Nov
21
2019
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Linear takes $4.2M led by Sequoia to build a better bug tracker and more

Software will eat the world, as the saying goes, but in doing so, some developers are likely to get a little indigestion. That is to say, building products requires working with disparate and distributed teams, and while developers may have an ever-growing array of algorithms, APIs and technology at their disposal to do this, ironically the platforms to track it all haven’t evolved with the times. Now three developers have taken their own experience of that disconnect to create a new kind of platform, Linear, which they believe addresses the needs of software developers better by being faster and more intuitive. It’s bug tracking you actually want to use.

Today, Linear is announcing a seed round of $4.2 million led by Sequoia, with participation also from Index Ventures and a number of investors, startup founders and others that will also advise Linear as it grows. They include Dylan Field (Founder and CEO, Figma), Emily Choi (COO, Coinbase), Charlie Cheever (Co-Founder of Expo & Quora), Gustaf Alströmer (Partner, Y Combinator), Tikhon Berstram (Co-Founder, Parse), Larry Gadea (CEO, Envoy), Jude Gomila (CEO, Golden), James Smith (CEO, Bugsnag), Fred Stevens-Smith (CEO, Rainforest), Bobby Goodlatte, Marc McGabe, Julia DeWahl and others.

Cofounders Karri Saarinen, Tuomas Artman, and Jori Lallo — all Finnish but now based in the Bay Area — know something first-hand about software development and the trials and tribulations of working with disparate and distributed teams. Saarinen was previously the principal designer of Airbnb, as well as the first designer of Coinbase; Artman had been staff engineer and architect at Uber; and Lallo also had been at Coinbase as a senior engineer building its API and front end.

“When we worked at many startups and growth companies we felt that the tools weren’t matching the way we’re thinking or operating,” Saarinen said in an email interview. “It also seemed that no-one had took a fresh look at this as a design problem. We believe there is a much better, modern workflow waiting to be discovered. We believe creators should focus on the work they create, not tracking or reporting what they are doing. Managers should spend their time prioritizing and giving direction, not bugging their teams for updates. Running the process shouldn’t sap your team’s energy and come in the way of creating.”

Linear cofounders (from left): KarriSaarinen, Jori Lallo, and Tuomas Artma

All of that translates to, first and foremost, speed and a platform whose main purpose is to help you work faster. “While some say speed is not really a feature, we believe it’s the core foundation for tools you use daily,” Saarinen noted.

A ?K command calls up a menu of shortcuts to edit an issue’s status, assign a task, and more so that everything can be handled with keyboard shortcuts. Pages load quickly and synchronise in real time (and search updates alongside that). Users can work offline if they need to. And of course there is also a dark mode for night owls.

The platform is still very much in its early stages. It currently has three integrations based on some of the most common tools used by developers — GitHub (where you can link Pull Requests and close Linear issues on merge), Figma designs (where you can get image previews and embeds of Figma designs), and Slack (you can create issues from Slack and then get notifications on updates). There are plans to add more over time.

We started solving the problem from the end-user perspective, the contributor, like an engineer or a designer and starting to address things that are important for them, can help them and their teams,” Saarinen said. “We aim to also bring clarity for the teams by making the concepts simple, clear but powerful. For example, instead of talking about epics, we have Projects that help track larger feature work or tracks of work.”

Indeed, speed is not the only aim with Linear. Saarinen also said another area they hope to address is general work practices, with a take that seems to echo a turn away from time spent on manual management and more focus on automating that process.

“Right now at many companies you have to manually move things around, schedule sprints, and all kinds of other minor things,” he said. “We think that next generation tools should have built in automated workflows that help teams and companies operate much more effectively. Teams shouldn’t spend a third or more of their time a week just for running the process.”

The last objective Linear is hoping to tackle is one that we’re often sorely lacking in the wider world, too: context.

