Monthly Archives: April 2021

How Klaviyo transformed from a lifestyle business into a $4.15B email titan

Posted by on 19 April, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

Startups are stories of feverish dreams and obsessive fears. Short of hearing it from the source, a glimpse into the inbox of a founder would be the best way to experience the travails they endure on the way to building a business. A customer finally makes a purchase, a VC invests or walks away, an employee signs their offer letter — all of the major and minor milestones of a startup are communicated via that now-ancient medium of email.

Current Klaviyo users may be surprised to hear that email was not a part of the initial product.

Email’s ubiquity is only part of the story, though. It’s also a symbol of freedom: The last social platform that remains relatively open and free from the clutches of a single monopoly owner. It’s a market rife with entrenched incumbents, but one that simultaneously continues to invite founders to find some new take on this venerable communications channel and make it better for everyone.

That was the mission that Andrew Bialecki and Ed Hallen undertook when they founded Klaviyo back in 2012. What they perhaps didn’t bank on was just how long of a route they were about to take — or how many rejections they might find in their own inboxes from accelerators and VCs who never thought a new generation of email service providers could make it.

So they bootstrapped, kept things lean. They debated canceling dinners to pay the bills when customers churned. And along the way, they built a special startup that is today valued at a whopping $4.15 billion. Klaviyo is the story of how two scrappy, inexperienced entrepreneurs set out to build a lifestyle business — and ended up creating an email titan.

Racing to the starting line

Klaviyo’s origin story sounds a bit like the generic advice given by every book on entrepreneurship. Andrew Bialecki — he goes by AB — had a need that no existing company filled. So, he started a company to address that need.

It began with what he calls a side hustle: a website devoted to cataloging the dates and locations of running races. Bialecki had the technical chops to build it, but the data wasn’t already available online and he needed race organizers to provide it. That, in turn, meant he needed to let them know his site existed and constantly follow up to make sure they were using it.

“I realized I’m on the phone with people and it’s never going to scale. After a while, I was working on that while I was at another startup, and I said I have two options here. Either I can go all-in on road races, or all-in on the problem: ‘How do we help these businesses connect with the people using their software or products?’” recalls Bialecki.

By then, he already had a co-founder in mind. Bialecki had been a student together with Ed Hallen at MIT, but the pair actually met while working at Applied Predictive Technologies (APT), a Washington, D.C. tech consultancy.

“I’d read all those books on, hey, when you’re looking for someone to start a business with, you want someone with similar values who’s also complementary,” says Bialecki. “I’d known he was kind of interested in starting a company, and we had really complementary skillsets. I loved the engineering and design and product, and he was a big product guy too, but was used to working with customers and clients.”

An email company that didn’t (initially) do email

Current Klaviyo users may be surprised to hear that email was not part of the product that emerged. Instead, Bialecki and Hallen built a database to collect all the e-commerce data that was falling through the cracks.

“Once we really talked to a lot of e-commerce people, it was clear there were long-standing problems,” says Hallen.

Bialecki adds, “There are facts you know, like their name, their email address, their favorite color or something they told you about their birthday. But some of the harder stuff was, jeez, how many times has this person visited my website, bought something from me, what products did they buy and how is that trending over time? Were they a really frequent customer that dropped off the face of the Earth?”

As they spoke to customers, the founders realized that handling customers’ data and making it useful to them was going to be critical to Klaviyo’s success. It just so happened that gathering data matched well with their experiences working at APT.

“We had a ton of experience stitching together data sources,” says Hallen. “We took that expertise and put it as our foundation. What’s the most broken, largest market, and let’s really tie data to it, not as an afterthought.”

Klaviyo’s two co-founders Andrew Bialecki and Ed Hallen in July 2012. Image Credits: Klaviyo

What that required, in practical terms, was spending the initial months building a custom database to store the disparate data types that come up during e-commerce transactions — events, documents and object data models. Conor O’Mahony, who joined the company in 2018 as chief product officer and departed this month to become an advisor, says that the company’s early time investment in its database laid the foundations for its later success in scaling up.

Posted Under: Tech News
How Klaviyo used data and no-code to transform owned marketing

Posted by on 19 April, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

Email is the communication medium that refuses to die.

