Sep
18
2020
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SaaS Ventures takes the investment road less traveled

Most venture capital firms are based in hubs like Silicon Valley, New York City and Boston. These firms nurture those ecosystems and they’ve done well, but SaaS Ventures decided to go a different route: it went to cities like Chicago, Green Bay, Wisconsin and Lincoln, Nebraska.

The firm looks for enterprise-focused entrepreneurs who are trying to solve a different set of problems than you might find in these other centers of capital, issues that require digital solutions but might fall outside a typical computer science graduate’s experience.

Saas Ventures looks at four main investment areas: trucking and logistics, manufacturing, e-commerce enablement for industries that have not typically gone online and cybersecurity, the latter being the most mainstream of the areas SaaS Ventures covers.

The company’s first fund, which launched in 2017, was worth $20 million, but SaaS Ventures launched a second fund of equal amount earlier this month. It tends to stick to small-dollar-amount investments, while partnering with larger firms when it contributes funds to a deal.

We talked to Collin Gutman, founder and managing partner at SaaS Ventures, to learn about his investment philosophy, and why he decided to take the road less traveled for his investment thesis.

A different investment approach

Gutman’s journey to find enterprise startups in out of the way places began in 2012 when he worked at an early enterprise startup accelerator called Acceleprise. “We were really the first ones who said enterprise tech companies are wired differently, and need a different set of early-stage resources,” Gutman told TechCrunch.

Through that experience, he decided to launch SaaS Ventures in 2017, with several key ideas underpinning the firm’s investment thesis: after his experience at Acceleprise, he decided to concentrate on the enterprise from a slightly different angle than most early-stage VC establishments.

Collin Gutman from SaaS Ventures

Collin Gutman, founder and managing partner at SaaS Ventures (Image Credits: SaaS Ventures)

The second part of his thesis was to concentrate on secondary markets, which meant looking beyond the popular startup ecosystem centers and investing in areas that didn’t typically get much attention. To date, SaaS Ventures has made investments in 23 states and Toronto, seeking startups that others might have overlooked.

“We have really phenomenal coverage in terms of not just geography, but in terms of what’s happening with the underlying businesses, as well as their customers,” Gutman said. He believes that broad second-tier market data gives his firm an upper hand when selecting startups to invest in. More on that later.

Sep
18
2020
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Salesforce announces 12,000 new jobs in the next year just weeks after laying off 1,000

In a case of bizarre timing, Salesforce announced it was laying off 1,000 employees at the end of last month just a day after announcing a monster quarter with over $5 billion in revenue, putting the company on a $20 billion revenue run rate for the first time. The juxtaposition was hard to miss.

Earlier today, Salesforce CEO and co-founder Marc Benioff announced in a tweet that the company would be hiring 4,000 new employees in the next six months, and 12,000 in the next year. While it seems like a mixed message, it’s probably more about reallocating resources to areas where they are needed more.

While Salesforce wouldn’t comment further on the hirings, the company has obviously been doing well in spite of the pandemic, which has had an impact on customers. In the prior quarter, the company forecasted that it would have slower revenue growth due to giving some customers facing hard times with economic downturn time to pay their bills.

That’s why it was surprising when the CRM giant announced its earnings in August and that it had done so well in spite of all that. While the company was laying off those 1,000 people, it did indicate it would give those employees 60 days to find other positions in the company. With these new jobs, assuming they are positions the laid-off employees are qualified for, they could have a variety of positions from which to choose.

The company had 54,000 employees when it announced the layoffs, which accounted for 1.9% of the workforce. If it ends up adding the 12,000 news jobs in the next year, that would put the company at approximately 65,000 employees by this time next year.

Sep
15
2020
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Dropbox CEO Drew Houston says the pandemic forced the company to reevaluate what work means

Dropbox CEO and co-founder Drew Houston, appearing at TechCrunch Disrupt today, said that COVID has accelerated a shift to distributed work that we have been talking about for some time, and these new ways of working will not simply go away when the pandemic is over.

