All posts by Richy George

Sojern raises another $120M led by TCV to expand its travel marketing platform

Posted by on 13 November, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Travel continues to be one of the biggest verticals online, projected to be worth over $1 trillion by 2022, and today a startup that helps travel-related businesses connect the dots between their products and would-be customers is raising a large round of funding to capitalise on that.

Sojern, a company that works with businesses in the travel industry — hotels, airlines, tourist agencies, booking portals and others — to build and run campaigns to find and market their services to people as they are planning travel, is today announcing that it has raised another $120 million in funding at a valuation of over $300 million.

Sojern started out life in 2007 putting ads on boarding passes, but today its reach covers a much wider terrain in the search for relevant and interested “eyeballs”. Typical media it targets marketing to today includes native advertising; display, mobile and video ads; and social media. But in an interview, CEO Mark Rabe said that the plan for the funding will be to expand to more “emerging” platforms, like connected TV (where it’s already active).

“Our plan is to continue expanding solutions for existing clients as well as accelerate into developing markets like local tourism and attractions,” he said. “Overall we want to keep proving our performance as a late-stage, high-growth company with expanding profit margins and cash flow.”

The round, a Series D, is being led by TCV (Technology Crossover Ventures), a key and potentially very strategic investor since TCV has a long history of backing large travel and marketing startups, including Airbnb, Expedia, HomeAway, TripAdvisor, SiteMinder, ExactTarget, Act-On and Ariba, some of which already work with Sojern, and some who well might work with it in the future.

Other investors are not being disclosed, but Sojern has previously had backing from Norwest Venture Partners, Trident, Treeptop and other VCs; and also has a list of strategic partners, with some holding equity stakes in the business, including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and US Airways.

(As we’ve pointed out before, the relationship it has with some of these stems back to the founding of the company, and part of what airlines, for example, receive is a cut on the advertising revenues that appear on their boarding passes.)

Prior to this latest round, Sojern had raised some $42.5 million. Rabe said that the company is not disclosing its valuation with this round, but as a guide, he noted that the company has been profitable for the last 13 quarters and it crossed a $100 million run rate in 2017. Also of note: Sojern’s last valuation was $158 million after raising a round in 2013, according to PitchBook, so — at a very conservative estimate — its valuation post-money is around $280 million. (But my guess is that it is higher considering Sojern’s growth and profitability, and a source has confirmed that it is definitely above $300 million.)

“We’re going after a total addressable market that we believe is at least $100 billion,” he said, citing a combination of the dollars travel brands are spending in digital and programmatic advertising worth roughly $20 billion and what they’re paying to online intermediaries in the distribution markets worth $80 billion. “So far we’ve driven over $13 billion in bookings for our clients, and we aren’t slowing down anytime soon,” he added.

The company competes not just with other companies big in advertising like Google (which itself has made a very big play to do more specifically in the travel search vertical) but also other companies working in the big data-fuelled analytics space as it interests with the world of travel marketing, such as Adara.

Rabe believes Sojern is unique in the space. “We don’t see anyone out there delivering direct bookings in travel at this scale, and doing it successfully across the industry from the biggest enterprise brands all the way down to independent properties and local tourism providers,” he said.

“When we think about the competitive set, we’re looking at companies with proven business models demonstrating that they can deliver strong results at scale and retain clients over the long term. And what’s become clear is that today’s independent adtech and martech companies have to differentiate to provide value. Because Sojern has been focused on travel from the very beginning, we understand the challenges and complexities of the industry and offer more specialized solutions than a generalist player ever could.”

The predicament that it is addressing remains a messy one: from every segment of the market — from luxury down to budget travellers — we as consumers are spoiled for choice these days when it comes to thinking not just of where and how we might want to travel, but also how to find the best deals and options that match what we want to do. On the side of suppliers, they are all scrambling to connect with their would-be customers before someone else does.