“Companies are setting their high-level goals, roadmaps and teams work on projects,” he said. “Often leadership doesn’t have good visibility into what is actually happening and how projects are tracking. Teams and contributors don’t always have the context or understanding of why they are working on the things, since you cannot follow the chain from your task to the company goal. We think that there are ways to build Linear to be a real-time picture of what is happening in the company when it comes to building products, and give the necessary context to everyone.”

Linear is a late entrant in a world filled with collaboration apps, and specifically workflow and collaboration apps targeting the developer community. These include not just Slack and GitHub, but Atlassian’s Trello and Jira, as well as Asana, Basecamp and many more.

Saarinen would not be drawn out on which of these (or others) that it sees as direct competition, noting that none are addressing developer issues of speed, ease of use and context as well as Linear is.

“There are many tools in the market and many companies are talking about making ‘work better,’” he said. “And while there are many issue tracking and project management tools, they are not supporting the workflow of the individual and team. A lot of the value these tools sell is around tracking work that happens, not actually helping people to be more effective. Since our focus is on the individual contributor and intelligent integration with their workflow, we can support them better and as a side effect makes the information in the system more up to date.”

Stephanie Zhan, the partner at Sequoia whose speciality is seed and Series A investments and who has led this round, said that Linear first came on her radar when it first launched its private beta (it’s still in private beta and has been running a waitlist to bring on new users. In that time it’s picked up hundreds of companies, including Pitch, Render, Albert, Curology, Spoke, Compound and YC startups including Middesk, Catch and Visly). The company had also been flagged by one of Sequoia’s Scouts, who invested earlier this year

Sequoia Logo Natalie Miyake

Although Linear is based out of San Francisco, it’s interesting that the three founders’ roots are in Finland (with Saarinen in Helsinki this week to speak at the Slush event), and brings up an emerging trend of Silicon Valley VCs looking at founders from further afield than just their own back yard.

“The interesting thing about Linear is that as they’re building a software company around the future of work, they’re also building a remote and distributed team themselves,” Zahn said. The company currently has only four employees.

In that vein, we (and others, it seems) had heard that Sequoia — which today invests in several Europe-based startups, including Tessian, Graphcore, Klarna, Tourlane, Evervault  and CEGX — has been considering establishing a more permanent presence in this part of the world, specifically in London.

Sources familiar with the firm, however, tell us that while it has been sounding out VCs at other firms, saying a London office is on the horizon might be premature, as there are as yet no plans to set up shop here. However, with more companies and European founders entering its portfolio, and as more conversations with VCs turn into decisions to make the leap to help Sequoia source more startups, we could see this strategy turning around quickly.

Aug
21
2019
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Box introduces Box Shield with increased security controls and threat protection

Box has always had to balance the idea of sharing content broadly while protecting it as it moved through the world, but the more you share, the more likely something can go wrong, such as misconfigured shared links that surfaced earlier this year. In an effort to make the system more secure, the company announced Box Shield today in Beta, a set of tools to help employees sharing Box content better understand who they are sharing with, while helping the security team see when content is being misused.

Link sharing is a natural part of what companies do with Box, and as Chief Product and Chief Strategy Officer Jeetu Patel says, you don’t want to change the way people use Box. Instead, he says it’s his job to make it easier to make it secure and that is the goal with today’s announcement.

“We’ve introduced Box Shield, which embeds these content controls and protects the content in a way that doesn’t compromise user experience, while ensuring safety for the administrator and the company, so their intellectual property is protected,” Patel explained.

He says this involves two components. The first is about raising user awareness and helping them understand what they’re sharing. In fact, sometimes companies use Box as a content management backend to distribute files like documentation on the internet on purpose. They want them to be indexed in Google. Other times, however, it’s through misuse of the file-sharing component, and Box wants to fix that with this release by making it clear who they are sharing with and what that means.

They’ve updated the experience on the web and mobile products to make it much clearer through messaging and interface design what the sharing level they have chosen means. Of course, some users will ignore all these messages, so there is a second component to give administrators more control.

