Feb
04
2021
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Microsoft launches Viva, its new take on the old intranet

Microsoft today launched Viva, a new “employee experience platform,” or, in non-marketing terms, its new take on the intranet sites most large companies tend to offer their employees. This includes standard features like access to internal communications built on integrations with SharePoint, Yammer and other Microsoft tools. In addition, Viva also offers access to team analytics and an integration with LinkedIn Learning and other training content providers (including the likes of SAP SuccessFactors), as well as what Microsoft calls Viva Topics for knowledge sharing within a company.

If you’re like most employees, you know that your company spends a lot of money on internal communications and its accompanying intranet offerings — and you then promptly ignore that in order to get actual work done. But Microsoft argues that times are changing, as remote work is here to stay for many companies, even after the pandemic (hopefully) ends. Even if a small percentage of a company’s workforce remains remote or opts for a hybrid approach, those workers still need to have access to the right tools and feel like they are part of the company.

Image Credits: Microsoft

“We have participated in the largest at-scale remote work experiment the world has seen and it has had a dramatic impact on the employee experience,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a pre-recorded video. “As the world recovers, there is no going back. Flexibility in when, where and how we work will be key.”

He argues that every organization will require a unified employee experience platform that supports workers from their onboarding process to collaborating with their colleagues and continuing their education within the company. Yet as employees work remotely, companies are now struggling to keep their internal culture and foster community among employees. Viva aims to fix this.

Unsurprisingly, Viva is powered by Microsoft 365 and all of the tools that come with that, as well as integrations with Microsoft Teams, the company’s flagship collaboration service, and even Yammer, the employee communication tool it acquired back in 2012 and continues to support.

There are several parts to Viva: Viva Connections for accessing company news, policies, benefits and internal communities (powered by Yammer); Viva Learning for, you guessed it, accessing learning resources; and Viva Topics, the service’s take on company-wide knowledge sharing. For the most part, that’s all standard fair in any modern intranet, whether it’s from a startup provider or an established player like Jive.

Viva Insights feels like the odd one out here, especially after Microsoft’s kerfuffle around its Productivity Score. The idea here is to give managers insights into whether their team (but not individual team members) are at risk of burnout, for example, in order to encourage them to turn off notifications or set daily priorities (a good manager, I’d hope, could do this without analytics, but here we are, in 2021). It’s also meant to help company leaders “address complex challenges and respond to change by shedding light on organizational work patterns and trends.” Sure.

Because this is Microsoft in 2021, there’s also a lot of talk about employee well-being in today’s announcement. For most employees, that means fewer meetings, more focus time and turning off notifications after work. Obviously there are technical tools to help with that, but it’s really a question of company culture and management. I’m not sure you need analytics integrated with LinkedIn’s Glint for that, but you can now have those, too.

“As the world of work changes, the next horizon of innovation will come from a focus on creativity, engagement and well-being so organizations can build cultures of resilience and ingenuity,” said Jared Spataro, corporate vice president, Microsoft 365. “Our vision is to deliver a platform for the employee experience that helps organizations create a thriving culture with engaged employees and inspiring leaders.”

Jan
18
2021
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Salesforce leads $15M investment in Asian HR tech platform Darwinbox

Darwinbox, which operates a cloud-based human resource management platform, has raised $15 million in a new financing round as the Indian startup looks to further expand in the country and Southeast Asian markets.

The new round — a Series C — for the Hyderabad-headquartered startup was led by Salesforce Ventures, the venture arm of the American enterprise giant. This is one of Salesforce Ventures’ rare investments in Asia. Existing investors, including Lightspeed India and Sequoia Capital India, also participated in the round, which brings the five-year-old startup’s raise to-date to about $35 million.

More than 500 firms — including Tokopedia, Indorama, JG Summit Group, Zilingo, Zalora, Fave, Adani, Mahindra, Kotak, TVS, National Stock Exchange, Ujjivan Small Finance Bank, Dr.Reddy’s, Nivea, Puma, Swiggy and Bigbasket — use Darwinbox’s HR platform to provide more than a million employees of theirs with a range of features in 60 nations, up from about 200 firms across 50 nations in late 2019, said Chaitanya Peddi, co-founder of Darwinbox, in an interview with TechCrunch.

