Sep
29
2020
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Datasaur snags $3.9M investment to build intelligent machine learning labeling platform

As machine learning has grown, one of the major bottlenecks remains labeling things so the machine learning application understands the data it’s working with. Datasaur, a member of the Y Combinator Winter 2020 batch, announced a $3.9 million investment today to help solve that problem with a platform designed for machine learning labeling teams.

The funding announcement, which includes a pre-seed amount of $1.1 million from last year and $2.8 million seed right after it graduated from Y Combinator in March, included investments from Initialized Capital, Y Combinator and OpenAI CTO Greg Brockman.

Company founder Ivan Lee says that he has been working in various capacities involving AI for seven years. First when his mobile gaming startup Loki Studios was acquired by Yahoo! in 2013, and Lee was eventually moved to the AI team, and, most recently, at Apple. Regardless of the company, he consistently saw a problem around organizing machine learning labeling teams, one that he felt he was uniquely situated to solve because of his experience.

“I have spent millions of dollars [in budget over the years] and spent countless hours gathering labeled data for my engineers. I came to recognize that this was something that was a problem across all the companies that I’ve been at. And they were just consistently reinventing the wheel and the process. So instead of reinventing that for the third time at Apple, my most recent company, I decided to solve it once and for all for the industry. And that’s why we started Datasaur last year,” Lee told TechCrunch.

He built a platform to speed up human data labeling with a dose of AI, while keeping humans involved. The platform consists of three parts: a labeling interface; the intelligence component, which can recognize basic things so the labeler isn’t identifying the same thing over and over; and finally a team organizing component.

He says the area is hot, but to this point has mostly involved labeling consulting solutions, which farm out labeling to contractors. He points to the sale of Figure Eight in March 2019 and to Scale, which snagged $100 million last year as examples of other startups trying to solve this problem in this way, but he believes his company is doing something different by building a fully software-based solution.

The company currently offers a cloud and on-prem solution, depending on the customer’s requirements. It has 10 employees, with plans to hire in the next year, although he didn’t share an exact number. As he does that, he says he has been working with a partner at investor Initialized on creating a positive and inclusive culture inside the organization, and that includes conversations about hiring a diverse workforce as he builds the company.

“I feel like this is just standard CEO speak, but that is something that we absolutely value in our top of funnel for the hiring process,” he said.

As Lee builds out his platform, he has also worried about built-in bias in AI systems and the detrimental impact that could have on society. He says that he has spoken to clients about the role of labeling in bias and ways of combatting that.

“When I speak with our clients, I talk to them about the potential for bias from their labelers and built into our product itself is the ability to assign multiple people to the same project. And I explain to my clients that this can be more costly, but from personal experience I know that it can improve results dramatically to get multiple perspectives on the exact same data,” he said.

Lee believes humans will continue to be involved in the labeling process in some way, even as parts of the process become more automated. “The very nature of our existence [as a company] will always require humans in the loop, […] and moving forward I do think it’s really important that as we get into more and more of the long tail use cases of AI, we will need humans to continue to educate and inform AI, and that’s going to be a critical part of how this technology develops.”

Sep
24
2020
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NUVIA raises $240M from Mithril to make climate-ready enterprise chips

Climate change is on everyone’s minds these days, what with the outer Bay Area on fire, orange skies above San Francisco, and a hurricane season that is bearing down on the East Coast with alacrity (and that’s just the United States in the past two weeks).

A major — and growing — source of those emissions is data centers, the cloud infrastructure that powers most of our devices and experiences. That’s led to some novel ideas, such as Microsoft’s underwater data center Project Natick, which just came back to the surface for testing a bit more than a week ago.

Yet, for all the fun experiments, there is a bit more of an obvious solution: just make the chips more energy efficient.

That’s the thesis of NUVIA, which was founded by three ex-Apple chip designers who led the design of the “A” series chip line for the company’s iPhones and iPads for years. Those chips are wicked fast within a very tight energy envelope, and NUVIA’s premise is essentially what happens when you take those sorts of energy constraints (and the experience of its chip design team) and apply them to the data center.

We did a deep profile of the company last year when it announced its $53 million Series A, so definitely read that to understand the founding story and the company’s mission. Now about one year later, it’s coming back to us with news of a whole bunch of more funding.

NUVIA announced today that it has closed on a $240 million Series B round led by Mithril Capital, with a bunch of others involved listed below.

