All posts by Richy George

Notivize makes it easier for non-technical teams to optimize app notifications

Posted by on 28 February, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

A new startup called Notivize aims to give product teams direct access to one of their most important tools for increasing user engagement — notifications.

The company has been testing the product with select customers since last year and says it has already sent hundreds of thousands of notifications. And this week, it announced that it has raised $500,000 in seed funding led by Heroic Ventures.

Notivize co-founder Matt Bornski has worked at a number of startups including AppLovin and Wink, and he said he has “so many stories I can tell you about the time it takes to change a notification that’s deeply embedded in your stack.”

To be clear, Bornski isn’t talking about a simple marketing message that’s part of a scheduled campaign. Instead, he said that the “most valuable” notifications (e.g., the ones that users actually respond to) are usually driven by activity in an app.

For example, it might sound obvious to send an SMS message to a customer once the product they’ve purchased has shipped, but Bornski said that actually creating a notification like that would normally require an engineer to write new code.

“There’s the traditional way that these things are built: The product team specs out that we need to send this email when this happens, or send this SMS or notification when this happens, then the engineering team will go in and find the part of the code where they detect that such a thing has happened,” he said. “What we really want to do is give [the product team] the toolkit, and I think we have.”

So with Notivize, non-coding members of the product and marketing team can write “if-then” rules that will trigger a notification. And this, Bornski said, also makes it easier to “A/B test and optimize your copy and your send times and your channels” to ensure that your notifications are as effective as possible.

He added that companies usually don’t build this for themselves, because when they’re first building an app, it’s “not a rational thing to invest your time and effort in when you’re just testing the market or you’re struggling for product market fit.” Later on, however, it can be challenging to “go in and rip out all the old stuff” — so instead, you can just take advantage of what Notivize has already built.

Bornski also emphasized that the company isn’t trying to replace services that provide the “plumbing” for notifications. Indeed, Notivize actually integrates with SendGrid and Twilio to send the notifications.

“The actual sending is not the core value [of what we do],” he said. “We’re improving the quality of what you’re paying for, of what you send.”

Notivize allows customers to send up to 100 messages per month for free. After that, pricing starts at $14.99 per month.

“The steady march of low-code and no-code solutions into the product management and marketing stack continues to unlock market velocity and product innovation,” said Heroic Ventures founder Michael Fertik in a statement. “Having been an early investor in several developer platforms, it is clear that Notivize has cracked the code on how to empower non-technical teams to manage critical yet complex product workflows.”

Posted Under: Tech News
Superhuman CEO Rahul Vohra on waitlists, freemium pricing and future products

Posted by on 28 February, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

The “Sent via Superhuman iOS” email signature has become one of the strangest flexes in the tech industry, but its influence is enduring, as the $30 per month invite-only email app continues to shape how a wave of personal productivity startups are building their business and product strategies.

I had a chance to chat with Superhuman CEO and founder Rahul Vohra earlier this month during an oddly busy time for him. He had just announced a dedicated $7 million angel fund with his friend Todd Goldberg (which I wrote up here) and we also noted that LinkedIn is killing off Sales Navigator, a feature driven by Rapportive, which Vohra founded and later sold in 2012. All the while, his buzzy email company is plugging along, amassing more interested users. Vohra tells me there are now more than 275,000 people on the waitlist for Superhuman.

Below is a chunk of my conversation with Vohra, which has been edited for length and clarity.


TechCrunch: When you go out to raise funding and a chunk of your theoretical user base is sitting on a waitlist, is it a little tougher to determine the total market for your product?

Rahul Vohra: That’s a good question. When we were doing our Series B, it was very easily answered because we’re one of a cohort of companies, that includes Notion and Airtable and Figma, where the addressable market — assuming you can build a product that’s good enough — is utterly enormous.

With my last company, Rapportive, there was a lot of conversation around, “oh, what’s the business model? What’s the market? How many people need this?” This almost never came up in any fundraising conversation. People were more like, “well, if this thing works, obviously the market is basically all of prosumer productivity and that is, no matter how you define it, absolutely huge.”

Posted Under: Tech News
Microsoft’s Cortana drops consumer skills as it refocuses on business users

Posted by on 28 February, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

With the next version of Windows 10, coming this spring, Microsoft’s Cortana digital assistant will lose a number of consumer skills around music and connected homes, as well as some third-party skills. That’s very much in line with Microsoft’s new focus for Cortana, but it may still come as a surprise to the dozens of loyal Cortana fans.

