Feb
10
2021
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Nobl9 raises $21M Series B for its SLO management platform

SLAs, SLOs, SLIs. If there’s one thing everybody in the business of managing software development loves, it’s acronyms. And while everyone probably knows what a Service Level Agreement (SLA) is, Service Level Objectives (SLOs) and Service Level Indicators (SLIs) may not be quite as well known. The idea, though, is straightforward, with SLOs being the overall goals a team must hit to meet the promises of its SLA agreements, and SLIs being the actual measurements that back up those other two numbers. With the advent of DevOps, these ideas, which are typically part of a company’s overall Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) efforts, are becoming more mainstream, but putting them into practice isn’t always straightforward.

Nobl9 aims to provide enterprises with the tools they need to build SLO-centric operations and the right feedback loops inside an organization to help it hit its SLOs without making too many trade-offs between the cost of engineering, feature development and reliability.

The company today announced that it has raised a $21 million Series B round led by its Series A investors Battery Ventures and CRV. In addition, Series A investors Bonfire Ventures and Resolute Ventures also participated, together with new investors Harmony Partners and Sorenson Ventures.

Before starting Nobl9, co-founders Marcin Kurc (CEO) and Brian Singer (CPO) spent time together at Orbitera, where Singer was the co-founder and COO and Kurc the CEO, and then at Google Cloud, after it acquired Orbitera in 2016. In the process, the team got to work with and appreciate Google’s site reliability engineering frameworks.

As they started looking into what to do next, that experience led them to look into productizing these ideas. “We came to this conclusion that if you’re going into Kubernetes, into service-based applications and modern architectures, there’s really no better way to run that than SRE,” Kurc told me. “And when we started looking at this, naturally SRE is a complete framework, there are processes. We started looking at elements of SRE and we agreed that SLO — service level objectives — is really the foundational part. You can’t do SRE without SLOs.”

As Singer noted, in order to adopt SLOs, businesses have to know how to turn the data they have about the reliability of their services, which could be measured in uptime or latency, for example, into the right objectives. That’s complicated by the fact that this data could live in a variety of databases and logs, but the real question is how to define the right SLOs for any given organization based on this data.

“When you go into the conversation with an organization about what their goals are with respect to reliability and how they start to think about understanding if there’s risks to that, they very quickly get bogged down in how are we going to get this data or that data and instrument this or instrument that,” Singer said. “What we’ve done is we’ve built a platform that essentially takes that as the problem that we’re solving. So no matter where the data lives and in what format it lives, we want to be able to reduce it to very simply an error budget and an objective that can be tracked and measured and reported on.”

The company’s platform launched into general availability last week, after a beta that started last year. Early customers include Brex and Adobe.

As Kurc told me, the team actually thinks of this new funding round as a Series A round, but because its $7.5 million Series A was pretty sizable, they decided to call it a Series A instead of a seed round. “It’s hard to define it. If you define it based on a revenue milestone, we’re pre-revenue, we just launched the GA product,” Singer told me. “But I think just in terms of the maturity of the product and the company, I would put us at the [Series] B.”

The team told me that it closed the round at the end of last November, and while it considered pitching new VCs, its existing investors were already interested in putting more money into the company and since its previous round had been oversubscribed, they decided to add to this new round some of the investors that didn’t make the cut for the Series A.

The company plans to use the new funding to advance its roadmap and expand its team, especially across sales, marketing and customer success.

Feb
02
2021
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Adobe expands Acrobat Web, adds PDF text and image editing

For the longest time, Acrobat was Adobe’s flagship desktop app for working with — and especially editing — PDFs. In recent years, the company launched Acrobat on the web, but it was never quite as fully featured as the desktop version, and one capability a lot of users were looking for, editing text and images in PDFs, remained a desktop-only feature. That’s changing. With its latest update to Acrobat on the web, Adobe is bringing exactly this ability to its online service.

