Monthly Archives: April 2021

Immersion cooling to offset data centers’ massive power demands gains a big booster in Microsoft

Posted by on 8 April, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

LiquidStack does it. So does Submer. They’re both dropping servers carrying sensitive data into goop in an effort to save the planet. Now they’re joined by one of the biggest tech companies in the world in their efforts to improve the energy efficiency of data centers, because Microsoft is getting into the liquid-immersion cooling market.

Microsoft is using a liquid it developed in-house that’s engineered to boil at 122 degrees Fahrenheit (lower than the boiling point of water) to act as a heat sink, reducing the temperature inside the servers so they can operate at full power without any risks from overheating.

The vapor from the boiling fluid is converted back into a liquid through contact with a cooled condenser in the lid of the tank that stores the servers.

“We are the first cloud provider that is running two-phase immersion cooling in a production environment,” said Husam Alissa, a principal hardware engineer on Microsoft’s team for datacenter advanced development in Redmond, Washington, in a statement on the company’s internal blog. 

While that claim may be true, liquid cooling is a well-known approach to dealing with moving heat around to keep systems working. Cars use liquid cooling to keep their motors humming as they head out on the highway.

As technology companies confront the physical limits of Moore’s Law, the demand for faster, higher performance processors mean designing new architectures that can handle more power, the company wrote in a blog post. Power flowing through central processing units has increased from 150 watts to more than 300 watts per chip and the GPUs responsible for much of Bitcoin mining, artificial intelligence applications and high end graphics each consume more than 700 watts per chip.

It’s worth noting that Microsoft isn’t the first tech company to apply liquid cooling to data centers and the distinction that the company uses of being the first “cloud provider” is doing a lot of work. That’s because bitcoin mining operations have been using the tech for years. Indeed, LiquidStack was spun out from a bitcoin miner to commercialize its liquid immersion cooling tech and bring it to the masses.

“Air cooling is not enough”

More power flowing through the processors means hotter chips, which means the need for better cooling or the chips will malfunction.

“Air cooling is not enough,” said Christian Belady, vice president of Microsoft’s datacenter advanced development group in Redmond, in an interview for the company’s internal blog. “That’s what’s driving us to immersion cooling, where we can directly boil off the surfaces of the chip.”

For Belady, the use of liquid cooling technology brings the density and compression of Moore’s Law up to the datacenter level

The results, from an energy consumption perspective, are impressive. The company found that using two-phase immersion cooling reduced power consumption for a server by anywhere from 5 percent to 15 percent (every little bit helps).

Microsoft investigated liquid immersion as a cooling solution for high performance computing applications such as AI. Among other things, the investigation revealed that two-phase immersion cooling reduced power consumption for any given server by 5% to 15%. 

Meanwhile, companies like Submer claim they reduce energy consumption by 50%, water use by 99%, and take up 85% less space.

For cloud computing companies, the ability to keep these servers up and running even during spikes in demand, when they’d consume even more power, adds flexibility and ensures uptime even when servers are overtaxed, according to Microsoft.

“[We] know that with Teams when you get to 1 o’clock or 2 o’clock, there is a huge spike because people are joining meetings at the same time,” Marcus Fontoura, a vice president on Microsoft’s Azure team, said on the company’s internal blog. “Immersion cooling gives us more flexibility to deal with these burst-y workloads.”

At this point, data centers are a critical component of the internet infrastructure that much of the world relies on for… well… pretty much every tech-enabled service. That reliance however has come at a significant environmental cost.

“Data centers power human advancement. Their role as a core infrastructure has become more apparent than ever and emerging technologies such as AI and IoT will continue to drive computing needs. However, the environmental footprint of the industry is growing at an alarming rate,” Alexander Danielsson, an investment manager at Norrsken VC noted last year when discussing that firm’s investment in Submer.

Solutions under the sea

If submerging servers in experimental liquids offers one potential solution to the problem — then sinking them in the ocean is another way that companies are trying to cool data centers without expending too much power.

Microsoft has already been operating an undersea data center for the past two years. The company actually trotted out the tech as part of a push from the tech company to aid in the search for a COVID-19 vaccine last year.

