Jun
27
2019
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Fellow raises $6.5M to help make managers better at leading teams and people

Managing people is perhaps the most challenging thing most people will have to learn in the course of their professional lives – especially because there’s no one ‘right’ way to do it. But Ottawa-based startup Fellow is hoping to ease the learning curve for new managers, and improve and reinforce the habits of experienced ones with their new people management platform software.

Fellow has raised $6.5 million in seed funding, from investors including Inovia Capital, Felicis Ventures, Garage Capital and a number of angels. The funding announcement comes alongside the announcement of their first customers, including Shopify (disclosure: I worked at Shopify when Fellow was implemented and was an early tester of this product, which is why I can can actually speak to how it works for users).

The Fellow platform is essentially a way to help team leads interact with their reports, and vice versa. It’s a feedback tool that you can use to collect insight on your team from across the company; it includes meeting supplemental suggestions and templates for one-on-ones, and even provides helpful suggestions like recommending you have a one-on-one when you haven’t in a while; and it all lives in the cloud, with integrations for other key workplace software like Slack that help it integrate with your existing flow.

Fellow co-founder and CEO Aydin Mirzaee and his co-founding team have previous experience building companies: They founded Fluidware, a survey software company, in 2008 and then sold it to SurveyMonkey in 2014. In growing the team to over 100 people, Mirzaee says they realized where there were gaps, both in his leadership team’s knowledge and in available solutions on the market.

“Starting the last company, we were in our early 20s, and like the way that we used to learn different practices was by using software, like if you use the Salesforce, and you know nothing about sales, you’ll learn some things about sales,” Mirzaee told me in an interview. “If you don’t know about marketing, use Marketo, and you’ll learn some things about marketing. And you know, from our perspective, as soon as we started actually having some traction and customers and then hired some people, we just got thrown into it. So it was ‘Okay, now, I guess we’re managers.’ And then eventually we became managers of managers.”

Fellow Team Photo 2019

Mirzaee and his team then wondered why a tool like Salesforce or Marketo didn’t exist for management. “Why is it that when you get promoted to become a manager, there isn’t an equivalent tool to help you with that?” he said.

Concept in hand, Fellow set out to build its software, and what it came up with is a smartly designed, user-friendly platform that is accessible to anyone regardless of technical expertise or experience with management practice and training. I can attest to this first-hand, since I was a first-time manager using Fellow to lead a team during my time at Shopify – part of the beta testing process that helped develop the product into something that’s ready for broader release. I was not alone in my relative lack of management knowledge, Mirzaee said, and that’s part of why they saw a clear need for this product.

“The more we did research, the more we figured out that obviously, managers are really important,” he explained. “70% of customer engagements are due to managers, for instance. And when people leave companies, they tend to leave the manager, not the company. The more we dug into it the more it was clear that there truly was this management problem –  management crisis almost, and that nobody really had built a great tool for managers and their teams like.”

Fellow’s tool is flexible enough to work with specific management methodologies like setting SMART goals or OKRs for team members, and managers can use pre-set templates or build their own for things like setting meeting talking points, or gathering feedback from the colleagues of their reports.

Right now, Fellow is live with a number of clients including Shoify, Vidyard, Tulip, North and more, and it’s adding new clients who sign up on a case-by-case basis, but increasing the pace at which it onboard new customers. Mirzaee explained that it hopes to open sign ups entirely later this year.

Jun
27
2019
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Amperity update gives customers more control over Customer Data Platform

The Customer Data Platform (CDP) has certainly been getting a lot of attention in marketing software circles over the last year as big dawgs like Salesforce and Adobe enter the fray, but Amperity, a Seattle-based startup, has been building a CDP solution since it launched in 2016, and today it announced some updates to give customers more control over the platform.

Chris Jones, chief product officer at Amperity, says this is an important step for the startup. “If you think about the evolution of our company, we started with an idea that turned into a [Marketing Data Platform], which was the engine that powered all of that, but that engine was largely operated by our delivery team. We’re now putting the power of that engine into the customers’ hands and giving them the full access to that,” Jones explained.

That is giving customers — which include Alaska Airlines, Nordstrom and The Gap — the power to control how the software works in the context of their companies, rather than using a black box approach where you have to use the software as delivered. He says that customers want the ability to start using the system to gain insights on their own.

One of the primary pieces in the newest version of Amperity to allow them to do that is Stitch, a tool that lets users pull together all of the interactions from a customer in a single view —  ingesting the data, sorting, deduplicating it and delivering a list of all the interactions a brand has had with a given customer. From there, they can use the new Customer 360 visualization to get a more graphical view of the data.

Amperity Stitch 2019

Amperity Stitch Screenshot: Amperity.

Jones says companies can use this data to help different groups within a company, whether marketing, sales or service, understand the customer better before or during an interaction. For example, a marketer can segment the data in a very granular way to find all of the regular customers who aren’t part of the company loyalty program, and deliver them an email listing all of the benefits of joining.

Amperity launched in 2016, and has raised $37 million across two rounds. Its most recent funding came in 2017, a $28 million investment led by Tiger Global Management, according to Crunchbase data.

