Feb
22
2021
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Rows, formerly dashdash, raises $16M to build and populate web apps using only spreadsheet skills

Spreadsheet software — led by products like Microsoft’s Excel, Google’s Sheets and Apple’s Numbers — continues to be one of the most-used categories of business apps, with Excel alone clocking up more than a billion users just on its Android version. Now, a startup called Rows that’s built on that ubiquity, with a low-code platform that lets people populate and analyze web apps using just spreadsheet interfaces, is announcing funding and launching a freemium open beta of its expanded service.

The Berlin-based startup — which rebranded from dashdash at the end of last year — closed a Series B round of $16 million, money that it is using to continue investing in its platform as well as in sales and marketing. The platform’s move into an open beta comes with some 50 new integrations with other platforms like LinkedIn, Instagram and more, as well as 200 new features (using known spreadsheet shortcuts) to use in them.

The round was led by Lakestar, with past investors Accel (which led its $8 million Series A in 2018) and Cherry Ventures also participating. Christian Reber has also invested in this round. Reber knows a thing or two about software disrupting legacy productivity software — he is the co-founder and CEO of presentation software startup Pitch and the former CEO and founder of Microsoft-acquired Wunderlist — and notably he is joining Rows’ Advisory Board along with the investment.

A little detail about this Series B: CEO Humberto Ayres Pereira, who is based out of Porto, Portugal, where some of the staff is also based, tells us that this round actually was quietly closed over a year ago, in January 2020 — just ahead of the world shutting down amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The startup chose to announce that round today to coincide with adding more features to its product and moving it into an open beta, he said.

That open beta is free in its most basic form — the free tier is limited to 10 users or less and a minimal amount of integration usage. Paid tiers, which cover more team members and up to 100,000 integration tasks (which are measured by how many times a spreadsheet queries another service), start at $59 per month.

One strong sign of interest in this latest iteration of the software is the lasting popularity of spreadsheets. Another is Rows’ traction to date: in invite-only mode, it picked up 10,000 users off its waitlist, and hundreds of companies, as customers. Currently most of those are free, Ayres Pereira said.

“Our goal is to have 1,000 paying companies as customers in the 12 months,” he said. That process has only just started, he added, with paying numbers in the modest “dozens” for now. He emphasized though that the company is very cash efficient and has, even without raising more funding, two years of runway on the money it has in the bank now.

The growing appeal of low-code

No-code and low-code software, which let people create and work with apps and other digital content without delving deep into the lines of code that underpin them, have continued to pick up traction in the market in the last several years.

The reason for this is straightforward: non-technical employees may not code, but they are getting increasingly adept at understanding how services function and what can be achieved within an app.

No-code and low-code platforms let them get more hands-on when it comes to customizing and creating the services that they need to use everyday to get their work done, without the time and effort it might take to get an engineer involved.

“People want to create their own tools,” said Ayres Pereira. “They want to understand and test and iterate.” He said that the majority of Rows’ users so far are based out of North America, and typical use cases include marketing and sales teams, as well as companies using Rows spreadsheets as a dynamic interface to manage logistics and other operations.

Stephen Nundy, the partner at Lakestar who led its investment, describes the army of users taking up no-code tools as “citizen developers.”

Rows is precisely the kind of platform that plays into the low-code trend. For people who are already au fait with the kinds of tools that you find in spreadsheets — and something like Excel has hundreds of functions in it — it presents a way of leaning on those familiar functions to trigger integrations with other apps, and to subsequently use a spreadsheet created in Rows to both analyse data from other apps, as well as update them.

Image: Rows

You might ask, why is it more useful, for example, to look at content from Twitter in Rows rather than Twitter itself? A Rows document might let a person search for a set of Tweets using a certain chain of keywords, and then organise those results based on parameters such as how many “likes” those Tweets received.

Or users responding to a call to action for a promotion on Instagram might then be cross-referenced with a company’s existing database of customers, to analyze how those respondents overlap or present new leads.

You might also wonder why existing spreadsheet products may not have already build functionality like this.