These pre-packed, shipping container-sized data centers can be spun up on demand and run deep under the ocean’s surface for sustainable, high-efficiency and powerful compute operations, the company said.

The liquid cooling project shares most similarity with Microsoft’s Project Natick, which is exploring the potential of underwater datacenters that are quick to deploy and can operate for years on the seabed sealed inside submarine-like tubes without any onsite maintenance by people. 

In those data centers nitrogen air replaces an engineered fluid and the servers are cooled with fans and a heat exchanger that pumps seawater through a sealed tube.

Startups are also staking claims to cool data centers out on the ocean (the seaweed is always greener in somebody else’s lake).

Nautilus Data Technologies, for instance, has raised over $100 million (according to Crunchbase) to develop data centers dotting the surface of Davey Jones’ Locker. The company is currently developing a data center project co-located with a sustainable energy project in a tributary near Stockton, Calif.

With the double-immersion cooling tech Microsoft is hoping to bring the benefits of ocean-cooling tech onto the shore. “We brought the sea to the servers rather than put the datacenter under the sea,” Microsoft’s Alissa said in a company statement.

Ioannis Manousakis, a principal software engineer with Azure (left), and Husam Alissa, a principal hardware engineer on Microsoft’s team for datacenter advanced development (right), walk past a container at a Microsoft datacenter where computer servers in a two-phase immersion cooling tank are processing workloads. Photo by Gene Twedt for Microsoft.

Posted Under: Tech News
Quiq acquires Snaps to create a combined customer messaging platform

Posted by on 8 April, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

At first glance, Quiq and Snaps might sound like similar startups — they both help businesses talk to their customers via text messaging and other messaging apps. But Snaps CEO Christian Brucculeri said “there’s almost no overlap in what we do” and that the companies are “almost complete complements.”

That’s why Quiq (based in Bozeman, Montana) is acquiring Snaps (based in New York). The entire Snaps team is joining Quiq, with Brucculeri becoming senior vice president of sales and customer success for the combined organization.

Quiq CEO Mike Myer echoed Bruccleri’s point, comparing the situation to dumping two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle on the floor and discovering “the two pieces fit perfectly.” More specifically, he told me that Quiq has generally focused on customer service messaging, with a “do it yourself, toolset approach.” After all, the company was founded by two technical co-founders, and Myer joked, “We can’t understand why [a customer] can’t just call an API.”

Snaps, meanwhile, has focused more on marketing conversations, and on a managed service approach where it handles all of the technical work for its customers. In addition, Myer said that while Quiq has “really focused on platform aspect from beginning” — building integrations with more than a dozen messaging channels including Apple Business Chat, Google’s Business Messages, Instagram, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp — it doesn’t have “a deep natural language or conversational AI capability” the way Snaps does.

Myer added that demand for Quiq’s offering has been growing dramatically, with revenue up 300% year-over-year in the last six months of 2020. At the same time, he suggested that the divisions between marketing and customer service are beginning to dissolve, with service teams increasingly given sales goals, and “at younger, more commerce-focused organizations, they don’t have this differentiation between marketing and customer service” at all.

Apparently the two companies were already working together to create a combined offering for direct messaging on Instagram, which prompted broader discussions about how to bring the two products together. Moving forward, they will offer a combined platform for a variety of customers under the Quiq brand. (Quiq’s customers include Overstock.com, West Elm, Men’s Wearhouse and Brinks Home Security, while Snaps’ane Bryant, Live Nation, General Assembly, Clairol and Nioxin.) Brucculeri said this will give businesses one product to manage their conversations across “the full customer journey.”

“The key term you’re hearing is conversation,” Myer added. “It’s not about a ticket or a case or a question […] it’s an ongoing conversation.”

Snaps had raised $11.3 million in total funding from investors including Signal Peak Ventures. The financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

Posted Under: Tech News
Industry experts bullish on $500M KKR investment in Box, but stock market remains skeptical

Posted by on 8 April, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

When Box announced it was getting a $500 million investment from private equity firm KKR this morning, it was hard not to see it as a positive move for the company. It has been operating under the shadow of Starboard Value, and this influx of cash could give it a way forward independent of the activist investors.

