Nov
11
2019
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Salesforce Ventures invested $300M in Automattic while Salesforce was building a CMS

In September, Salesforce Ventures, the venture of arm of Salesforce, announced a hefty $300 million investment in Automattic, the company behind WordPress, the ubiquitous content management system (CMS). At the same time, the company was putting the finishing touches on Salesforce CMS, an in-house project it released last week.

The question is, why did it choose to do both?

One reason could be that WordPress isn’t just well-liked; it’s also the world’s most popular content management system, running 34 percent of the world’s 10 billion websites — including this one — according to the company. With Automattic valued at $3 billion, that gives Salesforce Ventures a 10 percent stake.

Given the substantial investment, you wouldn’t have been irrational to at least consider the idea that Salesforce may have had its eye on this company as an acquisition target. In fact, at the time of the funding, Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg told TechCrunch’s Romain Dillet that there could be some partnerships and integrations with Salesforce in the future.

Now we have a Salesforce CMS, and a potential partnership with one of the world’s largest web content management (WCM) tools, and it’s possible that the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.

Nov
07
2019
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Salesforce announces new content management system

Salesforce has its fingers in a lot of parts of the customer experience, so why not content management? Today, the company announced a brand new tool called Salesforce Content Management System, which it says is designed from the ground up to deliver a quality customer experience across multiple channels.

The idea is to provide a way for customers to create, manage and deliver more meaningful content across multiple channels from within the Salesforce family of products. The company claims it doesn’t require any kind of deep technical knowledge to do it, meaning marketers and product people should be able to create and deliver content without the help of IT, once the system is properly set up.

Anna Rosenman, Salesforce’s VP of product marketing for Community Cloud, Commerce Cloud and Salesforce CMS, says the company created the new CMS to answer a customer demand. “Our customers have been asking for a dedicated CMS. The systems that they’ve been relying on so far tend to be legacy tools that are hard to use and built for a single-channel or site,” she said.

Photo: Salesforce

While users can create more personalized content based on what they know about the customer based on Salesforce data, Rosenman says the key differentiator here is the ability to connect to third-party systems. “A hybrid CMS provides a native experience channel or touchpoint, but also gives you the flexibility to present content to any touchpoint built on a third-party system,” she explained.

Tony Byrne, founder and principal analyst at Real Story Group, who has followed the Web CMS space for two decades, says this isn’t the first time that Salesforce has tried content management. The previous iteration was called Salesforce Sites. “They made big promises around that platform, got some major customers on board and then dropped it,” Byrne said.

He says it’s a major challenge to build a sophisticated multi-channel CMS. “It’s easy to build a simple CMS. It’s much harder to build an extensible, enterprise platform,” he said. He added, “There’s a lot of work they still need to do to feed other platforms around things like connectors, simulation, tracking, very advanced asset management (e.g., compound assets), object-oriented storage, etc.”

But Rosenman says the system’s built-in flexibility is designed to provide that, and even be used in conjunction with existing legacy tools if need be.

What’s interesting here is that Salesforce decided to build this tool, rather than buying a company and integrating it into the Salesforce family, an approach it has not been afraid to take in the past. In fact, the company pursues an aggressive acquisition strategy. This year alone it spent more than $15 billion to buy Tableau and another $1.35 billion to buy ClickSoftware.

In this case, in the tension between building and buying, it decided to build instead. Time will tell if that was a good decision or not.

Feb
11
2019
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Google Docs gets an API for task automation

Google today announced the general availability of a new API for Google Docs that will allow developers to automate many of the tasks that users typically do manually in the company’s online office suite. The API has been in developer preview since last April’s Google Cloud Next 2018 and is now available to all developers.

As Google notes, the REST API was designed to help developers build workflow automation services for their users, build content management services and create documents in bulk. Using the API, developers can also set up processes that manipulate documents after the fact to update them, and the API also features the ability to insert, delete, move, merge and format text, insert inline images and work with lists, among other things.

The canonical use case here is invoicing, where you need to regularly create similar documents with ever-changing order numbers and line items based on information from third-party systems (or maybe even just a Google Sheet). Google also notes that the API’s import/export abilities allow you to use Docs for internal content management systems.

