Jan
17
2020
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Microsoft announces global Teams ad push as it combats Slack for the heart of enterprise comms

The long-running contest between Microsoft and its Teams service and Slack’s eponymous application continued this morning, with Redmond announcing what it describes as its first “global” advertising push for its enterprise communication service.

Slack, a recent technology IPO, exploded in the back half of last decade, accreting huge revenues while burrowing into the tech stacks of the startup world. The former startup’s success continued as it increasingly targeted larger companies; it’s easier to stack revenue in enterprise-scale chunks than it is by onboarding upstarts.

Enterprise productivity software, of course, is a large percentage of Microsoft’s bread and butter. And as Slack rose — and Microsoft decided against buying the then-nascent rival — the larger company invested in its competing Teams service. Notably, today’s ad push is not the first advertising salvo between the two companies. Slack owns that record, having welcomed Microsoft to its niche in a print ad that isn’t aging particularly well.

Slack and Teams are competing through public usage announcements. Most recently, Teams announced that it has 20 million daily active users (DAUs); Slack’s most recent number is 12 million. Slack, however, has touted how active its DAUs are, implying that it isn’t entirely sure that Microsoft’s figures line up to its own. Still, the rising gap between their numbers is notable.

Microsoft’s new ad campaign is yet another chapter in the ongoing Slack vs. Teams. The ad push itself is only so important. What matters more is that Microsoft is choosing to expend some of its limited public attention bandwidth on Teams over other options.

Stock

While Teams is merely part of the greater Office 365 world that Microsoft has been building for some time, Slack’s product is its business. And since its direct listing, some air has come out of its shares.

Slack’s share price has fallen from the mid-$30s after it debuted to the low-$20s today. I’ve explored that repricing and found that, far from the public markets repudiating Slack’s equity, the company was merely mispriced in its early trading life. The company’s revenue multiple has come down since its first days as a public entity, but remains rich; investors are still pricing Slack like an outstanding company.

Ahead, Slack and Microsoft will continue to trade competing DAU figures. The question becomes how far Slack’s brand can carry it against Microsoft’s enterprise heft.

Jan
17
2020
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Zendesk launches Sell Marketplace to bring app store to CRM product

Zendesk acquired Base CRM in 2018 to give customers a CRM component to go with its core customer service software. After purchasing the company, it changed the name to Sell, and today the company announced the launch of the new Sell Marketplace.

Officially called The Zendesk Marketplace for Sell, it’s a place where companies can share components that extend the capabilities of the core Sell product. Companies like MailChimp, HubSpot and QuickBooks are available at launch.

App directory in Sell Marketplace. Screenshot: Zendesk

Matt Price, SVP and general manager at Zendesk, sees the marketplace as a way to extend Sell into a platform play, something he thinks could be a “game changer.” He likened it to the impact of app stores on mobile phones.

“It’s that platform that accelerated and really suddenly [transformed smart phones] from being just a product to [launching an] industry. And that’s what the marketplace is doing now, taking Sell from being a really great sales tool to being able to handle anything that you want to throw at it because it’s extensible through apps,” Price explained.

Price says that this ability to extend the product could manifest in several ways. For starters, customers can build private apps with a new application development framework. This enables them to customize Sell for their particular environment, such as connecting to an internal system or building functionality that’s unique to them.

In addition, ISVs can build custom apps, something Price points out they have been doing for some time on the Zendesk customer support side. “Interestingly Zendesk obviously has a very large community of independent developers, hundreds of them, who are [developing apps for] our support product, and now we have another product that they can support,” he said.

Finally, industry partners can add connections to their software. For instance, by installing Dropbox for Sell, it gives sales people a way to save documents to Dropbox and associate them with a deal in Sell.

Of course, what Zendesk is doing here with Sell Marketplace isn’t new. Salesforce introduced this kind of app store concept to the CRM world in 2006 when it launched AppExchange, but the Sell Marketplace still gives Sell users a way to extend the product to meet their unique needs, and that could prove to be a powerful addition.

Jan
17
2020
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DigitalOcean is laying off staff, sources say 30-50 affected

After appointing a new CEO and CFO last summer, cloud infrastructure provider DigitalOcean is embarking on a wider reorganisation: the startup has announced a round of layoffs, with potentially between 30 and 50 people affected.

DigitalOcean has confirmed the news with the following statement:

“DigitalOcean recently announced a restructuring to better align its teams to its go-forward growth strategy. As part of this restructuring, some roles were, unfortunately, eliminated. DigitalOcean continues to be a high-growth business with $275M in [annual recurring revenues] and more than 500,000 customers globally. Under this new organizational structure, we are positioned to accelerate profitable growth by continuing to serve developers and entrepreneurs around the world.”