“Eventually, every technology is trumped by something new and better. And I feel that email is ready to be trumped. But by what?” wrote the venture capitalist Fred Wilson in 2007. Three years later, he updated readers that other forms of messaging had outgrown email. “It looks like email’s reign as the king of communication is ending and social networking is now supreme,” he said. (To be fair to Wilson, his view was nuanced enough to continue investing in email tech.)

Despite the competition, Klaviyo didn’t just break into the market — it has also achieved an unusual level of excitement and loyalty among marketers despite its youthful history.

Investors weren’t alone — marketers have also spent years anticipating the next big thing.

“It was SMS, it was YouTube, it was Instagram. Before that it was Facebook, then it was Snapchat and TikTok. I kinda feel like individually all those things are fleeting. I think people found: You know what? Everyone still opens their emails every day,” says Darin Hager, a former sneaker entrepreneur who is now an email marketing manager at Adjust Media.

Email has an estimated four billion users today and continues to grow steadily even as mature social networks plateau. Estimates of the number of nonspam messages sent each day range from 25 billion to over 300 billion.

Unsurprisingly for a marketing channel with so much volume, there’s voluminous competition to send and program those emails. Yet, despite the competition, Klaviyo didn’t just break into the market — it has also achieved an unusual level of excitement and loyalty among marketers despite its youthful history.

“If you’re not using Klaviyo and you’re in e-commerce, then it’s not very professional. If you see ‘Sent by Constant Contact or Mailchimp’ at the bottom of an email by a brand, it makes it look like they’re not really there yet,” Hager said.

How did Klaviyo become the standard solution among email marketers?

In Klaviyo’s origin story, we delved into part of the answer: The company began life as an e-commerce analytics service. Once it matured to compete as an email service provider, Klaviyo benefited from the edge given by its deeper, more comprehensive focus on data.

However, that leaves several questions unanswered. Why is email so important to e-commerce? What are the substantive differences between Klaviyo’s feature set and those of its competitors? And why did several large, well-funded incumbents fail to capitalize on building an advantage in data first?

In this section, we’ll answer those questions — as well as laying out the significance of COVID-19 on the e-commerce market, and how newsletters and AI figure into the company’s future.

A positive Outlook on email’s longevity

Email is one of the oldest tech verticals: Constant Contact, one of the most venerable email service providers (ESPs), was founded in 1995, went public in 2007 and was taken private in 2015 for $1 billion. By the time Klaviyo started in 2012, the space was well served by numerous incumbents.

Posted Under: Tech News
Marketing in 2021 is emotional and not just transactional

Posted by on 19 April, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

Brands are emotions made physical. The clothes we wear, the media we consume, the devices we use — all signal not only to others what we value and see in ourselves, they also are a way to construct our very identities. Experimenting to deepen that bond has been at the core of the marketing profession for a century; its origins rooted in Freudian psychoanalysis.

There had always been one critical limitation, though: Marketers had to appeal to the masses. Radio, television and print media allowed brands to deliver only one message to everyone, no matter if their product conferred luxury or smart cost-consciousness.

On the internet, the masses have been shattered into ever smaller shards, shifting that marketing calculus toward targeted audiences and social network interest groups. Today, niche brands, large corporations and every business in between are reaching ever-narrower audiences.

Marketers who become expert at personalization, especially for existing customers through owned marketing platforms like email, will hold an edge over their competitors.

Yet, advertising and social networks are competitive marketplaces. Over time, prices to reach niche audiences rise, and strategies that once worked become unviable. In 2021, these perpetual challenges are joined by two new factors: a fresh influx of new e-commerce brands and changing privacy policies on third-party platforms.

Klaviyo benefits from these secular trends. While the cost or difficulty of acquiring new customers may increase, as we looked at in the second part of this EC-1, the cost of emailing an existing one remains much the same. Marketers who become expert at personalization, especially for existing customers through owned marketing platforms like email, will hold an edge over their competitors. It’s no longer about marketing to narrow slices of audiences — it’s about building an emotional bond with an audience of one.

To a booming economy, now ad inflation

While 2020 was a banner year for e-commerce in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the early months of 2021 have brought about a new problem: Customer acquisition costs are rising, sometimes to a worrying degree. For instance, one company interviewed by TechCrunch that did not wish to be named said it has seen its return on investment for Facebook ads fall by nearly half in the first months of 2021. Such inflation has also been predicted by firms like ECI Media Management.

There are two possible reasons for this increase. First, an unprecedented number of companies are moving online, spurred by COVID-19 and worldwide lockdowns.

