Jun
11
2020
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Gauging growth in the most challenging environment in decades

Traditionally, measuring business success requires a greater understanding of your company’s go-to-market lifecycle, how customers engage with your product and the macro-dynamics of your market. But in the most challenging environment in decades, those metrics are out the window.

Enterprise application and SaaS companies are changing their approach to measuring performance and preparing to grow when the economy begins to recover. While there are no blanket rules or guidance that applies to every business, company leaders need to focus on a few critical metrics to understand their performance and maximize their opportunities. This includes understanding their burn rate, the overall real market opportunity, how much cash they have on hand and their access to capital. Analyzing the health of the company through these lenses will help leaders make the right decisions on how to move forward.

Play the game with the hand you were dealt. Earlier this year, our company closed a $40 million Series C round of funding, which left us in a strong cash position as we entered the market slowdown in March. Nonetheless, as the impact of COVID-19 became apparent, one of our board members suggested that we quickly develop a business plan that assumed we were running out of money. This would enable us to get on top of the tough decisions we might need to make on our resource allocation and the size of our staff.

While I understood the logic of his exercise, it is important that companies develop and execute against plans that reflect their actual situation. The reality is, we did raise the money, so we revised our plan to balance ultra-conservative forecasting (and as a trained accountant, this is no stretch for me!) with new ideas for how to best utilize our resources based on the market situation.

Burn rate matters, but not at the expense of your culture and your talent. For most companies, talent is both their most important resource and their largest expense. Therefore, it’s usually the first area that goes under the knife in order to reduce the monthly spend and optimize efficiency. Fortunately, heading into the pandemic, we had not yet ramped up hiring to support our rapid growth, so were spared from having to make enormously difficult decisions. We knew, however, that we would not hit our 2020 forecast, which required us to make new projections and reevaluate how we were deploying our talent.

May
27
2020
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RudderStack raises $5M seed round for its open-source Segment competitor

RudderStack, a startup that offers an open-source alternative to customer data management platforms like Segment, today announced that it has raised a $5 million seed round led by S28 Capital. Salil Deshpande of Uncorrelated Ventures and Mesosphere/D2iQ co-founder Florian Leibert (through 468 Capital) also participated in this round.

In addition, the company also today announced that it has acquired Blendo, an integration platform that helps businesses transform and move data from their data sources to databases.

Like its larger competitors, RudderStack helps businesses consolidate all of their customer data, which is now typically generated and managed in multiple places — and then extract value from this more holistic view. The company was founded by Soumyadeb Mitra, who has a Ph.D. in database systems and worked on similar problems previously when he was at 8×8 after his previous startup, MairinaIQ, was acquired by that company.

Mitra argues that RudderStack is different from its competitors thanks to its focus on developers, its privacy and security options and its focus on being a data warehouse first, without creating yet another data silo.

“Our competitors provide tools for analytics, audience segmentation, etc. on top of the data they keep,” he said. “That works well if you are a small startup, but larger enterprises have a ton of other data sources — at 8×8 we had our own internal billing system, for example — and you want to combine this internal data with the event stream data — that you collect via RudderStack or competitors — to create a 360-degree view of the customer and act on that. This becomes very difficult with the SaaS-hosted data model of our competitors — you won’t be sending all your internal data to these cloud vendors.”

Part of its appeal, of course, is the open-source nature of RudderStack, whose GitHub repository now has more than 1,700 stars for the main RudderStack server. Mitra credits getting on the front page of HackerNews for its first sale. On that day, it received over 500 GitHub stars, a few thousand clones and a lot of signups for its hosted app. “One of those signups turned out to be our first paid customer. They were already a competitor’s customer, but it wasn’t scaling up so were looking to build something in-house. That’s when they found us and started working with us,” he said.

Because it is open source, companies can run RudderStack anyway they want, but like most similar open-source companies, RudderStack offers multiple hosting options itself, too, that include cloud hosting, starting at $2,000 per month, with unlimited sources and destination.

Current users include IFTTT, Mattermost, MarineTraffic, Torpedo and Wynn Las Vegas.

As for the Blendo acquisition, it’s worth noting that the company only raised a small amount of money in its seed round. The two companies did not disclose the price of the acquisition.