Sojern says that its wider database and reach covers some 350 million travellers, making it one of the more accurate platforms to identifying and connecting with those users.

Interestingly, this could potentially one day get applied to more than just travel, but maybe not for Sojern.

“I get asked this question a lot,” Rabe said when I asked him about expanding to other areas. “But what people don’t often realize is that the travel and tourism industry is actually the largest industry in the world. Conservatively we believe our immediate total addressable market is $100 billion, and on top of that the overall industry is growing with digital continuing to pull share from offline transaction channels like phone and traditional travel agencies.”

That focus is also what attracted TCV, it seems.

“We have been watching Sojern’s rapid rise in the travel technology space for several years, and we were impressed with Sojern’s leadership position in the space and its unique, scalable model for influencing travelers worldwide,” said Woody Marshall of TCV in a statement.

“Sojern’s ability to both conceptualize a better marketing experience for travel organizations and their steady execution over the past decade, as well as their innovative business strategy, strong executive team, and inspiring company culture made them a natural fit for us.” Marshall is joining the board with this round.

Just as the market for travel services continues to boom, so do those startups that are best placed to meet that demand, collectively hundreds of millions of dollars in the last five years. Among the range of travel startups focusing specifically on helping connect intent to travel with ideas of where you can spend your money, other notable rounds have included TripActions raising $154 million earlier this month, CultureTrip raising $80 million earlier this year, and Airbnb raising $1 billion last year.

Updated with updated revenue figures and customer / investor names

Posted Under: Tech News
Analysts weighing in on $8B SAP-Qualtrics deal don’t see a game changer

Posted by on 12 November, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

SAP CEO Bill McDermott was jacked up today about his company’s $8 billion  Qualtrics acquisition over the weekend. You would expect no less for such a big deal. McDermott believes that the data that Qualtrics provides could bridge the gap between his company’s operational data and customer data wherever that resides.

The idea behind Qualtrics is to understand customer sentiment as it happens. McDermott sees this as a key piece to the company’s customer management puzzle, one that could propel it into being not only a big player in customer experience, but also drive the company’s underlying cloud business. That’s because it provides a means of constant feedback from the customer, one that is hard to ascertain otherwise.

In that context, he saw the deal as transformative. “By combining this experience data with operations, we can combine this through Qualtrics and SAP in a way that the world has never done before, and I fundamentally believe it will change this world as we know it today,” McDermott told TechCrunch on Monday.

Others who follow the industry closely were not so convinced. While they liked the deal and saw the potential of combining these types of data, it might not be the game changer that McDermott is hoping for after spending his company’s $8 billion.

Paul Greenberg, who is managing principal at The 56 Group and author of the seminal CRM book, CRM at the Speed of Light, says it’s definitely a big acquisition for the company, but he says it takes more than an acquisition or two to challenge the market leaders. “This will be a beneficial acquisition for SAP’s desire to continue to pivot the company to the customer-facing side, but it isn’t a decisive one by any means,” Greenberg told TechCrunch.

Customer experience is a broad term that involves understanding your customer at a granular level, anticipating what they want, understanding who they are, what they have bought and what they are looking for right now. These are harder problems to solve than you might imagine, especially since they involve gathering data across systems from a variety of vendors who deal with different pieces of the puzzle.

Companies like Adobe and Salesforce have made this their primary business focus. SAP is at its heart an ERP company, which gathers data by managing key internal operational systems like finance, procurement and HR.

Tony Byrne, founder and principal analyst at Real Story Group says the he likes what Qualtrics brings to SAP, but he is not sure it’s quite as big a deal as McDermott suggests. “Qualtrics enables you to do more sophisticated forms of research which marketers certainly want, but the double benefit is that — unlike SurveyMonkey and others — Qualtrics has experience on the digital workplace side, which could complement some of SAP’s HR tooling.” But he adds that it’s not really the central CEM piece, and that his company’s research has found that SAP still has holes, particularly when it comes to marketing tools and technologies (MarTech).