“[Acrobat Web] is strategically important to us because we have more and more people working in the browser,” Todd Gerber, Adobe’s VP for Document Cloud, told me. “Their day begins by logging into whether it’s G Suite or Microsoft Office 365. And so we want to be in all the surfaces where people are doing their work.” The team first launched the ability to create and convert PDFs, but as Gerber noted, it took a while to get to the point where being able to edit PDFs in a performant and real-time way was possible. “We could have done it earlier, but it wouldn’t have been up to the standards of being fast, nimble and quality.” He specifically noted that working with fonts was one of the more difficult problems the team faced in bringing this capability online.

He also noted that even though we tend to think of PDF as an Adobe format, it is an open standard and lots of third-party tools can create PDFs. That large ecosystem, with the potential for variations between implementations, also makes it more difficult to offer editing capabilities for Adobe.

With today’s launch, Adobe is also introducing a couple of additional browser-based features: protecting PDFs, splitting them into two and merging multiple PDFs. In addition, after working with Google last year to offer a handful of Acrobat shortcuts using the .new domain, Adobe is now launching a set of new shortcuts like EditPDF.new. The company plans to roll out more of these over the course of the next year.

In total, Adobe says, the company saw about 10 million clicks on its existing shortcuts, which just goes to show how many people try to convert or sign PDFs every day.

As Gerber noted, a lot of potential users don’t necessarily think of Acrobat first. Instead, what they want to do is compress a PDF or convert it. Acrobat Web and the .new domains help the company bring a new audience to the platform, he believes. “It’s unlocking a new audience for us that didn’t initially think of Adobe. They think about PDFs, they think about what they need to do with them,” he said. “So it’s allowing us to expand our customer base by being relevant in the way that they’re looking to discover and ultimately transact. Our journey with Acrobat web actually started with that notion: let’s go after the non-branded searches.”

Adobe, of course, funnels to the Acrobat desktop app all branded searches where users are explicitly looking for Acrobat, but for the more casual user, it brings them to Acrobat Web where they can easily perform whatever action they came for without even signing up for the service.

Nov
24
2020
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Adobe expands customer data platform to include B2B sales

The concept of the customer data platform (CDP) is a relatively new one. Up until now, it has focused primarily on pulling data about an individual consumer from a variety of channels into a super record, where in theory you can serve more meaningful content and deliver more customized experiences based on all this detailed knowledge. Adobe announced its intention today to create such a product for business to business (B2B) customers, a key market where this kind of data consolidation had been missing.

Indeed, Brian Glover, Adobe’s director of product marketing for Marketo Engage, who has been put in charge of this product, says that these kinds of sales are much more complex and B2B sales and marketing teams are clamoring for a CDP.

“We have spent the last couple of years integrating Marketo Engage across Adobe Experience Cloud, and now what we’re doing is building out the next generation of new and complementary B2B offerings on the Experience platform, the first of which is the B2B CDP offering,” Glover told me.

He says that they face unique challenges adapting CDP for B2B sales because they typically involve buying groups, meaning you need to customize your messages for different people depending on their role in the process.

An individual consumer usually knows what they want and you can prod them to make a decision and complete the purchase, but a B2B sale is usually longer and more complex, involving different levels of procurement. For example, in a technology sale, it may involve the CIO, a group, division or department who will be using the tech, the finance department, legal and others. There may be an RFP and the sales cycle may span months or even years.

Adobe believes this kind of sale should still be able to use the same customized messaging approach you use in an individual sale, perhaps even more so because of the inherent complexity in the process. Yet B2B marketers face the same issues as their B2C counterparts when it comes to having data spread across an organization.

“In B2B that complexity of buying groups and accounts just adds another level to the data management problem because ultimately you need to be able to connect to your customer people data, but you also need to be able to connect the account data too and be able to [bring] the two together,” Glover explained.

By building a more complete picture of each individual in the buying cycle, you can, as Glover puts it, begin to put the bread crumbs together for the entire account. He believes that a CRM isn’t built for this kind of complexity and it requires a specialty tool like a CDP built to support B2B sales and marketing.

