Jul
17
2019
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ClassPass introduces a corporate wellness program

ClassPass has set up yet another revenue stream, signing to a corporate wellness program partners like Facebook, Glossier, Google, Morgan Stanley, Under Armour, Etsy, Southwest Airlines and Gatorade.

The program will give employees at these companies access to the ClassPass network of more than 22,000 studio partners across 2,500 cities around the world, which includes studio brands like Barry’s Bootcamp, Flywheel Sports and CorePower Yoga. Corporate partners also get access to a “large library” of on-demand audio and video workouts.

This comes after ClassPass retooled the ClassPass Live product, in which it invested the resources to build out a new live broadcast studio, and rebuilt it into a library of on-demand video workouts.

The company launched ClassPass Live in 2018 with the hopes that users could workout from home within the ClassPass ecosystem. CEO Fritz Lanman told TechCrunch in June that the company stopped doing live classes in April 2019 and repackaged the content into free, on-demand video classes.

According to the release, one of the issues with corporate wellness programs is that HR departments have to patch together programs based on the regions in which their companies have offices/employees. ClassPass argues that its scale across the country, and in 17 other countries, gives it an edge with corporations that have global workforces.

Moreover, the ClassPass corporate wellness program only charges employers when employees actually use the service, and allows employers to reward good behaviors (going to a certain number of classes per month) by offering additional credits toward ClassPass experiences.

Here’s what Lanman had to say about it in a prepared statement:

The ClassPass Corporate Program enables employers of all sizes to offer the world’s most extensive, one-stop fitness and wellness program to their employees worldwide. ClassPass is the best fitness program ever created for consumers. With this launch, it’s now also the best fitness program ever created for employers and their employees.

Jul
15
2019
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Amazon adds Hindi to the Alexa Skills Kit

Users of Amazon’s voice assistant will soon be able to talk to Alexa in Hindi. Amazon announced today that it has added a Hindi voice model to its Alexa Skills Kit for developers. Alexa developers can also update their existing published skills in India for Hindi.

Amazon first revealed last month during its re: MARS machine learning and artificial intelligence conference that it would add fluent Hindi to Alexa. Before, Alexa was only able to understand a few Hinglish (a portmanteau of Hindi and English) commands. Rohit Prasad, vice president and head scientist for Alexa, told Indian news agency IANS that adding Hindi to Alexa posed a “contextual, cultural as well as content-related challenge” because of the wide variety of dialects, accents and slang used in India.

Along with English, Hindi is one of India’s official languages (Google Voice Assistant also offers Hindi support). According to Citi Research, Amazon holds about a 30% market share, about the same as its main competitor, Walmart-backed Flipkart.

Jul
11
2019
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Swit, a collaboration suite that offers ‘freedom from integrations,’ raises $6 million in seed funding

A marketplace dominated by Slack and Microsoft Teams, along with a host of other smaller workplace communication apps, might seem to leave little room for a new entrant, but Swit wants to prove that wrong. The app combines messaging with a roster of productivity tools, like task management, calendars and Gantt charts, to give teams “freedom from integrations.” Originally founded in Seoul and now based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Swit announced today that it has raised a $6 million seed round led by Korea Investment Partners, with participation from Hyundai Venture Investment Corporation and Mirae Asset Venture Investment.

Along with an investment from Kakao Ventures last year, this brings Swit’s total seed funding to about $7 million. Swit’s desktop and mobile apps were released in March and since then more than 450 companies have adopted it, with 40,000 individual registered users. The startup was launched last year by CEO Josh Lee and Max Lim, who previously co-founded auction.co.kr, a Korean e-commerce site acquired by eBay in 2001.

While Slack, which recently went public, has become so synonymous with the space that “Slack me” is now part of workplace parlance at many companies, Lee says Swit isn’t playing catch-up. Instead, he believes Swit benefits from “last mover advantage,” solving the shortfalls of other workplace messaging, collaboration and productivity apps by integrating many of their functions into one hub.

