Apr
17
2019
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Meet the first judges for The Europas Awards (27 June) and enter your startup now!

I’m excited to announce that The Europas Awards for European Tech Startups is really shaping up! The awards will be held on 27 June 2019, in London, U.K. on the front lawn of the Geffrye Museum in Hoxton, London — creating a fantastic and fun garden party atmosphere in the heart of London’s tech startup scene.

TechCrunch is once more the exclusive media sponsor of the awards and conference, alongside new “tech, culture & society” event creator The Pathfounder.

Here’s how to enter and be considered for the awards.

You can nominate a startup, accelerator or venture investor that you think deserves to be recognized for their achievements in the last 12 months.

*** The deadline for nominations is 1 May 2019 ***

For the 2019 awards, we’ve overhauled the categories to a set that we believe better reflects the range of innovation, diversity and ambition we see in the European startups being built and launched today. There are now 20 categories, including new additions to cover AgTech / FoodTech, SpaceTech, GovTech and Mobility Tech.

Attendees, nominees and winners will get discounts to TechCrunch Disrupt in Berlin, later this year.

The Europas “Diversity Pass”

We’d like to encourage more diversity in tech! That’s why, for the upcoming invitation-only “Pathfounder” event held on the afternoon before The Europas Awards, we’ve reserved a tranche of free tickets to ensure that we include more women and people of colour who are “pre-seed” or “seed-stage” tech startup founders. If you are a women founder or person of colour founder, apply here for a chance to be considered for one of the limited free diversity passes to the event.

The Pathfounder event will feature premium content and invitees, designed be a “fast download” into the London tech scene for European founders looking to raise money or re-locate to London.

The Europas Awards

The Europas Awards results are based on voting by expert judges and the industry itself.

But key to it is that there are no “off-limits areas” at The Europas, so attendees can mingle easily with VIPs.

The complete list of categories is here:

  1. AgTech / FoodTech
  2. CleanTech
  3. Cyber
  4. EdTech
  5. FashTech
  6. FinTech
  7. Public, Civic and GovTech
  8. HealthTech
  9. MadTech (AdTech / MarTech)
  10. Mobility Tech
  11. PropTech
  12. RetailTech
  13. Saas/Enterprise or B2B
  14. SpaceTech
  15. Tech for Good
  16. Hottest Blockchain Project
  17. Hottest Blockchain Investor
  18. Hottest VC Fund
  19. Hottest Seed Fund
  20. Grand Prix

Timeline of The Europas Awards deadlines:
* 6 March 2019 – Submissions open
* 1 May 2019 – Submissions close
* 10 May 2019 – Public voting begins
* 18 June 2019 – Public voting ends
* 27 June 2019 – Awards Bash

Amazing networking

We’re also shaking up the awards dinner itself. Instead of a sit-down gala dinner, we’ve taken feedback for more opportunities to network. Our awards ceremony this year will be in the setting of a garden lawn party, where you’ll be able to meet and mingle more easily, with free-flowing drinks and a wide-selection of street food (including vegetarian/vegan). The ceremony itself will last approximately 75 minutes, with the rest of the time dedicated to networking. If you’d like to talk about sponsoring or exhibiting, please contact dianne@thepathfounder.com

Instead of thousands and thousands of people, think of a great summer event with the most interesting and useful people in the industry, including key investors and leading entrepreneurs.

The Europas Awards have been going for the last 10 years, and we’re the only independent and editorially driven event to recognise the European tech startup scene. The winners have been featured in Reuters, Bloomberg, VentureBeat, Forbes, Tech.eu, The Memo, Smart Company, CNET, many others — and of course, TechCrunch.

• No secret VIP rooms, which means you get to interact with the speakers

• Key founders and investors attending

• Journalists from major tech titles, newspapers and business broadcasters

Meet the first set of our 20 judges:


Brent Hoberman
Executive Chairman and Co-Founder
Founders Factory


Videesha Böckle
Founding Partner
signals Venture Capital


Bindi Karia
Innovation Expert + Advisor, Investor
Bindi Ventures


Christian Hernandez Gallardo
Co-Founder and Venture Partner at White Star Capital

Apr
09
2019
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Slack integration with Office 365 one more step toward total enterprise integration

Slack’s goal of integrating enterprise tools in the chat interface has been a major differentiator from the giant companies it’s competing with like Microsoft and Facebook. Last year, it bought Astro, specifically with the goal of integrating enterprise productivity tools inside Slack, and today it announced new integrations with Microsoft OneDrive and Outlook.

Specifically, Slack is integrating calendar, files and calls and bringing in integrations with other services, including Box, Dropbox and Zoom.

Andy Pflaum, director of project management at Slack, came over in the Astro deal, and he says one of the primary goals of the acquisition was to help build connections like this to Microsoft and Google productivity tools.