Interestingly, Microsoft did dabble in building a way of linking up Excel with some rudimentary computing functions, in the form of Visual Basic for Applications. This however reached the dubious distinction of topping developers’ “most dreaded” languages list for two years running, and so as you might imagine it has somewhat died a death.

However, it does point to an opportunity for incumbents to disrupt their disruptors.

Apart from those most obvious, entrenched competitors, there have been a number of other startups building tools that are providing similar no- and low-code approaches.

Gyana is focusing more on data science, Tray.io provides a graphical interface to integrate how apps work together, Zapier and Notion also provide simple interfaces to integrate apps and APIs together and Airtable has its own take on reinventing the spreadsheet interface. For now, Ayres Pereira sees these more as compatriots than competitors.

“Yes, we overlap with services like Zapier and Notion,” he said. “But I’d say we are friends. We’re all raising awareness about people being able to do more and not having to be stuck using old tools. It’s not a zero sum game for us.”

When we covered Rows’s Series A two years ago, the startup had built a platform to let people who are comfortable working with data in spreadsheets use that interface to create and populate content in web apps. It had a lot of extensibility, but mainly geared at people still willing to do the work to create those links.

Two years on, while the spreadsheet has remained the anchor, the platform has grown. Ayres Pereira, who co-founded the company with Torben Schulz (both pictured above), said that there are some 50 new integrations now, including ways to analyse and update content on social media platforms like Instagram, YouTube, CrunchBase, Salesforce, Slack, LinkedIn and Twitter, as well as some 200 new features in the platform itself.

While people can import into Rows data from Google Sheets, he noted that the big daddy of them all, Excel, is not supported right now. The reason, he said, is because the vast majority of users of the product use the desktop version, which does not have APIs.

Meanwhile, Rows also has a number of templates available for people to guide them through simple tasks, such as looking up LinkedIn profiles or emails for a list of people, tracking social media counts and so on.

One of the most common aspects of spreadsheets, however, has yet to be built. The interface is still banked around rows and columns, but with no graphical tools to visualize data in different ways such as pie charts or graphs as you might have in a typical spreadsheet program.

It’s for this reason that Rows has yet to exit beta. The feature is one that is requested a lot, Pereira admitted, describing it as “the final frontier.” When Rows is ready to ship with that functionality, likely by Q3 of this year, it will tick over to general “1.0” release, he added.

“Humberto and Torben have really impressed us with their ambition to disrupt the market with a new spreadsheet paradigm that tackles the significant shortcomings of today’s solutions,” said Nundy at Lakestar. “Data integrations are native, the collaboration experience is first class and the ability to share and publish your work as an application is unique and will create more ‘Citizen developers’ to emerge. This is essential to the growing needs of today’s technology literate workforce. The level of interest they’ve received in their private beta is proof of the desirability of platforms like Rows, and we’re excited to be supporting them through their public beta launch and beyond with this investment.” Nundy is also joining Rows’ board with this round.

Feb
19
2021
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Ironclad’s Jason Boehmig: The objective of pricing is to become less wrong over time

In 2017, Ironclad founder and CEO Jason Boehmig was looking to raise a Series A. As a former lawyer, Boehmig had a specific process for fundraising and an ultimate goal of finding the right investors for his company.

Part of Boehmig’s process was to ask people in the San Francisco Bay Area about their favorite place to work. Many praised RelateIQ, a company founded by Steve Loughlin who had sold it to Salesforce for $390 million and was brand new to venture at the time.

“I wanted to meet Steve and had kind of put two and two together,” said Boehmig. “I was like, ‘There’s this founder I’ve been meaning to connect with anyways, just to pick his brain, about how to build a great company, and he also just became an investor.’”

On this week’s Extra Crunch Live, the duo discussed how the Ironclad pitch excited Loughlin about leading the round. (So excited, in fact, he signed paperwork in the hospital on the same day his child was born.) They also discussed how they’ve managed to build trust by working through disagreements and the challenges of pricing and packaging enterprise products.

As with every episode of Extra Crunch Live, they also gave feedback on pitch decks submitted by the audience. (If you’d like to see your deck featured on a future episode, send it to us using this form.)

