Sep
16
2021
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Confluent CEO Jay Kreps is coming to TC Sessions: SaaS for a fireside chat

As companies process ever-increasing amounts of data, moving it in real time is a huge challenge for organizations. Confluent is a streaming data platform built on top of the open source Apache Kafka project that’s been designed to process massive numbers of events. To discuss this, and more, Confluent CEO and co-founder Jay Kreps will be joining us at TC Sessions: SaaS on Oct 27th for a fireside chat.

Data is a big part of the story we are telling at the SaaS event, as it has such a critical role in every business. Kreps has said in the past the data streams are at the core of every business, from sales to orders to customer experiences. As he wrote in a company blog post announcing the company’s $250 million Series E in April 2020, Confluent is working to process all of this data in real time — and that was a big reason why investors were willing to pour so much money into the company.

“The reason is simple: though new data technologies come and go, event streaming is emerging as a major new category that is on a path to be as important and foundational in the architecture of a modern digital company as databases have been,” Kreps wrote at the time.

The company’s streaming data platform takes a multi-faceted approach to streaming and builds on the open source Kafka project. While anyone can download and use Kafka, as with many open source projects, companies may lack the resources or expertise to deal with the raw open source code. Many a startup have been built on open source to help simplify whatever the project does, and Confluent and Kafka are no different.

Kreps told us in 2017 that companies using Kafka as a core technology include Netflix, Uber, Cisco and Goldman Sachs. But those companies have the resources to manage complex software like this. Mere mortal companies can pay Confluent to access a managed cloud version or they can manage it themselves and install it in the cloud infrastructure provider of choice.

The project was actually born at LinkedIn in 2011 when their engineers were tasked with building a tool to process the enormous number of events flowing through the platform. The company eventually open sourced the technology it had created and Apache Kafka was born.

Confluent launched in 2014 and raised over $450 million along the way. In its last private round in April 2020, the company scored a $4.5 billion valuation on a $250 million investment. As of today, it has a market cap of over $17 billion.

In addition to our discussion with Kreps, the conference will also include Google’s Javier Soltero, Amplitude’s Olivia Rose, as well as investors Kobie Fuller and Casey Aylward, among others. We hope you’ll join us. It’s going to be a thought-provoking lineup.

Buy your pass now to save up to $100 when you book by October 1. We can’t wait to see you in October!


Sep
16
2021
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The Org nabs $20M led by Tiger Global to expand its platform based on public organizational charts

LinkedIn normalized the idea of making people’s resume’s visible to anyone who wanted to look at them, and today a startup that’s hoping to do the same for companies and how they are organized and run is announcing some funding. The Org, which wants to build a global, publicly viewable database of company organizational charts — and then utilize that database as a platform to power a host of other services — has raised $20 million, money that it will be using to hire more people, add on more org charts and launch new features, with a recruitment toolkit being first on the list.

The Series B is led by Tiger Global, with previous backers Sequoia, Founders Fund and Balderton Capital also participating alongside new investors Thursday Ventures, Lars Fjeldsoe-Nielsen (a former Balderton partner), Neeraj Arora (formative early WhatsApp exec), investor Gavin Baker, and more. From what we understand, the investment values The Org at $100 million.

Founders Fund led the company’s last round, a Series A in February 2020, and the whole world of work has really changed a lot in the interim because of COVID-19: companies have become more distributed (a result of offices shutting down); the make-up of businesses has changed because of new demands; and many of us have had our sense of connection to our jobs tested in ways that we never thought it would.

All of that has had a massive impact on The Org, and has played into its theory of why org charts are useful, and most useful as a tool for transparency.

“In many ways the pandemic has forced us to reevaluate the norms of how work happens. One of the misconceptions was the idea that you are only working when you are at the office, 9-5. But the future of work is a hybrid set up but you get a lot of issues that arise out of that, communication being one of them. Now it’s much more important to create alignment, a sense of connection, and really feeling a sense of belonging in your company,” Christian Wylonis, the CEO who co-founded the company with Andreas Jarbøl, said in an interview (the two are pictured below). “We think that a lot of these issues are rooted around transparency and that is what The Org is about. Who is doing what, and why?”