Posted Under: Tech News
Drama and quirk aren’t necessary for startup success

Posted by on 19 April, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

Many of the stories in our EC-1 series tell tales of startups in the wilderness hacking out green field opportunities. Klaviyo is a different breed of company: One that went into an established market and challenged powerful incumbents, ultimately finding success with a new, more data-oriented generation of email marketers.

As such, the lessons that it offers are, perhaps, more subtle; its insights bordering on common sense.

But as the saying goes, common sense to an uncommon degree becomes wisdom. Here are four pieces of wisdom I’ve gleaned from Klaviyo’s story:

Drama and sizzle help companies stand out, undoubtedly. But are they necessary for success? Klaviyo’s story suggests otherwise.

Lesson 1: Drama and quirk aren’t necessary for startup success

Silicon Valley has become a showcase for oddity. Ironically, we all enjoy “Silicon Valley” (the show) or “The Social Network.” Unironically, we toss around phrases like “the hustle” and “sweat equity.” Hot companies often stand out with stories of intense struggle and failure, a larger-than-life founder or a chaotic (and often toxic) management structure.

Drama and sizzle help companies stand out, undoubtedly. But are they necessary for success? Klaviyo’s story suggests otherwise.

Posted Under: Tech News
Once VMware is free from Dell, who might fancy buying it?

Posted by on 18 April, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

TechCrunch has spilled much digital ink tracking the fate of VMware since it was brought to Dell’s orbit thanks to the latter company’s epic purchase of EMC in 2016 for $58 billion. That transaction saddled the well-known Texas tech company with heavy debts. Because the deal left VMware a public company, albeit one controlled by Dell, how it might be used to pay down some of its parent company’s arrears was a constant question.

Dell made its move earlier this week, agreeing to spin out VMware in exchange for a huge one-time dividend, a five-year commercial partnership agreement, lots of stock for existing Dell shareholders and Michael Dell retaining his role as chairman of its board.

So, where does the deal leave VMware in terms of independence, and in terms of Dell influence? Dell no longer will hold formal control over VMware as part of the deal, though its shareholders will retain a large stake in the virtualization giant. And with Michael Dell staying on VMware’s board, it will retain influence.

Here’s how VMware described it to shareholders in a presentation this week. The graphic shows that under the new agreement, VMware is no longer a subsidiary of Dell and will now be an independent company.

Image Credits: VMware

But with VMware tipped to become independent once again, it could become something of a takeover target. When Dell controlled VMware thanks to majority ownership, a hostile takeover felt out of the question. Now, VMware is a more possible target to the right company with the right offer — provided that the Dell spinout works as planned.

Buying VMware would be an expensive effort, however. It’s worth around $67 billion today. Presuming a large premium would be needed to take this particular technology chess piece off the competitive board, it could cost $100 billion or more to snag VMware from the public markets.

So VMware will soon be more free to pursue a transaction that might be favorable to its shareholders — which will still include every Dell shareholder, because they are receiving stock in VMware as part of its spinout — without worrying about its parent company simply saying no.

Posted Under: Tech News
Data scientists: Bring the narrative to the forefront

Posted by on 16 April, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

By 2025, 463 exabytes of data will be created each day, according to some estimates. (For perspective, one exabyte of storage could hold 50,000 years of DVD-quality video.) It’s now easier than ever to translate physical and digital actions into data, and businesses of all types have raced to amass as much data as possible in order to gain a competitive edge.

However, in our collective infatuation with data (and obtaining more of it), what’s often overlooked is the role that storytelling plays in extracting real value from data.

The reality is that data by itself is insufficient to really influence human behavior. Whether the goal is to improve a business’ bottom line or convince people to stay home amid a pandemic, it’s the narrative that compels action, rather than the numbers alone. As more data is collected and analyzed, communication and storytelling will become even more integral in the data science discipline because of their role in separating the signal from the noise.

Data alone doesn’t spur innovation — rather, it’s data-driven storytelling that helps uncover hidden trends, powers personalization, and streamlines processes.

Yet this can be an area where data scientists struggle. In Anaconda’s 2020 State of Data Science survey of more than 2,300 data scientists, nearly a quarter of respondents said that their data science or machine learning (ML) teams lacked communication skills. This may be one reason why roughly 40% of respondents said they were able to effectively demonstrate business impact “only sometimes” or “almost never.”