Jun
10
2019
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Salesforce is buying data visualization company Tableau for $15.7B in all-stock deal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apr
02
2019
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Edgybees’s new developer platform brings situational awareness to live video feeds

San Diego-based Edgybees today announced the launch of Argus, its API-based developer platform that makes it easy to add augmented reality features to live video feeds.

The service has long used this capability to run its own drone platform for first responders and enterprise customers, which allows its users to tag and track objects and people in emergency situations, for example, to create better situational awareness for first responders.

I first saw a demo of the service a year ago, when the team walked a group of journalists through a simulated emergency, with live drone footage and an overlay of a street map and the location of ambulances and other emergency personnel. It’s clear how these features could be used in other situations as well, given that few companies have the expertise to combine the video footage, GPS data and other information, including geographic information systems, for their own custom projects.

Indeed, that’s what inspired the team to open up its platform. As the Edgybees team told me during an interview at the Ourcrowd Summit last month, it’s impossible for the company to build a new solution for every vertical that could make use of it. So instead of even trying (though it’ll keep refining its existing products), it’s now opening up its platform.

“The potential for augmented reality beyond the entertainment sector is endless, especially as video becomes an essential medium for organizations relying on drone footage or CCTV,” said Adam Kaplan, CEO and co-founder of Edgybees. “As forward-thinking industries look to make sense of all the data at their fingertips, we’re giving developers a way to tailor our offering and set them up for success.”

In the run-up to today’s launch, the company has already worked with organizations like the PGA to use its software to enhance the live coverage of its golf tournaments.

Mar
29
2019
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Marketing tech vendors need to find right balance between digital and human interactions

As I walked the long halls of Adobe Summit this week in Las Vegas and listened to the company’s marketing and data integration story, I thought about the obvious disconnect that happens between brands and their customers. With tons of data, a growing set of tools to bring it together and a desire to build an optimal experience, you would think we have been set up for thrilling consumer experiences, yet we all know that is not always what happens when the rubber meets the road.

Maybe part of the problem is that data sitting in databases doesn’t always translate into employee action when dealing directly with consumers. In many cases, the experience isn’t smooth, data isn’t passed from one source to another and when you do eventually reach a person, they aren’t always knowledgeable or even nice.

It’s to the point that when my data does get passed smoothly from bot to human CSA, and I’m not asked for the same information for the second or even third time, I’m pleasantly surprised, even a little shocked.

That’s probably not the story marketing automation vendors like Adobe and Salesforce want to hear, but it is probably far more common than the one about delighted customers. I understand the goal is to provide APIs to connect systems. It’s to stream data in real time from a variety of channels. It’s about understanding that data better by applying intelligent analytics, and to some extent I’m sure that’s happening and there are brands that truly do want to delight us.

The disconnect could be happening because brands can control what happens in the digital world much better than the real one. They can know at a precise level when you interact with them and try to right wrongs or inconsistencies as quickly as possible. The problem is when we move to human interactions — people talking to people at the point of sale in a store, or in an office or via any communications channel — all of that data might not be helpful or even available.

The answer to that isn’t to give us more digital tools, or more tech in general, but to work to improve human-to-human communication, and maybe arm those human employees with the very types of information they need to understand the person they are dealing with when they are standing in front of them.

If brands can eventually get these human touch points right, they will build more loyal customers who want to come back, the ultimate goal, but right now the emphasis seems to be more on technology and the digital realm. That may not always achieve the desired results.

This is not necessarily the fault of Adobe, Salesforce or any technology vendor trying to solve this problem, but the human side of the equation needs to be a much stronger point of focus than it currently seems to be. In the end, all the data in the world isn’t going to save a brand from a rude or uninformed employee in the moment of customer contact, and that one bad moment can haunt a brand for a long, long time, regardless of how sophisticated the marketing technology it’s using may be.

Mar
26
2019
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Adobe announces deeper data sharing partnership with Microsoft around accounts

Microsoft and Adobe have been building a relationship for some time, and today at Adobe Summit in Las Vegas the two companies announced a deeper integration between the two platforms.

It involves sharing Marketo data, the company that Adobe acquired last September for $4.75 billion. Because it’s marketers, they were duty-bound to give it a new name. This data-sharing approach is being dubbed Account Based Experience, or ABX for short. The two companies are sharing data account data between a number of sources, including Marketo Engage in Adobe Experience Cloud and Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Sales, as well as the LinkedIn, the business social platform Microsoft bought in 2016 for a whopping $26.2 billion.

Microsoft has been trying to find ways to put that LinkedIn data to work, and tools like Marketo can use the data in LinkedIn to understand their account contacts better. Steve Lucas, former CEO at Marketo, who is now senior vice president and head of the Marketo team at Adobe, says accounts tend to be much more complex sales than selling to individuals, involving multiple decision makers. It’s a sales cycle that can stretch on for months, and having access to additional data about the account contacts can have a big impact.

“With these new account-based capabilities, marketing and sales teams will have increased alignment around the people and accounts they are engaging, and new ways to measure that business impact,” Lucas explained in a statement.

