Jun
30
2021
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Slack’s new voice, video tools should fit nicely on Salesforce platform after deal closes

It’s easy to forget, but Salesforce bought Slack at the end of last year for almost $28 billion, a deal that has yet to close. We don’t know exactly when that will happen, but Slack continues to develop its product roadmap adding new functionality, even while waiting to become part of Salesforce eventually.

Just this morning, the company made official some new tools it had been talking about for some time including a new voice tool called Slack Huddles, which is available starting today, along with video messaging and a directory service called Slack Atlas.

These tools enhance the functionality of the platform in ways that should prove useful as it becomes part of Salesforce whenever that happens. It’s not hard to envision how integrating Huddles or the video tools (or even Slack Atlas for both internal and external company organizational views) could work when integrated into the Salesforce platform.

Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield says the companies aren’t working together yet because of regulatory limits on communications, but he could definitely see how these tools could work in tandem with Salesforce Service Cloud and Sales Cloud among others and how you can start to merge the data in Salesforce with Slack’s communications capabilities.

“[There’s] this excitement around workflows from the big system of record [in Salesforce] into the communication [in Slack] and having the data show up where the conversations are happening. And I think there’s a lot of potential here for leveraging these indirectly in customer interactions, whether that’s sales, marketing, support or whatever,” he said.

He said that he could also see Salesforce taking advantage of Slack Connect, a capability introduced last year that enables companies to communicate with people outside the company. “We have all this stuff working inside of Slack Connect, and you get all the same benefits that you would get using Huddles to properly start a conversation, solve some problem or use video as a better way of communicating with [customers],” he said.

These announcements seem to fall into two main categories: the future of work and in the context of the acquisition. Bret Taylor, Salesforce president and COO certainly seemed to recognize that when discussing the deal with TechCrunch when it was announced back in December. He sees the two companies directly addressing the changing face of work:

“When we say we really want Slack to be this next generation interface for Customer 360, what we mean is we’re pulling together all these systems. How do you rally your teams around these systems in this digital work-anywhere world that we’re in right now where these teams are distributed and collaboration is more important than ever,” Taylor said.

Brent Leary, founder and principal analyst at CRM Essentials says that there is clearly a future of work angle at play as the two companies come together. “I think moves like [today’s Slack announcements] are in response to where things are trending with respect to the future of work as we all find ourselves spending an increasing amount of time in front of webcams and microphones in our home offices meeting and collaborating with others,” he said.

Huddles is an example of how the company is trying to fix that screen fatigue from too many meetings or typing our thoughts. “This kind of “audio-first” capability takes the emphasis off trying to type what we mean in the way we think will get the point across to just being able to say it without the additional effort to make it look right,” he said.

Leary added, “And not only will it allow people to just speak, but also allows us to get a better understanding of the sentiment and emotion that also comes with speaking to people and not having to guess what the intent/emotion is behind the text in a chat.”

As Karissa Bell pointed out on Engadget, Huddles also works like Discord’s chat feature in a business context, which could have great utility for Salesforce tools when it’s integrated with the Salesforce platform

While the regulatory machinations grind on, Slack continues to develop its platform and products. It will of course continue to operate as a stand-alone company, even when the mega deal finally closes, but there will certainly be plenty of cross-platform integrations.

Even if executives can’t discuss what those integrations could look like openly, there has to be a lot of excitement at Salesforce and Slack about the possibilities that these new tools bring to the table — and to the future of work in general — whenever the deal crosses the finish line.

May
25
2021
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Sinch, a Swedish customer engagement giant, raises $1.1B, SoftBank and Temasek participating

Sinch — a Twilio competitor based out of Sweden that provides a suite of services to companies to build communications and specifically “customer engagement” into their services by way of APIs — has been on a steady funding and acquisitions march in the last several months to scale its business, and today comes the latest development on that front.

The company has announced that it has raised another $1.1 billion in a direct share issue, with significant chunks of that funding coming from Temasek and SoftBank, in order to continue building its business.

Specifically, the company — which is traded on the Swedish stock exchange Nasdaq Stockhom and currently has a market cap of around $11 billion — said that it was making a new share issue of 7,232,077 shares at SEK 1,300 per share, raising approximately SEK 9.4 billion (equivalent to around $1.1 billion at current rates).

Sinch said that investors buying the shares included “selected Swedish and international investors of institutional character,” highlighting that Temasek and SB Management (a direct subsidiary of SoftBank Group Corp.) would  respectively take SEK 2,085 million and 0.7 million shares. This works out to a $252 million investment for Temasek, and $110 million for SoftBank.