Before the confirmation was sent to us this morning, a number of footprints began to emerge last night, when the layoffs first hit, with people on Twitter talking about it, some announcing that they are looking for new opportunities and some offering help to those impacted. Inbound tips that we received estimate the cuts at between 30 and 50 people. With around 500 employees (an estimate on PitchBook), that would work out to up to 10% of staff affected.

It’s not clear what is going on here — we’ll update as and when we hear more — but when Yancey Spruill and Bill Sorenson were respectively appointed CEO and CFO in July 2019 (Spruill replacing someone who was only in the role for a year), the incoming CEO put out a short statement that, in hindsight, hinted at a refocus of the business in the near future:

“My aspiration is for us to continue to provide everything you love about DO now, but to also enhance our offerings in a way that is meaningful, strategic and most helpful for you over time.”

The company provides a range of cloud infrastructure services to developers, including scalable compute services (“Droplets” in DigitalOcean terminology), managed Kubernetes clusters, object storage, managed database services, Cloud Firewalls, Load Balancers and more, with 12 data centers globally. It says it works with more than 1 million developers across 195 countries. It has also been expanding the services that it offers to developers, including more enhancements in its managed database services, and a free hosting option for continuous code testing in partnership with GitLab.

All the same, as my colleague Frederic pointed out when DigitalOcean appointed its latest CEO, while developers have generally been happy with the company, it isn’t as hyped as it once was, and is a smallish player nowadays.

And in an area of business where economies of scale are essential for making good margins on a business, it competes against some of the biggest leviathans in tech: Google (and its Google Cloud Platform), Amazon (which as AWS) and Microsoft (with Azure). That could mean that DigitalOcean is either trimming down as it talks to investors for a new round; or to better conserve cash as it sizes up how best to compete against these bigger, deep-pocketed players; or perhaps to start thinking about another kind of exit.

In that context, it’s notable that the company not only appointed a new CFO last summer, but also a CEO with prior CFO experience. It’s been a while since DigitalOcean has raised capital. According to PitchBook data, DigitalOcean last raised money in 2017, an undisclosed amount from Mighty Capital, Glean Capital, Viaduct Ventures, Black River Ventures, Hanaco Venture Capital, Torch Capital and EG Capital Advisors. Before that, it took out $130 million in debt, in 2016. Altogether it has raised $198 million, and its last valuation was from a round in 2015, $683 million.

It’s been an active week for layoffs among tech startups. Mozilla laid off 70 employees this week; and the weed delivery platform Eaze is also gearing up for more cuts amid an emergency push for funding.

We’ll update this post as we learn more. Best wishes to those affected by the news.

Jan
16
2020
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Visa’s Plaid acquisition shows a shifting financial services landscape

When Visa bought Plaid this week for $5.3 billion, a figure that was twice its private valuation, it was a clear signal that traditional financial services companies are looking for ways to modernize their approach to business.

With Plaid, Visa picks up a modern set of developer APIs that work behind the scenes to facilitate the movement of money. Those APIs should help Visa create more streamlined experiences (both at home and inside other companies’ offerings), build on its existing strengths and allow it to do more than it could have before, alone.

But don’t take our word for it. To get under the hood of the Visa-Plaid deal and understand it from a number of perspectives, TechCrunch got in touch with analysts focused on the space and investors who had put money into the erstwhile startup.

Jan
16
2020
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Cyral announces $11M Series A to help protect data in cloud

Cyral, an early-stage startup that helps protect data stored in cloud repositories, announced an $11 million Series A today. The company also revealed a previous undisclosed $4.1 million angel investment, making the total $15.1 million.

The Series A was led by Redpoint Ventures. A.Capital Ventures, Costanoa VC, Firebolt, SV Angel and Trifecta Capital also participated in on the round.

Cyral co-founder and CEO Manav Mital says the company’s product acts as a security layer on top of cloud data repositories — whether databases, data lakes, data warehouse or other data repository — helping identify issues like faulty configurations or anomalous activity.

Mital says that unlike most security data products of this ilk, Cyral doesn’t use an agent or watch points to try to detect signals that indicate something is happening to the data. Instead, he says that Cyral is a security layer attached directly to the data.

“The core innovation of Cyral is to put a layer of visibility attached right to the data endpoint, right to the interface where application services and users talk to the data endpoint, and in real time see the communication,” Mital explained.

