Jul
08
2019
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Box CEO Aaron Levie is coming to TC Sessions: Enterprise

Box co-founder, chairman and CEO Aaron Levie took his company from a consumer-oriented online storage service to a publicly traded enterprise powerhouse. Launched in 2005, Box today has more than 41 million users, and the vast majority of Fortune 500 companies use its service. Levie will join us at TC Sessions: Enterprise for a fireside chat about the past, present and future of Box, as well as the overall state of the SaaS and cloud space.

Levie, who also occasionally contributes to TechCrunch, was a bit of a serial entrepreneur before he even got to college. Once he got to the University of Southern California, the idea for Box was born. In hindsight, it was obviously the right idea at the right time, but its early iterations focused more on consumers than business users. Like so many other startups, though, the Box team quickly realized that in order to actually make money, selling to the enterprise was the most logical — and profitable — option.

Before going public, Box raised well over $500 million from some of the most world’s most prestigious venture capital firms. Box’s market cap today is just under $2.5 billion, but more than four years after going public, the company, like many Silicon Valley unicorns both private and public, still regularly loses money. 

Early-Bird Tickets are on sale today for just $249 — book here before prices go up by $100!

May
30
2019
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The Slack origin story

Let’s rewind a decade. It’s 2009. Vancouver, Canada.

Stewart Butterfield, known already for his part in building Flickr, a photo-sharing service acquired by Yahoo in 2005, decided to try his hand — again — at building a game. Flickr had been a failed attempt at a game called Game Neverending followed by a big pivot. This time, Butterfield would make it work.

To make his dreams a reality, he joined forces with Flickr’s original chief software architect Cal Henderson, as well as former Flickr employees Eric Costello and Serguei Mourachov, who like himself, had served some time at Yahoo after the acquisition. Together, they would build Tiny Speck, the company behind an artful, non-combat massively multiplayer online game.

Years later, Butterfield would pull off a pivot more massive than his last. Slack, born from the ashes of his fantastical game, would lead a shift toward online productivity tools that fundamentally change the way people work.

Glitch is born

In mid-2009, former TechCrunch reporter-turned-venture-capitalist M.G. Siegler wrote one of the first stories on Butterfield’s mysterious startup plans.

“So what is Tiny Speck all about?” Siegler wrote. “That is still not entirely clear. The word on the street has been that it’s some kind of new social gaming endeavor, but all they’ll say on the site is ‘we are working on something huge and fun and we need help.’”

Siegler would go on to invest in Slack as a general partner at GV, the venture capital arm of Alphabet .

“Clearly this is a creative project,” Siegler added. “It almost sounds like they’re making an animated movie. As awesome as that would be, with people like Henderson on board, you can bet there’s impressive engineering going on to turn this all into a game of some sort (if that is in fact what this is all about).”

After months of speculation, Tiny Speck unveiled its project: Glitch, an online game set inside the brains of 11 giants. It would be free with in-game purchases available and eventually, a paid subscription for power users.

May
13
2019
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Slack aims to be the most important software company in the world, says CEO

Slack this morning disclosed estimated preliminary financial results for the first quarter of 2019 ahead of a direct listing planned for June 20.

Citing an addition of paid customers, the workplace messaging service posted revenues of about $134 million, up 66% from $81 million in the first quarter of 2018. Losses from operations increased from $26 million in Q1 2018 to roughly $39 million this year.

In addition to filing updated paperwork, the Slack executive team gathered on Monday to make a final pitch to potential shareholders, emphasizing its goal of replacing email within enterprises across the world.

“People deserve to do the best work of their lives,” Slack co-founder and chief executive officer Stewart Butterfield said in a video released alongside a live stream of its investor day event. “This desire of feeling aligned with your team, of removing confusion, of getting clarity; the desire for support in doing the best work of your life, that’s universal, that’s deeply human. It appeals to people with all kinds of roles, in all kinds of industries, at all scales of organization and all cultures.”

“We believe that whoever is able to unlock that potential for people … is going to be the most important software company in the world. We aim to be that company,” he added.”

Slack, valued at more than $7 billion with its last round of venture capital funding, plans to list on the NYSE under the ticker symbol “SK.”