SoftBank last December took a $690 million stake in Sinch (when it was valued at $8.2 billion). That was just ahead of the company scooping up Inteliquent in the U.S. in January for $1.14 billion to move a little closer to Twilio’s home turf.

Sinch is not saying much more beyond the announcement of the share issue for now, except that the raise was made to shore up its financial position ahead of more M&A activity.

“Sinch has an active M&A-agenda and a track record of successful acquisitions, making [it] well placed to drive continued consolidation of the messaging and [communications platform as a service, CPaaS] market,” it said in a short statement. “Furthermore, the increased financial flexibility that the directed new share issue entails further strengthens the Company’s position as a relevant and competitive buyer.”

The company is profitable and active in more than 40 markets, and CEO Oscar Werner said in Sinch’s most recent earnings report that in the last quarter alone that its communications APIs — which work across channels like SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, chatbots, voice and video — handled 40 billion mobile messages.

Notably, its strategy has a strong foothold in the U.S. because of the Inteliquent acquisition. It will be interesting to see how and if it continues to consolidate to build up market share in that part of the world, or whether it focuses elsewhere, given the heft of two very strong Asian investors now in its stable. 

“Becoming a leader in the U.S. voice market is key to establish Sinch as the leading global cloud communications platform,” said Werner in January.

While Sinch has focused much of its business, as has Twilio, around an API-based model focused on communications services, its acquisition of Inteliquent also gave it access to a large, legacy Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) product set, aimed at telcos to provide off-net call termination (when a call is handed off from one carrier to another) and toll-free numbers.

Tellingly, when Sinch acquired Inteliquent, the two divisions each accounted for roughly half of its total business, but the CPaaS business is growing at twice the rate of IaaS, which points to how Sinch views the future for itself, too.

Apr
28
2021
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MessageBird acquires SparkPost for $600M using $800M Series C extension

MessageBird, a communications platform out of the Netherlands, had a busy day today, with two huge announcements. For starters, the company got an $800 million extension on its $200 million Series C round announced last October. It then applied $600 million of the extension to buy email marketing platform SparkPost. The company’s C round now totals at least $1 billion.

Let’s start with the acquisition. MessageBird CEO Robert Vis says his company had an email component prior to the acquisition, but the chance to pick up the largest email provider in the world was too good to pass up.

“If you talk about infrastructure, we’re defining largest […] as a matter of interactions, so basically the amount of emails sent. SparkPost sends about 5 trillion emails a year. And the second thing that’s very important to us is to be able to send high-scale emails when it’s really critical,” Vis told me.

With the company in the fold, it enables MessageBird, which has mostly been in Europe and Asia, to get a stronger foothold in the U.S. market. “So this is as much for us about the technology around SparkPost as it actually is for us to have market entry into the United States with a significant workforce instead of having to build that from scratch,” Vis said.

Rich Harris, CEO of SparkPost, sees the deal as a way to expand SparkPost to multiple channels already available on the MessageBird platform and be a much more powerful combination together than it could have been alone.

“By joining forces with MessageBird, we will be able to bring broader, deeper value to all of our customers through any digital communications,” Harris said in a statement.

Vis agrees saying it gives his company the opportunity to upsell other MessageBird services to SparkPost customers. “SparkPost obviously only offers email. We can offer SparkPost customers way more channels. We can offer them texting, Instagram, WhatsApp or Apple Business Chat. So we feel very excited about leveraging them to go sell much more broad messenger products to their customers,” Vis said.

MessageBird announced its $240 million Series C on a $3 billion valuation last October. The company’s whopping $800 million extension brings the round to around $1 billion. It’s worth noting that the round isn’t completely closed yet, so that’s not an official figure.

“The round isn’t completely closed yet as we are still waiting on some of the funds to come in, so we cannot give you 100% final figures on the round, but we can say with confidence that the round will close at $1 billion or slightly higher,” a company spokesperson explained. It is announcing the funding before everything is 100% done due to regulatory requirements around the acquisition.

Eurazeo, Tiger Global, BlackRock and Owl Rock participated in the extension along with Bonnier, Glynn Capital, LGT Lightstone, Longbow, Mousse Partners and NewView Capital, as well as existing investors such as Accel, Atomico (they led the Series A and B rounds) and Y Combinator. The mix is 70% equity and 30% debt, according to the company.