Since we last chatted with the company, we now have a bit more detail of what it’s working on. It has two products under development, a system-on-chip (SoC) unit dubbed “Orion” and a CPU core dubbed “Phoenix.” The company previewed a bit of Phoenix’s performance last month, although as with most chip companies, it is almost certainly too early to make any long-term predictions about how the technology will settle in with existing and future chips coming to the market.

NUVIA’s view is that chips are limited to about 250-300 watts of power given the cooling and power constraints of most data centers. As more cores become common pre chip, each core is going to have to make do with less power availability while maintaining performance. NUVIA’s tech is trying to solve that problem, lowering total cost of ownership for data center operators while also improving overall energy efficiency.

There’s a lot more work to be done of course, so expect to see more product announcements and previews from the company as it gets its technology further finalized. With $240 million more dollars in the bank though, it certainly has the resources to make some progress.

Shortly after we chatted with the company last year, Apple sued company founder and CEO Gerald Williams III for breach of contract, with the company arguing that its former chip designer was trying to poach employees for his nascent startup. Williams counter-sued earlier this year, and the two parties are now in the discovery phase of their lawsuit, which remains ongoing.

In addition to lead Mithril, the round was done “in partnership with” the founders of semiconductor giant Marvell (Sehat Sutardja and Weili Dai), funds managed by BlackRock, Fidelity, and Temasek, plus Atlantic Bridge and Redline Capital along with Series A investors Capricorn Investment Group, Dell Technologies Capital, Mayfield, Nepenthe LLC, and WRVI Capital.

Aug
24
2020
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Meet the anti-antitrust startup club

When Congress called in tech CEOs to testify a few weeks ago, it felt like a defining moment. Hundreds of startups have become unicorns, with the largest worth more than $1 trillion (or perhaps $2 trillion). Indeed, modern tech companies have become so entrenched, Facebook is the only one of the Big Five American tech shops worth less than 13 figures.

The titanic valuations of many companies are predicated on current performance, cash on hand and lofty expectations for future growth. The pandemic has done little to stem Big Tech’s forward march and many startups have seen growth rates accelerate as other sectors rushed to support a suddenly remote workforce.

But inside tech’s current moment in the sun is a concern that Congress worked to highlight: Are these firms behaving anti-competitively?

By now you’ve heard the arguments concerning why Big Tech may be too big, but there’s a neat second story that we, the Equity crew, have been chatting about: Some startups are racing into the big kill zone.

They have to be a bit foolhardy to take on Google Gmail and Search, Amazon’s e-commerce platform or Apple’s App Store. Yet, there are startups targeting all of these categories and more, some flush with VC funding from investors who are eager to take a swing at tech’s biggest players

If the little companies manage to carve material market share for themselves, arguments that Big Tech was just too big to kill — let alone fail — will dissolve. But today, their incumbency is a reality and these startups are merely bold.

Still, when we look at the work being done, there are enough companies staring down the most valuable companies in American history (on an unadjusted basis) that we had to shout them out. Say hello to the “anti-antitrust club.”

Hey and Superhuman are coming after Gmail

Gmail has been the undisputed leader in consumer email for years (if not enterprise email, where Microsoft has massive inroads due to Exchange and Outlook). Startups have contested that market, including Mailbox, which sold to Dropbox for about $100 million back in 2013, but whenever a new feature came along that might entice users, Gmail managed to suck it up into its app.

Jun
30
2020
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Apple device management company Jamf files S-1 as it prepares to go public

Jamf, the Apple device management company, filed to go public today. Jamf might not be a household name, but the Minnesota company has been around since 2002 helping companies manage their Apple equipment.

In the early days, that was Apple computers. Later it expanded to also manage iPhones and iPads. The company launched at a time when most IT pros had few choices for managing Macs in a business setting.

Jamf changed that, and as Macs and other Apple devices grew in popularity inside organizations in the 2010s, the company’s offerings grew in demand. Notably, over the years Apple has helped Jamf and its rivals considerably, by building more sophisticated tooling at the operating system level to help manage Macs and other Apple devices inside organizations.

Jamf raised approximately $50 million of disclosed funding before being acquired by Vista Equity Partners in 2017 for $733.8 million, according to the S-1 filing. Today, the company kicks off the high-profile portion of its journey towards going public.

Apple device management takes center stage

In a case of interesting timing, Jamf is filing to go public less than a week after Apple bought mobile device management startup Fleetsmith. At the time, Apple indicated that it would continue to partner with Jamf as before, but with its own growing set of internal tooling, which could at some point begin to compete more rigorously with the market leader.

