Category Archives: Tech News

A SonicWall cloud bug exposed corporate networks to hackers

Posted by on 2 September, 2020

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A newly discovered bug in a cloud system used to manage SonicWall firewalls could have allowed hackers to break into thousands of corporate networks.

Enterprise firewalls and virtual private network appliances are vital gatekeepers tasked with protecting corporate networks from hackers and cyberattacks while still letting in employees working from home during the pandemic. Even though most offices are empty, hackers frequently look for bugs in critical network gear in order to break into company networks to steal data or plant malware.

Vangelis Stykas, a researcher at security firm Pen Test Partners, found the new bug in SonicWall’s Global Management System (GMS), a web app that lets IT departments remotely configure their SonicWall devices across the network.

But the bug, if exploited, meant any existing user with access to SonicWall’s GMS could create a user account with access to any other company’s network without permission.

From there, the newly created account could remotely manage the SonicWall gear of that company.

In a blog post shared with TechCrunch, Stykas said there were two barriers to entry. Firstly, a would-be attacker would need an existing SonicWall GMS user account. The easiest way — and what Stykas did to independently test the bug — was to buy a SonicWall device.

The second issue was that the would-be attacker would also need to guess a unique seven-digit number associated with another company’s network. But Stykas said that this number appeared to be sequential and could be easily enumerated, one after the other.

Once inside a company’s network, the attacker could deliver ransomware directly to the internal systems of their victims, an increasingly popular tactic for financially driven hackers.

SonicWall confirmed the bug is now fixed. But Stykas criticized the company for taking more than two weeks to patch the vulnerability, which he described as “trivial” to exploit.

“Even car alarm vendors have fixed similar issues inside three days of us reporting,” he wrote.

A SonicWall spokesperson defended the decision to subject the fix to a “full” quality check before it was rolled out, and said it is “not aware” of any exploitation of the vulnerability.

Google Cloud lets businesses create their own text-to-speech voices

Posted by on 1 September, 2020

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Google launched a few updates to its Contact Center AI product today, but the most interesting one is probably the beta of its new Custom Voice service, which will let brands create their own text-to-speech voices to best represent their own brands.

Maybe your company has a well-known spokesperson for example, but it would be pretty arduous to have them record every sentence in an automated response system or bring them back to the studio whenever you launch a new product or procedure. With Custom Voice, businesses can bring in their voice talent to the studio and have them record a script provided by Google. The company will then take those recordings and train its speech models based on them.

As of now, this seems to be a somewhat manual task on Google’s side. Training and evaluating the model will take “several weeks,” the company says and Google itself will conduct its own tests of the trained model before sending it back to the business that commissioned the model. After that, the business must follow Google’s own testing process to evaluate the results and sign off on it.

For now, these custom voices are still in beta and only American English is supported so far.

It’s also worth noting that Google’s review process is meant to ensure that the result is aligned with its internal AI Principles, which it released back in 2018.

Like with similar projects, I would expect that this lengthy process of creating custom voices for these contact center solutions will become mainstream quickly. While it will just be a gimmick for some brands (remember those custom voices for stand-alone GPS systems back in the day?), it will allow the more forward-thinking brands to distinguish their own contact center experiences from those of the competition. Nobody likes calling customer support, but a more thoughtful experience that doesn’t make you think you’re talking to a random phone tree may just help alleviate some of the stress at least.

InCountry raises $18M more to help SaaS companies store data locally

Posted by on 1 September, 2020

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We’re seeing a gradual expansion of national regulations that require data from SaaS applications to be stored locally, in the country where it’s sourced and used. Today a startup that’s built a service around that need — specifically, data residency-as-a-service — is announcing some funding to continue building out its company amid strong demand.

InCountry, which provides a set of solutions — comprising software as well as some consultancy — that helps companies comply with local regulations when adopting SaaS products, has raised $18 million in funding.

This is technically an extension to its Series A, but in keeping with the growth of its business, it comes with a big bump to its valuation: the startup is now valued at “north” of $150 million. Founder and CEO Peter Yared said this is more than double the valuation in its previous round a little over a year ago

The money is coming from a mix of strategic and financial investors. It’s being led by by Caffeinated Capital and Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala, with participation from new investor Accenture Ventures and previous investors Arbor Ventures, Felicis, Ridge Ventures, Bloomberg Beta, and Team Builder Ventures. Accenture is one of InCountry’s key channel partners, reselling the software as part of bigger data management and integration contracts, Yared tells me.

The company has seen a decent bump in its business in the last year, expanding to 90 countries from 65 where it provides guidance and services to store and use data in compliance with legal requirements. Alongside that it has an increasingly long list of software packages that it covers with its products. The list currently includes Salesforce, ServiceNow, Twilio, Mambu and Segment, with customers including a large list of enterprises including stock exchanges, banks, and pharmaceutical companies.