Image Credits: The Org

He said that when the coronavirus suddenly ramped up into a global issue — and it really was sudden; our conversation in February 2020 had nothing whatsoever to do with it, yet it was only weeks later that everything shut down — it wasn’t obvious that The Org would have a place in the so-called “new normal.”

“We were as nervous as anyone else, but the idea of what work would look like and how we enable people around that has gotten a lot higher on the agenda,” he said. “The appetite for new tools has improved dramatically, and we can see that in our traffic.”

The Org has indeed seen some very impressive growth. The company now hosts some 130,000 public org charts, sees 30,000 daily visitors and has more than 120,000 registered users. And more casual usage has boomed, too. Wylonis notes that The Org now has close to 1 million visitors each month versus just 100,000 in February 2020, when it only had 16,000 org charts on its platform.

Monetization is coming slowly for the startup. Building, editing and officially “claiming” a profile on the platform are all still free, but in the meantime The Org is working on its platform play and using the database that it is building to power other services. Job hunting is the first area that it will tackle.

Posting jobs will be free, and it’s integrating with Greenhouse to feed information into its system, but recruiters and HR pros are given an option to manage the sourcing and screening process through The Org, a kind of executive recruitment tool, which will come at a charge. Down the line there are plans for more communications and HR tools, Wylonis said. Some of this will be built by way of integrations and APIs with other services, and some tools — such as communications features — will be built in-house, from the ground up.

When I covered the company’s last round, I’d noted that there were some obvious hurdles for The Org, as well as potentially others like Charthop or Visier building business models on providing more transparency and information around hiring and how companies are run.

Sometimes the companies in question don’t actually want to have more transparency. And any database that is based around self-reporting runs the risk of being only as good as the data that is put into it — meaning it may be incomplete, or simply wrong, or just presented to the contributors’ best advantage, not that of the company itself. (This is one of the issues with LinkedIn, too: Even with people’s resumes being public, it’s still very easy to lie about what you actually do, or have done.)

So far, the theory is that some of this will be resolved by way of who The Org is targeting and how it is growing. Today the company’s “sweet spot” is early-stage startups with about 50-200 employees, and generally org charts are created for these businesses in part by The Org itself, and then largely by way of wiki-style user-edited content (anyone with a company email can get involved).

The plan is both to continue working with those smaller startups as they scale up, but also target bigger and bigger businesses. These, however, can be trickier to snag — not least because they will stretch into the realm of public companies, but also because their charts will be more complicated to map and manage consistently. For that reason, The Org is also adding in more features around how companies can “claim” their profiles, including managing permissions for who can edit profiles.

This might mean more managed public profiles, but the idea is that it will be a start, and once more companies post more information, we will see more transparency overall, not unlike how LinkedIn evolved, Wylonis said.

The LinkedIn analogy is interesting for another reason. It seems a no-brainer that LinkedIn, which is at its heart a massive database of information about the world of professional work, and the people and companies involved in it, would have wanted to build its own version of org charts at some point. And yet it hasn’t.

Some of this might be down to how LinkedIn has fundamentally built and organised its own database and knowledge graph, but Wylonis believes it might also be a conceptual difference.

“We think that this might be the fundamental difference between us and them,” Wylonis said of LinkedIn. “They are a database of resumes. ‘I can say whatever I want.’ But for us, the atomic unit is the organization itself. That is an important distinction because it’s a one to many relationship. It can’t be only me editing my profile. And allows us to build structures.”

He added that this was one of the reasons that Keith Rabois — who was an early exec at LinkedIn — became an early investor in The Org: “LinkedIn has been looking at this forever, but they haven’t been able to build it, and so that is how we caught his attention.”

