Monthly Archives: May 2021

Qualified raises $51M to help Salesforce users improve their sales and marketing conversations

Posted by on 25 May, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

Salesforce dominates the world of CRM today, but while it’s a popular and well-used tool for organizing contacts and information, it doesn’t have all the answers when it comes to helping salespeople and marketers sell better, especially when meetings are not in person. Today, one of the startups that has emerged to help fill the gap is announcing a round of growth funding on the back of a huge year for its business.

Qualified — which builds better interactions for B2B sales and marketing teams that already use Salesforce by tapping into extra data sources to develop a better profile of those visiting your website, in aid of improving and personalizing the outreach (hence the name: you’re building “qualified” leads) — has picked up $51 million in funding. The startup will be using the Series B to continue building out its business with more functionality in the platform, and hiring across the board to expand business development and more.

Led by Salesforce Ventures, the funding round also included Norwest Venture Partners and Redpoint Ventures, both previous backers, among others. As with so many rounds at the moment — the venture world is flush with funding at the moment — this one is coming less than a year after Qualified’s last raise. It closed a $12 million Series A in August of last year.

Qualified was co-founded by two Salesforce veterans — ex-Salesforce CMO Kraig Swensrud and ex-SVP of Salesforce.com Sean Whiteley — serial entrepreneurs who you could say have long been hammering away at the challenges of building digital tools for sales and marketing people to do their jobs better online. The pair have founded and sold two other startups filling holes to that end: GetFeedback, acquired by SurveyMonkey; and Kieden, acquired by Salesforce.

The gap that they’re aiming to fill with this latest venture is the fact that when sales and marketing teams want to connect with prospects directly through, say, a phone call, they might have all of that contact’s information at their disposal. But if those teams want to make a more engaged contact when someone is visiting their site — a sign that a person is actually interested and thinking already about engaging with a company — usually the sales and marketing teams are in the dark about who those visitors are.

“We founded Qualified on the premise that a website should be more than a marketing brochure, but not just a sales site,” Swensrud, who is the CEO, said in an interview.

Qualified has built a tool that essentially takes several signals from Salesforce as well as other places to build up some information about the site visitor. It then uses it to give the sales and marketing teams more of a steer so that when they reach out via a screen chat to say “how can I help?” they actually have more information and can target their questions in a better way. A sales or marketing rep might know which pages a person is also visiting, and can then use the conversation that starts with an online chat to progress to a voice or video call, or a meeting.

If a person is already in your Salesforce rolodex, you get more information; but even without that there is some detail provided to be slightly less impersonal. (Example: when I logged into Qualified to look around the site, a chat popped up with a person greeting me “across the pond”… I’m in London.)

Qualified also integrates with a number of other tools that are used to help source data and build its customer profiles, including Slack, Microsoft Teams, 6sense, Demandbase, Marketo, HubSpot, Oracle Eloqua, Clearbit, ZoomInfo and Outreach.

Additional data is part and parcel of the kinds of information that sales and marketing people always need when reaching out to prospective customers, whether it’s via a “virtual” digital channel or in person. However, in the last year — where in-person meetings, team meetings, and working side-by-side with those who can give advice have all disappeared — having extra tools like these arguably have proven indispensable.

“Sales reps would heavily rely on their ‘road warrior’ image,” Swensrud said. “But all that stuff is gone, so as a result every seller is sitting at an office, at home, expecting digital interactions to happen that never existed before.”

And it seems some believe that even outside of Covid-19 enforcing a different way of doing things, the trend for “virtual selling”, as it’s often called, is here to stay: Gartner forecasts that by 2025, some 80% of B2B sales interactions will take place in digital channels. (So long to the expense account lunch, I guess.)

It’s because of the events of 2020, plus those bigger trends, that Qualified has seen revenues in the last year grow some 800% and its net customer revenue retention rate hover at 175%, with funding rounds come in relatively close succession in the wake of that.

There is something interesting to Qualified that reminds me a bit of more targeted ad retargeting, as it were, and in that, you can imagine a lot of other opportunities for how Qualified might expand in scenarios where it would be more useful to know why someone is visiting your site, without outright asking them and bothering them with the question. That could include customer service, or even a version that might sell better to consumers coming to, say, a clothes site after reading something about orange being the new black.