Industry experts we spoke to were all optimistic about the deal, seeing it as a way for the company to regain control, while giving it a bushel of cash to make some moves. However, early returns from the stock market were not as upbeat as the stock price was plunging this morning.

Alan Pelz-Sharpe, principal analyst at Deep Analysis, a firm that follows the content management market closely, says that it’s a significant move for Box and opens up a path to expanding through acquisition.

“The KKR move is probably the most important strategic move Box has made since it IPO’d. KKR doesn’t just bring a lot of money to the deal, it gives Box the ability to shake off some naysayers and invest in further acquisitions,” Pelz-Sharpe told me, adding “Box is no longer a startup its a rapidly maturing company and organic growth will only take you so far. Inorganic growth is what will take Box to the next level.”

Dion Hinchcliffe, an analyst at Constellation Research, who covers the work from home trend and the digital workplace, sees it similarly, saying the investment allows the company to focus longer term again.

“Box very much needs to expand in new markets beyond its increasingly commoditized core business. The KKR investment will give them the opportunity to realize loftier ambitions long term so they can turn their established market presence into a growth story,” he said.

Pelz-Sharpe says that it also changes the power dynamic after a couple of years of having Starboard pushing the direction of the company.

“In short, as a public company there are investors who want a quick flip and others that want to grow this company substantially before an exit. This move with KKR potentially changes the dynamic at Box and may well put Aaron Levie back in the driver’s seat.”

Josh Stein, a partner at DFJ and early investor in Box, who was a long time board member, says that it shows that Box is moving in the right direction.

“I think it makes a ton of sense. Management has done a great job growing the business and taking it to profitability. With KKR’s new investment, you have two of the top technology investors in the world putting significant capital into going long on Box,” Stein said.

Perhaps Stein’s optimism is warranted. In its most recent earnings report from last month, the company announced revenue of $198.9 million, up 8% year-over-year with FY2021 revenue closing at $771 million up 11%. What’s more, the company is cash-flow positive, and has predicted an optimistic future outlook.

“As previously announced, Box is committed to achieving a revenue growth rate between 12-16%, with operating margins of between 23-27%, by fiscal 2024,” the company reiterated in a statement this morning.

Investors remains skeptical, however, with the company stock price getting hammered this morning. As of publication the share price was down over 9%. At this point, market investors may be waiting for the next earnings report to see if the company is headed in the right direction. For now, the $500 million certainly gives the company options, regardless of what Wall Street thinks in the short term.

Posted Under: Tech News
KKR hands Box a $500M lifeline

Posted by on 8 April, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

Box announced this morning that private equity firm KKR is investing $500 million in the company, a move that could help the struggling cloud content management vendor get out from under pressure from activist investor Starboard Value.

The company plans to use the proceeds in what’s called a “dutch auction” style sale to buy back shares from certain investors for the price determined by the auction, an activity that should take place after the company announces its next earnings report in May. This would presumably involve buying out Starboard, which took a 7.5% stake in the company in 2019.

Last month Reuters reported that Starboard could be looking to take over a majority of the board seats when the company board meets in June. That could have set them up to take some action, most likely forcing a sale.

While it’s not clear what will happen now, it seems likely that with this cash, they will be able to stave off action from Starboard, and with KKR in the picture be able to take a longer term view. Box CEO Aaron Levie sees the move as a vote of confidence from KKR in Box’s approach.

“KKR is one of the world’s leading technology investors with a deep understanding of our market and a proven track record of partnering successfully with companies to create value and drive growth. With their support, we will be even better positioned to build on Box’s leadership in cloud content management as we continue to deliver value for our customers around the world,” Levie said in a statement.

Under the terms of the deal, John Park, Head of Americas Technology Private Equity at KKR, will be joining the Box board of directors. The company also announced that independent board member Bethany Mayer will be appointed chairman of the board, effective on May 1st.