Some of the companies that built solutions based on the new API during the preview period include Zapier, Netflix, Mailchimp and Final Draft. Zapier integrated the Docs API into its own workflow automation tool to help its users create offer letters based on a template, for example, while Netflix used it to build an internal tool that helps its engineers gather data and automate its documentation workflow.

 

 

Jan
15
2019
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Box hires former SAP exec as chief information security officer

Box announced today that it has hired Lakshmi Hanspal to be the company’s new chief information security officer (CISO). She boasts 20 years of security experience, including holding executive security roles at SAP Ariba and Bank of America. She also spent time in a senior role at PayPal.

In a blog post announcing the hire, the company defined her role this way: “In the role of CISO, Lakshmi will be responsible for Box’s cyber security practice, security operations and data and platform protection.”

Hanspal sees similarities in Box from her time at SAP Ariba, but she recognizes that she will face a different set of challenges. “My role at Box is similar to what I focused on at SAP Ariba with the biggest difference being Box’s geographical footprint. Box is a born in the cloud company and expanding rapidly globally, so my focus will also include securing public cloud operations (future stack) and risk transparency for our customers,” she told TechCrunch.

She said that will involve improving service maturity and sustainability through automation, while continuing to ensure the highest level of security of both Box corporate and product platforms.

Box CEO Aaron Levie indicated that security is central to everything Box does, so finding the right chief information security officer was absolutely critical. “Not only does Lakshmi bring with her an impressive and diverse leadership experience from her time at SAP, PayPal and Bank of America, but she’s an incredible team builder and culture add for Box that will take our security team to the next level,” Levie said.

Hanspal is the third woman on Box’s executive team, joining Stephanie Carullo, who was hired as chief operating officer in 2017 and chief people officer, Christie Lake.

Dec
18
2018
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Box releases Skills, which lets developers apply AI and machine learning to Box content

When you have as much data under management as Box does, you have the key ingredient for artificial intelligence and machine learning, which feeds on copious amounts of data. Box is giving developers access to this data, while letting them choose the AI and machine learning algorithms they want to use. Today, the company announced the general availability of the Box Skills SDK, originally announced at BoxWorks a year ago.

Jeetu Patel, Box’s chief product officer and chief strategy officer, says beta customers have been focusing on use cases specific to each company. They have been pulling information from different classes of content that matter most to them to bring an element of automation to their content management. “If there’s a way to bring a level of automation with machine learning, rather than doing it manually, that would meaningfully change the way that business processes can function,” Patel told TechCrunch.

Among the use cases Box has been seeing with the 300 beta testers is using artificial intelligence to recognize the contents of a photo for the purpose of auto tagging, thereby eliminating the need for humans to do that tagging. Another example is in contract management, where the terms are pulled automatically from the contract, saving the legal team from having to do this.

Where this can get really powerful though is that the Skills SDK can drive a more complex automated workflow inside of Box. If, for example, Skills is driving the creation of automated metadata, that can in turn drive a workflow, Patel said.

Box is providing the means to ingest Box data into a given AI or machine learning algorithm, but instead of trying to create those on its own, it’s been relying on partners that have more specific expertise, such as IBM Watson, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform and Amazon Web Services. In fact, Box says it is working with dozens of AI and machine learning partners.

For customers that aren’t comfortable doing any of this on their own, Box is also providing a consulting service, where it can come into a customer and help work through a set of requirements and choose the best algorithm for the job.

Dec
18
2018
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Seismic scores $100 million Series E investment on $1 billion valuation

Seismic has been helping companies create and manage their sales and marketing collateral since 2010. Today the company announced a $100 million Series E investment on a $1 billion valuation.

The round was led by Lightspeed Venture Partners and T. Rowe Price. Existing investors General Atlantic, JMI Equity and Jackson Square Ventures also participated in the round. The company has now raised $179 million since inception.

What is attracting this level of investment is Seismic’s sales enablement tools, a kind of content management for sales and marketing. “What we’re trying to do with our technology is to help marketers who are striving to create the right content to help the sellers, and help sellers navigate all of the content out there and put together the right pieces and the right materials that are going to help them move the sales cycle along,” Seismic CEO and co-founder Doug Winter explained.

The inclusion of an investor like T. Rowe Price often is a signal of IPO ambitions, and Winter acknowledged the connection, while pointing out that T. Rowe Price is also a customer. “We do have a goal to be public-ready as a company that we are aiming for. We are the leader of the space, and we do feel like striving to be a public company and to be the first one in our space to go public. It’s a goal we are going to push for,” Winter told TechCrunch.