We record Extra Crunch Live every Wednesday at 12 p.m. PST/3 p.m. EST/8 p.m. GMT. You can see our past episodes here and check out the March slate right here.

Episode breakdown:

  • The pitch — 2:30
  • How they operate — 23:00
  • The problem of pricing — 29:00
  • Pitch deck teardown — 35:00

The pitch

When Boehmig came in to pitch Accel, Loughlin remembers feeling ambivalent. He had heard about the company and knew a former lawyer was coming in to pitch a legal tech company. He also trusted the reference who had introduced him to Boehmig, and thought, “I’ll take the meeting.”

Then, Boehmig dove into the pitch. The company had about a dozen customers that were excited about the product, and a few who were expanding use of the product across the organization, but it wasn’t until the ultimate vision of Ironclad was teased that Loughlin perked up.

Loughlin realized that the contract can be seen as a core object that could be used to collaborate horizontally across the enterprise.

“That was when the lightbulb went off and I realized this is actually much bigger,” said Loughlin. “This is not a legal tech company. This is core horizontal enterprise collaboration in one of the areas that has not been solved yet, where there is no great software yet for legal departments to collaborate with their counterparts.”

He listed all the software that those same counterparts had to let them collaborate: Salesforce, Marketo, Zendesk. Any investor would be excited to hear that a potential portfolio company could match the likes of those behemoths. Loughlin was hooked.

“There was a slide that I’m guessing Jason didn’t think much of, as it was just the data around the business, but I got pretty excited about it,” said Loughlin. “It said, for every legal user Ironclad added, they added nine other users from departments like sales, marketing, customer service, etc. It was evidence that this theory of collaboration could be true at scale.”

Feb
14
2021
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The Series A deal that launched a near unicorn: Meet Accel’s Steve Loughlin and Ironclad’s Jason Boehmig

The only people who truly understand a relationship are the ones who are in it. Luckily for us, we’re going to have a candid conversation with both parties in the relationship between Ironclad CEO and co-founder Jason Boehmig and his investor and board member Accel partner Steve Loughlin.

Loughlin led Ironclad’s Series A deal back in 2017, making it one of his first Series A deals after returning to Accel.

This episode of Extra Crunch Live goes down on Wednesday at 3 p.m. EST/12 p.m. PST, just like usual.

We’ll talk to the duo about how they met, what made them “choose” each other, and how they’ve operated as a duo since. How they built trust, maintain honesty and talk strategy are also on the table as part of the discussion.

Loughlin was an entrepreneur before he was an investor, founding RelateIQ (an Accel-backed company) in 2011. The company was acquired by Salesforce in 2014 for $390 million and later became Salesforce IQ. Loughlin then “came back home” to Accel in 2016 and has led investments in companies like Airkit, Ascend.io, Clockwise, Ironclad, Monte Carlo, Nines, Productiv, Split.io and Vivun.

Not entirely unsurprising for a man who has dominated the legal tech sphere, Jason Boehmig is a California barred attorney who practiced law at Fenwick & West and was also an adjunct professor of law at Notre Dame Law School. Ironclad launched in 2014 and today the company has raised more than $180 million and, according to reports, is valued just under $1 billion.

Not only will we peel back the curtain on how this investor/founder relationship works, but we’ll also hear from these two tech leaders on their thoughts around bigger enterprise trends in the ecosystem.

Then, it’s time for the pitch deck teardown. On each episode of Extra Crunch Live, we take a look at decks submitted by the audience and our experienced guests give their live feedback. If you want to throw your deck in the ring, submit your deck for a future episode.

As with just about everything we do here at TechCrunch, audience members can also ask their own questions.

Extra Crunch Live has left room for you to network (you gotta network to get work, amirite?). Networking is open starting at 2:30 p.m. EST/11:30 a.m. PST and stays open a half hour after the episode ends. Make a friend!

As a reminder, Extra Crunch Live is a members-only series that aims to give founders and tech operators actionable advice and insights from leaders across the tech industry. If you’re not an Extra Crunch member yet, what are you waiting for?

