May
20
2020
--

Directly, which taps experts to train chatbots, raises $11M, closes out Series B at $51M

Directly, a startup whose mission is to help build better customer service chatbots by using experts in specific areas to train them, has raised more funding as it opens up a new front to grow its business: APIs and a partner ecosystem that can now also tap into its expert network. Today Directly is announcing that it has added $11 million to close out its Series B at $51 million (it raised $20 million back in January of this year, and another $20 million as part of the Series B back in 2018).

The funding is coming from Triangle Peak Partners and Toba Capital, while its previous investors in the round included strategic backers Samsung NEXT and Microsoft’s M12 Ventures (who are both customers, alongside companies like Airbnb), as well as Industry Ventures, True Ventures, Costanoa Ventures and Northgate. (As we reported when covering the initial close, Directly’s valuation at that time was at $110 million post-money, and so this would likely put it at $120 million or higher, given how the business has expanded.)

While chatbots have now been around for years, a key focus in the tech world has been how to help them work better, after initial efforts saw so many disappointing results that it was fair to ask whether they were even worth the trouble.

Directly’s premise is that the most important part of getting a chatbot to work well is to make sure that it’s trained correctly, and its approach to that is very practical: find experts both to troubleshoot questions and provide answers.

As we’ve described before, its platform helps businesses identify and reach out to “experts” in the business or product in question, collect knowledge from them, and then fold that into a company’s AI to help train it and answer questions more accurately. It also looks at data input and output into those AI systems to figure out what is working, and what is not, and how to fix that, too.

The information is typically collected by way of question-and-answer sessions. Directly compensates experts both for submitting information as well as to pay out royalties when their knowledge has been put to use, “just as you would in traditional copyright licensing in music,” its co-founder Antony Brydon explained to me earlier this year.

It can take as little as 100 experts, but potentially many more, to train a system, depending on how much the information needs to be updated over time. (Directly’s work for Xbox, for example, used 1,000 experts but has to date answered millions of questions.)

Directly’s pitch to customers is that building a better chatbot can help deflect more questions from actual live agents (and subsequently cut operational costs for a business). It claims that customer contacts can be reduced by up to 80%, with customer satisfaction by up to 20%, as a result.

What’s interesting is that now Directly sees an opportunity in expanding that expert ecosystem to a wider group of partners, some of which might have previously been seen as competitors. (Not unlike Amazon’s AI powering a multitude of other businesses, some of which might also be in the market of selling the same services that Amazon does).

The partner ecosystem, as Directly calls it, use APIs to link into Directly’s platform. Meya, Percept.ai, and SmartAction — which themselves provide a range of customer service automation tools — are three of the first users.

“The team at Directly have quickly proven to be trusted and invaluable partners,” said Erik Kalviainen, CEO at Meya, in a statement. “As a result of our collaboration, Meya is now able to take advantage of a whole new set of capabilities that will enable us to deliver automated solutions both faster and with higher resolution rates, without customers needing to deploy significant internal resources. That’s a powerful advantage at a time when scale and efficiency are key to any successful customer support operation.”

The prospect of a bigger business funnel beyond even what Directly was pulling in itself is likely what attracted the most recent investment.

“Directly has established itself as a true leader in helping customers thrive during these turbulent economic times,” said Tyler Peterson, Partner at Triangle Peak Partners, in a statement. “There is little doubt that automation will play a tremendous role in the future of customer support, but Directly is realizing that potential today. Their platform enables businesses to strike just the right balance between automation and human support, helping them adopt AI-powered solutions in a way that is practical, accessible, and demonstrably effective.”

In January, Mike de la Cruz, who took over as CEO at the time of the funding announcement, said the company was gearing up for a larger Series C in 2021. It’s not clear how and if that will be impacted by the current state of the world. But in the meantime, as more organizations are looking for ways to connect with customers outside of channels that might require people to physically visit stores, or for employees to sit in call centres, it presents a huge opportunity for companies like this one.

“At its core, our business is about helping customer support leaders resolve customer issues with the right mix of automation and human support,” said de la Cruz in a statement. “It’s one thing to deliver a great product today, but we’re committed to ensuring that our customers have the solutions they need over the long term. That means constantly investing in our platform and expanding our capabilities, so that we can keep up with the rapid pace of technological change and an unpredictable economic landscape. These new partnerships and this latest expansion of our recent funding round have positioned us to do just that. We’re excited to be collaborating with our new partners, and very thankful to all of our investors for their support.”

Apr
15
2020
--

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nov
20
2019
--

Reimagine inside sales to ramp up B2B customer acquisition

Slack makes customer acquisition look easy.