For now, though, it’s focused on the B2B opportunity.

There are a number of tools on the market that are competing with Salesforce as the go-to platform for people to organise and run CRM operations, but Swensrud is bullish for now on the idea of building specifically for the Salesforce ecosystem.

“Our product is being driven by and runs on Salesforce,” he noted, pointing out that it’s through Salesforce that you’re able to go from chatting to a phone call by routing the information to the data you have on file there. “Our roots go very deep.”

The funding round today is a sign that Salesforce is also happy with that close arrangement, which gives it a customization that its competitors lack.

“Qualified represents an entirely new way for B2B companies to engage buyers,” said Bill Patterson, EVP of CRM Applications at Salesforce, in a statement. “When marketing and inbound sales teams use this solution with Sales Cloud… they see a notable impact on pipeline. We are thrilled about our growing partnership with Qualified and their success within the Salesforce ecosystem.”

Posted Under: Tech News
How Expensify shed Silicon Valley arrogance to realize its global ambitions

Posted by on 25 May, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

Expensify may be the most ambitious software company ever to mostly abandon the Bay Area as the center of its operations.

Expensify may be the most ambitious software company ever to mostly abandon the Bay Area as the center of its operations.

The startup’s history is tied to places representative of San Francisco: The founding team worked out of Peet’s Coffee on Mission Street for a few months, then crashed at a penthouse lounge near the 4th and King Caltrain station, followed by a tiny office and then a slightly bigger one in the Flatiron building near Market Street.

Thirteen years later, Expensify still has an office a few blocks away on Kearny Street, but it’s no longer a San Francisco company or even a Silicon Valley firm. The company is truly global with employees across the world — and it did that before COVID-19 made remote working cool.

“Things got so much better when we stopped viewing ourselves as a Silicon Valley company. We basically said, no, we’re just a global company,” CEO David Barrett told TechCrunch. That globalism led to it opening a major office in — of all places —a small town in rural Michigan. That Ironwood expansion would eventually lead to a cultural makeover that would see the company broadly abandon its focus on the Bay Area, expanding from a headquarters in Portland to offices around the globe.

It makes sense that a company founded by internet pirates would let its workforce live anywhere they please and however they want to. Yet, how does it manage to make it all work well enough to reach $100 million in annual revenue with just a tad more than 100 employees?

As I described in Part 2 of this EC-1, that staffing efficiency is partly due to its culture and who it hires. It’s also because it has attracted top talent from across the world by giving them benefits like the option to work remotely all year as well as paying SF-level salaries even to those not based in the tech hub. It’s also got annual fully paid month-long “workcations” for every employee, their partner and kids.

Yet the real story is how a company can become untethered from its original geography, willing to adapt to new places and new cultures, and ultimately, give up the past while building the future.

Posted Under: Tech News
Microsoft launches new tools for Teams developers

Posted by on 25 May, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

At its (virtual) Build conference today, Microsoft launched a number of new features, tools and services for developers who want to integrate their services with Teams, the company’s Slack competitor. It’s no secret that Microsoft basically looks at Teams, which now has about 145 million daily active users, as the new hub for employees to get work done, so it’s no surprise that it wants third-party developers to bring their services right to Teams as well. And to do so, it’s now offering a set of new tools that will make this easier and enable developers to build new user experiences in Teams.

There’s a lot going on here, but maybe the most important news is the launch of the enhanced Microsoft Teams Toolkit for Visual Studio and Visual Studio Code.

“This essentially enables developers to build apps easier and faster — and to build very powerful apps tapping into the rich Microsoft stack,” Microsoft group program manager Archana Saseetharan explained. “With the updated toolkit […], we enable flexibility for developers. We want to meet developers where they are.”

Image Credits: Microsoft

The toolkit offers support for tools and frameworks like React, SharePoint and .NET. Some of the updates the team enabled with this release are integration with Aure Functions, the SharePoint Framework integration and a single-line integration with the Microsoft Graph. Microsoft is also making it easier for developers to integrate an authorization workflow into their Teams apps. “Login is the first kind of experience of any user with an app — and most of the drop-offs happen there,” Saseetharan said. “So [single-sign on] is something we completely are pushing hard on.”