Loughlin and Boehmig join a stellar cast of speakers on Extra Crunch Live, including Lightspeed’s Gaurav Gupta and Grafana’s Raj Dutt, as well as Felicis’ Aydin Senkut and Guideline’s Kevin Busque. Extra Crunch members can catch every episode of Extra Crunch Live on demand right here.

You can find details for this episode (and upcoming episodes) after the jump below.

See you on Wednesday!

Dec
10
2020
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UserLeap raises $16 million to bring better qualitative data to PMs

Product managers can only be successful if they can make effective use of both quantitative and qualitative data. But mapping the former to the latter, and collecting high-quality data, is a huge challenge to organizations looking to rapidly productize and innovate.

UserLeap, a company founded by serial product manager Ryan Glasgow, thinks it has found a better way, and so do its investors. The company today announced the close of a $16 million Series A financing led by Accel (Dan Levine led the round), with participation from angels like Elad Gil, Dylan Field, Ben Porterfield, Akshay Kothari, Jack Altman and Bobby Lo.

One of the main challenges of rapid product development is that the ratio of quantitative data to qualitative data isn’t equal. It can take weeks or even months to get results from user surveys, and that’s only if users actually respond. According to UserLeap, the average response rate for email surveys is between 3% and 5%. To add to the headache, PMs and data teams usually have to parse that information and organize it manually.

UserLeap offers product teams the ability to put a short line of code into their product that then delivers contextual micro-surveys to users right within the product. The company says that these micro-surveys usually see a 20% to 30% response rate, and sometimes that even pops all the way to 90%.

Plus, the UserLeap dashboard processes the natural language from respondents and organizes the data. For example, if one user references price and another references cost, those responses are grouped together.

Because the surveys are built right into the product and targeted to a specific action or flow, and because the data is parsed and automatically sorted, product teams usually have access to this data within a few hours.

UserLeap charges based on the number of end users tracked, plus the number of surveys sent out per month, offering tiers for those surveys in groupings of five. Glasgow says this is a bit of a differentiator when compared to other survey products like SurveyMonkey or TypeForm.

“We have a usage-based pricing model, where our competitors often have a seat-based pricing model,” said Glasgow. “We don’t care how many people have access to us. Really, our goal is to get you to use our product.”

In other words, the insights gleaned from UserLeap can be shared and used across the entire organization without affecting the price.

This latest funding brings UserLeap’s total funding to $20 million — First Round Capital previously led a $4 million seed round.

Customers include Square, Opendoor and Codecademy. Thus far, the company has tracked more than 500 million visitors, and gotten 600,000 survey question responses.

The UserLeap team is currently made up of 15 people, with females representing 50% and people of color making up 33% of the leadership team. Across the company, women represent 32% of the team and people of color represent 42%.

“UserLeap cares deeply about diversity and inclusion,” said Glasgow. “Having a diverse team helps to ensure our employees feel comfortable and valued so that they can bring their whole selves to work. For that reason, UserLeap has a part-time recruiting sourcer dedicated to engaging underrepresented candidates and these efforts have contributed towards our diversity goals.”

Dec
01
2020
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Databand raises $14.5M led by Accel for its data pipeline observability tools

DevOps continues to get a lot of attention as a wave of companies develop more sophisticated tools to help developers manage increasingly complex architectures and workloads. In the latest development, Databand — an AI-based observability platform for data pipelines, specifically to detect when something is going wrong with a datasource when an engineer is using a disparate set of data management tools — has closed a round of $14.5 million.

Josh Benamram, the CEO who co-founded the company with Victor Shafran and Evgeny Shulman, said that Databand plans include more hiring; to continue adding customers for its existing product; to expand the library of tools that it’s providing to users to cover an ever-increasing landscape of DevOps software, where it is a big supporter of open-source resources; as well as to invest in the next steps of its own commercial product. That will include more remediation once problems are identified: that is, in addition to identifying issues, engineers will be able to start automatically fixing them, too.

The Series A is being led by Accel with participation from Blumberg Capital, Lerer Hippeau, Ubiquity Ventures, Differential Ventures and Bessemer Venture Partners. Blumberg led the company’s seed round in 2018. It has now raised around $18.5 million and is not disclosing valuation.

