Nov
26
2019
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Instagram founders join $30M raise for Loom work video messenger

Why are we all trapped in enterprise chat apps if we talk 6X faster than we type, and our brain processes visual info 60,000X faster than text? Thanks to Instagram, we’re not as camera-shy anymore. And everyone’s trying to remain in flow instead of being distracted by multi-tasking.

That’s why now is the time for Loom. It’s an enterprise collaboration video messaging service that lets you send quick clips of yourself so you can get your point across and get back to work. Talk through a problem, explain your solution, or narrate a screenshare. Some engineering hocus pocus sees videos start uploading before you finish recording so you can share instantly viewable links as soon as you’re done.

Loom video messaging on mobile

“What we felt was that more visual communication could be translated into the workplace and deliver disproportionate value” co-founder and CEO Joe Thomas tells me. He actually conducted our whole interview over Loom, responding to emailed questions with video clips.

Launched in 2016, Loom is finally hitting its growth spurt. It’s up from 1.1 million users and 18,000 companies in February to 1.8 million people at 50,000 businesses sharing 15 million minutes of Loom videos per month. Remote workers are especially keen on Loom since it gives them face-to-face time with colleagues without the annoyance of scheduling synchronous video calls. “80% of our professional power users had primarily said that they were communicating with people that they didn’t share office space with” Thomas notes.

A smart product, swift traction, and a shot at riding the consumerization of enterprise trend has secured Loom a $30 million Series B. The round that’s being announced later today was led by prestigious SAAS investor Sequoia and joined by Kleiner Perkins, Figma CEO Dylan Field, Front CEO Mathilde Collin, and Instagram co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger.

“At Instagram, one of the biggest things we did was focus on extreme performance and extreme ease of use and that meant optimizing every screen, doing really creative things about when we started uploading, optimizing everything from video codec to networking” Krieger says. “Since then I feel like some products have managed to try to capture some of that but few as much as Loom did. When I first used Loom I turned to Kevin who was my Instagram co-founder and said, ‘oh my god, how did they do that? This feels impossibly fast.’”


Systrom concurs about the similarities, saying “I’m most excited because I see how they’re tackling the problem of visual communication in the same way that we tried to tackle that at Instagram.” Loom is looking to double-down there, potentially adding the ability to Like and follow videos from your favorite productivity gurus or sharpest co-workers.

Loom is also prepping some of its most requested features. The startup is launching an iOS app next month with Android coming the first half of 2020, improving its video editor with blurring for hiding your bad hair day and stitching to connect multiple takes. New branding options will help external sales pitches and presentations look right. What I’m most excited for is transcription, which is also slated for the first half of next year through a partnership with another provider, so you can skim or search a Loom. Sometimes even watching at 2X speed is too slow.

But the point of raising a massive $30 million Series B just a year after Loom’s $11 million Kleiner-led Series A is to nail the enterprise product and sales process. To date, Loom has focused on a bottom-up distribution strategy similar to Dropbox. It tries to get so many individual employees to use Loom that it becomes a team’s default collaboration software. Now it needs to grow up so it can offer the security and permissions features IT managers demand. Loom for teams is rolling out in beta access this year before officially launching in early 2020.

Loom’s bid to become essential to the enterprise, though, is its team video library. This will let employees organize their Looms into folders of a knowledge base so they can explain something once on camera, and everyone else can watch whenever they need to learn that skill. No more redundant one-off messages begging for a team’s best employees to stop and re-teach something. The Loom dashboard offers analytics on who’s actually watching your videos. And integration directly into popular enterprise software suites will let recipients watch without stopping what they’re doing.

To build out these features Loom has already grown to a headcount of 45, though co-founder Shahed Khan is stepping back from company. For new leadership, it’s hired away former head of web growth at Dropbox Nicole Obst, head of design for Slack Joshua Goldenberg, and VP of commercial product strategy for Intercom Matt Hodges.


