Sep
14
2021
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Sendoso nabs $100M as its corporate gifting platform passes 20,000 customers

Corporate gift services have come into their own during the COVID-19 pandemic by standing in as a proxy for other kinds of relationship-building activities — office meetings, lunches and hosting at events — that have traditionally been part and parcel of how people do business, but were no longer feasible during lockdowns, social distancing and offices closing their doors.

Now, Sendoso — a popular “end-to-end” gifting platform offering access to 30,000 products, including corporate swag, regular physical gifts, gift cards and more; and then providing services like logistics, packing and sending to get those gifts to the recipients — is announcing $100 million of funding to capitalize on this shift, led by a big new investor.

New backer SoftBank, via its Vision Fund 2, is leading this latest Series C round of funding. Oak HC/FT, Struck Capital, Stage 2 Capital, Craft Ventures, Signia Venture Partners and Felicis Ventures — all previous investors — are also participating.

The company has been on a strong growth trajectory for years now, but it specifically saw a surge of activity as the pandemic kicked off. It now has more than 20,000 businesses signed up and using its services, particularly for sales and marketing outreach, but also to help shore up morale among employees.

“Everyone was stuck at home by themselves, saturated with emails,” said Kris Rudeegraap, the CEO of Sendoso, in an interview. “Having a personal connection to sales prospects, employees and others just meant more.” It has now racked up some 3 million gifts sent since launching in 2016.

Sendoso is not disclosing its valuation, but Rudeegraap hinted that it was four times higher than the startup’s Series B valuation from 2020. PitchBook estimates that to be $160 million, which would make the current valuation $640 million. The company has now raised more than $150 million.

Rudeegraap said Sendoso will be using the funds in part to invest in a couple of areas. First, to hire more talent: It has 500 employees now and plans to grow that by 30% by the end of this year. And second, international expansion: It is setting up a European HQ in Dublin, Ireland to complement its main office in San Francisco.

Comcast, Kimpton Hotels, Thomson Reuters, Nasdaq and eBay are among its current customers — so this is in part to serve those customers’ global user bases, as well as to sign up new gifters. He estimated that the bigger market for corporate gifting is about $100 billion annually, so there is a lot to play for here.

The company was co-founded by Rudeegraap and Braydan Young (who is its chief alliances officer) on the back of a specific need Rudeegraap identified while working as a sales executive. Gifting is a very standard practice in the world of sales and marketing, but he was finding a lot of traction with potential and current customers by taking a personalized approach to this act.

“I was manually packing boxes, grabbing swag, coming up with handwritten notes,” he recalled. “It was inefficient, but it worked so well. So I dreamed up an idea: why not be able to click a button in Salesforce to do this automatically? Sometimes the best company is one that solves a pain point of your own.”

And this is essentially what Sendoso does. The startup’s platform integrates with a company’s existing marketing, sales and management software — Salesforce, HubSpot, SalesLoft among them — and then lets users use this to organize and order gifts through these channels, for example as part of larger sales, marketing or HR strategies. The gifts are wide-ranging, covering corporate swag, other physical presents, gift cards and more, and there are also integrations you can include to share gifting across teams of salespeople, to analyze the campaigns and more.

The Sendoso platform itself, meanwhile, positions itself as having the “marketplace selection and logistics precision of Amazon.com.” But Sendoso also believes it’s better than someone simply using Amazon.com itself since it ultimately takes a more personalized approach in how it presents the gift.

“There are a lot of things we do uniquely in terms of what we have built throughout our software, gifting options and logistics centre. We really personalize our gifts at scale with handwritten notes, special boxing, and more,” something that Amazon cannot do, he added. “We have built a lot of unique technology and logistics software that would make it hard for Amazon to compete.” He said that one of Sendoso’s integrations is actually with Amazon, so Sendoso users can order through there, but then the gift is first routed to Sendoso to be repackaged in a nicer way before being sent out.