Adobe is working with early customers on the product and expects to go into beta before the end of next month with GA some time in the first half of next year.

Nov
09
2020
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Adobe acquires marketing workflow startup Workfront for $1.5B

Adobe just announced that it is acquiring marketing workflow management startup Workfront for $1.5 billion. Bloomberg first reported the sale earlier today.

Workfront was founded back in 2001, making it a bit long in the tooth for a private company that has raised $375 million, according to Crunchbase. (It’s worth noting that $280 million of that was secondary money raised last year.)

The acquisition gives Adobe more online marketing tooling to fit into its Experience Cloud. This one helps companies manage complex projects inside the marketing department (or elsewhere in the company, for that matter).

Suresh Vittal, VP of platform and product for Adobe Experience Cloud, said that the two companies often work together and encounter one another’s sales teams. As the pandemic has played out, it began to make more sense to bring in-house this kind of tooling that works well in a distributed environment, and over the last several months the deal came together.

“The new normal distributed marketing team, distributed experience delivery teams, people having to work remotely — we started to see new use cases emerge around the idea of work management, around the idea of content velocity, around the idea of providing compliance and governance capabilities so no asset escapes the organization, and it goes through this process of passing through creative and the marketing teams and getting out there and really representing your brand in the right way,” Vittal explained.

Workfront CEO Alex Shootman sees the deal as a way to accelerate the roadmap while working with a much larger company. “We are barely scratching the surface of marketing and we could grow tremendously, just by having that great kind of integrated relationship,” he said.

Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research, says the acquisition will help Adobe customers manage the complexities of marketing project management. “Scheduling and managing work had gotten orders of magnitude more complex for enterprises, and Adobe is accounting for that with the acquisition of Workfront, providing better tool support for the new future of work,” Mueller told TechCrunch.

Workfront’s 960 employees will become part of Adobe and become part of the Adobe Experience Cloud. Shootman will continue to run it and report to Anil Chakravarthy, executive vice president and general manager of the digital experience business at Adobe.

Workfront’s customers include Home Depot, T-Mobile and Deloitte, and the two companies share 1,000 common customers among Workfront’s 3,000 total customer base. In fact, it has APIs that connect to Adobe Creative Cloud and Experience Cloud, two parts of the company’s product family that marketers frequently access.

As Adobe battles Salesforce, SAP and Oracle in the marketing automation space, it’s been using its checkbook to acquire additional fire power in recent years. This acquisition comes after Adobe spent $1.6 billion for Magento and $4.75 billion for Marketo in 2018. That’s almost $8 billion for three companies in less than two years, even as it builds out parts of its Adobe Experience Cloud in-house. Combined, it shows just how serious the company is about making headway in this valuable area.

Customer experience has always been an essential element of online and in-person transactions, making sure the customer feels good about the interactions it has with a brand. It not only keeps them coming back, but it encourages them to act as ambassadors on behalf of a company, something that has incredible value.

Conversely, a bad experience can lead to the opposite impact, causing a prospective or even loyal customer to abandon a brand and speak badly about it to friends online and in person. Adobe hopes that by bringing another marketing tool into the fold, it can help its customers increase the likelihood of a positive online customer experience. This one should allow marketing personnel working at a company to move marketing projects through a workflow from idea to delivery.

The deal is expected to close in the first quarter of Adobe’s fiscal year. Per usual, it will be subject to typical regulatory scrutiny.

Sep
28
2020
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Adobe beefs up developer tools to make it easer to build apps on Experience Cloud

Adobe has had a developer program for years called Adobe.io, but today at the Adobe Developers Live virtual conference, the company announced some new tools with a fresh emphasis on helping developers build custom apps on the Adobe Experience Cloud.

