Mar
31
2021
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PingPong is a video chat app for product teams working across multiple time zones

From the earliest days of the pandemic, it was no secret that video chat was about to become a very hot space.

Over the past several months investors have bankrolled a handful of video startups with specific niches, ranging from always-on office surveillance to platforms that encouraged plenty of mini calls to avoid the need for more lengthy team-wide meetings. As the pandemic wanes and plenty of startups begin to look toward hybrid office models, there are others who have decided to lean into embracing a fully remote workforce, a strategy that may require new tools.

PingPong, a recent launch from Y Combinator’s latest batch, is building an asynchronous video chat app for the workplace. We selected PingPong as one of our favorite startups that debuted last week.

The company’s central sell is that for remote teams, there needs to be a better alternative to Slack or email for catching up with co-workers across time zones. While Zoom calls might be able to convey a company’s culture better than a post in a company-wide Slack channel, for fully remote teams operating on different continents, scheduling a company-wide meeting is often a nonstarter.

PingPong is selling its service as an addendum to Slack that helps remote product teams collaborate and convey what they’re working on. Users can capture a short video of themselves and share their screen in lieu of a standup presentation and then they can get caught up on each other’s progress on their own time. PingPong’s hope is that users find more value in brainstorming, conducting design reviews, reporting bugs and more inside while using asynchronous video than they would with text.

“We have a lot to do before we can replace Slack, so right now we kind of emphasize playing nice with Slack,” PingPong CEO Jeff Whitlock tells TechCrunch. “Our longer-term vision is that what young people are doing in their consumer lives, they bring into the enterprise when they graduate into the workforce. You and I were using Instant Messenger all the time in the early 2000s and then we got to the workplace, that was the opportunity for Slack… We believe in the next five or so years, something that’s a richer, more asynchronous video-based Slack alternative will have a lot more interest.”

Building a chat app specifically designed for remote product teams operating in multiple time zones is a tight niche for now, but Whitlock believes that this will become a more common problem as companies embrace the benefits of remote teams post-pandemic. PingPong costs $100 per user per year.

Mar
26
2021
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Slack wants to be more than a text-based messaging platform

Last October as Slack was preparing for its virtual Frontiers conference, the company began thinking about different ways people could communicate on the platform. While it had built its name on being able to integrate a lot of services in a single place to alleviate the dreaded task-switching phenomenon, it has been largely text-based up until now.

More recently, Slack has started developing a few new features that could bring different ways of interacting to the platform. CEO Stewart Butterfield discussed them on Thursday with former TechCrunch reporter Josh Constine, now a SignalFire investor, in a Clubhouse interview.

The talk was about the future of work, and Slack believes these new ways of communicating could help employees better connect online as we shift to a hybrid work world — one which has been hastened by the pandemic over the last year. There is a general consensus that many companies will continue to work in a hybrid fashion, even when the pandemic is over.

For starters, Slack aims to add a way to communicate by video. But instead of trying to compete with Zoom or Microsoft Teams, Slack is envisioning an experience that’s more like Instagram Stories.

Think about the CEO sharing an important announcement with the company, or the kind of information that might have gone out in a company-wide email. Instead, you can skip the inbox and deliver the message directly by video. It’s taking a page from the consumer approach to social and trying to move it into the enterprise.

Writing in a company blog post earlier this week, Slack chief product officer Tamar Yehoshua was clear this was going to be an asynchronous approach, rather than a meeting kind of experience.

“To help with this, we are piloting ways to shift meetings toward an asynchronous video experience that feels native in Slack. It allows us to express nuance and enthusiasm without a meeting,” she wrote.

While it was at it, Slack decided to create a way of just chatting by voice. As Butterfield told Constine in his Clubhouse interview, this is essentially Clubhouse (or Twitter Spaces) being built for Slack.

Yeah, I’ve always believed the ‘good artists copy, great artists steal’ thing, so we’re just building Clubhouse into Slack, essentially. Like that idea that you can drop in, the conversation’s happening whether you’re there or not, you can enter and leave when you want, as opposed to a call that starts and stops, is an amazing model for encouraging that spontaneity and that serendipity and conversations that only need to be three minutes, but the only option for you to schedule them is 30 minutes. So look out for Clubhouse built into Slack.