Sep
14
2021
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Glassdoor acquires Fishbowl, a semi-anonymous social network and job board, to square up to LinkedIn

While LinkedIn doubles down on creators to bring a more human, less manicured element to its networking platform for professionals, a company that has built a reputation for publishing primarily the more messy and human impressions of work life has made an acquisition that might help it compete better with LinkedIn.

Glassdoor, the platform that lets people post anonymous and candid feedback about the organizations they work for, has acquired Fishbowl — an app that gives users an anonymous option also to provide frank employee feedback, as well as join interest-based conversation groups to chat about work, and search for jobs. Glassdoor, which has 55 million monthly users, is already integrating Fishbowl content into its main platform, although Fishbowl, with its 1 million users, will also continue for now to operate as a standalone app, too.

Christian Sutherland-Wong, the CEO of Glassdoor, said that he sees Fishbowl as the logical evolution of how Glassdoor is already being used. Similarly, since people are already seeking out feedback on prospective employers, it makes sense to bring recruitment and reviews closer together.

“We’ve always been about workplace transparency,” he said in an interview. “We expect in the future that jobseekers will use Glassdoor reviews, and also look to existing professionals in their fields to get answers from each other.” Fishbowl has seen a lot of traction during the Covid-19 pandemic, growing its user base threefold in the last year.

The acquisition is technically being made by Recruit Holdings, the Japanese employment listings and tech giant that acquired Glassdoor for $1.2 billion in 2018, and the companies are not disclosing any financial terms. San Francisco-based Fishbowl — founded in 2016 by Matt Sunbulli and Loren Appin — had raised less than $8 million, according to PitchBook data, from a pretty impressive set of investors, including Binary Capital, GGV, Lerer Hippeau Ventures, and Scott Belsky.

Microsoft-owned LinkedIn towers over the likes of Glassdoor in terms of size. It now has more than 774 million users, making it by far the biggest social media platform targeting professionals and their work-related content. But for many, even some of those who use it, the platform leaves something to be desired.

LinkedIn is a reliable go-to for putting out a profile of yourself, for the public, for those in your professional life, or for recruiters, to find. But what LinkedIn largely lacks are normal people talking about work in an honest way. To read about other’s often self-congratulatory professional developments, or to see motivational words on professional development from already hugely successful personalities, or to browse developments relative to your industry that probably have already seen elsewhere is not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s anodyne. Sometimes people just want tea to be spilled.

That’s where something like Glassdoor comes into the picture: the format of making comments anonymous on there turns it into something of the anti-LinkedIn. It is caustic, perhaps sometimes bitter, talk about the workplace, balanced out with positive words seem to get periodically suspected of being seeded by the companies themselves. Motivational, inspirational and aspirational are generally not part of the Glassdoor lexicon; honest, illuminating, and sobering perhaps are.

Fishbowl will be used to augment this and give Glassdoor another set of tools now to see how it might build out its platform beyond workplace reviews. The idea is to target people who come to Glassdoor to read about what people think of a company, or to put in their own comments: they can now also jump into conversations with others; and if they are coming to complain about their employer, now they can also look for a new one!

In the meantime, it feels like the swing to more authenticity is also a result of the shift we’ve seen in the world of work.

Covid-19 mandated office closures and social distancing have meant that many professionals have been working at home for the majority of the last year and a half (and many continue to do so). That has changed how we “come to work”, with many of our traditional divides between work and non-work personas and time management blurring. That has had an inevitable impact on how we see ourselves at work, and what we seek to get out of that engagement. And it also has led many people to feel isolated and in need of more ways to connect with colleagues.

Glassdoor’s acquisition, it said, was in part to meet this demand. A Harris Poll commissioned by Glassdoor found that 48% of employees felt isolated from coworkers during the COVID-19 pandemic; 42% of employees felt their career stall due to the lack of in-person connection; and 45% of employees expect to work hybrid or full-time remotely going forward — all areas that Glassdoor believes can be addressed with better tools (like Fishbowl) for people to communicate.

