Jun
19
2018
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Google injects Hire with AI to speed up common tasks

Since Google Hire launched last year it has been trying to make it easier for hiring managers to manage the data and tasks associated with the hiring process, while maybe tweaking LinkedIn while they’re at it. Today the company announced some AI-infused enhancements that they say will help save time and energy spent on manual processes.

“By incorporating Google AI, Hire now reduces repetitive, time-consuming tasks, like scheduling interviews into one-click interactions. This means hiring teams can spend less time with logistics and more time connecting with people,” Google’s Berit Hoffmann, Hire product manager wrote in a blog post announcing the new features.

The first piece involves making it easier and faster to schedule interviews with candidates. This is a multi-step activity that involves scheduling appropriate interviewers, choosing a time and date that works for all parties involved in the interview and scheduling a room in which to conduct the interview. Organizing these kind of logistics tend to eat up a lot of time.

“To streamline this process, Hire now uses AI to automatically suggest interviewers and ideal time slots, reducing interview scheduling to a few clicks,” Hoffmann wrote.

Photo: Google

Another common hiring chore is finding keywords in a resume. Hire’s AI now finds these words for a recruiter automatically by analysing terms in a job description or search query and highlighting relevant words including synonyms and acronyms in a resume to save time spent manually searching for them.

Photo: Google

Finally, another standard part of the hiring process is making phone calls, lots of phone calls. To make this easier, the latest version of Google Hire has a new click-to-call function. Simply click the phone number and it dials automatically and registers the call in call a log for easy recall or auditing.

While Microsoft has LinkedIn and Office 365, Google has G Suite and Google Hire. The strategy behind Hire is to allow hiring personnel to work in the G Suite tools they are immersed in every day and incorporate Hire functionality within those tools.

It’s not unlike CRM tools that integrate with Outlook or GMail because that’s where sales people spend a good deal of their time anyway. The idea is to reduce the time spent switching between tools and make the process a more integrated experience.

While none of these features individually will necessarily wow you, they are making use of Google AI to simplify common tasks to reduce some of the tedium associated with every-day hiring tasks.

Jun
18
2018
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Blockchain startups woo enterprises with a private chain audit trail

By placing all the information about services or complex manufacturing and assembly processes on a private, permissioned blockchain, the idea is that a company can create an “immutable” audit trail of data. When you think about it, currently this involves a labor-intensive combination of paper and networks. But initial trials with private blockchains in the last couple of years have shown there is potential to reduce the identification process of a data trail from several days to minutes.

Indications that this is becoming a hot issue amongst startups arrives today in two pieces of news.

Firstly, London-based “Gospel”(yes, that really is their name…) has raised £1.4m in seed funding from investors led by European-focused LocalGlobe.

The blockchain startup says it has been working with an unnamed “aerospace and defence manufacturer” to develop a proof of concept to improve record keeping for its supply chain. What’s the betting it’s British Aerospace? They aren’t saying.

At any rate, Gospel says it has developed a way of securely distributing data across decentralised infrastructures, offering companies the potential to automate records for complex products that usually require significant manual management. The idea is that is shares only the information it needs to, securely, with other partners in its supply chain, potentially leading to improved efficiency and lower costs of information recall.

Founded in December 2016 by entrepreneur Ian Smith, Gospel uses a private blockchain that requires users to set up a network of “nodes” within their ecosystem. Each party controls their own node and all the nodes must agree before any transaction can be processed and put on the blockchain. The node network acts as a consensus and provides a mechanism of trust.

Smith says: “For manufacturers and other businesses dealing with critical data there is a problem of trust in data systems, particularly when there is a need to share that data outside the organization. With Gospel technology we can provide an immutable record store so that trust can be fully automated between systems of forward-thinking businesses.”

Prior to this seed round, Gospel was backed by a number of angel investors including Gumtree co-founder Michael Pennington and Vivek Kundra, the Chief Information Officer for the US Government during Barack Obama’s administration.

Secondly, Russia-based startup Waves, which has issued its own cryptocurrency, is getting into the space with the launch of Vostok, a universal blockchain solution for scalable digital infrastructure.

The idea is that public institutions and large enterprises can use the platform to enhance security, data storage, transparency and stability of their systems.