“When you think more broadly about the effects of the shift to distributed work, it will be felt well beyond when we go back to the office. So we’ve gone through a one-way door. This is maybe one of the biggest changes to knowledge work since that term was invented in 1959,” Houston told TechCrunch Editor-In-Chief Matthew Panzarino.

That change has prompted Dropbox to completely rethink the product set over the last six months, as the company has watched the way people work change in such a dramatic way. He said even though Dropbox is a cloud service, no SaaS tool in his view was purpose-built for this new way of working and we have to reevaluate what work means in this new context.

“Back in March we started thinking about this, and how [the rapid shift to distributed work] just kind of happened. It wasn’t really designed. What if you did design it? How would you design this experience to be really great? And so starting in March we reoriented our whole product road map around distributed work,” he said.

He also broadly hinted that the fruits of that redesign are coming down the pike. “We’ll have a lot more to share about our upcoming launches in the future,” he said.

Houston said that his company has adjusted well to working from home, but when they had to shut down the office, he was in the same boat as every other CEO when it came to running his company during a pandemic. Nobody had a blueprint on what to do.

“When it first happened, I mean there’s no playbook for running a company during a global pandemic so you have to start with making sure you’re taking care of your customers, taking care of your employees, I mean there’s so many people whose lives have been turned upside down in so many ways,” he said.

But as he checked in on the customers, he saw them asking for new workflows and ways of working, and he recognized there could be an opportunity to design tools to meet these needs.

“I mean this transition was about as abrupt and dramatic and unplanned as you can possibly imagine, and being able to kind of shape it and be intentional is a huge opportunity,” Houston said.

Houston debuted Dropbox in 2008 at the precursor to TechCrunch Disrupt, then called the TechCrunch 50. He mentioned that the Wi-Fi went out during his demo, proving the hazards of live demos, but offered words of encouragement to this week’s TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield participants.

Although his is a public company on a $1.8 billion run rate, he went through all the stages of a startup, getting funding and eventually going public, and even today as a mature public company, Dropbox is still evolving and changing as it adapts to changing requirements in the marketplace.

Sep
01
2020
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12 Paris-based VCs look at the state of their city

Four years after the Great Recession, France’s newly elected socialist president François Hollande raised taxes and increased regulations on founder-led startups. The subsequent flight of entrepreneurs to places like London and Silicon Valley portrayed France as a tough place to launch a company. By 2016, France’s national statistics bureau estimated that about three million native-born citizens had moved abroad.

Those who remained fought back: The Family was an early accelerator that encouraged French entrepreneurs to adopt Silicon Valley’s startup methodology, and the 2012 creation of Bpifrance, a public investment bank, put money into the startup ecosystem system via investors. Organizers founded La French Tech to beat the drum about native startups.

When President Emmanuel Macron took office in May 2017, he scrapped the wealth tax on everything except property assets and introduced a flat 30% tax rate on capital gains. Station F, a giant startup campus funded by billionaire entrepreneur Xavier Niel on the site of a former railway station, began attracting international talent. Tony Fadell, one of the fathers of the iPod and founder of Nest Labs, moved to Paris to set up investment firm Future Shape; VivaTech was created with government backing to become one of Europe’s largest startup conference and expos.

Now, in the COVID-19 era, the government has made €4 billion available to entrepreneurs to keep the lights on. According to a recent report from VC firm Atomico, there are 11 unicorns in France, including BlaBlaCar, OVHcloud, Deezer and Veepee. More appear to be coming; last year Macron said he wanted to see “25 French unicorns by 2025.”

According to Station F, by the end of August, there had been 24 funding rounds led by international VCs and a few big transactions. Enterprise artificial intelligence and machine-learning platform Dataiku raised a $100 million Series D round, and Paris-based gaming startup Voodoo raised an undisclosed amount from Tencent Holdings.

We asked 12 Paris-based investors to comment on the state of play in their city:

Alison Imbert, Partech

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?