“We know the market is heavily saturated with great unicorns, but many companies need multiple collaboration apps and there is nothing that seamlessly combines them, so users don’t have to go back and forth between two platforms,” Lee tells TechCrunch. Many employees rely on Slack or Microsoft Teams to chat with one another, on top of several project management apps, like Asana, Jira, Monday and Confluence, and email to communicate with people at other companies (Lee points to a M.io report that found most businesses use at least two messaging apps and four to seven collaboration tools).

Lee says he used Slack for more than five years and during that time, his teammates added integrations from Asana, Monday, GSuite and Office365, but were unsatisfied with how they worked.

“All we could do with the integrations was receive mostly text-based notifications and there were also too many overlapping features,” he says. “We realized that working with multiple environments reduced team productivity and increased communication overhead.” In very large organizations, teams or departments sometimes use different messaging and collaboration apps, creating yet more friction.

Swit’s goal is to cover all those needs in one app. It comes with integrated Kanban task management, calendars and Gantt charts, and at the end of this year about 20 to 30 bots and apps will be available in its marketplace. Swit’s pricing tier currently has free and standard tiers, with a premium tier for enterprise customers planned for fall. The premium version will have full integration with Office365 and GSuite, allowing users to drag-and-drop emails into panels or convert them into trackable tasks.

While being a late-mover gives Swit certain advantages, it also means it must convince users to switch from their current apps, which is always a challenge when it comes to attracting enterprise clients. But Lee is optimistic. After seeing a demo, he says 91% of potential users registered on Swit, with more than 75% continuing to use it every day. Many of them used Asana or Monday before, but switched to Swit because they wanted to more easily communicate with teammates while planning tasks. Some are also gradually transitioning over from Slack to Swit for all their messaging (Swit recently released a Slack migration tool that enables teams to move over channels, workspaces and attachments. Migration tools for Asana, Trello and Jira are also planned).

In addition to “freedom from integrations,” Lee says Swit’s competitive advantages include being developed from the start for small businesses as well as large enterprises that still frequently rely on email to communicate across different departments or locations. Another differentiator is that all of Swit’s functions work on both desktop and mobile, which not all integrations in other collaboration apps can.

“That means if people integrate multiple apps into a desktop app or web browser, they might not be able to use them on mobile. So if they are looking for data, they have to search app by app, channel by channel, product by product, so data and information is scattered everywhere, hair on fire,” Lee says. “We provide one centralized command center for team collaboration without losing context and that is one of our biggest sources of customer satisfaction.”

Jul
03
2019
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KKR confirms it has acquired Canadian software company Corel, reportedly for over $1B

Yesterday we broke the news that Corel — the company behind WordPerfect, Corel Draw and a number of other apps, as well as the new owner of Parallels — had itself gotten acquired by KKR. Today, the news is confirmed and official: KKR today announced it has closed the deal, purchasing Corel from private equity firm Vector Capital.

The terms of the acquisition are not being disclosed, but when the first rumors of a deal started to emerge a couple of months ago, the price being reported was over $1 billion.

Corel may not be the first name you think of in the world of apps and software today. Founded in the 1980s as one of the first big software companies to capitalize on the first wave of personal computer ownership, it tried to compete against Microsoft in those early days (unsuccessfully), and has seen a lot of ups and downs, including two retreats from the stock market, an insider trading scandal and patent disputes (and even detentes) with its onetime rival.

But in more recent years it has, under the radar, built itself to be a solid and — in these days of startups that claim to intentionally operate at a loss for years in order to scale — profitable business with 90 million users. (Vector said in the past that Corel had paid dividends of $300 million over the years it owned the company.)

Founded in the days when you went to electronics store and bought physical boxes of software with installation disks and hefty manuals, Corel has brought itself into the modern era, with acquisitions like Parallels — a virtualization giant that lets businesses run far-flung and very fragmented networks as if they weren’t — underscoring that strategy.

