Apr
07
2021
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Pathlight, a performance management tool for customer-facing teams and the individuals in them, raises $25M

The longer we continue to work with either all or part of our teams in remote, out-of-physical-office environments, the more imperative it becomes for those teams to have some tools in place to keep the channels of communication and management open, and for the individuals in those teams to have a sense of how well they are performing. Today, one of the startups that provides a team productivity app with that in mind is announcing a round of funding to fuel its growth.

Pathlight, which has built a performance management platform for customer-facing teams — sales, field service and support — to help managers and employees themselves track and analyze how they are doing, to coach them when and where it’s needed and to communicate updates and more, has picked up $25 million — money that it will be using to continue growing its customer base and the functionality across its app.

The funding is being led by Insight Partners, with previous backers Kleiner Perkins and Quiet Capital also participating, alongside Uncorrelated Ventures; Jeremy Stoppelman, CEO of Yelp; David Glazer, CFO of Palantir; and Michael Ovitz, co-founder of CAA and owner of Broad Beach Ventures. Pathlight has now raised $35 million.

Pathlight today provides users with a range of tools to visualize team and individual performance across various parameters set by managers, using data that teams integrate from other platforms like Salesforce, Zendesk and Outreach, among others.

Using that data and specific metrics for the job in question, managers can then initiate conversations with individuals to focus on specific areas where things need attention, and provide some coaching to help fix it. It can also be used to provide team-wide updates and encouragement, which sits alongside whatever other tools a person might use in their daily customer-facing work.

Since launching in March 2020, the startup has picked up good traction, with customers including Twilio, Earnin, Greenhouse and CLEAR. But perhaps even more importantly, the pandemic and resulting switch to remote work has underscored how necessary tools like Pathlight’s have become: The startup says that engagement on its platform has shot up 300% in the last 12 months.

Alexander Kvamme, the CEO of Pathlight, said that he first became aware of the challenges of communicating across customer-facing teams, and having transparency on how they are doing as individuals and as a group, when he was at Yelp. Yelp had acquired his startup, reservations service SeatMe, and used the acquisition to build and run Yelp Reservations.

He was quick to realize that there weren’t really effective tools for him to see how individuals in the sales team were doing, how they were doing compared to goals the company wanted to achieve and based on the sales data they already had in other systems, how to work more effectively with people to communicate when something needed changing, and how to tailor all that in line with new variations in the formula — in their case, how to sell new products like a reservations service alongside advertising and other Yelp services for businesses.

“Whether it’s five or 3,000 people, the problem doesn’t go away,” he said. “Everyone uses their own systems, and it hurts front-line employees when they don’t know how they are doing, or don’t get recognition when they are doing well, or don’t get coaching when they are not. Our thesis was that if software is eating the world, and you as a company are buying more software and analytics, over time managers will be more like data analysts. So we are providing a way for managers to be more data-driven.”

Five years down the line, Kvamme got the bug again to start a company and decided to return to that problem, teaming up with co-founder Trey Doig, the engineer who designed SeatMe and then turned it into Yelp Reservations and is now Pathlight’s CTO.

As they see it, the challenge has still not really been addressed. That’s not to say that there are not a number of companies — competitors to Pathlight — looking to fill that gap as well. Another people management platform called Lattice last year picked up $45 million  (I’m guessing it will be raising money again around about now); HubSpot, Zoho, SalesLoft and a number of others also are taking different approaches to the same challenge: front-line customer-facing people spend the majority of their time and attention on interacting with people, and so there need to be better tools in place to help them figure out how to make that communication more effective, figure out what is working and what is not.

And all of this, of course, is not at all new: It’s not like we all woke up one day and suddenly wanted to know how we are doing at work, or managers suddenly felt they needed to communicate with staff.

What has changed, however, is how we work: Many of us have not seen the inside of our offices for more than a year at this point, and for a large proportion of us, we may never return again, or if we do it will be under different circumstances.

All of this means that some of the more traditional metrics and indicators of our performance, praising, management relationships and learning from teammates simply is not there anymore.

In customer-facing areas like sales, support and field service, that lack of contact may be even more acute, since many of the teams working in these environments have long relied on huddles and communication throughout the day, week and month to continuously tweak work and improve it. So while tools like Pathlight’s will be useful as data analytics provision for teams regardless of how we work, it can be argued that they are even more important right now.

“I think people have started to realize that if you can empower front line to be more independent, your numbers will go up and do better,” Kvamme said.

This is part of what went into the investment decision made here.