At its heart, the startup has built a way of knitting together disparate work practices — some codified in software, and some based on human interactions and significantly more infused with randomness, emotion and ad hoc approaches — and built it all into a technology platform. The ability to scale what feels like an otherwise bespoke level of service is what has helped Sendoso gain traction not just with users, but investors, too.

“We believe Sendoso offers the most comprehensive end-to-end gifting platform in the market,” said Priya Saiprasad, a partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers. “Their platform includes a global marketplace of curated vendors, seamless integration with existing tools, global logistics, and deep analytics. As a result, Sendoso serves as the backbone to enterprises’ engagement programs with prospective customers, existing customers, employees and other key stakeholders. We’re excited to lead this Series C round to help Sendoso accelerate its vision.”

Feb
04
2021
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HubSpot acquires media startup The Hustle

Marketing software company HubSpot is acquiring The Hustle, the business and tech media startup behind the popular newsletter of the same name

Axios broke the news of the deal and reported that it values the startup at around $27 million. HubSpot declined to comment on the deal price, and while tweeting about the acquisition, The Hustle CEO Sam Parr wrote, “Early in my career I was transparent with money. But I didn’t like the result of sharing that stuff. So we’re not disclosing the price and HubSpot has agreed. I’m taking it to the grave!”

In its press release about the acquisition, HubSpot noted that customers are finding its products through content like its YouTube videos and HubSpot Academy.

“By acquiring The Hustle, we’ll be able to better meet the needs of these scaling companies by delivering educational, business, and tech trend content in their preferred formats,” said HubSpot’s senior vice president of marketing Kieran Flanagan in a statement. “Sam and his team have a proven ability to create content that entrepreneurs, startups, and scaling companies are deeply passionate about, and I’m excited to bring them on board to take that work to the next level.”

HubSpot says The Hustle’s flagship newsletter has 1.5 million subscribers. It also has a subscription offering called Trends and a podcast called My First Million.

“The goal is to build the largest business content network in the world,” Parr tweeted. “Soon, we’ll expand to a variety of mediums on a bunch of different topics and will have really innovative products coming out. We’re also going to hire the best content creators in the world.”

Sep
22
2020
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HubSpot’s new end-to-end sales hub aims to simplify CRM for midmarket customers

HubSpot, the Boston firm that made its name by helping to define the in-bound marketing concept, sees a pandemic landscape that’s changing the way companies sell, forcing more inside sales. Today, the company announced the HubSpot Sales Hub Enterprise at Inbound, their annual conference being held virtually this year.

While the company has been offering a CRM tool for five years now, where they feel they have addressed ease-of-use issues for salespeople, the new tool is about bringing a new end-to-end approach addressing not only the needs of sales people, but management and system admins, as well, says Lou Orfanos, GM and VP of Sales Hub at HubSpot.

“So, this is about [providing customers with a more powerful set of tools] and also just making sure that you can run your sales process end-to-end in our platform. We feel really good about being able to offer that out of the box natively and being able to do everything you need to do [in one tool], which is, I think, pretty unique given the state of the market and having to [cobble] a bunch of things together yourself,” Orfanos explained.

While the previous product was aimed more at smaller businesses, Chief Customer Officer Yamini Rangan, who previously worked at Dropbox, Workday and SAP, says this product is aimed more at midmarket companies with more complex sales workflows.

“What we find is that the customer experience for a 500-person company or for a 1,000-person company is quite different and their expectations are quite different than a 10-person small business. What the Sales Hub Enterprise specifically brings is the ease of use, as well as the powerful features [ … ] to a larger midmarket organization,” Rangan said.

HubSpot specifically sees larger companies in this space, like Adobe, Salesforce and SAP, acquiring different pieces of the stack, then incorporating them into a solution, or customers pulling together different pieces of the stack themselves. The company believes that by building a single integrated solution themselves, it’s going to be naturally easier to use.

