Apr
16
2019
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Leapwork raises $10M for its easy process automation platform, plans US expansion

Most work involving computers is highly repetitive, which is why companies regularly have developers write code to automate repetitive tasks. But that process is not very scalable. Ideally, individuals across an entire business would be able to create automated tasks, not just developers. This problem has created a new category called process automation. Startups in this space are all about making companies more efficient.
Most of the existing tools on the market are code-based and complicated, which tends to make it tough for non-technical people to automate anything. Ideally, you would allow them to train software robots to handle repetitive and mundane tasks.

This is the aim of Leapwork, which today announces a Series A investment of $10 million, from London’s DN Capital and e.ventures out of Berlin. The company already has many clients, from tier-one banks and global healthcare firms to aerospace and software companies, and now plans to expand in the U.S. Its customers typically already have a lot of experience with tools such as Tricentis, MicroFocus, UiPath and BluePrism, but employ Leapwork when code-based tools prove limiting.

Founded in 2015 and launched in April 2017, Leapwork has an entirely visual system, backed by a modern tech stack. Instead of using developer time, staff automate tasks themselves, without writing any code, with a simple user interface that is likened to learning PowerPoint or Excel. Leapwork estimates it can save 75 percent of an employee’s time.

Christian Brink Frederiksen, Leapwork’s CEO and co-founder said: “About half of our business comes from the U.S. and this investment will enable us to serve those customers better, as well as reaching new ones.”

Leapwork has found traction in the areas of software testing, data migration and robotic process automation in finance and healthcare. Based in Copenhagen, Denmark, Leapwork has offices in London, U.K., San Francisco, USA, Minsk, Belarus, and Gurugram, India.

Thomas Rubens, of DN Capital, said: “From the outset we were impressed by Leapwork’s product, which we believe will change the automation landscape. Every company has repetitive tasks that could be automated and few have the developer resource to make it happen.”

The founders began in June 2015 in Copenhagen, Denmark, after having worked for almost two decades in enterprise software and business-critical IT. They launched their first pilot in July 2016 and, after working with Global2000 pilot customers in the U.S. and Europe, went live with the Leapwork automation platform in March 2017.

Prior to this funding the company was bootstrapped by the founders, as both had previous successful exits.

Apr
14
2019
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Diving into Google Cloud Next and the future of the cloud ecosystem

Extra Crunch offers members the opportunity to tune into conference calls led and moderated by the TechCrunch writers you read every day. This week, TechCrunch’s Frederic Lardinois and Ron Miller offered up their analysis on the major announcements that came out of Google’s Cloud Next conference this past week, as well as their opinions on the outlook for the company going forward.

Google Cloud announced a series of products, packages and services that it believes will improve the company’s competitive position and differentiate itself from AWS and other peers. Frederic and Ron discuss all of Google’s most promising announcements, including its product for managing hybrid clouds, its new end-to-end AI platform, as well as the company’s heightened effort to improve customer service, communication, and ease-of-use.

“They have all of these AI and machine learning technologies, they have serverless technologies, they have containerization technologies — they have this whole range of technologies.

But it’s very difficult for the average company to take these technologies and know what to do with them, or to have the staff and the expertise to be able to make good use of them. So, the more they do things like this where they package them into products and make them much more accessible to the enterprise at large, the more successful that’s likely going to be because people can see how they can use these.

…Google does have thousands of engineers, and they have very smart people, but not every company does, and that’s the whole idea of the cloud. The cloud is supposed to take this stuff, put it together in such a way that you don’t have to be Google, or you don’t have to be Facebook, you don’t have to be Amazon, and you can take the same technology and put it to use in your company”

Image via Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

Frederic and Ron dive deeper into how the new offerings may impact Google’s market share in the cloud ecosystem and which verticals represent the best opportunity for Google to win. The two also dig into the future of open source in cloud and how they see customer use cases for cloud infrastructure evolving.

For access to the full transcription and the call audio, and for the opportunity to participate in future conference calls, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

Apr
10
2019
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InVision announces new integrations with Jira

Today InVision announced even deeper integrations with Jira, letting users embed actual InVision prototypes right within a Jira ticket. The company also announced the Jira app for InVision Studio, letting designers in Studio see interactive Jira tickets in real time.

InVision has already had lighter integrations with Atlassian products, including Jira, Confluence and Trello. It’s also worth noting that Atlassian participated in InVision’s $115 million Series F funding round.

The partnership makes sense. Atlassian provides a parallel product to InVision, except instead of serving designers, Atlassian serves engineers.