Again, it’s taking a consumer social idea and applying it to a business setting with the idea of finding other ways to keep you in Slack when you could be using other tools to achieve the same thing, whether it be Zoom meetings, email or your phone.

Butterfield also hinted hinted that another feature — asynchronous audio, allowing you to leave the equivalent of a voicemail — could be coming some time in the future. A Slack spokesperson confirmed that it was in the works, but wasn’t ready to share details yet.

It’s impossible to look at these features without thinking about them in the context of the $27 billion Salesforce acquisition of Slack at the end of last year. When you put them all together, you have this set of tools that let you communicate in whatever way makes the most sense to you.

When you combine that Slack Connect DM, a new feature to communicate outside the organization that was released this week to some controversy, as people wanted assurances that they could control spam and harassment, it takes the concept one step further — outside the organization itself.

As part of a larger entity like Salesforce, these tools could be useful across sales, service and even marketing as a way to communicate in a variety of ways inside and outside the organization. And they greatly expand the value prop of Slack as it becomes part of Salesforce sometime later this year.

While it began talking about the new audio and video features last fall, the company has been piloting them since the beginning of this year. So far Slack is not saying when the new features will be generally available.

Dec
04
2020
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Daily Crunch: Slack and Salesforce execs explain their big acquisition

We learn more about Slack’s future, Revolut adds new payment features and DoorDash pushes its IPO range upward. This is your Daily Crunch for December 4, 2020.

The big story: Slack and Salesforce execs explain their big acquisition

After Salesforce announced this week that it’s acquiring Slack for $27.7 billion, Ron Miller spoke to Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield and Salesforce President and COO Bret Taylor to learn more about the deal.

Butterfield claimed that Slack will remain relatively independent within Salesforce, allowing the team to “do more of what we were already doing.” He also insisted that all the talk about competing with Microsoft Teams is “overblown.”

“The challenge for us was the narrative,” Butterfield said. “They’re just good [at] PR or something that I couldn’t figure out.”

Startups, funding and venture capital

Revolut lets businesses accept online payments — With this move, the company is competing directly with Stripe, Adyen, Braintree and Checkout.com.

Health tech venture firm OTV closes new $170M fund and expands into Asia — This year, the firm led rounds in telehealth platforms TytoCare and Lemonaid Health.

Zephr raises $8M to help news publishers grow subscription revenue — The startup’s customers already include publishers like McClatchy, News Corp Australia, Dennis Publishing and PEI Media.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

DoorDash amps its IPO range ahead of blockbuster IPO — The food delivery unicorn now expects to debut at $90 to $95 per share, up from a previous range of $75 to $85.

Enter new markets and embrace a distributed workforce to grow during a pandemic — Is this the right time to expand overseas?

Three ways the pandemic is transforming tech spending — All companies are digital product companies now.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

WH’s AI EO is BS — Devin Coldewey is not impressed by the White House’s new executive order on artificial intelligence.

China’s internet regulator takes aim at forced data collection — China is a step closer to cracking down on unscrupulous data collection by app developers.

Gift Guide: Games on every platform to get you through the long, COVID winter — It’s a great time to be a gamer.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Dec
04
2020
--

Why Slack and Salesforce execs think they’re better together

When Salesforce bought Slack earlier this week for $27.7 billion, it was in some ways the end of a startup fairytale. Slack was the living embodiment of the Silicon Valley startup success fantasy. It started as a pivot from a game company, of all things. It raised $1.4 billion, went from zero to a $7 billion valuation to IPO, checking off every box on the startup founder’s wish list.

Then quite suddenly this week, Slack was part of Salesforce, plucked off the market for an enormous sum of money.

While we might not ever know the back (Slack) room maneuvering that went on to make the deal a reality, it is interesting to note that Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield told me in an interview this week that he was not actually trying to sell the company when he approached Salesforce president and COO Bret Taylor earlier this year. Instead, he wanted to buy something from them.

“I actually talked to Bret in the early days of the pandemic to see if they wanted to sell us Quip because I thought it would be good for us, and I didn’t really know what their plans were [for it]. He said he’d get back to me, and then got back to me six months later or so,” Butterfield said.