As an example, he says that Cyral could detect that someone has suddenly started scanning rows of credit card data, or that someone was trying to connect to a database on an unencrypted connection. In each of these cases, Cyral would detect the problem, and depending on the configuration, send an alert to the customer’s security team to deal with the problem, or automatically shut down access to the database before informing the security team.

It’s still early days for Cyral, with 15 employees and a handful of early access customers. Mital says for this round he’s working on building a product to market that’s well-designed and easy to use.

He says that people get the problem he’s trying to solve. “We could walk into any company and they are all worried about this problem. So for us getting people interested has not been an issue. We just want to make sure we build an amazing product,” he said.

Jan
15
2020
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Cloudinary passes $60M ARR without VC money

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

Today we’re continuing our exploration of companies that have reached material scale, usually viewed through the lens of annual recurring revenue (ARR). We’ve looked at companies that have reached the $100 million ARR mark and a few that haven’t quite yet, but are on the way.

Today, a special entry. We’re looking at a company that isn’t yet at the $100 million ARR mark. It’s 60% of the way there, but with a twist. The company is bootstrapped. Yep, from pre-life as a consultancy that built a product to fit its own needs, Cloudinary is cruising toward nine-figure recurring revenue and an IPO under its own steam.

Jan
15
2020
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Former Docker CEO Steve Singh joins Madrona

Madrona Venture Group announced today that it has hired former Docker CEO Steve Singh as a managing director at the firm.

Singh stepped down as CEO of Docker last May and Seattle-based Madrona seems like a logical landing spot. He is a longtime resident of Seattle, and has been working behind the scenes with Madrona for many years as a strategic director and angel investor, according to the firm.

Singh says that while there are a number of areas he’s interested in, he wants to concentrate on intelligent applications in the enterprise. “While there are a number of broad themes we are excited about, I am particularly passionate about the potential of intelligent applications to transform business and our lives. Next-generation, cloud-native application companies such as Clari, HighSpot and Amperity have incredible opportunities to solve large-scale business challenges and become multi-billion-dollar businesses,” he said in a statement.

He certainly has broad enterprise experience. Beyond Docker, he was chairman and CEO at Concur for more than 20 years, and oversaw the company’s sale to SAP in 2014 for a hefty $8.3 billion. In addition, he sits on a variety of boards, including Clari, Talend, DocuSign and others.

Holger Mueller, an analyst with Constellation Research, says it was clear Singh wouldn’t stay on the sidelines for long with “Retired” on his LinkedIn profile. “Given Singh’s experience and connections, we expect him to be a force to be reckoned with in the VC space,” he told TechCrunch.

Singh joins S. Somasegar, who was a former corporate vice president at Microsoft, and Hope Cochran, who was a longtime CFO and helped take a couple of companies public, as managing directors added at the firm in recent years.

Madrona is celebrating its 25th anniversary in business this year, and can boast that one of its earliest investments was a Series A for a little Seattle startup called Amazon.

Jan
15
2020
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The crypto rich find security in Anchorage

Not the city, the $57 million-funded cryptocurrency custodian startup. When someone wants to keep safe tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in Bitcoin, Ethereum or other coins, they put them in Anchorage’s vault. And now they can trade straight from custody so they never have to worry about getting robbed mid-transaction.

With backing from Visa, Andreessen Horowitz and Blockchain Capital, Anchorage has emerged as the darling of the cryptocurrency security startup scene. Today it’s flexing its muscle and war chest by announcing its first acquisition, crypto risk modeling company Merkle Data.

Anchorage Founders

Anchorage has already integrated Merkle’s technology and team to power today’s launch of its new trading feature. It eliminates the need for big crypto owners to manually move assets in and out of custody to buy or sell, or to set up their own in-house trading. Instead of grabbing some undisclosed spread between the spot price and the price Anchorage quotes its clients, it charges a transparent per transaction fee of a tenth of a percent.

It’s stressful enough trading around digital fortunes. Anchorage gives institutions and token moguls peace of mind throughout the process while letting them stake and vote while their riches are in custody. Anchorage CEO Nathan McCauley tells me, “Our clients want to be able to fund a bank account with USD and have it seamlessly converted into crypto, securely held in their custody accounts. Shockingly, that’s not yet the norm — but we’re changing that.”

Buy and sell safely

Founded in 2017 by leaders behind Docker and Square, Anchorage’s core business is its omnimetric security system that takes out of the equation passwords that can be lost or stolen. Instead, it uses humans and AI to review scans of your biometrics, nearby networks and other data for identity confirmation. Then it requires consensus approval for transactions from a set of trusted managers you’ve whitelisted.