The business filed to go public in April as other well-known tech companies were finalizing their initial public offerings. Following Uber’s disastrous IPO last week, public and private market investors alike will be keeping a close-eye on Slack’s stock market performance, which may determine Wall Street’s future appetite for Silicon Valley’s unicorns.

Though some of the recent tech IPOs performed famously, like Zoom, Uber and Lyft’s performance has served as a cautionary tale for going out in poor market conditions with lofty valuations. Uber began trading last week at below its IPO price of $45 and is today down significantly at just $36 per share. Lyft, for its part, is selling for $47.5 apiece today after pricing at $72 per share in March.

Slack isn’t losing billions per year like Uber, but it’s also not as close to profitability as expected. In the year ending January 31, 2019, Slack posted a net loss of $138.9 million and revenue of $400.6 million. That’s compared to a loss of $140.1 million on revenue of $220.5 million for the year ending January 31, 2018. In its S-1, the company attributed its losses to scaling the business and capitalizing on its market opportunity.

Workplace messaging startup Slack said Monday, February 4, 2019 it had filed a confidential registration for an initial public offering, becoming the latest of a group of richly valued tech enterprises to look to Wall Street. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP) (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)

Slack currently boasts more than 10 million daily active users across more than 600,000 organizations — 88,000 on the paid plan and 550,000 on the free plan.

Slack has been able to bypass the traditional roadshow process expected of an IPO-ready business, opting for a path to Wall Street popularized by Spotify in 2018. The company plans to complete in mid-June a direct listing, which allows companies to forgo issuing new shares and instead sell directly to the market existing shares held by insiders, employees and investors. The date, however, is subject to change.

Slack has previously raised a total of $1.2 billion in funding from investors, including Accel, Andreessen Horowitz, Social Capital, SoftBank, Google Ventures and Kleiner Perkins.

May
08
2019
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Slack to live stream pitch to shareholders on Monday ahead of direct listing

Slack, the ubiquitous workplace messaging tool, will make its pitch to prospective shareholders on Monday at an invite-only event in New York City, the company confirmed in a blog post on Wednesday. Slack stock is expected to begin trading on the New York Stock Exchange as soon as next month.

Slack, which is pursuing a direct listing, will live stream Monday’s Investor Day on its website.

An alternative to an initial public offering, direct listings allow businesses to forgo issuing new shares and instead sell directly to the market existing shares held by insiders, employees and investors. Slack, like Spotify, has been able to bypass the traditional roadshow process expected of an IPO-ready business, as well as some of the exorbitant Wall Street fees.

Spotify, if you remember, similarly live streamed an event that is typically for investors eyes only. If Slack’s event is anything like the music streaming giant’s, Slack co-founder and chief executive officer Stewart Butterfield will speak to the company’s greater mission alongside several other executives.

Slack unveiled documents for a public listing two weeks ago. In its SEC filing, the company disclosed a net loss of $138.9 million and revenue of $400.6 million in the fiscal year ending January 31, 2019. That’s compared to a loss of $140.1 million on revenue of $220.5 million for the year before.

Additionally, the company said it reached 10 million daily active users earlier this year across more than 600,000 organizations.

Slack has previously raised a total of $1.2 billion in funding from investors, including Accel, Andreessen Horowitz, Social Capital, SoftBank, Google Ventures and Kleiner Perkins.

May
06
2019
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Microsoft wants you to work less

Microsoft today announced updates to its MyAnalytics platform and a new Outlook feature that are meant to help you work less, find more time to focus on the work that actually matters and, by extension, get more downtime.

Until now, for example, MyAnalytics, Microsoft’s tool for helping employees track their productivity, would provide you with a measure of how much time you spent working after hours. That’s not necessarily a healthy number to track. Going forward, MyAnalytics will track the number of days you managed to unplug after work and didn’t check your email or work on a document at 8pm (something Microsoft’s own PR department could learn from given that it has a tendency to provide essential press materials for next-day embargoes at 6:30pm). The idea here, obviously, is to get employees to focus on this number instead of how much they work when they are off the clock.

“Our customers often tell us they spend all day in meetings with little time to focus on pressing tasks and projects,” Microsoft communications chief Frank X. Shaw also noted in a press briefing ahead of today’s announcement.