Vostok, which is named after the craft that carried Yuri Gagarin into space, claims to be significantly faster and cheaper than existing blockchain solutions, claiming 10,000 transactions per second (TPS) at only $0.000001 per a transaction. This is compared to Bitcoin which has transactional processing capacity of 3-6TPS and costs $0.951 per transaction. Vostok also uses a closed operational node set and Proof-of-Stake.

Sasha Ivanov, CEO and Founder of Vostok and Waves Platform, said: “Vostok is a multi- purpose solution, quite simple, but at the same time non-trivial. It will allow any large organisation to gain the benefits of blockchain without having to create new systems from scratch or retrain their staff.”

Jun
15
2018
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Kustomer gets $26M to take on Zendesk with an omnichannel approach to customer support

The CRM industry is now estimated to be worth some $4 billion annually, and today a startup has announced a round of funding that it hopes will help it take on one aspect of that lucrative pie, customer support. Kustomer, a startup out of New York that integrates a number of sources to give support staff a complete picture of a customer when he or she contacts the company, has raised $26 million.

The funding, a series B, was led by Redpoint Ventures (notably, an early investor in Zendesk, which Kustomer cites as a key competitor), with existing investors Canaan Partners, Boldstart Ventures, and Social Leverage also participating.

Cisco Investments was also a part of this round as a strategic investor: Cisco (along with Avaya) is one of the world’s biggest PBX equipment vendors, and customer support is one of the biggest users of this equipment, but the segment is also under pressure as more companies move these services to the cloud (and consider alternative options). Potentially, you could see how Cisco might want to partner with Kustomer to provide more services on top of its existing equipment, and potentially as a standalone service — although for now the two have yet to announce any actual partnerships.

Given that Kustomer has been approached already for potential acquisitions, you could see how the Ciscos of the world might be one possible category of buyers.

Kustomer is not discussing valuation but it has raised a total of $38.5 million. Kustomer’s customers include brands in fashion, e-commerce and other sectors that provide customer support on products on a regular basis, such as Ring, Modsy, Glossier, Smug Mug and more.

When we last wrote about Kustomer, when it raised $12.5 million in 2016, the company’s mission was to effectively turn anyone at a company into a customer service rep — the idea being that some issues are better answered by specific people, and a CRM platform for all employees to engage could help them fill that need.

Today, Brad Birnbaum, the co-founder and CEO, says that this concept has evolved. He said that “half of its business model still involves the idea of everyone being on the platform.” For example, an internal sales rep can collaborate with someone in a company’s shipping department — “but the only person who can communicate with the customer is the full-fledged agent,” he said. “That is what the customers wanted so that they could better control the messaging.”

The collaboration, meanwhile, has taken an interesting turn: it’s not just related to employees communicating better to develop a more complete picture of a customer and his/her history with the company; but it’s about a company’s systems integrating better to give a more complete view to the reps. Integrations include data from e-commerce platforms like Shopify and Magento; voice and messaging platforms like Twilio, TalkDesk, Twitter and Facebook Messenger; feedback tools like Nicereply; analytics services like Looker, Snowflake, Jira and Redshift; and Slack.

Birnbaum previously founded and sold Assistly to Salesforce, which turned it into Desk.com — (his co-founder in Kustomer, Jeremy Suriel, was Assistly’s chief architect), and between that and Kustomer he also had a go at building out Airtime, Sean Parker’s social startup. Kustomer, he says, is not only competing against Salesforce but perhaps even more specifically Zendesk, in offering a new take on customer support.

Zendesk, he said, had really figured out how to make customer support ticketing work efficiently, “but they don’t understand the customer at all.”

“We are a much more modern solution in how we see the world,” he continued. “No one does omni-channel customer service properly, where you can see a single threaded conversation speaking to all of a customer’s points.”

(In actual fact, Zendesk has now started to respond: in May the company launched a new omnichannel product called The Suite, which bundles Zendesk Support, Guide, Chat, and Talk to give a unified view of a customer to the support agent. One more reason Kustomer needs to keep expanding what it does.)

Going forward, Kustomer will be using the funding to expand its platform with more capabilities, and some of its own automations and insights (rather than those provided by way of integrations). This will also see the company expand into other kinds of services adjacent to taking inbound customer requests, such as reaching out to the customers, potentially to seel to them. “We plan to go broadly with engagement as an example,” Birnbaum said. “We already know everything about you so if we see you on a website, we can proactively reach out to you and engage you.”