Still, the elephants in the room remain Slack and Microsoft Teams. Right now, they’re mainly focused on text messaging with some additional screensharing and video chat integrations. They’re not building Loom-style asynchronous video messaging…yet. “We want to be clear about the fact that we don’t think we’re in competition with Slack or Microsoft Teams at all. We are a complementary tool to chat” Thomas insists. But given the similar productivity and communication ethos, those incumbents could certainly opt to compete. Slack already has 12 million daily users it could provide with video tools.

Loom co-founder and CEO Joe Thomas

Hodges, Loom’s head of marketing, tells me “I agree Slack and Microsoft could choose to get into this territory, but what’s the opportunity cost for them in doing so? It’s the classic build vs. buy vs. integrate argument.” Slack bought screensharing tool Screenhero, but partners with Zoom and Google for video chat. Loom will focus on being easily integratable so it can plug into would-be competitors. And Hodges notes that “Delivering asynchronous video recording and sharing at scale is non-trivial. Loom holds a patent on its streaming, transcoding, and storage technology, which has proven to provide a competitive advantage to this day.”

The tea leaves point to video invading more and more of our communication, so I expect rival startups and features to Loom will crop up. Vidyard and Wistia’s Soapbox are already pushing into the space. As long as it has the head start, Loom needs to move as fast as it can. “It’s really hard to maintain focus to deliver on the core product experience that we set out to deliver versus spreading ourselves too thin. And this is absolutely critical” Thomas tells me.

One thing that could set Loom apart? A commitment to financial fundamentals. “When you grow really fast, you can sometimes lose sight of what is the core reason for a business entity to exist, which is to become profitable. . . Even in a really bold market where cash can be cheap, we’re trying to keep profitability at the top of our minds.”

Nov
04
2019
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Microsoft Teams gets Yammer integration, secure private channels and more

You’re forgiven if you thought Yammer — Microsoft’s proto-Slack, not quite real-time chat application — was dead. It’s actually still alive (and well) — and still serves a purpose as a slower-moving social network-like channel for company and team-wide announcements. Today, Microsoft announced that, among other updates, it will offer a Yammer integration in Teams, its Slack competitor. Yammer in Teams will live in the left-hand sidebar.

With this, Microsoft’s two main enterprise communications platforms are finally growing together and will give users the option to use Teams for fast-moving chats and Yammer as their enterprise social network in the same way Facebook messenger and its news feed complement each other.

Screen Shot 2019 10 31 at 2.36.27 PM

Oh, and Yammer itself has been redesigned, too, using Microsoft’s Fluent Design System across all platforms. And Microsoft is also building it into Outlook, too, to let you respond to messages right from your inbox. This new Yammer will roll out as a private preview in December.

With this update, Teams is getting a number of other new features, too. These include secure private channels, multi-window chats and meetings, pinned channels and task integration with Microsoft To Do and Planner (because having one to-do app is never enough). Microsoft is also making a number of enhancements to Teams Rooms, with upcoming support for Cisco WebEx and Zoom meetings, the Teams Phone System, which is getting emergency calling, and the IT management features that help admins keep Teams secure.

A Teams client for Linux is also in the works and will be available in public preview later this year.

Oct
24
2019
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Stewart Butterfield says Microsoft sees Slack as existential threat

In a wide ranging interview with The Wall Street Journal’s global technology editor Jason Dean yesterday, Slack CEO and co-founder Stewart Butterfield had some strong words regarding Microsoft, saying the software giant saw his company as an existential threat.

The interview took place at the WSJ Tech Live event. When Butterfield was asked about a chart Microsoft released in July during the Slack quiet period, which showed Microsoft Teams had 13 million daily active users compared to 12 million for Slack, Butterfield appeared taken aback by the chart.

Microsoft Teams chart

Chart: Microsoft

“The bigger point is that’s kind of crazy for Microsoft to do, especially during the quiet period. I had someone say it was unprecedented since the [Steve] Ballmer era. I think it’s more like unprecedented since the Gates’ 98-99 era. I think they feel like we’re an existential threat,” he told Dean.

It’s worth noting, that as Dean pointed out, you could flip that existential threat statement. Microsoft is a much bigger business with a trillion-dollar market cap versus Slack’s $400 million. It also has the benefit of linking Microsoft Teams to Office 365 subscriptions, but Butterfield says the smaller company with the better idea has often won in the past.