“This company was based off a crazy thesis,” Yared said with an almost incredulous laugh (he has a very jocular way of talking, even when he’s being serious). “Now it’s 20 months old, and our customers are banks, pharma giants, stock exchanges. We are proud that large institutions can trust us.”

A big bump in its business in recent times has been in Asia Pacific and the Middle East, which are two main regions when it comes to data residency regulations and therefore ripe ground for winning new customers — one reason why Mubadala is part of this round, Yared said.

“At Mubadala we are committed to backing visionary founders whose innovations fuel economies,” said Ibrahim Ajami, Head of Ventures at Mubadala Capital. “Since day one, InCountry’s cloud solution has addressed a massive challenge in this era of regulation by giving businesses the tools to grow internationally while remaining compliant with data residency regulations. We’re doubling down on our investment and are supporting InCountry’s expansion into the MENA region because we believe they are the best team to help drive global business forward.”

Partly due to the growing ubiquity, flexibility and relatively cheap cost of cloud computing, software as a service  has been on a fast growth trajectory for years now. But even within that trend, it has had a huge boost in 2020, as a result of the global health pandemic.

COVID-19 has given the need for remote computing, and being able to access data wherever you happen to be — which in many cases today is no longer in your usual office space — and on top of that we have a lot more “wiggle room” in business, with organizations quickly scaling up and down with demand.

The knock on effect has been a big boost for SaaS. But that growth has come with some caveats, and one of the biggest alongside security has been around data protection, and specifically national requirements in how data is stored and used. Arguably, SaaS companies have been more concerned with scaling their software and business funnels than they have been with how data is handled and how that has changed in keeping with local regulations, and that’s the opportunity that InCountry has stepped in to fill.

It provides not just a set of software to store and handle data in a secure way, but also an extensive list of legal advisors with expertise at the local level to help companies get their data policies in order. It’s an interesting model: while InCountry’s been an early mover in identifying this market opportunity and building technology to address it, it’s buffered its competitive position not with a sole focus on technology, but an extensive amount of human capital to get each implementation right.

That can prove to be a costly thing to get wrong. In the EU in July, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) put down the EU-US Privacy Shield — a framework that let businesses transfer personal data between the European Union and the United States while ensuring compliance with data protection regulations. This has impacted some 5,000 companies, which now have to rethink how they handle their data. The fine for not complying with storing data locally means that they can be fined up to 4% of their revenues.

Yared tells me that for now, the main competitor to something like InCountry has been companies building their own policies in house. Some of those solutions would have been done completely in house and some in partnership with integrators, but all of them were hard to scale and were painful to maintain, one reason why companies and their business partners are turning to working with his startup.

“Accenture Ventures is pleased to support InCountry as it continues to expand globally,” said Tom Lounibos, Managing Director, Accenture Ventures, in a statement. “InCountry’s software solutions are helping companies address the critical issue of becoming and remaining compliant with a multitude of data residency laws. This expansion will help support enterprises as they unlock their business across borders.”

Fresh off $200M Series D, Gong acquires early stage startup Vayo

Posted by on 1 September, 2020

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Gong announced a $200 million Series D investment just last month, and loaded with fresh cash, the company wasted no time taking advantage. Today, it announced it was buying early stage Isreali sales technology startup Vayo. The companies did not share terms of the deal, but Gong CEO Amit Bendov said the deal closed a couple of weeks ago.

The two companies match up quite well from a tech standpoint. While Gong searches unstructured data like emails and phone call transcripts and finds nuggets of data, Vayo looks at structured data, which is essentially the output of the Gong search process. What’s more, it handles large amounts of data at scale.

“Vayo helps find customer interactions at a large scale to identify trends like customers likely to churn or usage is going up, or your deals are starting to slow down — and they do this for structured data at scale,” Bendov told TechCrunch.

He said this ability to identify trends was really what attracted him to the company, even though it was still at an early stage of development. “It’s a perfect fit for Gong. We take unstructured data —  emails, audio calls video calls — and extract insights. Customers, especially with a large organization, don’t want to see individual interactions but high order insights […] and they’ve developed [a solution] to identify trends on large data volumes for customer interactions,” he said.

Vayo was founded in 2018 and raised $1.7 million in seed capital, according to Crunchbase. Joining forces with Gong gives them an opportunity to develop the technology inside a company that’s growing quickly and is extremely well capitalized having raised over $300 million in the last 18 months.

Avshi Avital, CEO at Vayo, who has joined Gong with his 4-fellow employees, gave a familiar argument for selling the company. “With Gong we found the perfect partner to realize this mission faster and maximize the impact of the technology we built given the scale of their customer base and growth potential,” he said.