To combat this, the company today launched a few new features that will let you set up regular “focus time.” The first of this is a tool that lets you set up focus time each week, as well as a feature in Microsoft teams that will alert your fellow employees when you are trying to get things done.

Because your colleagues often don’t care about your flow, though, and are prone to scheduling yet another unnecessary meeting during those times, Microsoft is also launching a new AI-powered Outlook plugin that will help you rebook your focus time and find times for focusing on specific to-do items.

In the future, the company also plans to introduce well-being, networking and collaboration plans.

Focus plans will become available in preview in the next few months for Microsoft 365 and Office 365 users, with E5 customers getting them first.

Apr
29
2019
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Canonical’s Mark Shuttleworth on dueling open-source foundations

At the Open Infrastructure Summit, which was previously known as the OpenStack Summit, Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth used his keynote to talk about the state of open-source foundations — and what often feels like the increasing competition between them. “I know for a fact that nobody asked to replace dueling vendors with dueling foundations,” he said. “Nobody asked for that.”

He then put a point on this, saying, “what’s the difference between a vendor that only promotes the ideas that are in its own interest and a foundation that does the same thing. Or worse, a foundation that will only represent projects that it’s paid to represent.”

Somewhat uncharacteristically, Shuttleworth didn’t say which foundations he was talking about, but since there are really only two foundations that fit the bill here, it’s pretty clear that he was talking about the OpenStack Foundation and the Linux Foundation — and maybe more precisely the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, the home of the incredibly popular Kubernetes project.

It turns out, that’s only part of his misgivings about the current state of open-source foundations, though. I sat down with Shuttleworth after his keynote to discuss his comments, as well as Canonical’s announcements around open infrastructure.

One thing that’s worth noting at the outset is that the OpenStack Foundation is using this event to highlight that fact that it has now brought in more new open infrastructure projects outside of the core OpenStack software, with two of them graduating from their pilot phase. Shuttleworth, who has made big bets on OpenStack in the past and is seeing a lot of interest from customers, is not a fan. Canonical, it’s worth noting, is also a major sponsor of the OpenStack Foundation. He, however, believes, the foundation should focus on the core OpenStack project.

“We’re busy deploying 27 OpenStack clouds — that’s more than double the run rate last year,” he said. “OpenStack is important. It’s very complicated and hard. And a lot of our focus has been on making it simpler and cleaner, despite the efforts of those around us in this community. But I believe in it. I think that if you need large-scale, multi-tenant virtualization infrastructure, it’s the best game in town. But it has problems. It needs focus. I’m super committed to that. And I worry about people losing their focus because something newer and shinier has shown up.”

To clarify that, I asked him if he essentially believes that the OpenStack Foundation is making a mistake by trying to be all things infrastructure. “Yes, absolutely,” he said. “At the end of the day, I think there are some projects that this community is famous for. They need focus, they need attention, right? It’s very hard to argue that they will get focus and attention when you’re launching a ton of other things that nobody’s ever heard of, right? Why are you launching those things? Who is behind those decisions? Is it a money question as well? Those are all fair questions to ask.”

He doesn’t believe all of the blame should fall on the Foundation leadership, though. “I think these guys are trying really hard. I think the common characterization that it was hapless isn’t helpful and isn’t accurate. We’re trying to figure stuff out.” Shuttleworth indeed doesn’t believe the leadership is hapless, something he stressed, but he clearly isn’t all that happy with the current path the OpenStack Foundation is on either.

The Foundation, of course, doesn’t agree. As OpenStack Foundation COO Mark Collier told me, the organization remains as committed to OpenStack as ever. “The Foundation, the board, the community, the staff — we’ve never been more committed to OpenStack,” he said. “If you look at the state of OpenStack, it’s one of the top-three most active open-source projects in the world right now […] There’s no wavering in our commitment to OpenStack.” He also noted that the other projects that are now part of the foundation are the kind of software that is helpful to OpenStack users. “These are efforts which are good for OpenStack,” he said. In addition, he stressed that the process of opening up the Foundation has been going on for more than two years, with the vast majority of the community (roughly 97 percent) voting in favor.