“It is time for disruption in customer support industry, and Kustomer is leading the way,” said Tomasz Tunguz, partner at Redpoint Ventures, in a statement. “Kustomer has had impressive traction to date, and we are confident the world’s best B2C and B2B companies will be able to utilize the platform in order to develop meaningful relationships, experiences, and lifetime value for their customers. This is an exciting and forward-thinking platform for companies as well as their customers.”

Jun
14
2018
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Pipedrive, a CRM and sales tool, raises $50M to take on Salesforce and Microsoft

While Salesforce and Microsoft have a dominant position in the world of sales software today, there are a number of startups nipping at their heels, and today one of the more promising of them has announced a growth round to help them in the effort. Pipedrive, a startup co-headquartered in Estonia and New York that offers tools to salespeople to help them close deals that are still in their pipeline, has picked up $50 million to expand its product, develop its business globally and potentially make acquisitions in the CRM space.

The Series C round was co-led by new investor Insight Venture Partners and Bessemer Venture Partners, with participation also from Rembrandt Venture Partners and Atomico (which itself has Estonian roots: Atomico’s founder, Niklas Zennstrom, was the co-founder of Skype, which developed and built the core IP voice and messaging product in the country). It brings the total raised by Pipedrive to $80 million.

Timo Rein, Pipedrive’s co-founder and CEO (and a former salesman himself), would not disclose the company’s valuation, saying only that it was “a pretty good round.” For some more context, Pitchbook writes that Pipedrive’s last funding, in 2016, valued the company at $188 million. Sources very close to the company tell us that the valuation now is $300 million+. (We’re asking around and will update this as and when we learn more.)

The CRM market is currently estimated to be worth over $40 billion, according to Gartner, and so unsurprisingly there are a number of startups in the fray, from those that are infusing the process with AI (such as Clari) through to other startups that help organise leads to act on them better (such as Zoho and Hubspot), through to those focusing on specific verticals like software companies (Paddle out of the UK).

Rein said that there was some skepticism when the company first launched that it would be possible to make a dent in landscape dominated by the likes of Salesforce and Microsoft.

“When we entered the market in 2010, people asked us, ‘Why build a product in an area where Salesforce is already strong?’ But having been in sales for more than a decade ourselves, we realized that it’s not just the sheer number of features you offer users. The difference is finding the right spot on the spectrum where you are getting what you need out of a product that you can use,” Rein said. “We have proven that users are migrating from Salesforce and others and are coming to Pipedrive. We definitely have less functionality, but professional salespeople know that performance is largely about your personality.”

In the case of Pipedrive, this translates to a software platform whose aim is to cut down on busywork to focus you on selling: all of your activity across emails and phone calls gets and other actions (it integrates some 100 other apps used in business, for example Google Apps, Trello, Zapier, MailChimp, Yesware and PandaDoc) is tracked without you needing to update the system, with the aim of making it easier for you to see what you might tackle next (and that gets tracked, too).

This is not about finding sales leads, Rein said: that may be something the company would consider down the line, but for now it’s looking at what happens when you already have a lead and need to make it as easy as possible to close that deal.

Ironically, Rein said that Pipedrive hasn’t been using its own tools in the majority of its own sales efforts. “In areas where we can use Pipedrive, we do,” he said, “but the service we offer is almost the opposite of what we built.” Pipedrive is priced on a monthly, SaaS basis ranging from $12.50 per user per month to $62.50 depending on number of users and features.

One way to think of Pipedrive’s approach is akin to something like Razer for the gaming world, which touts its ethos as “For Gamers. By Gamers.”

“Pipedrive is built primarily for salespeople, not just their managers,” said Teddie Wardi, a partner at Insight who also led the company’s Series B when he was still at Atomico. “This principle has helped them to create a product loved by users around the world, differentiate from competitors and propel the company to stellar growth.”

And that growth has come: today the company has 75,000 customers in 170 countries, with triple digital revenue growth each year since it first opened for business in 2010.

The plethora of startups in the market focusing on different aspects of the sales cycle and the CRM that surrounds that creates a ripe landscape not just for what Pipedrive might choose to tackle next, but how it might go about that.