Peddi said the startup has always looked up to Salesforce for inspiration, and investment from the enterprise giant is “nothing sort of a child receiving validation from their father,” he said.

The fundraise caps the most successful year for the startup that started with uncertainty as the coronavirus spread across Asian nations. The startup initially took a hit as its customers scrambled to navigate through the global pandemic, but the last two quarters have been its best to date, said Peddi.

Overall, the startup’s revenue has ballooned by 300% since September 2019, when it last raised money, he said. “In HR tech and SaaS space, we are now only behind SAP and Oracle in India in terms of revenue,” he said.

Dev Khare, a partner at Lightspeed India, an early backer of the startup, said that Darwinbox has become the preferred human capital management solution for Asian conglomerates, governments and high-growth businesses and multi-national corporations operating in Asia as they witness digital transformation.

Image Credits: Darwinbox

Darwinbox’s platform is built to take care of the entire “hiring to retiring” cycle needs of employees. It handles onboarding of new hires, keeps a tab on their performance, monitors attrition rate, and provides an ongoing feedback loop.

It also provides its customers with a social network for their employees to remain connected with one another and an AI assistant to apply for a leave or set up meetings with quick voice commands from their phones.

Peddi said the startup will deploy the fresh capital to expand to several more countries, especially in more emerging markets in the Middle East Asia and Africa, and broaden its offerings. “We will be leveraging the power of our platform to do a lot more. We are a product-led firm and our focus will remain on innovation in that space,” he said. The startup is also open to exploring opportunities to acquire smaller firms for inorganic growth, he said.

“India is home to one of the world’s youngest populations, and by 2050, it is expected to account for over 18% of the global working age population,” said Arundhati Bhattacharya, chairperson and CEO, Salesforce India, in a statement. “This makes technology platforms like Darwinbox, that focuses on workforces, incredibly important. I’m proud that Salesforce is supporting Darwinbox on their journey as they continue to grow and innovate in this space.”

Alex Kayyal, partner and head of international at Salesforce Ventures, told TechCrunch in an interview that the firm helps its partners in a number of ways, including exposing them to the firm’s customers, executives and their networks, and helping startups scale their business.

“We have one of the most innovative and disruptive customer bases that are looking for cloud solutions and digital transformation. So the opportunity to expose companies like Darwinbox to our customer base is something we get really excited about,” said Kayyal. Salesforce Ventures is exploring more investment opportunities in India, he said.

May
20
2020
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Identity management startup Truework raises $30M to help you verify your work history

As organizations look for safe and efficient ways of running their services in the new global paradigm of increased social distancing, a startup that has built a platform to help people verify their work details in a secure way is announcing a round of growth funding.

Truework, which provides a way for banks, apartment-rental agencies, and others to check the employment details of an applicant in a quick and secure manner online, has raised $30 million, money that CEO and co-founder Ryan Sandler said in an interview that it would use both grow its existing business, as well to explore adding more details — both via its own service and via third-party partnerships — to the identity information that it shares.

The Series B is being led by Activant Capital — a VC that focuses on B2B2C startups — with participation also from Sequoia Capital and Khosla Ventures, as well as a number of high profile execs and entrepreneurs — Jeff Weiner (LinkedIn); Tom Gonser (Docusign); William Hockey (Plaid); and Daniel Yanisse (Checkr) among them.

The LinkedIn connection is an interesting one. Both Sandler and co-founder Victor Kabdebon were engineers at LinkedIn working on profile and improving the kind of data that LinkedIn sources on its users (the third co-founder, Ethan Winchell, previously worked elsewhere), and while Sandler tells me that the idea for Truework came to them after both left the company, he sees LinkedIn “as a potential partner here,” so watch this space.

The problem that Truework is aiming to solve is the very clunky, and often insecure, nature of how organizations typically verify an individual’s employment information. Details about salary and where you work, and the job you do, are typically essential for larger financial transactions, whether it’s securing a mortgage or another financing loan, or renting an apartment, or for others who might need to verify that information for other purposes, such as staffing agencies.

Typically that kind of information gathering is time-consuming both to reach out to get and to confirm (Sandler cites statistics that say on average an HR person spends over 1,000 hours annually answering questions like these). And some of the systems that have been put in place to do that work — specifically consumer reporting agencies — have been proven not be as watertight in their security as you would hope.