Of course, it will remain to be seen whether Glassdoor can convert its visitors to use the new Fishbowl-powered tools, but if there really is a population of users out there looking for a new kind of LinkedIn — there certainly are enough who love to complain about it — then maybe this cold be one version of that.

Sep
14
2021
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LinkedIn launches a $25M fund for creators, will test Clubhouse-style audio feature in coming weeks

When LinkedIn first launched Stories format, and later expanded its tools for creators earlier this year, one noticeable detail was that the Microsoft-owned network for professionals hadn’t built any kind of obvious monetization into the program — noticeable, given that creators earn a living on other platforms like Instagram, YouTube and TikTok, and those apps had lured creators, their content and their audiences in part by paying out.

“As we continue to listen to feedback from our members as we consider future opportunities, we’ll also continue to evolve how we create more value for our creators,” is how LinkedIn explained its holding pattern on payouts to me at the time. But that strategy may have backfired for the company — or at least may have played a role in what came next: last month, LinkedIn announced it would be scrapping its Stories format and going back to the proverbial drawing board to work on other short-form video content for the platform.

Now comes the latest iteration in that effort. To bring more creators to the platform, the company today announced that it would be launching a new $25 million creator fund, which initially will be focused around a new Creator Accelerator Program.

It’s coming on the heels of LinkedIn also continuing to work on one of its other new-content experiments: a Clubhouse-style live conversation platform. As we previously reported, LinkedIn began working on this back in March of this year. Now, we are hearing that the feature will make an appearance as part of a broader events strategy for the company very soon.

“We’ll be starting to test audio with a small pilot group in the coming weeks,” said Chris Szeto, senior director of product at LinkedIn, who heads up its audio efforts. “Given the trends in virtual, hybrid events we are also working on making audio part of our overall event strategy rather than a standalone offering, so that we can give people more choice about how they want to run and engage with their audiences.”

Notably, in a blog post announcing the creator fund, LinkedIn also listed a number of creator events coming up. Will the Clubhouse-style feature pop up there? Watch this space. Or maybe… listen up.

In any case, the creator accelerator that LinkedIn is announcing today could help feed into that wider pool of people that LinkedIn is hoping to cultivate on its platform as a more dynamic and lively set of voices to get more people talking and spending time on LinkedIn.

Andrei Santalo, global head of community at LinkedIn, noted in the blog post that the accelerator/incubator will be focused on the whole creator and the many ways that one can engage on LinkedIn.

“Creating content on LinkedIn is about creating opportunity, for yourselves and others,” he writes. “How can your words, videos and conversations make 774+ million professionals better at what they do or help them see the world in new ways?”

The incubator will last for 10 weeks and will take on 100 creators in the U.S. to coach them on building content for LinkedIn. It will also give them chances to network with like-minded individuals (naturally… it is LinkedIn), as well as a $15,000 grant to do their work. The deadline for applying (which you do here) is October 12.

The idea of starting a fund to incentivize creators to build video for a particular platform is definitely not new — and that is one reason why it was overdue for LinkedIn to think about its own approach.

Leading social media platforms like TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook and YouTube all have announced hundreds of millions of dollars in payouts in the form of creator funds to bring more original content to their platforms.

You could argue that for mass-market social media sites, it’s important to pay creators because competition is so fierce among them for consumer attention.

But on the other hand, those platforms have appeal for creators because of the potential audience size. At 774 million users, LinkedIn isn’t exactly small, but the kind of content that tends to live on there is so different, and maybe drier — it’s focused on professional development, work and “serious” topics — that perhaps it might need the most financial incentive of all to get creators to bite.

LinkedIn’s bread and butter up to now has been around professional development: people use it to look for work, to get better jobs, to hire people, and to connect with people who might help them get ahead in their professional lives.