“Post-sales, when you already have a customer and now need to help manage it, is an opportunity,” Rein said. “But our main effort and focus has been a product to help sales people deal with their pressure, and their own need to stay focused on the steady flow of sales, from the beginning to the actual close.”

Jun
12
2018
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Reid Hoffman to talk ‘blitzscaling’ at Disrupt SF 2018

When it comes to scaling startups, few people are as accomplished or consistently successful as Reid Hoffman .

While the rest of us consider scaling a startup to market domination a daunting task, Hoffman has continued to make it look easy.

In September, Hoffman will join us at TC Disrupt SF to share his strategies on “blitzscaling,” which also happens to be the title of his forthcoming book.

Hoffman started out his Silicon Valley career at PayPal, serving as EVP and a founding board member. In 2003, Hoffman founded LinkedIn from his living room. LinkedIn now has more than 500 million members across 200 countries and territories across the world, effectively becoming a necessity to the professional marketplace.

Hoffman left LinkedIn in 2007, but his contributions to the company certainly helped turn it into the behemoth it is today, going public in 2011 and selling to Microsoft for a whopping $26.2 billion in 2016.

At Disrupt, he’ll outline some of the methodology behind going from startup to scale up that is outlined in his new book, Blitzscaling, co-authored with Chris Yeh:

Blitzscaling is a specific set of practices for igniting and managing dizzying growth; an accelerated path to the stage in a startup’s life-cycle where the most value is created. It prioritizes speed over efficiency in an environment of uncertainty, and allows a company to go from “startup” to “scaleup” at a furious pace that captures the market.

Drawing on their experiences scaling startups into billion-dollar businesses, Hoffman and Yeh offer a framework for blitzscaling that can be replicated in any region or industry. Readers will learn how to design business models that support lightning-fast growth, navigate necessary shifts in strategy at each level of scale, and weather the management challenges that arise as their company grows.

Today, Hoffman leads Greylock Partners’ Discovery Fund, where he invests in seed-stage entrepreneurs and companies. He currently serves on the boards of Airbnb, Convoy, Edmodo and Microsoft. Hoffman’s place in the VC world is a natural continuation of his angel investing. His angel portfolio includes companies like Facebook, Flickr, Last.fm, and Zynga.

Hoffman has also invested in tech that affects positive change, serving on the non-profit boards of Biohub, Kiva, Endeavor, and DoSomething.org.

Blitzscaling marks Hoffman’s third book (others include The Startup of You and The Alliance) and we’re absolutely thrilled to have him teach us a thing or two at Disrupt SF.

Tickets to Disrupt SF are available now right here.

Jun
11
2018
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Workday acquires financial modelling startup Adaptive Insights for $1.55B

Workday, the cloud-based platform that offers HR and other back-office apps for businesses, is making an acquisition to expand its portfolio of services: It’s buying Adaptive Insights, a provider of cloud-based business planning and financial modelling tools, for $1.55 billion. The acquisition is notable because Adaptive Insights had filed for an IPO as recently as May 17.

Workday says that the $1.55 billion price tag includes “the assumption of approximately $150 million in unvested equity issued to Adaptive Insights employees” related to that IPO. This deal is expected to close in Q3 of this year.

IPO filings are known to sometimes trigger M&A. Most recently, PayPal announced it would acquire iZettle just after the latter filed to go public. Skype was acquired by Microsoft in 2011 while it was waiting to IPO after previous owner eBay said it would spin it off.

Workday itself went public in 2012 and currently has a market cap of nearly $27 billion.

The deal will give Workday another string to its bow, in its attempt to become the go-to place for all for back-office services for its business customers: the company plans to integrate Adaptive Insights’ tools into its existing platform.

“Adaptive Insights is an industry leader with its Business Planning Cloud platform, and together with Workday, we will help customers accelerate their finance transformation in the cloud,” said Aneel Bhusri, Co-Founder and CEO, Workday, in a statement. “I am excited to welcome the Adaptive Insights team to Workday and look forward to coming together to continue delivering industry-leading products that equip finance organizations to make even faster, better business decisions to adapt to change and to drive growth.”

The two have been working together as partners since 2015.