“When we joined Slack, it was to build out the interoperability between Slack and Microsoft’s products, particularly Office and Office 365 products, and the comparable products from Google, G Suite. We focused on deep integration with mail and calendar in Slack, as well as bringing in files and calls in from Microsoft, Google and other leading providers like Zoom, Box and Dropbox,” Pflaum, who was co-founder and CEO at Astro, told TechCrunch.

For starters, the company is announcing deep integration with Outlook that enables users to get and respond to invitations in Slack. You can also join a meeting with a click directly from Slack, whether that’s Zoom, WebEx or Skype for Business. What’s more, when you’re in a meeting, your status will update automatically in Slack, saving users from manually doing this (or more likely forgetting and getting a flurry of Slack questions in the middle of a meeting).

Another integration lets you share emails directly into Slack. Instead of copying and pasting or forwarding the email to a large group, you can click a Slack button in the Outlook interface and share it as a direct message with a group or to your personal Slack channel.

File sharing is not being left behind here either, whether from Microsoft, Box or Dropbox; users will be able to share files inside of Slack easily. Finally, users will be able to view full Office document previews inside of Slack, another step in avoiding tasking switching to get work done.

Screenshot: Slack

Mike Gotta, an analyst at Gartner who has been following the collaboration space for many years, says the integration has done a good job of preserving the user experience, while allowing for a seamless connection between email, calendar and files. He says that this could give them an edge in the highly competitive collaboration market, and more importantly allow users to maintain context.

“The collaboration market is highly fragmented with many vendors adding ‘just a little’ collaboration to products designed for specific purposes. Buyers can find that this type of collaboration in context to the flow of work is more impactful than switching to a generalized tool that lacks situational awareness of the task at hand. Knowledge-based work often involves process and project-related applications, so the more we can handle transitions across tools, the more productive the user experience becomes. More importantly there’s less context fragmentation for the individual and team,” Gotta told TechCrunch.

These updates are about staying one step ahead of the competition, and being able to run Microsoft tools inside of Slack gives customers another reason to stick with (or to buy) Slack instead of Microsoft’s competing product, Teams.

All of this new functionality is designed to work in both mobile and desktop versions of the product and is available today.

Apr
01
2019
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German LinkedIn rival Xing is rebranding as ‘New Work,’ acquires recruitment platform Honeypot for up to $64M

Xing, the business networking platform that has been described as Germany’s answer to LinkedIn, has made an acquisition to beef up its recruitment business ahead of a rebrand of the business as “New Work.” The company has acquired Honeypot, a German startup that has built a job-hunting platform for tech people, for up to €57 million ($64 million). Xing tells us that Honeypot is its biggest acquisition to date.

The figure includes the acquisition (€22 million) plus a potential earn-out of up to €35 million if certain targets are met in the next three years.

Xing said that it plans to rebrand as New Work in the second half of 2019, bringing together a number of other assets it has acquired and built over the years.

“This acquisition is an excellent addition to our New Work portfolio,” Thomas Vollmoeller, CEO at Xing, said in a statement. “Honeypot focuses on candidates by helping them to find a job matching their individual preferences… With subsidiaries and brands such as kununu and HalloFreelancer, Xing is far more than just a single network. New Work is the umbrella spanning all our business activities.” Xing said that all the smaller companies will keep their branding.

Xing already offered job listings as part of its platform, with 20,000 businesses as customers; but Honeypot will add a few different things to the mix.

First, it will give Xing more traction specifically in the tech vertical, since Honeypot first started out in 2015 targeting developers although it later expanded to other tech jobs.

Second, Honeypot’s structure is a natural fit for a social recuitment platform: as with a lot of social recruiting, Honeypot lets recruiters use platforms, profile pages and social graphics to find and approach candidates, rather than candidates reaching out in response to specific opportunities.

Honeypot adds additional features to help make this process more accurate and less of a waste of time on both sides. Those doing the recruiting have to provide specific details around salary and, say, programming languages required, as part of their outreach. On the other side, individuals go through a “brief expertise check” to vet them, and they too have to be a bit more specific on what they can and what they want to do, and what they want to earn, to help weed out opportunities that might not be suitable.

Third, the acquisition will help Xing make a bigger push into building its profile outside of Germany into more of Europe, as New Work.

This is no small thing. Xing years ago was considered a would-be rival to LinkedIn. But — and this was perhaps even more true in the past, and Xing was founded in 2003 — scaling startups to be global players out of Europe can be a challenge, even more so when there is a formidable direct competitor growing quickly as well.

In the end, Xing developed as a much more modest operation, relatively speaking. While LinkedIn today has some 600 million users and was acquired by Microsoft in 2016 for $26.2 billion, Xing is publicly traded and currently valued at around $2 billion (€1.81 billion), with some 15 million members.

Xing says that today Honeypot’s current emphasis is German-speaking countries and the Netherlands, which together cover some of the biggest startup hubs in Europe, including Berlin and Amsterdam.