Microsoft is also turning off Cortana support in its Microsoft Launcher on Android by the end of April and on older versions of Windows that have reached their end-of-service date, which usually comes about 36 months after the original release.

As the company explained last year, it now mostly thinks of Cortana as a service for business users. The new Cortana is all about productivity, with deep integrations into Microsoft’s suite of Office tools, for example. In this context, consumer services are only a distraction, and Microsoft is leaving that market to the likes of Amazon and Google .

Because the new Cortana experience is all about Microsoft 365, the subscription service that includes access to the Office tools, email, online storage and more, it doesn’t come as a surprise that the assistant’s new feature will give you access to data from these tools, including your calendar, Microsoft To Do notes and more.

And while some consumer features are going away, Microsoft stresses that Cortana will still be able to tell you a joke, set alarms and timers, and give you answers from Bing.

For now, all of this only applies to English-speaking users in the U.S. Outside of the U.S., most of the productivity features will launch in the future.

Posted Under: Tech News
DocuSign acquires Seal Software for $188M to enhance its AI chops

Posted by on 27 February, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

Contract management service DocuSign today announced that it is acquiring Seal Software for $188 million in cash. The acquisition is expected to close later this year. DocuSign, it’s worth noting, previously invested $15 million in Seal Software in 2019.

Seal Software was founded in 2010, and, while it may not be a mainstream brand, its customers include the likes of PayPal, Dell, Nokia and DocuSign itself. These companies use Seal for its contract management tools, but also for its analytics, discovery and data extraction services. And it’s these AI smarts the company developed over time to help businesses analyze their contracts that made DocuSign acquire the company. This can help them significantly reduce their time for legal reviews, for example.

“Seal was built to make finding, analyzing, and extracting data from contracts simpler and faster,” DocuSign CEO John O’Melia said in today’s announcement. “We have a natural synergy with DocuSign, and our team is excited to leverage our AI expertise to help make the Agreement Cloud even smarter. Also, given the company’s scale and expansive vision, becoming part of DocuSign will provide great opportunities for our customers and partners.”

DocuSign says it will continue to sell Seal’s analytics tools. What’s surely more important to DocuSign, though, is that it will also leverage the company’s AI tools to bolster its DocuSign CLM offering. CLM is DocuSign’s service for automating the full contract life cycle, with a graphical interface for creating workflows and collaboration tools for reviewing and tracking changes, among other things. And integration with Seal’s tools, DocuSign argues, will allow it to provide its customers with a “faster, more efficient agreement process,” while Seal’s customers will benefit from deeper integrations with the DocuSign Agreement Cloud.

Posted Under: Tech News
Google Cloud’s newest data center opens in Salt Lake City

Posted by on 27 February, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

Google Cloud announced today that it’s a new data center in Salt Lake City has opened, making it the 22nd such center the company has opened to-date.

This Salt Lake City data center marks the third in the western region joining LA and Dalles, Oregon with the goal of providing lower latency compute power across the region.

“We’re committed to building the most secure, high-performance and scalable public cloud, and we continue to make critical infrastructure investments that deliver our cloud services closer to customers that need them the most,” said Jennifer Chason, director of Google Cloud Enterprise for the Western States and Southern California said in a statement.

Cloud vendors in general are trying to open more locations closer to potential customers. This is a similar approach taken by AWS when it announced its LA local zone at AWS re:Invent last year. The idea is to reduce latency by moving compute resources closer to the companies who need the, or to spread workloads across a set of regional resources.

Google also announced that PayPal, a company that was already a customer, has signed a multi-year contract, and will be moving parts of its payment systems into the western region. It’s worth noting that Salt Lake City is also home to a thriving startup scene that could benefit from having a data center located close by.

Google Cloud’s parent company Alphabet’s recently shared the cloud division’s quarterly earnings for the first time, indicating that it was on a run rate of more than $10 billion. While it still has a long way to go catch rivals Microsoft and Amazon, as it expands its reach in this fashion, it could help grow that market share.

Posted Under: Tech News
London-based Gyana raises $3.9M for a no-code approach to data science

Posted by on 27 February, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

Coding and other computer science expertise remain some of the more important skills that a person can have in the working world today, but in the last few years, we have also seen a big rise in a new generation of tools providing an alternative way of reaping the fruits of technology: “no-code” software, which lets anyone — technical or non-technical — build apps, games, AI-based chatbots, and other products that used to be the exclusive terrain of engineers and computer scientists.