“With the acceleration of digital transformation across the enterprise, it’s not enough to rethink the way we work — we must also rethink the way we manage,” said Jeff Lieberman, MD at Insight Partners. “Pathlight is ushering in a new age of data-driven management, an ethos that we believe every enterprise will need to embrace — quickly. We are excited to partner with the Pathlight team as they bring their powerful platform to companies across the world.”

Mar
17
2021
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New Relic expands its AIOps services

In recent years, the publicly traded observability service New Relic started adding more machine learning-based tools to its platform for AI-assisted incident response when things don’t quite go as planned. Today, it is expanding this feature set with the launch of a number of new capabilities for what it calls its “New Relic Applied Intelligence Service.”

This expansion includes an anomaly detection service that is even available for free users, the ability to group alerts from multiple tools when the models think it’s a single issue that is triggering all of these alerts and new ML-based root cause analysis to help eliminate some of the guesswork when problems occur. Also new (and in public beta) is New Relic’s ability to detect patterns and outliers in log data that is stored in the company’s data platform.

The main idea here, New Relic’s director of product marketing Michael Olson told me, is to make it easier for companies of all sizes to reap the benefits of AI-enhanced ops.

Image Credits: New Relic

“It’s been about a year since we introduced our first set of AIops capabilities with New Relic Applied Intelligence to the market,” he said. “During that time, we’ve seen significant growth in adoption of AIops capabilities through New Relic. But one of the things that we’ve heard from organizations that have yet to foray into adopting AIops capabilities as part of their incident response practice is that they often find that things like steep learning curves and long implementation and training times — and sometimes lack of confidence, or knowledge of AI and machine learning — often stand in the way.”

The new platform should be able to detect emerging problems in real time — without the team having to pre-configure alerts. And when it does so, it’ll smartly group all of the alerts from New Relic and other tools together to cut down on the alert noise and let engineers focus on the incident.

“Instead of an alert storm when a problem occurs across multiple tools, engineers get one actionable issue with alerts automatically grouped based on things like time and frequency, based on the context that they can read in the alert messages. And then now with this launch, we’re also able to look at relationship data across your systems to intelligently group and correlate alerts,” Olson explained.

Image Credits: New Relic

Maybe the highlight for the ops teams that will use these new features, though, is New Relic’s ability to pinpoint the probable root cause of a problem. As Guy Fighel, the general manager of applied intelligence and vice president of product engineering at New Relic, told me, the idea here is not to replace humans but to augment teams.

“We provide a non-black-box experience for teams to craft the decisions and correlation and logic based on their own knowledge and infuse the system with their own knowledge,” Fighel noted. “So you can get very specific based on your environment and needs. And so because of that and because we see a lot of data coming from different tools — all going into New Relic One as the data platform — our probable root cause is very accurate. Having said that, it is still a probable root cause. So although we are opinionated about it, we will never tell you, ‘hey, go fix that, because we’re 100% sure that’s the case.’ You’re the human, you’re in control.”

The AI system also asks users for feedback, so that the model gets refined with every new incident, too.

Fighel tells me that New Relic’s tools rely on a variety of statistical analysis methods and machine learning models. Some of those are unique to individual users while others are used across the company’s user base. He also stressed that all of the engineers who worked on this project have a background in site reliability engineering — so they are intimately familiar with the problems in this space.

With today’s launch, New Relic is also adding a new integration with PagerDuty and other incident management tools so that the state of a given issue can be synchronized bi-directionally between them.

“We want to meet our customers where they are and really be data source agnostic and enable customers to pull in data from any source, where we can then enrich that data, reduce noise and ultimately help our customers solve problems faster,” said Olson.


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Dec
10
2020
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New Relic acquires Kubernetes observability platform Pixie Labs

Two months ago, Kubernetes observability platform Pixie Labs launched into general availability and announced a $9.15 million Series A funding round led by Benchmark, with participation from GV. Today, the company is announcing its acquisition by New Relic, the publicly traded monitoring and observability platform.

The Pixie Labs brand and product will remain in place and allow New Relic to extend its platform to the edge. From the outset, the Pixie Labs team designed the service to focus on providing observability for cloud-native workloads running on Kubernetes clusters. And while most similar tools focus on operators and IT teams, Pixie set out to build a tool that developers would want to use. Using eBPF, a relatively new way to extend the Linux kernel, the Pixie platform can collect data right at the source and without the need for an agent.