At that point, the conversation flipped and the companies began a series of discussions that eventually led to Salesforce acquiring Slack.

Big money, big expectations

From the Salesforce perspective, Taylor says that the Slack deal was worth the money because it really allows his company to bring together all the pieces of their platform, one that has expanded over the years from pure CRM to include marketing, customer service, data visualization, workflow and more. Taylor also said that having Slack gives Salesforce a missing communication layer on top of its other products, something especially important when interactions with customers, partners or fellow employees have become mostly digital.

“When we say we really want Slack to be this next generation interface for Customer 360, what we mean is we’re pulling together all these systems. How do you rally your teams around these systems in this digital work-anywhere world that we’re in right now where these teams are distributed and collaboration is more important than ever,” Taylor said.

Butterfield sees a natural connection between what people do in the course of their work, what machines do behind the scenes in these systems of record and engagement and how Slack can help bridge the gap between humans and machines.

He says that by putting Slack in the middle of business processes, you can begin to eliminate friction that occurs in complex enterprise software like Salesforce. Instead of moving stuff through email, clicking a link, opening a browser, signing in and then finally accessing the tool you want, the approval could be built into a single Slack message.

“If you have hundreds of those kinds of actions a day, there’s a real opportunity to increase the velocity, and that has an impact, and not just in the minutes saved by the person doing the approval, but the speed of how the whole business operates,” Butterfield said.

Competing with Microsoft

While neither executive said the deal was about competing with Microsoft, it was likely an underlying reason that the companies decided to join forces. They may prove better together than they are separately, and both have complicated histories with Microsoft.

Slack has had an ongoing battle with Microsoft and its Teams product for years. It filed suit against the company last summer in the EU over what it called unfairly bundling of Teams for free with Office 365. In an interview last year with The Wall Street Journal, Butterfield said that he believes Microsoft sees his company as an existential threat. Hyperbole aside, there is tension and competition between the two enterprise software companies.

Salesforce and Microsoft also have a long history, from lawsuits in the early days to making friends and working together when it makes sense after Satya Nadella took over in 2014, while still competing hard in the market. It’s hard not to see the deal in that context.

In a recent interview with TechCrunch, Battery Ventures general partner Neeraj Agrawal said the deal was at least partially about catching Microsoft.

“To get to a market cap of $1 trillion, Salesforce now has to take MSFT head on. Until now, the company has mostly been able to stay in its own swim lane in terms of products,” Agrawal told TechCrunch.

As for Butterfield, while he saw the obvious competition, he denied the deal was about putting his company in a better position to compete with his rival.

“I don’t think that was really an important part of the rationale, at least for me,” he said, adding “the competition with Microsoft is overblown. The challenge for us was the narrative. They’re just good PR or something that I couldn’t figure out,” he said.

While Butterfield cited a list of large clients in enterprise tech, insurance and banking, the narrative has always been that Slack was favored by developer teams, which is where it initially gained traction. Whatever the reality, with Salesforce, Slack is definitely in a better position to compete with any and all comers in the enterprise communications space, and while it will be part of Salesforce, the two companies also have to figure out how to maintain some separation.

Keeping Slack independent

Taylor certainly recognizes that Slack’s current customers are watching closely to see how they handle the acquisition, and his company will have to walk a fine line between respecting the brand and product independence on one hand, while finding ways to create and build upon existing hooks into Salesforce to allow the CRM giant to take full advantage of its substantial investment.

It won’t be easy to do, but you can see a similar level of independence in some of Salesforce’s recent big-money purchases like MuleSoft, the company it bought in 2018 for $6.5 billion, and Tableau, the company it bought last year for more than $15 billion. As Butterfield points out, those two companies have clearly maintained their brand identity and independence, and he sees them as role models for Slack.

“So there’s a layer of independence that’s like that [for Mulesoft and Tableau] because it’s not going to help anyone call us Chat Cloud or something like that. They paid a lot of money for us, so they want us to do more of what we were already doing,” he said.

Taylor, whose opinion matters greatly here, certainly sees it in similar terms.