But it brings up an interesting challenge for InVision, last valued at $1.9 billion. The company went from creating its own market with a paid prototyping and collaboration tool to competing with giants and startups alike as it introduced new products.

InVision Studio, for instance, is meant to compete with the likes of Adobe XD, Sketch, and Figma, among others.

At the same time, InVision’s strategy has always been to become a connective tissue for the broader design landscape. CEO Clark Valberg has said in the past that he sees InVision becoming the Salesforce of the design world, with a broad array of partnerships and integrations across the industry to handle each, nuanced fraction of the process in a single, fluid place.

“Up until now we’ve been a fairly horizontal player,” said VP of Product Mike Davidson. “We created the market for prototyping. There was no paid market for a prototyping tool until InVision came along. Now that you see us provide a more vertical stack of tools, we don’t want to lose the great thing we’ve built with the InVision Prototyping tool. It’s been more popular than we could have ever imagined.”

Davidson added that InVision now serves 100 of the Fortune 100 companies.

And since its launch in 2011, InVision has maintained that original strategic course of staying open, particularly with Atlassian. But InVision isn’t just friendly with Atlassian. The company also introduced an App Store and Asset Store in InVision Studio (partnerships include Slack, Dribbble, and Getty), with plans to launch a developer API so anyone can build apps for InVision Studio. Plus, InVision has made a handful of acquisitions, and launched the Design Forward Fund, which allocates $5 million toward investing in design startups.

VP of Partnerships and Community Mike Davidson believes that balancing this open garden philosophy with the desire to provide the very best products across the entire process (automatically putting InVision in competition with other design startups) is one of the company’s greatest challenges.

“We want to provide a first-cclass experience from beginning to end but we also want to provide a system that’s open enough where you can use your tool of choice for any one of the particular functions,” said Davidson. “It’s a difficult balance. We want to allow for designers and developers to choose which tools they use for whatever job they’re trying to do, but we also want to be the best choice for each one of those functions.”

Apr
08
2019
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Fleetsmith lands $30M Series B to grow Apple device management platform

Fleetsmith launched in 2016 with a mission to manage Apple devices in the cloud. It simplified an IT activity that had previously been complex, with help from Apple’s Device Enrollment Program. Over the last year, the startup has beefed up its offering considerably, and today it announced a $30 million Series B round led by Menlo Ventures.

Tiger Global Management, Upfront Ventures and Harrison Metal also participated. Under the terms of the deal, Naomi Pilosof Ionita, a partner at Menlo, will join the company board. Her colleague Matt Murphy will become a board observer. With today’s announcement, the startup has now raised more than $40 million, according to data supplied by the company.

Company co-founder and CEO Zack Blum says the original mission was about solving a pain point he and his co-founders were feeling around finding a modern approach to managing Apple devices. “From a customer perspective, they can ship devices directly to their employees. The employee unwraps it, connects to Wi-Fi and the device is enrolled automatically in Fleetsmith,” Blum explained.

He says that this automated approach, combined with the product’s security and intelligence capabilities, means that IT doesn’t have to worry about devices being registered and up-to-date, regardless of where an employee happens to be in the world.

It has moved from solving that problem for SMBs to having a broader mission for companies of all sizes, especially those with distributed work forces, which can benefit from enrolling in this automated fashion from anywhere. Once enrolled, companies can push security updates to all of the company’s employees and force updates if desired (or at least send strong reminders to avoid updating in the middle of a client meeting).

Over the last year, the company developed a dashboard for IT to monitor all of the devices under its management, including providing an overall health score with any potential problems it has found. For example, there may be a number of MacBook Pros without disk encryption enabled.

The dashboard ties into the identity management component of Office 365 and G Suite. IT can import the employee directory into the dashboard from either tool, and employees can sign into Fleetsmith with either set of credentials, providing a quick way to manage all employees in an organization.

Screenshot: Fleetsmith

Fleetsmith has also set up a partner program with Managed Service Providers (MSPs) to expand its reach further. MSPs manage IT for SMBs, and building a relationship with these types of companies can help it expand much more quickly.

The approach seems to be working, as the company has 30 employees and 1,500 customers. With the new cash in pocket, it intends to hire more people and continue building out the product’s capabilities, while expanding beyond the U.S. to markets overseas.

