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Posted by Richy George on 12 April, 2018This post was originally published on this site
Criminal records, driving records, employment verifications. Companies that use on-demand employees need to know that all the boxes have been checked before they send workers into the world on their behalf, and they often need those boxes checked quickly.
A growing number of them use Checkr, a San Francisco-based company that says it currently runs one million background checks per month for more than 10,000 customers, including, most newly, the car-share company Lyft, the insurance company AllState, and the staffing giant Adecco.
Investors are betting many more customers will come aboard, too. This morning, Checkr is announcing $100 million in Series C funding led by T. Rowe Price, which was joined by earlier backers Accel and Y Combinator.
The round brings the company’s total funding to roughly $150 million altogether, which is a lot of capital in not a lot of time. But Checkr is very well-positioned, considering the changing nature of work. The company was born when software engineers Daniel Yanisse and Jonathan Perichon worked together at same-day delivery service startup Deliv and together eyed the chance to build a faster, more efficient background check. And the number of flexible workers has only exploded in the four years since.
So-called alternative employment arrangements, in the parlance of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, including gig economy jobs, have grown from representing 10.1 percent of U.S. employees in 2005 to 15.8 percent of employees in 2015. And that percentage looks to rise further still as more digital platforms provide direct connections between people needing a service and workers willing to provide it.
Meanwhile, Checkr, which has been capitalizing on this race for talent, has its sights on much more than the on-demand workforce, says Yanisse, who is Checkr’s CEO. While the 180-person company counts Uber, Instacart, Thumbtack, GrubHub and the other usual suspects as its customers, Checkr is also actively expanding outside of the tech and gig economy, he says. In addition to Adecco, for example, companies like Visa that use flexible workers and contractors are signing up to the service, too.
Right now, all of these customers pay Checkr per background check. That may change over time, however, particularly if the company plans to go public eventually, which Yanisse suggests is the case. (Public shareholders, like private shareholders, love recurring revenue.)
“Right now, our pricing model for customers is pay-per-applicant,” says Yanisse. “But we have a whole suite of SaaS products and tools” — including an interesting new tool designed to help hiring managers eradicate their unwitting hiring biases — “so we’re becoming more like a SaaS” business.
During a call this week, we ask Yanisse about those high-profile cases where background checks appear to miss things. We don’t say it explicitly, but one situation that springs to mind is the individual who began driving for Uber last year, six months before intentionally plowing into a busy bike path in New York.
While Checkr claims that it can tear through a lot of information — including education verification, reference checks, drug screening — within 24 hours, we wonder if it isn’t so fast that it misses red flags.
Yanisse says he doesn’t think so. “Overall background checks aren’t a silver bullet,” he says. “Our job is to make the process faster, more efficient, more accurate, and more fair. But past information doesn’t guarantee future performance,” he adds. “This isn’t ‘Minority Report.’”
Checkr can only provide information to employers; they then have to make hiring decisions that include a lot of other different factors, he says. “It’s up the company, based on what’s relevant to them.”
We also ask Yanisse about Checkr’s revenue. Often, a financing round of the size that Checkr is announcing today suggests a revenue run rate of $100 million or so. Yanisse declines to say, telling us Checkr doesn’t share revenue or valuation publicly. “It’s still a bit early,” he says. “There’s this obsession with metrics in Silicon Valley, and we just want to make sure we’re focused on the right things.” But, he adds, “you’re in the ballpark.”
Posted by Richy George on 11 April, 2018This post was originally published on this site
At its re:Invent developer conference, AWS made so many announcements that even some of the company’s biggest launches only got a small amount of attention. While the company’s long-awaited Elastic Container Service for Kubernetes got quite a bit of press, the launch of the far more novel Fargate container service went a bit under.
When I talked to him earlier this week, AWS VP and Amazon CTO (and EDM enthusiast) Werner Vogels admitted as much. “I think some of the Fargate stuff got a bit lost in all the other announcements that there were,” he told me. “I think it is a major step forward in making containers more cloud native and we see quite a few of our customers jumping on board with Fargate.”