Brent Leary, who is founder at CRM Essentials, agrees that SAP got a nice company, especially when combined with the $2.4 billion CallidusCloud purchase from earlier this year, but it has a ways to go to catch up with Salesforce and Adobe. “Qualtrics does provide a more broad perspective of customers because of operational data from back and front office systems. The Callidus acquisition helps to turn insights into certain B2B-focused customer experiences. But I think more pieces may be needed in terms of B2C experience creation tools that companies like Adobe and Salesforce are focusing on with the marketing/experience clouds,” he explained.

Whether this is an actual game changer as McDermott suggested remains to be seen, but the industry experts we spoke to believe it will be more of an incremental piece that helps move the company’s customer experience initiative forward. If they’re right, McDermott might not be finished shopping just yet.

Posted Under: Tech News
Enterprise shopping season starts early with almost $50B in recent deals

Posted by on 12 November, 2018

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Black Friday may be still be 10 days away, but shopping season started early in the enterprise this year. We have seen acquisitions totaling almost $50 billion in the last couple of months alone, topped by the mega $34 billion IBM-Red Hat deal two weeks ago. What exactly is going on here?

While not every deal has been for that kind of money, we are seeing an unusually large number of mega deals this year, something that some folks were predicting would happen when the big tech companies were allowed to repatriate their money as part of last year’s tax deal.

Let’s look at some of the multi-billion deals we have seen so far this year:

Supply and demand

Big companies are opening their checkbooks in a big way right now, buying everything from marketing to analytics to security. They are grabbing open source and proprietary. They are looking at ways to bridge the cloud and an on-prem. There is a whole host of software and not much rhyme or reason across the deals.

What they have in common is that they are enormous, offers that are simply too huge to refuse. These companies flush with cash see opportunities to fill holes, and they are going for one piece after another.

One of the reasons that the prices are going so high is that there is a limited number of companies available to buy, and that is driving up the price, says Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research. As he sees it, there are only 3-5 decent players per category right now. He compares that with 10 years ago when we were seeing 10-15 players per category. With a limited number of viable startups, companies seem to be going after these companies harder. Combine that with fat wallets full of cash, and you suddenly have this wave of super-sized deals.

The companies being acquired by large organizations can justify selling in the usual ways. They can reward shareholders and investors. These larger organizations allow them to push their product roadmaps much more quickly than they could on their own. They give them access to international markets and mega sales teams.

Buy versus build

Still, companies have been spending unusually large sums for relatively small amounts of revenue. In deals over the last 3 weeks, we have seen IBM pay $34 billion for a company with around $3 billion in revenue. We saw SAP paying $8 billion for a mere $400 million in revenue.

This certainly seems on its face to be a massive overpay, but Constellation’s Wang says ultimately this is often comes down to a classic build versus buy decision. SAP could build a similar product to Qualtrics, or they could simply buy it and put the massive SAP salesforce to bear on it. “SAP can sell into 100,000 customers. They only have a 10% overlap with Qualtrics. The numbers work, and it beats taking a new product to market,” Wang told TechCrunch.

Wang believes this could be the strategy behind many of these acquisitions, while admitting that the numbers sound a bit crazy. As he says, the formula used to be three times, three years trailing revenues. Now it’s 15-20 times. While those may be hard numbers to justify, he believes it’s a win-win for buyer and acquired — and investors win big too, of course.

Staying the course

In many instances like Red Hat, GitHub and Qualtrics, the companies will likely remain separate independent units inside the larger organization, at least for the time being, while looking for meaningful crossover inside the larger company when it makes sense.

But Tony Byrne, founder and principal analyst at Real Story Groups says these large companies tend to listen to Wall Street and customers should be wary of what they hear when it comes to their favorite products and services. “You cannot trust the initial pleasantries about continuity that come out of the first press release. These are huge vendors that listen first and foremost to Wall Street. If there’s an offering that doesn’t totally align with their story to investors, it is not going to get much love and is at risk for getting eliminated or calved off,” Byrne explained.

