Monthly Archives: May 2021

Pitch, a platform for making and sharing presentations, raises $85M on a $600M valuation

Posted by on 20 May, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

Powerpoint may still dominate the landscape for presentations in many people’s minds, but some might say that legacy status also makes Microsoft’s software ripe for disruption. Now, a startup out of Berlin called Pitch has just picked up a substantial Series B of $85 million to take it on with what it believes is a more dynamic approach.

The round is being led by Lakestar and Tiger Global, with previous backers Index Ventures and Thrive Capital also participating. We understand from sources close to the company that the valuation is now at $600 million for the Berlin-based startup.

In the words of CEO and co-founder Christian Reber, the ambition is to create the “YouTube for presentations” with the ability for people to create, create, collaborate on, and share presentations with each other through an online-based interface.

His interest, meanwhile, in taking on Microsoft has a deeper story to it. As we have covered before, Reber’s previous startup, the planning startup Wunderlist, was acquired by Microsoft and folded into its productivity suite, only to eventually be killed off, much to Reber’s disbelief and disappointment.

Not to dwell too much in the past, the funding Pitch has now raised will be used in several areas, including hiring more people and reach. The startup has already seen good progress on the latter front. Pitch is already being used by tens of thousands of teams, it ways, who have created some 125,000 workspaces on the platform. Customers include (ironically) a number of other trailblazers in the world of business productivity: Intercom, Superhuman and Notion are among the list.

The plan will be to work on bringing on more users into its freemium universe, while converting more to its Pitch Pro $10/user/month paid tier, which includes more extensions like unlimited storage, video uploads, version history, and advanced permissioning. Pro already has a “couple of thousand” subscribers, Reber said, enough to prove out that “we definitely see our business model working.” Pitch is also working on rolling out an enterprise version so that it can sell Pitch into the bigger businesses and deployments that dominate usage of Powerpoint.

And the other way that Pitch plans to bring more people into the fold will be with more functionality. Along with the funding, Pitch is rolling out some new features that will include the beginnings of an ecosystem, where presentation designers and creators will be able to upload both presentation templates, as well as presentations themselves, to help other people get started in creating their own presentations.

The idea here is to celebrate creators, Reber said, but it’s (at least for now) stopping short of paying them, seeing this more as a way of sharing designs and ideas in a more collaborative exchange with each other. Both, however, seem to me to be ripe opportunities down the line for building a marketplace. Creating a great pitch deck for a startup is great to share as a resource, but if you are also, say, a leadership coach who makes a living out of giving people inspiring direction on how to handle something, a pitch deck with that IP in it perhaps might not be something you’d always be willing to part with for free. (Reber says his inspiration here was the world of design forums like Dribble where an exchange of ideas has thrived.)

Initially, the user-generated content will be selected by Pitch itself, although the plan over time will be to make it something that will be open to everyone, Reber said.

Another new feature will be presentation analytics. This will not be unlike the kind of data that people currently can apply to, say, email or web traffic to measure what people are clicking on, how long they are spending looking at content, and where they are dropping off. Pitch will apply the same to its presentations — which are HTML-coded — so that those who are making them and sending them around can get a better idea of how they are performing, and even begin the process of A-B testing to try out different approaches.

Reber points out that analytics will be opt-in only: if users choose not to share that tracking it won’t be shared, he said.

“As a German business, we have a special relationship with data privacy in the greatest sense,” he said. “We care deeply about making sure we approach features in a privacy-first way.” The idea is to make it less like spyware, and more like the kind of analytics one might have on YouTube for videos there.

Finally, it’s adding in more video features to bring in narrative recording and playback. These first will be “recorded” around the presentations themselves, but longer term, it’s likely that the feature will also have a live element, which makes a lot of sense since a lot of presentations have had their most highly trafficked exposure by way of webinars or live presentations (say, around an earnings call), where you might not only have multiple presenters talking along a slide deck, but also people feeding back, asking questions in relation to the presentation and so on.

If this all sounds a little WordPress-like, that’s not a coincidence. Reber noted that website building is something else that Pitch wants to bring into the platform. “We are experimenting with that,” he said. “In my opinion, presentations are collections of information and we want to publish them in various ways. Slides just happens to be one format. But if it’s all already written in HTML, why not build it also into a site? That will be another feature coming, and something that we will be also using the funding for.”