OpenStack board member Allison Randal echoed this. “Over the past few years, and a long series of strategic conversations, we realized that OpenStack doesn’t exist in a vacuum. OpenStack’s success depends on the success of a whole network of other open-source projects, including Linux distributions and dependencies like Python and hypervisors, but also on the success of other open infrastructure projects which our users are deploying together. The OpenStack community has learned a few things about successful open collaboration over the years, and we hope that sharing those lessons and offering a little support can help other open infrastructure projects succeed too. The rising tide of open source lifts all boats.”

As far as open-source foundations in general, he surely also doesn’t believe that it’s a good thing to have numerous foundations compete over projects. He argues that we’re still trying to figure out the role of open-source foundations and that we’re currently in a slightly awkward position because we’re still trying to determine how to best organize these foundations. “Open source in society is really interesting. And how we organize that in society is really interesting,” he said. “How we lead that, how we organize that is really interesting and there will be steps forward and steps backward. Foundations tweeting angrily at each other is not very presidential.”

He also challenged the notion that if you just put a project into a foundation, “everything gets better.” That’s too simplistic, he argues, because so much depends on the leadership of the foundation and how they define being open. “When you see foundations as nonprofit entities effectively arguing over who controls the more important toys, I don’t think that’s serving users.”

When I asked him whether he thinks some foundations are doing a better job than others, he essentially declined to comment. But he did say that he thinks the Linux Foundation is doing a good job with Linux, in large parts because it employs Linus Torvalds . “I think the technical leadership of a complex project that serves the needs of many organizations is best served that way and something that the OpenStack Foundation could learn from the Linux Foundation. I’d be much happier with my membership fees actually paying for thoughtful, independent leadership of the complexity of OpenStack rather than the sort of bizarre bun fights and stuffed ballots that we see today. For all the kumbaya, it flatly doesn’t work.” He believes that projects should have independent leaders who can make long-term plans. “Linus’ finger is a damn useful tool and it’s hard when everybody tries to get reelected. It’s easy to get outraged at Linus, but he’s doing a fucking good job, right?”

OpenStack, he believes, often lacks that kind of decisiveness because it tries to please everybody and attract more sponsors. “That’s perhaps the root cause,” he said, and it leads to too much “behind-the-scenes puppet mastering.”

In addition to our talk about foundations, Shuttleworth also noted that he believes the company is still on the path to an IPO. He’s obviously not committing to a time frame, but after a year of resetting in 2018, he argues that Canonical’s business is looking up. “We want to be north of $200 million in revenue and a decent growth rate and the right set of stories around the data center, around public cloud and IoT.” First, though, Canonical will do a growth equity round.

Mar
26
2019
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Adobe launches its Commerce Cloud, based on its Magento acquisition

Adobe today announced the launch of its Commerce Cloud, the newest part of the company’s Experience Cloud. Unsurprisingly, the Commerce Cloud builds on the company’s $1.68 billion acquisition of Magento last May. Indeed, at its core, the Adobe Commerce Cloud is essentially a fully managed cloud-based version of the Magento platform that is fully integrated with the rest of Adobe’s tools, including its Analytics Cloud, Marketing Cloud and Advertising Cloud.

With this launch, Adobe is also extending the platform by adding new features like dashboards for keeping an eye on a company’s e-commerce strategy and, for the first time, an integration with the Amazon marketplace from which users will be able to directly manage within the Commerce Cloud interface.

“For Adobe, that’s really important because it actually closes the last mile in its Experience offering,” said Jason Woosley, Adobe’s VP of its commerce product and platform and Magento’s former VP of product and technology. “It’s no mystery that they’ve been looking at commerce offerings in the past. We’re just super glad that they settled on us.”

Woosley also stressed that this new product isn’t just about closing the last mile for Adobe from a commerce perspective but also from a data intelligence perspective.”If you think about behavioral data you get from your interactions with our content, that’s all very critical for understanding how your customers are interacting with your brand,” he said. “But now that we’ve got a commerce offering, we are actually able to put the dollars and cents behind that.”

Adobe notes that this new offering also means that Magento users won’t have to worry about the operational aspects of running the service themselves. To ensure that it can manage this for these customers, the company has tweaked the service to be flexible and scalable on its platform.