And that is where KKR appears to be putting its focus. In the memo that a source passed us yesterday, Corel’s CEO Patrick Nichols assured staff that there would be no layoffs and that this acquisition would mean a significant new infusion of capital both to expand its existing business as well as to make more acquisitions to grow. (As we pointed out yesterday, there are a lot of very promising software startups in the market today, and not all of them will scale on their own, so that could present interesting opportunities for companies like Corel.)

“Corel has differentiated itself by offering an impressive portfolio of essential tools and services for connected knowledge workers – across devices, operating systems, and a range of fast-growing industries. KKR looks forward to working together with management to drive continued growth across its existing platforms while leveraging the team’s extensive experience in M&A to deliver a new chapter of innovation and growth on a global scale,” said John Park, member at KKR, in a statement.

That’s not to say that Corel does not have a specific strategy in mind. The company has apps and services today in three verticals serving consumers (mostly “prosumers”) and so-called knowledge workers: Creativity, Productivity and Desktop-as-a-Service. That will likely be the trajectory that it will continue to pursue as it looks for more growth.

Although Vector is known as a tech investor, KKR is another step up in to the “bigger” leagues, and so it will be interesting to see what Corel can do with the larger coffers, and the larger network of contacts, that KKR will bring to the table.

“KKR recognizes the value of our people and their impressive achievements, especially in terms of our commitment to customers, technology innovation, and our highly successful acquisition strategy. With KKR’s support and shared vision, our management team is excited by the opportunities ahead for our company, products, and users,” Nichols said in a statement.

If reports of the acquisition price are accurate, that would represent a big premium to Vector: over the last 16 years the PE firm had acquired, taken public and reacquired Corel, paying no more than $124 million for the company in those two acquisitions (the second time it paid just $30 million).

“Corel has been an important part of the Vector Capital family for many years and we are pleased to have achieved a fantastic outcome for our investors with the sale to KKR,” said Alex Slusky, Vector Capital’s founder and chief investment officer, in a statement. “Under Vector’s ownership, Corel completed multiple transformative acquisitions, grew revenue and meaningfully improved profitability, highlighting Vector’s proven strategy of partnering with management teams to position companies for long-term success.  We are confident the company has found a great partner with KKR and wish them continued success together.”

Jul
02
2019
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KKR has acquired Corel (including its recent acquisition Parallels), reportedly for $1B+

Only six months after snapping up virtualization specialist Parallels, Canadian software company Corel is itself getting acquired. TechCrunch has learned and confirmed with multiple sources that private equity giant KKR has closed a deal to buy the company from Vector Capital, which has owned some or all of Corel since 2003.

KKR’s interest in Corel was first rumored in May, when PE Hub reported the two were in talks for a sale valued at over $1 billion. At the time, representatives of Corel declined to comment, although our sources inside the company indicated that the reports were not inaccurate.

Fast-forward to today, and both KKR and and a spokesperson for Parallels/Corel declined to comment. But, we now have a copy of the memo provided by an internal source that has been sent out to staff announcing that the deal has indeed closed, and that Corel is now officially part of the KKR family of companies.

According to the memo, KKR is very optimistic about Corel’s prospects. It plans to give Corel an “infusion of capital” to accelerate its growth, which will go into two areas. First will be expanding operations for the existing business: Corel is the company behind a number of longstanding software brands including WordPerfect, Corel Draw, WinZip, PaintShop Pro. Second will be making acquisitions (and the sheer proliferation of promising startups in the last decade dedicated to all variety of apps and other software that may have found it a challenge to scale means Corel could have rich pickings).

There are no layoffs planned as part of the deal, and the official announcement had been planned to go out next week, but now looks like it may be moved up to tomorrow (Wednesday).

Vector and Corel itself have never publicly disclosed much on user numbers or financials, but Vector has described the company as “highly profitable,” with dividends of more than $300 million to date. The memo we’ve seen notes that Corel (including Parallels) has millions of customers across its various software platforms and apps.

The acquisition of Corel by KKR marks another chapter in the company’s long corporate history.

Founded in the 1980s — when personal computers were just starting to enter the mainstream but well before we had anything like the internet (not to mention the world of cloud-based apps) that we know today — Corel once positioned itself as a potential competitor to Microsoft in the software wars.

