Feb
27
2019
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Threads emerges from stealth with $10.5M from Sequoia for a new take on enabling work conversations

The rapid rise of Slack has ushered in a new wave of apps, all aiming to solve one challenge: creating a user-friendly platform where coworkers can have productive conversations. Many of these are based around real-time notifications and “instant” messaging, but today a new startup called Threads coming out of stealth to address the other side of the coin: a platform for asynchronous communication that is less time-sensitive, and creating coherent narratives out of those conversations.

Armed with $10.5 million in funding led by Sequoia, the company is launching a beta of its service today.

Rousseau Kazi, the startup’s CEO who co-founded threads with Jon McCord, Mark Rich and Suman Venkataswamy, cut his social teeth working for six years at Facebook (with a resulting number of patents to his name around the mechanics of social networking), says that the mission of Threads is to become more inclusive when it comes to online conversations.

“After a certain number of people get involved in an online discussion, conversations just break and messaging becomes chaotic,” he said. (McCord and Rich are also Facebook engineering alums, while Venkataswamy is a Bright Roll alum.)

And if you have ever used Twitter, or even been in a popular channel in Slack, you will understand what he is talking about. When too many people begin to talk, the conversation gets very noisy and it can mean losing the “thread” of what is being discussed, and seeing conversation lurch from one topic to another, often losing track of important information in the process.

There is an argument to be made for whether a platform that was built for real-time information is capable of handling a difference kind of cadence. Twitter, as it happens, is trying to figure that out right now. Slack, meanwhile, has itself introduced threaded comments to try to address this too — although the practical application of its own threading feature is not actually very user friendly.

Threads’ answer is to view its purpose as addressing the benefit of “asynchronous” conversation.

To start, those who want to start threads first register as organizations on the platform. Then, those who are working on a project or in a specific team creates a “space” for themselves within that org. You can then start threads within those spaces. And when a problem has been solved or the conversation has come to a conclusion, the last comment gets marked as the conclusion.

The idea is that topics and conversations that can stretch out over hours, days or even longer, around specific topics. Threads doeesn’t want to be the place you go for red alerts or urgent requests, but where you go when you have thoughts about a work-related subject and how to tackle it.

These resulting threads, when completed or when in progress, can in turn be looked at as straight conversations, or as annotated narratives.

For now, it’s up to users themselves to annotate what might be important to highlight for readers, although when I asked him, Kazi told me he would like to incorporate over time more features that might use natural language processing to summarize and pull out what might be worth following up or looking at if you only want to skim read a longer conversation. Ditto the ability to search threads. Right now it’s all based around keywords but you can imagine a time when more sophisticated and nuanced searches to surface conversations relevant to what you might be looking for.

Indeed, in this initial launch, the focus is all about what you want to say on Threads itself — not lots of bells and whistles, and not trying to compete against the likes of Slack, or Workplace (Facebook’s effort in this space), or Yammer or Teams from Microsoft, or any of the others in the messaging mix.

There are no integrations of other programs to bring data into Threads from other places, but there is a Slack integration in the other direction: you can create an alert there so that you know when someone has updated a Thread.

“We don’t view ourselves as a competitor to Slack,” Kazi said. “Slack is great for transactional conversation but for asynchronous chats, we thought there was a need for this in the market. We wanted something to address that.”

It may not be a stated competitor, but Threads actually has something in common with Slack: the latter launched with the purpose of enabling a certain kind of conversation between co-workers in a way that was easier to consume and engage with than email.

You could argue that Threads has the same intention: email chains, especially those with multiple parties, can also be hard to follow and are in any case often very messy to look at: something that the conversations in Threads also attempt to clear up.

But email is not the only kind of conversation medium that Threads thinks it can replace.

“With in-person meetings there is a constant tension between keeping the room small for efficiency and including more people for transparency,” said Sequoia partner Mike Vernal in a statement. “When we first started chatting with the team about what is now Threads, we saw an opportunity to get rid of this false dichotomy by making decision-making both more efficient and more inclusive. We’re thrilled to be partnering with Threads to make work more inclusive.” Others in the round include Eventbrite CEO Julia Hartz, GV’s Jessica Verrilli, Minted CEO Mariam Naficy, and TaskRabbit CEO Stacy Brown-Philpot.

The startup was actually formed in 2017, and for months now it has been running a closed, private version of the service to test it out with a small amount of users. So far, the company sizes have ranged between 5 and 60 employees, Kazi tells me.

“By using Threads as our primary communications platform, we’ve seen incredible progress streamlining our operations,” said one of the testers, Perfect Keto & Equip Foods Founder and CEO, Anthony Gustin. “Internal meetings have reduced by at least 80 percent, we’ve seen an increase in participation in discussion and speed of decision making, and noticed an adherence and reinforcement of company culture that we thought was impossible before. Our employees are feeling more ownership and autonomy, with less work and time that needs to be spent — something we didn’t even know was possible before Threads.”

Kazi said that the intention is ultimately to target companies of any size, although it will be worth watching what features it will have to introduce to help handle the noise, and continue to provide coherent discussions, when and if they do start to tackle that end of the market.

Jan
09
2019
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Microsoft’s latest Teams features take aim at shift workers

Collaboration tools tend to be geared toward workers who are sitting at a desk for much of the day, but there are plenty of shift workers, also known as first-line workers, who rarely use a computer, but still need to communicate with one another and management. Microsoft released several new features today aimed at including these workers.