“We also find that that’s the size of the company where the tech stack, the sales stack and the marketing stack gets super complex, and they’re spending a lot of time trying to integrate a lot of different point solutions and what we find is having all of this — marketing, CMS, sales underlined by a CRM platform — that gives them visibility that they need to run their entire go-to-market operations,” she said.

While the lower end of the market where HubSpot is targeting probably won’t interest larger competitors, especially Salesforce, as they move up in that market to larger companies, they expect to compete with those companies. Rangan says that she believes by providing this new offering, they are giving customers options they didn’t have before.

But she also sees this as a way into companies as they grow, and if HubSpot can catch them earlier in their evolution, they can grow with them and become their vendor of choice, rather than the usual suspects.

“What we find is that companies will start as a 100-person company and grow to become a 500- or a 1,000-person company, and as they grow up on HubSpot we become their growth suite and we become the core platform of record for them to continue to grow,” she said.

Apr
07
2020
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HubSpot unveils new content management system aimed at marketers

HubSpot, the Boston-based inbound marketing firm, announced today it is launching a standalone content management system designed to make it easy for marketing personnel to add and update content.

While content management, in a sense, has been core to HubSpot from the beginning — many companies use their blogging platform, for example — the company built this one from the ground up for marketers, says chief marketing officer Kipp Bodnar.

“For me, the marketer owning the website is one of the most thankless jobs you have. There’s a lot of pain associated with it. Your CEO asks you to update a bio or your legal team needs a new terms of service. Everybody’s coming at you from everywhere and the actual management of websites has just a huge amount of pain associated with it,” he said.

Angela DeFranco, the company’s director of product management, says that HubSpot wanted to address that problem with a product designed specifically for the marketing team. “We wanted to build a content management system and a suite of tools that could stand on its own and take away the pain of content management, not only from the marketer but also from the developer and the people that help the site run,” she said.

The product is built on the notion of themes that allow the marketer and developer helping to build the site to get the look and feel they want, while balancing what De Franco calls “the paradox between powerful and easy-to-use.”

It allows developers to use the languages they want to build the site, while taking advantage of the HubSpot CMS’s modular structure. At the same time, the modules give marketers a friendly interface to make frequent changes required in a modern website.

“When you actually get into the editor and you’re dragging in, for example, your event registration theme module, it inherits the styling and the characteristic, the look and feel of that theme overall that the developers had set up and custom built for your team,” she said.

“The theme module is really the crux of how we were able to achieve some of these more complex functionality features and power, while also allowing that with drag-and-drop ease of use to build a full site as a marketer,” DeFranco added.

HubSpot was founded in 2006. It raised over $100 million, according to Crunchbase data, before going public in 2014.

Dec
05
2019
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Design may be the next entrepreneurial gold rush

Ten years ago, the vast majority of designers were working in Adobe Photoshop, a powerful tool with fine-tuned controls for almost every kind of image manipulation one could imagine. But it was a tool built for an analog world focused on photos, flyers and print magazines; there were no collaborative features, and much more importantly for designers, there were no other options.

Since then, a handful of major players have stepped up to dominate the market alongside the behemoth, including InVision, Sketch, Figma and Canva.

And with the shift in the way designers fit into organizations and the way design fits into business overall, the design ecosystem is following the same path blazed by enterprise SaaS companies in recent years. Undoubtedly, investors are ready to place their bets in design.

But the question still remains over whether the design industry will follow in the footprints of the sales stack — with Salesforce reigning as king and hundreds of much smaller startup subjects serving at its pleasure — or if it will go the way of the marketing stack, where a lively ecosystem of smaller niche players exist under the umbrella of a handful of major, general-use players.

“Deca-billion-dollar SaaS categories aren’t born everyday,” said InVision CEO Clark Valberg . “From my perspective, the majority of investors are still trying to understand the ontology of the space, while remaining sufficiently aware of its current and future economic impact so as to eagerly secure their foothold. The space is new and important enough to create gold-rush momentum, but evolving at a speed to produce the illusion of micro-categorization, which, in many cases, will ultimately fail to pass the test of time and avoid inevitable consolidation.”