The problem that Databand is solving is one that is getting more urgent and problematic by the day (as evidenced by this exponential yearly rise in zettabytes of data globally). And as data workloads continue to grow in size and use, they continue to become ever more complex.

On top of that, today there are a wide range of applications and platforms that a typical organization will use to manage source material, storage, usage and so on. That means when there are glitches in any one data source, it can be a challenge to identify where and what the issue can be. Doing so manually can be time-consuming, if not impossible.

“Our users were in a constant battle with ETL (extract transform load) logic,” said Benamram, who spoke to me from New York (the company is based both there and in Tel Aviv, and also has developers and operations in Kiev). “Users didn’t know how to organize their tools and systems to produce reliable data products.”

It is really hard to focus attention on failures, he said, when engineers are balancing analytics dashboards, how machine models are performing, and other demands on their time; and that’s before considering when and if a data supplier might have changed an API at some point, which might also throw the data source completely off.

And if you’ve ever been on the receiving end of that data, you know how frustrating (and perhaps more seriously, disastrous) bad data can be. Benamram said that it’s not uncommon for engineers to completely miss anomalies and for them to only have been brought to their attention by “CEO’s looking at their dashboards and suddenly thinking something is off.” Not a great scenario.

Databand’s approach is to use big data to better handle big data: it crunches various pieces of information, including pipeline metadata like logs, runtime info and data profiles, along with information from Airflow, Spark, Snowflake and other sources, and puts the resulting data into a single platform, to give engineers a single view of what’s happening and better see where bottlenecks or anomalies are appearing, and why.

There are a number of other companies building data observability tools — Splunk perhaps is one of the most obvious, but also smaller players like Thundra and Rivery. These companies might step further into the area that Databand has identified and is fixing, but for now Databand’s focus specifically on identifying and helping engineers fix anomalies has given it a strong profile and position.

Accel partner Seth Pierrepont said that Databand came to the VC’s attention in perhaps the best way it could: Accel needed a solution like it for its own internal work.

“Data pipeline observability is a challenge that our internal data team at Accel was struggling with. Even at our relatively small scale, we were having issues with the reliability of our data outputs on a weekly basis, and our team found Databand as a solution,” he said. “As companies in all industries seek to become more data driven, Databand delivers an essential product that ensures the reliable delivery of high-quality data for businesses. Josh, Victor and Evgeny have a wealth of experience in this area, and we’ve been impressed with their thoughtful and open approach to helping data engineers better manage their data pipelines with Databand.”

The company is also used by data teams from large Fortune 500 enterprises to smaller startups.

Nov
17
2020
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Marketing automation platform Klaviyo scores $200M Series C on $4.15B valuation

Boston-based marketing automation firm Klaviyo wants to change the way marketers interact with data, giving them direct access to their data and their customers. It believes that makes it easier to customize the messages and produce better results. Investors apparently agree, awarding the company a $200 million Series C on a hefty $4.15 billion valuation today.

The round was led by Accel with help from Summit Partners. It comes on the heels of last year’s $150 million Series B, and brings the total raised to $385.5 million, according the company. Accel’s Ping Li will also be joining the company board under the terms of today’s announcement.

Marketing automation and communication takes on a special significance as we find ourselves in the midst of this pandemic and companies need to find ways to communicate in meaningful ways with customers who can’t come into brick and mortar establishments. Company CEO and co-founder Andrew Bialecki says that his company’s unique use of data helps in this regard.

“I think our success is because we are a hybrid customer data and marketing platform. We think about what it takes to create these owned experiences. They’re very contextual and you need all of that customer data, not some of it, all of it, and you need that to be tightly coupled with how you’re building customer experiences,” Bialecki explained.

Andrew Bialecki, CEO and co-founder at Klaviyo

Andrew Bialecki, CEO and co-founder at Klaviyo Image Credits: Klaviyo

He believes that by providing a platform of this scope that combines the data, the ability to customize messages and the use of machine learning to keep improving that, it will help them compete with the largest platforms. In fact his goal is to help companies understand that they don’t have to give up their customer data to Amazon, Google and Facebook.