It’s also hard to know how well two companies are going to fit together until the deal actually closes. Sometimes the acquiring company doesn’t know what they have or how to sell it. Sometimes the two companies don’t fit well together or the founders or key executives don’t fit smoothly into the new hierarchy. They try to figure this all out beforehand, but it’s not always easy to know how it will play out in reality.

Regardless, we are seeing an unusually high level of massive acquisitions and chances are, there are more coming.

Posted Under: Tech News
Kofax to buy Nuance’s imaging division for $400M in cash

Posted by on 12 November, 2018

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Some consolidation and subsequent divestment are in play in the worlds of imaging and voice recognition. Today, Kofax and Nuance announced that Kofax would be acquiring Nuance’s imaging division, for $400 million in cash. The deal, which had been rumoured in recent days, is expected to close in Q1 2019.

The acquisition is a notable move for Kofax — itself acquired by Thoma Bravo last year in a $1.5 billion deal — as it continues to build up its business in Robotic Process Automation (RPA), the area of enterprise IT services that uses machine learning, computer vision and other AI-based tools to bring automation to repetitive or mundane back-office tasks that would have in the past been done by humans. (The idea is that this frees up the humans to make more sophisticated assessments in specific cases, or focus on entirely different tasks.)

On the side of Nuance, the company is a leader in voice recognition services that served as an early partner to the likes of Apple with Siri, and has also worked on a number of other AI-based solutions to improve how enterprises build services and work.

Publicly traded Nuance’s imaging division accounted for about 11 percent of its revenues last year, and it has stated would be making several changes in its business to rationalise it and focus on more profitable operations. The biggest parts of its $5 billion business today are healthcare solutions, enterprise and automotive.

Kofax is bringing on Nuance Document Imaging, as the division is officially called, specifically to bring more services in the area of imaging services, which include services like providing security and compliance around any image scanning or printing that takes place across an organization. NDI, Kofax said, is one of the biggest companies of its kind in the field, covering 6 million knowledge workers and over 100,000 active deployments of its Print Management solutions.

“Through the acquisition of Nuance’s document imaging division, Kofax will drive customer value by adding key technologies, including cloud compatibility, scan-to-archive, scan-to-workflow, print management and document security, to our end-to-end Intelligent Automation platform,” said Reynolds C. Bish, Chief Executive Officer of Kofax. “In addition we will now be able to combine the best capture and print management capabilities available in the market into one product portfolio.”

Kofax said this makes it the leader in this area globally: and indeed it is racing to keep ahead of competition.

RPA has been one of the fastest-growing areas in IT, fueled by the rising interest in bringing more AI into enterprise services. UiPath, one of the leading startups in the space, has raised close to $400 million in two separate rounds this year on the back of its rapid growth. Just last week, UiPath just last week expanded its own imaging capabilities.

Posted Under: Tech News
Vista snaps up Apptio for $1.94B, as enterprise companies remain hot

Posted by on 12 November, 2018

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It seems that Sunday has become a popular day to announce large deals involving enterprise companies. IBM announced the $34 billion Red Hat deal two weeks ago. SAP announced its intent to buy Qualtrics for $8 billion last night, and Vista Equity Partners got into the act too, announcing a deal to buy Apptio for $1.94 billion, representing a 53 percent premium for stockholders.

Vista paid $38 per share for Apptio, a Seattle company that helps companies manage and understand their cloud spending inside a hybrid IT environment that has assets on-prem and in the cloud. The company was founded in 2007 right as the cloud was beginning to take off, and grew as the cloud did. It recognized that companies would have trouble understanding their cloud assets along side on-prem ones. It turned out to be a company in the right place at the right time with the right idea.

Investors like Andreessen Horowitz, Greylock and Madrona certainly liked the concept, showering the company with $261 million before it went public in 2016. The stock price has been up and down since, peaking in August at $41.23 a share before dropping down to $24.85 on Friday. The $38 a share Vista paid comes close to the high water mark for the stock.