When Corel purchased WordPerfect from Novel in 1996, Corel founder Michael Cowpland viewed the software package as an integral part of that rivalry, describing it as the Pepsi to Microsoft’s Coke — that is, Word.

Microsoft proved the mightier of the two, and it even eventually signed a partnership with Corel that saw it investing in the company: a sell out, as one disappointed Canadian journalist described it at the time. The two have also sparred over patents.

Corel, which went public early in its life, got battered in the first dot-com bust (which was not helped by an insider trading scandal that led to Cowpland’s departure). Vector stepped in and took it private in 2003.

After restructuring the company, Vector listed Corel again in 2006. But, amid another recession that again hit Corel hard, it once more took it private in 2010. In the intervening years, Corel has been focused on modernising its offerings, bringing in e-commerce, direct downloads, subscriptions and acquisitions to bring the company’s products and wider business closer to how consumers and workers use computers today.

Parallels was a part of that strategy: its products help people work seamlessly across multiple platforms, letting employees (and IT managers) run a unified workflow regardless of the device or operating system, with Parallels providing support for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Chromebook, Linux, Raspberry Pi and cloud — a timely offering in the current, fragmented IT market.

If the $1 billion+ figure is accurate, that strategy seems to have worked: across the two times that Vector took Corel private, it never paid more than $124 million for the company (the second time, as its stock was tanking, it paid just $30 million).

Jun
20
2019
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The boring genius of how Atrium kills legal busy work

Law firms have little incentive to build or buy software that will save their lawyers time because they often bill clients by the hour. Tasks like tracking down legal documents, extracting key information and drawing up hiring offers or funding term sheets add up to make lawyers expensive, even if they’re constantly repeating mindless busy work.

That’s why legal startup Atrium is so exciting — even though it’s developing tech that might seem boring on the surface. After raising $75 million from Andreessen Horowitz and General Catalyst while growing to 400 clients, today Atrium is announcing its first customer-facing products.

Atrium Records creates a collaborative file locker for you and your lawyer so you always have access to the latest versions of corporate documents. Atrium Hiring automatically generates hiring offers and contracts from details you add to a form, and tracks everyone’s approvals and signatures.

Atrium Records

Rather than having to pay for these tools separately, they come as part of a subscription to a bundle of Atrium’s legal services, with special projects like counsel through an acquisition costing extra. This business model incentivizes Atrium to work as efficiently as possible instead of bilking hourly rates, and build tools to eliminate less-skilled work or assist with common corporate duties. That’s allowed it to speed up legal work on incorporations, financings, M&A and contract negotiations.

“One of the reasons we partnered with Andreessen Horowitz on the last round [a $65 million Series B] was we really align with the way they approach venture capital,” Atrium co-founder and CEO Justin Kan tells me. “Marc’s initial observation was . . .  let’s not just provide capital but also other services like a talent network. We have kind of done the same stuff. Not only are we helping people with the legal stuff they want to get done but with the other stuff surrounding it.”

Atrium CEO Justin Kan at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2017

For example, Atrium’s Fundraising Concierge service provides assistance to startups for defining their narrative, setting up investor meetings and generating fair term sheets. Atrium has to date aided startups with raising more than $1 billion, from seed rounds of $200,000 to huge $50 million rounds

Developing drab but useful software for enterprises is a drastic shift for Kan. He pioneered life vlogging by strapping a camera to his head at his startup Justin.tv that eventually blossomed into Twitch and sold to Amazon for $2 billion. It’s been quite an adjustment for Kan going from making video-game-streaming consumer apps and angel investing to Atrium. “Two years. It has been an interesting and crazy ride. I wanted to get back to starting companies. That was the fastest learning I’d ever had. But I forgot learning means failing a lot,” he says with a wry smile.