For starters, Butterfield noted that of his biggest customers, more than two-thirds are actually using Slack and Office 365 in combination. “When we look at our top 50 biggest customers, 70% of them are not only Office 365 users, but they’re Office 365 users who use the integrations with Slack,” he said.

He went on to say that smaller companies have taken on giants before and won. As examples, he held up Microsoft itself, which in the 1980s was a young upstart taking on established players like IBM. In the late 1990s, Google prevailed as the primary search engine in spite of the fact that Microsoft controlled most of the operating system and browser market at the time. Google then tried to go after Facebook with its social tools, all of which have failed over the years. “And so the lesson we take from that is, often the small startup with real traction with customers has an advantage versus the large incumbent with multiple lines of business,” he said.

When asked by Dean if Microsoft, which ran afoul with the Justice Department in the late 1990s, should be the subject of more regulatory scrutiny for its bundling practices, Butterfield admitted he wasn’t a legal expert, but joked that it was “surprisingly unsportsmanlike conduct.” He added more seriously, “We see things like offering to pay companies to use Teams and that definitely leans on a lot of existing market power. Having said that, we have been asked many times, and maybe it’s something we should have looked at, but we haven’t taken any action.”

Oct
22
2019
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Slack announces new features to help ease app integration pain

As Slack has grown in popularity, one of the company’s key differentiators has been the ability to integrate with other enterprise tools. But as customers use Slack as a central work hub, it has created its own set of problems. In particular, users have trouble understanding which apps they have access to and how to make best use of them. Slack announced several ways to ease those issues at its Spec developer conference today.

Andy Pflaum, director of Slack platform, points out there are 1,800 app integrations available out of the box in Slack, and developers have created 500,000 additional custom apps. That’s obviously far too many for any user to keep track of, so Slack has created a home page for apps. Called App Launcher, it acts a bit like the Mac Launchpad — a centralized place where you can see your installed apps.

Slack App launcher

Slack App Launcher (Image: Slack)

You access App Launcher from the Slack sidebar by clicking Apps. It opens App Launcher with the apps that make sense for you. When you select an app, Pflaum says it takes you to that app’s home screen where it will be ready to enter or display relevant information.

For example, if you selected Google Calendar, you would see your daily schedule along with meeting requests, which you can accept or reject. You also can launch meeting software directly from this page. All of this happens within Slack, without having to change focus. App Home will be available in beta in the next few months, according to Pflaum.

Another way Slack is helping ease the app burden is with a new concept called Actions from Anywhere. The company actually launched Actions last year, enabling users to take an action from a message like attaching a Slack message to a pull request in Jira, as an example. Pflaum said that people liked these actions so much they were requesting the ability to take actions from anywhere in Slack.

“At Spec, we are previewing this new kind of action — Actions from Anywhere — which gives users the ability to take an action from anywhere they are in Slack,” Pflaum said. To really take advantage of this capability, the company is adding a feature to select the five most recent actions from a quick-access menu. These actions fill in automatically based on your most recent activities, and could be a real time-saver for people working inside Slack all day.

Finally, the company is enabling developers to open an external window inside Slack, what they call Modal windows, which open when users have to fill out a form, take a survey, enter expenses or provide additional information outside the flow of Slack itself.

All of these and other announcements at Spec are part of the maturation process of Slack as it moves to solve some of the pain points of growing so quickly. When you grow past the point of understanding what a complex piece of software can do, it’s up to the vendor to provide ways to surface all of the benefits and features, and that’s what Slack is attempting to do with these new tools.

Sep
25
2019
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Symantec’s Sheila Jordan named to Slack’s board of directors

Workplace collaboration software business Slack (NYSE: WORK) has added Sheila Jordan, a senior vice president and chief information officer of Symantec, as an independent member of its board of directors. The hiring comes three months after the business completed a direct listing on the New York Stock Exchange.

Jordan, responsible for driving information technology strategy and operations for Symantec, brings significant cybersecurity expertise to Slack’s board. Prior to joining Symantec in 2014, Jordan was a senior vice president of IT at Cisco and an executive at Disney Destination for nearly 15 years.