Today, one of the newer startups in the category — London-based Gyana, which lets non-technical people run data science analytics on any structured dataset — is announcing a round of £3 million to fuel its next stage of growth.

Led by U.K. firm Fuel Ventures, other investors in this round include Biz Stone of Twitter, Green Shores Capital and U+I , and it brings the total raised by the startup to $6.8 million since being founded in 2015.

Gyana (Sanskrit for “knowledge”) was co-founded by Joyeeta Das and David Kell, who were both pursuing post-graduate degrees at Oxford: Das, a former engineer, was getting an MBA, and Kell was doing a Ph. D. in physics.

Das said the idea of building this tool came out of the fact that the pair could see a big disconnect emerging not just in their studies, but also in the world at large — not so much a digital divide, as a digital light year in terms of the distance between the groups of who and who doesn’t know how to work in the realm of data science.

“Everyone talks about using data to inform decision making, and the world becoming data-driven, but actually that proposition is available to less than one percent of the world,” she said.

Out of that, the pair decided to work on building a platform that Das describes as a way to empower “citizen data scientists,” by letting users upload any structured data set (for example, a .CSV file) and running a series of queries on it to be able to visualise trends and other insights more easily.

While the longer term goal may be for any person to be able to produce an analytical insight out of a long list of numbers, the more practical and immediate application has been in enterprise services and building tools for non-technical knowledge workers to make better, data-driven decisions.

To prove out its software, the startup first built an app based on the platform that it calls Neera (Sanskrit for “water”), which specifically parses footfall and other “human movement” metrics, useful for applications in retail, real estate and civic planning — for example to determine well certain retail locations are performing, footfall in popular locations, decisions on where to place or remove stores, or how to price a piece of property.

Starting out with the aim of mid-market and smaller companies — those most likely not to have in-house data scientists to meet their business needs — startup has already picked up a series of customers that are actually quite a lot bigger than that. They include Vodafone, Barclays, EY, Pret a Manger, Knight Frank and the UK Ministry of Defense. It says it has some £1 million in contracts with these firms currently.

That, in turn, has served as the trigger to raise this latest round of funding and to launch Vayu (Sanskrit for “air”) — a more general purpose app that covers a wider set of parameters that can be applied to a dataset. So far, it has been adopted by academic researchers, financial services employees, and others that use analysis in their work, Das said.

With both Vayu and Neera, the aim — refreshingly — is to make the whole experience as privacy-friendly as possible, Das noted. Currently, you download an app if you want to use Gyana, and you keep your data local as you work on it. Gyana has no “anonymization” and no retention of data in its processes, except things like analytics around where your cursor hovers, so that Gyana knows how it can improve its product.

“There are always ways to reverse engineer these things,” Das said of anonymization. “We just wanted to make sure that we are not accidentally creating a situation where, despite learning from anaonyised materials, you can’t reverse engineer what people are analysing. We are just not convinced.”

While there is something commendable about building and shipping a tool with a lot of potential to it, Gyana runs the risk of facing what I think of as the “water, water everywhere” problem. Sometimes if a person really has no experience or specific aim, it can be hard to think of how to get started when you can do anything. Das said they have also identified this, and so while currently Gyana already offers some tutorials and helper tools within the app to nudge the user along, the plan is to eventually bring in a large variety of datasets for people to get started with, and also to develop a more intuitive way to “read” the basics of the files in order to figure out what kinds of data inquiries a person is most likely to want to make.

The rise of “no-code” software has been a swift one in the world of tech spanning the proliferation of startups, big acquisitions, and large funding rounds. Companies like Airtable and DashDash are aimed at building analytics leaning on interfaces that follow the basic design of a spreadsheet; AppSheet, which is a no-code mobile app building platform, was recently acquired by Google; and Roblox (for building games without needing to code) and Uncorq (for app development) have both raised significant funding just this week. In the area of no-code data analytics and visualisation, there are biggies like Tableau, as well as Trifacta, RapidMiner and more.

Gartner predicts that by 2024, some 65% of all app development will be made on low- or no-code platforms, and Forrester estimates that the no- and low-code market will be worth some $10 billion this year, rising to $21.2 billion by 2024.

That represents a big business opportunity for the likes of Gyana, which has been unique in using the no-code approach specifically to tackle the area of data science.