“We want to make sure we have a real integrated value proposition, a real integrated platform for developers, but also maintain Slack’s technology independence, technology agnostic platform and its brand,” he said.

Better together

As for the companies coming together, both men see a lot of potential here to merge Slack communications with Salesforce’s enterprise software prowess to make something better, and Taylor sees Slack helping link the two with workflows and automations.

“When you think about automation, it’s event driven, these long-running processes, automations. If you look at what people are doing with the Slack platform, it’s essentially incorporating workflows and bots and all these things. The combination of the Salesforce platform where I think we have the best automation intelligence capabilities with the Slack platform is incredible,” Taylor said.

The challenge these two men now face as they move forward with this acquisition, and all of the expectations inherent in a deal this large, is making it work. Salesforce has a lot of experience with large acquisitions, and they have handled some well, and some not so well. It’s going to be imperative for both companies that they get this right. It’s now up to Taylor and Butterfield to make sure that happens.

 

Dec
02
2020
--

Everyone has an opinion on the $27.7B Slack acquisition

When the Salesforce-Slack deal was officially announced on Tuesday afternoon, and the number appeared, it was kind of hard to believe. Salesforce had shelled out more than $27 billion to buy Slack and bring it into the Salesforce family of products. The company sees a key missing piece in Slack, and that could explain why it was willing to spend such an astonishing amount of money to get it.

With Slack, Salesforce now has what CEO Marc Benioff called the interface to everything, something he says that the company has thought about for years. In 2010, they tried building it themselves with Chatter, a social tool that never really caught on in a big way. With Slack they finally have it.

“We’ve always had the vision of the social enterprise at Salesforce for more than a decade. Oh, we’ve had Dreamforces entirely dedicated to the vision of what a collaborative interface, a high production interface with applications and an ecosystem would look like wrapped on top of our Customer 360,” Benioff said.

He added that ironically in a building right next door to Salesforce Park you’ll find Slack headquarters. They won’t have to go far to collaborate (or you know, they can just use Slack).

From Chatter to Slack

Neeraj Agrawal, general partner at Battery Ventures, says that Benioff has had an interest in enterprise social going back years, and this is his way of finally delivering. “Remember Chatter? Benioff was dead on with this trend. He lost Yammer to Microsoft (when Microsoft acquired it for $1.2 billion) about 7-8 years ago, and then launched Chatter. It was a huge bet, but didn’t work. Slack is really Chatter 2.0,” he said.

Chuck Ganapathi, CEO and co-founder at Tact.ai, was product lead on the Chatter product at Salesforce in the 2009 time frame. He wrote in a soon-to-be-published blog post he shared with TechCrunch that it failed for a lot of reasons, but mostly because at its core, Salesforce was still a bunch of database guys and enterprise social was a very different animal.

“Some of the issues were technical — Salesforce is a database-centric company, founded by Oracle alums on a relational DB foundation. DB applications and unstructured communication applications like Chatter or Slack represent completely different branches of computer science with little overlap,” he wrote. Because of that, he felt that they lacked the expertise to build the application correctly, and it never really caught on, with so many similar products in the market at the time.

But Benioff never lost interest in the concept of incorporating social into the Salesforce platform. It just took another 10 years or so and a bushel of money to make it happen.

A good match or not?

Leyla Seka, a partner at Operator Capital, who formerly ran the AppExchange at Salesforce, sees good things ahead with a combined Slack and Salesforce. “Salesforce and Slack together will offer a powerful duo of applications that will help companies work more effectively together. I think that COVID-19 has shown us how critical it is to get employees the data they need to do their job, but also the community they need to thrive at their job. The marriage of Salesforce and Slack promises to do just that,” Seka told me.

Brent Leary, principal analyst at CRM Essentials, was knocked out by the price tag, but says it shows that Salesforce is not afraid to go after what it wants, even if it has to pay a hefty price to get it. “This goes to show Salesforce has absolutely no fear in them when it comes to this deal. They are willing to throw down the big bucks on this acquisition because they see a huge payoff by adding this piece into their platform,” he said.

As for Slack, he sees it as a way for them to take the fast track to the enterprise big leagues. “And for Slack they go from competing with AMOSS (Adobe, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, Salesforce) to joining one of them, and the company that really made the most sense for them to team up with,” he said.