Fargate, if you haven’t followed along, is a technology for AWS’ Elastic Container Service (ECS) and Kubernetes Service (EKS) that abstracts all of the underlying infrastructure for running containers away. You pick your container orchestration engine and the service does the rest. There’s no need for managing individual servers or clusters. Instead, you simply tells ECS or EKS that you want to launch a container with Fargate, define the CPU and memory requirements of your application and let the service handle the rest.
To Vogels, who also published a longer blog post on Fargate today, the service is part of the company’s mission to help developers focus on their applications — and not the infrastructure. “I always compare it a bit to the early days of cloud,” said Vogels. “Before we had AWS, there were only virtual machines. And many companies build successful businesses around it. But when you run virtual machines, you still have to manage the hardware. […] One of the things that happened when we introduced EC2 [the core AWS cloud computing service] in the early days, was sort of that it decoupled things from the hardware. […] I think that tremendously improved developer productivity.”
But even with the early containers tools, if you wanted to run them directly on AWS or even in ECS, you still had to do a lot of work that had little to do with actually running the containers. “Basically, it’s the same story,” Vogels said. “VMs became the hardware for the containers. And a significant amount of work for developers went into that orchestration piece.”
What Amazon’s customers wanted, however, was being able to focus on running their containers — not what Vogels called the “hands-on hardware-type of management.” “That was so pre-cloud,” he added and in his blog post today, he also notes that “container orchestration has always seemed to me to be very not cloud native.”
In Vogels’ view, it seems, if you are still worried about infrastructure, you’re not really cloud native. He also noted that the original promise of AWS was that AWS would worry about running the infrastructure while developers got to focus on what mattered for their businesses. It’s services like Fargate and maybe also Lambda that take this overall philosophy the furthest.
Even with a container service like ECS or EKS, though, the clusters still don’t run completely automatically and you still end up provisioning capacity that you don’t need all the time. The promise of Fargate is that it will auto-scale for you and that you only pay for the capacity you actually need.
“Our customers, they just want to build software, they just want to build their applications. They don’t want to be bothered with how to exactly map this container down to that particular virtual machine — which is what they had to do,” Vogels said. “With Fargate, you select the type of CPUs you want to use for a particular task and it will autoscale this for you. Meaning that you actually only have to pay for the capacity you use.”
When it comes to abstracting away infrastructure, though, Fargate does this for containers, but it’s worth noting that a serverless product like AWS Lambda takes it even further. For Vogels, this is a continuum and driven by customer demand. While AWS is clearly placing big bets on containers, he is also quite realistic about the fact that many companies will continue to use containers for the foreseeable future. “VMs won’t go away,” he said.
With a serverless product like Lambda, you don’t even think about the infrastructure at all anymore, not even containers — you get to fully focus on the code and only pay for the execution of that code. And while Vogels sees the landscape of VMs, containers and serverless as a continuum, where customers move from one to the next, he also noted that AWS is seeing enterprises that are skipping over the container step and going all in on serverless right away.
Posted by Richy George on 11 April, 2018This post was originally published on this site
TravelPerk, a Barcelona-based SaaS startup that’s built an end-to-end business travel platform, has closed a $21 million Series B round, led by Berlin-based Target Global and London’s Felix Capital. Earlier investors Spark Capital and Sunstone also participated in the round, alongside new investor Amplo.
When we last spoke to the startup back in June 2016 — as it was announcing a $7M Series A — it had just 20 customers. It’s now boasting more than 1,000, name-checking “high growth” companies such as Typeform, TransferWise, Outfittery, GetYourGuide, GoCardless, Hotjar, and CityJet among its clients, and touting revenue growth of 1,200% year-on-year.
Co-founder and CEO Avi Meir tells us the startup is “on pace” to generate $100M in GMV this year.
Meir’s founding idea, back in 2015, was to create a rewards program based around dynamic budgeting for business trips. But after conversations with potential customers about their pain-points, the team quickly pivoted to target a broader bundle of business travel booking problems.
The mission now can be summarized as trying to make the entire business travel journey suck less — from booking flights and hotels; to admin tools for managing policies; analytics; customer support; all conducted within what’s billed as a “consumer-like experience” to keep end-users happy. Essentially it’s offering end-to-end travel management for its target business users.
“Travel and finance managers were frustrated by how they currently manage travel and looked for an all in one tool that JUST WORKS without having to compare rates with Skyscanner, be redirected to different websites, write 20 emails back and forth with a travel agent to coordinate a simple trip for someone, and suffer bad user experience,” says Meir.