The team also launched a new Developer Portal for Microsoft Teams that makes it easier for developers to register and configure their apps from a single tool. ISVs will also be able to use the new portal to offer their apps for in-Teams purchases.

Other new Teams features for developers include ways for developers to build real-time multi-user experiences like whiteboards and project boards, for example, as well as a new meeting event API to build meeting-related workflows for when a meeting starts and ends, for example, as well as new features for the Teams Together mode that will let developers design their own Together experiences.

There are a few other new features here as well, but what it all comes down to is that Microsoft wants developers to consider Teams as a viable platform for their services — and with 145 million daily active users, that’s potentially a lucrative way for software firms to get their services in front of a new audience.

“Teams is enabling a new class of apps called collaborative apps,” said Karan Nigam, Microsoft’s director of product marketing for Teams. “We are uniquely positioned to bring the richness to the collaboration space — a ton of innovation to the extensibility side to make apps richer, making it easier with the toolkit update, and then have a single-stop shop with the developer portal where the entire lifecycle can be managed. Ultimately, for a developer, they don’t have to go to multiple places, it’s one single flow from the business perspective for them as well.”

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Posted Under: Tech News
Twilio invests in adaptive communications platform Hyro

Posted by on 25 May, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

Hyro, formerly Airbud, is today announcing the close of a $10.5 million Series A financing round led by Spero Ventures, with participation from Twilio, and Mindset Ventures. Existing investors Hanaco Ventures, Spider Capital and Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator also participated in the round.

Hyro is an enterprise application, currently aimed at the healthcare sector but with eyes on new verticals, that adds an intelligent layer of voice chat or text chat to any application or website.

The company calls itself an adaptive communications platform, which essentially means that customers use plug-and-play tools to get information to end-users in a conversational way, whether that be voice or chat. It can integrate with contact centers, chatbots, SMS and other forms of communication. Essentially, Hyro targets information-heavy industries that often have to communicate with end-users.

This type of scenario, in the words of cofounder Israel Krush, usually leads to a terrible experience for the end user and a costly, inefficient process for the organization. The problem was no more apparent than in the healthcare sector during the pandemic. End users would flood platforms for information regarding the virus, the vaccine, testing, etc., but ask those redundant questions in myriad ways. On the enterprise side, the answers to those questions were changing over time.

Hyro allows these organizations to easily edit and change that information and deliver it to end users in an efficient way. But perhaps most importantly, Hyro scrapes information from the website to set up its own conversational tree, so the client doesn’t have to do a lot of heavy lifting up front.

Krush says that the problem is big, which means that the space is crowded. He views Twilio’s participation in this round of fundraising as a differentiator.

“The market is crowded so it’s really hard to differentiate yourself from the crowd,” said Krush. “Even though we have great technology, everyone says they have great technology. Twilio coming into this round and the partnership we’re trying to develop around contact centers really attests to the differentiation of our approach, to the scalability and the modularity of our approach.”

He added that Hyro is not a healthcare company — “it’s really about serving any enterprise.”

Hyro healthcare customers include Carroll, Wheelpros, Mercy Health, University of Rochester Medical Center and Weill Cornell Medicine, but the company plans to use this new funding to scale into more verticals, with an aim toward real estate, government, and other information-heavy industries. 

This latest round brings Hyro’s total funding to $15 million.

 

Posted Under: Tech News
Forter raises $300M on a $3B valuation to combat e-commerce fraud

Posted by on 25 May, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

E-commerce is on the rise, but that also means the risk, and occurrence, of e-commerce fraud is, too. Now, Forter, one of the startups building a business to tackle that malicious activity, has closed $300 million in funding — a sign both of the size of the issue, and its success in tackling it to date.

The new funding, a Series F, values Forter at $3 billion — notable not least because the funding is coming only about six months since Forter’s previous round, a $125 million Series E that valued it at over $1.3 billion.

Tiger Global Management is leading this latest equity infusion, with new backers Third Point Ventures and Adage Capital Management, and existing investors Bessemer Venture Partners, Sequoia Capital, March Capital, NewView Capital, Salesforce Ventures and Scale Venture Partners, also involved.