With Anchorage Trading, the startup promises efficient order routing, transparent pricing and multi-venue liquidity from OTC desks, exchanges and market makers. “Because trading and custody are directly integrated, we’re able to buy and sell crypto from custody, without having to make risky external transfers or deal with multiple accounts from different providers,” says Bart Stephens, founder and managing partner of Blockchain Capital.

Trading isn’t Anchorage’s primary business, so it doesn’t have to squeeze clients on their transactions, and can instead try to keep them happy for the long-term. That also sets up Anchorage to be a foundational part of the cryptocurrency stack. It wouldn’t disclose the terms of the Merkle Data acquisition, but the Pantera Capital-backed company brings quantitative analysts to Anchorage to keep its trading safe and smart.

“Unlike most traditional financial assets, crypto assets are bearer assets: In order to do anything with them, you need to hold the underlying private keys. This means crypto custodians like Anchorage must play a much larger role than custodians do in traditional finance,” says McCauley. “Services like trading, settlement, posting collateral, lending and all other financial activities surrounding the assets rely on the custodian’s involvement, and in our view are best performed by the custodian directly.”

Anchorage will be competing with Coinbase, which offers integrated custody and institutional brokerage through its agency-only OTC desk. Fidelity Digital Assets combines trading and brokerage, but for Bitcoin only. BitGo offers brokerage from custody through a partnership with Genesis Global Trading. But Anchorage hopes its experience handling huge sums, clear pricing and credentials like membership in Facebook’s Libra Association will win it clients.

McCauley says the biggest threat to Anchorage isn’t competitors, though, but hazy regulation. Anchorage is building a core piece of the blockchain economy’s infrastructure. But for the biggest financial institutions to be comfortable getting involved, lawmakers need to make it clear what’s legal.

Jan
13
2020
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Atrium lays off lawyers, explains pivot to legal tech

Seventy-five-million-dollar-funded legal services startup Atrium doesn’t want to be the next company to implode as the tech industry tightens its belt and businesses chase margins instead of growth via unsustainable economics. That’s why Atrium is laying off most of its in-house lawyers.

Now, Atrium will focus on its software for startups navigating fundraising, hiring and collaborating with lawyers. Atrium plans to ramp up its startup advising services. And it’s also doubling down on its year-old network of professional service providers that help clients navigate day-to-day legal work. Atrium’s laid-off attorneys will be offered spots as preferred providers in that network if they start their own firm or join another.

“It’s a natural evolution for us to create a sustainable model,” Atrium co-founder and CEO Justin Kan tells TechCrunch. “We’ve made the tough decision to restructure the company to accommodate growth into new business services through our existing professional services network,” Kan wrote on Atrium’s blog. He wouldn’t give exact figures, but confirmed that more than 10 but less than 50 staffers are impacted by the change, with Atrium having a headcount of 150 as of June.

The change could make Atrium more efficient by keeping fewer expensive lawyers on staff. However, it could weaken its $500 per month Atrium membership that included some services from its in-house lawyers that might be more complicated for clients to get through its professional network. Atrium will also now have to prove the its client-lawyer collaboration software can survive in the market with firms paying for it rather than it being bundled with its in-house lawyers’ services.

“We’re making these changes to move Atrium to a sustainable model that provides high-quality services to our clients. We’re doing it proactively because we see the writing on the wall that it’s important to have a sustainable business,” Kan says. “That’s what we’re doing now. We don’t anticipate any disruption of services to clients. We’re still here.”

Justin Kan (Atrium) at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2017

Founded in 2017, Atrium promised to merge software with human lawyers to provide quicker and cheaper legal services. Its technology can help automatically generate fundraising contracts, hiring offers and cap tables for startups while using machine learning to recommend procedures and clauses based on anonymized data from its clients. It also serves like a Dropbox for legal, organizing all of a startup’s documents to ensure everything’s properly signed and teams are working off the latest versions without digging through email.

The $500 per month Atrium membership offered this technology plus limited access to an in-house startup lawyer for consultation, plus access to guide books and events. Clients could pay extra if they needed special help such as with finalizing an acquisition deal, or access to its Fundraising Concierge service for aid with developing a pitch and lining up investor meetings.

Kan tells me Atrium still has some in-house lawyers on staff, which will help it honor all its existing membership contracts and power its new emphasis on advising services. He wouldn’t say if Atrium is paid any equity for advising, or just cash. The membership plan may change for future clients, so lawyer services are provided through its professional network instead.