Laurie McCabe, an analyst and founder at SMB Group, agrees with Leary’s take, saying Salesforce doesn’t hesitate when it thinks the value is there. “In this case, Slack gives them a strong collaboration offering that will help them compete more effectively against Microsoft’s growing cloud portfolio, which of course includes CRM and Teams,” she said.

Show me the money

Battery’s Agrawal believes this deal is all about generating revenue, and it was willing to pay a premium to move the needle in billion-dollar chunks. The end game he believes is about catching Microsoft, or at the very least getting to $1 trillion (with a T, folks) in market cap.

It’s worth noting that investors are not showing signs, initially at least, of liking this deal, with the stock down over 8% today and 16.5% since the rumor of Salesforce’s interest in Slack surfaced last week before the Thanksgiving holiday. That translates into more than $18 billion in lost market cap — probably not the reaction they were hoping for. But Salesforce is big enough that it can afford to play a long game, and reach its financial goals with the help of Slack.

“To get to a market cap of $1 trillion, Salesforce now has to take MSFT head on. Until now, the company has mostly been able to stay in its own swim lane in terms of products. […] To get to a trillion dollars in market cap, Salesforce needs to try to grow in two massive markets,” Agrawal said. Those would be either knowledge worker/desktop (see the 2016 Quip acquisition) or cloud (see the Hyperforce announcement). Agrawal says chances are the company’s best bet is the former, and it was willing to pay top dollar to get it.

“The deal will help Salesforce maintain a 20%+ growth rate over the next few years,” he said. Ultimately, he sees it moving the revenue needle, which should eventually drive market cap higher and help achieve those goals.

It’s worth noting that Salesforce president and CEO Bret Taylor said while they intend to integrate Slack deeply into the Salesforce product family, they recognize the power and utility of Slack as a standalone product and they don’t intend to do anything that would mess with that.

“Fundamentally, we want to make sure that Slack remains as a kind of technology-agnostic platform. We know that Slack is used by millions and millions of people every day to connect every tool under the sun. The most remarkable thing is just how many customers have also just integrated their own custom internal tools as well into this is really kind of the central nervous system for the teams that use it, and we would never want to change that,” he said.

It’s hard to judge a deal this large until we have some hindsight and see how well the two companies have meshed, how well they can incorporate Slack into the Salesforce ecosystem, while allowing that independence Taylor alluded to. If they can find a way to walk that line and Slack becomes that wrapper, that operating system, that glue that holds the Salesforce ecosystem together, it will be a good deal, but if Slack stops innovating and withers under the weight of its corporate overlords, then it might not be money well spent.

Time will tell which is the case.

Dec
01
2020
--

Daily Crunch: Salesforce buys Slack for $27.7B

Salesforce announces its acquisition of Slack, Amazon brings the Mac mini to the cloud and Google Maps gets a newsfeed. This is your Daily Crunch for December 1, 2020.

The big story: Salesforce buys Slack for $27.7B

The acquisition, which was first reported last month, is now official.

“This is a match made in heaven,” said Salesforce co-founder and CEO Marc Benioff. “Together, Salesforce and Slack will shape the future of enterprise software and transform the way everyone works in the all-digital, work-from-anywhere world.”

This cash-and-stock deal should make Salesforce a more serious competitor in the enterprise communication market. It also seems that Slack (which went public last year) was an obvious target for a takeover, due to an underwhelming stock price and a net loss of $147.6 million during the two quarters ending on July 31 of this year.

The tech giants

AWS brings the Mac mini to its cloud — This was just one of the announcements that Amazon Web Services made today at its re:Invent conference.

Google Maps takes on Facebook with launch of its own news feed — The feed is designed to make it easier to find the most recent news and recommendations from trusted local sources.

Facebook’s self-styled ‘oversight’ board selects first cases, most dealing with hate speech — The Facebook-funded body that the tech giant set up to distance itself from tricky content moderation decisions has announced the first set of cases it will consider.

Startups, funding and venture capital

SoftBank takes a $690M stake in cloud-based Swedish customer engagement company Sinch — Sinch provides cloud-based “omnichannel” voice, video and messaging services to help enterprises communicate with customers.