However, in the spirit of citizen data scientists, the intention is to keep a consumer version of the apps free to use as it works on signing up enterprise users with more enhanced paid products, which will be priced on an annual license basis (currently clients are paying between $6,000 and $12,000 depending on usage, she said).

“We want to do free for as long as we can,” Das said, both in relation to the data tools and the datasets that it will offer to users. “The biggest value add is not about accessing premium data that is hard to get. We are not a data marketplace but we want to provide data that makes sense to access,” adding that even with business users, “we’d like you to do 90% of what you want to do without paying for anything.”

Posted Under: Tech News
As Block exits, Salesforce forecasts it will surpass $20B in revenue in FY2021

Posted by on 26 February, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

When Keith Block joined Salesforce from Oracle in 2013, the CRM giant was already a successful SaaS vendor on a billion dollar quarterly revenue cadence. When the co-CEO announced he was stepping down yesterday, the company reported revenue of $4.9 billion for the quarter.

During his tenure, the company’s revenue more than quadrupled, earning an impressive $17.1 billion last year, and as Block announced at the earnings call, the company he was leaving was forecasting revenue of $21 billion for FY2021.

Consider that it was not that long ago in May 2017 that we wrote about the company reaching the $10 billion mark. It’s perilously easy to get lost in these numbers, to take them for granted and think they don’t mean as much as they do. It’s hard work to build a billion SaaS business, never mind $10 billion or $20 billion.

Yet Salesforce is embarking on unchartered territory for a SaaS company. It’s approaching $20 billion in revenue for a single year.

Growth through acquisition

Granted the company keeps growing revenue by making big deals like buying Mulesoft for $6.5 billion in 2018 or Tableau for $15.7 billion in 2019, or just this week buying Vlocity for a mere $1.33 billion. That means the company spent more than $25 billion over a couple of years to buy substantial companies that help them build their business.

Block took a moment to brag a bit about his accomplishments including how some of those purchases performed during his swan song call with Salesforce, calling it a capstone of his time at Salesforce.

“In Q4, we grew 32% in the Americas, 28% in APAC and 47% in EMEA in constant currency. Now that includes our recent acquisitions. And at the close of FY 2020, the number of Salesforce customers spending $20 million annually grew 34%,” he said.

Think about that last number for just a minute. This a SaaS vendor with the number of customers spending $20 million growing by 34%. Block helped orchestrate that growth and worked with the executive team to help determine which companies it should be targeting.

At a press conference in 2016 at Dreamforce, he discussed Salesforce’s acquisition strategy. At the time, it had bought a 10 of 12 companies it would end up acquiring that year. It would buy only one in 2017, before revving up again 2018. Here’s what he said about what they look for in a company, as we reported in an article at the time:

“We look at culture. Will it be a good cultural fit? Is it a good product fit? Is there talent? Is there financial value? What are the risks of assimilating the company into our company,” Block explained.

What’s next for Block?

There is no word on what Block will do next beyond acting as an advisor to his former co-CEO Marc Benioff, who took time in the earnings call to thank his colleague for his time at Salesforce. As well, he should.

As Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst point out, Block leaves a big hole as he steps away. “If there is no equivalent replacement, you will see a significant impact in sales. Keith brought industries and sales discipline,” Wang told TechCrunch

It will be interesting to watch what he does next, and who, if anyone, will benefit from his vast experience helping to build the most successful pure SaaS company on the planet.

Posted Under: Tech News
Freshworks acquires AnsweriQ

Posted by on 26 February, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

Customer engagement platform Freshworks today announced that it has acquired AnsweriQ, a startup that provides AI tools for self-service solutions and agent-assisted use cases where the ultimate goal is to quickly provide customers with answers and make agents more efficient.

The companies did not disclose the acquisition price. AnsweriQ last raised a funding round in 2017, when it received $5 million in a Series A round from Madrona Venture Group.

Freshworks founder and CEO Girish Mathrubootham tells me that he was introduced to the company through a friend, but that he had also previously come across AnsweriQ as a player in the customer service automation space for large clients in high-volume call centers.

“We really liked the team and the product and their ability to go up-market and win larger deals,” Mathrubootham said. “In terms of using the AI/ML customer service, the technology that they’ve built was perfectly complementary to everything else that we were building.”