“What we noticed was that Atrium has done a really good job of building a brand with startups. Often what they wanted from attorneys was…advice on ‘how to set my company up,’ ‘how to set my sales and marketing team up,’ ‘how to get great terms in my fundraising process,’ ” so Atrium is pursuing advising, Kan tells me. “As we sat down to look at what’s working and what’s not working, our focus has been to help founders with their super-hero story, connect them with the right providers and advisors, and then helping quarterback everything you need with our in-house specialists.”

LawSites first reported Saturday that Atrium was laying off in-house lawyers. A source tells TechCrunch that Atrium’s lawyers only found out a week ago about the changes, and they’ve been trying to pitch Atrium clients on working with them when they leave. One Atrium client said they weren’t surprised by the changes because they got so much legal advice for just $500 per month, which they suspected meant Atrium was losing money on the lawyers’ time as it was so much less expensive than competitors. They also said these cheap legal services rather than the software platform were the main draw of Atrium, and they’re unsure if the tech on its own is valuable enough.

One concern is Atrium might not learn as quickly about which services to translate into software if it doesn’t have as many lawyers in-house. But Kan believes third-party lawyers might be more clear and direct about what they need from legal technology. “I feel like having a true market for the software you’re building is better than having an internal market,” he says. “We get feedback from the outside firms we work with. I think in some ways that’s the most valuable feedback. I think there’s a lot of false signals that can happen when you’re the both the employer and the supplier.”

It was critical for Atrium to correct course before getting any bigger, given the fundraising problems hitting late-stage startups with poor economics in the wake of the WeWork debacle and SoftBank’s troubles. Atrium had raised a $10.5 million Series A in 2017 led by General Catalyst alongside Kleiner, Founders Fund, Initialized and Kindred Ventures. Then in September 2018, it scored a huge $65 million Series B led by Andreessen Horowitz.

Raising even bigger rounds might have been impossible if Atrium was offering consultations with lawyers at far below market rate. Now it might be in a better position to attract funding. But the question is whether clients will stick with Atrium if they get less access to a lawyer for the same price, and whether the collaboration platform is useful enough for outside law firms to pay for.

Kan had gone through tough pivots in the past. He had strapped a camera to his head to create content for his live-streaming startup Justin.tv, but wisely recentered on the 3% of users letting people watch them play video games. Justin.tv became Twitch and eventually sold to Amazon for $970 million. His on-demand personal assistant startup Exec had to switch to just cleaning in 2013 before shutting down due to rotten economics.

Rather than deny the inevitable and wait until the last minute, with Atrium Kan tried to make the hard decision early.

Jan
13
2020
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Google brings IBM Power Systems to its cloud

As Google Cloud looks to convince more enterprises to move to its platform, it needs to be able to give businesses an onramp for their existing legacy infrastructure and workloads that they can’t easily replace or move to the cloud. A lot of those workloads run on IBM Power Systems with their Power processors, and, until now, IBM was essentially the only vendor that offered cloud-based Power systems. Now, however, Google is also getting into this game by partnering with IBM to launch IBM Power Systems on Google Cloud.

“Enterprises looking to the cloud to modernize their existing infrastructure and streamline their business processes have many options,” writes Kevin Ichhpurani, Google Cloud’s corporate VP for its global ecosystem, in today’s announcement. “At one end of the spectrum, some organizations are re-platforming entire legacy systems to adopt the cloud. Many others, however, want to continue leveraging their existing infrastructure while still benefiting from the cloud’s flexible consumption model, scalability, and new advancements in areas like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and analytics.”

Power Systems support obviously fits in well here, given that many companies use them for mission-critical workloads based on SAP and Oracle applications and databases. With this, they can take those workloads and slowly move them to the cloud, without having to re-engineer their applications and infrastructure. Power Systems on Google Cloud is obviously integrated with Google’s services and billing tools.

This is very much an enterprise offering, without a published pricing sheet. Chances are, given the cost of a Power-based server, you’re not looking at a bargain, per-minute price here.

Because IBM has its own cloud offering, it’s a bit odd to see it work with Google to bring its servers to a competing cloud — though it surely wants to sell more Power servers. The move makes perfect sense for Google Cloud, though, which is on a mission to bring more enterprise workloads to its platform. Any roadblock the company can remove works in its favor, and, as enterprises get comfortable with its platform, they’ll likely bring other workloads to it over time.

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