Voi, the European ‘micromobility’ rental company, raises $160M additional equity and debt funding — Voi says the new funding will be used to invest in technology development, fuel growth in current Voi markets and bring its latest e-scooter model to more cities.

Floww raises $6.7M for its data-driven marketplace matching founders with investors, based on merit — Having made more than 160 investments himself, founder Martijn De Wever says he recognized the need for a platform connecting investors and startups.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Bottom-up SaaS: A framework for mapping pricing to customer value — For the first time, individual employees are influencing the tooling decisions of their companies.

Who’s building the grocery store of the future? — Startups offering cashierless checkout, software analytics and robotics will clean up on aisle five.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

China’s Chang’e-5 lunar lander successfully lands on the moon — China’s Chang’e-5 mission will be the third ever to bring back soil or rock samples from the moon.

US shopping app downloads on Black Friday reached a record 2.8M installs — Many U.S. consumers spent this year’s Black Friday sales event shopping from home on mobile devices.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Dec
01
2020
--

Salesforce beats growth expectations as investors digest the Slack acquisition

Today after the bell, Salesforce reported its third-quarter earnings for its fiscal 2021, a period that ended October 31, 2020. The CRM giant reported top-line revenue of $5.42 billion, up 20% from the year-ago period. Salesforce also had net income of $1.08 billion and earnings per share of $1.15.

Analysts had expected the company to earn $0.75 per share off revenues of $5.25 billion, according to Yahoo Finance.

Shares of Salesforce were off after-hours, falling around 3.6% at the time of writing. It was not clear if the company’s share price performance was due to its Q3 results, or its raised Q4 guidance, or its new fiscal 2022 expectations, or the newly announced Slack deal.

As TechCrunch reported moments ago, Salesforce will buy Slack for $27.7 billion in a cash and stock deal that was fully priced into shares of the smaller company, which dropped a little over a point on the news, having risen by nearly 50% since the deal’s existence first leaked.

Holders of Slack will be rewarded for their patience. Now it’s up to Salesforce leadership to prove that the huge buy will help boost the company’s growth.

Salesforce told investors today that it anticipates Q4 fiscal 2021 revenues of $5.665 billion to $5.675 billion, which works out to growth of around 17% from the year-ago period. The company also anticipates that it will grow around 17% in Q1 of its fiscal 2022.

But Salesforce expects to grow 21% in all of its fiscal 2022. How does it intend to accelerate? Its projections include Slack:

Full Year FY22 revenue guidance includes contributions from Slack Technologies, Inc. of approximately $600 million, net of purchase accounting, and assumes a closing date in late Q2 and Acumen Solutions, Inc. of approximately $150 million, net of purchase accounting, and assumes a closing date within Q2.

So, Salesforce investors, after two anticipated quarters of 17% growth coming up, your company will accelerate up to 21% growth for the next fiscal year. Is that worth $27.7 billion?

 

Dec
01
2020
--

Salesforce buys Slack in a $27.7B megadeal

Salesforce, the CRM powerhouse that recently surpassed $20 billion in annual revenue, announced today it is wading deeper into enterprise social by acquiring Slack in a $27.7 billion megadeal. Rumors of a pending deal surfaced last week, causing Slack’s stock price to spike.

Salesforce co-founder and CEO Marc Benioff didn’t mince words on his latest purchase. “This is a match made in heaven. Together, Salesforce and Slack will shape the future of enterprise software and transform the way everyone works in the all-digital, work-from-anywhere world,” Benioff said in a statement.

Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield was no less effusive than his future boss. “As software plays a more and more critical role in the performance of every organization, we share a vision of reduced complexity, increased power and flexibility, and ultimately a greater degree of alignment and organizational agility. Personally, I believe this is the most strategic combination in the history of software, and I can’t wait to get going,” Butterfield said in a statement.

Every worker at every company needs to communicate, something that Slack can ably empower. What’s more, it also facilitates external communication with customers and partners, something that should be quite useful for a company like Salesforce and its family of offerings.