Indeed that may not work for deeper content efforts (such as publications like the one you are reading right now) but would be perfectly adequate for, say, basic sites along the kind that are built on sites like Squarespace to lay out some online real estate for a small business. The scope of what you can already do, and what Pitch wants you to do, is precisely what makes this all so interesting to investors, they say.

“The exciting vision that Christian and the team at Pitch have is beyond just being a superior alternative to legacy presentation software,” said Stephen Nundy, partner at Lakestar, in a statement. “A reimagining of the entire workflow surrounding presentations is very much overdue, and when coupled with the ability to harness new data and media integrations, Pitch will lead the way in changing how stories are told. I’m very proud to be joining the board of a European company with its sights set on a truly global opportunity.”

“We are incredibly impressed by the quality of Pitch’s offering today and Christian’s vision for the future. Pitch will be a true productivity platform, and we are excited to become investors in this special company,” John Curtius, partner at Tiger Global, added.

Reber’s take on the new tools also here:

Posted Under: Tech News
Dooly raises $80M more for its AI tools to help salespeople manage their busywork

Posted by on 20 May, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

Salespeople have more tools than ever these days to help them with their work, whether they are tools to source new leads, keep those leads interested or informed about what’s being sold, to track how the sales process is going, to manage those relationships once they are secured, or accounting tools to manage how and where sales are actually coming in. Today, a startup that’s built a platform to help manage the data entry that powers all of that is announcing a swift round of funding to build on momentum and interest in its technology.

Dooly — which has built a set of AI-based tools to automate the busywork that goes into updating data in sales software, specifically apps like Salesforce, in order to get the most out of that software — has closed $80 million in funding. Sources tell us that the money values the Vancouver-based startup at over $300 million.

This is a “swift” round in that efforts to raise and close the funding happened quickly, and come not two months after the company had announced a Series A and seed round totaling $20 million. (In fact, we got wind of this round a couple of weeks ago, so arguably it was less than two months since the previous announcement.)

This latest Series B is being led by Spark Capital, with Greenspring, Tiger Global, Lachy Groom, boldstart ventures, BoxGroup and Addition also participating. Several of these are repeat investors.

Investor interest in the company is coming in part because of what Dooly is adding to the bigger mix of sales tools; and in part because of the traction it has already picked up for that.

While there are indeed a number of apps that salespeople can use these days, that has presented something of a predicament for many salespeople: tending to the data in each of these, updating records and helping them tick along, can be a very time-consuming task that takes people away from doing what they do best.

That predicament has perhaps been heightened in the last year, as organizations push for “digital transformation” — investing in newer IT — to better adapt to workforces that are not in the office all the time, and in many cases haven’t been in an office together for a year and with some perhaps never to return again. That’s in many cases translated to using a ton more software to manage those people, what they do, and how they engage with each other when in-person is not an option.

Dooly’s proposition is that it uses AI tools like natural language processing to let people take notes on meetings and other work which it then intelligently can feed into other applications to let them work as they should.

Kris Hartvigsen, Dooly’s CEO himself experienced these pain points firsthand as a top salesperson for a number of other companies and this served as his motivation for building Dooly.

“This was born out of pain,” he said. “When I was in a previous role as a top sales performer, I was constantly in this mode that eroded my time. The headwinds now are for remote working, but not everyone is benefitting from this remote world as much as Zoom is. Some are finding it harder to hit their numbers so you want to spend more time, not less, speaking to customers.”

He describes his business as “the table cloth that goes over the table that no one wants to sit at” and more seriously, “a clean overlay to systems” that is very aware of the challenges salespeople face on a practical, operational level. “We are always mindful of thinking of workflows that hinder users from peak value mode.”

The the app, in his words, “plays nice” with a number of services both to ingest information — these, for example, include tools like Gong that among other things monitor voice-based sales calls to provide real-time feedback and transcripts), as well as those that are used to record what is going on, like Salesforce. It also integrates with Slack and G-Suite and other popular apps.

Then, in addition to being able to use and populate relevant data easily across multiple apps, Dooly also provides some guidance, based on the data it is seeing, to give suggestions on closing deals.