He also noted the client base, which doesn’t overlap with Freshworks’, and the talent at AnsweriQ, including the leadership team, made this a no-brainer.

AnsweriQ, which has customers that use Freshworks and competing products, will continue to operate its existing products for the time being. Over time, Freshworks, of course, hopes to convert many of these users into Freshworks users as well. The company also plans to integrate AnsweriQ’s technology into its Freddy AI engine. The exact branding for these new capabilities remains unclear, but Mathrubootham suggested FreshiQ as an option.

As for the AnsweriQ leadership team, CEO Pradeep Rathinam will be joining Freshworks as chief customer officer.

Rathinam told me that the company was at the point where he was looking to raise the next round of funding. “As we were going to raise the next round of funding, our choices were to go out and raise the next round and go down this path, or look for a complementary platform on which we can vet our products and then get faster customer acquisition and really scale this to hundreds or thousands of customers,” he said. Rathinam also noted that as a pure AI player, AnsweriQ had to deal with lots of complex data privacy and residency issues, so a more comprehensive platform like Freshworks made a lot of sense.

Freshworks has always been relatively acquisitive. Last year, the company acquired the customer success service Natero, for example. With the $150 million Series H round it announced last November, the company now also has the cash on hand to acquire even more customers. Freshworks is currently valued at about $3.5 billion and has 2,7000 employees in 13 offices. With the acquisition of AnsweriQ, it now also has a foothold in Seattle, which it plans to use to attract local talent to the company.

Posted Under: Tech News
Twilio 2010 board deck gives peek at now-public company’s early days

Posted by on 26 February, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

Twilio is best known for its communications API, which allows developers to add messaging, voice or video to their apps with just a small slice of code. The company’s tools are used by customers like Lyft, Airbnb, Salesforce, Box and Duke University.

The former startup went public in 2016 at $15 a share. Yesterday Twilio’s stock closed at $113.90, giving the company a market cap of about $15.6 billion (after a horrendous week on Wall Street). It’s easy to look at its value (among other measures) and declare Twilio a successful public company. But just like every former startup out there, its ascent wasn’t always so certain.

Founded in 2008, Twilio was once a tentative early-stage company feeling its way forward in the market with an unproven product and more future potential than actual results. Recently, the company’s CEO Jeff Lawson shared a Twilio board deck from March 2010.

Naturally, we read through it — how could we not? — but we also decided to analyze it for you, pulling out what we learned and using the snapshot of Twilio’s history to illustrate how far the company has come in the last decade.

The presentation’s original time stamp lands after Twilio’s Series A and just before its Series B, allowing us to see a company molting from a hatchling to something more sturdy that could stand on its own two feet. The company raised $12 million six months after the deck was presented.

To get everyone on the same page, we’ll start with a little history, and then get into the deck itself. Let’s go!

Where Twilio came from

Posted Under: Tech News
Stonly grabs $3.5 million to make customer support more interactive

Posted by on 26 February, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

Stonly is building a service for customer support teams so that they can share step-by-step guides to solve the most common issues. The startup just raised a $3.5 million funding round led by Accel with business angels also participating, such as Eventbrite CTO Renaud Visage and PeopleDoc founders Jonathan Benhamou and Clément Buyse.

The startup isn’t building a chatbot for customer support — chatbots usually don’t understand what you mean and you end up contacting customer support anyway. Stonly believes that scripted guides with multiple questions work much better than both chatbots and intimidating knowledge bases.

But the company is well aware that it isn’t going to replace Zendesk or Intercom overnight. That’s why a Stonly guide is a module that you can embed in your existing tools. The startup currently supports Intercom, Zendesk, Freshdesk and Front.

This way, if somebody contacts you on Front or Intercom, you can reply with a Stonly guide to help your users solve their own issues (at least if it’s a common issue). Stonly is also launching its own more traditional knowledge base powered by Stonly guides so that your client can access common questions through a chat widget.

Putting together a Stonly guide doesn’t require any technical skills. After defining the steps, you can write text, add images, videos and buttons in a web interface. Stonly also supports translations.

And it’s been working well for the startup’s first clients. For instance, Dashlane noticed a 25% decrease in opened tickets for their most frequent issues after using Stonly. Other clients include Devialet, Happn and Calendly.

With today’s funding round, the startup is expanding to the U.S. with a new office in New York and David Rostan joining as head of revenue — he was previously VP of Sales and Marketing at Calendly.

Posted Under: Tech News
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