I spoke to several notable players in the design space — Sketch CEO Pieter Omvlee, InVision CEO Clark Valberg, Figma CEO Dylan Field, Adobe Product Director Mark Webster, InVision VP and former VP of Design at Twitter Mike Davidson, Sequoia General Partner Andrew Reed and FirstMark Capital General Partner Amish Jani — and asked them what the fierce competition means for the future of the ecosystem.

But let’s first back up.

Past

Sketch launched in 2010, offering the first viable alternative to Photoshop. Made for design and not photo-editing with a specific focus on UI and UX design, Sketch arrived just as the app craze was picking up serious steam.

A year later, InVision landed in the mix. Rather than focus on the tools designers used, it concentrated on the evolution of design within organizations. With designers consolidating from many specialties to overarching positions like product and user experience designers, and with the screen becoming a primary point of contact between every company and its customers, InVision filled the gap of collaboration with its focus on prototypes.

If designs could look and feel like the real thing — without the resources spent by engineering — to allow executives, product leads and others to weigh in, the time it takes to bring a product to market could be cut significantly, and InVision capitalized on this new efficiency.

In 2012, came Canva, a product that focused primarily on non-designers and folks who need to ‘design’ without all the bells and whistles professionals use. The thesis: no matter which department you work in, you still need design, whether it’s for an internal meeting, an external sales deck, or simply a side project you’re working on in your personal time. Canva, like many tech firms these days, has taken its top-of-funnel approach to the enterprise, giving businesses an opportunity to unify non-designers within the org for their various decks and materials.

In 2016, the industry felt two more big shifts. In the first, Adobe woke up, realized it still had to compete and launched Adobe XD, which allowed designers to collaborate amongst themselves and within the organization, not unlike InVision, complete with prototyping capabilities. The second shift was the introduction of a little company called Figma.

Where Sketch innovated on price, focus and usability, and where InVision helped evolve design’s position within an organization, Figma changed the game with straight-up technology. If Github is Google Drive, Figma is Google Docs. Not only does Figma allow organizations to store and share design files, it actually allows multiple designers to work in the same file at one time. Oh, and it’s all on the web.

In 2018, InVision started to move up stream with the launch of Studio, a design tool meant to take on the likes of Adobe and Sketch and, yes, Figma.

Present

When it comes to design tools in 2019, we have an embarrassment of riches, but the success of these players can’t be fully credited to the products themselves.

A shift in the way businesses think about digital presence has been underway since the early 2000s. In the not-too-distant past, not every company had a website and many that did offered a very basic site without much utility.

In short, designers were needed and valued at digital-first businesses and consumer-facing companies moving toward e-commerce, but very early-stage digital products, or incumbents in traditional industries had a free pass to focus on issues other than design. Remember the original MySpace? Here’s what Amazon looked like when it launched.

In the not-too-distant past, the aesthetic bar for internet design was very, very low. That’s no longer the case.

Jun
04
2019
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VCs bet $12M on Troops, a Slackbot for sales teams

Slack wants to be the new operating system for teams, something it has made clear on more than one occasion, including in its recent S-1 filing. To accomplish that goal, it put together an in-house $80 million venture fund in 2015 to invest in third-party developers building on top of its platform.

Weeks ahead of its direct listing on The New York Stock Exchange, it continues to put that money to work.

Troops is the latest to land additional capital from the enterprise giant. The New York-based startup helps sales teams communicate with a customer relationship management tool plugged directly into Slack. In short, it automates routine sales management activities and creates visibility into important deals through integrations with employee emails and Salesforce.

Troops founder and chief executive officer Dan Reich, who previously co-founded TULA Skincare, told TechCrunch he opted to build a Slackbot rather than create an independent platform because Slack is a rocket ship and he wanted a seat on board: “When you think about where Slack will go in the future, it’s obvious to us that companies all over the world will be using it,” he said.