Jason Woosley, VP of developer experience and commerce at Adobe, says that the pandemic has forced companies to build enhanced digital experiences much more quickly than they might have, and the new tools being announced today are at least partly related to helping speed up the development of better online experiences.

“Our focus is very specifically on making the experience-generation business something that’s very attractive to developers and very accessible to developers so we’re announcing a number of tools,” Woosley told TechCrunch.

The idea is to build a more complete framework over time to make it easier to build applications and connect to data sources that take advantage of the Experience Cloud tooling. For starters, Project Firefly is designed to help developers build applications more quickly by providing a higher level of automation than was previously available.

“Project Firefly creates an extensibility framework that reduces the boilerplate that a developer would need to get started working with the Experience Cloud, and extends that into the customizations that we know every implementation eventually needs to differentiate the storefront experience, the website experience or whatever customer touch point as these things become increasingly digital,” he said.

In order to make those new experiences open to all, the company is also announcing React Spectrum, an open source set of libraries and tools designed to help members of the Adobe developer community build more accessible applications and websites.

“It comes with all of the accessibility features that often get forgotten when you’re in a race to market, so it’s nice to make sure that you will be very inclusive with your design, making sure that you’re bringing on all aspects of your audiences,” Woosley said.

Finally, a big part of interacting with Experience Cloud is taking advantage of all of the data that’s available to help build those more customized interactions with customers that having that data enables. To that end, the company is announcing some new web and mobile software development kits (SDKs) designed to help make it simpler to link to Experience Cloud data sources as you build your applications.

Project Firefly is available in developer preview starting today. Several React Spectrum components and some data connection SDKs are also available today. The company intends to keep adding to these various pieces in the coming months.

Jun
26
2020
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CIO Cynthia Stoddard explains Adobe’s journey from boxes to the cloud

Up until 2013, Adobe sold its software in cardboard boxes that were distributed mostly by third party vendors.

In time, the company realized there were a number of problems with that approach. For starters, it took months or years to update, and Adobe software was so costly, much of its user base didn’t upgrade. But perhaps even more important than the revenue/development gap was the fact that Adobe had no direct connection to the people who purchased its products.

By abdicating sales to others, Adobe’s customers were third-party resellers, but changing the distribution system also meant transforming the way the company developed and sold their most lucrative products.

The shift was a bold move that has paid off handsomely as the company surpassed an $11 billion annual run rate in December — but it still was an enormous risk at the time. We spoke to Adobe CIO Cynthia Stoddard to learn more about what it took to completely transform the way they did business.

Understanding the customer

Before Adobe could make the switch to selling software as a cloud service subscription, it needed a mechanism for doing that, and that involved completely repurposing their web site, Adobe.com, which at the time was a purely informational site.

“So when you think about transformation the first transformation was how do we connect and sell and how do we transition from this large network of third parties into selling direct to consumer with a commerce site that needed to be up 24×7,” Stoddard explained.

She didn’t stop there though because they weren’t just abandoning the entire distribution network that was in place. In the new cloud model, they still have a healthy network of partners and they had to set up the new system to accommodate them alongside individual and business customers.

She says one of the keys to managing a set of changes this immense was that they didn’t try to do everything at once. “One of the things we didn’t do was say, ‘We’re going to move to the cloud, let’s throw everything away.’ What we actually did is say we’re going to move to the cloud, so let’s iterate and figure out what’s working and not working. Then we could change how we interact with customers, and then we could change the reporting, back office systems and everything else in a very agile manner,” she said.

Jun
17
2020
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Contentful raises $80M Series E round for its headless CMS

Headless CMS company Contentful today announced that it has raised an $80 million Series E funding round led by Sapphire Ventures, with participation from General Catalyst, Salesforce Ventures and a number of other new and existing investors. With this, the company has now raised a total of $158.3 million and a Contentful spokesperson tells me that it is approaching a $1 billion valuation.