“We understood that in order to fix business travel there is no way around but diving into it head on and create the world’s best OTA (online travel agency), combined with the best in class admin tools needed in order to manage the travel program and a consumer grade, smart user experience that travelers will love. So we became a full blown platform competing head on with the big TMCs (travel management companies) and the legacy corporate tools (Amex GBT, Concur, Egencia…) .”
He claims TravelPerk’s one-stop business trip shop now has the world’s largest bookable inventory (“all the travel agent inventory but also booking.com, Expedia, Skyscanner, Airbnb… practically any flight/hotel on the internet — only we have that”).
Target users at this stage are SMEs (up to 1,500 employees), with tech and consulting currently its strongest verticals, though Meir says it “really runs the gamut”. While the current focus is Europe, with its leading markets being the UK, Germany and Spain.
TravelPerk’s business model is freemium — and its pitch is it can save customers more than a fifth in annual business travel costs vs legacy corporate tools/travel agents thanks to the lack of commissions, free customer support etc.
But it also offers a premium tier with additional flexibility and perks — such as corporate hotel rates and a travel agent service for group bookings — for those customers who do want to pay to upgrade the experience.
On the competition front the main rivals are “old corporate travel agencies and TMC”, according to Meir, along with larger players such as Egencia (by Expedia) and Concur (SAP company).
“There are a few startups doing what we are doing in the U.S. like TripActions, NexTravel, as well as some smaller ones that are popping up but are in an earlier stage,” he notes.
“Since our first round… TravelPerk has been experiencing some incredible growth compared to any tech benchmark I know,” he adds. “We’ve found a stronger product market fit than we imagined and grew much faster than planned. It seems like everyone is unhappy with the way they are currently booking and managing business travel. Which makes this a $1.25 trillion market, ready for disruption.”
The Series B will be put towards scaling “fast”, with Meir arguing that TravelPerk has landed upon a “rare opportunity” to drive the market.
“Organic growth has been extremely fast and we have an immediate opportunity to scale the business fast, doing what we are doing right now at a bigger scale,” he says.
Commenting in a statement, Antoine Nussenbaum, partner at Felix Capital, also spies a major opportunity. “The corporate travel industry is one of the largest global markets yet to be disrupted online. At Felix Capital we have a high conviction about a new era of consumerization of enterprise software,” he says.
While Target Global general partner Shmuel Chafets describes TravelPerk as “very well positioned to be a market leader in the business travel space with a product that makes business travel as seamless and easy as personal travel”.
“We’re excited to support such an experienced and dedicated team that has a strong track record in the travel space,” he adds in a supporting statement. “TravelPerk is our first investment in Barcelona. We believe in a pan-European startup ecosystem and we look forward to seeing more opportunities in this emerging startup hub.”
Flush with fresh funding, the team’s next task is even more recruitment. “We’ll grow our teams all around with emphasis on engineering, operations and customer support. We’re also planning to expand, opening local offices in 4-5 new countries within the upcoming year and a half,” says Meir.
He notes the company has grown from 20 to 100 employees over the past 12 months already but adds that it will continue “hiring aggressively”.
Posted by Richy George on 10 April, 2018This post was originally published on this site
There’s a new venture fund in town from some familiar faces.
Carey Lai, who previously worked at Intel Capital and IVP, is joining forces with Paul Yeh, formerly of Kleiner Perkins.
They’re calling it Conductive Ventures and it’s launching with $100 million under management. They’ll be investing in “expansion stage” companies across enterprise software and hardware categories, meaning Series A, Series B and beyond.
Check sizes will be between $2 million and $7 million dollars. They expect to invest in 10-15 companies for this first fund.
Conductive will be looking for “early product market fit with customer success,” Lai told TechCrunch. Then the plan is to “help them grow their businesses abroad.”
It’s not a corporate venture arm, but Conductive has Panasonic as its sole LP. Because of this, there will be a special focus on helping North American startups expand into Asia, particularly Japan.
Lai and Yeh touted “connections to Foxconn” and also ties to Taiwan to help them succeed overseas.