Earlier this year, the company bought e-signature startup SignRequest, which could help open up a new set of workflows for the company as it tries to expand its market. With KKR’s backing, it’s not unreasonable to expect that Box, which is cash flow positive, could be taking additional steps to expand the platform in the future.

Box stock was down over 8% premarket, a signal that perhaps Wall Street isn’t thrilled with the announcement, but the cash influx should give Box some breathing room to reset and push forward.

Posted Under: Tech News
Alyce, an AI-based personalised corporate gifting startup, raises $30M

Posted by on 8 April, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

Swag has a long and patchy history in the world of business. For every hip pair of plaid socks, there are five t-shirts you may never wear, an itchy scarf, a notepad your kids might use, and an ugly mug; and most of all, likely thousands of dollars and lots of time invested to make those presents a reality. Now, a startup that has built a service to rethink the concept behind corporate gifts and make them more effective is today announcing a round of funding to continue expanding its business — and one sign that it may be on to something is its progress so far.

Alyce, a Boston startup that has built an AI platform that plugs into various other apps that you might use to interact and track your relationships with others in your working life — sales prospects, business partners, colleagues — and then uses the information to personalise gift recommendations for those people, has raised $30 million, a Series B that it will be using to continue building out its platform, signing up more users, and hiring more people for its team.

This round is being led by General Catalyst, with Boston Seed Capital, Golden Ventures, Manifest, Morningside and Victress Captial — all previous backers — also participating.

Alyce says that it has grown 300% year-over-year between 2019 and 2020, tackling a corporate gifting and promotional items industry that ASI Market Research estimates is worth around $24.7 billion annually. Its customers today include Adobe’s Marketo, G2, Lenovo, Wex, Invision, DialPad, GrubHub, and 6Sense.

As with so many other apps and services that aim at productivity and people management, Alyce notes that this year of working remotely — which has tested many a relationship and job function, led to massive inbound and outbound digital activity (the screen is where everything gets played out now), and frankly burned a lot of us out — has given it also a new kind of relevance.

“As everyone was flooded with spam last year unsubscribing soared,” Greg Segall, founder and CEO of Alyce, said in a statement. “When a prospect opts out, that’s forever. It’s clear that both brands and customers crave the same thing – a much more purposeful and relatable way to engage.”

Alyce’s contribution to more quality engagement comes in the form of AI-fueled personalization.

Linking up with the other tools people typically use to track their communications with people — they include Marketo, Salesforce, Vidyard and Google’s email and calendar apps — the system has been built with algorithms that read details from those apps to construct some details about the preferences and tastes of the intended gift recipient. It then uses that to come up with a list of items that might appeal to that person from a wider list that it has compiled, with some 10,000 items in all. (And yes, these can also include more traditional corporate swag items like those socks or mugs.) Then, instead of sending an actual gift, “Swag Select”, as Alyce’s service is called, sends a gift code that lets the person redeem with his or her own choice from a personalised, more narrowed-down list of items.

Alyce itself doesn’t actually hold or distribute the presents: it connects up with third parties that send these out. (It prices its service based on how much it is used, and how many more tools a user might want to have to personalise and send out gifts.)

Yes, you might argue that a lot of this sounds actually very impersonal — the gift giver is not directly involved in the selection or sending of a present at all, which instead is “selected” by way of AI. Essentially, this is a variation of the personalization and recommendation technology that has been built to serve ads, suggest products to you on e-commerce sites, and more.

But on the other hand, it’s an interesting solution to the problem of trying to figure out what to get someone, which can be a challenge when you really know a person, and even harder when you don’t, while at the same time helping to create and fulfill a gesture that, at the end of the day, is about being thoughtful of them, not really the gift itself.

(You could also argue, I think, that since the gift lists are based on a person’s observations about the recipient, there is in fact some personal touches here, even if they have been run through an algorithmic mill before getting to you.)

And ultimately, the aim of these gifts is to say “thank you for this work relationship, which I appreciate”, or “please buy more printer paper from me” — not “I’m sorry for being rude to you at dinner last night.” Although… if this works as it should, maybe there might well be an opportunity to extending the model to more use cases, for example brands looking for ways to change up their direct mail marketing campaigns, or yes, people who want to patch things up after a spat the night before.