Other companies in the space managing Apple devices besides Jamf and Fleetsmith include Addigy and Kandji. Other more general offerings in the mobile device management (MDM) space include MobileIron and VMware Airwatch among others.

Vista is a private equity shop with a specific thesis around buying out SaaS and other enterprise companies, growing them, and then exiting them onto the public markets or getting them acquired by strategic buyers. Examples include Ping Identity, which the firm bought in 2016 before taking it public last year, and Marketo, which Vista bought in 2016 for $1.8 billion and sold to Adobe last year for $4.8 billion, turning a tidy profit.

Inside the machine

Now that we know where Jamf sits in the market, let’s talk about it from a purely financial perspective.

Jamf is a modern software company, meaning that it sells its digital services on a recurring basis. In the first quarter of 2020, for example, about 83% of its revenue came from subscription software. The rest was generated by services and software licenses.

Now that we know what type of company Jamf is, let’s explore its growth, profitability and cash generation. Once we understand those facets of its results, we’ll be able to understand what it might be worth and if its IPO appears to be on solid footing.

We’ll start with growth. In 2018 Jamf recorded $146.6 million in revenue, which grew to $204.0 million in 2019. That works out to an annual growth rate of 39.2%, a more than reasonable pace of growth for a company going public. It’s not super quick, mind, but it’s not slow either. More recently, the company grew 36.9% from $44.1 million in Q1 2019 to $60.4 million in revenue in Q1 2020. That’s a bit slower, but not too much slower.

Turning to profitability, we need to start with the company’s gross margins. Then we’ll talk about its net margins. And, finally, adjusted profits.

Gross margins help us understand how valuable a company’s revenue is. The higher the gross margins, the better. SaaS companies like Jamf tend to have gross margins of 70% or above. In Jamf’s own case, it posted gross margins of 75.1% in Q1 2020, and 72.5% in 2019. Jamf’s gross margins sit comfortably in the realm of SaaS results, and perhaps even more importantly are improving over time.

Getting behind the curtain

When all its expenses are accounted for, the picture is less rosy, and Jamf is unprofitable. The company’s net losses for 2018 and 2019 were similar, totalling $36.3 million and $32.6 million, respectively. Jamf’s net loss improved a little in Q1, falling from $9.0 million in 2019 to $8.3 million this year.

The company remains weighed down by debt, however, which cost it nearly $5 million in Q1 2020, and $21.4 million for all of 2019. According to the S-1, Jamf is sporting a debt-to-equity ratio of roughly 0.8, which may be a bit higher than your average public SaaS company, and is almost certainly a function of the company’s buyout by a private equity firm.

But the company’s adjusted profit metrics strip out debt costs, and under the heavily massaged adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) metric, Jamf’s history is only one of rising profitability. From $6.6 million in 2018 to $20.8 million in 2019, and from $4.3 million in Q1 2019 to $5.6 million in Q1 2020. with close to 10% adjusted operating profit margins through YE 2019.

It will be interesting to see how the company’s margins will be affected by COVID, with financials during the period still left blank in this initial version of the S-1. The Enterprise market in general has been reasonably resilient to the recent economic shock, and device management may actually perform above expectations given the growing push for remote work.

Completing the picture

Something notable about Jamf is that it has positive cash generation, even if in Q1 it tends to consume cash that is made up for in other quarters. In 2019, the firm posted $11.2 million in operational cash flow. That’s a good result, and better than 2018’s $9.4 million of operating cash generation. (The company’s investing cash flows have often run negative due to Jamf acquiring other companies, like ZuluDesk and Digita.)

With Jamf, we have a SaaS company that is growing reasonably well, has solid, improving margins, non-terrifying losses, growing adjusted profits, and what looks like a reasonable cash flow perspective. But Jamf is cash poor, with just $22.7 million in cash and equivalents as of the end of Q1 2020 — some months ago now. At that time, the firm also had debts of $201.6 million.

Given the company’s worth, that debt figure is not terrifying. But the company’s thin cash balance makes it a good IPO candidate; going public will raise a chunk of change for the company, giving it more operating latitude and also possibly a chance to lower its debt load. Indeed Jamf notes that it intends to use part of its IPO raise to “to repay outstanding borrowings under our term loan facility…” Paying back debt at IPO is common in private equity buyouts.