Stock Chart: Google

Sunny Gupta, co-founder and CEO at Apptio liked the idea of giving his shareholders a good return while providing a good landing spot to take his company private. Vista has a reputation for continuing to invest in the companies it acquires and that prospect clearly excited him. “Vista’s investment and deep expertise in growing world-class SaaS businesses and the flexibility we will have as a private company will help us accelerate our growth…,” Gupta said in a statement.

The deal was approved by Apptio’s board of directors, which will recommend shareholders accept it. With such a high premium, it’s hard to imagine them turning it down. If it passes all of the regulatory hurdles, the acquisition is expected to close in Q1 2019.

It’s worth noting that the company has a 30-day “go shop” provision, which would allow it to look for a better price. Given how hot the enterprise market is right now and how popular hybrid cloud tools are, it is possible it could find another buyer, but it could be hard to find one willing to pay such a high premium.

Vista clearly likes to buy enterprise tech companies having snagged Ping Identity for $600 million and Marketo for $1.8 billion in 2016. It grabbed Jamf, an Apple enterprise device management company and Datto, a disaster recovery company last year. It turned Marketo around for $4.75 billion in a deal with Adobe just two months ago.

Posted Under: Tech News
The Ceph storage project gets a dedicated open-source foundation

Posted by on 12 November, 2018

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Ceph is an open source technology for distributed storage that gets very little public attention but that provides the underlying storage services for many of the world’s largest container and OpenStack deployments. It’s used by financial institutions like Bloomberg and Fidelity, cloud service providers like Rackspace and Linode, telcos like Deutsche Telekom, car manufacturers like BMW and software firms like SAP and Salesforce.

These days, you can’t have a successful open source project without setting up a foundation that manages the many diverging interests of the community and so it’s maybe no surprise that Ceph is now getting its own foundation. Like so many other projects, the Ceph Foundation will be hosted by the Linux Foundation.

“While early public cloud providers popularized self-service storage infrastructure, Ceph brings the same set of capabilities to service providers, enterprises, and individuals alike, with the power of a robust development and user community to drive future innovation in the storage space,” writes Sage Weil, Ceph co-creator, project leader, and chief architect at Red Hat for Ceph. “Today’s launch of the Ceph Foundation is a testament to the strength of a diverse open source community coming together to address the explosive growth in data storage and services.”

Given its broad adoption, it’s also no surprise that there’s a wide-ranging list of founding members. These include Amihan Global, Canonical, CERN, China Mobile, Digital Ocean, Intel, ProphetStor Data Service, OVH Hosting Red Hat, SoftIron, SUSE, Western Digital, XSKY Data Technology and ZTE. It’s worth noting that many of these founding members were already part of the slightly less formal Ceph Community Advisory Board.

“Ceph has a long track record of success what it comes to helping organizations with effectively managing high growth and expand data storage demands,” said Jim Zemlin, the executive director of the Linux Foundation. “Under the Linux Foundation, the Ceph Foundation will be able to harness investments from a much broader group to help support the infrastructure needed to continue the success and stability of the Ceph ecosystem.”

cepha and linux foundation logo

Ceph is an important building block for vendors who build both OpenStack- and container-based platforms. Indeed, two-thirds of OpenStack users rely on Ceph and it’s a core part of Rook, a Cloud Native Computing Foundation project that makes it easier to build storage services for Kubernetes-based applications. As such, Ceph straddles many different worlds and it makes sense for the project to gets its own neutral foundation now, though I can’t help but think that the OpenStack Foundation would’ve also liked to host the project.

Today’s announcement comes only days after the Linux Foundation also announced that it is now hosting the GraphQL Foundation.