But it’s done so in a very prescribed set of formats that do not leave much room for exploring “authenticity” — not in the modern sense of “authentic self”, and not in the more old-school sense of just letting down your guard and being yourself. (Even relatively newer initiatives like its education focus directly play into this bigger framework.)

With authenticity becoming an increasing priority for people — and maybe more so as we have started to blur the lines between work and home because of COVID-19 and the changes that it has forced on us — I can’t help but wonder whether LinkedIn will use this opportunity to rethink, or at least expand the concept of, what it means to spend time on its platform.

Sep
09
2021
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LinkedIn doubles down on development with new learning hub, free courses and new search fields for hybrid working

The wider world of employment has seen a huge shift in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Looking for a job, finding someone to fill a role or simply developing professionally are just not the same as they used to be for many of us. So it’s no surprise to see companies that have built business models catering to these areas changing, too: today, LinkedIn, Microsoft’s social networking platform for the working world, announced a wave of news aimed at moving ahead with the times.

It’s launching a new Learning Hub aimed at organizations to provide professional development and other training to employees. And it’s making 40 courses free of charge to LinkedIn members specifically to address some of the changes afoot, such as how to adapt to hybrid working, how to be a better manager in the new normal, and how to return to the office, and run facilities when they are spread beyond a building to also include people’s private homes. Lastly, it’s also starting to tweak details that people can use to list and search for job openings to account for these kinds of working conditions, and more.

The Learning Hub was first previewed back in April of this year and has been running in a limited beta. Today, as part of a bigger event hosted by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and LinkedIn CEO Ryan Roslansky where they are discussing new trends in the world of work, the Hub is being rolled out more widely.

For some context, LinkedIn has been long on education for years, with acquisitions like the remote learning platform Lynda back in 2015 bolstering its own education strategy and position as a go-to platform for professional development; partnerships to bring in significant amounts of third-party content (for example, when it added some 13,000 courses via third parties in 2018); and efforts to tie together the concept of skills development with professional profiles, running research and building interactive tools for its users.

The free courses that are being launched today (and will remain free until October 9) are a timely set of videos to help companies as some of them start to make (or think about) the transitions from remote to in-office environments, but the bigger product launch, The Learning Hub, is not exactly an altruistic endeavor in that longer journey. It is being sold as a premium service for businesses — existing LinkedIn Learning Pro users will be able to use it for free until July 2022, potentially longer, it said. In addition to being a salient business, it is also connected to the company’s bigger efforts to bring in more business-focused services, and more engagement from HR departments, to bolster one of its other main revenue drivers: recruitment.

As a learning experience platform (often described as LXPs), LinkedIn’s relaunch of its own learning hub will bring it into closer competition with the likes of 360Learning, Coursera for Business, Workday, Cornerstone, and the many other platforms used by organizations to manage their own in-house and third-party professional training content. In addition to this, LinkedIn says it will be using its own data on employment trends, plus AI, to personalize content for organizations and users. The fact, however, that it’s also a platform where those HR teams can also list jobs and source candidates makes it a significantly stickier experience, and one that might feel more cohesive at a time when so much else might be more fragmented.

The new fields that LinkedIn is bringing into its recruitment service are also notable in that regard. It will now let recruiters indicate whether a job is remote, hybrid or onsite; and soon those looking for jobs will also be able to indicate which of these it’s looking for in a new role. Companies will also be able to start indicating more details on their own company status as it relates to things like vaccination requirements, and to let the world (employees, partners, customers, interested others) know whether your physical offices are open for business or not.

These new fields may sound a little trivial, or at least very specifically related to concerns and circumstances that we live with today, but I think they are more notable than this. They speak to what LinkedIn sees (and what many of us feel) are strong priorities in how we view jobs today. That opens the door to how and if LinkedIn might consider other kinds of details in company and personal profiles, as well as details that could be used in recruitment. This is something the company has also been working on for a little while already: in June it started to give users the option of adding pronouns to their profiles. All of this is pretty important, considering that there are a lot of smaller companies and calls for someone to knock LinkedIn off its pedestal. As LinkedIn dabbles with new formats and sunsets others, it’s all signals that it’s attempting to be more adaptable to counteract that.