2. Box Shield Smart Access

Box Shield access controls (Photo: Box)

This involves helping customers build guardrails into the product to prevent leakage of an entire category of documents that you would never want leaked, like internal business plans, salary lists or financial documents, or even to granularly protect particular files or folders. “The second thing we’re trying to do is make sure that Box itself has some built-in security guardrails and boundary conditions that can help people reduce the risk around employee negligence or inadvertent disclosures, and then make sure that you have some very precision-based, granular security controls that can be applied to classifications that you’ve set on content,” he explained.

In addition, the company wants to help customers detect when employees are abusing content, perhaps sharing sensitive data like customer lists with a personal account, and flag these for the security team. This involves flagging anomalous downloads, suspicious sessions or unusual locations inside Box.

The tool also can work with existing security products already in place, so that whatever classification has been applied in Box travels with a file, and anomalies or misuse can be captured by the company’s security apparatus before the file leaves the company’s boundaries.

While Patel acknowledges there is no way to prevent user misuse or abuse in all cases, by implementing Box Shield, the company is attempting to provide customers with a set of tools to help them reduce the possibility of it going undetected. Box Shield is in private beta today and will be released in the fall.

Jul
30
2019
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Monday.com raises $150M more, now at $1.9B valuation, for workplace collaboration tools

Workplace collaboration platforms have become a crucial cornerstone of the modern office: workers’ lives are guided by software and what we do on our computers, and collaboration tools provide a way for us to let each other know what we’re working on, and how we’re doing it, in a format that’s (at best) easy to use without too much distraction from the work itself.

Now, Monday.com, one of the faster growing of these platforms, is announcing a $150 million round of equity funding — a whopping raise that points both to its success so far and the opportunity ahead for the wider collaboration space, specifically around better team communication and team management.

The Series D funding — led by Sapphire Ventures, with Hamilton Lane, HarbourVest Partners, ION Crossover Partners and Vintage Investment Partners also participating — is coming in at what reliable sources tell me is a valuation of $1.9 billion, or nearly four times Monday.com’s valuation when it last raised money a year ago.

The big bump is in part due to the company’s rapid expansion: it now has 80,000 organizations as customers, up from a mere 35,000 a year ago, with the number of actual employees within those organizations numbering as high as 4,000 employees, or as little as two, spanning some 200 industry verticals, including a fair number of companies that are non-technical in their nature (but that still rely on using software and computers to get their work done). The client list includes Carlsberg, Discovery Channel, Philips, Hulu and WeWork and a number of Fortune 500 companies.

“We have built flexibility into the platform,” said Roy Mann, the CEO who co-founded the company with Eran Zinman, which is one reason he believes why it’s found a lot of stickiness among the wider field of knowledge workers looking for products that work not unlike the apps that they use as average consumers.

All those figures are also helping to put Monday.com on track for an IPO in the near future, said Mann.

“An IPO is something that we are considering for the future,” he said in an interview. “We are just at 1% of our potential, and we’re in a position for huge growth.” In terms of when that might happen, he and Zinman would not specify a timeline, but Mann added that this potentially could be the last round before a public listing.

On the other hand, there are some big plans up ahead for the startup, including adding a free usage tier (to date, the only thing free on Monday.com is a free trial; all usage tiers have been otherwise paid), expanding geographically and into more languages, and continuing to develop the integration and automation technology that underpins the product. The aim is to have 200 applications working with Monday.com by the end of this year.

While the company is already generating cash and it has just raised a significant round, in the current market, that has definitely not kept venture-backed startups from raising more. (Monday.com, which first started life as Dapulse in 2014, has raised $234.1 million to date.)

Monday.com’s rise and growth are coming at an interesting moment for productivity software. There have been software platforms on the market for years aimed at helping workers communicate with each other, as well as to better track how projects and other activity are progressing. Despite being a relatively late entrant, Slack, the now-public workplace chat platform, has arguably defined the space. (It has even entered the modern work lexicon, where people now Slack each other, as a verb.)