Apr
03
2019
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Rippling raises $45M at $270M to be the biz app identity layer

Parker Conrad’s last startup, Zenefits, drowned in busy work. Now with Rippling, he wants to boil that ocean. Instead of trying to nail one thing then expand, “very counter to conventional wisdom, we took on something that’s a lot broader and more ambitious.” That meant spending two years with 40 engineers working in stealth to build integrations with nearly every popular business tool to combine HR, IT and single-sign on services. The result is that when you hire an employee, Rippling onboards them to all those services in a single click. Goodbye, busy work. Hello, gateway to the enterprise app ecosystem.

The past few years have seen a Cambrian explosion of startups building specialty software for office productivity and collaboration. But that’s left customers struggling to get their teams set up on all these fragmented tools. As such, Rippling had a very good first year on the market with rapidly growing revenue. So when Rippling went out to raise money, Conrad was signing term sheets in just over a week.

Forty-five million dollars. “I know that rounds are bigger these days, but still, for a Series A, that’s pretty substantial,” Conrad tells me with a wide grin over coffee at San Francisco’s Four Barrel. “We want to keep doubling down on the engineering, investing and putting more money into R&D, so we have real product advantages and technology advantages over other players in our space, even though a lot of them have been around a lot longer than we have.” The Information‘s Zoe Bernard had reported Rippling was raising at least $30 million.

Rippling’s round was led by Kleiner Perkins and its enterprise guru Mamoon Hamid. As Conrad tells me, “Many of the metrics you use to evaluate SaaS companies were invented by Mamoon. He really knows his stuff. He’s also just a really great person.” Kleiner was his dream partner for Rippling. “I remember when I was in high school, Kleiner Perkins was the only VC firm I’d ever heard of. When I was a little kid, I thought ‘Oh that’d be cool some day.’ ” The round was joined by Initialized Capital, Threshold Ventures (formerly DFJ) and Y Combinator.

A source confirms the round was a stunning $270 million valuation. Hamid was also skeptical about Rippling trying to integrate with everyone before launch. But, he says, “What was a concern a few years ago is now something we like about the company.” After getting pitched so many piecemeal enterprise solutions, it suddenly clicked for Hamid why customers would want “one stop for everything. You need an independent party to be that glue layer.” 

Typically, enterprise software is an unglued mess. Apps don’t talk to each other, so when you hire a new employee, you have to manually add them, their role, their team, their manager, their permissions and more to every single tool your team uses. There are HR systems that control payroll and benefits, IT systems that determine what equipment you’re issued, productivity and collaboration apps like Slack and Dropbox and department-specific tools like Salesforce or GitHub. Conrad believes manually updating these with each hire, fire or promotion is the source of almost all administrative work at a company.

The willingness to slog through office chores rather than strategically nullify them is why Zenefits grew so fast, then suddenly hit a wall. What can be begrudgingly brute-forced at 50 employees becomes impossible to manage at 500 employees. That’s why, he says, “We don’t want to have anything that’s not software end to end in the product.” If it requires a client to call Rippling’s operations team for help, it could be built better. That maniacal focus actually allowed Conrad to temporarily hold Rippling’s only role responding to user complaints, which he also credits with propelling rapid iteration. The CEO wants to remain in that mindset, so he still lists his job title on LinkedIn as “Customer Support.”

Conrad seems to have convinced investors that though he was pushed out of his $4.5 billion-valuation HR startup Zenefits, he was more responsible for its rise than its fall. Conrad had built a script that allowed Zenefits staffers to stay logged in to the study portion of their insurance exam. Conrad insists it played no part in helping them study for or pass the certification test. Still, regulators got involved, leading to his departure and a combined $1 million SEC fine for him and Zenefits. The desire to speed things up was another symptom of busy work draining the company’s time.

There were also culture issues, with Zenefits once having to tell employees not to have sex in the office stairwells. A more measured pace and a deeper commitment to diversity are a few other ways Rippling hopes to avoid the culture troubles of Conrad’s last venture.

Rippling only truly began hiring more than engineers when it came out of stealth a year ago. Now the startup has established two lucrative business models. First, it earns reseller fees from other enterprise tool makers when people buy them through the Rippling gateway. Any developer with a well-established brand becomes an integrated Rippling partner. It’s not going to try to out-build Zoom or Mailchimp. “As Rippling is successful, what I think it can do is bring a lot of customers to these other businesses. If you can bring down the marginal cost of adding an N+1 business system, there’s a lot less hesitation about adding products.” Customers want more utility, just without the headache.

Meanwhile, Rippling develops its own in-house versions of undifferentiated parts of the HR and IT stacks, like PTO management or commuter benefits. Customers aren’t loyal to a brand in these areas yet, so it’s easy for Rippling to swoop in. And it can charge a similar rate, but beat competitors on convenience because its homegrown systems integrate directly with Rippling’s source of truth on employee details. Upstarts in the single-sign on space like Okta and LastPass claim to be identity layers, but are really just password managers. And their early growth has spurred SaaS companies to build API endpoints on which Rippling’s version RPass can piggyback.