At the core of the Pixie developer experience are what the company calls “Pixie scripts.” These allow developers to write their debugging workflows, though the company also provides its own set of these and anybody in the community can contribute and share them as well. The idea here is to capture a lot of the informal knowledge around how to best debug a given service.

“We’re super excited to bring these companies together because we share a mission to make observability ubiquitous through simplicity,” Bill Staples, New Relic’s chief product officer, told me. “[…] According to IDC, there are 28 million developers in the world. And yet only a fraction of them really practice observability today. We believe it should be easier for every developer to take a data-driven approach to building software and Kubernetes is really the heart of where developers are going to build software.”

It’s worth noting that New Relic already had a solution for monitoring Kubernetes clusters. Pixie, however, will allow it to go significantly deeper into this space. “Pixie goes much, much further in terms of offering on-the-edge, live debugging use cases, the ability to run those Pixie scripts. So it’s an extension on top of the cloud-based monitoring solution we offer today,” Staples said.

The plan is to build integrations into New Relic into Pixie’s platform and to integrate Pixie use cases with New Relic One as well.

Currently, about 300 teams use the Pixie platform. These range from small startups to large enterprises and, as Staples and Pixie co-founder Zain Asgar noted, there was already a substantial overlap between the two customer bases.

As for why he decided to sell, Asgar — a former Google engineer working on Google AI and adjunct professor at Stanford — told me that it was all about accelerating Pixie’s vision.

“We started Pixie to create this magical developer experience that really allows us to redefine how application developers monitor, secure and manage their applications,” Asgar said. “One of the cool things is when we actually met the team at New Relic and we got together with Bill and [New Relic founder and CEO] Lew [Cirne], we realized that there was almost a complete alignment around this vision […], and by joining forces with New Relic, we can actually accelerate this entire process.”

New Relic has recently done a lot of work on open-sourcing various parts of its platform, including its agents, data exporters and some of its tooling. Pixie, too, will now open-source its core tools. Open-sourcing the service was always on the company’s road map, but the acquisition now allows it to push this timeline forward.

“We’ll be taking Pixie and making it available to the community through open source, as well as continuing to build out the commercial enterprise-grade offering for it that extends the New Relic One platform,” Staples explained. Asgar added that it’ll take the company a little while to release the code, though.

“The same fundamental quality that got us so excited about Lew as an EIR in 2007, got us excited about Zain and Ishan in 2017 — absolutely brilliant engineers, who know how to build products developers love,” Benchmark Ventures General Partner Eric Vishria told me. “New Relic has always captured developer delight. For all its power, Kubernetes completely upends the monitoring paradigm we’ve lived with for decades. Pixie brings the same easy to use, quick time to value, no-nonsense approach to the Kubernetes world as New Relic brought to APM. It is a match made in heaven.”

Sep
23
2020
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WhyLabs brings more transparancy to ML ops

WhyLabs, a new machine learning startup that was spun out of the Allen Institute, is coming out of stealth today. Founded by a group of former Amazon machine learning engineers, Alessya Visnjic, Sam Gracie and Andy Dang, together with Madrona Venture Group principal Maria Karaivanova, WhyLabs’ focus is on ML operations after models have been trained — not on building those models from the ground up.

The team also today announced that it has raised a $4 million seed funding round from Madrona Venture Group, Bezos Expeditions, Defy Partners and Ascend VC.

Visnjic, the company’s CEO, used to work on Amazon’s demand forecasting model.

“The team was all research scientists, and I was the only engineer who had kind of tier-one operating experience,” she told me. “So I thought, “Okay, how bad could it be? I carried the pager for the retail website before. But it was one of the first AI deployments that we’d done at Amazon at scale. The pager duty was extra fun because there were no real tools. So when things would go wrong — like we’d order way too many black socks out of the blue — it was a lot of manual effort to figure out why issues were happening.”

Image Credits: WhyLabs

But while large companies like Amazon have built their own internal tools to help their data scientists and AI practitioners operate their AI systems, most enterprises continue to struggle with this — and a lot of AI projects simply fail and never make it into production. “We believe that one of the big reasons that happens is because of the operating process that remains super manual,” Visnjic said. “So at WhyLabs, we’re building the tools to address that — specifically to monitor and track data quality and alert — you can think of it as Datadog for AI applications.”

The team has brought ambitions, but to get started, it is focusing on observability. The team is building — and open-sourcing — a new tool for continuously logging what’s happening in the AI system, using a low-overhead agent. That platform-agnostic system, dubbed WhyLogs, is meant to help practitioners understand the data that moves through the AI/ML pipeline.