In addition, the company also today announced that it has hired Bridget Perry as its CMO. She previously led Adobe’s marketing efforts across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Currently, 28% of the Fortune 500 use Contentful to manage their content across platforms. The company says it has a total of 2,200 paying customers right now and these include the likes of Spotify, ITV, the British Museum, Telus and Urban Outfitters.

Steve Sloan, the company’s CEO who joined the company late last year, attributes its success to the fact that virtually every business today is in the process of figuring out how to become digital and serve its customers across platforms — and that’s a process that has only been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Ten or 15 years ago, when these content platforms or content management systems were created, they were a) really built for a web-only world and b) where the website was a complement to some other business,” he said. “Today, the mobile app, the mobile web experience is the front door to every business on the planet. And that’s never been any more clear than in this recent COVID crisis, where we’ve seen many, many businesses — even those that are very traditional businesses — realize that the dominant and, in some cases, only way their customers can interact with them is through that digital experience.”

But as they are looking at their options, many decide that they don’t just want to take an off-the-shelf product, Sloan argues, because it doesn’t allow them to build a differentiated offering.

Image Credits: Contentful

Perry also noted that this is something she saw at Adobe, too, as it built its digital experience business. “Leading marketing at Adobe, we used it ourselves,” she said. “And so the challenge that we heard from customers in the market was how complex it was in some cases to implement, to organize around it, to build those experiences fast and see value and impact on the business. And part of that challenge, I think, stemmed from the kind of monolithic, all-in-one type of suite that Adobe offered. Even as a marketer at Adobe, we had challenges with that kind of time to market and agility. And so what’s really interesting to me — and one of the reasons why I joined Contentful — is that Contentful approaches this in a very different way.”

Sloan noted that putting the round together was a bit of an adventure. Contentful’s existing investors approached the company around the holidays because they wanted to make a bigger investment in the company to fuel its long-term growth. But at the time, the company wasn’t ready to raise new capital yet.

“And then in January and February, we had inbound interest from people who weren’t yet investors, who came to us and said, ‘hey, we really want to invest in this company, we’ve seen the trend and we really believe in it.’ So we went back to our insiders and said, ‘hey, we’re going to think about actually moving in our timeline for raising capital,” Sloan told me. “And then, right about that time is when COVID really broke out, particularly in Western Europe in North America.”

That didn’t faze Contentful’s investors, though.

“One of the things that really stood out about our investors — and particularly our lead investor for this round Sapphire — is that when everybody else was really, really frightened, they were really clear about the opportunity, about their belief in the team and about their understanding of the progress we had already made. And they were really unflinching in terms of their support,” Sloan said.

Unsurprisingly, the company plans to use the new funding to expand its go-to-market efforts (that’s why it hired Perry, after all), but Sloan also noted that Contentful plans to invest quite a bit into R&D, as well, as it looks to help its customers solve more adjacent problems.

May
14
2020
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Adobe announces AI toolbox for Experience Platform

Most companies don’t have the personnel to do AI well, so they turn to platform vendors like Adobe for help. Like other platforms, it has been building AI into its product set for several years now, but wanted to give marketers a set of tools that take advantage of some advanced AI capabilities out of the box.

Today, the company announced five pre-packaged AI solutions specifically designed to give marketers more intelligent insight. Amit Ahuja, VP of ecosystem development at Adobe, says even before the pandemic, customers were struggling to deal with the onslaught of data and how they could use it to understand their customers better.

“There is so much data coming in, and customers are struggling to leverage this data — and not just for the purpose of analytics and insights, which is a huge part of it, but also to do predictive optimization,” Ahuja explained.

What’s more, we’ve known for some time that when there is so much data, it becomes impossible to make sense of it manually. Given that AI deals best with tons of data, Adobe wanted to take advantage of that, while packaging some popular data scenarios in a way that makes it easy for marketers to get insights.

That data comes from the Adobe Experience Platform, which the is designed to pull data not only from Adobe products, but from a variety of enterprise sources to help marketers build a more complete picture of their customers and get answers to key questions.