But he says taking this investment is more about taking advantage of market opportunity. The money gives Seismic the ability to expand to meet growing sales. Today, the company has more than 600 customers averaging more than $200,000 in spending, according to Winter.

The company acquired the Savo Group in May to help expand its market position. Seismic is based in San Diego with offices in Boston and Chicago (from the acquisition). It also opened offices in the U.K. and Australia earlier this year and plans further international expansion with the new investment. The company currently has more than 600 employees, including 185 engineers and project managers, and plans to keep hiring as it puts this money to work.

Dec
06
2018
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Contentful raises $33.5M for its headless CMS platform

Contentful, a Berlin- and San Francisco-based startup that provides content management infrastructure for companies like Spotify, Nike, Lyft and others, today announced that it has raised a $33.5 million Series D funding round led by Sapphire Ventures, with participation from OMERS Ventures and Salesforce Ventures, as well as existing investors General Catalyst, Benchmark, Balderton Capital and Hercules. In total, the company has now raised $78.3 million.

It’s been less than a year since the company raised its Series C round and, as Contentful co-founder and CEO Sascha Konietzke told me, the company didn’t really need to raise right now. “We had just raised our last round about a year ago. We still had plenty of cash in our bank account and we didn’t need to raise as of now,” said Konietzke. “But we saw a lot of economic uncertainty, so we thought it might be a good moment in time to recharge. And at the same time, we already had some interesting conversations ongoing with Sapphire [formerly SAP Ventures] and Salesforce. So we saw the opportunity to add more funding and also start getting into a tight relationship with both of these players.”

The original plan for Contentful was to focus almost explicitly on mobile. As it turns out, though, the company’s customers also wanted to use the service to handle its web-based applications and these days, Contentful happily supports both. “What we’re seeing is that everything is becoming an application,” he told me. “We started with native mobile application, but even the websites nowadays are often an application.”

In its early days, Contentful focused only on developers. Now, however, that’s changing, and having these connections to large enterprise players like SAP and Salesforce surely isn’t going to hurt the company as it looks to bring on larger enterprise accounts.

Currently, the company’s focus is very much on Europe and North America, which account for about 80 percent of its customers. For now, Contentful plans to continue to focus on these regions, though it obviously supports customers anywhere in the world.

Contentful only exists as a hosted platform. As of now, the company doesn’t have any plans for offering a self-hosted version, though Konietzke noted that he does occasionally get requests for this.

What the company is planning to do in the near future, though, is to enable more integrations with existing enterprise tools. “Customers are asking for deeper integrations into their enterprise stack,” Konietzke said. “And that’s what we’re beginning to focus on and where we’re building a lot of capabilities around that.” In addition, support for GraphQL and an expanded rich text editing experience is coming up. The company also recently launched a new editing experience.

Oct
09
2018
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After its acquisition, Magento starts integrating Adobe’s personalization and analytics tools

It’s been less than six months since Adobe acquired commerce platform Magento for $1.68 billion and today, at Magento’s annual conference, the company announced the first set of integrations that bring the analytics and personalization features of Adobe’s Experience Cloud to Magento’s Commerce Cloud.

In many ways, the acquisition of Magento helps Adobe close the loop in its marketing story by giving its customers a full spectrum of services that go from analytics, marketing and customer acquisition all the way to closing the transaction. It’s no surprise then that the Experience Cloud and Commerce Cloud are growing closer to, in Adobe’s words, “make every experience shoppable.”

“From the time that this company started to today, our focus has been pretty much exactly the same,” Adobe’s SVP of Strategic Marketing Aseem Chandra told me. “This is, how do we deliver better experiences across any channel in which our customers are interacting with a brand? If you think about the way that customers interact today, every experience is valuable and important. […] It’s no longer just about the product, it’s more about the experience that we deliver around that product that really counts.”

So with these new integrations, Magento Commerce Cloud users will get access to an integration with Adobe Target, for example, the company’s machine learning-based tool for personalizing shopping experiences. Similarly, they’ll get easy access to predictive analytics from Adobe Analytics to analyze their customers’ data and predict future churn and purchasing behavior, among other things.