The company is still relatively small but growing, adding 1,000 IT specialists to its books each week, with some 100,000 individuals and 1,500 businesses currently registered. Xing said that it will be investing in the company to expand to more markets in Europe, as well as to grow its business by tapping Xing’s own customer base.

Although there have been some notable exceptions like payments startup Adyen from the Netherlands, Farfetch from the UK and Spotify (originally from Stockholm, grown in London and now increasingly a US company), scaling startups in Europe has proven to be challenging.

One of the big reasons why has to do with a shortage of talent to build these companies: in Germany alone — home to the buzzy startup city of Berlin — there are 82,000 unfilled tech jobs. In other words, there is an opportunity for more user-friendly platforms to help connect those dots.

XING and Honeypot both have the vision of helping people to further their career. We want Honeypot to offer the world’s largest work-life community for IT specialists by giving candidates the power to decide on their next career step,” said Kaya Taner, CEO who founded Honeypot with Emma Tracey. “We will continue to pursue this vision with XING. Going forward, around 100,000 IT specialists from all over the world who are registered on Honeypot will be able to connect with the many first-rate employers in German-speaking countries. This will enable Honeypot to continue developing its domestic market, while also further expanding its international community.”

Feb
27
2019
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Threads emerges from stealth with $10.5M from Sequoia for a new take on enabling work conversations

The rapid rise of Slack has ushered in a new wave of apps, all aiming to solve one challenge: creating a user-friendly platform where coworkers can have productive conversations. Many of these are based around real-time notifications and “instant” messaging, but today a new startup called Threads coming out of stealth to address the other side of the coin: a platform for asynchronous communication that is less time-sensitive, and creating coherent narratives out of those conversations.

Armed with $10.5 million in funding led by Sequoia, the company is launching a beta of its service today.

Rousseau Kazi, the startup’s CEO who co-founded threads with Jon McCord, Mark Rich and Suman Venkataswamy, cut his social teeth working for six years at Facebook (with a resulting number of patents to his name around the mechanics of social networking), says that the mission of Threads is to become more inclusive when it comes to online conversations.

“After a certain number of people get involved in an online discussion, conversations just break and messaging becomes chaotic,” he said. (McCord and Rich are also Facebook engineering alums, while Venkataswamy is a Bright Roll alum.)

And if you have ever used Twitter, or even been in a popular channel in Slack, you will understand what he is talking about. When too many people begin to talk, the conversation gets very noisy and it can mean losing the “thread” of what is being discussed, and seeing conversation lurch from one topic to another, often losing track of important information in the process.

There is an argument to be made for whether a platform that was built for real-time information is capable of handling a difference kind of cadence. Twitter, as it happens, is trying to figure that out right now. Slack, meanwhile, has itself introduced threaded comments to try to address this too — although the practical application of its own threading feature is not actually very user friendly.

Threads’ answer is to view its purpose as addressing the benefit of “asynchronous” conversation.

To start, those who want to start threads first register as organizations on the platform. Then, those who are working on a project or in a specific team creates a “space” for themselves within that org. You can then start threads within those spaces. And when a problem has been solved or the conversation has come to a conclusion, the last comment gets marked as the conclusion.

The idea is that topics and conversations that can stretch out over hours, days or even longer, around specific topics. Threads doeesn’t want to be the place you go for red alerts or urgent requests, but where you go when you have thoughts about a work-related subject and how to tackle it.

These resulting threads, when completed or when in progress, can in turn be looked at as straight conversations, or as annotated narratives.

For now, it’s up to users themselves to annotate what might be important to highlight for readers, although when I asked him, Kazi told me he would like to incorporate over time more features that might use natural language processing to summarize and pull out what might be worth following up or looking at if you only want to skim read a longer conversation. Ditto the ability to search threads. Right now it’s all based around keywords but you can imagine a time when more sophisticated and nuanced searches to surface conversations relevant to what you might be looking for.

Indeed, in this initial launch, the focus is all about what you want to say on Threads itself — not lots of bells and whistles, and not trying to compete against the likes of Slack, or Workplace (Facebook’s effort in this space), or Yammer or Teams from Microsoft, or any of the others in the messaging mix.

There are no integrations of other programs to bring data into Threads from other places, but there is a Slack integration in the other direction: you can create an alert there so that you know when someone has updated a Thread.

“We don’t view ourselves as a competitor to Slack,” Kazi said. “Slack is great for transactional conversation but for asynchronous chats, we thought there was a need for this in the market. We wanted something to address that.”

It may not be a stated competitor, but Threads actually has something in common with Slack: the latter launched with the purpose of enabling a certain kind of conversation between co-workers in a way that was easier to consume and engage with than email.

You could argue that Threads has the same intention: email chains, especially those with multiple parties, can also be hard to follow and are in any case often very messy to look at: something that the conversations in Threads also attempt to clear up.

But email is not the only kind of conversation medium that Threads thinks it can replace.