So what?

Jamf’s march to the public markets adds its name to a growing list of companies. The market is already preparing to ingest Lemonade and Accolade this week, and there are rumors of more SaaS companies in the wings, just waiting to go public.

There’s a reasonable chance that as COVID-19 continues to run roughshod over the United States, the public markets eventually lose some momentum. But that isn’t stopping companies like Jamf from rolling the dice and taking a chance going public.

Jun
26
2020
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Fleetsmith customers unhappy with loss of third-party app support after Apple acquisition

When Apple confirmed it had acquired Fleetsmith, a mobile device management vendor, on Wednesday, it seemed like a straightforward purchase, but Fleetsmith customers quickly learned a key piece of functionality had stopped working  — and many weren’t happy about it.

Apple systems administrators began complaining on social media on the morning of the acquisition announcement that the company was no longer allowing them to connect to third-party applications.

“Primarily Fleetsmith maintained a third-party app catalog, so you could deploy things like Chrome or Zoom to your Macs, and Fleetsmith would maintain security updates for those apps. This was the main reason we purchased Fleetsmith,” a Fleetsmith customer told TechCrunch.

The customer added that the company described this functionality as a major feature in a company blog post:

For apps like Chrome, which are managed through the Fleetsmith Catalog, we handle all aspects of testing, packaging, triage, and deployment automatically. Whenever there’s an update (including security patches), we quickly add them to the Catalog so that our customers can enforce the latest version. In this case, we had the Chrome 78.0.3904.87 patch up within a couple hours of the update dropping.

As one system administrator pointed out, being able to manage Chrome browser security in an automated way was a huge part of this, and that was also removed along with third party app support.

As it turned out, Apple had made it clear that it was discontinuing this feature in an email to Fleetsmith customers on the day of the transition. The email included links to several help articles that were supposed to assist admins with the transition. (The email is included in full at the end of this article.)

The general consensus among admins that I spoke to was that these articles were not terribly helpful. While they described a way to fix the issues, they said that Apple has turned what was a highly automated experience into a highly manual one, effectively eliminating the speed and ease of use advantage of having the update feature in the first place.

Apple did confirm that it had responded to some help ticket requests after the changes this week, saying that it would soon restore some configurations for Catalog apps, and was working with impacted customers as needed. The company did not make clear, however, why they removed this functionality in the first place.

Fleetsmith offered a couple of key features that appealed to Mac system administrators. For starters, it let them set up new Macs automatically out of the box. This allows them to ship a new Mac or other Apple device, and as soon as the employee powers it up and connects to Wi-Fi, it connects to Fleetsmith, where systems administrators can track usage and updates. In addition, it allowed System Administrators to enforce Apple security and OS updates on company devices.

What’s more, it could also do the same thing with third-party applications like Google Chrome, Zoom or many others. When these companies pushed a new update, system administrators could make sure all users had the most recent version running on their machines. This is the key functionality that was removed this week.

It’s not clear why Apple chose to strip out these features outlined in the email to customers, but it seems likely that most of this functionality isn’t coming back, other than restoring some configurations for Catalog apps.

Email that went out to Fleetsmith customers the day of the acquisition outlining the changes:

 

Attempts to reach Fleetsmith founders for comment were unsuccessful. Should that change we will update the article.

Jun
24
2020
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Apple has acquired Fleetsmith, a startup that helps IT manage Apple devices remotely

At a time when IT has to help employees set up and manage devices remotely, a service that simplifies those processes could certainly come in handy. Apple recognized that, and acquired Fleetsmith today, a startup that helps companies do precisely that with Apple devices.

While Apple didn’t publicize the acquisition, it has confirmed the deal with TechCrunch, while Fleetsmith announced the deal in a company blog post. Neither company was sharing the purchase price.

The startup has built technology that takes advantage of Apple’s Device Enrollment Program, allowing IT departments to bring devices online as soon as the employee takes it out of the box and powers it up.

At the time of its $30 million Series B funding last year, CEO Zack Blum explained the company’s core value proposition: “From a customer perspective, they can ship devices directly to their employees. The employee unwraps it, connects to Wi-Fi and the device is enrolled automatically in Fleetsmith,” Blum explained at that time.

Over time, the company has layered on other useful pieces beyond automating device registration, like updating devices automatically with OS and security updates, while letting IT see a dashboard of the status of all devices under management, all in a pretty slick interface.