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.”

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
18
2020
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GO1, an enterprise learning platform, picks up $40M from Microsoft, Salesforce and more

With a large proportion of knowledge workers doing now doing their jobs from home, the need for tools to help them feel connected to their profession can be as important as tools to, more practically, keep them connected. Today, a company that helps do precisely that is announcing a growth round of funding after seeing engagement on its platform triple in the last month.

GO1.com, an online learning platform focused specifically on professional training courses (both those to enhance a worker’s skills as well as those needed for company compliance training), is today announcing that it has raised $40 million in funding, a Series C that it plans to use to continue expanding its business. The startup was founded in Brisbane, Australia and now has operations also based out of San Francisco — it was part of a Y Combinator cohort back in 2015 — and more specifically, it wants to continue growth in North America, and to continue expanding its partner network.

GO1 not disclosing its valuation but we are asking. It’s worth pointing out that not only has it seen engagement triple in the last month as companies turn to online learning to keep users connected to their professional lives even as they work among children and house pets, noisy neighbours, dirty laundry, sourdough starters, and the rest (and that’s before you count the harrowing health news we are hit with on a regular basis). But even beyond that, longer term GO1 has shown some strong signs that speak of its traction.

It counts the likes of the University of Oxford, Suzuki, Asahi and Thrifty among its 3,000+ customers, with more than 1.5 million users overall able to access over 170,000 courses and other resources provided by some 100 vetted content partners. Overall usage has grown five-fold over the last 12 months. (GO1 works both with in-house learning management systems or provides its own.)

“GO1’s growth over the last couple of months has been unprecedented and the use of online tools for training is now undergoing a structural shift,” said Andrew Barnes, CEO of GO1, in a statement. “It is gratifying to fill an important void right now as workers embrace online solutions. We are inspired about the future that we are building as we expand our platform with new mediums that reach millions of people every day with the content they need.”

The funding is coming from a very strong list of backers: it’s being co-led by Madrona Venture Group and SEEK — the online recruitment and course directory company that has backed a number of edtech startups, including FutureLearn and Coursera — with participation also from Microsoft’s venture arm M12; new backer Salesforce Ventures, the investing arm of the CRM giant; and another previous backer, Our Innovation Fund.

Microsoft is a strategic backer: GO1 integrated with Teams, so now users can access GO1 content directly via Microsoft’s enterprise-facing video and messaging platform.

“GO1 has been critical for business continuity as organizations navigate the remote realities of COVID-19,” said Nagraj Kashyap, Microsoft Corporate Vice President and Global Head of M12, in a statement. “The GO1 integration with Microsoft Teams offers a seamless learning experience at a time when 75 million people are using the application daily. We’re proud to invest in a solution helping keep employees learning and businesses growing through this time.”

Similarly, Salesforce is also coming in as a strategic, integrating this into its own online personal development products and initiatives.

“We are excited about partnering with GO1 as it looks to scale its online content hub globally. While the majority of corporate learning is done in person today, we believe the new digital imperative will see an acceleration in the shift to online learning tools. We believe GO1 fits well into the Trailhead ecosystem and our vision of creating the life-long learner journey,” said Rob Keith, Head of Australia, Salesforce Ventures, in a statement.

Working remotely has raised a whole new set of challenges for organizations, especially those whose employees typically have never before worked for days, weeks and months outside of the office.

Some of these have been challenges of a more basic IT nature: getting secure access to systems on the right kinds of machines and making sure people can communicate in the ways that they need to to get work done.