With the new appointment, Slack appears to be doubling down on security. In addition to the board announcement, Slack recently published a blog post outlining the company’s latest security strategy in what was likely part of a greater attempt to sway potential customers — particularly those in highly regulated industries — wary of the company’s security processes. The post introduced new features, including the ability to allow teams to work remotely while maintaining compliance to industry and company-specific requirements.

Jordan joins Slack co-founder and chief executive officer Stewart Butterfield, former Goldman Sachs executive Edith Cooper, Accel general partner Andrew Braccia, Nextdoor CEO Sarah Friar, Andreessen Horowitz general partner John O’Farrell, Social Capital CEO Chamath Palihapitiya and former Salesforce chief financial officer Graham Smith on Slack’s board of directors.

“I believe there is nothing more critical than driving organizational alignment and agility within enterprises today,” Jordan said in a statement. “Slack has developed a new category of enterprise software to help unlock this potential and I’m thrilled to now be a part of their story.”

Slack closed up nearly 50% on its first day of trading in June but has since stumbled amid reports of increased competition from Microsoft, which operates a Slack-like product called Teams.

Slack co-founder and chief technology officer Cal Henderson will join us onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco next week to discuss the company’s founding, road to the public markets and path forward. Buy tickets here.

Sep
22
2019
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TechCrunch Disrupt offers plenty of options for attendees with an eye on the enterprise

We might have just completed a full-day program devoted completely to enterprise at TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise last week, but it doesn’t mean we plan to sell that subject short at TechCrunch Disrupt next month in San Francisco. In fact, we have something for everyone from startups to established public companies and everything in between along with investors and industry luminaries to discuss all-things enterprise.

SaaS companies have played a major role in enterprise software over the last decade, and we are offering a full line-up of SaaS company executives to provide you with the benefit of their wisdom. How about Salesforce chairman, co-CEO and co-founder Marc Benioff for starters? Benioff will be offering advice on how to build a socially responsible, successful startup.

If you’re interested in how to take your startup public, we’ll have Box CEO Aaron Levie, who led his company to IPO in 2015 and Jennifer Tejada, CEO at PagerDuty, who did the same just this year. The two executives will discuss the trials and tribulations of the IPO process and what happens after you finally go public.

Meanwhile, Slack co-founder and CTO Cal Henderson, another SaaS company that recently IPOed, will be discussing how to build great products with Megan Quinn from Spark Capital, a Slack investor.

Speaking of investors, Neeraj Agrawal, a general partner at Battery Ventures joins us on a panel with Whitney Bouck, COO at HelloSign and Jyoti Bansal, CEO and founder of Harness (as well as former CEO and co-founder at AppDynamics, which was acquired by Cisco in 2017 for $3.7 billion just before it was supposed to IPO). They will be chatting about what it takes to build a billion dollar SaaS business.

Not enough SaaS for you? How about Diya Jolly, Chief Product Officer at Okta discussing how to iterate your product?

If you’re interested in security, we have Dug Song from Duo, whose company was sold to Cisco in 2018 for $2.35 billion, explaining how to develop a secure startup. We will also welcome Nadav Zafrir from Israeli security incubator Team 8 to talk about the intriguing subject of when spies meet security on our main stage.

You probably want to hear from some enterprise company executives too. That’s why we are bringing Frederic Moll, chief development officer for the digital surgery group at Johnson & Johnson to talk about robots, Marillyn A. Hewson, chairman, president and CEO at Lockheed Martin discussing the space industry and Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg going over the opportunity around 5G.

We’ll also have seasoned enterprise investors, Mamoon Hamid from Kleiner Perkins and Michelle McCarthy from Verizon Ventures, acting as judges at the TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield competition.

If that’s not enough for you, there will also be enterprise startups involved in the Battlefield and Startup Alley. If you love the enterprise, there’s something for everyone. We hope you can make it.

Still need tickets? You can pick those up right here.