This is music to many salespeople’s ears, it seems. It now has some 500 businesses as customers, and says the list includes revenue teams at Asana, BigCommerce, Contentful, Figma, Intercom, Lessonly, and Procore, and more.

Up to now, the company has been growing organically, through word-of-mouth — which is perhaps the best kind of sales pitch and success that any company can hope for. Ironically, now that it’s model has been well proven out, it will quite possibly be using its own tools to expand its reach even more.

Dooly is building one of the most consequential enterprise companies of the next decade,” said Will Reed, a general partner at Spark Capital. “We are thrilled to support Dooly as it continues to power the most forward-thinking revenue teams, and believe it will ultimately define the connected workspace category via its relentless focus on customers and product-led growth.” Reed is joining the board with this round.

Posted Under: Tech News
Netflify snags YC alum FeaturePeek to add design review capabilities

Posted by on 19 May, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

Netlify, the startup that’s bringing a micro services approach to building websites, announced today that it has acquired YC alum FeaturePeek. The two companies did not share the purchase price.

With FeaturePeek, the company gets a major upgrade in its design review capability. While Netlify has had a previewing capability called Deploy Previews in the platform since 2016, it lacked a good way for reviewers to discuss and comment on the design. The preview alone was useful as far as it goes, but having the ability to collaborate on the design remained a missing piece until today.

With FeaturePeek, the company can expand on Deploy Previews to not only preview the design, but also enable all the stakeholders in the design process to add their opinions, edits and changes as the design moves through the creation process instead of having to wait until the end or gather the comments in a separate document or communications channel.

As FeaturePeek co-founder Eric Silverman told me at the time of their seed funding last year, his product removed a lot of frustration when the web coders would get all their review comments at the last minute:

“Right now, there’s no dedicated place to give feedback on that new work until it hits their staging environment, and so we’ll spin up ad hoc deployment previews, either on commit or on pull requests and those fully running environments can be shared with the team. On top of that, we have our overlay where you can file bugs, you can annotate screenshots, record video or leave comments.”

Matt Biilmann, CEO and co-founder, Netlify says that when his company created Deploy Previews, it was in reaction to customers who were kloodging together their own solutions to the issue. They learned that even with their own preview feature, customers craved a communications capability.

In the classic build versus buy debate, the company began building its own, then it met the FeaturePeek team and decided to switch course. “We had a team working on a prototype when the founders of FeaturePeek, Eric and Jason, gave us a demo of their product. As the demo progressed, our jaws got increasingly closer to hitting the floor and we knew straight away that what we had just seen was miles away from both our internal prototypes and any of the other tools we had seen in the space,” Billman told TechCrunch.

He added, “It also quickly became apparent that fully building towards this vision as two different companies, without a deep end-to-end experience from initial Pull Request to a new feature release, would never really allow us to build what we were dreaming of, so we decided to join forces.”

The companies’ combined effort actually comes together today in a new release of Deploy Previews that includes the new FeaturePeek collaboration/commenting capabilities.

FeaturePeek was founded in 2019, went through Y Combinator Summer 2019 batch, and raised around $2 million. Netlify was founded in 2014 and has raised over $97 million, according to Crunchbase. Its last raise was a $53 million Series C in March 2020.

Posted Under: Tech News
Can Squarespace dodge the direct listing value trap?

Posted by on 19 May, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

It’s Squarespace direct listing day, and the SMB web hosting and design shop’s reference price has been set at $50 per share.

According to quick math from the IPO-watching group Renaissance Capital, Squarespace is worth $7.4 billion at that price, calculated using a fully diluted share count. The company’s new valuation is sharply under where Squarespace raised capital in March, when it added $300 million to its accounts at a $10.0 billion post-money valuation, according to Crunchbase data.


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The company’s reference price, however, is just that: a reference. It doesn’t mean that much. As we’ve seen from other notable direct listings, a company’s opening price does not necessarily align with its formal reference price. Until Squarespace opens, whether or not it will be valued at a discount to its final private price is unclear.

While the benefits of a direct listing are understood, the post-listing performance for well-known direct listings is less obvious. Indeed, Coinbase is currently under its reference price after starting its life as a public company at a far-richer figure, and Spotify’s share price is middling at best compared to its 2018-era direct listing reference price.