The day we acquired our first Highspot customer, it was raining hard in Seattle. I was on my way to a startup event when I answered my cell phone and our prospect said, “We’re going with Highspot.” Relief, then excitement, hit me harder than the downpour outside. It was a milestone moment – one that came after a long journey of establishing product-market fit, developing a sustainable competitive advantage, and iterating repeatedly based on prospect feedback. In other words, it was anything but easy.

User-first products are driving rapid company growth in an era where individuals discover, adopt, and share software they like throughout their organizations. This is great if you’re a Slack, Shopify, or Dropbox, but what if your company doesn’t fit that profile?

Product-led growth is a strategy that works for the right technologies, but it’s not the end-all, be-all for B2B customer acquisition. For sophisticated enterprise software platforms designed to drive company-wide value, such as Marketo, ServiceNow and Workday, that value is realized when the product is adopted en masse by one or more large segments.

If you’re selling broad account value, rather than individual user or team value, acquisition boils down to two things: elevating account based-selling and revolutionizing the inside sales model. Done correctly, you lay a foundation capable of doubling revenue growth year-over-year, 95 percent company-wide retention, and more than 100 percent growth in new customer logos annually. Here are the steps you can take to build a model that realizes on-par results.

Work the account, not the deal

Account-based selling is not a new concept, but the availability of data today changes the game. Advanced analytics enable teams to develop comprehensive and personalized approaches that meet modern customers’ heightened expectations. And when 77 percent of business buyers feel that technology has significantly changed how companies should interact with them, you have no choice but to deliver.

Despite the multitude of products created to help sellers be more productive and personal, billions of cookie-cutter emails are still flooding the inboxes of a few decision makers. The market is loud. Competition is cut throat. It’s no wonder 40 percent of sales reps say getting a response from a prospect is more difficult than ever before. Even pioneers of sales engagement are recognizing the need for evolution – yesterday’s one-size-fits-all approach to outreach only widens the gap between today’s sellers and buyers.

Companies must radically change their approach to account-based selling by building trusted relationships over time from the first-touch onward. This requires that your entire sales force – from account development representatives to your head of sales – adds tailored, tangible value at every stage of the journey. Modern buyers don’t want to be sold. They want to be advised. But the majority of companies are still missing the mark, favoring spray-and-pray tactics over personalized guidance.

One reason spamming remains prevalent, despite growing awareness of the need for quality over quantity, is that implementing a tailored approach is hard work. However, companies can make great strides by doing just three things:

  • Invest in personalization: Sales reps have quota, and sales leaders carry revenue targets. The pressure is as real as the numbers. But high velocity outreach tactics simply don’t work consistently. New research from Monetate and WBR Research found that 93% of businesses with advanced personalization strategies increased their revenue last year. And while scaling personalization may sound like an oxymoron, we now have artificial intelligence (AI) technology capable of doing just that. Of course, not all AI is created equal, so take the time to discern AI-powered platforms that deliver real value from the imposters. With a little research, you’ll find sales tools that discard  rinse-and-repeat prospecting methods in favor of intelligent guidance and actionable analytics.

Jul
24
2019
--

Alibaba to help Salesforce localize and sell in China

Salesforce, the 20-year-old leader in customer relationship management (CRM) tools, is making a foray into Asia by working with one of the country’s largest tech firms, Alibaba.

Alibaba will be the exclusive provider of Salesforce to enterprise customers in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, and Salesforce will become the exclusive enterprise CRM software suite sold by Alibaba, the companies announced on Thursday.

The Chinese internet has for years been dominated by consumer-facing services such as Tencent’s WeChat messenger and Alibaba’s Taobao marketplace, but enterprise software is starting to garner strong interest from businesses and investors. Workflow automation startup Laiye, for example, recently closed a $35 million funding round led by Cathay Innovation, a growth-stage fund that believes “enterprise software is about to grow rapidly” in China.

The partners have something to gain from each other. Alibaba does not have a Salesforce equivalent serving the raft of small-and-medium businesses selling through its e-commerce marketplaces or using its cloud computing services, so the alliance with the American cloud behemoth will fill that gap.

On the other hand, Salesforce will gain sales avenues in China through Alibaba, whose cloud infrastructure and data platform will help the American firm “offer localized solutions and better serve its multinational customers,” said Ken Shen, vice president of Alibaba Cloud Intelligence, in a statement.

“More and more of our multinational customers are asking us to support them wherever they do business around the world. That’s why today Salesforce announced a strategic partnership with Alibaba,” said Salesforce in a statement.