The plan will be to use to the money to expand Forter — founded in Tel Aviv and now based in New York — geographically, to bring more functionality into its product, and to look at adjacent areas where Forter might expand its capabilities, either organically or by way of acquisition.

Forter today focuses mainly on identifying fraud at the point of transaction and building an AI-based platform that “learns” more behaviors to improve its accuracy; it also builds models that keep more people transacting and helps bring down the number of “false positives” where activity that appears suspicious actually is not.

One area on its roadmap for expansion is remediation after the fraud occurs, said Liron Damri, Forter’s co-founder and president.

“Our vision is to serve the merchant as the go-to trusted partner for everything, so remediation is definitely on our roadmap,” he said of potential acquisition targets.

Damri, who co-founded the company with Michael Reitblat, CEO, and Alon Shemesh, chief analyst, said in an interview that the startup — which works with some 350 large customers like Priceline and Instacart and a growing number of service providers like FreedomPay and Flutterwave, altogether seeing some $250 billion dollars worth of transactions globally last year — wasn’t proactively looking for more money.

“All we wanted to do was go back to run the company,” he said. “But in the past six months we’ve seen such a great momentum, doubling revenue and ARR, and seeing our customer volumes grow.”

That led to a lot of investors proactively reaching out and ask questions, he continued. He described Tiger as a “kingmaker” in the category of e-commerce, so it was an easy decision to make, and gave it the “gas” it needed to take its next growth steps.

E-commerce has been one of the major technology growth stories of the last year, fueled by a rush of consumers and businesses playing out their lives online at a time when it has been harder, and in some cases impossible, to transact in person.

While we have definitely seen a lot of growth, and growing sophistication, in the number of tools on the market to combat cybercrime, it’s in some ways an ouroboros of a problem: the more transactions that are made, the more there are that need to be monitored for suspicious activity. And in any case fraud in e-commerce is not exactly going away. It’s estimated that it will cost retailers some $20 billion in 2021 and is always on the rise.

Forter got its start in 2013 focusing first on monitoring activity on sites wherever customers happened to be to identify suspicious behavior — a sign that it might be a bot or someone on an illicit spending spree racking up a lot of items in quick succession — with the bigger concept being to build a network of activity from which to learn and help make more informed decisions over time.

In more recent years, the essence of the issue has expanded somewhat, and also grown more sophisticated. As companies have grown their businesses to reach beyond early adopters and core audiences, and into a more “omnichannel” environment beyond basic check-outs on their own sites, so too have the kinds of consumers coming to shop.

This has meant that traditional “signals” of legitimate buyers no longer were the same as before — a predicament that really rose in profile in the last year, as many newcomers came to e-commerce for the first time during the pandemic. In fact, Damri told me that in 2020 there were seven times more “newcomers” to sites than in 2019, huge growth of that segment.

So with most of the flagging of suspicious activity coming up at the point of transaction, Forter expanded to analyzing activity there.

As with a recent acquisition of Stripe’s, Bouncer, to build out its own anti-fraud product, a large part of Forter’s attention these days is on providing tools to companies to identify suspicious purchasing, but even more than that, to make sure that the many occasions that might look suspicious are not, to help reduce the amount of “cart abandonment” and increase conversions.

The old way of doing things, Damri said, involved “thousands of rules and applying suspicion on everyone. You were guilty unless proved otherwise.”

Using its AI engine and a some risk analysis (not unlike the kind that, say, an insurance or loan provider might apply in their businesses), Forter turned the proposition on its head.

“We wanted to approve as much as possible. We wanted to gradually increase the trust you have of your own customers. We changed the sentiment and approach… especially in areas that were neglected, such as those who saw significant changes in life,” Damri said. “This was extremely important as Covid-19 hit.”

Forter’s risk tolerance model, it seems, has so far proven out. Damri said that its algorithms applied reduce the total number of declines by 80%, but also reduce the number of chargebacks — one indicator of a mistake — by 60%.

This implies that it’s blocking more of the “wrong” kind of purchases, and letting through more of the legitimate ones.  (That is, he pointed out, in addition to a few bad actors Forter intentionally lets buy things, just to learn how they operate. Damri referred to this as “paid-tuition.”)