This morning, we’re going over Squarespace’s recently disclosed Q2 and full-2021 guidance. Then we’ll ask how its expectations compare to its reference price-defined pre-trading valuation. Finally, we’ll set some stakes in the ground regarding historical direct-listing results and what we might expect from the company as it adds a third set of data to our quiver.

This will be lots of fun, so let’s get into the numbers!

Squarespace’s Q2

Per Squarespace’s own reporting, it expects revenues between $186 million and $189 million in Q2 2021, which it calculates as a growth rate of between 24% and 26%. That pace of growth at its scale is perfectly acceptable for a company going public.

For all of 2021, Squarespace expects revenues of $764 million to $776 million, which works out to a very similar 23% to 25% growth rate.

In profit terms, Squarespace only shared its “non-GAAP unlevered free cash flow,” which is a technical thing I have no time to explain. But what matters is that the company expects some non-GAAP unlevered free cash flow in Q2 2021 ($10 million to $13 million), and lots more in all of 2021 ($100 million to $115 million).

Posted Under: Tech News
Spokn slurps out the BS in corporate internal comms and replaces it with audio storytelling

Posted by on 19 May, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

The podcasting world remains one of the most vibrant formats in media (and I am not just saying that since the Equity crew won a Webby yesterday for our not-that-humble podcast). Its openness, diversity, freedom, and ease-of-authoring has broadened the medium to all sorts of hosts on every subject imaginable.

We experience that dynamism and verve in our own audio listening, but then we start to tune into our company’s internal communications, and, well, you certainly don’t need sleeping pills to zone out. Top-down, formal, banal — corporate comms remains mired in a 1950s way of speaking that is completely out-of-sync with the millennials and Gen Z majority of workers who expect something actually worth watching and listening to.

Spokn wants to make company-wide podcasting a must-listen event, not just for leaders to talk to their employees, but for every worker to have a voice and share their expertise and stories across their workplaces. Through its app, companies can deliver personalized podcast feeds on everything from a daily standup or weekly AMA to training and development content, all of which is secure and kept for internal use.

It’s an idea that has quickly attracted investor attention. The startup, which was part of Y Combinator’s most recent Winter 2021 batch, closed on a $4 million seed round two weeks before Demo Day led by Ann Bordetsky, a partner at NEA who joined earlier this year and previously served as COO of Rival. This is her first investment with the firm.

The company was founded by Fawzy Abu Seif, Mariel Davis and Mohammad Galal Eldeen. Abu Seif and Davis met each other in an Egyptian jazz club in November 2017, about a week after he had quit his job. They eventually came together not just as a couple — they got married in the fall of 2019 — but as business partners, linking up with Galal Eldeen and incorporating Spokn in April 2018.

Spokn’s Mohammad Galal Eldeen, Mariel Davis and Fawzy Abu Seif. Image Credits: Spokn

Spokn’s product evolved across three iterations. First, the team tried to create audio narrations of evergreen content at major publishers like The New York Times. The idea was to help publishers reuse their best content as a new revenue source while connecting more listeners into these brands. Getting publishers to commit was tough though. “The consumer app wasn’t doing that great, and we started hunting around the data to see if something was working,” Davis said.

What they found was that professional development podcasts were much more popular compared to other topics, and so they had an opportunity to re-jigger the product to focus on training and specifically target enterprises. The idea was “let’s empower companies with the same tools we had as a consumer company,” Abu Seif said.

Prior to Spokn, Davis had worked with an entrepreneur in the Middle East building out a social enterprise network focused on skills training, a role in which she handled internal communications. She saw just how little impact media like email made for employees, particularly in the distributed workforce she was attempting to engage. The new direction for Spokn was far more enticing.

The newly-married couple moved to New York City from Egypt and signed an apartment lease in early March 2020 — just as the COVID-19 pandemic spread widely in the region. We “multiplied the living expenses by 8-10x while doing the same Zoom calls we could make from there,” Abu Seif joked.