Woosley also stressed the importance of the Amazon integration that launches with the Commerce Cloud. “Love it or hate it,” he said of Amazon. “Either you are comfortable participating in those marketplaces or you are not, but at the end of the day, they are capturing more and more of the initial product search.” Commerce Cloud users will be able to pick and choose which parts of their inventory will appear on Amazon and at what prices. Plenty of brands, after all, only want to showcase a selection of their products on Amazon to drive their brand awareness and then drive customers back to their own e-commerce stores.

It’s worth noting that all of the usual Magento extensions will work on the Adobe Commerce Cloud. That’s important given that there are more than 300,000 developers in the Magento ecosystem, plus thousands of partners. With that, the Commerce Cloud can cover quite a few use cases that wouldn’t be important enough for Adobe itself to put its own resources behind but that make the platform attractive for a wider range of potential users.

Dec
06
2018
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Contentful raises $33.5M for its headless CMS platform

Contentful, a Berlin- and San Francisco-based startup that provides content management infrastructure for companies like Spotify, Nike, Lyft and others, today announced that it has raised a $33.5 million Series D funding round led by Sapphire Ventures, with participation from OMERS Ventures and Salesforce Ventures, as well as existing investors General Catalyst, Benchmark, Balderton Capital and Hercules. In total, the company has now raised $78.3 million.

It’s been less than a year since the company raised its Series C round and, as Contentful co-founder and CEO Sascha Konietzke told me, the company didn’t really need to raise right now. “We had just raised our last round about a year ago. We still had plenty of cash in our bank account and we didn’t need to raise as of now,” said Konietzke. “But we saw a lot of economic uncertainty, so we thought it might be a good moment in time to recharge. And at the same time, we already had some interesting conversations ongoing with Sapphire [formerly SAP Ventures] and Salesforce. So we saw the opportunity to add more funding and also start getting into a tight relationship with both of these players.”

The original plan for Contentful was to focus almost explicitly on mobile. As it turns out, though, the company’s customers also wanted to use the service to handle its web-based applications and these days, Contentful happily supports both. “What we’re seeing is that everything is becoming an application,” he told me. “We started with native mobile application, but even the websites nowadays are often an application.”

In its early days, Contentful focused only on developers. Now, however, that’s changing, and having these connections to large enterprise players like SAP and Salesforce surely isn’t going to hurt the company as it looks to bring on larger enterprise accounts.

Currently, the company’s focus is very much on Europe and North America, which account for about 80 percent of its customers. For now, Contentful plans to continue to focus on these regions, though it obviously supports customers anywhere in the world.

Contentful only exists as a hosted platform. As of now, the company doesn’t have any plans for offering a self-hosted version, though Konietzke noted that he does occasionally get requests for this.

What the company is planning to do in the near future, though, is to enable more integrations with existing enterprise tools. “Customers are asking for deeper integrations into their enterprise stack,” Konietzke said. “And that’s what we’re beginning to focus on and where we’re building a lot of capabilities around that.” In addition, support for GraphQL and an expanded rich text editing experience is coming up. The company also recently launched a new editing experience.

Oct
18
2018
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Atlassian launches the new Jira Software Cloud

Atlassian previewed the next generation of its hosted Jira Software project tracking tool earlier this year. Today, it’s available to all Jira users. To build the new Jira, Atlassian redesigned both the back-end stack and rethought the user experience from the ground up. That’s not an easy change, given how important Jira has become for virtually every company that develops software — and given that it is Atlassian’s flagship product. And with this launch, Atlassian is now essentially splitting the hosted version of Jira (which is hosted on AWS) from the self-hosted server version and prioritizing different features for both.

So the new version of Jira that’s launching to all users today doesn’t just have a new, cleaner look, but more importantly, new functionality that allows for a more flexible workflow that’s less dependent on admins and gives more autonomy to teams (assuming the admins don’t turn those features off).

Because changes to such a popular tool are always going to upset at least some users, it’s worth noting at the outset that the old classic view isn’t going away. “It’s important to note that the next-gen experience will not replace our classic experience, which millions of users are happily using,” Jake Brereton, head of marketing for Jira Software Cloud, told me. “The next-gen experience and the associated project type will be available in addition to the classic projects that users have always had access to. We have no plans to remove or sunset any of the classic functionality in Jira Cloud.”