Notably, for General Catalyst, it’s interested indeed in the bigger gifting category, pointing to the potential of how this service could be scaled in the future.

“At General Catalyst, we are proud to lead the latest round of funding for Alyce as the company has reimagined the gifting category with technology and impact. The ability to deliver products and experiences that both the giver and recipient feel good about is incredibly powerful,” said Larry Bohn, Managing Director at General Catalyst, in a statement.

Posted Under: Tech News
EHR startup Canvas Medical raises $17M and partners with insurance heavyweight Anthem

Posted by on 8 April, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

Canvas Medical, an electronic health records (EHR) startup, today announced their $17 million Series A and a new partnership with Anthem, one of the biggest health insurance companies in the country.

The round was co-led by Inspired Capital and IA Ventures, with participation from Upfront Ventures. This round brings the company’s total funding to date to $20 million. 

The San Francisco-based company, which launched in 2015, aims to help doctors experience a more efficient — and painless — approach to delivering value-based care by offering an EHR platform that promises “80% fewer clicks, 3x faster workflows, and the ability to truly work on one screen,” said Andrew Hines, the company’s CEO and founder.

Andrew Hines. Image Credits: Canvas Medical

Value-based care is a delivery model where providers are paid based on patient health outcomes as opposed to the traditional pay-per-service model where doctors are reimbursed per visit.

We’ve seen a transition in the U.S. toward value-based care over the last several years, and that shift is also being reflected in how doctors are getting reimbursed. As a result, existing EHR companies find themselves having to add bells and whistles to their platforms, which in turn has compromised the doctor’s workflow experience.

“What has happened over time is we have asked our clinicians to become sophisticated coders. They are clicking through screens that are cluttered, that are not designed with human factors in mind,” said Steve Strongwater in Catalyst, a journal on innovation in care delivery published by the New England Journal of Medicine. Strongwater is a physician and the CEO of Atrius Health in Boston.

“Current EHRs are a workplace hazard from an ergonomics perspective,” said Hines. “It’s like if you sit in the wrong chair day in and day out, your back is going to hurt.” 

While technology has made many people’s jobs easier, that’s not the case for doctors. Studies have shown that EHRs are actually a source of physician burnout in the U.S., which is in and of itself a problem of national concern. 

The EHR market is extremely fragmented (there are several hundred EHR companies in the U.S.) which makes sharing medical records between physicians a challenge. Because health insurance claims contain significant medical information, insurance companies are a reliable alternative source for a lot of the important data about their members. But if a doctor needs to access that information for treatment purposes – which they have to do regularly – they have to log into a different portal or access a different report depending on each patient’s insurance. That’s one of the problems Canvas aims to solve, and their partnership with Anthem is just the beginning.

While there’s often a major amount of inertia — and associated cost — with changing EHRs, Hines, a data scientist-turned-entrepreneur, says the company assuages these concerns by leading its sale efforts with its numbers.

“Doctors who use Canvas experience 30% more productivity in the first month and are able to save 1-2 hours a day charting — which allows them to see more patients or go home early,” he added.

 

Posted Under: Tech News
Okta expands into privileged access management and identity governance reporting

Posted by on 7 April, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

Okta today announced it was expanding its platform into a couple of new areas. Up to this point, the company has been known for its identity access management product, giving companies the ability to sign onto multiple cloud products with a single sign on. Today, the company is moving into two new areas: privileged access and identity governance

Privileged access gives companies the ability to provide access on an as-needed basis to a limited number of people to key administrative services inside a company. This could be your database or your servers or any part of your technology stack that is highly sensitive and where you want to tightly control who can access these systems.

Okta CEO Todd McKinnon says that Okta has always been good at locking down the general user population access to cloud services like Salesforce, Office 365 and Gmail. What these cloud services have in common is you access them via a web interface.

Administrators access the speciality accounts using different protocols. “It’s something like secure shell, or you’re using a terminal on your computer to connect to a server in the cloud, or it’s a database connection where you’re actually logging in with a SQL connection, or you’re connecting to a container which is the Kubernetes protocol to actually manage the container,” McKinnon explained.