Posted Under: Tech News
Growing pains at venture-backed Moogsoft lead to layoffs

Posted by on 9 November, 2018

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Eight months after bringing in a $40 million Series D, Moogsoft‘s co-founder and chief executive officer Phil Tee confirmed to TechCrunch that the IT incident management startup had shed 18 percent of its workforce, or just over 30 employees.

The layoffs took place at the end of October; shortly after, Moogsoft announced two executive hires. Among the additions was Amer Deeba, who recently resigned from Qualys after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charged him with insider trading.

Founded in 2012, San Francisco-based Moogsoft provides artificial intelligence for IT operations (AIOps) to help teams work more efficiently and avoid outages. The startup has raised $90 million in equity funding to date, garnering a $220 million valuation with its latest round, according to PitchBook. It’s backed by Goldman Sachs, Wing Venture Capital, Redpoint Ventures, Dell’s corporate venture capital arm, Singtel Innov8, Northgate Capital and others. Wing VC founder and long-time Accel managing partner Peter Wagner and Redpoint partner John Walecka are among the investors currently sitting on Moogsoft’s board of directors.

Tee, the founder of two public companies (Micromuse and Riversoft) admitted the layoffs affected several teams across the company. The cuts, however, are not a sign of a struggling business, he said, but rather a right of passage for a startup seeking venture scale.

“We are a classic VC-backed startup that has sort of grown up,” Tee told TechCrunch earlier today. “In pretty much every successful company, there is a point in time where there’s an adjustment in strategy … Unfortunately, when you do that, it becomes a question of do we have the right people?”

Moogsoft doubled revenue last year and added 50 Fortune 200 companies as customers, according to a statement announcing its latest capital infusion. Tee said he’s “extremely chipper” about the road ahead and the company’s recent C-suite hires.

Moogsoft’s newest hires, CFO Raman Kapur (left) and COO Amer Deeba (right).

Moogsoft announced its latest executive hires on November 2, only one week after completing the round of layoffs, a common strategy for companies looking to cast a shadow on less-than-stellar news, like major staff cuts. Those hires include former Splunk vice president of finance Raman Kapur as Moogsoft’s first-ever chief financial officer and Amer Deeba, a long-time Qualys executive, as its chief operating officer.

Deeba spent the last 17 years at Qualys, a publicly traded provider of cloud-based security and compliance solutions. In August, he resigned amid allegations of insider trading. The SEC announced its charges against Deeba on August 30, claiming he had notified his two brothers of Qualys’ missed revenue targets before the company publicly announced its financial results in the spring of 2015.

“Deeba informed his two brothers about the miss and contacted his brothers’ brokerage firm to coordinate the sale of all of his brothers’ Qualys stock,” the SEC wrote in a statement. “When Qualys publicly announced its financial results, it reported that it had missed its previously-announced first-quarter revenue guidance and that it was revising its full-year 2015 revenue guidance downward. On the same day, Deeba sent a message to one of his brothers saying, ‘We announced the bad news today.’ The next day, Qualys’s stock price dropped 25%. Although Deeba made no profits from his conduct, Deeba’s brothers collectively avoided losses of $581,170 by selling their Qualys stock.”

Under the terms of Deeba’s settlement, he is ineligible to serve as an officer or director of any SEC-reporting company for two years and has been ordered to pay a $581,170 penalty.

Tee, for his part, said there was never any admission of guilt from Deeba and that he’s already had a positive impact on Moogsoft.

“[Deeba] is a tremendously impressive individual and he has the full confidence of myself and the board,” Tee said.

 

Posted Under: Tech News
LinkedIn Learning now includes 3rd party content and Q&A interactive features

Posted by on 9 November, 2018

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LinkedIn, the Microsoft-owned social network for the working world with some 580 million users, took a big step into professional development and education when it acquired Lynda.com for $1.5 billion and used it as the anchor for LinkedIn Learning.