In a blog post announcing the new features, Emma Williams, Microsoft corporate vice president for modern workplace verticals, wrote that there are two billion such workers. By making the product more mobile-friendly and linking to existing enterprise employee management systems, Microsoft can make Teams more relevant for shift employees.

For starters, Microsoft is making mobile Teams more flexible to meet the needs of a variety of shift worker jobs. Some might need to record and share audio messages, while others might need to share their location or access the camera. Whatever the requirements, Microsoft has started with a Firstline Worker configuration policy template, which IT can customize to meet the needs of various worker types.

The mobile tool also includes a navigation bar, which allows workers to add the tools they use most often for easy access. The idea is to make it as simple as possible to access the tools they need, given that these workers tend to be on their feet or on the move a good part of the day.

Photo: MicrosoftNext, the company has released a new API to help IT connect Teams to existing workforce management systems. The Graph API for Shifts enables first-line managers, who are responsible for setting up worker schedules, to share data between a company’s workforce management system and Teams, allowing employees to get all of their shift information in one tool. This will be available in public preview later in the quarter, according to the company.

Finally, the tool now includes a new Praise feature, designed to let managers recognize good work by their employees by issuing badges with messages like “Thank you” and “Problem solver.”

The company wants Teams to be more than a tool for knowledge workers. These new features provide a way to include workers that are sometimes left out of these kinds of collaboration tools. The new features also help Microsoft compete with a number of startups that trying to attack the same problem.

These include Crew, a startup that scored a $35 million Series C round just last month and has raised almost $60 million, and Zinc, which also takes aim at the deskless worker, and has raised $16 million, according to Crunchbase.

Whether Microsoft can appeal to both the knowledge worker and the first-line variety in the same tool remains to be seen, but these updates are clearly an effort to take on this space.

Nov
07
2017
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Proofpoint acquires Cloudmark for $110M in cybersecurity consolidation play

 As malicious groups continue to become more sophisticated in their hacking techniques, cybersecurity efforts are attempting to expand in their reach, and that is leading to some consolidation in the field. Today, cybersecurity firm Proofpoint — which provides SaaS products to protect businesses’ email, social media and other services — announced that it would pay $110 million… Read More

Oct
24
2017
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LinkedIn boosts its messaging with smart replies, pre-written, AI based interactions

 LinkedIn — the Microsoft-owned platform for those who want to network with professional contacts and advance their own careers — has been in the middle of a long-term makeover of its social tools, as it looks to drive more usage. Today comes the latest chapter in that story: the site is unveiling a new smart reply feature in its messaging app, which gives users prompts with… Read More

Jun
28
2017
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Intercom lands former Intuit exec Karen Peacock as its new COO

Karen Peacock, COO at Intercom Intercom, a business messaging tool that enables companies to communicate directly with customers in an online context, announced today that it has hired former Intuit SVP Karen Peacock as company COO.
She joined the company May 30th, but they are making the news public for the first time today.
Peacock comes with an impressive resume that starts with a BA from Harvard and an MBA from Stanford. Read More

Mar
09
2017
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Google goes after Slack and splits Hangouts into Chat and Meet

Google’s messaging strategy can be confusing, but if there’s one thing that’s clear after today’s Cloud Next keynote, it’s that the company is doubling down on the idea that Hangouts is its enterprise product and Allo/Duo are its consumer communications apps. Read More

Feb
24
2017
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Communication platform Layer raises $15M and acquires interactive messaging startup Cola

IMG_9233 Layer, the messaging platform that won TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield back in 2013, is making two big announcement today: It’s raised $15 million in Series B funding, and it’s acquiring another startup, Cola. Layer makes it easy for businesses to add messaging capabilities to their iOS, Android and web products — customers include Trunk Club, Staples and Udacity. In… Read More

Feb
01
2017
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The enterprise is the next logical step for Slack

Faces on discs depicting a man as leader of a marketing or social scheme in the centre Slack took a big step in its evolution as a startup yesterday when it launched Slack Enterprise Grid, the enterprise version of its popular messaging platform.
For Slack to continue its growth trajectory, it had to move on from being a tool for discrete teams to one that could deal with substantially more users, and provide some security and governance as it connected to other departments… Read More

Dec
14
2016
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Symphony, the messaging app backed by Wall St, is raising at a $1B+ valuation

Photo: Getty Images/Nerida McMurray Photography/DigitalVision Symphony, a secure messaging service backed and used by 14 of the biggest banks on Wall Street, is raising up to $200 million in a new round of funding with a pre-money valuation over $1 billion, TechCrunch has learned. The funding will come from existing investors, along with a new backer, the government of Singapore via its investment arm (which includes Temasek and GIC). Symphony has… Read More

Dec
13
2016
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Salesforce LiveMessage brings messaging to Service Cloud

Salesforce Service Cloud Live Messaging interface As more and more people use SMS and messaging apps like Facebook Messenger to interact with friends, it’s only logical that they want to interact with business that way too — and today Salesforce launched LiveMessage, a tool that helps customer service reps manage messaging traffic just like any customer interactions in Service Cloud. For starters, it supports SMS/MMS and… Read More

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