“With in-person meetings there is a constant tension between keeping the room small for efficiency and including more people for transparency,” said Sequoia partner Mike Vernal in a statement. “When we first started chatting with the team about what is now Threads, we saw an opportunity to get rid of this false dichotomy by making decision-making both more efficient and more inclusive. We’re thrilled to be partnering with Threads to make work more inclusive.” Others in the round include Eventbrite CEO Julia Hartz, GV’s Jessica Verrilli, Minted CEO Mariam Naficy, and TaskRabbit CEO Stacy Brown-Philpot.

The startup was actually formed in 2017, and for months now it has been running a closed, private version of the service to test it out with a small amount of users. So far, the company sizes have ranged between 5 and 60 employees, Kazi tells me.

“By using Threads as our primary communications platform, we’ve seen incredible progress streamlining our operations,” said one of the testers, Perfect Keto & Equip Foods Founder and CEO, Anthony Gustin. “Internal meetings have reduced by at least 80 percent, we’ve seen an increase in participation in discussion and speed of decision making, and noticed an adherence and reinforcement of company culture that we thought was impossible before. Our employees are feeling more ownership and autonomy, with less work and time that needs to be spent — something we didn’t even know was possible before Threads.”

Kazi said that the intention is ultimately to target companies of any size, although it will be worth watching what features it will have to introduce to help handle the noise, and continue to provide coherent discussions, when and if they do start to tackle that end of the market.

Feb
19
2019
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Slack off — send videos instead with $11M-funded Loom

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many emails can you replace with a video? As offices fragment into remote teams, work becomes more visual and social media makes us more comfortable on camera, it’s time for collaboration to go beyond text. That’s the idea behind Loom, a fast-rising startup that equips enterprises with instant video messaging tools. In a click, you can film yourself or narrate a screenshare to get an idea across in a more vivid, personal way. Instead of scheduling a video call, employees can asynchronously discuss projects or give “stand-up” updates without massive disruptions to their workflow.

In the 2.5 years since launch, Loom has signed up 1.1 million users from 18,000 companies. And that was just as a Chrome extension. Today Loom launches its PC and Mac apps that give it a dedicated presence in your digital work space. Whether you’re communicating across the room or across the globe, “Loom is the next best thing to being there,” co-founder Shahed Khan tells me.

Now Loom is ready to spin up bigger sales and product teams thanks to an $11 million Series A led by Kleiner Perkins . The firm’s partner Ilya Fushman, formally Dropbox’s head of product and corporate development, will join Loom’s board. He’ll shepherd Loom through today’s launch of its $10 per month per user Pro version that offers HD recording, calls-to-action at the end of videos, clip editing, live annotation drawings and analytics to see who actually watched like they’re supposed to.

“We’re ditching the suits and ties and bringing our whole selves to work. We’re emailing and messaging like never before, but though we may be more connected, we’re further apart,” Khan tells me. “We want to make it very easy to bring the humanity back in.”

Loom co-founder Shahed Khan

But back in 2016, Loom was just trying to survive. Khan had worked at Upfront Ventures after a stint as a product designer at website builder Weebly. He and two close friends, Joe Thomas and Vinay Hiremath, started Opentest to let app makers get usability feedback from experts via video. But after six months and going through the NFX accelerator, they were running out of bootstrapped money. That’s when they realized it was the video messaging that could be a business as teams sought to keep in touch with members working from home or remotely.

Together they launched Loom in mid-2016, raising a pre-seed and seed round amounting to $4 million. Part of its secret sauce is that Loom immediately starts uploading bytes of your video while you’re still recording so it’s ready to send the moment you’re finished. That makes sharing your face, voice and screen feel as seamless as firing off a Slack message, but with more emotion and nuance.

“Sales teams use it to close more deals by sending personalized messages to leads. Marketing teams use Loom to walk through internal presentations and social posts. Product teams use Loom to capture bugs, stand ups, etc.,” Khan explains.

Loom has grown to a 16-person team that will expand thanks to the new $11 million Series A from Kleiner, Slack, Cue founder Daniel Gross and actor Jared Leto that brings it to $15 million in funding. They predict the new desktop apps that open Loom to a larger market will see it spread from team to team for both internal collaboration and external discussions from focus groups to customer service.

Loom will have to hope that after becoming popular at a company, managers will pay for the Pro version that shows exactly how long each viewer watched. That could clue them in that they need to be more concise, or that someone is cutting corners on training and cooperation. It’s also a great way to onboard new employees. “Just watch this collection of videos and let us know what you don’t understand.” At $10 per month though, the same cost as Google’s entire GSuite, Loom could be priced too high.

Next Loom will have to figure out a mobile strategy — something that’s surprisingly absent. Khan imagines users being able to record quick clips from their phones to relay updates from travel and client meetings. Loom also plans to build out voice transcription to add automatic subtitles to videos and even divide clips into thematic sections you can fast-forward between. Loom will have to stay ahead of competitors like Vidyard’s GoVideo and Wistia’s Soapbox that have cropped up since its launch. But Khan says Loom looms largest in the space thanks to customers at Uber, Dropbox, Airbnb, Red Bull and 1,100 employees at HubSpot.