Eventually, the company realized that it could do much more than just training, and expanded into broader internal comms. “Async audio is a lot more personal than email,” Abu Seif said. This latest product iteration launched in November 2020, and included push notifications, an app for streaming, personalization features and analytics to allow companies to track what was working and what was not for employees.

Spokn’s app offers a personalized feed of company podcasts. Image Credits: Spokn

Perhaps most importantly, companies can tailor the access lists for individual podcasts to particular groups of people, such as senior execs, people managers, sales employees, or any other logical grouping. We “get a lot of inbound from companies that are trying to duct-tape solutions together,” Davis said. For Abu Seif, “all the tools that marketers have to engage consumers, we are empowering companies to engage with their employees.”

Despite the startup and product’s youth, it has attracted a quick following among companies, with customers including Podium, ShipBob, Cedar, Mixpanel, ServiceNow and Superhuman. Podium’s CEO, for example, records weekly podcasts that are shipping on Spokn, and apparently even installed a podcast studio near his office just to make it easier to produce his shows.

Podcasting inside companies fixes a lot of problems with traditional internal comms. First and foremost, it can create a deeper connection where email cannot. Audio can feel more personal than even video, and can also be played in the background. It’s also asynchronous unlike live video, allowing employees in different time zones to connect with key stories at an appropriate time.

Plus, employees can avoid all the fatigue that comes from being onscreen. “No one wants Zoom zombies,” Bordetsky of NEA said. “We need intuitive and asynchronous communication tools like Spokn to build connection and community in the workplace.” Her thesis for the investment is that “flexible, distributed work is here to stay and employee communication is at the heart of building a modern, virtual-first employee experience.”

Buyers of Spokn range from heads of people to sales teams, and the company is also focused on recruiting and retention as well. “Companies are pretty freaked out about retaining their great talent,” Davis said. Some companies are now sharing “stories with prospects even before their first day at the company.”

While the product is mostly used by leaders today, Spokn wants to expand that remit to employees talking with their peer colleagues, helping to build community in hybrid offices where it is harder than ever to make a connection with others.

Of course, companies can screw up podcasting just as much as they have screwed up every other medium to communicate like humans, and Davis says it’s become her full-time job to help them think through storytelling and how to connect better with their own employees. We “work to find the right storytellers in the company,” she said.

Outside NEA, other investors in the seed round included Reach Capital, Funders Club, Liquid2, Share Capital, SOMA Capital, Scribble VC and Hack VC.

Posted Under: Tech News
Britive grabs $10M Series A to build automated multi-cloud permissions tool

Posted by on 19 May, 2021

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Britive, an early stage startup that is trying to bring privileged access control to a multi-cloud world, announced a $10 million Series A this morning. Crosslink Capital led the investment with participation from previous investors Upfront Ventures and One Way Ventures.

The company helps automate permissioning across multiple cloud vendors and software services, whether that involves a human or a machine seeking permission. In a world of increasing automation, it’s often a machine seeking access, and that makes permissioning all the more critical, says Britive co-founder and CEO Art Poghosyan.

“What we offer is an automated approach to access, [moving from] what we call statically granted access, which constantly gets added all the time […] to completely ‘just in time access’,” he said. That means that after you define a policy, it sets the ground rules for access, and grants it based on that policy for the time required, and nothing more, whether you’re a human or a machine.

In today’s complex development world that could take many forms including API keys and secrets. “Yes, sometimes those things are granted to a human actor like a DevOps engineer, but a lot of times it also needs to be granted — quote, unquote — to a Terraform script or to GitHub to go and build out application infrastructure or deploy an application,” he said.

The company currently has 40 employees, a number that Poghosyan expects to double in the next 12 months as he puts this capital to work. As a first generation Armenian immigrant, Poghosyan says that he takes diversity and inclusion extremely seriously as he hires more employees.

“We’ve always been committed — in this business and our previous startup — to providing equal opportunities to talented people, no matter what background they come from. I’m really proud that even as a small company — we’re 40 at the moment — we have more than 50% of our workforce, which comes from ethnic minority groups,” he said.

Britive, which is based in Los Angeles, launched in 2018 and brought its first product to market in 2019. The company raised a $5.4 million seed round last July, which it announced in September, making the total raised so far approximately $15.4 million.

