May
28
2021
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Once a buzzword, digital transformation is reshaping markets

The notion of digital transformation evolved from a buzzword joke to a critical and accelerating fact during the COVID-19 pandemic. The changes wrought by a global shift to remote work and schooling are myriad, but in the business realm they have yielded a change in corporate behavior and consumer expectation — changes that showed up in a bushel of earnings reports this week.

TechCrunch may tend to have a private-company focus, but we do keep tabs on public companies in the tech world as they often provide hints, notes and other pointers on how startups may be faring. In this case, however, we’re working in reverse; startups have told us for several quarters now that their markets are picking up momentum as customers shake up their buying behavior with a distinct advantage for companies helping customers move into the digital realm. And public company results are now confirming the startups’ perspective.

The accelerating digital transformation is real, and we have the data to support the point.

What follows is a digest of notes concerning the recent earnings results from Box, Sprout Social, Yext, Snowflake and Salesforce. We’ll approach each in micro to save time, but as always there’s more digging to be done if you have time. Let’s go!

Enterprise earnings go up

Kicking off with Yext, the company beat expectations in its most recent quarter. Today its shares are up 18%. And a call with the company’s CEO Howard Lerman underscored our general thesis regarding the digital transformation’s acceleration.

In brief, Yext’s evolution from a company that plugged corporate information into external search engines to building and selling search tech itself has been resonating in the market. Why? Lerman explained that consumers more and more expect digital service in response to their questions — “who wants to call a 1-800 number,” he asked rhetorically — which is forcing companies to rethink the way they handle customer inquiries.

In turn, those companies are looking to companies like Yext that offer technology to better answer customer queries in a digital format. It’s customer-friendly, and could save companies money as call centers are expensive. A change in behavior accelerated by the pandemic is forcing companies to adapt, driving their purchase of more digital technologies like this.

It’s proof that a transformation doesn’t have to be dramatic to have pretty strong impacts on how corporations buy and sell online.

Sep
23
2020
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Yext launches Hitchhikers, a self-serve version of its site search tool

Yext is making its site search product Yext Answers available to a broader set of customers today with the launch of a new program that it calls Hitchhikers.

The company launched Yext Answers in October 2019 with the goal of making a brand’s website — rather than whatever shows up via Google search — the authoritative source of information about that brand. And earlier this year, Yext also introduced a 90-day free trial, which CEO Howard Lerman said was designed to help more partners deliver coronavirus-related answers.

However, Lerman told me this week that Yext Answers has still been constrained by a setup process that requires a Yext employee “to understand our own software and build your knowledge graph,” which meant that the company had to turn away many potential customers. With Hitchhikers, that’s no longer the case.

Chief Strategy Officer Marc Ferrentino said the program is designed for digital marketers, SEO specialists and IT professionals. The goal is to provide everything they need to create their own site search experience — including starter “knowledge graphs” customized to specific industries that customers can populate with their own content.

And there’s an educational focus — Ferrentino said Hitchhikers should be accessible to “someone who is a novice when it comes to technology,” quickly getting them up to speed on topics like HTML, CSS and JavaScript, with different tracks and modules all brought to life with “hands-on learning” and quizzes.

Yext Hitchhikers

Image Credits: Yext

Like Yext Answers, Hitchhikers is available through a 90-day free trial. And if you’re wondering about the name, Lerman said it’s a reference to Douglas Adams’ classic novel “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy,” specifically the idea of The Ultimate Question. Hitchhikers, then, is designed to help businesses answers their own Ultimate Questions.

One of the recurring themes in my recent conversations with Lerman has been the importance of brands and businesses as a source of knowledge and authoritative information. It’s something he emphasized again when discussing Hitchhikers. For example, he pointed to a Google search about what qualifies as essential travel — the top result was an article from a popular travel blogger, rather than the official definition from the U.S. State Department (a Yext Answers customer).