That speaks to the opportunity to build products even when it looks like the market is established, but also — potentially — competition. Mann and Zinman are clear to point out that they definitely do not see Slack as a rival, though. “We even use Slack ourselves in the office,” Zinman noted.

The closer rivals, they note, are the likes of Airtable (now valued at $1.1 billion) and Notion (which we’ve confirmed with the company was raising and has now officially closed a round of $10 million on an equally outsized valuation of $800 million), as well as the wider field of project management tools like Jira, Wrike and Asana — although as Mann playfully pointed out, all of those could also feasibly be integrated into Monday.com and they would work better…

The market is still so nascent for collaboration tools that even with this crowded field, Mann said he believes there is room for everyone and the differentiations that each platform currently offers: Notion, he noted as an example, feels geared toward more personal workspace management, while Airtable is more about taking on spreadsheets.

Within that, Monday.com hopes to position itself as the ever-powerful and smart go-to place to get an overview of everything that’s happening, with low chat noise and no need for technical knowledge to gain understanding.

“Monday.com is revolutionizing the workplace software market and we’re delighted to be partnering with Roy, Eran, and the rest of the team in their mission to transform the way people work,” said Rajeev Dham, managing partner at Sapphire Ventures, in a statement. “Monday.com delivers the quality and ease of use typically reserved for consumer products to the enterprise, which we think unlocks significant value for workers and organizations alike.”

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.”

Apr
10
2019
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Atlassian gives Confluence a makeover, acquires Good Software

Atlassian today announced a new version of Confluence, its collaboration platform. While the company has recently focused more on tools like Jira, Bitbucket and Trello, Confluence has continued to gain traction as a content collaboration tool for technical and non-technical teams. Indeed, even though it’s been quiet around it, it’s the second-most revenue-generating product for Atlassian right now. With this release, Atlassian is once again putting the spotlight on Confluence.

To do this, Atlassian also today announced that it has acquired Good Software, a company that makes analytics tools for Confluence users and admins.

In total, Atlassian is announcing 15 new features for the product. Unsurprisingly, given the acquisition of Good Software, one of these new features is extended analytics. With this, Confluence users will be able to see how others in their company engage with their content. The idea here, Atlassian says, is to help everybody write better content and not just see who writes the most popular copy (though that’s surely how this will also be used). There are some other uses here, too, though. An HR manager may notice that a page with outdated information is still getting hits, for example.

Over time, Atlassian will integrate these features more deeply into the rest of Confluence.

Another major new feature is the introduction of an updated editor. The core features of this new editor are actually shared across most Atlassian products now, but as Pratima Arora, the company’s head of Confluence, told me, that editor is then tweaked for the individual products. For Confluence, this means support for the ever-important feature of adding emojis to your pages, but at the core of that is the new slash (/) command that, similar to Slack, lets you add tables, images and macros to your pages. Other new features include the ability to easily create better-looking tables of content, action items, roadmaps and due dates, as well as smartlinks that automatically preview content for services like Google Drive, Dropbox, Trello, GitHub and others. All of this is meant to make organizing content just a little bit easier.

Also new are a set of new templates and a new media experience.

“Once a niche wiki and documentation tool for developers, Confluence has become a universal content collaboration tool that’s easily used by any team, technical or non-technical,” Arora writes in today’s announcement. “In fact, one in four Confluence Cloud customers use it throughout their entire company, according to recent customer data.”

Mar
29
2019
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Alibaba has acquired Teambition, a China-based Trello and Asana rival, in its enterprise push

Alibaba has made an acquisition as it continues to square up to the opportunity in enterprise services in China and beyond, akin to what its U.S. counterpart Amazon has done with AWS. TechCrunch has confirmed that the e-commerce and cloud services giant has acquired Teambition, a Microsoft and Tencent-backed platform for co-workers to plan and collaborate on projects, similar to Trello and Asana.