Whatever tribulations they required seem worth it now that Atrium’s new products are ready. Atrium Records improves on the clumsy status quo where clients have to dig through emails from their lawyers hoping to find the most up-to-date versions of important corporate documents. If they can’t, they wait around after emailing their lawyer who has to hope they remember where they buried that term sheet or cap table in their firm’s file tree. This messy process can rack up billable hours, lead to data mismatches and let important signatures or approvals fall through the cracks.

Atrium Hiring

Kan says he’s seen some grisly situations. “You never signed your equity documents so you actually have no equity in this company. And now that there’s financing, there could be a taxable event. There’s often surprisingly serious problems that happen.” Atrium’s senior product manager Sahil Bhagat walks me through how Atrium can help clients avoid an issue like, “Maybe you hired 10 employees but didn’t update your cap table and then you’re hiring the 11th employee but you don’t have any equity to grant so you have to go through the hassle of increasing your options pool.”

Atrium Records acts like your searchable legal Dropbox. The startup works with your last law firm to ingest your documents around equity, taxes, employees and IP, and make sure they’re all up to date. Machine learning extracts critical data about financings and cap tables so that’s instantly available in the Atrium dashboard and you don’t have to dig into the original docs. Plus, you don’t have to pay for lawyers or paralegals to do that manually. And your lawyer can build a task list of documents for you to edit or sign so you always know what to do next, which is a relief when you’re wrangling approvals from all your existing investors.

Atrium Hiring operationalizes one of the biggest founder time-sucks. Instead of writing hiring contracts from scratch each time, you fill out a form and use menu selections to set the salary, share count, vesting schedule and offer expiration. Looking across its anonymized data set of contracts, Atrium can recommend the best clauses and most common set ups, like four-year vesting with one-year cliffs. You can see the status of the contracts every step of the way, from drafting and finalizing to getting employees to accept.

Kan tells me Atrium’s goal is to continue building on its archive of more than 100,000 legal documents to develop aggregated pools of data clients could opt into. If they’re willing to share their salary data, vendor contract pricing and more, they’ll get access to that of Atrium’s other clients. “You’ll be able to see if you’re on the high end of being paid by Salesforce for a contract,” Kan explains. That’s a much more data-driven approach than when most lawyers just think of the last few salaries they saw for that position and give you a rough average.

“Being able to tell what the market norms are is a powerful negotiating tool.” The startup has even been offering its tips for free as part of fundraising workshops it uses to attract clients. The challenge for the company will be ensuring efficiency doesn’t mean cutting corners.

Atrium has grown to 150 staffers split between legal practitioners and its product team in its two years since launch. Kan is trying to build a culture where everyone cooperates, unlike infamously cutthroat law firms where partners can compete for cases. He hopes that talent will stick with Atrium because it’s deleting the most tedious parts of their jobs. “No one wanted go to law school to review 1,000 hiring docs.”

Jun
12
2019
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Helium launches $51M-funded ‘LongFi’ IoT alternative to cellular

With 200X the range of Wi-Fi at 1/1000th of the cost of a cellular modem, Helium’s “LongFi” wireless network debuts today. Its transmitters can help track stolen scooters, find missing dogs via IoT collars and collect data from infrastructure sensors. The catch is that Helium’s tiny, extremely low-power, low-data transmission chips rely on connecting to P2P Helium Hotspots people can now buy for $495. Operating those hotspots earns owners a cryptocurrency token Helium promises will be valuable in the future…

The potential of a new wireless standard has allowed Helium to raise $51 million over the past few years from GV, Khosla Ventures and Marc Benioff, including a new $15 million Series C round co-led by Union Square Ventures and Multicoin Capital. That’s in part because one of Helium’s co-founders is Napster inventor Shawn Fanning. Investors are betting that he can change the tech world again, this time with a wireless protocol that like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth before it could unlock unique business opportunities.

Helium already has some big partners lined up, including Lime, which will test it for tracking its lost and stolen scooters and bikes when they’re brought indoors, obscuring other connectivity, or their battery is pulled, out deactivating GPS. “It’s an ultra low-cost version of a LoJack” Helium CEO Amir Haleem says.