Posted Under: Tech News
Unbounce snags Snazzy.ai to add automated copywriting to platform

Posted by on 19 May, 2021

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Unbounce, a Vancouver startup best known for helping marketers create automated landing pages, added a new wrinkle this morning when it announced it has acquired Snazzy.ai, an early stage automated copywriting startup. The two companies did not share the terms.

Unbounce Chief Strategy Officer Tamara Grominsky says that her company focuses on helping customers convert their customers into sales, and with Snazzy, it gets some pretty nifty technology based on GPT-3 artificial intelligence technology.

“We’re focused right now on building conversion intelligence software that will allow marketers to work with machines to really unlock their true conversion potential, […] and we saw a huge opportunity with Snazzy to focus particularly on the content creation and copy creation space to help us accelerate that strategy,” Grominsky explained.

She points out that the product is really aimed at the marketing generalist charged with overseeing landing pages, and who is responsible for a range of tasks including writing copy. “The average Unbounce customer isn’t a specialized copywriter, so they don’t spend [their work] day writing copy. They’re what we would consider a marketing generalist or really someone who’s responsible for a wide range of marketing responsibilities,” she said.

Snazzy co-founder Chris Frantz says the tech is really about getting people started, and then they can tweak the results as needed. “The hardest part has always been to get that first line, that first page, the first couple of words in — and we eliminate that entirely. That might not always result in amazing copy, but on the plus side you can always click the button again and give it another try,” he said.

Frantz says that with so much competition in the space, he and his co-founder felt they could build a market much faster as part of a larger and broader marketing platform solution like Unbounce.

“I love Tamara’s vision for the future of Unbounce. I think she has a very ambitious vision. She sold me on that very early on in the process. At the same time, there was a lot of competition in the space, and to have a key differentiator with a company like Unbounce, which has a decade of marketing experience and a lot of trust within this community, I think it’s a very powerful wedge that we can use to further grow our audience,” Frantz said.

The tool lets you write a range of copy from landing pages to Google ad copy. The company launched in alpha last October and already had 30,000 customers, which Grominsky says Unbounce hopes to convert into customers. The good news for those customers is that the company plans to leave Snazzy as a stand-alone product, while incorporating the tech into the platform in ways that make sense in the coming year.

Posted Under: Tech News
Forecast nabs $19M for its AI-based approach to project management and resource planning

Posted by on 19 May, 2021

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Project management has long been a people-led aspect of the workplace, but that has slowly been changing. Trends in automation, big data, and AI have not only ushered in a new wave of project management applications, but they have led to a stronger culture of people willing to use them. Today, one of the startups building a platform for the next generation of project management is announcing some funding — a sign of the traction it’s getting in the market.

Forecast, a platform and startup of the same name that uses AI to help with project management and resource planning — put simply, it uses artificial intelligence to both “read” and integrate data from different enterprise applications in order to build a bigger picture of the project and potential outcomes — has raised $19 million to continue building out its business.

The company plans to use some of the funding to expand to the U.S., and some to continue building out its platform and business, headquartered in London with a development office also in Copenhagen.

This funding, a Series A, comes less than a year after the startup’s commercial launch, and it was led by Balderton Capital, with previous investors Crane Ventures Partners, SEED Capital and Heartcore also participating.

Forecast closed a seed round in November 2019 and then launched just as the pandemic was kicking off. It was a time when some projects were indeed put on ice, but others that went ahead did so with more caution on all sorts of fronts — financial, organizational, and technical. It turned out to be a “right place, right time” moment for Forecast, a tool that plays directly into providing a technical platform to manage all of that in a better way, and it tripled revenues during the year. Its customers include the likes of the NHS, the Red Cross, Etain and more. It says over 150,000 projects have been created and run through its platform to date.

Project management — the process of planning what you need to do, assigning resources to the task and tracking how well all of that actually goes to plan — has long been stuck between a rock and a hard place in the world of work.

It can be essential to getting things done, especially when there are multiple departments or stakeholders involved; yet it’s forever an inexact science that often does not reflect all the complexities of an actual project, and therefore may not be as useful as it could or should be.