Today’s acquisition comes on the heels of two others just last month, when the company announced it was acquiring video meeting startup 24Sessions and Hull, a synchronization technology startup. The company also acquired Pusher, a push notification company in January, as MessageBird is using its Series C cash to quickly expand the platform.

Jul
15
2020
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Sumeru Equity Partners buys majority stake in SocialChorus with $100M investment

SocialChorus, a startup that helps distribute communications internally in a similar way marketers reach customers externally, announced a $100 million investment today led by Sumeru Equity Partners. With this investment, the firm has bought a majority stake in the company. As part of today’s deal, Sumeru will be adding three members to the SocialChorus board.

Sumeru Equity Partners is making a majority investment in the company but also well capitalizing the business for future growth,” Mark Haller, principal at Sumeru told TechCrunch.

The company previously raised $47 million, according to Crunchbase data. Haller says this is not a buyout, so much as a partnership with those previous investors. “We’re seeing continued partnership with existing investors and we’re coming in and making that majority investment, and we’ll also be making another investment in the balance sheet,” he said.

What Sumeru is getting is a company that helps with internal communications using marketing techniques, says company CEO Gary Nakamura. “You can run campaigns with targeting segmentation and all the telemetry back that you need as a leader, as a manager, as an organization to understand how your communications are landing with your workforce,” Nakamura told TechCrunch.

The target is large companies and customers, including big names like Ford, Archer Daniels Midland and Boeing. The company reports it has 120 large customers around the world, and the business has been growing at 50% year over year.

While the company is getting this infusion of cash from Sumeru, Nakamura says he will continue to try to manage the company in a thoughtful way, and that means being careful about how they hire beyond the 120 employees the company already has.

“What we have built is a business that doesn’t require a lot of heads to run it. We can maintain a 50% growth rate with financial discipline that we’ve implemented. Historically that is what we’ve been able to do,” he said.

Sumeru Equity Partners is a private equity firm based in San Francisco. It targets mid-market companies, according to the company website, and then tries to apply operational efficiency by working with them on areas like product strategy, go-to-market acceleration and organizational development, with the goal of building up the company and taking it to exit.

Jul
07
2020
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Zoom announces new Hardware as a Service offering to run on ServiceNow

Zoom announced a new Hardware as a Service offering today that will run on the ServiceNow platform. At the same time, the company announced a deal with ServiceNow to standardize on Zoom and Zoom Phone for its 11,000 employees in another case of SaaS cooperation.

For starters, the new Hardware as a Service offering allows customers, who use the Zoom Phone and Zoom Rooms software, to acquire related hardware from the company for a fixed monthly cost. The company announced that initial solutions providers will include DTEN, Neat, Poly and Yealink.

The new service allows companies to access low-cost hardware and pay for the software and hardware on a single invoice. This could result in lower up-front costs, while simplifying the bookkeeping associated with a customer’s online communications options.

Companies can start small if they wish, then add additional hardware over time as needs change, and they can also opt for a fully managed service, where a third party can deal with installation and management of the hardware if that’s what a customer requires.

Zoom will run the new service on ServiceNow’s Now platform, which provides a way to manage the service requests as they come in. And in a case of one SaaS hand washing the other, ServiceNow has standardized on the Zoom platform for its internal communications tool, which has become increasingly important as the pandemic has moved employees to work from home. The company also plans to replace its current phone system with Zoom Phones.

One of the defining characteristics of SaaS companies, and a major difference from previous generations of tech companies, has been the willingness of these organizations to work together to string together sets of services when it makes sense. These kinds of partnerships not only benefit the companies involved, they tend to be a win for customers too.

Brent Leary, founder at CRM Essentials, sees this as a deal between two rising SaaS stars, and one that benefits both companies. “Everyone and their mother is announcing partnerships with Zoom, focusing on integrating video communications into core focus areas. But this partnership looks to be much more substantial than most, with ServiceNow not only partnering with Zoom for tighter video communication capabilities, but also displacing its current phone system with Zoom Phone,” Leary told TechCrunch.

Mar
18
2020
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Slack introduces simplified interface as usage moves deeper into companies

When Slack first launched in 2013, the product was quickly embraced by developers, and the early product reflected that. To get at advanced tools, you used a slash (/) command, but the company recognizes that as it moves deeper into the enterprise, it needed to simplify the interface.

Today, the company introduced a newly designed interface aimed at easing the user experience, making Slack more of an accessible enterprise communications hub.