InvisiLeash will partner with it to build more trackable pet collars. Agulus will pull data from irrigation valves and pumps for its agriculture tech business. Nestle will track when it’s time to refill water in its ReadyRefresh coolers at offices, and Stay Alfred will use it to track occupancy status and air quality in buildings. Haleem also imagines the tech being useful for tracking wildfires or radiation.

Haleem met Fanning playing video games in the 2000s. They teamed up with Fanning and Sproutling baby monitor (sold to Mattel) founder Chris Bruce in 2013 to start work on Helium. They foresaw a version of Tile’s trackers that could function anywhere while replacing expensive cell connections for devices that don’t need high bandwith. Helium’s 5 kilobit per second connections will compete with SigFox, another lower-power IoT protocol, though Haleem claims its more centralized infrastructure costs are prohibitive. It’s also facing off against Nodle, which piggybacks on devices’ Bluetooth hardware. Lucky for Helium, on-demand rental bikes and scooters that are perfect for its network have reached mainstream popularity just as Helium launches six years after its start.

Helium says it already pre-sold 80% of its Helium Hotspots for its first market in Austin, Texas. People connect them to their Wi-Fi and put it in their window so the devices can pull in data from Helium’s IoT sensors over its open-source LongFi protocol. The hotspots then encrypt and send the data to the company’s cloud that clients can plug into to track and collect info from their devices. The Helium Hotspots only require as much energy as a 12-watt LED light bulb to run, but that $495 price tag is steep. The lack of a concrete return on investment could deter later adopters from buying the expensive device.

Only 150-200 hotspots are necessary to blanket a city in connectivity, Haleem tells me. But because they need to be distributed across the landscape, so a client can’t just fill their warehouse with the hotspots, and the upfront price is expensive for individuals, Helium might need to sign up some retail chains as partners for deployment. As Haleem admits, “The hard part is the education.” Making hotspot buyers understand the potential (and risks) while demonstrating the opportunities for clients will require a ton of outreach and slick marketing.

Without enough Helium Hotspots, the Helium network won’t function. That means this startup will have to simultaneously win at telecom technology, enterprise sales and cryptocurrency for the network to pan out. As if one of those wasn’t hard enough.

Jun
11
2019
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WhatsApp is finally going after outside firms that are abusing its platform

WhatsApp has so far relied on past dealings with bad players within its platform to ramp up its efforts to curtail spam and other automated behavior. The Facebook -owned giant has now announced an additional step it plans to take beginning later this year to improve the health of its messaging service: going after those whose mischievous activities can’t be traced within its platform.

The messaging platform, used by more than 1.5 billion users, confirmed on Tuesday that starting December 7 it will start considering signals off its platform to pursue legal actions against those who are abusing its system. The company will also go after individuals who — or firms that — falsely claim to have found ways to cause havoc on the service.

The move comes as WhatsApp grapples with challenges such as spam behavior to push agendas or spread of false information on its messaging service in some markets. “This serves as notice that we will take legal action against companies for which we only have off-platform evidence of abuse if that abuse continues beyond December 7, 2019, or if those companies are linked to on-platform evidence of abuse before that date,” it said in an FAQ post on its site.

A WhatsApp spokesperson confirmed the change to TechCrunch, adding, “WhatsApp was designed for private messaging, so we’ve taken action globally to prevent bulk messaging and enforce limits on how WhatsApp accounts that misuse WhatsApp can be used. We’ve also stepped up our ability to identify abuse, which helps us ban 2 million accounts globally per month.”

Earlier this year, WhatsApp said (PDF) it had built a machine learning system to detect and weed out users who engage in inappropriate behavior such as sending bulk messages or creating multiple accounts with intention to harm the service. The platform said it was able to assess the past dealings with problematics behaviors to ban 20% of bad accounts at the time of registration itself.

But the platform is still grappling to contain abusive behavior, a Reuters report claimed last month. The news agency reported about tools that were readily being sold in India for under $15 that claimed to bypass some of the restrictions that WhatsApp introduced in recent months.