The best data practitioners must be as skilled in storytelling as they are in coding and deploying models — and yes, this extends beyond creating visualizations to accompany reports. Here are some recommendations for how data scientists can situate their results within larger contextual narratives.

Make the abstract more tangible

Ever-growing datasets help machine learning models better understand the scope of a problem space, but more data does not necessarily help with human comprehension. Even for the most left-brain of thinkers, it’s not in our nature to understand large abstract numbers or things like marginal improvements in accuracy. This is why it’s important to include points of reference in your storytelling that make data tangible.

For example, throughout the pandemic, we’ve been bombarded with countless statistics around case counts, death rates, positivity rates, and more. While all of this data is important, tools like interactive maps and conversations around reproduction numbers are more effective than massive data dumps in terms of providing context, conveying risk, and, consequently, helping change behaviors as needed. In working with numbers, data practitioners have a responsibility to provide the necessary structure so that the data can be understood by the intended audience.

Posted Under: Tech News
Enterprise security attackers are one password away from your worst day

Posted by on 16 April, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome, then one might say the cybersecurity industry is insane.

Criminals continue to innovate with highly sophisticated attack methods, but many security organizations still use the same technological approaches they did 10 years ago. The world has changed, but cybersecurity hasn’t kept pace.

Distributed systems, with people and data everywhere, mean the perimeter has disappeared. And the hackers couldn’t be more excited. The same technology approaches, like correlation rules, manual processes and reviewing alerts in isolation, do little more than remedy symptoms while hardly addressing the underlying problem.

The current risks aren’t just technology problems; they’re also problems of people and processes.

Credentials are supposed to be the front gates of the castle, but as the SOC is failing to change, it is failing to detect. The cybersecurity industry must rethink its strategy to analyze how credentials are used and stop breaches before they become bigger problems.

It’s all about the credentials

Compromised credentials have long been a primary attack vector, but the problem has only grown worse in the midpandemic world. The acceleration of remote work has increased the attack footprint as organizations struggle to secure their network while employees work from unsecured connections. In April 2020, the FBI said that cybersecurity attacks reported to the organization grew by 400% compared to before the pandemic. Just imagine where that number is now in early 2021.

It only takes one compromised account for an attacker to enter the active directory and create their own credentials. In such an environment, all user accounts should be considered as potentially compromised.

Nearly all of the hundreds of breach reports I’ve read have involved compromised credentials. More than 80% of hacking breaches are now enabled by brute force or the use of lost or stolen credentials, according to the 2020 Data Breach Investigations Report. The most effective and commonly-used strategy is credential stuffing attacks, where digital adversaries break in, exploit the environment, then move laterally to gain higher-level access.

Posted Under: Tech News
Should Dell have pursued a more aggressive debt-reduction move with VMware?

Posted by on 15 April, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

When Dell announced it was spinning out VMware yesterday, the move itself wasn’t surprising: there had been public speculation for some time. But Dell could have gone a number of ways in this deal, despite its choice to spin VMware out as a separate company with a constituent dividend instead of an outright sale.

The dividend route, which involves a payment to shareholders between $11.5 and $12 billion, has the advantage of being tax-free (or at least that’s what Dell hopes as it petitions the IRS). For Dell, which owns 81% of VMware, the dividend translates to somewhere between $9.3 and $9.7 billion in cash, which the company plans to use to pay down a portion of the huge debt it still holds from its $58 billion EMC purchase in 2016.

VMware was the crown jewel in that transaction, giving Dell an inroad to the cloud it had lacked prior to the deal. For context, VMware popularized the notion of the virtual machine, a concept that led to the development of cloud computing as we know it today. It has since expanded much more broadly beyond that, giving Dell a solid foothold in cloud native computing.

Dell hopes to have its cake and eat it too with this deal: it generates a large slug of cash to use for personal debt relief while securing a five-year commercial deal that should keep the two companies closely aligned. Dell CEO Michael Dell will remain chairman of the VMware board, which should help smooth the post-spinout relationship.

But could Dell have extracted more cash out of the deal?

Doing what’s best for everyone

Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights and Strategies, says that beyond the cash transaction, the deal provides a way for the companies to continue working closely together with the least amount of disruption.

“In the end, this move is more about maximizing the Dell and VMware stock price [in a way that] doesn’t impact customers, ISVs or the channel. Wall Street wasn’t valuing the two companies together nearly as [strongly] as I believe it will as separate entities,” Moorhead said.