These kinds of AI/ML capabilities were something Magento had long been thinking about, Magento’s former CEO and new Adobe SVP fo Commerce Mark Lavelle told me, but it took the acquisition by Adobe to really be able to push ahead with this. “Where the world’s going for Magento clients — and really for all of Adobe’s clients — is you can’t do this yourself,” he said. “you need to be associated with a platform that has not just technology and feature functionality, but actually has this living and breathing data environment that that learns and delivers intelligence back into the product so that your job is easier. That’s what Amazon and Google and all of the big companies that we’re all increasingly competing against or cooperating with have. They have that type of scale.” He also noted that at least part of this match-up of Adobe and Magento is to give their clients that kind of scale, even if they are small- or medium-sized merchants.

The other new Adobe-powered feature that’s now available is an integration with the Adobe Experience Manager. That’s Adobe’s content management tool that itself integrates many of these AI technologies for building personalized mobile and web content and shopping experiences.

“The goal here is really in unifying that profile, where we have a lot of behavioral information about our consumers,” said Aseem. “And what Magento allows us to do is bring in the transactional information and put those together so we get a much richer view of who the consumers are and how we personalize that experience with the next interaction that they have with a Magento-based commerce site.”

It’s worth noting that Magento is also launching a number of other new features to its Commerce Cloud that include a new drag-and-drop editing tool for site content, support for building Progressive Web Applications, a streamlined payment tool with improved risk management capabilities, as well as a new integration with the Amazon Sales Channel so Magento stores can sync their inventory with Amazon’s platform. Magneto is also announcing integrations with Google’s Merchant Center and Advertising Channels for Google Smart Shopping Campaigns.

Jul
11
2018
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Box opens up about the company’s approach to innovation

Most of us never really stop to think about how the software and services we use on a daily basis are created. We just know it’s there when we want to access it, and it works most of the time. But companies don’t just appear and expand randomly, they need a well defined process and methodology to keep innovating or they won’t be around very long.

Box has been around since 2005 and grown into a company on a run rate of over $500 million.  Along the way, it transformed from a consumer focus to one concentrating on enterprise content management and expanded the platform from one that mostly offered online storage and file sharing to one that offers a range of content management services in the cloud.

I recently sat down with Chief Product and Chief Strategy Officer Jeetu Patel . A big part of Patel’s job is to keep the company’s development teams on track and focused on new features that could enhance the Box platform, attract new customers and increase revenue.

Fundamental beliefs

Before you solve a problem, you need the right group of people working on it. Patel says building a team has a few primary principles to help guide the product and team development. It starts with rules and rubrics to develop innovative solutions and help them focus on where to invest their resources in terms of money and people.

Graphic: Box

When it comes to innovating, you have to structure your teams in such a way that you can react to changing requirements in the marketplace, and in today’s tech world, being agile is more important than ever. “You have to configure your innovation engine from a team, motivation and talent recruiting perspective so that you’ve actually got the right structure in place to provide enough speed and autonomy to the team so that they’re unencumbered and able to execute quickly,” Patel explained

Finally, you need to have a good grip on the customer and the market. That involves constantly assessing market requirements and looking at building products and features that respond to a need, yet that aren’t dated when you launch them.

Start with the customer

Patel says that when all is said and done, the company wants to help its customers by filling a hole in the product set. From a central company philosophy perspective, it begins with the customer. That might sound like pandering on its face, but he says if you keep that goal in mind it really acts as an anchor to the entire process.

“From a core philosophy that we keep in mind, you have to actually make sure that you get everyone really oriented in the company to say you always start from a customer problem and work backwards. But picking the right problem to solve is 90 percent of the battle,” he said.

Solve hard problems

Patel strongly believes that the quality of the problem is directly proportional to the outcome of the project. Part of that is solving a real customer pain point, but it’s also about challenging your engineers. You can be successfully solving the low-hanging fruit problems most of the time, but then you don’t necessarily attract the highest quality engineering talent.

“If you think about really hard problems that have a lot of mission and purpose around them, you can actually attract the best team,” he said.

That means looking for a problem where you can add a lot of value. “The problem that you choose to spend your time solving should be one where you are uniquely positioned to create a 10 x value proposition compared to what might exist in the market today,” Patel explained. If it doesn’t reach that threshold, he believes that there’s no motivation for the customer to change, and it’s not really worth going after.