“With Blendo, I had the opportunity to be part of a great team that executed on the vision of turning any company into a data-driven organization,” said Blendo founder Kostas Pardalis, who has joined RudderStack as head of Growth. “We’ve combined the talented Blendo and RudderStack teams together with the technology that both companies have created, at a time when the customer data market is ripe for the next wave of innovation. I’m excited to help drive RudderStack forward.”

Mitra tells me that RudderStack acquired Blendo instead of building its own version of this technology because “it is not a trivial technology to build — cloud sources are really complicated and have weird schemas and API challenges and it would have taken us a lot of time to figure it out. There are independent large companies doing the ETL piece.”

May
13
2020
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Startups are transforming global trade in the COVID-19 era

Global trade watchers breathed a sigh of relief on January 15, 2020.

After two years of threats, tariffs and tweets, there was finally a truce in the trade war between the U.S. and China. The agreement signed by President Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He in the Oval Office didn’t resolve all trade tensions and maintained most of the $360 billion in tariffs the administration had put on Chinese goods. But for the first time in months, it looked like manufacturers, importers and shippers could start to put two difficult years behind them.

Then came COVID-19, at first a local disruption in Wuhan, China. Then it spread throughout Hubei province, causing havoc in a concentric circle that eventually engulfed the rest of China, where industrial production fell by more than 13.5% in the first two months of the year. When the virus spread everywhere, chaos ensued: Factories shuttered. Borders closed. Supply chains crumbled.

“It has had a cascading effect through the entire world’s economy,” says Anja Manuel, co-founder and managing partner of Rice, Hadley, Gates & Manuel LLC, an international strategic consulting firm based in Silicon Valley.

The crisis has caused a drastic contraction in global trade; the World Trade Organization estimates trade volumes will fall 13-20% in 2020. And spinning activity back up could be tricky: Even as China starts to get back online, the slowdown there could reduce worldwide exports by $50 billion this year. When factories do reopen, there’s no guarantee whether they will have parts available or empty warehouses, says Manuel, who also serves on the advisory board of Flexport, a shipping logistics startup. “Our supply chains are so tightly-knit and so just-in-time that throw a few wrenches in it like we’ve just done, and it’s going to be really hard to stand it back up again. The idea that we go back to normal the moment we lift restrictions is unlikely, fanciful, even.”

Getting to that new normal, though, is a job that a number of logistics startups are embracing. Already on the rise, companies like Flexport, Haven and Factiv see a global trade crisis as a setback, but also an opportunity to demonstrate the value of their digital platforms in a very much analog industry.

Apr
15
2020
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Pinpoint releases dashboard to bring visibility to software engineering operations

As companies look for better ways to understand how different departments work at a granular level, engineering has traditionally been a black box of siloed data. Pinpoint, an Austin-based startup, has been working on a platform to bring this information into a single view, and today it released a dashboard to help companies understand what’s happening across software engineering from an operational perspective.

Jeff Haynie, co-founder and CEO at Pinpoint says the company’s mission for the last two years has been giving greater visibility into the  engineering department, something he says is even more important in the current context with workers spread out at home.

“Companies give engineering a bunch of money, and they build a bunch of amazing things, but in the end, it is just a black box, and we really don’t know what happens,” Haynie said. He says his company has been working to take all of the data to try and contextualize it, bring it together and correlate that information.

Today, they are introducing a dashboard that takes what they’ve been building and pulls it together into a single view, which is 100% self-serve. Prior to this, you needed a bunch of hand-holding from Pinpoint personnel to get it up and running, but today you can download the product and sign into your various services such as your git repository, your CI/CD software, your IDE and so forth.

It also provides a way for engineering personnel to communicate with one another without leaving the tool.

Pinpoint software engineering dashboard. Image Credit: Pinpoint

“Obviously, we will handhold and help people as they need it, and we have an enterprise version of the product with a higher level of SLA, and we have a customer success team to do that, but we’ve really focused this new release on purely self service,” Haynie said.

What’s more, while there is a free version already for teams under 10 people that’s free forever, with the release of today’s product, the company is offering unlimited access to the dashboard for free for three months.

Haynie says they’re like any startup right now, but having experience with several other startups and having lived through 9/11, the dot-com crash, 2008 and so forth, he knows how to hunker down and preserve cash. At the same time, he says they are seeing a lot of in-bound interest in the product, and they wanted to come up with a creative way to help customers through this crisis, while putting the product out there for people to use.