“Your data is flowing around lots of third party platforms,” Sandler said. “You’re releasing a lot of information about yourself and you don’t know where the data is going and if it’s even accurate.”

Truework’s solution is based around a platform, and now an API, that a company buys into. In turn, it gives its employees the ability to consent to using it. If the employee agrees, Truework sources a worker’s place of employment and salary details. Then when a third party wants to verify that information for the person in question, it uses Truework to do so, rather than contacting the company directly.

Then, when those queries come in, Truework contacts the individual with an email or text about the inquiry, so that he/she can okay (or reject) the request. Truework’s Sandler said that it uses ISO27001, SOC2 Type 1 & 2 protections, but he also confirmed that it does store your data.

Currently the idea is that if you leave your job, your next employer would need to also be a Truework customer in order to update the information it has on you: the startup makes money by charging both larger enterprises to make the platform accessible to employees as well as those organizations that are querying for the information/verifications (small business employers using the platform can use it for free).

Over time, the plan will be to configure a way to update your profiles regardless of where you work.

So far, the concept has seen a lot of traction: there are 20,000 small businesses using the platform, as well as 100 enterprises, with the number of verifiers (its term for those requesting information) now at 40,000. Customers include The College Board, The Real Real, Oscar Health, The Motley Fool, and Tuft & Needle.

While all of this was built at a time before COVID-19, the global health pandemic has highlighted the importance of having more efficient and secure systems for doing work, especially at a time when many people are not in the office.

“Our biggest competitor is the fax machine and the phone call,” Sandler said, “but as companies move to more remote working, no one is manning the phones or fax machines. But these operations still need to happen.” Indeed, he points out that at the end of 2019, Truework had 25,000 verifiers. Nearly doubling its end-user customers speaks to the huge boost in business it has seen in the last five months.

That is part of the reason the company has attracted the investment it has.

“Truework’s platform sits at the center of consumers’ most important transactions and life events – from purchasing a home, to securing a new job,” said Steve Sarracino, founder and partner at Activant Capital, in a statement. “Up until now, the identity verification process has been painful, expensive, and opaque for all parties involved, something we’ve seen first-hand in the mortgage space. Starting with income and employment, Truework is setting the standard for consent-based verifications and unlocking the next wave of the digital economy. We’re thrilled to be partnering with this exceptional team as they continue to scale the platform.” Sarracino is joining the board with this round.

While a big focus in the world of tech right now may be on building more and better ways of connecting goods and services to people in as contact-free a way as possible, the bigger play around identity management has been around for years, and will continue to be a huge part of how the internet develops in the future.

The fax and phone may be the primary tools these days for verifying employment information, but on a more general level, there are companies like Facebook, Google and Apple already playing a big role in how we “log in” and use all kinds of services online. They, along with others focused squarely on the identity and verification space (and Truework works with some of them), and using a myriad of approaches that include biometrics, ‘wallet’-style passports that link to information elsewhere, and more, will all continue to try to make the case for why they might be the most trusted provider of that layer of information, at a time when we may want to share less and especially share less with multiple parties.

That is the bigger opportunity that investors are betting on here.

“The increasing momentum Truework has seen since its founding in 2017 demonstrates the critical need for transformation in this space,” said Alfred Lin, partner at Sequoia, in a statement. “Privacy, especially around identity data, is becoming increasingly top of mind for consumers and how they make transactions online.”

Truework has now raised close to $45 million, and it’s not disclosing its valuation.

May
12
2020
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LinkedIn adds polls and live video-based events in a focus on more virtual engagement

With a large part of the working world doing jobs from home when possible these days, the focus right now is on how best to recreate the atmosphere of an office virtually, and how to replicate online essential work that used to be done in person. Today, href=”http://linkedin.com” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>LinkedIn announced a couple of big new feature updates that point to how it’s trying to play a part in both of these: it’s launching a new Polls feature for users to canvas opinions and get feedback; and it’s launching a new “LinkedIn Virtual Events” tool that lets people create and broadcast video events via its platform.

Despite now being owned by Microsoft, interestingly it doesn’t seem that the Virtual Events service taps into Teams or Skype, Microsoft’s two other big video products that it has been pushing hard at a time when use of video streaming for work, education and play is going through the roof.