The core tenet of the redesign is that software development in 2018 is very different from the way developers worked in 2002, when Jira first launched. Interestingly enough, the acquisition of Trello also helped guide the overall design of the new Jira.

“One of the key things that guided our strategy is really bringing the simplicity of Trello and the power of Jira together,” Sean Regan, Atlassian’s head of growth for Software Teams, told me. “One of the reasons for that is that modern software development teams aren’t just developers down the hall taking requirements. In the best companies, they’re embedded with the business, where you have analysts, marketing, designers, product developers, product managers — all working together as a squad or a triad. So JIRA, it has to be simple enough for those teams to function but it has to be powerful enough to run a complex software development process.”

Unsurprisingly, the influence of Trello is most apparent in the Jira boards, where you can now drag and drop cards, add new columns with a few clicks and easily filter cards based on your current needs (without having to learn Jira’s powerful but arcane query language). Gone are the days where you had to dig into the configuration to make even the simplest of changes to a board.

As Regan noted, when Jira was first built, it was built with a single team in mind. Today, there’s a mix of teams from different departments that use it. So while a singular permissions model for all of Jira worked for one team, it doesn’t make sense anymore when the whole company uses the product. In the new Jira then, the permissions model is project-based. “So if we wanted to start a team right now and build a product, we could design our board, customize our own issues, build our own workflows — and we could do it without having to find the IT guy down the hall,” he noted.

One feature the team seems to be especially proud of is roadmaps. That’s a new feature in Jira that makes it easier for teams to see the big picture. Like with boards, it’s easy enough to change the roadmap by just dragging the different larger chunks of work (or “epics,” in Agile parlance) to a new date.

“It’s a really simple roadmap,” Brereton explained. “It’s that way by design. But the problem we’re really trying to solve here is, is to bring in any stakeholder in the business and give them one view where they can come in at any time and know that what they’re looking at is up to date. Because it’s tied to your real work, you know that what we’re looking at is up to date, which seems like a small thing, but it’s a huge thing in terms of changing the way these teams work for the positive.

The Atlassian team also redesigned what’s maybe the most-viewed page of the service: the Jira issue. Now, issues can have attachments of any file type, for example, making it easier to work with screenshots or files from designers.

Jira now also features a number of new APIs for integrations with Bitbucket and GitHub (which launched earlier this month), as well as InVision, Slack, Gmail and Facebook for Work.

With this update, Atlassian is also increasing the user limit to 5,000 seats, and Jira now features compliance with three different ISO certifications and SOC 2 Type II.

Oct
04
2018
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GitHub gets a new and improved Jira Software Cloud integration

Atlassian’s Jira has become a standard for managing large software projects in many companies. Many of those same companies also use GitHub as their source code repository and, unsurprisingly, there has long been an official way to integrate the two. That old way, however, was often slow, limited in its capabilities and unable to cope with the large code bases that many enterprises now manage on GitHub .

Almost as if to prove that GitHub remains committed to an open ecosystem, even after the Microsoft acquisition, the company today announced a new and improved integration between the two products.

“Working with Atlassian on the Jira integration was really important for us,” GitHub’s director of ecosystem engineering Kyle Daigle told me ahead of the announcement. “Because we want to make sure that our developer customers are getting the best experience of our open platform that they can have, regardless of what tools they use.”

So a couple of months ago, the team decided to build its own Jira integration from the ground up, and it’s committed to maintaining and improving it over time. As Daigle noted, the improvements here include better performance and a better user experience.

The new integration now also makes it easier to view all the pull requests, commits and branches from GitHub that are associated with a Jira issue, search for issues based on information from GitHub and see the status of the development work right in Jira, too. And because changes in GitHub trigger an update to Jira, too, that data should remain up to date at all times.

The old Jira integration over the so-called Jira DVCS connector will be deprecated and GitHub will start prompting existing users to do the upgrade over the next few weeks. The new integration is now a GitHub app, so that also comes with all of the security features the platform has to offer.

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