“We’re like any other startup or any other business frankly at this point: we’re nervous and scared. How do you survive this [and how long will it last]? The other side of it is that we’re rushing to take advantage of this inbound interest that we’re getting and trying to sort of seize the opportunity and try to be creative about how we help them.”

The startup hopes that, if companies find the product useful, after three months they won’t mind paying for the full version. For now, it’s just putting it out there for free and seeing what happens with it — just another startup trying to find a way through this crisis.

Apr
15
2020
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Frame AI raises $6.3M Series A to help understand customers across channels

Frame AI, a New York City startup that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to help companies understand their customers better across multiple channels, announced a $6.3 million Series A investment today.

G20 Ventures and Greycroft led the round together. Bill Wiberg, co-founder and partner at G20, will join Frame’s board under the terms of the deal. The total raised with an earlier seed round is over $10 million, according to the company.

“Frame is basically an early warning system and continuous monitoring tool for your customer voice,” Frame CEO and co-founder George Davis told TechCrunch . What that means, in practice, is the tool plugs into help desk software, call center tooling, CRM systems and anywhere else in a company that communicates with a customer.

“We then use natural language understanding to pull out emerging themes and basically aggregate them to account and segment levels so that customer experience leaders can prioritize taking actions to improve their relationships,” Davis explained.

He believes that customer experience leaders are being asked to do more and more in terms of talking to customers on ever more channels and digesting that into useful information for the rest of their company to be responsive to customer needs, and he says that there isn’t a lot of tooling to help with this particular part of the customer experience problem.

“We don’t think they have the right tools to do either the listening in the first place or the analysis. We’re trying to make it possible for them to hear their customers everywhere they’re already talking to them, and then act on that information,” he said.

He says they work alongside customer data platforms (CDPs) like Segment, Salesforce Customer 360 and Adobe Real-time CDP. “We can take the customer voice information from all of these unstructured sources, all these natural language sources and turn it into moments that can be contributed back to one of these structured data platforms.”

Davis certainly recognizes that his company is getting this money in the middle of a health and economic crisis, and he hopes that a tool like his that can help take the pulse of the customer across multiple channels can help companies succeed at a time when a data-driven approach to customer experience is more important than ever.

He says that by continuing to hire through this and building his company, he can contribute to restarting the economic engine, even if in some small way.

“It’s a bleak time, but I have a lot of confidence in New York and in the country, in the customer experience community and in the world’s ability to bounce back strong from this. I think it’s actually created a lot of solidarity that we’re all going to find a lot of new opportunities, and we’re going to just keep building Frame as fast as we can.”

Feb
25
2020
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Salesforce co-CEO Keith Block steps down

Salesforce today announced that Keith Block, the company’s co-CEO, is stepping down. This leaves company founder Marc Benioff as the sole CEO and chair of the CRM juggernaut. Block’s bio has already been wiped from Salesforce’s leadership page.

Block stepped into the co-CEO role in 2018, after a long career at the company that saw him become vice chairman, president and director before he took this position. Block spent the early years of his career at Oracle . He left there in 2012 after the release of a number of documents in which he criticized then-Oracle CEO Mark Hurd, who passed away last year.

Industry pundits saw his elevation to the co-CEO role as a sign that Block was next in line as the company’s sole CEO in the future (assuming Benioff would ever step down). After this short tenure as co-CEO, it doesn’t look like that will be the case, but for the time being, Block will stay on as an advisor to Benioff.

“It’s been my greatest honor to lead the team with Marc [Benioff] that has more than quadrupled Salesforce from $4 billion of revenue when I joined in 2013 to over $17 billion last year,” said Block in a canned statement that was surely not written by the Salesforce PR team. “We are now a global enterprise company, focused on industries, and have an ecosystem that is the envy of the industry, and I’m so grateful to our employees, customers, and partners. After a fantastic run I am ready for my next chapter and will stay close to the company as an advisor. Being side-by-side with Marc has been amazing and I’m forever grateful for our friendship and proud of the trajectory the company is on.”

In related news, the company also today announced that it has named former BT Group CEO Gavin Patterson as its president and CEO of Salesforce International.

