didn’t kill each other.

Edward Chiu wanted to match the product experience of using DigitalOcean with the experience of using its internal customer success tools. Nothing on the market fit. “Given that DigitalOcean was a very technical product,” Chiu explained, “we decided to build our own tool.” Chiu thought of customer success at DigitalOcean as its own product, and his team built up the platform to improve its functionality and scalability. “We just used the tool and we loved it,” he said, so we “started to show this tool to a bunch of other customer success leaders I am connected with.”

Other customer success leaders said they wanted the platform, and “after the 20th person told me that,” he and his brother spun out of DigitalOcean to go on their own. Unlike enterprise startups in New York a couple of years ago that often struggled to find any investors, Catalyst found cash quickly. “Two weeks in we had more offers than we knew what to do with,” Chiu explained. The two said they had originally targeted a fundraise of $750,000, but ended up at $2.4 million.

Catalyst is a platform that integrates between a number of other major SaaS services such as Salesforce, Zendesk, Mixpanel and others to create a unified dashboard for data around customer success. From there, customer success managers have a set of automated tools to handle engagement, such as customer segmentation and email campaigns.

A major challenge in the customer success world is that these managers often don’t have the skills required to do advanced data analytics, so they often rely on their friends in engineering to run scripts or perform database lookups. The hope is that Catalyst’s feature set is powerful enough that these sorts of ad hoc tasks become a thing of the past. “Because we aggregate all this data, you can run queries,” Chiu explains.

Chiu says that Catalyst doesn’t just want to be a software platform, but rather a movement that pushes every company to think about how they can make their customers successful. “There are so many companies that are starting to understand that it is not something that you do once you raise a Series A, but something you do from day one,” Chiu said. “If you take care of your very first customer, they will constantly promote you and constantly promote your business.”

The company is based in Flatiron, and has eight employees.

Apr
22
2018
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Slite raises $4.4M to create a smarter internal notes tool

Slack exposed the demand for a dead-simple internal communications tool, which has inspired a wave of startups trying to pick apart the rest of a company’s daily activities — including Slite, which hopes to take on internal notes with a fresh round of new capital.

Slite is more or less an attempt at a replacement for a Google Doc or something in Dropbox Paper that is sprawling and getting a little out of control. An employee might create a Slite note like an onboarding manual or an internal contact list, and the hope is to replace the outdated internal wiki and offer employees a hub where they can either go and start stringing together important information, or find it right away. The company today said it has raised $4.4 million in a new seed funding round led by Index Ventures after coming out of Y Combinator’s 2018 winter class. Ari Helgason is joining Slite’s board of directors as part of the deal.

“We now have to develop this product enough to show we can actually replace large amounts of things,” co-founder Christophe Pasquier said. “Today we have more than 300 active teams, and we have to show that we can make it scale. In the short term is just we’re replacing Google Docs because these tools ahven’t evolved and we’re bringing something super fresh. The longer-term vision of really bringing all the information that has value from a team and becoming this single source of truth for teams.”

Slite tracks permissions and changes to the notes in order to allow companies to do a better job of maintaining them, rather than sharing around links and having different people jump in and make changes. The part about sharing links is one in particular that stung for Pasquier, as even larger companies can have issues with employees asking in Slack what policies are — or even for links to parts of the internal wiki where that important information is buried.

Getting there certainly won’t be easy. Companies like Dropbox continuing to invest in these kinds of collaborative note-taking tools — that could easily evolve into internal hubs of information. And as Pasquier tries to liken the development arc to Slack, which showed employees wanted some more seamless tool for communication, that company is also working on making its search tools smarter, like helping employees find the right person to ask a question. It doesn’t look like an asynchronous notes tool just yet, but if all the information is somewhere in Slack already, a smart search tool may be the only thing necessary to find all that information.

Apr
21
2018
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Pivotal CEO talks IPO and balancing life in Dell family of companies

Pivotal has kind of a strange role for a company. On one hand its part of the EMC federation companies that Dell acquired in 2016 for a cool $67 billion, but it’s also an independently operated entity within that broader Dell family of companies — and that has to be a fine line to walk.

Whatever the challenges, the company went public yesterday and joined VMware as a  separately traded company within Dell. CEO Rob Mee says the company took the step of IPOing because it wanted additional capital.

“I think we can definitely use the capital to invest in marketing and R&D. The wider technology ecosystem is moving quickly. It does take additional investment to keep up,” Mee told TechCrunch just a few hours after his company rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange.

As for that relationship of being a Dell company, he said that Michael Dell let him know early on after the EMC acquisition that he understood the company’s position. “From the time Dell acquired EMC, Michael was clear with me: You run the company. I’m just here to help. Dell is our largest shareholder, but we run independently. There have been opportunities to test that [since the acquisition] and it has held true,” Mee said.

Mee says that independence is essential because Pivotal has to remain technology-agnostic and it can’t favor Dell products and services over that mission. “It’s necessary because our core product is a cloud-agnostic platform. Our core value proposition is independence from any provider — and Dell and VMware are infrastructure providers,” he said.

That said, Mee also can play both sides because he can build products and services that do align with Dell and VMware offerings. “Certainly the companies inside the Dell family are customers of ours. Michael Dell has encouraged the IT group to adopt our methods and they are doing so,” he said. They have also started working more closely with VMware, announcing a container partnership last year.

Photo: Ron Miller

Overall though he sees his company’s mission in much broader terms, doing nothing less than helping the world’s largest companies transform their organizations. “Our mission is to transform how the world builds software. We are focused on the largest organizations in the world. What is a tailwind for us is that the reality is these large companies are at a tipping point of adopting how they digitize and develop software for strategic advantage,” Mee said.

The stock closed up 5 percent last night, but Mee says this isn’t about a single day. “We do very much focus on the long term. We have been executing to a quarterly cadence and have behaved like a public company inside Pivotal [even before the IPO]. We know how to do that while keeping an eye on the long term,” he said.

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