They also said they want to be hands-on when it comes to growth. Conductive will place an emphasis on improving margins, aiming to accelerate revenue and reduce costs.
The two were roommates when they were younger and think that they will get along especially well as an investment team.
So far, they’ve made four investments. There’s Ambiq Micro, a semiconductor manufacturer; CSC Generation, for consumer leasing; Desktop Metal, in 3D printing; and Sprinklr, for customer experience management. Lai has served on the board of Sprinklr. They hope to continue to take board seats.
Not to get ahead of things, but they are already thinking about fund two. Yeh said that it will be in “a couple years” and “slightly higher, slightly bigger” in size.
Posted by Richy George on 10 April, 2018This post was originally published on this site
Splunk has always been known as a company that can sift through oodles of log or security data and help customers surface the important bits. Today, it announced it was going to try to apply that same skill set to Industrial Internet of Things data.
IIoT is data found in manufacturing settings, typically come from sensors on the factory floor giving engineers and plant managers data about the health and well-being of the machines running in the facility. Up until now, that data hasn’t had a modern place to live. Traditionally, companies pull the data into Excel and try to slice and dice it to find the issues
Splunk wants to change that with Splunk Industrial Asset Intelligence (IAI). The latest product pulls data from a variety of sources where it can be presented to management and engineers with the information they need to see along with critical alerts.
The new product takes advantage of some existing Splunk tools being built on top of Splunk Enterprise, but instead of processing data coming from IT systems, it’s looking at Industrial Control Systems (ICS), sensors, SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems and applications and pulling all that data together and presenting it to the key constituencies in a dashboard.
It is not a simple matter, however, to set up these dashboards, pull the data from the various data sources, some of which may be modern and some quite old, and figure out what’s important for a particular customer. Splunk says it has turned to systems integrators to help with that part of the implementation.
Splunk understands data, but it also recognizes working in the manufacturing sector is new territory for them, so they are looking to SIs with expertise in manufacturing to help them work with the unique requirements of this group. But it’s still data says Ammar Maraqa. Splunk SVP of Business Operations And Strategy and General Manager of IoT Markets
“If you step back at the end of the day, Splunk is able to ingest and correlate heterogeneous sets of data to provide a view into what’s happening in their environments,” Maraqa said.
With today’s announcement, Splunk Industrial Asset Intelligence exits Beta for a limited release. It should be generally available sometime in the Fall.
Posted by Richy George on 9 April, 2018This post was originally published on this site
UK startup Juro, which is applying a “design centric approach” and machine learning tech to help businesses speed up the authoring and management of sales contracts, has closed $2m in seed funding led by Point Nine Capital.
Prior investor Seedcamp also contributed to the round. Juro is announcing Taavet Hinrikus (TransferWise’s co-founder) as an investor now too, as well as Michael Pennington (Gumtree co-founder) and the family office of Paul Forster (co-founder of Indeed.com).
Back in January 2017 the London-based startup closed a $750,000 (£615k) seed round, though CEO and co-founder Richard Mabey tells us that was really better classed as an angel round — with Point Nine Capital only joining “late” in the day.
“We actually could have strung it out to Series A,” he says of the funding that’s being announced now. “But we had multiple offers come in and there is so much of an explosion in demand for the [machine learning] that it made sense to do a round now rather than wait for the A. The whole legal industry is undergoing radical change and we want to be leading it.”
Juro’s SaaS product is an integrated contracts workflow that combines contract creation, e-signing and commenting capabilities with AI-powered contract analytics.
Its general focus is on customers that have to manage a high volume of contacts — such as marketplaces.
The 2016-founded startup is not breaking out any customer numbers yet but says its client list includes the likes of Estee Lauder, Deliveroo and Nested. And Mabey adds that “most” of its demand is coming from enterprise at this point, noting it has “several tech unicorns and Fortune 500 companies in trial”.
While design is clearly a major focus — with the startup deploying clean-looking templates and visual cues to offer a user-friendly ‘upgrade’ on traditional legal processes — the machine learning component is its scalable, value-added differentiator to serve the target b2b users by helping them identify recurring sticking points in contract negotiations and keep on top of contract renewals.
Mabey tells TechCrunch the new funding will be used to double down on development of the machine learning component of the product.