There were rumors of an acquisition circulating yesterday in Chinese media. Alibaba has now confirmed the acquisition to TechCrunch but declined to provide any other details.

Teambition had raised about $17 million in funding since 2013, with investors including Tencent, Microsoft, IDG Capital and Gobi Ventures. Gobi also manages investments on behalf of Alibaba, and that might have been one route to how the two became acquainted. Alibaba’s last acquisition in enterprise was German big data startup Data Artisans for $103 million.

As with others in the project management and collaboration space, Teambition provides users with mobile and desktop apps to interact with the service. In addition to the main planning interface, there is one designed for CRM, called Bingo, as well as a “knowledge base” where businesses can keep extra documentation and other collateral.

The deal is another sign of how Alibaba has been slowly building a business in enterprise powerhouse over the last several years as it races to keep its pole position in the Chinese market, as well as gain a stronger foothold in the wider Asian region and beyond.

In China alone, it has been estimated that enterprise services is a $1 billion opportunity, but with no clear leader at the moment across a range of verticals and segments that fall under that general umbrella, there is a lot to play for, and likely a lot more consolidation to come. (And it’s not the only one: ByteDance — more known for consumer services like TikTok — is rumored to be building a Slack competitor, and Tencent also has its sights on the sector, as does Baidu.)

As with AWS, Alibaba’s enterprise business stems out of the cloud-based infrastructure Alibaba has built for its own e-commerce powerhouse, which it has productised as a service for third parties that it calls Alibaba Cloud, which (like AWS) offers a range of cloud-storage and serving tiers to users.

On top of that, Alibaba has been building and integrating a number of apps and other services that leverage that cloud infrastructure, providing more stickiness for the core service as well as the potential for developing further revenue streams with customers.

These apps and services range from the recently launched “A100” business transformation initiative, where Alibaba proposes working with large companies to digitise and modernize (and help run) their IT backends, through to specific products, such as Alibaba’s Slack competitor DingTalk.

With Alibaba declining to give us any details beyond a confirmation of the acquisition, and Teambition not returning our requests for comment, our best guess is that this app could be a fit in either area. That is to say, one option for Alibaba would be to integrate it and use it as part of a wider “business transformation” and modernization offering, or as a standalone product, as it currently exists.

Teambition today counts a number of Chinese giants, and giants with Chinese outposts, as customers, including Huawei, Xiaomi, TCL and McDonald’s in its customer list. The company currently has nothing on its site indicating an acquisition or any notices regarding future services, so it seems to be business as usual for now.

The opportunity around collaboration and workplace communication has become a very hot area in the last few years, spurred by the general growth of social media in the consumer market and people in business environments wanting to bring in the same kinds of tools to help them get work done. Planning and project management — the area that Teambition and its competitors address — is considered a key pillar in the wider collaboration space alongside cloud services to store and serve files and real-time communication services.

Slack, which is now valued at more than $7 billion, has said it has filed paperwork for a public listing, while Asana is now valued at $1.5 billion and Trello’s owner Atlassian now has a market cap of nearly $26 billion.

Mar
20
2019
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Abstract, a versioning platform that helps designers work like developers, raises $30M

Design and engineering are two sides of the same coin when it comes to building software and hardware, and yet — unlike engineers, who can use services like GitHub, Bitbucket, GitLab or many others to help manage their development process — it has traditionally been slim pickings for designers when it comes to tools to manage the iterations and collaborations that are a part of their workflow.

Now, we are seeing a rising wave of startups responding to that vacuum in the market. In the latest development, Abstract, which has built a platform to help manage versioning and workflow for design projects, is announcing $30 million in funding led by Lightspeed Venture Partners with participation from previous investors Scale Venture Partners, Amplify Partners and Cowboy Ventures.