“The overall space of collaboration tools is becoming deeper than just email + docs,” says Fushman, citing Slack, Zoom, Dropbox Paper, Coda, Notion, Intercom, Productboard and Figma. To get things done the fastest, businesses are cobbling together B2B software so they can skip building it in-house and focus on their own product.

No piece of enterprise software has to solve everything. But Loom is dependent on apps like Slack, Google Docs, Convo and Asana. Because it lacks a social or identity layer, you’ll need to send the links to your videos through another service. Loom should really build its own video messaging system into its desktop app. But at least Slack is an investor, and Khan says “they’re trying to be the hub of text-based communication,” and the soon-to-be-public unicorn tells him anything it does in video will focus on real-time interaction.

Still, the biggest threat to Loom is apathy. People already feel overwhelmed with Slack and email, and if recording videos comes off as more of a chore than an efficiency, workers will stick to text. And without the skimability of an email, you can imagine a big queue of videos piling up that staffers don’t want to watch. But Khan thinks the ubiquity of Instagram Stories is making it seem natural to jump on camera briefly. And the advantage is that you don’t need a bunch of time-wasting pleasantries to ensure no one misinterprets your message as sarcastic or pissed off.

Khan concludes, “We believe instantly sharable video can foster more authentic communication between people at work, and convey complex scenarios and ideas with empathy.”

Feb
07
2019
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Someone could scoop up Slack before it IPOs

Earlier this week, Slack announced that it has filed the paperwork to go public at some point later this year. The big question is, will the company exit into the public markets as expected, or will one of the technology giants swoop in at the last minute with buckets of cash and take them off the market?

Slack, which raised more than $1 billion on an other-worldly $7 billion valuation, is an interesting property. It has managed to grow and be successful while competing with some of the world’s largest tech companies — Microsoft, Cisco, Facebook, Google and Salesforce. Not coincidentally, these deep-pocketed companies could be the ones that come knock, knock, knocking at Slack’s door.

Slack has managed to hold its own against these giants by doing something in this space that hadn’t been done effectively before. It made it easy to plug in other services, effectively making Slack a work hub where you could spend your day because your work could get pushed to you there from other enterprise apps.

As I’ve discussed before, this centralized hub has been a dream of communications tools for most of the 21st century. It began with enterprise IM tools in the early 2000s, and progressed to Enterprise 2.0 tools in the 2007 time frame. That period culminated in 2012 when Microsoft bought Yammer for $1.2 billion, the only billion-dollar exit for that generation of tools.

I remember hearing complaints about Enterprise 2.0 tools. While they had utility, in many ways they were just one more thing employees had to check for information beyond email. The talk was these tools would replace email, but a decade later email’s still standing and that generation of tools has been absorbed.

In 2013, Slack came along, perhaps sensing that Enterprise 2.0 never really got mobile and the cloud, and it recreated the notion in a more modern guise. By taking all of that a step further and making the tool a kind of workplace hub, it has been tremendously successful, growing to 8 million daily users in roughly 4 years, around 3 million of which were the paying variety, at last count.

Slack’s growth numbers as of May 2018

All of this leads us back to the exit question. While the company has obviously filed for IPO paperwork, it might not be the way it ultimately exits. Just the other day CNBC’s Jay Yarrow posited this questions on Twitter:

Not sure where he pulled that number from, but if you figure 3x valuation, that could be the value for a company of this ilk. There would be symmetry in Microsoft buying Slack six years after it plucked Yammer off the market, and it would remove a major competitive piece from the board, while allowing Microsoft access to Slack’s growing customer base.

Nobody can see into the future, and maybe Slack does IPO and takes its turn as a public company, but it surely wouldn’t be a surprise if someone came along with an offer it couldn’t refuse, whatever that figure might be.

Jan
09
2019
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Microsoft’s latest Teams features take aim at shift workers

Collaboration tools tend to be geared toward workers who are sitting at a desk for much of the day, but there are plenty of shift workers, also known as first-line workers, who rarely use a computer, but still need to communicate with one another and management. Microsoft released several new features today aimed at including these workers.

In a blog post announcing the new features, Emma Williams, Microsoft corporate vice president for modern workplace verticals, wrote that there are two billion such workers. By making the product more mobile-friendly and linking to existing enterprise employee management systems, Microsoft can make Teams more relevant for shift employees.

For starters, Microsoft is making mobile Teams more flexible to meet the needs of a variety of shift worker jobs. Some might need to record and share audio messages, while others might need to share their location or access the camera. Whatever the requirements, Microsoft has started with a Firstline Worker configuration policy template, which IT can customize to meet the needs of various worker types.

The mobile tool also includes a navigation bar, which allows workers to add the tools they use most often for easy access. The idea is to make it as simple as possible to access the tools they need, given that these workers tend to be on their feet or on the move a good part of the day.