Privileged access offers a couple of key features including the ability to limit access to a given time window and to record a video of the session so there is an audit trail of exactly what happened while someone was accessing the system. McKinnon says that these features provide additional layers of protection for these sensitive accounts.

He says that it will be fairly trivial to carve out these accounts because Okta already has divided users into groups and can give these special privileges to only those people in the administrative access group. The challenge was figuring out how to get access to these other kinds of protocols.

The governance piece provides a way for security operations teams to run detailed reports and look for issues related to identity. “Governance provides exception reporting so you can give that to your auditors, and more importantly you can give that to your security team to make sure that you figure out what’s going on and why there is this deviation from your stated policy,” he said.

All of this when combined with the $6.5 billion acquisition of Auth0 last month is part of a larger plan by the company to be what McKinnon calls the identity cloud. He sees a market with several strategic clouds and he believes identity is going to be one of them.

“Because identity is so strategic for everything, it’s unlocking your customer, access, it’s unlocking your employee access, it’s keeping everything secure. And so this expansion, whether it’s customer identity with zero trust or whether it’s doing more on the workforce identity with not just access, but privileged access and identity governance. It’s about identity evolving in this primary cloud,” he said.

While both of these new products were announced today at the company’s virtual Oktane customer conference, they won’t be generally available until the first quarter of next year.

Posted Under: Tech News
Swyft raises $17.5 million to bring same-day delivery to all the retailers that aren’t Amazon

Posted by on 7 April, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

Thanks to major players like Amazon and Walmart, we’ve become accustomed to next- or same-day delivery. But the pandemic has also renewed our interest in buying from smaller businesses and retailers.

Swyft, a company that has just raised $17.5 million in Series A, helps retailers of any size provide affordable same-day delivery. The round was co-led by Inovia Capital and Forerunner Ventures, with participation from Shopify and existing investors Golden Ventures and Trucks VC.

Swyft is a marketplace, connecting a network of shipping carriers with vendors. But the company also provides software to those carriers to make them more efficient, and turns them into a vast network that allows them to pick up more inventory without adding to their infrastructure.

In other words, several regional carriers may play a part in delivering a parcel shipped via Swyft without making any big changes to their original routes or adding new drivers, trucks, etc.

To date, major players in both shipping and retail have dominated this space, thanks in large part to their ability to deliver quickly. Swyft is looking to amass an army, for lack of a better term, comprised of all of the smaller players, including mom and pop retailers and vendors as well as smaller, regional carriers. Banded together through software, these carriers and retailers can match the scale and influence of the behemoths without spending a fortune.

Swyft was cofounded by Aadil Kazmi (CEO), Zeeshan Hamid (Head of Engineering), and Maraz Rahman (Head of Sales). Kazmi and Hamid both spent their careers at Amazon, working on data and last-mile operations for the behemoth. Rahman was an early employee at a YC-backed proptech startup.

The trio started asking themselves early last year why retailers weren’t able to offer same-day delivery and chose to tackle the gap they discovered.

The key ingredient to Swyft is not its aggregation of couriers, but the software it provides to them. Because Swyft is increasing demand for these carriers, it also needs to make them more efficient. The back-end software allows carriers to digitize or automate a good deal of what they’re traditionally doing by hand.

CEO Aadil Kazmi says that Swyft is able to come in anywhere between 25 and 30 percent cheaper than the incumbent option.

“I don’t know what percent of your purchases are from Amazon, but for me it’s like 150 percent,” said Eurie Kim. “I’d prefer to buy elsewhere with the pandemic, and support local and independent brands, but Amazon’s trained us all to have fast and free shipping. It feels like an opportunity where the consumer experience is really lacking and the burden on merchants and retailers is extremely heavy.”

Swyft currently has 16 full-time employees. Twelve percent are female and 75 percent are people of color, according to the company.

Since April 2020, Swyft has facilitated the delivery of more than 180,000 packages, and expanded gross margin from 78 percent to 82 percent, thanks in large part to revenue from the software side of the business and a zero-asset model.