Aug
19
2019
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Ally raises $8M Series A for its OKR solution

OKRs, or Objectives and Key Results, are a popular planning method in Silicon Valley. Like most of those methods that make you fill in some form once every quarter, I’m pretty sure employees find them rather annoying and a waste of their time. Ally wants to change that and make the process more useful. The company today announced that it has raised an $8 million Series A round led by Accel Partners, with participation from Vulcan Capital, Founders Co-op and Lee Fixel. The company, which launched in 2018, previously raised a $3 million seed round.

Ally founder and CEO Vetri Vellore tells me that he learned his management lessons and the value of OKR at his last startup, Chronus. After years of managing large teams at enterprises like Microsoft, he found himself challenged to manage a small team at a startup. “I went and looked for new models of running a business execution. And OKRs were one of those things I stumbled upon. And it worked phenomenally well for us,” Vellore said. That’s where the idea of Ally was born, which Vellore pursued after selling his last startup.

Most companies that adopt this methodology, though, tend to work with spreadsheets and Google Docs. Over time, that simply doesn’t work, especially as companies get larger. Ally, then, is meant to replace these other tools. The service is currently in use at “hundreds” of companies in more than 70 countries, Vellore tells me.

One of its early adopters was Remitly . “We began by using shared documents to align around OKRs at Remitly. When it came time to roll out OKRs to everyone in the company, Ally was by far the best tool we evaluated. OKRs deployed using Ally have helped our teams align around the right goals and have ultimately driven growth,” said Josh Hug, COO of Remitly.

Desktop Team OKRs Screenshot

Vellore tells me that he has seen teams go from annual or bi-annual OKRs to more frequently updated goals, too, which is something that’s easier to do when you have a more accessible tool for it. Nobody wants to use yet another tool, though, so Ally features deep integrations into Slack, with other integrations in the works (something Ally will use this new funding for).

Since adopting OKRs isn’t always easy for companies that previously used other methodologies (or nothing at all), Ally also offers training and consulting services with online and on-site coaching.

Pricing for Ally starts at $7 per month per user for a basic plan, but the company also offers a flat $29 per month plan for teams with up to 10 users, as well as an enterprise plan, which includes some more advanced features and single sign-on integrations.

Aug
14
2019
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Slack announces new admin features for larger organizations

Slack has been working to beef up the product recently for its larger customers. A couple of weeks ago that involved more sophisticated security tools. Today, it was the admins’ turn to get a couple of new tools that help make it easier to manage Slack in larger settings.

For starters, Slack has created an Announcements channel as a way to send a message to the entire organization. It would typically be used to communicate about administrative matters like changes in HR policy or software updates. The Announcements channel allows admins to limit who can send messages, and who can respond, so the channels stay clean and limit chatter.

Illan Frank, director of product for enterprise at Slack, says that companies have been demanding this ability because they need a clean channel with reliable information from a trusted source.

“With this feature, [admins] can set this channel up as an announcement-only channel with the right folks in [IT or HR] who can who make announcements, and now this is a clean, controlled environment for important announcements and updates,” Frank explained.

The other piece Slack is announcing today is new APIs for creating templated workspaces. This is especially useful in environments where users have to create a bevy of new spaces frequently. Picture a university with professors setting up spaces for each of their classes with a set of tools for students, who all have to join the space.

Doing this manually, especially when everybody is setting them up at the same time at the beginning of a semester, could be tedious and chaotic, but by providing programmatic templated workflows, it brings a level of automation to the process.

Frank says while workspaces in and of themselves are not new, the automation layer is. “What is new about this is the API and the ability to automate the creation and management of these connectors [programmatically with code],” he said.

For starters, it will allow automated workspace creation based on information in Web forms. Later, the company will be adding scripting capabilities to build even more sophisticated workflows with automated configuration, apps and content.

Finally, Slack is automating the approval process for tools used inside Slack channels or workspaces. Pre-approved applications can be added to Slack automatically, while those not on the approved list would have to go through a separate process to get approved.

The Announcements tool is available starting today for customers with Plus and Enterprise Grid plans. The API and approval tools will be available soon for Enterprise Grid customers.

Aug
08
2019
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‘The Operators’: Experts from Airbnb and Carta on building and managing your company’s customer support

Welcome to this transcribed edition of The Operators. TechCrunch is beginning to publish podcasts from industry experts, with transcriptions available for Extra Crunch members so you can read the conversation wherever you are.