For a while I thought Slack would emerge as the enterprise identity provider because chat is such a ubiquitous need that it could be the start of a cross-app profile. But HR and IT are an even more foundational layer, and Slack doesn’t feel like a natural place to gather employee details like Rippling is. “For slack, communication and collaboration in general are a big enough opportunity to not let identity get in the way of the core business there,” says Hamid.

Now with Rippling’s business revving up and plenty of cash to fuel the engine, Conrad tells me his biggest concern is hiring the right people. “The really challenging thing in a company is when the headcount grows too quickly. I’m making sure we don’t do things like more than double headcount in a 12-month period,” he tells me. While Zenefits was a mad blitz for scale, Conrad has tried to bias Rippling toward action without being so impulsive that the company makes mistakes. “It’s never easy, but we’re not yet at the scale where things become really scary. We have a little bit more time to hit milestones. We’re growing at a healthy clip, but nothing that’s straining things in any way and we see that because we track our NPS very closely,” he says of trying to run a business at a more livable pace while being an active dad, too.

Luckily, Zenefits taught him how to avoid many of the pitfalls of entrepreneurship. Conrad concludes that he’s happy to have gone from “playing video games on impossible mode versus medium mode.”

Apr
02
2019
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How to handle dark data compliance risk at your company

Slack and other consumer-grade productivity tools have been taking off in workplaces large and small — and data governance hasn’t caught up.

Whether it’s litigation, compliance with regulations like GDPR or concerns about data breaches, legal teams need to account for new types of employee communication. And that’s hard when work is happening across the latest messaging apps and SaaS products, which make data searchability and accessibility more complex.

Here’s a quick look at the problem, followed by our suggestions for best practices at your company.

Problems

The increasing frequency of reported data breaches and expanding jurisdiction of new privacy laws are prompting conversations about dark data and risks at companies of all sizes, even small startups. Data risk discussions necessarily include the risk of a data breach, as well as preservation of data. Just two weeks ago it was reported that Jared Kushner used WhatsApp for official communications and screenshots of those messages for preservation, which commentators say complies with record keeping laws but raises questions about potential admissibility as evidence.

Apr
01
2019
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WordPress.com parent company launches work collaboration platform Happy Tools

Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, WooCommerce and Jetpack, is launching a new suite of products focused on the future of work — Happy Tools. Automattic is a remote company with more than 850 employees working from 68 countries. And the company has built a bunch of products over the years to communicate, collaborate and work.

With Happy Tools, Automattic plans to turn those internal tools into actual products. The first product is Happy Schedule, a scheduling service that Automattic is using to deliver 24/7 customer support.

“Ideas about releasing our internal tools have been kicking around Automattic for years, but it’s been about finding the right moment and the right product to lead with,” Automattic product lead for Happy Tools Matt Wondra told me. “When we started building Happy Schedule a year ago we realized that designing a tool for our own scheduling needs also filled a clear gap in the [workforce management] landscape.”

“No other product out there gave us the flexibility and visibility we needed to comfortably schedule a globally distributed team. Since it was a greenfield internal project, we could engineer it from the ground up with public release in mind. And it just made sense to launch Happy Tools first into an industry we know so well — customer support.”

Happy Schedule is a modern web app and it should feel more like Google Calendar instead of some SAP product. For instance, you can click and drag your mouse to create an event — no need to input a start time and an end time.

But this is just a start. Automattic plans to launch more products over time so you can work more efficiently as a remote team. The company is using a software-as-a-service approach and it costs $5 per user per month to access Happy Tools.

It’s interesting to see that Automattic is promising a suite of products from day one. It won’t just be a bunch of different products. When you subscribe to Happy Tools, you should be able to access multiple products that work together, just like a G Suite subscription lets you access Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive, etc. This strategy will improve engagement and stickiness over time.

Mar
22
2019
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How Salesforce paved the way for the SaaS platform approach

When we think of enterprise SaaS companies today, just about every startup in the space aspires to be a platform. That means they want people using their stack of services to build entirely new applications, either to enhance the base product, or even build entirely independent companies. But when Salesforce launched Force.com, the company’s Platform as a Service, in 2007, there wasn’t any model.