Troops has raised $12 million in Series B funding in a round led by Aspect Ventures, with participation from the Slack Fund, First Round Capital, Felicis Ventures, Susa Ventures, Chicago Ventures, Hone Capital, InVision founder Clark Valberg and others. The round brings Troops’ total raised to $22 million.

Launched in 2015 by New York tech veterans Reich, Scott Britton and Greg Ratner, the trio weren’t initially sure of Slack’s growth trajectory. It wasn’t until Slack confirmed its intent to support the developer ecosystem with a suite of developer tools and a fund that the team focused its efforts on building a Slackbot.

“People sometimes thought of us, at least in the early days, as a little bit crazy,” Reich said. “But now Slack is the fastest-growing SaaS company ever.”

“We think the biggest opportunity in the [enterprise SaaS] category is going to be tools oriented around the customer-facing employee (CRM), and that’s where we are innovating,” he added.

Troops’ tools are helpful for any customer-facing team, Reich explains. Envoy, WeWork, HubSpot and a few hundred others are monthly paying subscribers of the tool, using it to interact with their CRM in a messaging interface and to receive notifications when a deal has closed. Troops integrates with Salesforce, so employees can use it to search records, schedule automatic reports and celebrate company wins.

Slack, in partnership with a number of venture capital funds, including Accel, Kleiner Perkins and Index, has also deployed capital to a number of other startups, like Lattice, Drafted and Loom.

With Slack’s direct listing afoot, the Troops team is counting on the imminent and long-term growth of the company’s platform.

“We think it’s still early days,” Reich said. “In the future, we see every company using something like Troops to manage their day-to-day.”

May
29
2019
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How we scaled our startup by being remote first

Startups are often associated with the benefits and toys provided in their offices. Foosball tables! Free food! Dog friendly! But what if the future of startups was less about physical office space and more about remote-first work environments? What if, in fact, the most compelling aspect of a startup work environment is that the employees don’t have to go to one?

A remote-first company model has been Seeq’s strategy since our founding in 2013. We have raised $35 million and grown to more than 100 employees around the globe. Remote-first is clearly working for us and may be the best model for other software companies as well.

So, who is Seeq and what’s been the key to making the remote-first model work for us?  And why did we do it in the first place?

Seeq is a remote-first startup – i.e. it was founded with the intention of not having a physical headquarters or offices, and still operates that way – that is developing an advanced analytics application that enables process engineers and subject matter experts in oil & gas, pharmaceuticals, utilities, and other process manufacturing industries to investigate and publish insights from the massive amounts of sensor data they generate and store.

To succeed, we needed to build a team quickly with two skill sets: 1) software development expertise, including machine learning, AI, data visualization, open source, agile development processes, cloud, etc. and 2) deep domain expertise in the industries we target.

Which means there is no one location where we can hire all the employees we need: Silicon Valley for software, Houston for oil & gas, New Jersey for fine chemicals, Seattle for cloud expertise, water utilities across the country, and so forth. But being remote-first has made recruiting and hiring these high-demand roles easier much easier than if we were collocated.

Image via Seeq Corporation

Job postings on remote-specific web sites like FlexJobs, Remote.co and Remote OK typically draw hundreds of applicants in a matter of days. This enables Seeq to hire great employees who might not call Seattle, Houston or Silicon Valley home – and is particularly attractive to employees with location-dependent spouses or employees who simply want to work where they want to live.

But a remote-first strategy and hiring quality employees for the skills you need is not enough: succeeding as a remote-first company requires a plan and execution around the “3 C’s of remote-first”.

The three requirements to remote-first success are the three C’s: communication, commitment and culture.