While Apple will in all likelihood continue to work with Jamf, the leader in the Apple device management space, this acquisition gives the company a remote management option at a time when it’s essential with so many employees working from home.

Fleetsmith, which has raised more than $40 million from investors, like Menlo Ventures, Tiger Global Management, Upfront Ventures and Harrison Metal, will continue to sell the product through the company website, according to the blog post.

The founders put a happy face on the deal, as founders tend to do. “We’re thrilled to join Apple. Our shared values of putting the customer at the center of everything we do without sacrificing privacy and security, means we can truly meet our mission, delivering Fleetsmith to businesses and institutions of all sizes, around the world,” they wrote.

May
20
2020
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Identity management startup Truework raises $30M to help you verify your work history

As organizations look for safe and efficient ways of running their services in the new global paradigm of increased social distancing, a startup that has built a platform to help people verify their work details in a secure way is announcing a round of growth funding.

Truework, which provides a way for banks, apartment-rental agencies, and others to check the employment details of an applicant in a quick and secure manner online, has raised $30 million, money that CEO and co-founder Ryan Sandler said in an interview that it would use both grow its existing business, as well to explore adding more details — both via its own service and via third-party partnerships — to the identity information that it shares.

The Series B is being led by Activant Capital — a VC that focuses on B2B2C startups — with participation also from Sequoia Capital and Khosla Ventures, as well as a number of high profile execs and entrepreneurs — Jeff Weiner (LinkedIn); Tom Gonser (Docusign); William Hockey (Plaid); and Daniel Yanisse (Checkr) among them.

The LinkedIn connection is an interesting one. Both Sandler and co-founder Victor Kabdebon were engineers at LinkedIn working on profile and improving the kind of data that LinkedIn sources on its users (the third co-founder, Ethan Winchell, previously worked elsewhere), and while Sandler tells me that the idea for Truework came to them after both left the company, he sees LinkedIn “as a potential partner here,” so watch this space.

The problem that Truework is aiming to solve is the very clunky, and often insecure, nature of how organizations typically verify an individual’s employment information. Details about salary and where you work, and the job you do, are typically essential for larger financial transactions, whether it’s securing a mortgage or another financing loan, or renting an apartment, or for others who might need to verify that information for other purposes, such as staffing agencies.

Typically that kind of information gathering is time-consuming both to reach out to get and to confirm (Sandler cites statistics that say on average an HR person spends over 1,000 hours annually answering questions like these). And some of the systems that have been put in place to do that work — specifically consumer reporting agencies — have been proven not be as watertight in their security as you would hope.

“Your data is flowing around lots of third party platforms,” Sandler said. “You’re releasing a lot of information about yourself and you don’t know where the data is going and if it’s even accurate.”

Truework’s solution is based around a platform, and now an API, that a company buys into. In turn, it gives its employees the ability to consent to using it. If the employee agrees, Truework sources a worker’s place of employment and salary details. Then when a third party wants to verify that information for the person in question, it uses Truework to do so, rather than contacting the company directly.

Then, when those queries come in, Truework contacts the individual with an email or text about the inquiry, so that he/she can okay (or reject) the request. Truework’s Sandler said that it uses ISO27001, SOC2 Type 1 & 2 protections, but he also confirmed that it does store your data.

Currently the idea is that if you leave your job, your next employer would need to also be a Truework customer in order to update the information it has on you: the startup makes money by charging both larger enterprises to make the platform accessible to employees as well as those organizations that are querying for the information/verifications (small business employers using the platform can use it for free).

Over time, the plan will be to configure a way to update your profiles regardless of where you work.

So far, the concept has seen a lot of traction: there are 20,000 small businesses using the platform, as well as 100 enterprises, with the number of verifiers (its term for those requesting information) now at 40,000. Customers include The College Board, The Real Real, Oscar Health, The Motley Fool, and Tuft & Needle.

While all of this was built at a time before COVID-19, the global health pandemic has highlighted the importance of having more efficient and secure systems for doing work, especially at a time when many people are not in the office.

“Our biggest competitor is the fax machine and the phone call,” Sandler said, “but as companies move to more remote working, no one is manning the phones or fax machines. But these operations still need to happen.” Indeed, he points out that at the end of 2019, Truework had 25,000 verifiers. Nearly doubling its end-user customers speaks to the huge boost in business it has seen in the last five months.

That is part of the reason the company has attracted the investment it has.