Jaime DeLanghe, director of product management at Slack, says that the messaging application has become a central place for people to communicate about work, which has grown even more important as many of us have begun working from home as a result of COVID-19.

But DeLanghe says usage was up even before the recent work from home trend began taking off. “People are connected to Slack, on average, about nine hours a day and they’re using Slack actively for almost 90 minutes,” she told TechCrunch.

To that end, she says her team has been working hard to update the interface.

“From my team’s perspective, we want to make sure that the experience is as simple to understand and get on-boarded as possible,” she said. That also means surfacing more advanced tooling, which has been hidden behind those slash commands in previous versions of the tool.

She said that the company has been trying to address the needs of the changing audience over the years by adding many new features, but admits that has resulted in some interface clutter. Today’s redesign is meant to address that.

New Slack interface. Screenshot: Slack

Among the new features, besides the overall cleaner look, many people will welcome the new ability to nest channels to organize them better in the Channel sidebar. As your channels proliferate, it becomes harder to navigate them all. Starting today, users can organize their channels into logical groupings with labels.

New nested channel labels in Slack. Screenshot: Slack

DeLanghe is careful to point out that this channel organization is personal, and cannot be done at an administrative level. “The channels don’t actually live inside of another channel. You’re creating a label for them, so that you can organize them in the sidebar for just yourself, not for everybody,” she explained.

Other new features include an improved navigation bar at the top of the window, a centralized search and help tool also located at the top of the window and a universal compose button in the Sidebar.

All of these new features are designed to help make Slack more accessible to users, as more employees start using it across an organization.

Mar
27
2018
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Stride, Atlassian’s Slack competitor, hits general availability

Last September, Atlassian launched Stride, its take on a Slack-like real-time communications platform for text, audio and video chats, into beta. Six months later, Stride is now generally available to any and all teams that want to give it a try.

While Atlassian is a bit cagey about providing exact user numbers, so the numbers it actually shared aren’t all the useful to gauge the service’s success. What the company was willing to say is that its users have now spent a quarter of a million hours in Stride’s Focus Mode, which is meant to allow worked to reclaim a bit of sanity in today’s notification-driven world by allowing you to turn off all incoming messages and notifications. As Atlassian’s head of communications products Steve Goldsmith told me, the company is happy with the state of Stride and that it’s growing quickly.

Since the closed beta launch, Atlassian has added about 50 new features and improvements to the service that include better ways to organize chat lists, better search and a number of improvements to the service’s video meetings features. Indeed, it’s these video chat features that the team is maybe the most proud of. “Small impromptu meetings don’t just happen when you have to switch context,” Goldsmith told me but declined to give us any numbers for how much time users spend in these chats beyond that “it’s a lot.”

Goldsmith also stressed that this is far from the final version of Stride. The team still has quite a roadmap of features that it wants to implement. But taking away the beta label, though, the company is signalling that it has worked out most of the kinks and that Stride is now ready for full enterprise deployments.

About a month ago, the Stride team also opened up its API to outside developers. Goldsmith was pretty open about the fact that he’s very happy with the final result but that he would’ve liked to see that happen a bit earlier. Stride’s API is the first product that sites on top of Atlassian’s new API platform. That probably made building the API a bit harder, but Goldsmith noted that that now makes integrating with Stride easier for other Atlassian teams.

Jun
28
2017
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Intercom lands former Intuit exec Karen Peacock as its new COO

Karen Peacock, COO at Intercom Intercom, a business messaging tool that enables companies to communicate directly with customers in an online context, announced today that it has hired former Intuit SVP Karen Peacock as company COO.
She joined the company May 30th, but they are making the news public for the first time today.
Peacock comes with an impressive resume that starts with a BA from Harvard and an MBA from Stanford. Read More

May
01
2017
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Collaboration software company Jive to be acquired by Aurea for $462 million

Jive at IPO in 2011 Jive, a community collaboration software company that was one of the biggest Enterprise 2.0-era success stories, going public in 2011, announced today it had agreed to be acquired by ESW Capital’s Wave Systems for $462 million. It will become part of the Aurea family of companies. Read More

Apr
18
2017
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Workplace by Facebook continues to mature

Workplace" at the Facebook Inc. At the F8 conference today, Facebook announced a bunch of updates to its Workplace by Facebook team communications tool including a slew of new partnerships and new bot integrations, which all show a product that’s maturing to meet the needs of larger enterprise customers. When Workplace by Facebook was first launched last fall, it was an attempt to take Facebook and put it into a… Read More

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