For a lot of businesses, Visnjic noted, the amount of data that flows through these systems is so large that it doesn’t make sense for them to keep “lots of big haystacks with possibly some needles in there for some investigation to come in the future.” So what they do instead is just discard all of this. With its data logging solution, WhyLabs aims to give these companies the tools to investigate their data and find issues right at the start of the pipeline.

Image Credits: WhyLabs

According to Karaivanova, the company doesn’t have paying customers yet, but it is working on a number of proofs of concepts. Among those users is Zulily, which is also a design partner for the company. The company is going after mid-size enterprises for the time being, but as Karaivanova noted, to hit the sweet spot for the company, a customer needs to have an established data science team with 10 to 15 ML practitioners. While the team is still figuring out its pricing model, it’ll likely be a volume-based approach, Karaivanova said.

“We love to invest in great founding teams who have built solutions at scale inside cutting-edge companies, who can then bring products to the broader market at the right time. The WhyLabs team are practitioners building for practitioners. They have intimate, first-hand knowledge of the challenges facing AI builders from their years at Amazon and are putting that experience and insight to work for their customers,” said Tim Porter, managing director at Madrona. “We couldn’t be more excited to invest in WhyLabs and partner with them to bring cross-platform model reliability and observability to this exploding category of MLOps.”

Aug
21
2020
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Box CEO Aaron Levie says thrifty founders have more control

Once upon a time, Box’s Aaron Levie was just a guy with an idea for a company: 15 years ago as a USC student, he conceived of a way to simply store and share files online.

It may be hard to recall, but back then, the world was awash with thumb drives and moving files manually, but Levie saw an opportunity to change that.

Today, his company helps enterprise customers collaborate and manage content in the cloud, but when Levie appeared on an episode of Extra Crunch Live at the end of May, my colleague Jon Shieber and I asked him if he had any advice for startups. While he was careful to point out that there is no “one size fits all” advice, he did make one thing clear:

“I would highly recommend to any company of any size that you have as much control of your destiny as possible. So put yourself in a position where you spend as little amount of dollars as you can from a burn standpoint and get as close to revenue being equal to your expenses as you can possibly get to,” he advised.

Don’t let current conditions scare you

Levie also advised founders not to be frightened off by current conditions, whether that’s the pandemic or the recession. Instead, he said if you have an idea, seize the moment and build it, regardless of the economy or the state of the world. If, like Levie, you are in it for the long haul, this too will pass, and if your idea is good enough, it will survive and even thrive as you move through your startup growth cycle.

Jul
08
2019
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15Five raises $30.7M to expand its employee development toolkit

Technology has been used to improve many of the processes that we use to get work done. But today, a startup has raised funding to build tech to improve us, the workers.

15Five, which builds software and services to help organisations and their employees evaluate their performance, as well as set and meet goals, has closed a Series B round of $30.7 million, money that it plans to use to continue building out the functionality of its core product — self-evaluations that take “15 minutes to write, 5 minutes to read” — as well as expand into new services that will sit alongside that.

David Hassell, 15Five’s CEO and co-founder, would not elaborate on what those new services might be, but he recently started a podcast with the startup’s “chief culture officer” Shane Metcalf around the subject of “best-self” management that taps into research on organizational development and positive psychology.

At the same time that 15Five works on productizing these principles into software form, it seems that the secondary idea will be to bring in more services and coaching into the mix alongside 15Five’s existing SaaS model.

This Series B is being led by Next47?, the strategic investment arm of manufacturing giant Siemens. Others in the round included Matrix Partners, PointNine Capital, ?Jason Calacanis’s LAUNCH Fund?, Newground Ventures, Bling Capital, Chaifetz ?Group, and ?Origin Ventures (which had led 15Five’s Series A). It brings the total raised to $42.6 million, but Hassell said that while the valuation is up, the exact number is not being disclosed.

(Previous investors in the company have included David Sacks, 500 Startups and Ben Ling.)

15Five’s growth comes at a time when we are seeing a significant evolution in how companies are run internally. The digital age has made workforces more decentralised — with people using smartphones, video communications and services like Slack to stay in constant contact while otherwise working potentially hundreds of miles from their closest colleagues, or at least not sitting in one office altogether, all the time.

All well and good, but this has also had an inevitable impact on how employees are evaluated by their managers, and also how they are able to gauge how well they are doing versus those with whom they work. So while communication of one kind — getting information across from one person to another across big distances — has seen a big boost through technology, you could argue that another kind of communication — of the human kind — has been lost.