Ultimately, Slack was ripe for the taking. Entering 2020 it had lost around 40% of its value since it went public. Consider that after its most recent earnings report, the company lost 16% of its value, and before the Salesforce deal leaked, the company was worth only a few dollars per share more than its direct listing reference price. Toss in net losses of $147.6 million during the two quarters ending July 31, 2020, Slack’s uninspiring public valuation and its winding path to profitability and it was a sitting target for a takeover like this one. The only surprise here is the price.

Slack’s current valuation, according to both Yahoo and Google Finance, is just over $25 billion, which, given its very modest price change after-hours means that the market priced the company somewhat effectively. Slack is up around 48% from its valuation that preceded the deal becoming known.

The new deal also puts Salesforce more on par — and in competition — with its arch rival and sometime friend Microsoft, whose Teams product has been directly challenging Slack in the market. Microsoft, which passed on buying Slack in the past for a fraction of what Salesforce is paying today, has made Teams a key priority in recent quarters, loathe to cede any portion of the enterprise software market to another company.

What really has set Slack apart from the pack, at least initially, was its ability to integrate with other enterprise software. When you combined that with bots, those intelligent digital helpers, the company could potentially provide Salesforce customers with a central place to work without changing focus because everything they need to do can be done in Slack.

Today’s deal comes after Salesforce’s purchase of Quip in 2016 for $750 million. Quip brought to the SaaS giant a way of socially sharing documents, and when paired with the Slack acquisition gives Salesforce a much more robust social story to tell than its internal option Chatter, an early attempt at enterprise social that never really caught on.

It’s worth noting that Salesforce was interested in Twitter in 2016, the same year that Microsoft was reportedly interested in Slack, but eventually walked away from that deal when shareholders objected, not wanting to deal with the controversial side of the social platform.

Slack was founded in 2013, but its origins go back to an online multiplayer game company called Glitch that was founded in 2009. While the game was ultimately a failure, the startup developed an internal messaging system in the process of building that company that later evolved into Slack.

The company’s historic growth helped Slack raise more than $1 billion while private, earning an impressive $7 billion valuation before going public last year. But while the Glitch-to-unicorn story appears simple, Slack has always faced entrenched competition from the likes of not only Microsoft, but also Cisco, Facebook, Google and even Asana and Monday.com.

For Slack, the path to the public markets was fraught with hype and outsized expectation. The company was famous, or as famous as an enterprise software company can be. At the time it felt like its debut was the start of a long tenure as an indie company. Instead, that public life has been cut short by a huge check. Such is the dog-eat-dog world of tech.

Nov
30
2020
--

As Slack acquisition rumors swirl, a look at Salesforce’s six biggest deals

The rumors ignited last Thursday that Salesforce had interest in Slack. This morning, CNBC is reporting the deal is all but done and will be announced tomorrow. Chances are this is going to a big number, but this won’t be Salesforce’s first big acquisition. We thought it would be useful in light of these rumors to look back at the company’s biggest deals.

Salesforce has already surpassed $20 billion in annual revenue, and the company has a history of making a lot of deals to fill in the road map and give it more market lift as it searches for ever more revenue.

The biggest deal so far was the $15.7 billion Tableau acquisition last year. The deal gave Salesforce a missing data visualization component and a company with a huge existing market to feed the revenue beast. In an interview in August with TechCrunch, Salesforce president and chief operating officer Bret Taylor (who came to the company in the $750 million Quip deal in 2016), sees Tableau as a key part of the company’s growing success:

“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.

Next on the Salesforce acquisition hit parade was the $6.5 billion MuleSoft acquisition in 2018. MuleSoft gave Salesforce access to something it didn’t have as an enterprise SaaS company — data locked in silos across the company, even in on-prem applications. The CRM giant could leverage MuleSoft to access data wherever it lived, and when you put the two mega deals together, you could see how you could visualize that data and also give more fuel to its Einstein intelligence layer.

In 2016, the company spent $2.8 billion on Demandware to make a big splash in e-commerce, a component of the platform that has grown in importance during the pandemic when companies large and small have been forced to move their businesses online. The company was incorporated into the Salesforce behemoth and became known as Commerce Cloud.