It turns out that Force.com was actually the culmination of a series of incremental steps after the launch of the first version of Salesforce in February, 2000, all of which were designed to make the software more flexible for customers. Company co-founder and CTO Parker Harris says they didn’t have this goal to be a platform early on. “We were a solution first, I would say. We didn’t say ‘let’s build a platform and then build sales-force automation on top of it.’ We wanted a solution that people could actually use,” Harris told TechCrunch.

The march toward becoming a full-fledged platform started with simple customization. That first version of Salesforce was pretty basic, and the company learned over time that customers didn’t always use the same language it did to describe customers and accounts — and that was something that would need to change.

Customizing the product

Mar
18
2019
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WorkClout brings SaaS to factory floor to increase operational efficiency

Factory software tools are often out of reach of small manufacturers, forcing them to operate with inefficient manual systems. WorkClout, a member of the Y Combinator Winter 2019 class, wants to change that by offering a more affordable SaaS alternative to traditional manufacturing software solutions.

Company co-founder and CEO Arjun Patel grew up helping out in his Dad’s factory and saw first-hand how difficult it is for small factory owners to automate. He says that traditional floor-management tools are expensive and challenging to implement.

“What motivated me is when my dad was trying to implement a similar system,” Patel said, noting that his father’s system had cost more than $240,000, took over a year to get going and wasn’t really doing what he wanted it to do. That’s when he decided to help.

He teamed up with Bryan Trang, who became the CPO, and Richard Girges, who became the CTO, to build the system that his dad (and others in a similar situation) needed. Specifically, the company developed a cloud software solution that helps manufacturers increase their operational efficiency. “Two things that we do really well is track every action on the factory floor and use that data to make suggestions on how to increase efficiency. We also determine how much work can be done in a given time period, taking finite resources into consideration,” Patel explained.

He said that one of the main problems that small-to-medium sized manufacturers face is a lack of visibility into their businesses. WorkClout looks at orders, activities, labor and resources to determine the best course of action to complete an order in the most cost-effective way.

“WorkClout gives our customers a better way to allocate resources and greater visibility of what’s actually happening on the factory floor. The more data that they have, the more accurate picture they have of what’s going on,” Patel said.

Production Schedule view. Screenshot: WorkClout

The company is still working on the pricing model, but today it charges administrative users like plant management, accounting and sales. Machine operators get access to the data for free. The current rate for paid users starts at $99 per user per month. There is an additional one-time charge for implementation and training.

As for the Y Combinator experience, Patel says that it has helped him focus on what’s important. “It really makes you hone in on building the product and getting customers, then making sure those two things are leading to customer happiness,” he said.

While the company does have to help customers get going today, the goal is to make the product more self-serve over time as they begin to understand the different verticals for which they are developing solutions. The startup launched in December and already has 13 customers, generating $100,000 in annual recurring revenue (ARR), according to Patel.

Mar
14
2019
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ProdPerfect gets $2.6 million to automate QA testing for web apps

ProdPerfect, a Boston-based startup focused on automating QA testing for web apps, has announced the close of a $2.6 million Seed round co-led by Eniac Ventures and Fika Ventures, with participation from Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator.

ProdPerfect started when co-founder and CEO Dan Widing was VP of engineering at WeSpire, where he saw firsthand the pain points associated with web application QA testing. Whereas there were all kinds of product analytics tools for product engineers, the same data wasn’t there for the engineers building QA tests that are meant to replicate user behavior.

He imagined a platform that would use live data around real user behavior to formulate these QA tests. That’s how ProdPerfect was born. The platform sees user behavior, builds and delivers test scripts to the engineering team.

The service continues to build on what it knows about a product, and can then simulate new tests when new features are added based on aggregated flows of common user behavior. This data doesn’t track any information about the user, but rather anonymizes them and watches how they move through the web app. The hope is that ProdPerfect gives engineers the opportunity to keep building the product instead of spreading their resources across building a QA testing suite.

The new funding will go toward expanding the sales team and further building out the product. For now, ProdPerfect simply offers functional testing, which uses a single virtual user to test whether a product breaks or not. But president and co-founder Erik Fogg sees an opportunity to build more integrated testing, including performance, security and localization testing.

Fogg says the company is growing 40 percent month over month in booked revenue.

The company says it can deploy within two weeks of installing a data tracker, and provide more than 70 percent coverage of all user interactions with 95 percent+ test stability.

“The greatest challenge is going to be finding people who share our company’s core values and are of high enough talent, ambition and autonomy in part because our hiring road map is so steep,” said Fogg. “Growing pains catch up with businesses as a team expands quickly and we have to make sure that we’re picky and that we reinforce the values we have.”

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