Brent Leary, principal at CRM Essentials, who has been working in CRM, customer service and marketing for years, sees this as a useful partnership for customers from both vendors. “Integrating Microsoft Dynamics and LinkedIn more closely with Marketo gives Adobe’s Experience Cloud some great data to leverage in order to have a more complete picture of B2B customers,” Leary told TechCrunch.

The goal is to close complex sales, and having access to more complete data across the two product sets can help achieve that.

Mar
26
2019
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Adobe and Salesforce announce Customer Data Platforms to pull data into single view

Marketing analytics is an increasingly complex business. It’s meant to collect as much information as possible across multiple channels from multiple tools and provide marketers with as complete a picture of their customers and their experience in dealing with you as possible. Perhaps not coincidentally, Adobe, which is holding its Adobe Summit this week in Las Vegas, and Salesforce both made Customer Data Platform (CDP) announcements this week.

The Customer Data Platform is a complex construct, but it’s basically a marketer’s dream, a central database that pulls customer data from a variety of channels and disparate data sources to give marketeers deep insight into their customers, all with the hope of gathering enough data to serve the perfect experience. As always, the ultimate goal is happy repeat customers, who build brand loyalty.

It always comes down to experience for marketers these days, and that involves serving up the right kind of experience. You don’t want the first-time visitor to have the same experience as a loyal customer. You don’t want a business customer to have the same experience as the consumer. All of that takes lots and lots of information, and when you want to make those experiences even more personalized in real time, it’s a tough problem to solve.

Part of the problem is that customers are working across multiple channels and marketers are using multiple tools from a variety of vendors. When you combine those two problems, it’s hard to collect all of the data on a given customer.

The process is a bit like boiling, the ocean and to complicate matters even further, it involves anonymized data and non-anonymized data about customers being stored in the same database. Imagine those two elements being hacked. It wouldn’t be pretty, which is just one reason that these kinds of platforms are so difficult to build.

Yet the promise of having a central data hub like this is so tantalizing, and the amount of data growing so quickly, that having a tool to help pull it all together could have great utility for marketers. Armed with this kind of information, it could enable marketers to build what Salesforce’s Bob Stutz called “hyper-targeted messages” in a blog post yesterday.

Stutz used that same blog post to announce Salesforce’s CDP offering, which is not the same as the Customer 360 product announced at Dreamforce last year, although you would be forgiven for confusing the two. “Salesforce Customer 360 helps companies easily connect and resolve customer data across Salesforce and 3rd party applications with a single customer ID. Our Customer Data Platform builds on this unified identity foundation to deliver a ‘single view of the customer’ for marketing professionals,” Stutz wrote.

Adobe, which announced its CDP use case today, sees it in somewhat similar terms, but its approach is different, says Matt Skinner, product marketing manager for the Adobe Audience Manager product. For starters, it’s powered by the Adobe Experience Platform and “brings together known and unknown data to activate real-time customer profiles across channels throughout the customer journey,” Skinner said. In addition, he says it can use AI to help build these experiences and augment marketer ideas.

Both companies have to pull in data from their own systems, as well as external systems, to make this work. That kind of integration problem is one of the reasons Salesforce bought MuleSoft last year for $6.5 billion, but Skinner says that Adobe is taking its own open API approach to the problem. “Adobe’s platform is open and extensible with APIs and an extensive partner ecosystem, so data and applications can really come from anywhere,” he said.

Regardless, both vendors are working hard to make this happen, and it will be interesting to see how each one plays to its strengths to bring this data together. It’s clearly going to be a huge data integration and security challenge, and both companies will have to move carefully to protect the data as they build this kind of system.

Mar
06
2019
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Clari platform aims to unify go-to-market operations data

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jan
15
2019
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Campaign Monitor acquires email enterprise services Sailthru and Liveclicker

CM Group, the organization behind email-centric services like Campaign Monitor and Emma, today announced that it has acquired marketing automation firm Sailthru and the email personalization service Liveclicker. The group did not disclose the acquisition price but noted that the acquisition would bring in about $60 million in additional revenue and 540 new customers, including Bloomberg and Samsung. Both of these acquisitions quietly closed in 2018.

Compared to Sailthru, which had raised a total of about $250 million in venture funding before the acquisition, Liveclicker is a relatively small company that was bootstrapped and never raised any outside funding. Still, Liveclicker managed to attract customers like AT&T, Quicken Loans and TJX Companies by offering them the ability to personalize their email messages and tailor them to their customers.

Sailthru’s product portfolio is also quite a bit broader and includes similar email marketing tools, but also services to personalize mobile and web experiences, as well as tools to predict churn and make other retail-focused predictions.

“Sailthru and Liveclicker are extraordinary technologies capable of solving important marketing problems, and we will be making additional investments in the businesses to further accelerate their growth,” writes Wellford Dillard, CEO of CM Group. “Bringing these brands together makes it possible for us to provide marketers with the ideal solution for their needs as they navigate the complex and rapidly changing environments in which they operate.”

With this acquisition, the CM Group now has 500 employees and 300,000 customers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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