“The flip side of that is growing through Amazon where you give up all your customer data, or Facebook or Google where you kind of are delegated to wherever their algorithms decide where you get to show up,” he said. With Klaviyo, the company retains its own data, and Ping Li, who is leading the investment at Accel says that it where the e-commerce market is going.

“So the question is, is there a tool that allows you to do that as easily as going on Facebook and Google, and I think that’s the vision and the promise that Klaviyo is delivering on,” Li said.  He believes that this will allow their customers to actually build that kind of fidelity with their customers by going directly to them, instead of through a third-party intermediary.

The company has seen some significant success with 50,000 customers in 125 countries along with that lofty valuation. The customer number has doubled year over year, even during the economic malaise brought on by the pandemic.

Today, the company has 500 employees with plans to double that in the next year. As he grows his company, Bialecki believes diversity is not just the right thing to do, it’s also smart business. “I think the competitive advantages that tech companies are going to have going forward, especially for the tech companies that are not the leaders today, but [could be] leaders in the coming decades, it’s because they have the most diverse teams and inclusive culture and those are both big focuses for us,” he said.

As they move forward flush with this cash, the company wants to continue to build out the platform, giving customers access to a set of tools that allow them to know their own customers on an increasingly granular level, while delivering more meaningful interactions. “It’s all about accelerating product development and getting into new markets,” Bialecki said. They certainly have plenty of runway to do that now.

Nov
06
2020
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Slintel grabs $4.2M seed to grow sales intelligence platform

As the pandemic rages on, companies are looking for an edge when it comes to sales. Having the right data about the customers most likely to convert can be a huge boost right now. Slintel, an early-stage startup building a sales intelligence tool, announced a $4.2 million seed round today.

The investment was led by Accel with help from Sequoia Capital India and existing investor Stellaris Venture Partners. The company reports it has now raised $5.7 million, including a pre-seed round last year.

Deepak Anchala, company founder and CEO, says that while sales and marketing teams are trying to target a broad market, most of the time their emails and other forms of communication with customers fall flat. As a sales person in previous startups, Eightfold and Tracxn, this was a problem Anchala experienced first hand. He believed with data, he could improve this, and he started Slintel to build a tool to provide the sales data that he was missing in these previous positions.

“We focus on helping our customers solve that [lack of data] by identifying people with high buying intent. So we are able to tell sales and marketing teams, for example, who is most likely to buy your product or your service, and who is most likely to buy your product today, as opposed to two months or six months from now,” Anchala explained.

They do this by looking at signals that might not be obvious, but which let sales teams know key information about these companies and their likelihood of buying soon. He says that every company leaves a technology footprint. This could be data from SEC filings, annual reports, job openings and so forth.

“In today’s world there is an enormous amount of footprint left online when a company uses a certain product. So what our algorithms do is we map that at scale for about 15 million companies to all the products that they’re using from the different sources we are able to identify — and we track it all from week to week,” he said.

The company has 45 employees today and expects to double that number by the end of 2021. As he builds the company, especially as an immigrant founder, Anchala wants to build a diverse and inclusive organization.

“I think one of the key successes for companies today is having diversity. We have a global workforce, so we have a workforce in the U.S. and India and we want to capitalize on that. In the next phase of hires we are looking at hiring more diverse candidates, more female employees and people of different nationalities,” he said.

The company, which was founded in 2018, and emerged from stealth last year, has amassed 100 enterprise customers and has seen most of the customers actually come on board this year as COVID has forced companies to find ways to be more efficient with their sales processes.

Oct
29
2020
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Donut launches Watercooler, an easy way to socialize online with coworkers

If you miss hanging out with your coworkers but don’t want to spend a single second more on Zoom, the latest product from Donut might be the answer.

The startup is launching its new Watercooler product today while also announcing that it has raised $12 million in total funding, led by Accel and with participation from Bloomberg Beta, FirstMark, Slack Fund and various angel investors.

Co-founder and CEO Dan Manian told me that this is actually money that the startup raised before the pandemic, across multiple rounds. It just didn’t announce the fundraising until now.