In the case of Adaptive Insights, which says it has ‘thousands’ of customers, its growth mirrors that both of cloud services and specifically about how business intelligence has developed into a distinct software category of its own over the years, with not just the CFO but an army of in-house analysts relying on analytics of a business’ data to help make small and big decisions.

“The market opportunity here is huge as the CFO has become a power player in the C-Suite,” CEO Tom Bogan told TechCrunch when it raised $75 million in 2015, when it first passed the billion-dollar mark for its valuation. Bogan previously also held a role as chairman of Citrix. “As a former CFO myself, I have seen this first hand and it is accelerating.” Other examples of this force includes Twitter’s Anthony Noto catapulting from CFO to COO (and is now a CEO running SoFi). Around 25 percent of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies are former CFOs.

Adaptive Insights had raised $175 million prior to this.

Bogan will stay on and lead the business and report directly to Bhusri.

“Joining forces with Workday accelerates our vision to drive holistic business planning and digital transformation for our customers,” said Bogan, in a separate statement. “Most importantly, both Adaptive Insights and Workday have an employee-first and customer-centric approach to developing enterprise software that will only increase the power of the combined companies.”

More generally, while we have certainly seen a much wider opening of the door for tech IPOs this year, there is also an argument to be made for continuing consolidation it enterprise IT, in particular with regards to cloud services that might have small or potentially negative margins.

Adaptive Insights was not immune to that: the company in its public listing filing said that its previous fiscal year brough tin $106.5 million in revenues, up 30 percent from the year before, but it also posted a loss of $42.7 million in the same period. That was narrower than the $59.1 million it posted in 2016. Combined with the bigger trend of all-in-one platforms packing a bigger punch with businesses, it might have meant that Workday’s offer was too compelling to refuse. 

This looks like Workday’s biggest acquisition yet, but the company has been on a spree of sorts: just last week it announced the acquisition of RallyTeam to beef up its machine learning.

Jun
08
2018
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Workday acquires Rallyteam to fuel machine learning efforts

Sometimes you acquire a company for the assets and sometimes you do it for the talent. Today Workday announced it was buying Rallyteam, a San Francisco startup that helps companies keep talented employees by matching them with more challenging opportunities in-house.

The companies did not share the purchase price or the number of Rallyteam employees who would be joining Workday .

In this case, Workday appears to be acquiring the talent. It wants to take the Rallyteam team and incorporate it into the company’s engineering unit to beef up its machine learning efforts, while taking advantage of the expertise it has built up over the years connecting employees with interesting internal projects.

“With Rallyteam, we gain incredible team members who created a talent mobility platform that uses machine learning to help companies better understand and optimize their workforces by matching a worker’s interests, skills and connections with relevant jobs, projects, tasks and people,” Workday’s Cristina Goldt wrote in a blog post announcing the acquisition.

Rallyteam, which was founded in 2013, and launched at TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco in September 2014, helps employees find interesting internal projects that might otherwise get outsourced. “I knew there were opportunities that existed [internally] because as a manager, I was constantly outsourcing projects even though I knew there had to be people in the company that could solve this problem,” Rallyteam’s Huan Ho told TechCrunch’s Frederic Lardinois at the launch. Rallyteam was a service designed to solve this issue.

Last fall the company raised $8.6 million led by Norwest Ventures with participation from Storm Ventures, Cornerstone OnDemand and Wilson Sonsini.

Workday provides a SaaS platform for human resources and finance, so the Rallyteam approach fits nicely within the scope of the Workday business. This is the 10th acquisition for Workday and the second this year.

Chart: Crunchbase

Workday raised over $230 million before going public in 2012.

Jun
07
2018
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Google Cloud announces the Beta of single tenant instances

One of the characteristics of cloud computing is that when you launch a virtual machine, it gets distributed wherever it makes the most sense for the cloud provider. That usually means sharing servers with other customers in what is known as a multi-tenant environment. But what about times when you want a physical server dedicated just to you?

To help meet those kinds of demands, Google announced the Beta of Google Compute Engine Sole-tenant nodes, which have been designed for use cases such a regulatory or compliance where you require full control of the underlying physical machine, and sharing is not desirable.

“Normally, VM instances run on physical hosts that may be shared by many customers. With sole-tenant nodes, you have the host all to yourself,” Google wrote in a blog post announcing the new offering.