All the fintechs addressing SMBs to help them to focus more on their core business (including banks disintermediation by fintech, new infrastructures tech that are lowering the barrier to entry to nonfintech companies).

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?

77foods (plant-based bacon) — love that alternative proteins trend as well. Obviously, we need to transform our diet toward more sustainable food. It’s the next challenge for humanity.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Impact investment: Logistic companies tackling the life cycle of products to reduce their carbon footprint and green fintech that reinvent our spending and investment strategy around more sustainable products.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
D2C products.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
100% investing in France as I’m managing Paris Saclay Seed Fund, a €53 million fund, investing in pre-seed and seed startups launched by graduates and researchers from the best engineering and business schools from this ecosystem.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Deep tech, biotech and medical devices. Paris, and France in general, has thousands of outstanding engineers that graduate each year. Researchers are more and more willing to found companies to have a true impact on our society. I do believe that the ecosystem is more and more structured to help them to build such companies.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Paris is booming for sure. It’s still behind London and Berlin probably. But we are seeing more and more European VC offices opening in the city to get direct access to our ecosystem. Even in seed rounds, we start to have European VCs competing against us. It’s good — that means that our startups are moving to the next level.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
For sure startups will more and more push for remote organizations. It’s an amazing way to combine quality of life for employees and attracting talent. Yet I don’t think it will be the majority. Not all founders are willing/able to build a fully remote company. It’s an important cultural choice and it’s adapted to a certain type of business. I believe in more flexible organization (e.g., tech team working remotely or 1-2 days a week for any employee).

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
Travel and hospitality sectors are of course hugely impacted. Yet there are opportunities for helping those incumbents to face current challenges (e.g., better customer care and services, stronger flexibility, cost reduction and process automation).

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Cash is king more than ever before. My only piece of advice will be to keep a good level of cash as we have a limited view on events coming ahead. It’s easy to say but much more difficult to put in practice (e.g., to what extend should I reduce my cash burn? Should I keep on investing in the product? What is the impact on the sales team?). Startups should focus only on what is mission-critical for their clients. Yet it doesn’t impact our seed investments as we invest pre-revenue and often pre-product.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
There is no reason to be hopeless. Crises have happened in the past. Humanity has faced other pandemics. Humans are resilient and resourceful enough to adapt to a new environment and new constraints.

Sep
01
2020
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InfoSum raises $15.1M for its privacy-first, federated approach to big data analytics

Data protection and data privacy have gone from niche concerns to mainstream issues in the last several years, thanks to new regulations and a cascade of costly breaches that have laid bare the problems that arise when information and data security are treated haphazardly.

Yet that swing has also thrown up a whole series of issues for organisations and business functions that depend on sharing and exchanging data in order to work. Today, a startup that has built a new way of exchanging data while still keeping privacy in mind — starting first by applying the concept to the “marketing industrial complex” — is announcing a round of funding as it continues to pick up momentum.

InfoSum, a London startup that has built a way for organizations to share their data with each other without passing it on to each other — by way of a federated, decentralized architecture that uses mathematical representations to organise, “read” and query the data — is today announcing that it has raised $15.1 million.

Data may be the new oil, but according to founder and CEO Nick Halstead, that just means “it’s sticky and gets all over the place.” That is to say, InfoSum is looking for a new way to use data that is less messy, and less prone to leakage, and ultimately devaluation.

The Series A is being co-led by Upfront Ventures and IA Ventures. A number of strategics using InfoSum — Ascential, Akamai, Experian, British broadcaster ITV and AT&T’s Xandr — are also participating in the round. The startup has raised $23 million to date.

Nicholas Halstead, the founder and CEO who previously had founded and led another big data company, DataSift (the startup that gained early fame as a middleman for Twitter’s firehose of data, until Twitter called time on that relationship to push its own business strategy), said in an interview that the plan is to use the funding to continue fueling its growth, with a specific focus on the U.S. market.