15Five’s approach is to create a focus on building an easy way for employees to think about and set goals for themselves on a regular basis.

Indeed, “regular” is the operative word here, with key thing being frequency. A lot of companies — especially large ones — already use performance management software (other players in this space include BetterWorks, Lattice, and PeopleGoal among many others), but in many cases, it’s based around self-evaluations that you might make annually, or at six-month intervals.

15Five’s focus is on providing a service that people will use much more often than that. In fact, it encourages use all the time, by way of sending praise to each other when something positive happens (it calls these “High fives” appropriately enough), as well as regular evaluations and goals set by the employees themselves.

Hassell said in an interview that this is in tune with what modern workplaces, and younger employees, expect today, partly fuelled by the rise of social media.

“Most millennials will get feedback on what they eat for breakfast more than what they do at work,” he said. “The rest of our lives exist in a real-time feedback loop, filled with continuous, positive reinforcement, but then you go into work and have an annual or maybe biannual performance review? It’s simply not enough.”

He said that he knows some millennial employees who have said that they will not work at a company if it’s not already using or planning to adopt 15Five, and since talent is the cornerstone to a company’s success this could have a significant impact.

The startup was born in San Francisco in more than one sense. It’s based there, but also, its principles seem to be uniquely a product of the kind of self-reflection and self-care/quality of life emphasis that has been associated with California culture for a while now, even amidst the relentless march that comes with being at the epicenter of the tech world.

In that regard, its newest investor, Next47, will help put 15Five to the test, both in terms of how the product will be adopted and used at a company whose holdings are as much manufacturing as technology, and in terms of sheer size: Siemens globally has around 400,000 employees, a huge jump up compared to the smaller and medium-sized businesses that form the core of 15Five’s customer base today.

Matthew Cowan, a partner at the firm, noted that while Siemens is currently not a 15Five user, the thinking behind the investment was strategic and the idea will be to incorporate it into the company’s practices for helping employees’ progress.

“It’s very representative of how the workplace is transforming,” he said

Sep
26
2018
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Instana raises $30M for its application performance monitoring service

Instana, an application performance monitoring (APM) service with a focus on modern containerized services, today announced that it has raised a $30 million Series C funding round. The round was led by Meritech Capital, with participation from existing investor Accel. This brings Instana’s total funding to $57 million.

The company, which counts the likes of Audi, Edmunds.com, Yahoo Japan and Franklin American Mortgage as its customers, considers itself an APM 3.0 player. It argues that its solution is far lighter than those of older players like New Relic and AppDynamics (which sold to Cisco hours before it was supposed to go public). Those solutions, the company says, weren’t built for modern software organizations (though I’m sure they would dispute that).

What really makes Instana stand out is its ability to automatically discover and monitor the ever-changing infrastructure that makes up a modern application, especially when it comes to running containerized microservices. The service automatically catalogs all of the endpoints that make up a service’s infrastructure, and then monitors them. It’s also worth noting that the company says that it can offer far more granular metrics that its competitors.

Instana says that its annual sales grew 600 percent over the course of the last year, something that surely attracted this new investment.

“Monitoring containerized microservice applications has become a critical requirement for today’s digital enterprises,” said Meritech Capital’s Alex Kurland. “Instana is packed with industry veterans who understand the APM industry, as well as the paradigm shifts now occurring in agile software development. Meritech is excited to partner with Instana as they continue to disrupt one of the largest and most important markets with their automated APM experience.”

The company plans to use the new funding to fulfill the demand for its service and expand its product line.

Nov
12
2015
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New Relic Now Lets Developers Dive Deeper Into Their Analytics

new_relic_disrupt_afterparty New Relic is launching a new analytics component for its application and server monitoring suite today that allows developers to drill even deeper into the data their code (and users) generate. The New Relic Software Analytics Cloud is now available to all paying New Relic customers. New Relic’s VP of product management Patrick Lightbody told me the team realized that basic monitoring… Read More

Nov
05
2015
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New Relic Acquires Cloud Infrastructure Monitoring Service Opsmatic

blog-nr The application monitoring service New Relic today announced better-than-expected quarterly earnings, but in addition, it also today disclosed that it has acquired the cloud infrastructure monitoring company Opsmatic.
New Relic mostly focuses on giving insight into how well their applications are performing on their servers. Opsmatic takes a similar approach, but its focus is more on the… Read More

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