Dec
17
2019
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Odoo grabs $90M to sell more SMEs on its business app suite

Belgium-based all-in-one business software maker Odoo, which offers an open source version as well as subscription-based enterprise software and SaaS, has taken in $90 million led by a new investor: Global growth equity investor Summit Partners.

The funds have been raised via a secondary share sale. Odoo’s executive management team and existing investor SRIW and its affiliate Noshaq also participated in the share sale by buying stock — with VC firms Sofinnova and XAnge selling part of their shares to Summit Partners and others.

Odoo is largely profitable and grows at 60% per year with an 83% gross margin product; so, we don’t need to raise money,” a spokeswoman told us. “Our bottleneck is not the cash but the recruitment of new developers, and the development of the partner network.

“What’s unusual in the deal is that existing managers, instead of cashing out, purchased part of the shares using a loan with banks.”

The 2005-founded company — which used to go by the name of OpenERP before transitioning to its current open core model in 2015 — last took in a $10M Series B back in 2014, per Crunchbase.

Odoo offers some 30 applications via its Enterprise platform — including ERP, accounting, stock, manufacturing, CRM, project management, marketing, human resources, website, eCommerce and point-of-sale apps — while a community of ~20,000 active members has contributed 16,000+ apps to the open source version of its software, addressing a broader swathe of business needs.

It focuses on the SME business apps segment, competing with the likes of Oracle, SAP and Zoho, to name a few. Odoo says it has in excess of 4.5 million users worldwide at this point, and touts revenue growth “consistently above 50% over the last ten years”.

Summit Partners told us funds from the secondary sale will be used to accelerate product development — and for continued global expansion.

“In our experience, traditional ERP is expensive and frequently fails to adapt to the unique needs of dynamic businesses. With its flexible suite of applications and a relentless focus on product, we believe Odoo is ideally positioned to capture this large and compelling market opportunity,” said Antony Clavel, a Summit Partners principal who has joined the Odoo board, in a supporting statement.

Odoo’s spokeswoman added that part of the expansion plan includes opening an office in Mexico in January, and another in Antwerpen, Belgium, in Q3.

This report was updated with additional comment

Nov
13
2019
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Atlassian expands Jira Service Desk beyond IT teams

Atlassian today announced a set of new templates and workflows for Jira Service Desk that were purpose-built for HR, legal and facilities teams. Service Desk started six years ago as a version of Jira that was mostly meant for IT departments. Atlassian, however, found that other teams inside the companies that adopted it started to use it as well, including various teams at Twitter and Airbnb, for example. With today’s update, it’s now making it easier for these teams, at least in legal, HR and facilities, to get started with Jira Service Desk without having to customize the product themselves.

“Over the last six years, one of the observations that we’ve made was that we need to provide really good services — the idea that we can provide great services to employees is really something that is really on the rise,” said Edwin Wong, the head of the company’s IT products. “I think in the past, maybe we were a bit more forgiving in terms of what employees expected from services departments. But today you’re just so used to great experiences in your consumer life and when you come to work, you expect the same.”

But lots of service teams, he argues, didn’t have the tools to provide this experience, yet they were looking for tools to streamline their workflows (think onboarding for HR teams, for example) and to move from manual processes to something more automated and modern. Jira was already flexible enough to allow them to do this, but the new set of templates now codifies these processes for them.

Wong stressed this isn’t just about tracking but also managing work across teams and providing them a more centralized hub for information. “One of the big challenges that we’ve seen from many of the customers that we’ve spoken to is the challenge of just figuring out where to go when you want something,” he said. “When I have a new employee, where do I go to ask for a new laptop? Is that the same process as telling my facilities teams that perhaps there is an issue with a bathroom?”

Atlassian is starting with these three templates because that’s where it saw the most immediate need. Over time, I’m sure we’ll see the company get into other verticals as well.

Nov
04
2019
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Microsoft launches managed meeting rooms as a service

Whether you love them or hate them (and you probably hate them), meetings are a fact of corporate life. And how many meetings have you attended that didn’t start on time because of technical difficulties? Microsoft wants to change that by managing your meeting rooms for you — starting at $50 per room. Managed Meeting Rooms, as the company calls the service, is now in private preview, but ahead of today’s announcement, Microsoft already quietly worked with more than 100 customers to manage more than 1,500 meetings rooms for them.