Build small teams

Once you identify that big problem, you need to form a team to start attacking it. Patel recommends keeping the teams manageable, and he believes in the Amazon approach of the two-pizza team, a group of 8-10 people who can operate on..well…two pizzas. If the teams get too large, he says it becomes difficult to coordinate and too much time gets wasted on logistics instead of innovation.

“Having very defined local missions, having [small] teams carrying out those local missions, and making sure that those team sizes don’t get too large so that they can stay very agile, is a pretty important kind of core operating principle of how we build products,” Patel said.

That becomes even more important as the company scales. The trick is to configure the organization in such a way so that as you grow, you end up with many smaller teams instead of a few bigger ones, and in that way you can better pinpoint team missions.

Developing a Box product

Patel sees four key areas when it comes to finally building that new product at Box. First of all, it needs to be enterprise grade and all that entails — secure, reliable, scalable, fault tolerant and so forth.

That’s Job One, but what generally has differentiated Box in the content management market has been its ease of use. He sees that as removing as much friction as you can from a software-driven business process.

Next, you try to make those processes intelligent and that means understanding the purpose of the content. Patel says that could involve having better search, better surfacing of content and automated trigger events that move that content through a workflow inside a company.

Finally, they look at how it fits inside a workflow because content doesn’t live in a vacuum inside an enterprise. It generally has a defined purposed and the content management system should make it easy to integrate that content into the broader context of its purpose.

Measure twice

Once you have those small teams set up with their missions in place, you have to establish rules and metrics that allow them to work quickly, but still have a set of milestones they have to meet to prove they are on a worthwhile project for the company. You don’t want to be throwing good money after a bad project.

For Patel and Box that involves a set of metrics that tell you at all times, whether the team is succeeding or failing. Seems simple enough, but it takes a lot of work from a management perspective to define missions and goals and then track them on a regular basis.

He says that involves three elements: “There are three things that we think about including what’s the plan for what you’re going to build, what’s the strategy around what you’re going to build, and then what’s the level of coordination that each one of us have on whether or not what we’re building is, in fact, going to be successful.”

In the end, this is an iterative process, one that keeps evolving as the company grows and develops and as they learn from each project and each team. “We’re constantly looking at the processes and saying, what are the things that need to be adjusted,” Patel said.

Jul
10
2018
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Box acquires Butter.ai to make search smarter

Box announced today that it has acquired Butter.ai, a startup that helps customers search for content intelligently in the cloud. The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the Butter.AI team will be joining Box.

Butter.AI was started by two ex-Evernote employees, Jack Hirsch and Adam Walz. The company was partly funded by Evernote founder and former CEO Phil Libin’s Turtle Studios. The latter is a firm established with a mission to use machine learning to solve real business problems like finding the right document wherever it is.

Box has been adding intelligence to its platform for some time, and this acquisition brings the Butter.AI team on board and gives them more machine learning and artificial intelligence known-how while helping to enhance search inside of the Box product.

“The team from Butter.ai will help Box to bring more intelligence to our Search capabilities, enabling Box’s 85,000 customers to more easily navigate through their unstructured information — making searching for files in Box more contextualized, predictive and personalized,” Box’s Jeetu Patel wrote in a blog post announcing the acquisition.

That means taking into account the context of the search and delivering documents that make sense given your role and how you work. For instance, if you are a salesperson and you search for a contract, you probably want a sales contract and not one for a freelancer or business partnership.

For Butter, the chance to have access to all those customers was too good to pass up. “We started Butter.ai to build the best way to find documents at work. As it turns out, Box has 85,000 customers who all need instant access to their content. Joining Box means we get to build on our original mission faster and at a massive scale,” company CEO and co-founder Jack Hirsch said.

The company launched in September 2017, and up until now it has acted as a search assistant inside Slack you can call upon to search for documents and find them wherever they live in the cloud. The company will be winding down that product as it becomes part of the Box team.

As is often the case in these deals, the two companies have been working closely together and it made sense for Box to bring the Butter.AI team into the fold where it can put its technology to bear on the Box platform.

“After launching in September 2017 our customers were loud and clear about wanting us to integrate with Box and we quickly delivered. Since then, our relationship with Box has deepened and now we get to build on our vision for a MUCH larger audience as part of the Box team,” the founders wrote in a Medium post announcing the deal.

The company raised $3.3 million over two seed rounds. Investors included Slack and General Catalyst.

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