Photo: MicrosoftNext, the company has released a new API to help IT connect Teams to existing workforce management systems. The Graph API for Shifts enables first-line managers, who are responsible for setting up worker schedules, to share data between a company’s workforce management system and Teams, allowing employees to get all of their shift information in one tool. This will be available in public preview later in the quarter, according to the company.

Finally, the tool now includes a new Praise feature, designed to let managers recognize good work by their employees by issuing badges with messages like “Thank you” and “Problem solver.”

The company wants Teams to be more than a tool for knowledge workers. These new features provide a way to include workers that are sometimes left out of these kinds of collaboration tools. The new features also help Microsoft compete with a number of startups that trying to attack the same problem.

These include Crew, a startup that scored a $35 million Series C round just last month and has raised almost $60 million, and Zinc, which also takes aim at the deskless worker, and has raised $16 million, according to Crunchbase.

Whether Microsoft can appeal to both the knowledge worker and the first-line variety in the same tool remains to be seen, but these updates are clearly an effort to take on this space.

Jan
03
2019
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Workplace, Facebook’s enterprise platform, adds another major customer, Nestlé

While Facebook continues to repair its image with consumers disenchanted with the social network’s role in disseminating misleading or false information and mishandling their personal data, it’s ironically been finding some traction for its enterprise-focused service, Workplace. Today, the company announced that it has added another huge company to its books: Nestlé, the coffee, chocolate and FMCG giant with 2,000 brands and 240,000 employees, has signed up as its latest customer.

Facebook’s enterprise service competes against the likes of Microsoft Teams, Slack and smaller players like Crew and Zinc, among many others in a crowded market of mobile and desktop apps built to address a growing interest among organizations to have more user-friendly, modern ways for their employees to communicate.

Workplace positions itself as different from its competitors in a couple of ways: it says its communications platform is designed for all different employment demographics, covering so-called knowledge workers (the traditional IT customer) as well as waged and front-line employees; but it also claims to be the most democratic of the pack, by virtue of being a Facebook product, designed for mass market use from the ground up.

In the workplace, that translates to apps that do not require company email addresses or company devices to use; a strong proportion of employees at Workplace’s bigger customers, such as Walmart (2.2 million employees) and Starbucks (nearly 240,000 employees) do not sit at desks and, until relatively recently, would not have been using any kind of PC or phone on a regular basis on any average day.

But as smartphones have become as ubiquitous as having your keys and wallet, acceptance of having them and utilising them to communicate workplace-related information has changed, and that is the wave that services like Workplace are hoping to ride.

But despite the strong engine that is Facebook behind it, Workplace has a lot of challenges ahead.

The company has not updated its total number of customers in more than a year at this point — its last milestone was 30,000 customers, back in November 2017 — and today Facebook VP Julien Codorniou said the company might put out a more updated number later this year.

“We’re not using that metric to communicate our success,” he said, “but we have to communicate growth, I feel the demand from the market.” Slack claims 500,000 organizations, more than 70,000 of which pay; Teams from Microsoft has some 329,000 customers, the company says.

There also is the issue of how a customer win is actually translating to usage. Last month, a much smaller competitor, Crew, with 25,000 customers, noted that at least some of them were in fact those that Workplace was claiming to have secured.

“Starbucks is theoretically using Workplace, but it’s been deployed only to managers,” Crew CEO Danny Leffel told me. “We have almost 1,000 Starbucks locations using Crew. We knew we had a huge presence there, and we were worried when Facebook won them, but we haven’t seen even a dent in our business so far.”

Codorniou said that this also doesn’t tell the full story. He describes the approach that Crew and others take as “shadow IT,” in that the companies don’t talk to central HQ when winning the business. “You can’t give a voice to everyone by going in through the back,” he said. He also contends that it just takes time to deploy something across a massive business. “Workplace only works if you get 100 percent of the company using it,” he added. Notably, today Facebook announced that Nestlé has already onboarded 210,000 customers to Workplace.

There is also the bigger question of how these products will develop technically to further differentiate from the pack. For now, it feels like Slack still reigns supreme when it comes to desktop knowledge worker functionality — even without usefully threaded comments — because of the fact that you can integrate virtually any other app you might want to into its platform.

Crew, meanwhile, has differentiated by focusing on providing handy tools to help businesses managing scheduling for shift workers, which comprise the majority of its user base.

Others like Teams, and yes, Workplace, have also added integrations and their own functionality — Workplace’s most interesting features, I think, are how it has translated consumer-Facebook features like Live into the Workplace environment. But there is still a lot of space for apps to consider what other features and functionality will be most useful for the most employees and for the business customer at large.

It will be interesting to see how and if this is affected by way of a key leadership appointment. Last month, Facebook appointed a new “head” of Workplace, Karandeep Anand, who came to Facebook three years ago from Microsoft (and thus has a close understanding of enterprise software). Codorniou said Anand would be relocating to London, where Workplace is developed, and will focus on the technical development of the product while Codorniou focuses on sales, client relations and business development.