To that end, Brian Lesser — the founder and former CEO of Xandr (AT&T’s adtech business that is now a part of AT&T’s WarnerMedia), and previous to that the North American CEO of GroupM — is joining the company as executive chairman. Lesser had originally led Xandr’s investment into InfoSum and had previously been on the board of the startup.

InfoSum got its start several years ago as CognitiveLogic, founded at a time when Halstead was first starting to get his head around the problems that were becoming increasingly urgent in how data was being used by companies, and how newer information architecture models using data warehousing and cloud computing could help solve that.

“I saw the opportunity for data collaboration in a more private way, helping enable companies to work together when it came to customer data,” he said. This eventually led to the company releasing its first product two years ago.

In the interim, and since then, that trend, he noted, has only gained momentum, spurred by the rise of companies like Snowflake that have disrupted the world of data warehousing, cookies have started to increasingly go out of style (and some believe will disappear altogether over time) and the concept of federated architecture has become much more ubiquitous, applied to identity management and other areas.

All of this means that InfoSum’s solution today may be aimed at martech, but it is something that affects a number of industries. Indeed, the decision to focus on marketing technology, he said, was partly because that is the industry that Halstead worked most closely with at DataSift, although the plan is to expand to other verticals as well.

“We’ve done a lot of work to change the marketing industrial complex,” said Lesser, “but its bigger use cases are in areas like finance and healthcare.”

Aug
27
2020
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Box benefits from digital transformation as it raises its growth forecast

Box has always been a bit of an enigma for Wall Street, and perhaps for enterprise software in general. Unlike vendors who shifted to the cloud tools like HR, CRM or ERP, Box has been building a way to manage content in the cloud. It’s been a little harder to understand than these other enterprise software stalwarts, but slowly but surely Box has shifted into a more efficient, and dare we say, profitable public company.

Yesterday the company filed its Q2 2021 earnings report and it was solid. In fact, the company reported revenue of $192.3 million. That’s an increase of 11% year over year and it beat analyst’s expectations of $189.6 million, according to the company. Meanwhile the guidance looked good too, moving from a range of $760 to $768 million for the year to a range of $767 to $770 million.

All of this points to a company that is finding its footing. Let’s not forget, Starboard Value bought a 7.5% stake in the company a year ago, yet the activist investor has mostly stayed quiet and Box seems to be rewarding its patience as the pandemic acts as a forcing function to move customers to the cloud faster — and that seems to be working in Box’s favor.

Let’s get profitable

Box CEO Aaron Levie has not been shy about talking about how the pandemic has pushed companies to move to the cloud much more quickly than they probably would have. He said as a digital company, he was able to move his employees to work from home and remain efficient because of tools like Slack, Zoom, Okta and, yes, Box were in place to help them do that.

All of that helped keep the business going, and even thriving, through the extremely difficult times the pandemic has wrought. “We’re fortunate about how we’ve been able to execute in this environment. It helps that we’re 100% SaaS, and we’ve got a great digital engine to perform the business,” he said.

He added, “And at the same time, as we’ve talked about, we’ve been driving greater profitability. So the efficiency of the businesses has also improved dramatically, and the result was that overall we had a very strong quarter with better growth than expected and better profitability than expected. As a result, we were able to raise our targets on both revenue growth and profitability for the rest of the year,” Levie told TechCrunch.

Let’s get digital

Box is seeing existing customers and new customers alike moving more rapidly to the cloud, and that’s working in its favor. Levie believes that companies are in the process of reassessing their short and longer term digital strategy right now, and looking at what workloads they’ll be moving to the cloud, whether that’s cloud infrastructure, security in the cloud or content.

“Really customers are going to be trying to find a way to be able to shift their most important data and their most important content to the cloud, and that’s what we’re seeing play out within our customer base,” Levie said.

He added, “It’s not really a question anymore if you’re going to go to the cloud, it’s which cloud are you going to go to. And we’ve obviously been very focused on trying to build that leading platform for companies that want to be able to move their data to a cloud environment and be able to manage it securely, drive workflows on it, integrate it across our applications and that’s what we’re seeing,” he said.