Posted Under: Tech News
Tecton teams with founder of Feast open source machine learning feature store

Posted by on 15 April, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

Tecton, the company that pioneered the notion of the machine learning feature store, has teamed up with the founder of the open source feature store project called Feast. Today the company announced the release of version 0.10 of the open source tool.

The feature store is a concept that the Tecton founders came up with when they were engineers at Uber. Shortly thereafter an engineer named Willem Pienaar read the founder’s Uber blog posts on building a feature store and went to work building Feast as an open source version of the concept.

“The idea of Tecton [involved bringing] feature stores to the industry, so we build basically the best in class, enterprise feature store. […] Feast is something that Willem created, which I think was inspired by some of the early designs that we published at Uber. And he built Feast and it evolved as kind of like the standard for open source feature stores, and it’s now part of the Linux Foundation,” Tecton co-founder and CEO Mike Del Balso explained.

Tecton later hired Pienaar, who is today an engineer at the company where he leads their open source team. While the company did not originally start off with a plan to build an open source product, the two products are closely aligned, and it made sense to bring Pienaar on board.

“The products are very similar in a lot of ways. So I think there’s a similarity there that makes this somewhat symbiotic, and there is no explicit convergence necessary. The Tecton product is a superset of what Feast has. So it’s an enterprise version with a lot more advanced functionality, but at Feast we have a battle-tested feature store that’s open source,” Pienaar said.

As we wrote in a December 2020 story on the company’s $35 million Series B, it describes a feature store as “an end-to-end machine learning management system that includes the pipelines to transform the data into what are called feature values, then it stores and manages all of that feature data and finally it serves a consistent set of data.”

Del Balso says that from a business perspective, contributing to the open source feature store exposes his company to a different group of users, and the commercial and open source products can feed off one another as they build the two products.

“What we really like, and what we feel is very powerful here, is that we’re deeply in the Feast community and get to learn from all of the interesting use cases […] to improve the Tecton product. And similarly, we can use the feedback that we’re hearing from our enterprise customers to improve the open source project. That’s the kind of cross learning, and ideally that feedback loop involved there,” he said.

The plan is for Tecton to continue being a primary contributor with a team inside Tecton dedicated to working on Feast. Today, the company is releasing version 0.10 of the project.

Posted Under: Tech News
BigEye (formerly Toro) scores $17M Series A to automate data quality monitoring

Posted by on 15 April, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

As companies create machine learning models, the operations team needs to ensure the data used for the model is of sufficient quality, a process that can be time consuming. BigEye (formerly Toro), an early stage startup is helping by automating data quality.

Today the company announced a $17 million Series A led Sequoia Capital with participation from existing investor Costanoa Ventures. That brings the total raised to $21 million with the $4 million seed, the startup raised last May.

When we spoke to BigEye CEO and co-founder Kyle Kirwan last May, he said the seed round was going to be focussed on hiring a team — they are 11 now — and building more automation into the product, and he says they have achieved that goal.

“The product can now automatically tell users what data quality metrics they should collect from their data, so they can point us at a table in Snowflake or Amazon Redshift or whatever and we can analyze that table and recommend the metrics that they should collect from it to monitor the data quality — and we also automated the alerting,” Kirwan explained.

He says that the company is focusing on data operations issues when it comes to inputs to the model such as the table isn’t updating when it’s supposed to, it’s missing rows or there are duplicate entries. They can automate alerts to those kinds of issues and speed up the process of getting model data ready for training and production.

Bogomil Balkansky, the partner at Sequoia who is leading today’s investment sees the company attacking an important part of the machine learning pipeline. “Having spearheaded the data quality team at Uber, Kyle and Egor have a clear vision to provide always-on insight into the quality of data to all businesses,” Balkansky said in a statement.

As the founding team begins building the company, Kirwan says that building a diverse team is a key goal for them and something they are keenly aware of.

“It’s easy to hire a lot of other people that fit a certain mold, and we want to be really careful that we’re doing the extra work to [understand that just because] it’s easy to source people within our network, we need to push and make sure that we’re hiring a team that has different backgrounds and different viewpoints and different types of people on it because that’s how we’re going to build the strongest team,” he said.

BigEye offers on prem and SaaS solutions, and while it’s working with paying customers like Instacart, Crux Informatics, and Lambda School, the product won’t be generally available until later in the year.

Posted Under: Tech News
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