The startup’s vision, Manian said, is “to create human connection between people at work.” Its first product, Intros, connects teammates who didn’t already know each via Slack, often with the goal of setting up quick coffee meetings (originally in-person and now virtual).

Donut says it has facilitated 4 million connections across 12,000 companies (including The New York Times, Toyota and InVision), with 1 million of those connections made since the beginning of the pandemic.

However, Manian said customers have been asking Donut to facilitate more frequent interactions, especially since most people aren’t going to have these coffee meetings every day. At the same time, people face are the duelling issues of isolation and Zoom fatigue, where “the antidote to one thing makes the other pain worse.” And he suggested that one of the hardest things to recreate while so many of us are working remotely are “all the little microinteractions that you have while you’re working.”

That’s where Watercooler comes in — as the name suggests, it’s designed to replicate the feeling of hanging out at the office watercooler, having brief, low-key conversations. Like Intros, it integrates with Slack, creating a new channel where Watercooler will post fun, conversation-starting questions like “‘What’s your favorite form of potato?” or “What’s one thing you’ve learned in your career that you wish you knew sooner?”

Talking about these topics shouldn’t take much time, but Manian argued that brief conversations are important: “Those things add up to friendship over time, they’re what actually transform you from coworker to friend.” And those friendships are important for employers too, because they help with team cohesion and retention.

I fully endorse the idea of a Slack watercooler — in fact, the TechCrunch editorial team has a very active “watercooler” channel and I’m always happy to waste time there. My big question was: Why do companies need to purchase a product for this?

Donut Watercooler

Donut Watercooler

Manian said that there were “a bunch of our early adopters” who had tried doing this manually, but it was always in the “past tense”: “It got too hard to come up with the questions, or it took real work coming up with them, whoever was doing it already had a it full time job.”

With Watercooler, on the other hand, the company can choose from pre-selected topics and questions, set the frequency with which those questions are posted and then everything happens automatically.

Manian also noted that different organizations will focus on different types of questions. There are no divisive political questions included, but while some teams will stick to easy questions about things like potatoes and breakfast foods, others will get into more substantive topics like the ways that people prefer to receive feedback.

And yes, Manian thinks companies will still need these tools after the pandemic is over.

“Work has fundamentally changed,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll put remote work back in the bottle. I think it’s here to stay.”

At the same time, he described the past few months as “training wheels” for a hybrid model, where some team members go back to the office while others continue working remotely. In his view, teams will face an even bigger challenge then: To keep their remote members feeling like they’re connected and in-the-loop.

 

Oct
14
2020
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Vivun announces $18M Series A to keep growing pre-sales platform

Vivun’s co-founder and CEO, Matt Darrow used to run pre-sales at Zuora and he saw that pre-sales team members had a lot of insight into customers. He believed if he could capture that insight, it would turn into valuable data to be shared across the company. He launched Vivun to build upon that idea in 2018, and today the company announced an $18 million Series A.

Accel led the round with participation from existing investor Unusual Ventures. With today’s investment, Vivun has raised a total of $21 million, according to the company.

Darrow says that the company has caught the attention of investors because this is a unique product category and there has been a lot of demand for it. “It turns out that businesses of all sizes, startups and enterprises, are really craving a solution like Vivun, which is dedicated to pre-sales. It’s a big, expensive department, and there’s never been software for it before,” Darrow told TechCrunch.

He says that a couple of numbers stand out in the company’s first year in business. First of all, the startup grew annual recurring revenue (ARR) six fold (although he wouldn’t share specific numbers) and tripled the workforce growing from 10 to 30, all while doing business as an early stage startup in the midst of a pandemic.

Darrow said while the business has grown this year, he found smaller businesses in the pipeline were cutting back due to the impact of COVID’s, but larger businesses like Okta, Autodesk and Dell Secureworks have filled in nicely, and he says the product actually fits well in larger enterprise organizations.

“If we look at our value proposition and what we do, it increases exponentially with the size of the company. So the larger the team, the larger the silos are, the larger the organization is, the bigger the value of solving the problem for pre-sales becomes,” he said.