Abstract is not disclosing valuation, but I understand from sources that it is now $190 million, a decent leap from the $76 million valuation (according to PitchBook) it reached in its last round. Abstract has raised around $55 million since 2016.

This latest round, a Series C, comes at a time when we are seeing a number of other startups that are building tools for designers — some competing with Abstract, and some significantly larger — also raising big money.

In December, InVision (which has an ambition to be the “Salesforce of design”), raised $115 million at a $1.9 billion valuation. Last month, Figma (building both design development and collaboration tools) raised $40 million at a $440 million valuation. Last week, Sketch (which also makes design tools) raised its first outside round of $20 million after a long track record as a very popular bootstrapped startup.

Abstract fits very much in the middle of this spread. The problem that it has identified is that many designers still work in an inefficient way compared to their engineering counterparts (as well as those in other parts of an operation, including people who collaborate on creating documents or presentations). Designers still typically sling around multiple versions of the same file, or try to handle all passing around and working on one single file. That loose structure makes for many errors and lost changes, not to mention an inability to track who has done what and when.

To address this, Abstract offers a number of features. First and foremost, it provides a way for designers to track versions of files — it automatically uploads the most recent copy even if you are working locally, so that whoever works next will use the most updated version. It also lets a project manager task different people with different parts of a project and manage the reviewing system. When a project is in progress or already completed, there is a way to present it and also gather feedback. And then, importantly, the design team can also use Abstract to interface with engineering teams that are building the tech underneath and around that design.

The funding is going to help Abstract expand that with more features, including a better and more streamlined way to export the most current files, as well as more security integrations for better control over who can access materials and when.

It started with a hashtag…

Abstract was co-founded by Josh Brewer and Kevin Smith — the former a designer, the latter an engineer who has also headed up design teams. Brewer, the CEO, said in an interview that his own past experience — his track record includes a period as Twitter’s principal designer — was the kindling that eventually led to the building of Abstract. One example he gave was the rebuild of Twitter back in 2011, which needed a redesign across web, mobile web, iOS and Android with a consistent navigation pattern, and new behavioral/usage patterns. (Not a small task.)

“We had only 12 designers at that time, a relatively small crew, but also a short timeline,” he recalled. “We decided to try to standardize on one tool to manage everything, but didn’t really have much to work with.” He and the team decided to “hack some of the tools we were using at the time,” which included Apache Subversion and GitHub for software development, “to solve the problem.” This helped him identify that there was a clear opportunity to build something that spoke specifically to designers’ needs.

That something has indeed started to find some traction: there are now more than 5,000 design teams using Abstract, with companies using it including Shopify, Cisco, Intuit, Spotify, Salesforce, Zappos and Instacart.

“As design becomes an increasingly significant competitive advantage, the tools designers use have to become more sophisticated, collaborative, and transparent to the broader organization. At Lightspeed, we invest in the sort of exceptional teams that are poised to transform a market,” said Nakul Mandan, who is also joining the board. “Josh, Kevin and the rest of the Abstract team have reimagined a design workflow that is quickly becoming the professional standard for how growing design teams work together and with functional stakeholders. We are excited to partner with Abstract to help the company continue its explosive growth.”

Abstract’s first efforts have been to support Sketch, the design tool that raised money just last week. The two are often associated with each other, it seems: many tend to use Abstract and Sketch together as an alternative to using Figma. But in addition to adding more versioning tools, the plan will be to add more design software to the list Abstract supports, starting with Adobe XD and Illustrator (it has currently opened early access waitlists for both). But even in the effort to be the go-to platform for all kinds of design projects, there are lines being drawn. It seems there are no plans, for example, to support Figma.

Another thing Abstract does not plan to do, Smith added, is to start building and offering many of those design tools itself.

“We are focused on expanding support for other file formats and bringing all your design files, whether it’s for a font or data to populate a design,” he said. There might be exceptions down the line, however: the company launched an SDK last fall, which Smith described as “our first step to exposing data to developers and design engineers, and that is part of our vision, which may or may not involve other kinds of tooling on the Abstract platform.”