Posted Under: Tech News
Pathlight, a performance management tool for customer-facing teams and the individuals in them, raises $25M

Posted by on 7 April, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

The longer we continue to work with either all or part of our teams in remote, out-of-physical-office environments, the more imperative it becomes for those teams to have some tools in place to keep the channels of communication and management open, and for the individuals in those teams to have a sense of how well they are performing. Today, one of the startups that provides a team productivity app with that in mind is announcing a round of funding to fuel its growth.

Pathlight, which has built a performance management platform for customer-facing teams — sales, field service and support — to help managers and employees themselves to track and analyze how they are doing, to coach them when and where it’s needed, and to communicate updates and more, has picked up $25 million — money that it will be using to continue growing its customer base and the functionality across its app.

The funding is being led by Insight Partners, with previous backers Kleiner Perkins and Quiet Capital also participating, alongside Uncorrelated Ventures; Jeremy Stoppelman, CEO of Yelp; David Glazer, CFO of Palantir; and Michael Ovitz, co-founder of CAA and Owner of Broad Beach Ventures. Pathlight has now raised $35 million.

Pathlight today provides users with a range of tools to visualize team and individual performance across various parameters set by managers, using data that teams integrate from other platforms like Salesforce, Zendesk and Outreach, among others.

Using that data and specific metrics for the job in question, managers can then initiate conversations with individuals to focus in on specific areas where things need attention, and provide some coaching to help fix it. It can also be used to provide team-wide updates and encouragement, which sits alongside whatever other tools a person might use in their daily customer-facing work.

Since launching in March 2020, the startup has picked up good traction, with customers including Twilio, Earnin, Greenhouse, and CLEAR. But perhaps even more importantly, the pandemic and resulting switch to remote work has underscored how necessary tools like Pathlight’s have become: the startup says that engagement on its platform has shot up 300% in the last 12 months.

Alexander Kvamme, the CEO of Pathlight, said that he first became aware of the challenges of communicating across customer-facing teams, and having transparency on how they are doing as individuals and as a group, when he was at Yelp. Yelp had acquired his startup, reservations service SeatMe, and used the acquisition to build and run Yelp Reservations.

He was quick to realize that there weren’t really effective tools for him to see how individuals in the sales team were doing, how they were doing compared to goals the company wanted to achieve and based on the sales data they already had in other systems, how to work more effectively with people to communicate when something needed changing, and how to tailor all that in line with new variations in the formula — in their case, how to sell new products like a reservations service alongside advertising and other Yelp services for businesses.

“Whether it’s five or 3,000 people, the problem doesn’t go away,” he said. “Everyone uses their own systems, and it hurts front line employees when they don’t know how they are doing, or don’t get recognition when they are doing well, or don’t get coaching when they are not. Our thesis was that if software is eating the world, and you as a company are buying more software and analytics, over time managers will be more like data analysts. So we are providing a way for managers to be more data-driven.”

Five years down the line, Kvamme got the bug again to start a company and decided to return to that problem, teaming up with co-founder Trey Doig, the engineer who designed SeatMe and then turned it into Yelp Reservations and is now Pathlight’s CTO.

As they see it, the challenge has still not really been addressed. That’s not to say that there are not a number of companies — competitors to Pathlight, looking to fill that gap as well. Another people management platform called Lattice last year picked up $45 million  (I’m guessing it will be raising money again around about now); HubSpot, Zoho, SalesLoft and a number of others also are taking different approaches to the same challenge: front-line customer-facing people spend the majority of their time and attention on interacting with people, and so there need to be better tools in place to help them figure out how to make that communication more effective, figure out what is working and what is not.

And all of this, of course, is not at all new: it’s not like we all woke up one day and suddenly wanted to know how we are doing at work, or managers suddenly felt they needed to communicate with staff.

What has changed, however, is how we work: many of us have not seen the inside of our offices for more than a year at this point, and for a large proportion of us, we may never return again, or if we do it will be under different circumstances.

All of this means that some of the more traditional metrics and indicators of our performance, praising, management relationships, and learning from team mates simply is not there anymore.