Technical leadership for Workplace had previously come straight from CTO Mike Schroepfer, Codorniou said. “We decided that we needed someone full time, here in London,” he said.

It’s not clear if Workplace’s win at Nestlé is replacing another product; it seems, however, that it is more likely a trend of how more businesses are making an investment in company-wide communications platforms where they may never have had one before, in hopes of it helping keep employees switched on, linked up and generally more happy and feeling less like expendable cogs.

“Nestlé is a people-first environment,” said EVP Chris Johnson, in a statement. “We really rely on our talented teams to manage more than 2,000 Nestlé brands worldwide. We help our employees develop and we give them the right tools, so Workplace is a perfect fit.”

Jan
03
2019
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PR management firm Cision is acquiring Falcon.io to expand into social media marketing

Social media has become a primary conduit for getting the word out, in some cases proving to be an even stronger force for publicity than more traditional media outlets and paid advertising, and so today, a company that has grown its business around public relations services has acquired a social media management company to make sure it has a foothold in the medium. Cision, which provides press release distribution, media monitoring and other PR services to businesses and the media industry, has acquired Falcon.io, a startup founded in Denmark that lets companies post, manage and analyse their presence on social media platforms.

Terms of the deal are not being disclosed, the companies tell me, but the whole of the Falcon team, including CEO/founder Ulrik Bo Larsen, are joining the company, where they will continue to operate its existing product set as well as integrate it into Cision’s wider business. The last valuation noted in April 2017 at the Danish Companies House was about $52 million (€45 million), but they have been growing very rapidly, and one source tells us that the price paid was around $200-$225 million, while Danish publication Borsen says it’s 800 million Danish kroner, or around $122 million. I’m still trying to get more detail.

Falcon had raised around $25 million according to PitchBook, and it has never disclosed its valuation. Cision — well-known to many journalists — is publicly traded and currently has a market cap of just under $1.6 billion. For some context, two other prominent social media management firms that compete with Falcon, Sprout Social and Hootsuite, are respectively valued at $800 million and anywhere between $750 million and $1 billion (depending on who you ask).

The latter two are bigger firms — Falcon has around 1,500 businesses as customers that use it to manage their social profiles and read social sentiment across platforms like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, while Sprout says it has around 25,000 and Hootsuite counts millions of individual users — and both have raised significantly more capital, but their valuations underscore the demand that we’re seeing for platforms and user-friendly tools to target the world’s social media users — estimated to number at upwards of 2.5 billion people globally.

Kevin Akeroyd, who came on as Cision’s CEO after long stints at both Oracle and Salesforce, among other places, describes Falcon as a “top five” social media marketing and analytics firm, and in an interview he said that the new acquisition will form a key part of the “communications cloud” that Cision has been building.

As with Salesforce, Oracle and Adobe (which also use similar cloud-themed terminology to describe their product suites), Cision’s strategy is to build a one-stop shop for customers to manage all their communications needs from one platform. Falcon itself may be smaller than its competitors, but the idea is that it will be cross-sold to Cision’s customers, which currently number 75,000 businesses.

“We’re seeing too many of our customers using one application for content, another for something else, and so on. There are too many apps,” Akeroyd said. “We have always believed in earned media” — that is, media mentions that are not in the form of paid advertising — “and the role of influencers alongside paid and owned marketing. We believe we could provide the first solution for businesses across earned, communications services and public relations, helping to build a better data stack to measure and attribute what you are doing in comms.”

As social networking companies like Facebook and Twitter build more of their own tools in-house to serve the social media needs of organizations that want to better manage their profiles and interactions on these platforms, this has led to some consolidation and shifts among social media management companies. Some are merging or getting acquired, and some are shopping themselves around.

And in that wider trend, it’s not too surprising to see public relations firms get in on the action. Social media has completely changed the landscape for how information is disseminated today, sometimes complementing what traditional media organizations do — there are many examples of how newspapers and other news outlets leverage, for example, Facebook to grow and communicate with their audiences — and often replacing traditional media altogether. (Pew last month said that social media outpaced newspapers for the first time as a news source in the U.S., although TV and radio are still bigger than social… for now.)

Given that public relations management has long been the connecting link between organisations and media outlets, they have had to take a bigger step into social media in order to provide to their clients a more complete picture of the media landscape. Cision is not the first to have done this: Last year, Meltwater, another media monitoring firm, acquired DataSift to add social signals and traffic to its platform mix.

“This consolidation has to come because there is just too much value for the user,” Akeroyd said. “CMOs and CCOs do not want their own islands, they want something bigger.”

Dec
19
2018
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Crew, a Workplace and Slack messaging rival for shift workers, raises $35M, adds enterprise version

When it comes to shift workers communicating with each other in the workplace when they are not face-to-face, gone are the days of cork announcement boards. Now, the messaging app is the medium, and today one of the startups tackling that opportunity in a unique way has raised a round of funding to get to the next stage of growth.