The polls feature — you can see an example of one in the picture below, or respond to that specific poll here — is a quick-fire and low-bar way of asking a question and encouraging engagement: LinkedIn says that a poll takes only about 30 seconds to put together, and responding doesn’t require thinking of something to write, but gives the respondent more of a ‘voice’ than he or she would get just by providing a “like” or other reaction.

But as with some of the other social features that LinkedIn has implemented over the years, its timing has not been quite right. With polls, you might say it’s been frustratingly late… or you might say it left the party too early.

The feature was first spotted by developer and app digger Jane Manchun Wong a couple of weeks ago, but it comes years after Twitter and Facebook have had polls in place on their platforms. I’d say it’s taken LinkedIn years to catch up, but actually it had polls in place years ago, yet chose to sunset the feature, back in 2014.

You could argue that LinkedIn miscalled the direction that social would go with engagement, or that it took too long to resuscitate the experience, or that the novelty of the concept that now worn off. Or you might say that LinkedIn has picked just the right time to bring it back, at a time when people are spending more time online than ever and are looking for more ways of varying the experience and interacting.

Those creating polls will be given the option in the menu of items when starting a new post. They can add four choices/options into the poll answers, and decide how long they would like for the poll to stay up, in a range of 24 hours to two weeks. You can also write an introduction post to accompany your poll with hashtags to come up in more searches.

Two important distinctions with LinkedIn Polls as you can see above are that you are polling a very specific audience of people in your professional circle, and those people can both respond to the poll but also include comments and reactions. Both of these set the feature as it works on LinkedIn apart from the others and should give it some… engagement.

The polls feature is getting rolled out (again) starting today.

The LinkedIn Virtual Events feature, meanwhile, falls into a similar placement as polls: it’s a way of getting people to engage more on LinkedIn, it taps into trends that are huge outside of the platform — in this case, videoconferencing — and it’s something that is coming surprisingly late to LinkedIn, given its existing product assets.

But is also potentially — potentially, because Live is still in an invite-only phase — going to prove very popular because it’s filling a very specific need.

LinkedIn Virtual Events is a merger of two products that LinkedIn launched last year, a live video broadcasting tool called LinkedIn Live, and its efforts to foster a sideline in offline, in person networking with LinkedIn Events. The idea here is that while physical events have been put on pause in the current climate — many cities have made group activities illegal in an attempt to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus — you can continue to use LinkedIn Events to plan them, but now carry them out over the Live platform. 

Given how huge the conferencing industry has become, I am guessing that we will be seeing a lot of attempts at recreating something of those events in a virtual, online context. LinkedIn’s take on the challenge — via Virtual Events — could therefore become a strong contender to host these.

When LinkedIn first launched Events I did ask the company whether it planned to expand them online using live, and indeed that did seem to be the plan. LinkedIn now says that it “accelerated” its product roadmap — unsurprising, given the current market — to merge the two products for targeted audiences.

That’s why we accelerated our product roadmap to bring you a tighter integration between LinkedIn Events and LinkedIn Live, turning these two products into a new virtual events solution that enables you to stay connected to your communities and meet your customers wherever they are. This new offering is designed to help you strengthen relationships with more targeted audiences.

This is not a simple integration, I should point out: LinkedIn is working with third-party broadcasting partners — the initial list includes Restream, Wirecast, Streamyard and Socialive — to raise the level of production quality, which will be essential especially if you are asking people to pay for events, and if you have any hope of replicating some of the networking other features that are cornerstones of conferencing and other in-person events.

It’s also building on what has been a successful product so far for LinkedIn: the company says that Live has 23X more comments per post and 6X more reactions per post than simple native video.

Mar
20
2017
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SirionLabs establishes US foothold to scale its NLP contract management software

 SirionLabs, a startup providing vendor management software to enterprises, is adding a U.S. headquarters to its footprint. The company was initially founded in India and has raised $16.95 million from Sequoia Capital India, Canopy Ventures and Qualgro VC to extract data from contracts to ensure transparency and accountability. The establishment of a U.S. presence represents a strategic… Read More

Aug
11
2014
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YC-Backed Impraise Makes Workplace Performance Reviews Less Painful

Office by Flickr user John Performance reviews are a hassle for everyone involved. Supervisors have to deal with an onslaught of paperwork and meetings, but employees who only get assessments once or twice a year can often feel as if they are working in a vacuum. A startup called Impraise wants to change the way workplaces approach performance reviews. Read More

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