That translated into a 60% increase quarter over quarter on the number of large deals over $100,000, and the company crossed 100,000 customers globally on the platform in the most recent quarter, so the approach seems to be working.

Let’s keep building

As with Salesforce a generation earlier, Box decided to build its product set on a platform of services. It enabled customers to tap into these base services like encryption, workflow and metadata and build their own customizations or even fully functional applications by taking advantage of the tools that Box has already built.

Much like Salesforce president and COO Bret Taylor told TechCrunch recently, that platform approach has been an integral part of its success, and Levie sees it similarly for Box. calling it fundamental to his company’s success, as well.

“We would not be here without that platform strategy,” he said. “Because we think about Box as a platform architecture, and we’ve built more and more capabilities into that platform, that’s what is giving us this strategic advantage right now,” he said.

And that hasn’t just worked to help customers using Box, it also helps Box itself to develop new capabilities more rapidly, something that has been absolutely essential during this pandemic when the company has had to react quickly to rapidly changing customer requirements.

Levie is 15 years into his tenure as CEO of Box, but he still sees a company and a market that is just getting started. “The opportunity is only bigger, and it’s more addressable by our product and platform today than it has been at any point in our history. So I think we’re still in the very early stages of digital transformation, and we’re in the earliest stages for how document and content management works in this modern era.”

Aug
27
2020
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How Salesforce beat its own target to reach $20B run rate ahead of schedule

Salesforce launched in 1999, one of the early adherents to what would eventually be called SaaS and cloud computing. On Tuesday, the company reached a huge milestone when it surpassed $5 billion in revenue, putting the SaaS giant on a $20 billion run rate for the first time.

Salesforce revenue has been on a firm upward trajectory for years now, but when the company reached $10 billion in revenue in November 2017, CEO Marc Benioff set the goal for $20 billion right then and there, and five years hence the company beat that goal pretty easily. Here’s what he said at the time:

In fact as the fastest growing enterprise software company ever to reach $10 billion, we are now targeting to grow the company organically to more than $20 billion by fiscal year 2022 and we plan to do that to be the fastest enterprise software company ever to get to $20 billion.

There are lots of elements that have led to that success. As the Salesforce platform evolved, the company has also had an aggressive acquisition strategy, and companies are moving to the cloud faster than ever before. Yet Salesforce has been able to meet that lofty 2017 goal early, while practicing his own unique form of responsible capitalism in the midst of a pandemic.

The platform play

While there are many factors contributing to the company’s revenue growth, one big part of it is the platform. As a platform, it’s not only about providing a set of software tools like CRM, marketing automation and customer service, it’s also giving customers the ability to build solutions to meet their needs on top of that, taking advantage of the work that Salesforce has done to build its own software stack.

Bret Taylor, president and chief operating officer at Salesforce, says the platform has played a huge role in the company’s success. “Actually our platform is behind a huge part of Salesforce’s momentum in multiple ways. One, which is one thing we’ve talked a lot about, is just the technology characteristics of the platform, namely that it’s low code and fast time to value,” he said.

He added, “I would say that these low-code platforms and the ability to stand up solutions quickly is more relevant than ever before because our customers are going to have to respond to changes in their business faster than ever before,” he said.

He pointed to nCino, a company built on top of Salesforce that went public last month as a prime example of this. The company was built on Salesforce, sold in the AppExchange marketplace and provides a way for banking customers to do business online, taking advantage of all that Salesforce has built to do that.

The acquisition strategy

Another big contributing factor to the company’s success is that beyond the core CRM product it brought to the table way back in 1999, it has built a broad set of marketing, sales and service tools and as it has done that, it has acquired many companies along the way to accelerate the product road map.

The biggest of those acquisitions by far was the $15.7 billion Tableau deal, which closed just about a year ago. Taylor sees data fueling the push to digital we are seeing during the pandemic, and Tableau is a key part of that.