“Truework’s platform sits at the center of consumers’ most important transactions and life events – from purchasing a home, to securing a new job,” said Steve Sarracino, founder and partner at Activant Capital, in a statement. “Up until now, the identity verification process has been painful, expensive, and opaque for all parties involved, something we’ve seen first-hand in the mortgage space. Starting with income and employment, Truework is setting the standard for consent-based verifications and unlocking the next wave of the digital economy. We’re thrilled to be partnering with this exceptional team as they continue to scale the platform.” Sarracino is joining the board with this round.

While a big focus in the world of tech right now may be on building more and better ways of connecting goods and services to people in as contact-free a way as possible, the bigger play around identity management has been around for years, and will continue to be a huge part of how the internet develops in the future.

The fax and phone may be the primary tools these days for verifying employment information, but on a more general level, there are companies like Facebook, Google and Apple already playing a big role in how we “log in” and use all kinds of services online. They, along with others focused squarely on the identity and verification space (and Truework works with some of them), and using a myriad of approaches that include biometrics, ‘wallet’-style passports that link to information elsewhere, and more, will all continue to try to make the case for why they might be the most trusted provider of that layer of information, at a time when we may want to share less and especially share less with multiple parties.

That is the bigger opportunity that investors are betting on here.

“The increasing momentum Truework has seen since its founding in 2017 demonstrates the critical need for transformation in this space,” said Alfred Lin, partner at Sequoia, in a statement. “Privacy, especially around identity data, is becoming increasingly top of mind for consumers and how they make transactions online.”

Truework has now raised close to $45 million, and it’s not disclosing its valuation.

Apr
08
2020
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Mozilla names long-time chairwoman Mitchell Baker as CEO

Mozilla Corporation announced today that it has chosen long-time chairwoman Mitchell Baker to be CEO, replacing Chris Beard, who announced last August he would be stepping down at the end of the year.

Baker represents a logical choice to lead the company. At a time of great turmoil in the world at large, she brings the stability of someone who has been with Mozilla Corporation since 2003. Writing in a company blog post, she certainly recognized the challenges ahead, navigating the current economic uncertainty and the competitive challenges the company faces with its flagship Firefox browser.

“It’s a time of challenge on many levels, there’s no question about that. Mozilla’s flagship product remains excellent, but the competition is stiff. The increasing vertical integration of internet experience remains a deep challenge. It’s also a time of need, and of opportunity. Increasingly, numbers of people recognize that the internet needs attention,” Baker wrote.

Baker has been acting as interim CEO since December when Beard officially left the company. In a blog post from the board announcing Baker’s official new title, they certainly recognized that it would take someone with her unique combination of skills and experience to guide the company through this next phase.

“Mitchell’s deep understanding of Mozilla’s existing businesses gives her the ability to provide direction and support to drive this important work forward,” they wrote. Adding, “And her leadership style grounded in openness and honesty is helping the organization navigate through the uncertainty that COVID-19 has created for Mozillians at work and at home.”

Mozilla Corporation was founded in 1998 and is best known for its flagship, open-source Firefox browser. The company faces stiff competition in the browser market from Google, Apple and Microsoft.

Jan
02
2020
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The story of why Marc Benioff gifted the AppStore.com domain to Steve Jobs

In Marc Benioff’s book, Trailblazer, he tells the tale of how Steve Jobs planted the seeds of the idea that would become the first enterprise app store, and how Benioff eventually paid Jobs back with the gift of the AppStore.com domain.

While Salesforce did truly help blaze a trail when it launched as an enterprise cloud service in 1999, it took that a step further in 2006 when it became the first SaaS company to distribute related services in an online store.

In an interview last year around Salesforce’s 20th anniversary, company CTO and co-founder Parker Harris told me that the idea for the app store came out of a meeting with Steve Jobs three years before AppExchange would launch. Benioff, Harris and fellow co-founder Dave Moellenhoff took a trip to Cupertino in 2003 to meet with Jobs. At that meeting, the legendary CEO gave the trio some sage advice: to really grow and develop as a company, Salesforce needed to develop a cloud software ecosystem. While that’s something that’s a given for enterprise SaaS companies today, it was new to Benioff and his team in 2003.