As Brad Anderson, Microsoft’s corporate VP for Microsoft 365, told me, the Teams team did a lot of work to optimize its software to make starting video and audio-based meetings easy.

“But when you think about a room for a minute, there’s a bunch of hardware in the room, in addition to the software that’s operating Teams. There’s the device on the table, you’ve got screens, you got microphones, you’ve got cameras, you’ve got projectors, you’ve got all the cabling,” Anderson said. “And in order for a meeting to be seamless and great, all that hardware also has to be functional. So what we have done with the managed meeting room solution is we have now instrumented all the hardware.”

The solution supports Microsoft Teams Rooms and Skype for Business room systems, but Microsoft also can help companies select the right tools to set up a meeting room. With all of that in place, the company can then monitor all of that through a cloud service and ensure that everything is up and running. When there are issues — at least issues that can be fixed remotely — the team can also fix those and the meeting can start on time.

“Very few organizations have enough rooms to actually get proficient in meeting room management,” Anderson explained. “So it’s one of these things where organizations have to make that choice: do I go and actually try to build up the expertise when it sounds like Microsoft has a solution, which is actually very affordable […] If we just avoid one meeting from going south for 10 minutes, you actually make your money back.”

Aug
27
2019
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SAP covers hot topics at TechCrunch’s Sept. 5 Enterprise show in SF

You can’t talk enterprise software without talking SAP, one of the giants in a $500 billion industry. And not only will SAP’s CEO Bill McDermott share insights at TC Sessions: Enterprise 2019 on September 5, but the company will also sponsor two breakout sessions.

The editors will sit down with McDermott and talk about SAP’s quick growth due, in part, to several $1 billion-plus acquisitions. We’re also curious to hear about his approach to acquisitions and his strategy for growing the company in a quickly changing market. No doubt he’ll weigh in on the state of enterprise software in general, too.

Now about those breakout sessions. They run in parallel to our Main Stage set and we have a total of two do-not-miss presentations for you to enjoy. On September 5, you’ll enjoy three breakout sessions –two from SAP and one from Pricefx. You can check out the agenda for TC Sessions: Enterprise, but we want to shine the light on the sponsored sessions to give you a sense of the quality content you can expect:

  • Innovating for a Super-Human Future 
    Martin Wezowski (SAP)
    We talk about change, but what are the mechanics and the dynamics behind it? And how fast is it? The noted futurist will discuss what it means to be an innovator is transforming faster than before, and this transformation is deeply rooted in the challenges and promises between cutting-edge tech and humanism. The symbiosis between human creativity & empathy and machine intelligence opens new worlds for our imagination in a time when “now” has never been so temporary, and helps us answer the question: “What is human, and what is work in a superhuman future?” (Sponsored by SAP)
  • Pricing from Day One
    Madhavan Ramanujam (Simon-Kucher & Partners, Gabriel Smith) and Darius Jakubik (Pricefx) A key ingredient distinguishing top performing companies is clear focus on price. To maximize revenue and profits, pricing should be a C-level / boardroom consideration. To optimize pricing, you should think about price when determining which products and features to bring to market; put the people, process and technology in place to optimize it; and maintain flexibility to adjust strategy and tactics to respond to changing markets. By doing so, companies unlock the single greatest profit lever that exists. (Sponsored by Pricefx)
  • Cracking the Code: From Startup to Scaleup in Enterprise Software 
    Ram Jambunathan (SAP.iO), Lonnie Rae Kurlander (Medal), Caitlin MacGregor (Plum) and Dimitri Sirota (BigID) The startup journey is hard. Data shows that 70% of upstart tech companies fail, while only 1% of these startups will go on to gain unicorn status. Success in enterprise software often requires deep industry experience, strong networks, brutally efficient execution and a bit of luck. This panel brings together three successful SAP.iO Fund-backed enterprise startups for an open discussion on lessons learned, challenges of scaling and why the right strategic investors or partners can be beneficial even at early stages. (Sponsored by SAP)

TC Sessions: Enterprise 2019 takes place in San Francisco on September 5. It’s a jam-packed day (agenda here) filled with interviews, panel discussions and breakouts — from some of the top minds in enterprise software. Buy your ticket today and remember: You receive a free Expo-only pass to TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2019 for every ticket you buy.

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