“Tableau is so strategic, both from a revenue and also from a technology strategy perspective,” he said. That’s because as companies make the shift to digital, it becomes more important than ever to help them visualize and understand that data in order to understand their customers’ requirements better.

“Fundamentally when you look at what a company needs to do to thrive in an all-digital world, it needs to be able to respond to [rapid] changes, which means creating a culture around that data,” he said. This enables companies to respond more quickly to changes like new customer demands or shifts in the supply chain.

“All of that is about data, and I think the reason why Tableau grew so much this past quarter is that I think that the conversation around data when you’re digitizing your entire company and digitizing the entire economy, data is more strategic than it ever was,” he said.

With that purchase, combined with the $6.5 billion MuleSoft acquisition in 2018, the company feels like it has a way to capture and visualize data wherever it lives in the enterprise. “It’s worth noting how complementary MuleSoft and Tableau are together. I think of MuleSoft as unlocking all your enterprise data, whether it’s on a legacy system or a modern system, and Tableau enables us to understand it, and so it’s a really strategic overall value proposition because we can come up with a really complete solution around data,” Taylor said.

Capitalism with some heart

Benioff was happy to point out in an appearance on Mad Money Tuesday that even as he has made charity and volunteerism a core part of his organization, he has still delivered solid returns for his shareholders. He told Mad Money host Jim Cramer, “This is a victory for stakeholder capitalism. It shows you can do good and do well.” This is a statement he has made frequently in the past to show that you can be a good corporate citizen and give back to your community, while still making money.

Those values are what separates the company from the pack says Paul Greenberg, founder and principal analyst at 56 Group and author of CRM at the Speed of Light. “Salesforce’s genius, and a large part of the reason I don’t expect any serious slowdown in that extraordinary growth, is that they manage to align the technology business with corporate social responsibility in a way that makes them stand out from any other company,” Greenberg told TechCrunch.

Yesterday’s numbers come after Q1 2021, in which the company offered softer guidance as it was giving some of its customers, suffering from the impact of the pandemic, more financial flexibility. As it turns out, that didn’t seem to hurt them, and the guidance for next quarter is looking good too: $5.24 billion to $5.25 billion, up approximately 16% year over year, according to the company.

It’s worth noting that while Benioff pledged no new layoffs for 90 days at the start of the pandemic, with that time now ending, The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that the company was planning to eliminate 1,000 roles out of the organization’s 54,000 total employees, while giving those workers 60 days to find other roles in the company.

Getting to $20 billion

Certainly getting to that $20 billion run rate is significant, as is the speed with which they were able to achieve that goal, but Taylor sees an evolving company, one that is different than the one it was in 2017 when Benioff set that goal.

“I would say the reason we’ve been able to accelerate is through organic [growth], innovation and acquisitions to really build out this vision of a complete customer [picture]. I think it’s more important than ever before,” he said.

He says that when you look at the way the platform has changed, it’s been about bringing multiple customer experience capabilities together under a single umbrella, and giving customers the tools they need to build these out.

“I think we as a company have constantly redefined what customer relationship management means. It’s not just opportunity management for sales teams. It’s customer service, it’s e-commerce, it’s digital marketing, it’s B2B, it’s B2C. It’s all of the above,” he said.

Aug
27
2020
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Salesforce confirms it’s laying off around 1,000 people in spite of monster quarter

In what felt like strange timing, Salesforce has confirmed a report in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal that it was laying off around 1,000 people, or approximately 1.9% of the company’s 54,000 strong workforce. This news came in spite of the company reporting a monster quarter on Tuesday, in which it passed $5 billion in quarterly revenue for the first time.

In fact, Wall Street was so thrilled with Salesforce’s results, the company’s stock closed up an astonishing 26% yesterday, adding great wealth to the company’s coffers. It seemed hard to reconcile such amazing financial success with this news.