In customer-facing areas like sales, support and field service, that lack of contact may be even more acute, since many of the teams working in these environments have long relied on huddles and communication throughout the day, week and month to continuously tweak work and improve it. So while tools like Pathlight’s will be useful as data analytics provision for teams regardless of how we work, it can be argued that they are even more important right now.

“I think people have started to realize that if you can empower front line to be more independent, your numbers will go up and do better,” Kvamme said.

This is part of what went into the investment decision made here.

“With the acceleration of digital transformation across the enterprise, it’s not enough to rethink the way we work—we must also rethink the way we manage,” said Jeff Lieberman, MD at Insight Partners. “Pathlight is ushering in a new age of data-driven management, an ethos that we believe every enterprise will need to embrace—quickly. We are excited to partner with the Pathlight team as they bring their powerful platform to companies across the world.”

Posted Under: Tech News
Blue dot raises $32M for AI that helps businesses manage their tax accounting

Posted by on 7 April, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

Artificial intelligence has become a fundamental cornerstone of how a lot of business software works, providing a useful boost in reading, understanding, and using the often-fragmented trove of data that organizations generate these days. In the latest development, an Israeli startup called Blue dot, which uses AI to help companies handle their tax accounting, is announcing $32 million in funding to continue its growth, specifically addressing the demand from companies for more user-friendly tools to help read and correctly itemize expenses for tax purposes.

“The tax sector is very complicated, and we are playing in a very large space, but it’s a huge revolution,” Blue dot’s CEO and co-founder Isaac Saft said in an interview. “Business and enterprise accounting is just not going to look the same in the future as it does today.”

The funding is being led by Ibex Investors in partnership with Lutetia Technology Partners, with past investors Lamaison Partners, Viola and Target Global also contributing. Blue dot rebranded only last week from its original name, VATBox (part of the funding will be used to help Blue dot move deeper into the U.S. market, where the concept of VAT is not quite so ubiquitous: there is no national sales tax and states determine the rates themselves).

Pitchbook notes that under its previous name, the startup last raised money in 2017, a $20 million Series B led by Viola at a $120 million post-money valuation.

While Blue dot is not disclosing valuation today, it’s likely to be significantly higher than this based on some of its engagements. In addition to customers like Amazon, tobacco giant BAT and Dell, it also has a partnership with one of the bigger names in expense accounting, SAP Concur, which uses Blue dot to power its expense data entry tool to automatically read charges and figure out how to itemize them so that employees or accountants don’t need to go through the pain of that themselves.

As Saft describes it, part of what is propelling his company’s business is the bigger trend of consumerization and the role that it has played in enterprise services: the working world has picked up a lot of technology tools, led by the smartphone, to help them organize their personal lives, and a lot of what they are being “served” through technology is increasingly personalized with lower barriers of entry, whether its on e-commerce sites, entertainment or social media. In the working world, they can often be frustrated as a result with how much work something like expenses can involve — a process that gets ever more complicated the more strict tax regimes become.

Blue dot’s approach is to essentially view the tax accounting process as something that can be improved with AI to make it easier for people to use — whether those people are workers itemizing their expenses, or accounts auditing them and running those through even bigger accounting processes. With a machine learning system that both takes into account a company’s own internal compliance and company policies, and the wider tax and regulatory framework, Blue dot helps “read” an expense and figure out how to notate it, how much tax should be accounted and where, and so on.

This is especially important as the process of entering and managing expenses gets pushed out to the people spending the money, rather than dedicated accountants handling that work on their behalf. An awareness of how modern offices are functioning today and evolving is one reason why investors were interested here.

“We believe Blue dot can change the way organizations worldwide manage accounting and its tax implications for their expenses,” Gal Gitter, a partner at Ibex, said in a statement. “There’s been a major market shift away from centralization of enterprise functions, including procurement. As that accelerates, more companies will be looking for ways to replace costly and complex manual processes with digital, automated solutions that use data and AI to essentially enable transactions to report themselves, which Blue dot delivers.”

Posted Under: Tech News
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