In 2013, the company made its first billion-dollar acquisition when it bought ExactTarget for $2.5 billion. This represented the first foray into what would become the Marketing Cloud. The purchase gave the company entrée into the targeted email marketing business, which again would grow increasingly in importance in 2020 when communicating with customers became crucial during the pandemic.

Last year, just days after closing the MuleSoft acquisition, Salesforce opened its wallet one more time and paid $1.35 billion for ClickSoftware. This one was a nod to the company’s Service cloud, which encompasses both customer service and field service. This acquisition was about the latter, and giving the company access to a bigger body of field service customers.

The final billion-dollar deal (until we hear about Slack perhaps) is the $1.33 billion Vlocity acquisition earlier this year. This one was a gift for the core CRM product. Vlocity gave Salesforce several vertical businesses built on the Salesforce platform and was a natural fit for the company. Using Vlocity’s platform, Salesforce could (and did) continue to build on these vertical markets giving it more ammo to sell into specialized markets.

While we can’t know for sure if the Slack deal will happen, it sure feels like it will, and chances are this deal will be even larger than Tableau as the Salesforce acquisition machine keeps chugging along.

Oct
29
2020
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Donut launches Watercooler, an easy way to socialize online with coworkers

If you miss hanging out with your coworkers but don’t want to spend a single second more on Zoom, the latest product from Donut might be the answer.

The startup is launching its new Watercooler product today while also announcing that it has raised $12 million in total funding, led by Accel and with participation from Bloomberg Beta, FirstMark, Slack Fund and various angel investors.

Co-founder and CEO Dan Manian told me that this is actually money that the startup raised before the pandemic, across multiple rounds. It just didn’t announce the fundraising until now.

The startup’s vision, Manian said, is “to create human connection between people at work.” Its first product, Intros, connects teammates who didn’t already know each via Slack, often with the goal of setting up quick coffee meetings (originally in-person and now virtual).

Donut says it has facilitated 4 million connections across 12,000 companies (including The New York Times, Toyota and InVision), with 1 million of those connections made since the beginning of the pandemic.

However, Manian said customers have been asking Donut to facilitate more frequent interactions, especially since most people aren’t going to have these coffee meetings every day. At the same time, people face are the duelling issues of isolation and Zoom fatigue, where “the antidote to one thing makes the other pain worse.” And he suggested that one of the hardest things to recreate while so many of us are working remotely are “all the little microinteractions that you have while you’re working.”

That’s where Watercooler comes in — as the name suggests, it’s designed to replicate the feeling of hanging out at the office watercooler, having brief, low-key conversations. Like Intros, it integrates with Slack, creating a new channel where Watercooler will post fun, conversation-starting questions like “‘What’s your favorite form of potato?” or “What’s one thing you’ve learned in your career that you wish you knew sooner?”

Talking about these topics shouldn’t take much time, but Manian argued that brief conversations are important: “Those things add up to friendship over time, they’re what actually transform you from coworker to friend.” And those friendships are important for employers too, because they help with team cohesion and retention.

I fully endorse the idea of a Slack watercooler — in fact, the TechCrunch editorial team has a very active “watercooler” channel and I’m always happy to waste time there. My big question was: Why do companies need to purchase a product for this?

Donut Watercooler

Donut Watercooler

Manian said that there were “a bunch of our early adopters” who had tried doing this manually, but it was always in the “past tense”: “It got too hard to come up with the questions, or it took real work coming up with them, whoever was doing it already had a it full time job.”

With Watercooler, on the other hand, the company can choose from pre-selected topics and questions, set the frequency with which those questions are posted and then everything happens automatically.

Manian also noted that different organizations will focus on different types of questions. There are no divisive political questions included, but while some teams will stick to easy questions about things like potatoes and breakfast foods, others will get into more substantive topics like the ways that people prefer to receive feedback.

And yes, Manian thinks companies will still need these tools after the pandemic is over.

“Work has fundamentally changed,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll put remote work back in the bottle. I think it’s here to stay.”

At the same time, he described the past few months as “training wheels” for a hybrid model, where some team members go back to the office while others continue working remotely. In his view, teams will face an even bigger challenge then: To keep their remote members feeling like they’re connected and in-the-loop.

 

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