Risk-based approvals, coupled with algorithms to learn what is truly bad, has resonated with customers, and investors.

“With the unprecedented rate of digital transformation and the fierce competition in creating the slickest user experience, superior fraud prevention plays an ever more critical role in e-commerce revenue growth” said John Curtius, a partner at Tiger Global Management, in a statement. “After we talked with dozens of customers of every relevant solution in this space, it was very clear to us that Forter is the clear leader in performance and scale.”

“As a longtime investor, it’s been incredible to see Forter’s ascent,” added Ravi Viswanathan, NewView Capital. “It’s a testament to the leadership team’s vision and execution in allowing merchants to provide the seamless experiences customers expect and to be able to accept as many transactions as possible, while still accurately identifying and blocking fraud.”

Posted Under: Tech News
Sinch, a Swedish customer engagement giant, raises $1.1B, SoftBank and Temasek participating

Posted by on 25 May, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

Sinch — a Twilio competitor based out of Sweden that provides a suite of services to companies to build communications and specifically “customer engagement” into their services by way of APIs — has been on a steady funding and acquisitions march in the last several months to scale its business, and today comes the latest development on that front.

The company has announced that it has raised another $1.1 billion in a direct share issue, with significant chunks of that funding coming from Temasek and SoftBank, in order to continue building its business.

Specifically, the company — which is traded on the Swedish stock exchange Nasdaq Stockhom and currently has a market cap of around $11 billion — said that it was making a new share issue of 7,232,077 shares at SEK 1,300 per share, raising approximately SEK 9.4 billion (equivalent to around $1.1 billion at current rates).

Sinch said that investors buying the shares included “selected Swedish and international investors of institutional character,” highlighting that Temasek and SB Management (a direct subsidiary of SoftBank Group Corp.) would  respectively take SEK 2,085 million and 0.7 million shares. This works out to a $252 million investment for Temasek, and $110 million for SoftBank.

SoftBank last December took a $690 million stake in Sinch (when it was valued at $8.2 billion). That was just ahead of the company scooping up Inteliquent in the U.S. in January for $1.14 billion to move a little closer to Twilio’s home turf.

Sinch is not saying much more beyond the announcement of the share issue for now, except that the raise was made to shore up its financial position ahead of more M&A activity.

“Sinch has an active M&A-agenda and a track record of successful acquisitions, making [it] well placed to drive continued consolidation of the messaging and [communications platform as a service, CPaaS] market,” it said in a short statement. “Furthermore, the increased financial flexibility that the directed new share issue entails further strengthens the Company’s position as a relevant and competitive buyer.”

The company is profitable and active in more than 40 markets, and CEO Oscar Werner said in Sinch’s most recent earnings report that in the last quarter alone that its communications APIs — which works across  channels like SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, chatbots, voice and video — handled 40 billion mobile messages.

Notably, its strategy has a strong foothold in the U.S. because of the Inteliquent acquisition. It will be interesting to see how and if it continues to consolidate to build up market share in that part of the world, or whether it focuses elsewhere, given the heft of two very strong Asian investors now in its stable. 

“Becoming a leader in the U.S. voice market is key to establish Sinch as the leading global cloud communications platform,” said Werner in January.

While Sinch has focused much of its business, like Twilio, around an API-based model focused on communications services, its acquisition of Inteliquent also gave it access to a large, legacy Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) product set, aimed at telcos to provide off-net call termination (when a call is handed off from one carrier to another) and toll-free numbers.

Tellingly, when Sinch acquired Inteliquent, the two divisions each accounted for roughly half of its total business, but the CPaaS business is growing at twice the rate of IaaS, which points to how Sinch views the future for itself, too.

Posted Under: Tech News
Invoca acquires DialogTech for $100M to expand its conversational intelligence tools

Posted by on 24 May, 2021

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On the heels of expanding its marketing call analytics platform last year to provide more insights to help those in sales, e-commerce and customer experience, Invoca is making its first acquisition to widen the net of companies that it targets. The company has acquired DialogTech, a startup that builds tools for marketers to analyze inbound phone calls and other contacts, in what TechCrunch understands to be a $100 million deal.