Yet it was actually something that president and chief financial officer Mark Hawkins telegraphed in Tuesday’s earnings call with industry analysts, although he didn’t come right and use the L (layoff) word. Instead he couched that impending change as a reallocation of resources.

And he talked about strategically shifting investments over the next 12-24 months. “This means we’ll be redirecting some of our resources to fuel growth in areas that are no longer as aligned with the business priority will be now deemphasized,” Hawkins said in the call.

This is precisely how a Salesforce spokesperson put it when asked by TechCrunch to confirm the story. “We’re reallocating resources to position the company for continued growth. This includes continuing to hire and redirecting some employees to fuel our strategic areas, and eliminating some positions that no longer map to our business priorities. For affected employees, we are helping them find the next step in their careers, whether within our company or a new opportunity,” the spokesperson said.

It’s worth noting that earlier this year, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff pledged there would be no significant layoffs for 90 days.

The 90-day period has long since passed and the company has decided the time is right to make some adjustments to the workforce.

It’s worth contrasting this with the pledge that ServiceNow CEO Bill McDermott made a few weeks after the Benioff tweet, promising not to lay off a single employee for the rest of this year, while also pledging to hire 1,000 people worldwide the remainder of this year, while bringing in 360 summer interns.

Aug
25
2020
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Industry experts say it’s full speed ahead as Snowflake files S-1

When Snowflake filed its S-1 ahead of an upcoming IPO yesterday, it wasn’t exactly a shock. The company which raised $1.4 billion had been valued at $12.4 billion in its last private raise in February. CEO Frank Slootman, who had taken over from Bob Muglia in May last year, didn’t hide the fact that going public was the end game.

When we spoke to him in February at the time of his mega $479 million raise, he was candid about the fact he wanted to take his company to the next level, and predicted it could happen as soon as this summer. In spite of the pandemic and the economic fallout from it, the company decided now was the time to go — as did 4 other companies yesterday including J Frog, Sumo Logic, Unity and Asana.

If you haven’t been following this company as it went through its massive private fund raising process, investors see a company taking a way to store massive amounts of data and moving it to the cloud. This concept is known as a cloud data warehouse as it it stores immense amounts of data.

While the Big 3 cloud companies all offer something similar, Snowflake has the advantage of working on any cloud, and at a time where data portability is highly valued, enables customers to shift data between clouds.

We spoke to several industry experts to get their thoughts on what this filing means for Snowflake, which after taking a blizzard of cash, has to now take a great idea and shift it into the public markets.

Pandemic? What pandemic?

Big market opportunities usually require big investments to build companies that last, that typically go public, and that’s why investors were willing to pile up the dollars to help Snowflake grow. Blake Murray, a research analyst at Canalys says the pandemic is actually working in the startup’s favor as more companies are shifting workloads to the cloud.

“We know that demand for cloud services is higher than ever during this pandemic, which is an obvious positive for Snowflake. Snowflake also services multi-cloud environments, which we see in increasing adoption. Considering the speed it is growing at and the demand for its services, an IPO should help Snowflake continue its momentum,” Murray told TechCrunch.

Leyla Seka, a partner at Operator Collective, who spent many years at Salesforce agrees that the pandemic is forcing many companies to move to the cloud faster than they might have previously. “COVID is a strange motivator for enterprise SaaS. It is speeding up adoption in a way I have never seen before,” she said.

It’s clear to Seka that we’ve moved quickly past the early cloud adopters, and it’s in the mainstream now where a company like Snowflake is primed to take advantage. “Keep in mind, I was at Salesforce for years telling businesses their data was safe in the cloud. So we certainly have crossed the chasm, so to speak and are now in a rapid adoption phase,” she said.

So much coopetition

The fact is Snowflake is in an odd position when it comes to the big cloud infrastructure vendors. It both competes with them on a product level, and as a company that stores massive amounts of data, it is also an excellent customer for all of them. It’s kind of a strange position to be in says Canalys’ Murray.