He noted that “one of the things we’re been hearing about is the need for light-weight editing,” so that might be one area where Abstract might build or offer a third-party tool. “If we understand the data we are storing it’s not outside the realm of possibility to expose that. From a tooling perspective, it would be coming from the needs of our customers.”

Mar
19
2019
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Salesforce finally embedding Quip into platform, starting with Sales and Service Cloud

When Salesforce bought Quip in 2016 for $750 million, it was fair to wonder what it planned to do with it. While company founder Bret Taylor has moved up the ladder to chief product officer, Quip remained a standalone product. Today that changed when the company announced it was embedding Quip directly into its sales and customer service clouds.

Quip is a collaboration tool with built-in office suite functionality, including word processing, spreadsheet and presentation software. As a standalone product, it enables teams to collaborate around a rich set of documents. Quip for Salesforce is embedding that kind of functionality at the platform level.

Alan Lepofsky, who recently joined Salesforce as VP of Salesforce Quip, says the announcement is the culmination of a desire to embed the tool into Salesforce. “By bringing productivity directly into the context of business workflows, sales and customer support teams can collaborate in brand new ways, enabling them to be better aligned and more efficient, ultimately providing a better customer experience,” Lepofsky told TechCrunch.

Quip appears as a tab in the Sales or Service Cloud interface. There, employees can collaborate on documents and maintain all of their information in a single place without switching between multiple applications or losing context, an increasingly important goal for collaboration tools, including Slack.

Photo: Salesforce

Administrators can build templates to quickly facilitate team building. The templates enable you to start a page pre-populated with information about a specific account or set of accounts. You can take this a step further by creating templates with a set of filters to refine each one to meet the needs of a particular team, based on factors like deal size, industry or location.

In the service context, customer service agents can set up pages to discuss different kinds of issues or problems and work together to get answers quickly, even while chatting with a customer.

Salesforce has various partnerships with Microsoft, Dropbox, Google, Slack and others that provide a similar kind of functionality, and those customers that want to continue using those tools can do that, but 2.5 years after the Quip acquisition, Salesforce is finally putting it to work as a native productivity and collaboration tool.

“As an industry analyst, I spent years advising vendors on the importance of purpose and context as two key drivers for getting work done. Salesforce is delivering both by bringing productivity from Quip directly to CRM and customer service,” Lepofsky said.

The idea of providing a single place to collaborate without task switching is certainly attractive, but it remains to be seen if customers will warm to the idea of using Quip instead of one of the other tools out there. In the meantime, Quip will still be sold as a standalone tool.

Mar
19
2019
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Teams, Microsoft’s Slack competitor, says it’s signed up over 500k organizations, adds whiteboard and live events support

Microsoft Teams, the collaboration platform that Microsoft built to complement its Office 365 suite of productivity apps for workers — which also ensures a way of keeping those workers staying within its own ecosystem — is hitting a milestone on its second birthday.

Today, the company announced that over 500,000 organizations are now using Teams. The company is not spelling out what that works out to in total users but notes that 150 of them have more than 10,000 users apiece, putting its total user numbers well over 1.5 million.

Alongside this, Microsoft also announced a number of new features that will be coming to Teams as it works on native integrations of more of Microsoft’s own tools to give Teams more functionality and more relevance for a wider range of use cases.

“The rigid hierarchy of the workplace has evolved, and environments are now about inclusivity and transparency,” said Lori Wright, General Manager of Workplace Collaboration at Microsoft, in an interview. “We see these trends playing out all over the world, and this is giving rise to new forms of technology.”

The new features indeed speak to that trend of inclusivity and making platforms more personalised to users. They include customized backgrounds; and support for cameras to capture content to bring in new ways of interacting in Teams beyond text — something that will be further explored with the eventual integration Microsoft Whiteboard, for people to create and ingest presentations that are hand-written into the system.