As part of the transaction, Santa Barbara-based Invoca will be divesting Swydo, a company that Chicago-based DialogTech acquired in 2018. Swydo — originally from The Netherlands — will remain a partner of Invoca’s, the company said.

Invoca has up to now focused on larger consumer-facing enterprises — its customers include the likes of ADT, AutoNation, DISH, TELUS, and The Home Depot — providing them with an AI-based platform that lets their marketing, sales and other teams analyze calls from consumer customers and provide call tracking, coaching, and other insights in real time and in the form of post-call reports to help those teams do their jobs more easily.

Gregg Johnson, Invoca’s CEO and one of growing pool of Salesforce veterans that are reinventing the marketing and sales technology landscape, described DialogTech as “complementary” to what Invoca does, but will specifically help Invoca better target mid-market companies.

The opportunity that both Invoca and DialogTech have identified is that, despite the growth of digital media advertising, social media and other channels for brands to connect to would-be customers, inbound calls remain a very key part of how companies sell goods and services, especially when the sale is of a complex item.

“About 40% to 80% of revenues come through contact centers,” Johnson said. “Brands can do all the retargeting they want but the same strategies in digital don’t work there.”

For those working at the other end of the line, the need for tools to do their jobs better became even more pressing in the last year, a time when customers stayed home and away from physical stores, shifting all of their interactions to virtual and remote channels. Subsequently, they demanded and expected better levels of service there.

“This move enables us to be an even better partner to enterprises and agencies looking to optimize their marketing and drive sales,” said DialogTech CEO, Doug Kofoid, in a statement. “Together as Invoca, our combined company will deliver an unrivaled solution for conversation intelligence, with the most innovative technology, expertise, experience, and resources in our industry.”

The combined business will become one of the bigger “martech” startups focusing on conversational insights, with 2,000 customers, over 300 employees and on track to make more than $100 million this year in revenue. This is, however, just the tip of the iceberg: the conversational intelligence market was estimated to be worth some $4.8 billion in 2020 and is expected to balloon to nearly $14 billion by 2025.

Given how many startups we’ve seen launch in the name of better sales intelligence, it’s likely that this will not be the last piece of consolidation in the area. Combining to expand the functionality of a platform, or to expand the scale and reach of a business, or simply to bring on interesting tech that is easier to acquire than build from scratch, are three areas that will likely drive more M&A.

Invoca last raised funding in October 2019, a $56 million round just ahead of the world shifting into Covid-19 pandemic mode. Johnson confirmed that Invoca — which has to date raised $116 million from Accel, Upfront Ventures, H.I.G. Growth Partners, Morgan Stanley, Salesforce Ventures and others — is in a strong enough position as a business not to need to raise more for this acquisition.

However, I suspect that scaling up like this will help it bid for bigger money and a bigger valuation when it does, as will the fact that peers in the market like Gong (which Johnson described as the “B2B version of Invoca” to me) have seen their valuations catapult in the last year, spurred by the changes in how customers interact with businesses, and sales and marketing can work to better serve them.

Posted Under: Tech News
Esper raises $30M Series B for its IoT DevOps platform

Posted by on 20 May, 2021

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There may be billions of IoT devices in use today, but the tooling around building (and updating) the software for them still leaves a lot to be desired. Esper, which today announced that it has raised a $30 million Series B round, builds the tools to enable developers and engineers to deploy and manage fleets of Android-based edge devices. The round was led by Scale Venture Partners, with participation from Madrona Venture Group, Root Ventures, Ubiquity Ventures and Haystack.

The company argues that there are thousands of device manufacturers who are building these kinds of devices on Android alone, but that scaling and managing these deployments comes with a lot of challenges. The core idea here is that Esper brings to device development the DevOps experience that software developers now expect. The company argues that its tools allow companies to forgo building their own internal DevOps teams and instead use its tooling to scale their Android-based IoT fleets for use cases that range from digital signage and kiosks to custom solutions in healthcare, retail, logistics and more.

“The pandemic has transformed industries like connected fitness, digital health, hospitality, and food delivery, further accelerating the adoption of intelligent edge devices. But with each new use case, better software automation is required,” said Yadhu Gopalan, CEO and co-founder at Esper. “Esper’s mature cloud infrastructure incorporates the functionality cloud developers have come to expect, re-imagined for devices.”