Crew, a chat app that specifically targets businesses that employ shift workers who do not typically sit at computers all day, has now raised $35 million in Series C funding from DAG Ventures, Tenaya Capital, and previous backers Greylock Partners, Sequoia Capital, Harrison Metal Capital and Aspect Ventures. With the funding news, it’s also announcing the launch of a new feature called Crew Enterprise, which helps businesses better manage messaging across large groups of these workers.

The funding and new product come on the heels of the company hitting 25,000 organizations using its service — many of them multi-store retailers with an emphasis in the food industry, household names like Domino’s Pizza and Burger King — with some strong engagement. Its users are together sending some 25 million messages or responses to other messages each week, on average six times per day per user, with more than 55 percent of its whole user base logging in on an average day.

There are quite a lot of messaging apps out in the market today, but the majority of them are aimed at so-called knowledge workers, people who might be using a number of apps throughout their day, who often sit at desks and use computers alongside their phones and tablets. Crew takes a different approach in that it targets the vast swathe of other workers in the job market and their priorities.

As it turns out, co-founder and CEO Danny Leffel tells me that those priorities are focused around a few specific things that are not the same as those for the other employment sector. One is to get the latest shift schedules for work, especially when they are not at work; another is to be able to swap those shifts when they need to; and a third, largely coming from the management end, is to make sure that everything gets communicated to the staff even when they are not in for work to attend a staff meeting.

“Some of the older practices feel like versions of a Rube Goldberg machine,” he said. “The stories we hear are quite insane.” Shift schedules, he said, are an example. “Lots of workplaces have rules, where you can’t call in to check the schedule because it causes employees to come off the floor. One hotel manager told us he couldn’t hold staff meetings with everyone there because he runs a 24/7 workplace so some people would have to come in especially. One store GM from a supermarket chain told us that the whole store has only one email address, so when an announcement goes out, the GM prints that and hands it to everyone. And the problems just compound when you talk to them.”

Crew is by no means the only business internal messaging service that is aiming to provide a product specifically for shift workers. Workplace, Facebook’s own take on enterprise communications, has also positioned itself as a platform for “every worker,” and has snagged a clutch of huge clients such as Walmart (2.2 million employees globally) and Starbucks (254,000) to fill out that vision.

Leffel, however, paints a sightly different picture of how this is playing out, since in many cases even when a company has been “won” as a global customer that hasn’t translated to a global roll out.

“Starbucks is theoretically using Workplace, but it’s been deployed only to managers,” he said. “We have almost 1,000 Starbucks locations using Crew. We knew we had a huge presence there, and we were worried when Facebook won them, but we haven’t seen even a dent in our business so far.”

Leffel has had previous some experience of getting into the ring with Facebook — although it hasn’t ended with him the winner. His previous startup, Yardsellr, positioned itself as the “eBay of Facebook,” working as a layer on top of the big social network for people to sell items. It died a death in 2013, when Facebook took a less friendly turn to Yardsellr using Facebook’s social graph to grow its own business (it was a time when it was cutting off apps from Zynga for similar reasons). Today, Facebook itself owns the experience of selling on its platform via Marketplace.

Crew seems to have found a strong foothold among enterprises in terms of its usefulness, not just use, which is one sign of how it might have more staying power.

survey it conducted among 50,000 of its users found that 63 percent of leaders who use Crew report fewer missed shifts and 70 percent see increased motivation on their team. Crew worked out that among respondents, it is generating time savings of four or more hours per week for 93 percent of surveyed managers. And because of better communication, people are working faster when handing off things to each other on the front line, with a Domino’s Pizza franchisee sped up delivery punctuality by 23 percent as one example. (The company offers services on three tiers, ranging from free for small teams, Pro at $10 per month per location, to Enterprise priced on negotiation.)

Crew’s new enterprise tier is aiming to take the company to the next step. Today, Leffel says that a lot of its customers are buying on a location-by-location basis. The idea with Crew Enterprise is that larger organizations will be able to provide a more unified experience across all of those locations (not to mention pay more for the functionality). Managers can use the service to message out details about promotions, and they have a better ability to manage conversations across the platform and also get more feedback from people who are directly interacting with customers. Meanwhile, admins also gain better ability to manage compliance.

If some of this sounds familiar, it’s not just because Workplace is the only one who is also targeting the same users. Dynamic Signal and Zinc (formerly Cotap) are two other startups that are also trying to provide better messaging-based communications to more than just white-collar knowledge workers. Crew will have its work cut out for it, but there is a lot of room for now for multiple players.

“We are seeing a shift in the marketplace, going from absolutely don’t use your phone at work to don’t use it when customers are present,” Leffel said of the opportunity. “Some have started to change the rules to allow workers to use their own phones to perform price checks. We are solving for this evolving workflow.”

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