“Snowflake both relies on the infrastructure of cloud giants — AWS, Microsoft and Google — and competes with them. It will be important to keep an eye on the competitive dynamic even although Snowflake is a large customer for the giants,” he explained.

Forrester analyst Noel Yuhanna agrees, but says the IPO should help Snowflake take on these companies as they expand their own cloud data warehouse offerings. He added that in spite of that competition, Snowflake is holding its own against the big companies. In fact, he says that it’s the number one cloud data warehouse clients inquire about, other than Amazon RedShift. As he points out, Snowflake has some key advantages over the cloud vendors’ solutions.

“Based on Forrester Wave research that compared over a dozen vendors, Snowflake has been positioned as a Leader. Enterprises like Snowflake’s ease of use, low cost, scalability and performance capabilities. Unlike many cloud data warehouses, Snowflake can run on multiple clouds such as Amazon, Google or Azure, giving enterprises choices to choose their preferred provider.”

Show them more money

In spite of the vast sums of money the company has raised in the private market, it had decided to go public to get one final chunk of capital. Patrick Moorhead, founder and principal analyst at Moor Insight & Strategy says that if the company is going to succeed in the broader market, it needs to expand beyond pure cloud data warehousing, in spite of the huge opportunity there.

“Snowflake needs the funding as it needs to expand its product footprint to encompass more than just data warehousing. It should be focused less on niches and more on the entire data lifecycle including data ingest, engineering, database and AI,” Moorhead said.

Forrester’s Yuhanna agrees that Snowflake needs to look at new markets and the IPO will give it the the money to do that. “The IPO will help Snowflake expand it’s innovation path, especially to support new and emerging business use cases, and possibly look at new market opportunities such as expanding to on-premises to deliver hybrid-cloud capabilities,” he said.

It would make sense for the company to expand beyond its core offerings as it heads into the public markets, but the cloud data warehouse market is quite lucrative on its own. It’s a space that has required a considerable amount of investment to build a company, but as it heads towards its IPO, Snowflake is should be well positioned to be a successful company for years to come.

Aug
25
2020
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New Zendesk dashboard delivers customer service data in real time

Zendesk has been offering customers the ability to track customer service statistics for some time, but it has always been a look back. Today, the company announced a new product called Explore Enterprise that lets customers capture that valuable info in real time, and share it with anyone in the organization, whether they have a Zendesk license or not.

While it has had Explore in place for a couple of years now, Jon Aniano, senior VP of product at Zendesk says the new enterprise product is in response to growing customer data requirements. “We now have a way to deliver what we call Live Team Dashboards, which delivers real-time analytics directly to Zendesk users,” Aniano told TechCrunch.

In the days before COVID that meant displaying these on big monitors throughout the customer service center. Today, as we deal with the pandemic, and customer service reps are just as likely to be working from home, it means giving management the tools they need to understand what’s happening in real time, a growing requirement for Zendesk customers as they scale, regardless of the pandemic.

“What we’ve found over the last few years is that our customers’ appetite for operational analytics is insatiable, and as customers grow, as customer service needs get more complex, the demands on a contact center operator or customer service team are higher and higher, and teams really need new sets of tools and new types of capabilities to meet what they’re trying to do in delivering customer service at scale in the world,” Aniano told TechCrunch.

One of the reasons for this is the shift from phone and email as the primary ways of accessing customer service to messaging tools like WhatsApp. “With the shift to messaging, there are new demands on contact centers to be able to handle real-time interactions at scale with their customers,” he said.

In order to meet that kind of demand, it requires real-time analytics that Zendesk is providing with this announcement. This arms managers with the data they need to put their customer service resources where they are needed most in the moment in real time.

But Zendesk is also giving customers the ability to share these statistics with anyone in the company. “Users can share a dashboard or historical report with anybody in the company regardless of whether they have access to Zendesk. They can share it in Slack, or they can embed a dashboard anywhere where other people in the company would like to have access to those metrics,” Aniano explained.

The new service will be available starting on August 31 for $29 per user per month.

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