This was a predicament that founder and CEO Dennis Kayser knew all too well, having been an engineer and technical lead on a number of big projects himself. His pedigree is an interesting one: one of his early jobs was as a developer at Varien, where he built the first version of Magento. (The company was eventually rebranded as Magento and then acquired by eBay, then spun out, then acquired again, this time by Adobe for nearly $1.7 billion, and now a huge player in the world of e-commerce tools.) He also spent years as a consultant at IBM, where among other things he helped build and formulate the first versions of ikea.com.

In those and other projects, he saw the pitfalls of project management not done right — not just in terms of having the right people on a project at the right time, but the resource planning needed, better calculations of financial outcomes in the event of a decision going one way or the other, and so on.

(He didn’t say this outright, but I’m sure one of the points of contention was the fact that the first ikea.com site didn’t actually have any e-commerce in it, just a virtual window display of sorts. That would have been because Ikea wanted to keep people shopping in its stores, away from the efficiency of just buying the one thing you actually need and not the 10 you do not. Yes, there are plenty of ways now of recirculating people to buy more when you select one item for a shopping cart — something the likes of Amazon has totally mastered — but this was years ago when there was still even more opportunities for innovation than there are now. All of this is to say that you might very reasonably argue that had there been better project managing and resource planning tools to give forecasts of potential outcomes of one or another route taken, people advocating for a different approach could have made their case better. And maybe Ikea would have jumped on board with digital commerce far sooner than it did.)

“Typically you get a lot of spreadsheets, people scattered across different tools that include accounting, CRM, Gitlab and more,” Kayser said.

That became the impetus for trying to build something that can take all of that into account and make a project management tool that — rather than just being a way of accounting to a higher-up, or reflecting only what someone can be bothered to update in the system — something that can help a team.

“Connecting everything into our engine, we leverage data to understand what they are working on and what is the right thing to be working on, what the finances are looking like,” he continued. “So if you work in product, you can plan out who is where, and what resourcing you need, what kind of people and skills you require.” This is a more dynamic progression of some of the other newer tools that are being used for project management today, targeting, in his words, “people who graduate from Monday and Asana who need something ore robust, either because they have too many people working on a project or because its too complicated, there is just too much stuff to handle.”

More legacy tools he said that are used include Oracle “to some degree” and Mavenlink, which he describes as possibly Forecast’s closest competitor, “but its platform is aging.”

Currently the Forecast platform has some 26 integrations of popular tools used for projects to produce its insights and intelligence, including Salesforce, Gitlab, Google Calendar, and, as it happens, Asana. But given how fragmented the market is, and the signals one might gain from any number of other resources and apps, I suspect that this list will grow as and when its customers need more supported, or Forecast works out what can be gleaned from different places to paint an even more accurate picture.

The result may not ever replace an actual human project manager, but certainly starts to then look like a “digital twin” (a phrase I have been hearing more and more these days) that will definitely help that person, and the rest of the team, work in a smarter way.

“We are really excited to be an early investor in Forecast,” said James Wise,  a partner at Balderton Capital, in a statement. “We share their belief that the next generation of SaaS products will be more than just collaboration tools, but use machine learning to actively solve problems for their users. The feedback we got from Forecast’s customers was quite incredible, both in their praise for the platform and in how much of a difference it had already made to their operations. We look forward to supporting the company to scale this impact going forward.”

Posted Under: Tech News
WalkMe is going public: Let’s stroll through its numbers

Posted by on 18 May, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

Hot off the heels of our look into Marqeta’s IPO filing and dives into SPACs for Bright Machines and Bird, we’re parsing the WalkMe IPO filing. Later this week, Squarespace will direct list and we’ll see IPOs from Oatly and Procore. It’s a super busy time for public debuts of all sorts.

Given how hectic the IPO market is, we’re going to skip our usual throat clearing and dig into WalkMe’s IPO document. As always, we’ll start with a brief overview of its product and then move into discussing its financial performance.

Image Credits: Alex Wilhelm

WalkMe is the second Israel-based technology company to file to go public this week: No-code startup Monday.com is also pursuing an American IPO.

Alright! Into the breach.

What does WalkMe do?

WalkMe’s software provides visual overlays on websites that help users navigate the product in question. I base that explanation on my time at Crunchbase, which was a customer during at least part of my time there. WalkMe is popular with marketing teams who want to introduce users to a new or refreshed experience.