Image Credits: Esper

Mobile device management (MDM) isn’t exactly a new thing, but the Esper team argues that these tools weren’t created for this kind of use case. “MDMs are the solution now in the market. They are made for devices being brought into an environment,” Gopalan said. “The DNA of these solutions is rooted in protecting the enterprise and to deploy applications to them in the network. Our customers are sending devices out into the wild. It’s an entirely different use case and model.”

To address these challenges, Esper offers a range of tools and services that includes a full development stack for developers, cloud-based services for device management and hardware emulators to get started with building custom devices.

“Esper helped us launch our Fusion-connected fitness offering on three different types of hardware in less than six months,” said Chris Merli, founder at Inspire Fitness. “Their full stack connected fitness Android platform helped us test our application on different hardware platforms, configure all our devices over the cloud, and manage our fleet exactly to our specifications. They gave us speed, Android expertise, and trust that our application would provide a delightful experience for our customers.”

The company also offers solutions for running Android on older x86 Windows devices to extend the life of this hardware, too.

“We spent about a year and a half on building out the infrastructure,” said Gopalan. “Definitely. That’s the hard part and that’s really creating a reliable, robust mechanism where customers can trust that the bits will flow to the devices. And you can also roll back if you need to.”

Esper is working with hardware partners to launch devices that come with built-in Esper-support from the get-go.

Esper says it saw 70x revenue growth in the last year, an 8x growth in paying customers and a 15x growth in devices running Esper. Since we don’t know the baseline, those numbers are meaningless, but the investors clearly believe that Esper is on to something. Current customers include the likes of CloudKitchens, Spire Health, Intelity, Ordermark, Inspire Fitness, RomTech and Uber.

Posted Under: Tech News
How to ensure quality in the era of Big Data

Posted by on 20 May, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

A little over a decade has passed since The Economist warned us that we would soon be drowning in data. The modern data stack has emerged as a proposed life-jacket for this data flood — spearheaded by Silicon Valley startups such as Snowflake, Databricks and Confluent.

Today, any entrepreneur can sign up for BigQuery or Snowflake and have a data solution that can scale with their business in a matter of hours. The emergence of cheap, flexible and scalable data storage solutions was largely a response to changing needs spurred by the massive explosion of data.

Currently, the world produces 2.5 quintillion bytes of data daily (there are 18 zeros in a quintillion). The explosion of data continues in the roaring ‘20s, both in terms of generation and storage — the amount of stored data is expected to continue to double at least every four years. However, one integral part of modern data infrastructure still lacks solutions suitable for the Big Data era and its challenges: Monitoring of data quality and data validation.

Let me go through how we got here and the challenges ahead for data quality.

The value vs. volume dilemma of Big Data

In 2005, Tim O’Reilly published his groundbreaking article “What is Web 2.0?”, truly setting off the Big Data race. The same year, Roger Mougalas from O’Reilly introduced the term “Big Data” in its modern context  —  referring to a large set of data that is virtually impossible to manage and process using traditional BI tools.

Back in 2005, one of the biggest challenges with data was managing large volumes of it, as data infrastructure tooling was expensive and inflexible, and the cloud market was still in its infancy (AWS didn’t publicly launch until 2006). The other was speed: As Tristan Handy from Fishtown Analytics (the company behind dbt) notes, before Redshift launched in 2012, performing relatively straightforward analyses could be incredibly time-consuming even with medium-sized data sets. An entire data tooling ecosystem has since been created to mitigate these two problems.

The emergence of the modern data stack (example logos and categories). Image Credits: Validio

Scaling relational databases and data warehouse appliances used to be a real challenge. Only 10 years ago, a company that wanted to understand customer behavior had to buy and rack servers before its engineers and data scientists could work on generating insights. Data and its surrounding infrastructure was expensive, so only the biggest companies could afford large-scale data ingestion and storage.

The challenge before us is to ensure that the large volumes of Big Data are of sufficiently high quality before they’re used.

Then came a (Red)shift. In October 2012, AWS presented the first viable solution to the scale challenge with Redshift — a cloud-native, massively parallel processing (MPP) database that anyone could use for a monthly price of a pair of sneakers ($100) — about 1,000x cheaper than the previous “local-server” setup. With a price drop of this magnitude, the floodgates opened and every company, big or small, could now store and process massive amounts of data and unlock new opportunities.