“We’re not the first to market in contract management by about 25 years,” he says with a smilie. “So we have always needed to prove out our vision of why the incumbents are failing. One part of this is clunky UX and we’ve succeeded so far in replacing legacy providers through better design (e.g. we replace DocuSign at 80% of our customers).
“But the thing we and our investors are really excited about is not just helping businesses with contract workflow but helping them understand their contract data, auto-tag contracts, see pattens in negotiations and red flag unusual contract terms.”
While this machine learning element is where he sees Juro cutting out a competitive edge in an existing and established market, Mabey concedes it takes “quite a lot of capital to do well”. Hence taking more funding now.
“We need a level of predictive accuracy in our models that risk averse lawyers can get comfortable with and that’s a big ask!” he says.
Specifically, Juro will be using the funding to hire data scientists and machine learning engineers — building out the team at both its London and Riga offices. “We’re doing it like crazy,” adds Mabey. “For example, we just hired from the UK government Digital Service the data scientist who delivered the first ML model used by the UK government (on the gov.uk website).
“There is a huge opportunity here but great execution is key and we’re building a world class team to do it. It’s a big bet to grow revenue as quickly as we are and do this kind of R&D but that’s just what the market is demanding.”
Juro’s HQ remains in London for now, though Mabey notes its entire engineering team is based in the EU — between Riga, Amsterdam and Barcelona — “in part to avoid ‘Brexit risk’”.
“Only 27% of the team is British and we have customers operating in 12 countries — something I’m quite proud of — but it does leave us rather exposed. We’re very open minded about where we will be based in the future and are waiting to hear from the government on the final terms of Brexit,” he says when asked whether the startup has any plans to Brexit to Berlin.
“We always look beyond the UK for talent: if the government cannot provide certainty to our Romanian product designer (ex Kalo, Entrepreneur First) that she can stay in the UK post Brexit without risking a visa application, tbh it makes me less bullish on London!”
Posted by Richy George on 9 April, 2018This post was originally published on this site
In an interview last month Parker Harris and Marc Benioff told the story of how when they first launched the company, they were trying to raise money and nobody would give them a dime. Benioff said he went to every venture capital in Silicon Valley — and was turned down every single time.
This could be a lesson for every startup out there with a vision, who is not able to find conventional financing for your idea. Salesforce found the money, but it took one on one fundraising, rather than the traditional VC route.
The company famously launched in an apartment that Benioff rented, and he put up some of his own money to buy the company’s first computers. Then it was time to go downtown and ask the VCs for money and it did not go well.
“I had to go hat in hand, like I was a high tech beggar, down to Silicon Valley to raise some money…And as I go from venture capitalist to venture capitalist to venture capitalist — and a lot of them are my friends, people I’ve gone to lunch with — and each and every one of them said no,” Benioff said. “Salesforce was never able to raise a single dollar from a venture capitalist,” he added.
He suggested there were a lot of reasons for that including competitors who would call after his meetings and deliberately sabotage him or people who simply didn’t believe in the cloud as a vision of the future of software.
Whatever the reasons, Salesforce was eventually able to raise over $60 million from private individual investors, before going public in 2004. In the context of today’s venture capital environment, it is pretty tough to imagine a guy like Benioff not finding one taker, especially when you consider that he was not exactly an unknown quantity. And still no one would write him a check.
But this wasn’t now. It was in the late 1990s when nobody was thinking about cloud computing and the notion of software on the internet was a distant idea. Benioff was imagining something completely different and not one firm had the vision to see what was coming. Today, Salesforce is a $10 billion company and those folks that turned him down have to be wondering what they were thinking.
“When you start something like Salesforce, you want to surround yourself with people who do believe in you, who do believe you’re going to be successful because you’re going to have a whole bunch of people who are going to tell you that you’re not, Benioff said.
That’s something every entrepreneur should remember.
Posted by Richy George on 8 April, 2018This post was originally published on this site
Salesforce has always been a company that is looking ahead to the next big technology, whether that was mobile, social, internet of things or artificial intelligence. In an interview with Business Insider’s Julie Bort at the end of March, Salesforce co-founders Marc Benioff and Parker Harris talked about a range of subjects including how the company came to be working on one of the next hot technologies, a blockchain product.