Per the company’s F-1 filing, other elements of its service that matter include its onboarding system and what WalkMe calls Workstation, or its “single interface to the applications within an enterprise and simplifies task completion through a natural language conversational interface and automation.” We’re including that last feature because it says “automation,” which, in the wake of the UiPath IPO, is a word worth watching. Investors are.

At a high level, WalkMe is a SaaS business, which means that when we digest its results we are digging into a modern software company. Let’s do just that.

WalkMe’s numbers

From 2019 to 2020, WalkMe grew its revenues from $105.1 million to $148.3 million, a gain of 41%. In its most recent quarter, the company’s growth rate slowed: From Q1 2020 to Q1 2021, WalkMe’s top line grew 25% from $34.2 million to $42.7 million.

In SaaS terms, WalkMe calculates that its annual recurring revenue, or ARR, grew from $131.2 million at the end of 2019 to $164.3 million in 2020. In more granular terms, the company’s ARR grew from $137.8 million to $177.5 million in the first quarters of 2020, and 2021, respectively.

Posted Under: Tech News
Google Cloud launches Vertex AI, a new managed machine learning platform

Posted by on 18 May, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

At Google I/O today Google Cloud announced Vertex AI, a new managed machine learning platform that is meant to make it easier for developers to deploy and maintain their AI models. It’s a bit of an odd announcement at I/O, which tends to focus on mobile and web developers and doesn’t traditionally feature a lot of Google Cloud news, but the fact that Google decided to announce Vertex today goes to show how important it thinks this new service is for a wide range of developers.

The launch of Vertex is the result of quite a bit of introspection by the Google Cloud team. “Machine learning in the enterprise is in crisis, in my view,” Craig Wiley, the director of product management for Google Cloud’s AI Platform, told me. “As someone who has worked in that space for a number of years, if you look at the Harvard Business Review or analyst reviews, or what have you — every single one of them comes out saying that the vast majority of companies are either investing or are interested in investing in machine learning and are not getting value from it. That has to change. It has to change.”

Image Credits: Google

Wiley, who was also the general manager of AWS’s SageMaker AI service from 2016 to 2018 before coming to Google in 2019, noted that Google and others who were able to make machine learning work for themselves saw how it can have a transformational impact, but he also noted that the way the big clouds started offering these services was by launching dozens of services, “many of which were dead ends,” according to him (including some of Google’s own). “Ultimately, our goal with Vertex is to reduce the time to ROI for these enterprises, to make sure that they can not just build a model but get real value from the models they’re building.”

Vertex then is meant to be a very flexible platform that allows developers and data scientist across skill levels to quickly train models. Google says it takes about 80% fewer lines of code to train a model versus some of its competitors, for example, and then help them manage the entire lifecycle of these models.

Image Credits: Google

The service is also integrated with Vizier, Google’s AI optimizer that can automatically tune hyperparameters in machine learning models. This greatly reduces the time it takes to tune a model and allows engineers to run more experiments and do so faster.

Vertex also offers a “Feature Store” that helps its users serve, share and reuse the machine learning features and Vertex Experiments to help them accelerate the deployment of their models into producing with faster model selection.

Deployment is backed by a continuous monitoring service and Vertex Pipelines, a rebrand of Google Cloud’s AI Platform Pipelines that helps teams manage the workflows involved in preparing and analyzing data for the models, train them, evaluate them and deploy them to production.

To give a wide variety of developers the right entry points, the service provides three interfaces: a drag-and-drop tool, notebooks for advanced users and — and this may be a bit of a surprise — BigQuery ML, Google’s tool for using standard SQL queries to create and execute machine learning models in its BigQuery data warehouse.

We had two guiding lights while building Vertex AI: get data scientists and engineers out of the orchestration weeds, and create an industry-wide shift that would make everyone get serious about moving AI out of pilot purgatory and into full-scale production,” said Andrew Moore, vice president and general manager of Cloud AI and Industry Solutions at Google Cloud. “We are very proud of what we came up with in this platform, as it enables serious deployments for a new generation of AI that will empower data scientists and engineers to do fulfilling and creative work.”

Posted Under: Tech News
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