Overall, only about 10% of Salesforce revenues in the three months ended April 30 originated from Asia, compared to 20% from Europe and 70% from the Americas.

Besides gaining client acquisition channels, the tie-up also enables Salesforce to store its China-based data at Alibaba Cloud. China requires all overseas companies to work with a domestic firm in processing and storing data sourced from Chinese users.

“The partnership ensures that customers of Salesforce that have operations in the Greater China area will have exclusive access to a locally-hosted version of Salesforce from Alibaba Cloud, who understands local business, culture and regulations,” an Alibaba spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Cloud has been an important growth vertical at Alibaba and nabbing a heavyweight ally will only strengthen its foothold as China’s biggest cloud service provider. Salesforce made some headway in Asia last December when it set up a $100 million fund to invest in Japanese enterprise startups and the latest partnership with Alibaba will see the San Francisco-based firm actually go after customers in Asia.

Jun
10
2019
--

Salesforce is buying data visualization company Tableau for $15.7B in all-stock deal

On the heels of Google buying analytics startup Looker last week for $2.6 billion, Salesforce today announced a huge piece of news in a bid to step up its own work in data visualization and (more generally) tools to help enterprises make sense of the sea of data that they use and amass: Salesforce is buying Tableau for $15.7 billion in an all-stock deal.

The latter is publicly traded and this deal will involve shares of Tableau Class A and Class B common stock getting exchanged for 1.103 shares of Salesforce common stock, the company said, and so the $15.7 billion figure is the enterprise value of the transaction, based on the average price of Salesforce’s shares as of June 7, 2019.

This is a huge jump on Tableau’s last market cap: it was valued at $10.79 billion at close of trading Friday, according to figures on Google Finance. (Also: trading has halted on its stock in light of this news.)

The two boards have already approved the deal, Salesforce notes. The two companies’ management teams will be hosting a conference call at 8am Eastern and I’ll listen in to that as well to get more details.

This is a huge deal for Salesforce as it continues to diversify beyond CRM software and into deeper layers of analytics.

The company reportedly worked hard to — but ultimately missed out on — buying LinkedIn (which Microsoft picked up instead), and while there isn’t a whole lot in common between LinkedIn and Tableau, this deal will also help Salesforce extend its engagement (and data intelligence) for the customers that Salesforce already has — something that LinkedIn would have also helped it to do.

This also looks like a move designed to help bulk up against Google’s move to buy Looker, announced last week, although I’d argue that analytics is a big enough area that all major tech companies that are courting enterprises are getting their ducks in a row in terms of squaring up to stronger strategies (and products) in this area. It’s unclear whether (and if) the two deals were made in response to each other, although it seems that Salesforce has been eyeing up Tableau for years.

“We are bringing together the world’s #1 CRM with the #1 analytics platform. Tableau helps people see and understand data, and Salesforce helps people engage and understand customers. It’s truly the best of both worlds for our customers–bringing together two critical platforms that every customer needs to understand their world,” said Marc Benioff, chairman and co-CEO, Salesforce, in a statement. “I’m thrilled to welcome Adam and his team to Salesforce.”

Tableau has about 86,000 business customers, including Charles Schwab, Verizon (which owns TC), Schneider Electric, Southwest and Netflix. Salesforce said Tableau will operate independently and under its own brand post-acquisition. It will also remain headquartered in Seattle, Wash., headed by CEO Adam Selipsky along with others on the current leadership team.

Indeed, later during the call, Benioff let it drop that Seattle would become Salesforce’s official second headquarters with the closing of this deal.

That’s not to say, though, that the two will not be working together.

On the contrary, Salesforce is already talking up the possibilities of expanding what the company is already doing with its Einstein platform (launched back in 2016, Einstein is the home of all of Salesforce’s AI-based initiatives); and with “Customer 360,” which is the company’s product and take on omnichannel sales and marketing. The latter is an obvious and complementary product home, given that one huge aspect of Tableau’s service is to provide “big picture” insights.

“Joining forces with Salesforce will enhance our ability to help people everywhere see and understand data,” said Selipsky. “As part of the world’s #1 CRM company, Tableau’s intuitive and powerful analytics will enable millions more people to discover actionable insights across their entire organizations. I’m delighted that our companies share very similar cultures and a relentless focus on customer success. I look forward to working together in support of our customers and communities.”

“Salesforce’s incredible success has always been based on anticipating the needs of our customers and providing them the solutions they need to grow their businesses,” said Keith Block, co-CEO, Salesforce. “Data is the foundation of every digital transformation, and the addition of Tableau will accelerate our ability to deliver customer success by enabling a truly unified and powerful view across all of a customer’s data.”