Benioff told a story of being at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland where a bit of serendipity led him to start thinking about blockchain and how it could be used as part of the Salesforce family of products.
As it turned out, there was a crypto conference going on at the same time as the WEF and the two worlds collided at a Salesforce event at the Intercontinental Hotel. While there, one of the crypto conference attendees engaged Benioff in a conversation and it was the start of something.
“I had been thinking a lot about what is Salesforce’s strategy around blockchain, and what is Salesforce’s strategies around cryptocurrencies and how will we relate to all of these things,” Benioff said. He is actually a big believer in the power of serendipity, and he said just by having that conversation, it started him down the road to thinking more seriously about Salesforce’s role in this developing technology.
He said the more he thought about it, the more he believed that Salesforce could make use of Blockchain. Then suddenly something clicked for him and he saw a way to put blockchain and cryptocurrencies to work in Salesforce. “That’s kind of how it works and I hope by Dreamforce we will have a blockchain and cryptocurrency solution.”
Benioff is clearly a visionary and says a lot of that comes from simply paying attention as he did when he talked to this person in Davos, and recognizing an opportunity to expand Salesforce in a meaningful way. “A lot [these ideas] comes from paying attention, listening. There’s new ideas coming all the time,” he said. He recognizes that there are more ideas out there than they can possibly execute, but part of his job is understanding which ones are the most important for Salesforce customers.
Blockchain is the electronic ledger used to track Bitcoin or other digital currencies, but it also has a more general business role. As an irrefutable and immutable record, it can track just about anything of value.
Dreamforce is Salesforce’s enormous annual customer conference. It will be held this year from September 25-28 in San Francisco, and if it all works as planned, they could be announcing a blockchain product this year.
Posted by Richy George on 8 April, 2018This post was originally published on this site
The growth of Windows has slowed as Microsoft’s mobile platform goals have faded and the PC market matured. As a result, Microsoft has had to seek new revenue outside of its operating system.
In 2017, as part of that effort to grow, Microsoft announced a new subscription product called Microsoft 365, bringing together Windows, the company’s cloud-centered productivity suite Office 365 and enterprise tooling into a single package.
The introduction of Microsoft 365 presaged the company’s re-organization which, to quote CNBC, “rebuilt the company around the cloud instead of Windows.” This seems reasonable; if Windows isn’t going to return to growth, other services have to keep adding top line revenue. Microsoft’s evolution to a cloud-powered, services-focused company is therefore set to continue.
In the pursuit of new, non-Windows top line, Microsoft wagered that it could expand its “commercial cloud” revenue to a $20 billion run rate by the end of its fiscal 2018. It beat the goal, reaching the $20 billion mark far ahead of the calendar-equivalent date of mid-Summer of this year.
One of those products, Teams, is a component to Office 365 and part of what Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella called a “growth opportunity” that is “a lot bigger than anything [his company has] achieved.”
Today we’re going to explore Microsoft’s current actions in one part of the cloud productivity space through the lens of Teams.
Microsoft’s Teams product is a communications tool often compared to Slack . TechCrunch, for example, recently called the software service “Microsoft’s Slack competitor.” ComputerWorld, in a news item earlier this year, wrote that “Microsoft turn[ed] up [the] heat on Slack” when it announced new Teams features.
It goes on and on, allowing us to comfortably hold up Microsoft Teams as Redmond’s answer to Slack, a company famous for its quick growth, impressive mind share and its independent status from any major tech company. That last fact remains true despite rumored acquisition interest from Microsoft itself, along with pretty much every big company in the sector you can name.
To see Microsoft invest in its own tool that competes with Slack isn’t surprising. There is a large market for the product, and Redmond is loath to let any rival service cut in on its productivity revenue.
Therefore, if there is a hot productivity tool in the market and Microsoft isn’t going to buy it, it might as well build one of its own. Unsurprisingly, the company has been hard at work doing just that.
Joining a big company when you are a comparatively small company can be arduous.
News that Teams could release a free version made headlines. Teams also picked up guest access in February, its introduction of Cortana integration made it into mainstream tech publications and this week Microsoft announced new “retention policies” for Teams.
In short, Teams is adding new features while building its org chart and expanding access. All good things, certainly. However, it was not too long ago Microsoft spent quite a lot of money to buy a different, distinct collaboration tool. What happened to it?