Diagram: Google

Google has tried to be as flexible as possible, letting the customer choose exactly what configuration they want in terms CPU and memory. Customers can also let Google choose the dedicated server that’s best at any particular moment, or you can manually select the server if you want that level of control. In both cases, you will be assigned a dedicated machine.

If you want to play with this, there is a free tier and then various pricing tiers for a variety of computing requirements. Regardless of your choice, you will be charged on a per-second basis with a one-minute minimum charge, according to Google.

Since this feature is still in Beta, it’s worth noting that it is not covered under any SLA. Microsoft and Amazon have similar offerings.

Jun
07
2018
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Devo scores $25 million and cool new name

Logtrust is now known as Devo in one of the cooler name changes I’ve seen in a long time. Whether they intended to pay homage to the late 70s band is not clear, but investors probably didn’t care, as they gave the data operations startup a bushel of money today.

The company now known as Devo announced a $25 million Series C round led by Insight Venture Partners with participation from Kibo Ventures. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $71 million.

The company changed its name because it was about much more than logs, according to CEO Walter Scott. It offers a cloud service that allows customers to stream massive amounts of data — think terabytes or even petabytes — relieving the need to worry about all of the scaling and hardware requirements processing this amount of data would require. That could be from logs from web servers, security data from firewalls or transactions taking place on backend systems, as some examples.

The data can live on prem if required, but the processing always gets done in the cloud to provide for the scaling needs. Scott says this is about giving companies this ability to process and understand massive amounts of data that previously was only in reach of web scale companies like Google, Facebook or Amazon.

But it involves more than simply collecting the data. “It’s the combination of us being able to collect all of that data together with running analytics on top of it all in a unified platform, then allowing a very broad spectrum of the business [to make use of it],” Scott explained.

Devo dashboard. Photo: Devo

Devo sees Sumo Logic, Elastic and Splunk as its primary competitors in this space, but like many startups they often battle companies trying to build their own systems as well, a difficult approach for any company to take when you are dealing with this amount of data.

The company, which was founded in Spain is now based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and has close to 100 employees. Scott says he has the budget to double that by the end of the year, although he’s not sure they will be able to hire that many people that rapidly

Jun
07
2018
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Mode emerges from stealth with new approach to software-defined WANs

Mode, a San Francisco-based startup, came out of stealth today with a new approach to software-defined wide area networks they call software-defined core network (SD-CORE), which they say will dramatically reduce the cost of running these networks over traditional methods.

The company also announced a total of $24 million in funding led by GV and NEA to build on that vision. That vision, according to CEO Paul Dawes, involves spinning up private networks very quickly at a much lower price point than traditional networking typically offered by telcos for a high fee.

“Traditional hardware-defined private networking solutions like MPLS guarantee reliability, but are inelastic, hard to manage and costly. Mode Core was built to enhance SD-WAN, leveraging our breakthrough in routing efficiency to deliver the performance and reliability of networks like MPLS, but with the flexibility, elasticity and affordability of a cloud service,” Dawes explained in a statement.

Some use cases that could benefit from this approach include  interactive streaming, multiplayer gaming, real-time machine learning and remote command and control, according to the company.

The company was formed after a research breakthrough by a couple of researchers at Cornell, Kevin Tang and Nithin Michael. They figured out how to characterize network traffic in mathematical terms, which up to that point was thought to be impossible. “Michael came up with the first math-based description of how a packet-switched network works,” Dawes explained.

This allowed him to build a software-defined, automated way to route traffic on each node on the network. “It doesn’t need any intervention from anybody to tell it how to route packets,” he said. Once he had that figured out, it removed the need for more complex and expensive solutions.

This caught the attention not just of networking theorists, but of investors who saw tremendous business potential in their approach. “A number of VCs familiar with networking problems approached them [and encouraged them] to productize it” he said. NEA was the lead investor on the $8.3 million A round and they also got a grant from the National Science Foundation. More recently they got a $16 million Series B for a total of $24.3 million to date.

To make this all work because they aren’t a telco, they built Mode Core and partnered with Ericsson UDN and 100 other partners to provide that networking power that they lack as a startup. You could think of it as a cloud service for wide area networking, allowing companies access to this kind of advanced networking for a price closer to business internet than private WANs.

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