“The ultimate authority how to claim your gift card from Krispy Kreme is Krispy Kreme,” Lerman said. “The ultimate authority on an internet outage in a certain area is Cox … Getting that information to the user is even more important in this terrible year of misinformation and disinformation.”

Mar
12
2020
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Yext aims to deliver more coronavirus-related answers by making its site search free

Yext says that in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s making its Yext Answers site search product free for 90 days.

You might not see an obvious connection between site search and a worldwide pandemic. You might even think this sounds like a marketing gimmick. But Yext CEO Howard Lerman said that for the past 10 days, the company has seen a spike in coronavirus-related searches across sites that use Yext Answers.

After all, Lerman said Yext has a lot of customers in the healthcare industry, such as the IHA medical group. But even beyond that, companies are getting related questions, whether it’s a hotel getting asked about their cleaning procedures, or an airline being asked whether it’s safe to fly or a vodka company getting asked about whether vodka can be used as hand sanitizer.

Businesses could try to answer those questions on a single web page or blog post, but that’s probably not going to be comprehensive. Yext Answers offers a way to present and save this information in a much more structured way, so that a visitor can jump to the exact answer that interests them. In addition, it provides data on what visitors are searching for, so companies can answer the questions that people are actually asking.

Yext Answers

Yext is also offering a free plugin that includes frequently asked questions about the coronavirus, with answers sourced directly form the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We have a product that could be pretty useful right now,” Lerman said. “We don’t want people to be getting wrong answers in the time of a global pandemic.”

He added that the company would normally charge around $100,000 for three months of Yext Answers. However, the free offering will be limited to 1,000 entities (which can be FAQs, locations or anything else), and Lerman said most paying customers are already using more than that.

While the product is free, the company will still schedule an initial setup call with a Yext administrator and provide ongoing email support. You can read more on Yext’s new website.

Oct
29
2019
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Yext Answers helps businesses provide better site search

Yext helps businesses manage their presence on search and across the web; starting today, with the launch of Yext Answers, it’s also helping them provide a better experience on their own websites.

“It lets any company with a website answer a question about their own brand in a Google-like experience on their own site,” CEO Howard Lerman told me.

While Lerman is officially announcing Yext Answers onstage at the company’s Onward conference this afternoon, the issue is clearly one he’s been thinking about for a while — in an interview earlier this year, he described user-generated content as “tyranny,” and claimed the company’s “founding principle is that the ultimate authority on how many calories are in a Big Mac is McDonald’s.”

It’s a theme that Lerman returned to when he demonstrated the new product for me yesterday, running a number of Google searches — such as “student checking account” — where a brand might want to be relevant, but where the results mostly come from SEO-optimized advice and how-to articles from third-party sites.

“The world of search became pretty cluttered with all these self-declared experts,” he said.

Answers Comparison AnswersNotLinks 1

The goal with Yext Answers is to turn a brand’s website into the source that consumers turn to for information on these topics. Lerman said the big obstacle is the simple fact that most site search is pretty bad: “The algorithms that are there today are the algorithms of 1995. It’s keyword-based document search.”

So if you don’t enter exactly the right keywords in exactly the right order, you don’t get useful results. Yext, on the other hand, has supposedly spent two years building its own search engine, with natural language processing technology.

As Lerman showed me, that means it can handle more complex, conversational queries like “broccoli cheese soup recipes in 10 minutes or less.” He also pointed out how Yext has tried to follow Google’s lead in presenting the results in a variety of formats, whether that’s just a straightforward answer to a question, or maps if you’re searching for store locations.

In addition, Yext Answers customers will get analytics about what people are searching for on their site. If people are searching for a question that the site isn’t answering, businesses can then take advantage of their company’s knowledge base to publish something new — and that, in turn, could also help them show up in search results elsewhere.

BBVA LiveExample3 1

Yext Answers has been beta testing with companies like Three Mobile, BBVA USA, IHA and Healthcare Associates of Texas. You also can try it out for yourself on the Yext site.