TechCrunch understands that with today’s changes, WhatsApp is going after those same set of bad players. It has already started to send cease and desist letters to marketing companies that claim to abuse WhatsApp in recent months, a person familiar with the matter said.

Jun
11
2019
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Dropbox relaunches as an enterprise collaboration workspace

Dropbox is evolving from a file-storage system to an enterprise software portal, where you can coordinate work with your team. Today the company launches a new version of Dropbox that allows you to launch apps with shortcuts for G Suite and more, plus use built-in Slack message-sending and Zoom video calls. It lets you search across all your files on your device and inside your other enterprise tools, and communicate and comment on your team’s work. Dropbox is also becoming a task manager, with the ability to add notes and tag co-workers in to-do lists attached to files.

The new Dropbox launches today for all of its 13 million business users across 400,000 teams plus its consumer tiers. Users can opt-in here for early access and businesses can turn on early access in their admin panel. “The way we work is broken,” CEO Drew Houston said to cue up the company’s mission statement: “to design a more enlightened way of working.”

Dropbox seems to have realized that file storage by itself is a dying business. With storage prices dropping and any app being able to add their own storage system, it needed to move up the enterprise stack and become a portal that opens and organizes your other tools. Becoming the enterprise coordination layer is a smart strategy, and one that it seems Slack was happy to partner into rather than building itself.

As part of the update, Dropbox is launching a new desktop app for all users so it won’t have to live inside your Mac or Windows file system. When you click a file, you can see a preview and presence data about who has viewed it, who is currently and who has access.

The launch includes deep integrations with Slack, so you can comment on files from within Dropbox, and Zoom, so you can video chat without leaving the workspace. Web and enterprise app shortcuts relieve you from keeping all your other tools constantly open in other tabs. Dropbox’s revamped search tool lets you crawl across your computer’s file system and all your cloud storage across other productivity apps.

But what’s most important about today’s changes is that Dropbox is becoming a task-management app. Each file lets you type out descriptions, to-do lists and tag co-workers to assign them tasks. An Activity Feed per file shows comments and actions from co-workers so you don’t have to collaborate in a separate Google Doc or Slack channel.

When asked about how Dropbox decided who to partner with (Slack, Zoom) versus who to copy (Asana), VP of biz dev Billy Blau essentially dodged the question while citing the “shared ethos” of Dropbox’s partners.

Houston kicked off the San Francisco launch event by pointing out that it’s easier to find info from the public than our own company’s knowledge that’s scattered across our computers and the cloud. The “Finder” on our computers hasn’t evolved to embrace a post-download era. He described how people spend 60% of our office time on work about work, like organization and communication, instead of actually working — a marketing angle frequently used by task-management startup Asana that Dropbox is now competing with more directly. “We’re going to help you get a handle on all this ‘work about work,’ ” Dropbox writes. Yet Asana has been using that phrase as a core of its messaging since 2013.

Now Dropbox wants to be your file tree, your finder and your desktop for the cloud. The question is whether files are always the central unit of work that comments and tasks should be pegged to, or whether it should be the task and project at the center of attention with files attached.

It will take some savvy onboarding and persistence to retrain teams to see Dropbox as their workspace instead of their computer’s desktop or their browser. But if it can become the identity and collaboration layer that connects the fragmented enterprise software, it could outlive file storage and stay relevant as new office tools emerge.

Jun
10
2019
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Apple is making corporate ‘BYOD’ programs less invasive to user privacy

When people bring their own devices to work or school, they don’t want IT administrators to manage the entire device. But until now, Apple only offered two ways for IT to manage its iOS devices: either device enrollments, which offered device-wide management capabilities to admins or those same device management capabilities combined with an automated setup process. At Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference last week, the company announced plans to introduce a third method: user enrollments.

This new MDM (mobile device management) enrollment option is meant to better balance the needs of IT to protect sensitive corporate data and manage the software and settings available to users, while at the same time allowing users’ private personal data to remain separate from IT oversight.

According to Apple, when both users’ and IT’s needs are in balance, users are more likely to accept a corporate “bring your own device” (BYOD) program — something that can ultimately save the business money that doesn’t have to be invested in hardware purchases.