The Operators features insiders from companies like Airbnb, Brex, Docsend, Facebook, Google, Lyft, Carta, Slack, Uber, and WeWork sharing their stories and tips on how to break into fields like marketing and product management. They also share best practices for entrepreneurs on how to hire and manage experts from domains outside their own.

This week’s edition features Airbnb’s Global Product Director of Customer and Community Support Platform Products, Andy Yasutake, and Carta’s Head of Enterprise Relationship Management, Jared Thomas.

Airbnb, one of the most valuable private tech companies in the world, has millions of hosts who trust strangers (guests) to come into their homes and hundreds of millions of guests who trust strangers (hosts) to provide a roof over their head. Carta, a $1 Billion+ company formerly known as eShares, is the leading provider of cap table management and valuation software, with thousands of customers and almost a million individual shareholders as users. Customers and users entrust Carta to manage their investments, a very serious responsibility requiring trust and security.

In this episode, Andy and Jared share with Neil how companies like Airbnb, Carta, and LinkedIn think about customer service, how to get into and succeed in the field and tech generally, and how founders should think about hiring and managing the customer support. With their experiences at two of tech’s trusted companies, Airbnb and Carta, this episode is packed with broad perspectives and deep insights.

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Neil Devani and Tim Hsia created The Operators after seeing and hearing too many heady, philosophical podcasts about the future of tech, and not enough attention on the practical day-to-day work that makes it all happen.

Tim is the CEO & Founder of Media Mobilize, a media company and ad network, and a Venture Partner at Digital Garage. Tim is an early-stage investor in Workflow (acquired by Apple), Lime, FabFitFun, Oh My Green, Morning Brew, Girls Night In, The Hustle, Bright Cellars, and others.

Neil is an early-stage investor based in San Francisco with a focus on companies building stuff people need, solutions to very hard problems. Companies he’s invested in include Andela, Clearbit, Kudi, Recursion Pharmaceuticals, Solugen, and Vicarious Surgical.

If you’re interested in starting or accelerating your marketing career, or how to hire and manage this function, you can’t miss this episode!

The show:

The Operators brings experts with experience at companies like Airbnb, Brex, Docsend, Facebook, Google, Lyft, Carta, Slack, Uber, WeWork, etc. to share insider tips on how to break into fields like marketing and product management. They also share best practices for entrepreneurs on how to hire and manage experts from domains outside their own.

In this episode:

In Episode 5, we’re talking about customer service. Neil interviews Andy Yasutake, Airbnb’s Global Product Director of Customer and Community Support Platform Products, and Jared Thomas, Carta’s Head of Enterprise Relationship Management.


Neil Devani: Hello and welcome to the Operators, where we talk to entrepreneurs and executives from leading technology companies like Google, Facebook, Airbnb, and Carta about how to break into a new field, how to build a successful career, and how to hire and manage talent beyond your own expertise. We skip over the lofty prognostications from venture capitalists and storytime with founders to dig into the nuts and bolts of how it all works here from the people doing the real day to day work, the people who make it all happen, the people who know what it really takes. The Operators.

Today we are talking to two experts in customer service, one with hundreds of millions of individual paying customers and the other being the industry standard for managing equity investments. I’m your host, Neil Devani, and we’re coming to you today from Digital Garage in downtown San Francisco.

Joining me is Jared Thomas, head of Enterprise Relationship Management at Carta, a $1 billion-plus company after a recent round of financing led by Andreessen Horowitz. Carta, formerly known as eShares, is the leading provider of cap table management and valuation software with thousands of customers and almost a million individual shareholders as users. Customers and users trust Carta to manage their investments, a very serious responsibility requiring trust and security.

Also joining us is Andy Yasutake, the Global Product Director of Customer and Community Support Platform Products at Airbnb, one of the most valuable private tech startups today. Airbnb has millions of hosts who are trusting strangers to come into their homes and hundreds of millions of guests who are trusting someone to provide a roof over their head. The number of cases and types of cases that Andy and his team have to think about and manage boggle the mind. Jared and Andy, thank you for joining us.