“Yext Answers represents a level of sophistication that elevates our current search into a predictive, insightful tool that provides opportunities to better understand what our patient population is interested in finding on our site,” said Lori Gillen, marketing director at Healthcare Associates of Texas, in a statement. “It is intelligent enough to understand complex relationships between HCAT-specific facts, like doctors to procedures or specialties to locations, and give insights into what our patients want to know.”

Yext Answers is now available in English-speaking countries.

May
14
2019
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CEO Howard Lerman on building a public company and the future of Yext

It’s just over two years since Yext debuted on the New York Stock Exchange, and to mark the occasion, I sat down with co-founder and CEO Howard Lerman for an interview.

As Lerman noted, Yext — which allows businesses to manage their profiles and information across a wide variety of online services — actually presented onstage at the TechCrunch 50 conference back in 2009. Now, it boasts a market capitalization of nearly $2.3 billion, and it just revealed plans to take over a nine-floor building in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, turning it into Yext’s global headquarters.

My interview with Lerman actually came before the announcement, though he managed to drop in a few veiled hints about the company making a big move in real estate.

More concretely, we talked about how Lerman’s management style has evolved from scrappy startup founder to a public company CEO — he described holding five-minute meetings with every Yext employee as “one of the best management techniques” he’s ever adopted.

Lerman also argued that as online misinformation has become a big issue, Yext has only become more important: “Our founding principle is that the ultimate authority on how many calories are in a Big Mac is McDonald’s. The ultimate authority on where Burger King is open is Burger King.”

Vowing that he will remain CEO of Yext for “as long as this board will have me,” Lerman ended our conversation with a passionate defense of the idea that “a company is the ultimate vehicle in America to effect good in the world.”

You can read a transcript of our conversation below, edited and condensed for clarity.

TechCrunch: To start with a really broad question, how do you think Yext is different now than it was two years ago?

Howard Lerman: One of the things that’s defined Yext over the years is our continuous willingness to reinvent ourselves. You started covering us in 2009 [at] TechCrunch 50, we were a launch company there.

And here we are now. One of the cool things about being public is: It’s a total gamechanger. It’s a gamechanger not just for access to capital, but it’s particularly important in global markets. And I’m not talking about capital markets, I’m talking about the markets in which we sell software. We have offices now from Berlin to Shanghai.

Sep
14
2017
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Yext looks to help businesses make their information more searchable by machines

 Yext has been known for helping businesses get all their information (like location, business hours, and such) lined up correctly on the right apps and websites — and now it’s looking to make sure the rest of the pitch is right across the Internet. Yext, which went public earlier this year, said it is launching a feature called knowledge tags to help businesses make their websites… Read More

Jun
01
2017
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Yext passes its first test as a publicly traded company

 Yext’s first earnings report as a publicly traded company seems to be a boringly pleasant one — but that’s a good thing for a company that needs to show strong performance out of the gate. Read More

Apr
13
2017
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Yext shares pop more than 20% in public debut

Yext Graphic B It looks like we can add another to the string of IPOs that at least look like they’ve been successful — with Yext, too, popping more than 20% once its shares made their debut this morning. Shares of Yext went as high as $14 or so after the company gave its final pricing at $11 last night — meaning it raised at least $115.5 million in its IPO. Following Okta, and before… Read More

Apr
12
2017
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Yext is set to raise $115.5M in its IPO after final pricing

 Yext today said it would price its initial public offering at $11, meaning the company will raise around $115.5 million in its IPO as it sets up for a debut tomorrow. Read More

Mar
17
2017
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Equity podcast: The return of IPOs and Tesla’s billion-dollar bet

 One down, many more to go! The first episode of TechCrunch’s latest podcast, Equity, our venture capital-focused podcast is out.
This week, TechCrunch’s Matthew Lynley, CrunchBase editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm and I sat down with investor and SaaStr founder Jason Lemkin to talk about Tesla’s $1 billion raise, the return of IPOs and recent acquisitions in the technology… Read More

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