May
29
2019
--

How we scaled our startup by being remote first

Startups are often associated with the benefits and toys provided in their offices. Foosball tables! Free food! Dog friendly! But what if the future of startups was less about physical office space and more about remote-first work environments? What if, in fact, the most compelling aspect of a startup work environment is that the employees don’t have to go to one?

A remote-first company model has been Seeq’s strategy since our founding in 2013. We have raised $35 million and grown to more than 100 employees around the globe. Remote-first is clearly working for us and may be the best model for other software companies as well.

So, who is Seeq and what’s been the key to making the remote-first model work for us?  And why did we do it in the first place?

Seeq is a remote-first startup – i.e. it was founded with the intention of not having a physical headquarters or offices, and still operates that way – that is developing an advanced analytics application that enables process engineers and subject matter experts in oil & gas, pharmaceuticals, utilities, and other process manufacturing industries to investigate and publish insights from the massive amounts of sensor data they generate and store.

To succeed, we needed to build a team quickly with two skill sets: 1) software development expertise, including machine learning, AI, data visualization, open source, agile development processes, cloud, etc. and 2) deep domain expertise in the industries we target.

Which means there is no one location where we can hire all the employees we need: Silicon Valley for software, Houston for oil & gas, New Jersey for fine chemicals, Seattle for cloud expertise, water utilities across the country, and so forth. But being remote-first has made recruiting and hiring these high-demand roles easier much easier than if we were collocated.

Image via Seeq Corporation

Job postings on remote-specific web sites like FlexJobs, Remote.co and Remote OK typically draw hundreds of applicants in a matter of days. This enables Seeq to hire great employees who might not call Seattle, Houston or Silicon Valley home – and is particularly attractive to employees with location-dependent spouses or employees who simply want to work where they want to live.

But a remote-first strategy and hiring quality employees for the skills you need is not enough: succeeding as a remote-first company requires a plan and execution around the “3 C’s of remote-first”.

The three requirements to remote-first success are the three C’s: communication, commitment and culture.

May
11
2018
--

HubSpot adds customer service tools to its marketing platform

HubSpot is expanding beyond sales and marketing with the official launch of its Service Hub for managing customer service.

The product was first announced last fall, but now it’s moved out of beta testing.

HubSpot President and COO JD Sherman said this was a logical next step for the company. He argued that the Internet has “democratized” the ability of businesses to attract customers by creating their own content (using tools like HubSpot’s, natch), and while “that opportunity still exists, frankly, it’s getting harder due to the sheer volume of what’s going on.”

“It makes sense to take care of your customer,” Sherman said — both to keep them loyal and also to turn them into an advocate who might help you attract new customers.

Service Hub General Manager Michael Redbord and Go To Market Leader David Barron gave me a quick tour of the Service Hub. It includes an universal inbox for all your customer communications, a bot-builder to automate some of those customer interactions, tools for building a company knowledge base (which can then be fed into the bot-builder, which Redbord described as a more “customer-centric” way to present your content), tools for creating surveys and a dashboard to track how your service team is doing.

ServiceHub dashboard

Redbord said he previously worked on HubSpot’s own service and support team, so every feature in ServiceHub has “a one-to-one relationship” with an issue that HubSpot has faced, or that he personally has faced, while trying to support customers.

Barron added that ServiceHub benefits from being integrated with HubSpot’s existing products, allowing businesses to track their interactions with a customer across sales, marketing and support.

“We’re a platform company,” he said. “When any of these conversations happens, whether it’s a chat with a human or a chat with a bot, that’s all logged on [a single record] in HubSpot, so there’s no data leakage between different teams.”

Jul
25
2017
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HubSpot acquires Kemvi to bring more AI into its sales and marketing platform

 HubSpot is announcing that it has acquired Kemvi, a startup applying artificial intelligence and machine learning to help sales teams. A few months ago, Kemvi launched DeepGraph, a product that analyzes public data so that salespeople can identify the best time (say, after a job change or the publication of an article) to reach out to potential customers. It also proactively reaches out to… Read More

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