Andy Yasutake: Thank you for having us.

Jared Thomas: Thank you so much.

Devani: To start, Andy, can you share your background and how you got to where you are today?

Yasutake: Sure. I’m originally from southern California. I was born and raised in LA. I went to USC for undergrad, University of Southern California, and I actually studied psychology and information systems.

Late-90s, the dot com was going on, I’d always been kind of interested in tech, went into management consulting at interstate consulting that became Accenture, and was in consulting for over 10 years and always worked on large systems of implementation of technology projects around customers. So customer service, sales transformation, anything around CRM, as kind of a foundation, but it was always very technical, but really loved the psychology part of it, the people side.

And so I was always on multiple consulting projects and one of the consulting projects with actually here in the Bay Area. I eventually moved up here 10 years ago and joined eBay, and at eBay I was the director of product for the customer services organization as well. And was there for five years.

I left for Linkedin, so another rocket ship that was growing and was the senior director of technology solutions and operations where I had all the kind of business enabling functions as well as the technology, and now have been at Airbnb for about four months. So I’m back to kind of my, my biggest passion around products and in the customer support and community experience and customer service world.

Aug
07
2019
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Ment.io wants to help your team make decisions

Getting even the most well-organized team to agree on anything can be hard. Tel Aviv’s Ment.io, formerly known as Epistema, wants to make this process easier by applying smart design and a dose of machine learning to streamline the decision-making process.

Like with so many Israeli startups, Ment.io’s co-founders Joab Rosenberg and Tzvika Katzenelson got their start in Israel’s intelligence service. Indeed, Rosenberg spent 25 years in the intelligence service, where his final role was that of the deputy head analyst. “Our story starts from there, because we had the responsibility of gathering the knowledge of a thousand analysts, surrounded by tens of thousands of collection unit soldiers,” Katzenelson, who is Ment.io’s CRO, told me. He noted that the army had turned decision making into a form of art. But when the founders started looking at the tech industry, they found a very different approach to decision making — and one that they thought needed to change.

If there’s one thing the software industry has, it’s data and analytics. These days, the obvious thing to do with all of that information is to build machine learning models, but Katzenelson (rightly) argues that these models are essentially black boxes. “Data does not speak for itself. Correlations that you may find in the data are certainly not causations,” he said. “Every time you send analysts into the data, they will come up with some patterns that may mislead you.”

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So Ment.io is trying to take a very different approach. It uses data and machine learning, but it starts with questions and people. The service actually measures the level of expertise and credibility every team member has around a given topic. “One of the crazy things we’re doing is that for every person, we’re creating their cognitive matrix. We’re able to tell you within the context of your organization how believable you are, how balanced you are, how clearly you are being perceived by your counterparts, because we are gathering all of your clarification requests and every time a person challenges you with something.”Ment1

At its core, Ment.io is basically an internal Q&A service. Anybody can pose questions and anybody can answer them with any data source or supporting argument they may have.

“We’re doing structuring,” Katzenelson explained. “And that’s basically our philosophy: knowledge is just arguments and counterarguments. And the more structure you can put in place, the more logic you can apply.”

In a sense, the company is doing this because natural language processing (NLP) technology isn’t yet able to understand the nuances of a discussion.Ment6If you’re anything like me, though, the last thing you want is to have to use yet another SaaS product at work. The Ment.io team is quite aware of that and has built a deep integration with Slack already and is about to launch support for Microsoft Teams in the next few days, which doesn’t come as a surprise, given that the team has participated in the Microsoft ScaleUp accelerator program.

The overall idea here, Katzenelson explained, is to provide a kind of intelligence layer on top of tools like Slack and Teams that can capture a lot of the institutional knowledge that is now often shared in relatively ephemeral chats.

Ment.io is the first Israeli company to raise funding from Peter Thiel’s late-stage fund, as well as from the Slack Fund, which surely creates some interesting friction, given the company’s involvement with both Slack and Microsoft, but Katzenelson argues that this is not actually a problem.

Microsoft is also a current Ment.io customer, together with the likes of Intel, Citibank and Fiverr.

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