As Jamin Ball from Altimeter Capital summarizes, Redshift was a big deal because it was the first cloud-native OLAP warehouse and reduced the cost of owning an OLAP database by orders of magnitude. The speed of processing analytical queries also increased dramatically. And later on (Snowflake pioneered this), they separated computing and storage, which, in overly simplified terms, meant customers could scale their storage and computing resources independently.

What did this all mean? An explosion of data collection and storage.

Posted Under: Tech News
Kleiner spots Spot Meetings $5M to modernize walk-and-talks for the Zoom generation

Posted by on 20 May, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

Trees, those deciduous entities you can occasionally see outdoors when not locked down or strapped down at a desktop ruminating on a video call, have long been the inspiration for fresh new ideas. Stories abound of how founders built companies while walking the foothills in Silicon Valley or around parks in San Francisco, and yet, we’ve managed over the past year to take movement mostly out of our remote work lives.

Chicago-based Spot Meetings wants to reinvigorate our meetings — and displace Zoom as the default meeting medium at the same time.

The product and company are just a few months old and remain in closed beta (albeit opening up a bit shortly here), and today it’s announcing $5 million in seed funding led by Ilya Fushman at Kleiner Perkins. That follows a $1.9 million pre-seed round led by Chapter One earlier this year.

CEO and co-founder Greg Caplan said that the team is looking to rebuild the meeting from the ground up for an audio-only environment. “On mobile, it needs to be abundantly simple to be very functional and understood for users so that they can actually use it on the go,” he described. In practice, that requires product development across a wide range of layers.

The product’s most notable feature today is that it has an assistant, aptly named Spot, which listens in on the call and which participants can direct commands to while speaking. For instance, saying “Spot Fetch” will pull the last 40 seconds of conversation, transcribe it, create a note in the meeting, and save it for follow-up. That prevents the multi-hand tapping required to save a note or to-do list for follow up with our current meeting products. You “don’t even need to take your phone out,” Caplan points out.

What gets more interesting is the collaboration layer the company has built into the product. Every audio meeting has a text-based scratch pad shared with all participants, allowing users to copy and paste snippets into the meeting as needed. Those notes and any information that Spot pulls in are saved into workspaces that can be referenced later. Spot also sends out emails to participants with follow-ups from these notes. If the same participants join another audio meeting later, Spot will pull in the notes from their last meeting so there is a running timeline of what’s been happening.

Spot’s product design emphasizes collaboration within an audio-focused experience. Image Credits: Spot Meetings

Obviously, transcription features are built-in, but Spot sees opportunities in offering edited transcripts of long calls where only a few minutes of snippets might be worth specifically following up on. So the product is a bit more deliberate in encouraging users to select the parts of a conversation that are relevant for their needs, rather than delivering a whole bolus of text that no one is ever actually going to read.

“Collaboration from now and the future is going to be primarily digital … in-person is forever going to be the exception and not the rule,” Caplan explained. Longer term, the company wants to add additional voice commands to the product and continue building an audio-first (and really, an audio-only) environment. Audio “very uniquely helps people focus on the conversation at hand,” he said, noting that video fatigue is a very real phenomenon today for workers. To that end, more audio features like smarter muting are coming. When a participant isn’t talking, their background noise will automatically melt away.

Before Spot Meetings, Caplan was the CEO and co-founder of Remote Year, a startup that was designing a service for company employees to take working trips overseas. I first covered it back in 2015, and it went on to raise some serious venture dollars before the pandemic hit last year and the company laid off 50% of its workforce. Caplan left as CEO in April last year, and the company was ultimately sold to Selina, which offers co-working spaces to travelers, in October.

Caplan’s co-founder who leads product and engineering at Spot Meetings is Hans Petter “HP” Eikemo. The duo met each other during the very first Remote Year cohort. “He has been a software engineer for two decades [and was] literally the first person I called,” Caplan said. The team will grow further with the new funding, and the company hopes to start opening its beta to its 6,000 waitlist users over the next 3-4 weeks.

Posted Under: Tech News
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