Microsoft bought Yammer in 2012 for $1.2 billion, building out what TechCrunch called, at the time, its “Social Enterprise Strategy.” And while the Yammer-Microsoft deal was “great news” for the company and its investors, it also marked the beginning of the “tough part” for the newly acquired startup.
Joining a big company when you are a comparatively small company can be arduous. And if you do so when the larger company is undergoing a massive change in leadership (Microsoft hired a new CEO two years after the Yammer deal) and a business model change-up (Microsoft bought Nokia in 2014, also two years after the Yammer deal, before closing that strategic idea out years later), it’s probably even harder to integrate.
Externally, that difficulty showed. Following the Microsoft deal, Yammer search volume grew before stagnating and later slipping. The product was eventually switched on for free for Office 365 customers in early 2016, four years after it was purchased. Office 365 itself launched a half-decade before, making the moment a bit long in the works.
But all that is the past, and, notably, Microsoft is putting more emphasis on Yammer today than it has in recent years. That may feel odd, given what we just went over concerning Teams.
To dig into that, Crunchbase News got Microsoft’s Seth Patton on the phone, who explained the company’s thinking. According to the 15-year company veteran who now works on Office 365, Microsoft has two separate views for Teams and Yammer. Teams is built for what Patton calls inner-loop communication: stuff for teams, smaller companies and the like; Yammer, in contrast, is better for outer-loop communication: less tactical decisions and more company-wide communications.
The split between Slack and Teams products and the Yammers and Convos of the world isn’t hokum or mere corporate-speak. I’ve worked in newsrooms that used the mix of tools to allow for simple direct messaging between individuals (Slack) and team-wide threaded communications (Yammer). It takes a little getting used to, but it can flow well if you need that level of inter-party discussion.
Even more interesting than the fact that Yammer is not dead is that Microsoft is actively investing in it. According to Patton, Microsoft’s chiefs “doubled down” on Yammer while Teams was being brought into the market in late 2016. This gave Yammer about a year of redoubled investment and attention.
Taking all that together, Microsoft is investing in two communications products at the same time, both of which are baked into its productivity suite. So why the huge push now?
You are no doubt familiar with Slack’s growth arc. It’s been a nearly chronic narrative in tech for the past few years. And I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense. (I’m as guilty as anyone else.)
But, in case you have a life, here are some highlights: Slack reached ARR of $50 million in December of 2015. In October of 2016, Slack hit the $100 million ARR mark. Then the company bested $200 million last September. That’s darn quick, and investors took notice, showering the company with cash and ever-rising valuations.
One way to get acquired, after all, is to stick out by worrying the biggest companies in the market through growth.
Fueling Slack’s continued growth is a push into the realm of bigger companies. The firm launched Slack Enterprise Grid last January, bringing enterprise-grade management tools to Slack’s product. With Enterprise Grid, Slack can keep going after bigger accounts. (To that point, IBM has more than 200,000 active users on Slack that use Enterprise Grid.)
That quick growth has made Slack an acquisition target. One way to get acquired, after all, is to stick out by worrying the biggest companies in the market through growth. It’s just hard as heck to do, as incumbent revenue numbers are so large that, well, you have to grow fast to become interesting.
As we know, Slack has rebuffed acquisition offers. As a result, we’re seeing Microsoft, the dominant player in the world of productivity, attempt to slow down Slack in an effort to not lose future users and future dollars. Hell, even Google is in on the race. Its Slack competitor launched for early users in February. Facebook is also tinkering around the edges. It’s fun to watch.
But productivity is Microsoft’s cash cow. For Google, it’s a big side project, but nothing compared to its advertising revenue. That puts Microsoft and Slack more up against one another in the enterprise chat fight.
(In mid-March, Microsoft announced that 200,000 organizations now use Teams, up from 125,000 in September of 2017. That’s 60 percent growth in a half-year or so — a quick growth pace, too.)
What we’ll learn over the next few years is if Microsoft’s enormous enterprise channel can be leveraged enough to slow Slack’s growth, or if Slack’s momentum can actually capture a piece of the productivity market and hold onto it.