Now, with 13,000 courses on the platform, LinkedIn is announcing two new developments to get more people using the service. It will now offer videos, tutorials and courses from third parties such as Treehouse and the publishing division of Harvard Business School. And in a social twist, people who use LinkedIn learning — the students and teachers — will now be able to ask and answer questions around LinkedIn Learning sessions, as well as follow instructors on LinkedIn, and see others’ feedback on courses.

Unlimited access to LinkedIn Learning comes when a person pays for LinkedIn’s Premium Career tier which costs around $30/month, or when a company takes an enterprise team subscription for the Learning service. Today, LinkedIn tells me that it has around 11,000 enterprise customers, and it doesn’t break out how much traffic is has overall on LinkedIn, but says that there has been a 64 percent growth in paid learners since the start of 2017 — number that it’s clearly looking to boost with these new features.

James Raybould, the director of product for LinkedIn Learning, said that the third-party expansion will come slowly at first with a handful of partners getting access to integrate with LinkedIn Learning. Over time, this could expand to be a public API for anyone to integrate content, he added, but for now LinkedIn is doing the curating. The company has had a patchy history when it comes to sharing data and its platform with third parties, and it shut down full access to its API to everyone but a handful of partners several years ago.

Notably, he also said that LinkedIn itself is not planning on curtailing the amount of content it will continue to produce for Learning: it’s currently adding on average more than 70 new courses each week on average, he said.

The content in this first wave of third-party providers feels like a natural extension of the Influencer-based content that LinkedIn has been running in its main newsfeed: it runs the gamut from actual courses to learn new skills in specific disciplines, to the more nebulous area of professional development.

The first group includes Harvard ManageMentor (leadership development courses from Harvard Business School’s publishing arm); getAbstract (a Blinkist-style service that provides 10,000+ non-fiction book summaries plus TED talks); Big Think: 500 short-form videos on topics of the day (these are not so much ‘courses’ as they are ‘life lessons’ — subjects include organising activism and an explainer on how to end bi-partisan politics); Treehouse with courses on coding and product design skills; and Creative Live with courses and tutorials for professionals in the creative industries to improve their skills and business acumen.

The fact that LinkedIn is adding in more learning material that’s a natural extension of the kind of content it already offers to users in their timelines is not the only parallel between main LinkedIn and LinkedIn Learning. Raybould said that to help users discover content that might be most interesting to them, it uses data about what users browse and click on in the regular site.

“We have rich information about the network, including on engagement,” he said, and that helps LinkedIn’s algorithms suggest what to populate in individual learning libraries.

This is also, presumably, one of the reasons why third parties will want to integrate: to get new audiences that are more targeted to the kind of content they are producing:

“At Harvard Business Publishing, we work to create the world best learning experiences to help organizations discover new ways to solve their most pressing leadership development challenges,” said Rich Gravelin, Director, Partnerships and Alliances, at Harvard Business Publishing, in a statement. “As an inaugural partner in the LinkedIn Learning Content Partner Program, we are bringing rich leadership development content to professionals across the globe, helping them navigate today’s complex business landscape. Thanks to the robust platform that LinkedIn Learning has built, we’re able to meet learners where they are and provide them with the unique and personalized learning experiences they need to succeed in their organizations.”

The social features also follow this model. Last year, LinkedIn rolled out a mentorship product across selected markets to pair users with people who can give them steers on their career development. That product set out a precedent for how LinkedIn might use its wider social network and communication features to engage users in different ways, in the name of professional development.

The new addition of Q&A features follows on from that, giving those taking courses or watching videos a way of interacting and following up with those who are doing the teaching. Adding that in could see more engagement across the whole of the Learning product.

It’s a surprise, in a way, that it’s taken this long for LinkedIn to add an interactive Q&A feature in, considering that direct messaging and users interacting with each other has been a cornerstone of the product. On the other hand, it will be interesting to see if it proves to be a compelling enough feature to bring in more users to LinkedIn, luring them away from Udemy’s and Skillsofts of the world.