As Benioff tells it in his book, he asked Jobs to elucidate on what he meant by an application ecosystem. Jobs replied that how he implemented the idea was up to him. It took some time for that concept to bake, however. Benioff wrote that the notion of an app store eventually came to him as an epiphany at dinner one night a few years after that meeting. He says that he sketched out that original idea on a napkin while sitting in a restaurant:

One evening over dinner in San Francisco, I was struck by an irresistibly simple idea. What if any developer from anywhere in the world could create their own applications for the Salesforce platform? And what if we offered to store these apps in an online directory that allowed any Salesforce user to download them?

Whether it happened like that or not, the app store idea would eventually come to fruition, but it wasn’t originally called the AppExchange, as it is today. Instead, Benioff says he liked the name AppStore.com so much that he had his lawyers register the domain the next day.

When Benioff talked to customers prior to the launch, while they liked the concept, they didn’t like the name he had come up with for his online store. He eventually relented and launched in 2006 with the name AppExchange.com instead. Force.com would follow in 2007, giving programmers a full-fledged development platform to create applications, and then distribute them in AppExchange.

Meanwhile, AppStore.com sat dormant until 2008, when Benioff was invited back to Cupertino for a big announcement around iPhone. As Benioff wrote, “At the climactic moment, [Jobs] said [five] words that nearly floored me: ‘I give you App Store.”

Benioff wrote that he and his executives actually gasped when they heard the name. Somehow, even after all that time had passed since that the original meeting, both companies had settled upon the same name. Except Salesforce had rejected it, leaving an opening for Benioff to give a gift to his mentor. He says that he went backstage after the keynote and signed over the domain to Jobs.

In the end, the idea of the web domain wasn’t even all that important to Jobs in the context of an app store concept. After all, he put the App Store on every phone, and it wouldn’t require a website to download apps. Perhaps that’s why today the domain points to the iTunes store, and launches iTunes (or gives you the option of opening it).

Even the App Store page on Apple.com uses the sub-domain “app-store” today, but it’s still a good story of how a conversation between Jobs and Benioff would eventually have a profound impact on how enterprise software was delivered, and how Benioff was able to give something back to Jobs for that advice.

Nov
18
2019
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Salesforce, Apple partnership begins to come to life

Last year at Dreamforce, Salesforce’s enormous annual customer conference, Apple and Salesforce announced the beginnings of a partnership where the two organizations would work together to enhance Salesforce products running on Apple devices. Today, as this year’s Dreamforce conference begins, the companies announced the fruits of that labor with general availability of two new tools that were first announced at last year’s event.

For starters, Apple has been working with Salesforce to redesign the Salesforce Mobile app to build in Apple iOS features into the app like being able to use Siri shortcuts to get work done faster, using your voice instead of typing, something that’s sometimes awkward to do on a mobile device.

Hey Siri example in Salesforce Mobile app.

Photo: Salesforce

For instance, you could say, “Hey Siri, next sales meeting,” and Siri can interact with Salesforce CRM to tell you who your meeting is with, the name of his or her company, when you last met and what the Einstein opportunity score is to help you predict how likely it is that you could make a sale today (or eventually).

In addition, the Mobile App takes advantage of Apple’s Handoff feature to reflect changes across devices immediately, and Apple’s Face ID for easy log on to the app.

Salesforce also announced a pilot of Einstein Voice on Salesforce Mobile, allowing reps to enter notes, add tasks and update the CRM database using voice. Einstein is Salesforce’s general artificial intelligence layer, and the voice feature uses natural language understanding to interpret what the rep asks.

The company reports that over 1000 companies participated in piloting the updated app, which constitutes the largest pilot in the history of the organization.

Salesforce also announced its new mobile development platform SDK, built specifically for iOS and iPadOS using the Swift language. The idea is to provide a tool to give Salesforce developers with the ability to build apps for iPad and iPhone, then package them up with a new tool called Swift UI and Package Manager.

Trailhead Go

Photo: Salesforce

Trailhead Go is the mobile version of the company’s online learning platform designed specifically for iPad and iPhone. It was built using the new Mobile SDK, and allows users to access the same courses they can on the web in a mobile context. The new mobile tool includes the ability to Handoff between devices along with support for picture-in-picture and split view for multi-tasking when it makes sense.

Salesforce Mobile and Trailhead Go are available starting today for free in the iOS App Store. The Salesforce Mobile SDK will be available later this year.

As this partnership continues to develop, both companies should benefit. Salesforce gets direct access to Apple features, and can work with Apple to implement them in an optimized way. Apple gets deeper access to the enterprise with help from Salesforce, one of the biggest enterprise software vendors around.

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