It’s a startup against a platform company, a classic enough battle. But with big tech bigger, richer and more powerful than ever, it’s a more relevant business case than we might think at first blush. More when one draws blood or Slack goes public.
Posted by Richy George on 5 April, 2018This post was originally published on this site
As more and more spending moves online — whether that’s shopping or subscribing to services like Netflix and Spotify — there’s increasing demand for tools that allow those companies, especially smaller ones, to start getting paid.
Stripe has made its name by providing developers with a simpler way to start charging customers and handling transactions, but today they hope to take another step by launching a billing product for online businesses. That’ll allow them to handle subscription recurring revenue, as well as invoicing, within the Stripe platform and get everything all in the same place. The goal was to replace a previously hand-built setup, whether using analog methods for invoicing or painstakingly putting together a set of subscription tools, and make that experience as seamless as charging for products on Stripe.
“These large enterprise companies have the resources to build internal recurring billing in house,” Tara Seshan, PM on the billing product, said. “Even then they would tell us what challenge it would be. What we did was took a step back and think about, how should this work, how can we make billing tools that are only available to enterprises be available to everyone. That meant something really flexible and really easy to implement. If you’re [running a small operation], you should have the same subscription tools as Spotify. What we have here is a set of building blocks so you get the speed and flexibility you need.”
Indeed, a lot of the Internet has slowly but surely shifted to a subscription model. There’s even a good chance that even the phone you have in your pocket is paid for in an annual subscription to amortize the big ticket price of that product over the course of several months. Larger companies have had these tools in place, but it’s a traditional very startup-y problem to just not have the resources to build them even by cobbling together online payments tools in order to get these running. Startups often have a long list of priorities, and they need to start generating revenue immediately if they want to continue growing.
This launch is, in part, a response to customers demanding a billing product that gets all these invoices and subscription expenses into a single spot. Stripe at its heart is an enterprise company, which means it has to keep close tabs on the needs of its customers while still balancing the needs to continue creating new products that small businesses didn’t realize would actually solve those problems in an elegant way. That’s especially true when it comes to Internet-oriented businesses, which are often changing their business models over time, Seshan said.
“Unlike something like Instagram or Facebook, where you’re doing analytics A/B testing voodoo to figure out what you should build, with Stripe, our businesses know what they want,” Seshan said. “They have clear requests, so we’re much more inclined to listen to our users as opposed to sitting in an ivory tower coming up with a strategy. As they look to add new products, that applies to the startup selling fast and iterating to the large tech companies about to launch a new subscription line or about to add a “for work” side of their product. What we saw often was that billing was the limiting factor to getting a product to market.”
In addition to all this, Stripe looks to apply the machine learning tools it’s created for things like fraud prevention into a new area of expertise. One example of this is figuring out when to intelligently retry a recurring billing charge, which may fail for any number of reasons. Stripe tries to get around problems like lost credit cards or anything along those lines to try to keep the experience as seamless as possible. Seshan said Stripe businesses that implement billing see a 10% increase in revenue — which, for flipping a switch, is pretty substantial.
As companies get bigger and bigger, they will also likely graduate beyond just a simple subscription. An enterprise software company, for example, will probably have to start targeting larger customers that have a salesforce and a different approach for implementing new technology. That means getting invoice-level revenue, which has different implementation requirements than just normal subscription billing. In that case, it’s not like the CIO of a Fortune 100 company can just put a credit card number into a billing service, as those require more robust research and a partnership in place.
While this is a tool that’s a natural fit for something like Stripe, it’s certainly one that’s created a substantial business opportunity. Last month, Zuora — an enterprise subscription services company — filed to go public amid a fresh wave of enterprise IPOs that included Dropbox and Zscaler (and also, to a certain extent, Salesforce’s big acquisition of Mulesoft). Zuora’s subscription services revenue continues to grow, showing that Stripe will certainly have competition here, but also that there’s a large market opportunity.
“We want to think about Stripe as growing the economic infrastructure to increase the GDP of the Internet,” Seshan said. “What we noticed is, we invested in marketplaces in the past, but we’re investing in the next wave of software-as-a-service businesses. We want to power that next trend, and it’s gonna accelerate in the year ahead. We’re really thrilled to power that with billing and subscriptions and we want to make that available to companies with all sizes.”
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