 

Posted Under: Tech News
Abbyy looks to RPA to breathe new life in to scanning and workflow

Posted by on 8 November, 2018

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Abbyy has been around for a long time helping companies with scanning and workflow tools, but like many older vendors it has been looking for ways to extend its traditional business model. One way to do that is by teaming up with robotics process automation companies like UIPath. Today, the company announced it has launched the Abbyy FlexiCapture Connector in the UiPath Go! App store.

Bruce Orcutt, senior vice president for product marketing at Abbyy says the connector provides the ability to pull content into UIPath or to take Abbyy content and push it to another part of the automated workflow in UIPath.

UIPath is on a tear these days. Just two months ago, it scored a $225 million Series C investment on a $3 billion valuation. It was able to grow from $1 million to $100 million in annual recurring revenue in just 21 months. As I wrote at the time of the funding, “[UIPath] allows companies to bring a level of automation to legacy processes like accounts payable, employee onboarding, procurement and reconciliation without actually having to replace legacy systems.”

Orcutt sees a natural connection to his company’s workflow roots, bringing it into a more modern context. “RPA simplifies the user experience. Abbyy brings content and context,” he told TechCrunch. He says that while they are still doing OCR to scrape unstructured content, it can do this in fully automated digital process and UIPath can take that content and move it through other parts of an automated workflow.

For Abbyy, UIPath is a big partner, but it’s part of a broader strategy to expand the company’s capabilities to RPA. He says they are working with a variety of RPA vendors beyond UIPath and also with systems integrators as they look to breathe new life into the company’s brand and products.

Orcutt says this is part of significant focus and investment on the part of the company. RPA is clearly a natural fit for Abbyy, but he wasn’t willing to speculate on any deeper partnership. “We’re focusing on what we can do the best we can, and they can focus on merits of their platform. Abbyy can compliment those capabilities.”

Posted Under: Tech News
Datacoral raises $10M Series A for its data infrastructure service

Posted by on 8 November, 2018

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Datacoral aims to make it easier for enterprises to build data products by abstracting away all of the complex infrastructure to organize and process data. The company today announced that it has raised a $10 million Series A financing round led by Madrona Venture Group, with participation from Social Capital, which also led its $4 million seed round in 2017.

Datacoral CEO Raghu Murthy tells me that the company plans to use the new funding to grow its business team in order to be able to reach more potential customers and to expand its engineering team.

The promise of Datacoral is to offer enterprises an end-to-end data infrastructure that will allow businesses and their data scientists to focus on generating insights over having to manage and integrate their data sources. Because nobody wants to move large amounts of data between clouds — and take the performance hit that comes with that — Datacoral sits right inside a company’s AWS systems. It’s still a fully managed service, though, but the data is encrypted and never leaves a customer’s virtual private cloud.

“As companies look to their data to deliver value – data practitioners are finding that configuring and managing their own data infrastructure is a time-consuming job that is expensive and fraught with errors,” said Murthy. “We have built a platform that easily and automatically brings together data from different applications and databases, organizes that data in any query engine and acts on insights that are critical to running their business. A crucial component is that it works securely and privately within the customer’s cloud, instead of us ingesting data from their systems.”

Murthy was an early engineer at Facebook and part of the team that was in charge of scaling that company’s data infrastructure and ran a part of the engineering team at Bebop, Diane Greene’s startup that was later acquired by Google.

To scale Datacoral, the team is betting on a serverless platform itself. It’s making extensive use of AWS Lambda and other PaaS solutions on Amazon’s cloud computing platform. That doesn’t mean Datacoral plans to only support AWS, though. Murthy tells me that Azure support is next. “We plan to work across all of the top cloud providers by leveraging their unique services and provide a consistent ‘data-centric interface’ to our customers — essentially be ‘cloud best’ instead of ‘cloud agnostic.’”

Current Datacoral users include Greenhouse, Front, Ezetap, Swing Education, mPharma and Mason Finance.

Posted Under: Tech News
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