But others are more nuanced and long-term but actually just as important, such as making sure people remain in a healthy state of mind about work. Education is one way of getting them on the right track: professional development is not only useful for the person to do her or his job better, but it’s a way to motivate people, to focus their minds, and take a rest from their routines, but in a way that still remains relevant to work.

GO1 is absolutely not the only company pursuing this opportunity. Others include Udemy and Coursera, which have both come to enterprise after initially focusing more on traditional education plays. And LinkedIn Learning (which used to be known as Lynda, before LinkedIn acquired it and shifted the branding) was a trailblazer in this space.

For these, enterprise training sits in a different strategic place to GO1, which started out with compliance training and onboarding of employees before gravitating into a much wider set of topics that range from photography and design, through to Java, accounting, and even yoga and mindfulness training and everything in between.

It’s perhaps the directional approach, alongside its success, that have set GO1 apart from the competition and that has attracted the investment, which seems to have come ahead even of the current boost in usage.

“We met GO1 many months before COVID-19 was on the tip of everyone’s tongue and were impressed then with the growth of the platform and the ability of the team to expand their corporate training offering significantly in North America and Europe,” commented S. Somasegar, managing director, Madrona Venture Group, in a statement. “The global pandemic has only increased the need to both provide training and retraining – and also to do it remotely. GO1 is an important link in the chain of recovery.” As part of the funding Somasegar will join the GO1 board of directors.

Notably, GO1 is currently making all COVID-19 related learning resources available for free “to help teams continue to perform and feel supported during this time of disruption and change,” the company said.

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.

Apr
21
2020
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Confluent lands another big round with $250M Series E on $4.5B valuation

The pandemic may feel all-encompassing at the moment, but Confluent announced a $250 million Series E today, showing that major investment continues in spite of the dire economic situation at the moment. The company is now valued at $4.5 billion.

Today’s round follows last year’s $125 million Series D. At that point the company was valued at a mere $2.5 billion. Investors obviously see a lot of potential here.

Coatue Management led the round, with help from Altimeter Capital and Franklin Templeton. Existing investors Index Ventures and Sequoia Capital also participated. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $456 million.

The company is based on Apache Kafka, the open-source streaming data project that emerged from LinkedIn in 2011. Confluent launched in 2014 and has gained steam, funding and gaudy valuations along the way.

CEO and co-founder Jay Kreps reports that growth continued last year when sales grew 100% over the previous year. A big part of that is the cloud product the company launched in 2017. It added a free tier last September, which feels pretty prescient right about now.

But the company isn’t making money giving stuff away, so much as attracting users, who can become customers at some point as they make their way through the sales funnel. The beauty of the cloud product is that you can buy by the sip.

The company has big plans for the product this year. Although Kreps was loath to go into detail, he says that there will be a series of changes coming up this year that will add significantly to the product’s capabilities.

“As part of this we’re going to have a major new set of capabilities for our cloud service, and for open-source Kafka, and for our product that we’re going to announce every month for the rest of the year,” Kreps told TechCrunch. These will start rolling out the first week in May.

While he wouldn’t get specific, he says that it relates to the changing nature of cloud infrastructure deployment. “This whole infrastructure area is really evolving as it moves to the cloud. And so it has to become much, much more elastic and scalable as it really changes how it works. And we’re going to have announcements around what we think are the core capabilities of event streaming in the cloud,” he said.

While a round this big with a valuation this high and an institutional investor like Franklin Templeton involved typically means an IPO could be the next step, Kreps was not ready to talk about that, except to say the company does plan to begin behaving in the cadence of a public company with a set of quarterly earnings, just not for public consumption yet.

The company was founded in 2014. It has 1,000 employees and has plans to continue to hire and to expand the product. Kreps sees plenty of opportunity here in spite of the current economics.

“I don’t think you want to just turtle up and hang on to your existing customers and not expand if you’re in a market that’s really growing. What really got this round of investors excited is the fact that we’re onto something that has a huge market, and we want to continue to advance, even in these really weird uncertain times,” he said.

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