The new user enrollments option for MDM has three components: a managed Apple ID that sits alongside the personal ID; cryptographic separation of personal and work data; and a limited set of device-wide management capabilities for IT.

The managed Apple ID will be the user’s work identity on the device, and is created by the admin in either Apple School Manager or Apple Business Manager — depending on whether this is for a school or a business. The user signs into the managed Apple ID during the enrollment process.

From that point forward until the enrollment ends, the company’s managed apps and accounts will use the managed Apple ID’s iCloud account.

Meanwhile, the user’s personal apps and accounts will use the personal Apple ID’s iCloud account, if one is signed into the device.

Third-party apps are then either used in managed or unmanaged modes.

That means users won’t be able to change modes or run the apps in both modes at the same time. However, some of the built-in apps like Notes will be account-based, meaning the app will use the appropriate Apple ID — either the managed one or personal — depending on which account they’re operating on at the time.

To separate work data from personal, iOS will create a managed APFS volume at the time of the enrollment. The volume uses separate cryptographic keys which are destroyed along with the volume itself when the enrollment period ends. (iOS had always removed the managed data when the enrollment ends, but this is a cryptographic backstop just in case anything were to go wrong during unenrollment, the company explained.)

The managed volume will host the local data stored by any managed third-party apps along with the managed data from the Notes app. It also will house a managed keychain that stores secure items like passwords and certificates; the authentication credentials for managed accounts; and mail attachments and full email bodies.

The system volume does host a central database for mail, including some metadata and five line previews, but this is removed as well when the enrollment ends.

Users’ personal apps and their data can’t be managed by the IT admin, so they’re never at risk of having their data read or erased.

And unlike device enrollments, user enrollments don’t provide a UDID or any other persistent identifier to the admin. Instead, it creates a new identifier called the “enrollment ID.” This identifier is used in communication with the MDM server for all communications and is destroyed when enrollment ends.

Apple also noted that one of the big reasons users fear corporate BYOD programs is because they think the IT admin will erase their entire device when the enrollment ends — including their personal apps and data.

To address this concern, the MDM queries can only return the managed results.

In practice, that means IT can’t even find out what personal apps are installed on the device — something that can feel like an invasion of privacy to end users. (This feature will be offered for device enrollments, too.) And because IT doesn’t know which personal apps are installed, it also can’t restrict certain apps’ use.

User enrollments will also not support the “erase device” command — and they don’t have to, because IT will know the sensitive data and emails are gone. There’s no need for a full device wipe.

Similarly, the Exchange Server can’t send its remote wipe command — just the account-only remote wipe to remove the managed data.

Another new feature related to user enrollments is how traffic for managed accounts is guided through the corporate VPN. Using the per-app VPN feature, traffic from the Mail, Contacts and Calendars built-in apps will only go through the VPN if the domains match that of the business. For example, mail.acme.com can pass through the VPN, but not mail.aol.com. In other words, the user’s personal mail remains private.

This addresses what has been an ongoing concern about how some MDM solutions operate — routing traffic through a corporate proxy meant the business could see the employees’ personal emails, social networking accounts and other private information.

User enrollments also only enforces a six-digit non-simple passcode, as the MDM server can’t help users by clearing the past code if the user forgets it.

Some today advise users to not accept BYOD MDM policies because of the impact to personal privacy. While a business has every right to manage and wipe its own apps and data, IT has overstepped with some of its remote management capabilities — including its ability to erase entire devices, access personal data, track a phone’s location, restrict personal use of apps and more.

Apple’s MDM policies haven’t included GPS tracking, however, nor does this new option.

Apple’s new policy is a step toward a better balance of concerns, but will require that users understand the nuances of these more technical details — which they may not.

That user education will come down to the businesses that insist on these MDM policies to begin with — they will need to establish their own documentation, explainers, and establish new privacy policies with their employees that detail what sort of data they can and cannot access, as well as what sort of control they have over corporate devices.

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