After going from a team of 10 to 30 employees in the last year, Darrow wants to double the head count to reach around 60 employees in the next year, fueled in part by the new investment dollars. As he builds the company, the founding team, which is made up of two men and two women, is focused on building a diverse and inclusive employee base.

“It is something that’s really important to us, and we’ve been working at it. Even as we went from 10 to 30, we’ve worked to pay close attention to [diversity and inclusion], and we continue to do so just as part of the culture of how we build the business,” he said.

He’s been having to build that workforce in the middle of COVID, but he says that even before the pandemic shut down offices, he and his founding partners were big on flexibility in terms of time spent in the office versus working from home. “We knew that for mental health strength and stability, that being in the office nine to five, five days a week wasn’t really a modern model that would cut it,” he said.

Even pre-COVID the company was offering two quiet periods a year to let people refresh their batteries. In the midst of COVID, he’s trying to give people Friday afternoons off to go out and exercise and relax their minds.

As the startup grows, those types of things may be harder to do, but it’s the kind of culture Darrow and his founding partners hope to continue to foster as they build the company.

Oct
06
2020
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Scratchpad announces $3.6M seed to put workspace on top of Salesforce

One thing that annoys sales people is entering data into a CRM like Salesforce because it’s time spent not selling. Part of the problem is Salesforce is a database and as such is not necessarily designed for speed. Scratchpad wants to simplify that process by creating a workspace on top of the CRM to accelerate the administrative side of the job.

Today, the company announced a $3.6 million seed round led by Accel with participation from Shrug Capital and Sound Ventures, the firm run by Ashton Kutcher and Guy Oseary, as well as several individual investors. The round, which closed at the end of last year, hadn’t been previously announced.

Last year, company co-founder and CEO Pouyan Salehi had just stepped down from his previous company PersistIQ, a sales enablement startup that came out of Y Combinator in 2014. He and his co-founder Cyrus Karbassiyoon began researching a new company, and the idea for Scratchpad came to them when they simply sat down and watched how salespeople were working. They noted that they were using a hodgepodge of tools like taking notes in Evernote or Google Docs, tracking their pipeline in Excel or Google Sheets and tracking tasks with paper lists or sticky notes.

They recognized that these tools were disconnected from Salesforce and required hours of manual work copying and pasting this data. That’s when they saw there was an opportunity here to build a tool to track all of this information in one place and connect it to Salesforce to automate a lot of this grunt work.

“It eventually evolved into this idea that we’re calling “The Workspace” because everyone has Salesforce, but they are working with all of these other tools that then they just have to literally spend hours — and we saw some reps block off four-hour chunks on their calendar — just to copy and paste from their documents, spreadsheets or notes into Salesforce for their pipeline reviews. And that’s how the idea for Scratchpad came to be,” Salehi told TechCrunch.

Today, a salesperson can install Scratchpad as a Chrome plug-in, connect to Salesforce with their log-in credentials and create a two-way connection between the tools. Scratchpad pulls all of their pipeline data into the WorkSpace. They can cycle through the various fields to enter information quickly, enter notes and track tasks (which can be pulled from email and calendar) all in one place.

What’s more, because all of this information is linked to Salesforce, anything you enter in Scratchpad updates the corresponding fields and sections in Salesforce automatically. And any new opportunities that start in Salesforce update in Scratchpad.

The company has been operating for about a year and has thousands of users, although many are currently using the free tier. It has seven employees, with plans to hire more over the next year. As he builds his second company, Salehi says he and his co-founder are building on a foundation of diversity and inclusion.

“By nature, we are very diverse in many different perspectives that you can look at, including gender, age, location and backgrounds,” he said. He adds that building a diverse and inclusive workforce is important to the company.

“And so even in our hiring process, we incorporated certain elements just to make sure that we’re not introducing bias in any sort of way, or at least recognizing that the natural bias and thoughts we might have. We look at things like doing blind looks at resumes and it’s something that we take very, very seriously,” he said.

While the company is built on top of Salesforce today, he says it could expand to include other databases or sources of information where the product could also work. For now though, he sees an opportunity to build another company in the sales arena to help reduce the amount of work associated with updating the CRM database.

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