For those who are either hearing-impaired or cannot use or hear the audio, Microsoft’s adding live captions. And to speak to the purview of CSOs, it’s adding secure channels for private chats as well as “information barriers” that can be put in place for compliance purposes and to make sure that any potential conflicts of interest between channels are kept out; screening for data-loss prevention to prevent sensitive information from being shared.

Finally, it is adding live events support, which will let users create broadcasts on Teams for up to 10,000 people (who do not need to be registered Teams users to attend).

All in all, this is a significant list of product updates. The company kicked off its service as very much a Slack-style product for “knowledge workers” but has since emphasized a more inclusive approach, for all kinds of employees, from front line to back-office.

No updates today to the number of third-party applications that are being incorporated into Teams — an area where Slack has particularly excelled — but Microsoft is focused on making sure that as many users as it has already captured in Office 365, which today number 155 million — eventually also turn on to Teams. “We using as many as the Microsoft services as we can, tapping the Microsoft Graph to feed in services and structure information,” Wright said.

Microsoft is somewhat of a late comer to the collaboration space, coming in the wake of a number of other efforts, but these user figures put the company’s effort well within striking distance of notable, and large, competitors. Last month, Facebook noted that Workplace, its own Slack rival, had 2 million users, also with 150 organizations with more than 10,000 users each included in the number. Slack, meanwhile, in January said it had over 10 million daily active users with the number of organizations on the platform at 85,000.

(Notably, just yesterday Slack made a timely announcement in its bid to court more large enterprises: they will now give regulated customers access to their encrypted keys, an important component to win more business in those sectors.)

 

Jan
15
2019
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Smartsheet acquires Slope to help creatives collaborate

Smartsheet, the project management and collaboration tool that went public last April, announced the acquisition of Seattle-based TernPro, Inc., makers of Slope, a collaboration tool designed for sharing creative assets.

The companies did not share the acquisition price.

Bringing Slope into the fold will enable Smartsheet users to share assets like video and photos natively inside the application, and also brings the ability to annotate, comment or approve these assets. Smartsheet sees this native integration through a broad enterprise lens. It might be HR sharing training videos, marketing sharing product photos or construction company employees inspecting a site and sharing photos of a code violation, complete with annotations to point out the problem.

Alan Lepofsky, an analyst at Constellation Research who specializes in collaboration tools in the enterprise, sees this as a significant enhancement to the product. “Smartsheet’s focus is on being more than just project management, but instead helping coordinate end-to-end business processes. Slope is going to allow content to become more of a native part of those processes, rather than people having to switch context to another tool,” he explained.

That last point is particularly important, as today’s collaboration tools, whether Slack or Microsoft Teams or any other similar tool, have been working hard to provide that kind of integration to keep people focused on the task at hand without having to switch applications.

Mike Gotta, a longtime analyst at Gartner, says collaboration that happens within the flow of work can help make employees more productive, but being able to build specific use cases is even more critical. “The collaboration space remains open for innovation and new ways to addressing old challenges. For organizations though, the trick is how to create a collaboration portfolio that balances broad-based foundational investments with the more domain-specific or situational scenarios they might have where this type of use-case driven collaboration can make more sense,” Gotta told TechCrunch.

That is precisely what Smartsheet is trying to achieve with this purchase, giving them the ability to incorporate workflows involving creative assets, whether that’s including all of the documents required to onboard a new employee or a training workflow that includes learning objectives, lesson plans, photos, videos and so forth.

Smartsheet, which launched in 2005, raised more than $113 million before going public last April. The company’s stock price has held up, gaining ground in a volatile stock market. It sits above its launch price of $19.50, closing at $25.24 yesterday.

Slope was founded in 2014 and has raised $1.4 million, according to Crunchbase data. Customers include Microsoft, CBS Sports and the Oakland Athletics baseball team. The company’s employees, including co-founders Dan Bloom and Brian Boschè, have already joined Smartsheet.

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