Mar
21
2019
--

HoneyBook, a client management platform for creative businesses, raises $28M Series C led by Citi Ventures

HoneyBook co-founders Oz and Naama Alon

HoneyBook, a customer-relationship management platform aimed at small businesses in creative fields, announced today it has raised a $28 million Series C led by Citi Ventures. All of its existing investors, including Norwest Venture Partners, Aleph, Vintage Investment Partners and Hillsven Capital, also returned for the round. Citi is a strategic partner for HoneyBook and this will enable it to offer new financial products to freelancers, its co-founder and CEO Oz Alon told TechCrunch.

This brings HoneyBook’s total raised so far to $72 million. It is using the funds to grow its teams in San Francisco and Tel Aviv and build new features for its user base, including small companies, people who work by themselves (“solopreneurs”) and freelancers. Like other CRMs, HoneyBook helps them develop relationships with potential new clients, manage projects, send invoices and accept payments, but with tools scaled for their business’ needs.

Alon told TechCrunch in an email that one segment HoneyBook is focused on is millennials (he cites a survey that found 49 percent of people under 40 plan to start their own business). HoneyBook currently claims tens of thousands of customers and has passed $1 billion in business booked using its software, along with 75,000 members in Rising Tide, the company’s online community for creative entrepreneurs.

Other management software platforms competing for the attention of entrepreneurs and freelancers include Tave, Dubsado and 17hats. One of the main ways HoneyBook differentiates is by enabling its users to accept online payments without integrating with a third-party service. Thanks to this, its users “transact more than 80 percent of their business online, significantly more than any other payments platform serving this audience, Alon said. Its partnership with Citi will also allow the company to develop more unique services for its target customers, he added.

In a prepared statement, Citi Ventures’ Israel director and venture investing lead Omit Shinar said, “We are in the midst of a period of extensive changes in societal structures and economic models. The fintech ecosystem is producing more and more breakthrough innovations that serve the needs of modern consumers, and we believe, as a pioneer in its space, HoneyBook can become a market leader in the U.S.”

Mar
06
2019
--

Clari platform aims to unify go-to-market operations data

Clari started as a company that wanted to give sales teams more information about their sales process than could be found in the CRM database. Today, the company announced a much broader platform, one that can provide insight across sales, marketing and customer service to give a more unified view of a company’s go-to-market operations, all enhanced by AI.

Company co-founder and CEO Andy Byrne says this involves pulling together a variety of data and giving each department the insight to improve their mission. “We are analyzing large volumes of data found in various revenue systems — sales, marketing, customer success, etc. — and we’re using that data to provide a new platform that’s connecting up all of the different revenue departments,” Byrne told TechCrunch.

For sales, that would mean driving more revenue. For marketing it would it involve more targeted plans to drive more sales. And for customer success it would be about increasing customer retention and reducing churn.

Screenshot: ClariThe company’s original idea when it launched in 2012 was looking at a range of data that touched the sales process, such as email, calendars and the CRM database, to bring together a broader view of sales than you could get by looking at the basic customer data stored in the CRM alone. The Clari data could tell the reps things like which deals would be most likely to close and which ones were at risk.

“We were taking all of these signals that had been historically disconnected from each other and we were connecting it all into a new interface for sales teams that’s very different than a CRM,” Byrne said.

Over time, that involved using AI and machine learning to make connections in the data that humans might not have been seeing. The company also found that customers were using the product to look at processes adjacent to sales, and they decided to formalize that and build connectors to relevant parts of the go-to-market system like marketing automation tools from Marketo or Eloqua and customer tools such as Dialpad, Gong.io and Salesloft.

With Clari’s approach, companies can get a unified view without manually pulling all this data together. The goal is to provide customers with a broad view of the go-to-market operation that isn’t possible looking at siloed systems.

The company has experienced tremendous growth over the last year, leaping from 80 customers to 250. These include Okta and Alteryx, two companies that went public in recent years. Clari is based in the Bay Area and has around 120 employees. It has raised more than $60 million. The most recent round was a $35 million Series C last May led by Tenaya Capital.

Aug
16
2016
--

Cogito leverages human behavior to nudge customer relationships

speech-data-conversation We’ve all had crappy customer service calls. Primed by staticky elevator music and the ever-mysterious agitating echo, most of us come into calls with strained patience. On the line, customer service and sales agents are paid to build relationships, but after a long day of working with callers (who typically only call if they’re having a problem), even the bubbliest of people can… Read More

Powered by WordPress | Theme: Aeros 2.0 by TheBuckmaker.com