Customer Insights AI helps users understand their customers better. Image Credit: Adobe

The company is announcing a total of five AI tools today, two of which are generally available with the remainder in Beta for now. For starters, Customer AI helps marketers understand why their customers do what they do. For instance, why they keep coming back or why they stopped. Attribution AI helps marketers understand how effective their strategies are, something that’s always important, but especially in this economy where effectively deploying spend is more important than ever.

The first of the Beta tools is Journey AI, which helps marketers decide the best channel to engage customers. Content and Commerce AI looks at the most effective way to deliver content and finally Leads AI looks at the visitors most likely to convert to customers.

These five are just a start, and the company plans to add new tools to the toolbox as customers look for additional insights from the data to help them improve their marketing outcomes.

Apr
13
2020
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How Adobe shifted a Las Vegas conference to executives’ living rooms in less than 30 days

Adobe was scheduled to hold its annual conference in Las Vegas two weeks ago, but the coronavirus pandemic forced the company to make alternate plans. In less than a month, its events team shifted venues for the massive conference, not once, but twice as the severity of the situation became clear.

This year didn’t just involve Adobe Summit itself. To make things more interesting, it was also hosting Magento Imagine as a separate conference within a conference at the same time. (Adobe bought Magento in 2018 for $1.6 billion.)

Originally, Adobe had more than 500 sessions planned across four venues on the Las Vegas Strip, with more than 23,000 attendees expected. Combining all of the sponsors, partners and Adobe personnel, it involved more than 40,000 hotel rooms.

Once it became clear that such a large event couldn’t happen, the company reimagined the conference as a fully digital experience.

Plan A

VP of Experience Marketing Alex Amado is in charge of planning Adobe Summit, a tall task under normal circumstances.

“Planning Summit is a year-round endeavor,” he said. “Literally within weeks of finishing one of those Las Vegas events we are starting on the next one, and some of the work actually is on an 18 or 24-month cycle because we have those long-term hotel contracts and all of that stuff.

“For the last 12 months, basically, we had people who were working on what we now call Plan A — and we didn’t know that we needed a Plan B and Plan C — and the original event was going to be our biggest yet.”

2019 Adobe Summit stage in Las Vegas. Photo: Ron Miller/TechCrunch

After the team began to wonder in January if the virus would force them to change how they deliver the conference, they started building contingency plans in earnest, Amado said. “As we got into February, things started looking a little scarier, and it very quickly escalated to the point where we were talking really seriously about Plan B.”

Jan
13
2020
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Adobe Experience Manager now offered as cloud-native SaaS application

Adobe announced today that Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) is now available as a cloud-native SaaS application. Prior to this, it was available on premises or as a managed service, but it wasn’t pure cloud-native.

Obviously being available as a cloud service makes sense for customers, and offers all of the value you would get from any cloud service. Customers can now access all of the tools in AEM without having to worry about maintaining, managing or updating it, giving the marketing team more flexibility, agility and ongoing access to the latest updates.

This value proposition did not escape Loni Stark, Adobe’s senior director of strategy and product marketing. “It creates a compelling offer for mid-size companies and enterprises that are increasingly transforming to adopt advanced digital tools but need more simplicity and flexibility to support their changing business models,” Stark said in a statement.

AEM provides a number of capabilities, including managing the customer experience in real time. Having real-time access to data means you can deliver the products, services and experiences that make sense based on what you know about the customer in any given moment.

What’s more, you can meet customers wherever they happen to be. Today, it could be the company website, mobile app or other channel. Companies need to be flexible and tailor content to the specific channel, as well as what they know about the customer.

It’s interesting to note that AEM is based on the purchase of Day Software in 2010. That company originally developed a web content management product, but over time it evolved to become Adobe Experience Manager, and has been layering on functionality to meet an experience platform’s requirements since. Today, the product includes tools for content management, asset management and digital forms.

The company made the announcement today at NRF 2020, a huge retail conference taking place in New York City this week.

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