The plan is to fold the Vayo tech into the Gong platform, a process that will take 3-6 months, according to Bendov.

12 Paris-based VCs look at the state of their city

Posted by on 1 September, 2020

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Four years after the Great Recession, France’s newly elected socialist president François Hollande raised taxes and increased regulations on founder-led startups. The subsequent flight of entrepreneurs to places like London and Silicon Valley portrayed France as a tough place to launch a company. By 2016, France’s national statistics bureau estimated that about three million native-born citizens had moved abroad.

Those who remained fought back: The Family was an early accelerator that encouraged French entrepreneurs to adopt Silicon Valley’s startup methodology, and the 2012 creation of Bpifrance, a public investment bank, put money into the startup ecosystem system via investors. Organizers founded La French Tech to beat the drum about native startups.

When President Emmanuel Macron took office in May 2017, he scrapped the wealth tax on everything except property assets and introduced a flat 30% tax rate on capital gains. Station F, a giant startup campus funded by billionaire entrepreneur Xavier Niel on the site of a former railway station, began attracting international talent. Tony Fadell, one of the fathers of the iPod and founder of Nest Labs, moved to Paris to set up investment firm Future Shape; VivaTech was created with government backing to become one of Europe’s largest startup conference and expos.

Now, in the COVID-19 era, the government has made €4 billion available to entrepreneurs to keep the lights on. According to a recent report from VC firm Atomico, there are 11 unicorns in France, including BlaBlaCar, OVHcloud, Deezer and Veepee. More appear to be coming; last year Macron said he wanted to see “25 French unicorns by 2025.”

According to Station F, by the end of August, there had been 24 funding rounds led by international VCs and a few big transactions. Enterprise artificial intelligence and machine-learning platform Dataiku raised a $100 million Series D round, and Paris-based gaming startup Voodoo raised an undisclosed amount from Tencent Holdings.

We asked 12 Paris -based investors to comment on the state of play in their city:

Alison Imbert, Partech

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?

All the fintechs addressing SMBs to help them to focus more on their core business (including banks disintermediation by fintech, new infrastructures tech that are lowering the barrier to entry to nonfintech companies).

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?

77foods (plant-based bacon) — love that alternative proteins trend as well. Obviously, we need to transform our diet toward more sustainable food. It’s the next challenge for humanity.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Impact investment: Logistic companies tackling the life cycle of products to reduce their carbon footprint and green fintech that reinvent our spending and investment strategy around more sustainable products.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
D2C products.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
100% investing in France as I’m managing Paris Saclay Seed Fund, a €53 million fund, investing in pre-seed and seed startups launched by graduates and researchers from the best engineering and business schools from this ecosystem.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Deep tech, biotech and medical devices. Paris, and France in general, has thousands of outstanding engineers that graduate each year. Researchers are more and more willing to found companies to have a true impact on our society. I do believe that the ecosystem is more and more structured to help them to build such companies.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Paris is booming for sure. It’s still behind London and Berlin probably. But we are seeing more and more European VC offices opening in the city to get direct access to our ecosystem. Even in seed rounds, we start to have European VCs competing against us. It’s good — that means that our startups are moving to the next level.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
For sure startups will more and more push for remote organizations. It’s an amazing way to combine quality of life for employees and attracting talent. Yet I don’t think it will be the majority. Not all founders are willing/able to build a fully remote company. It’s an important cultural choice and it’s adapted to a certain type of business. I believe in more flexible organization (e.g., tech team working remotely or 1-2 days a week for any employee).

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
Travel and hospitality sectors are of course hugely impacted. Yet there are opportunities for helping those incumbents to face current challenges (e.g., better customer care and services, stronger flexibility, cost reduction and process automation).

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Cash is king more than ever before. My only piece of advice will be to keep a good level of cash as we have a limited view on events coming ahead. It’s easy to say but much more difficult to put in practice (e.g., to what extend should I reduce my cash burn? Should I keep on investing in the product? What is the impact on the sales team?). Startups should focus only on what is mission-critical for their clients. Yet it doesn’t impact our seed investments as we invest pre-revenue and often pre-product.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
There is no reason to be hopeless. Crises have happened in the past. Humanity has faced other pandemics. Humans are resilient and resourceful enough to adapt to a new environment and new constraints.

Salesforce beefing up field service offering with AI

Posted by on 1 September, 2020

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Salesforce has been adding artificial intelligence to all parts of its platform for several years now. It calls the underlying artificial intelligence layer on the Salesforce platform Einstein. Today the company announced some enhancements to its field service offering that take advantage of this capability.

Eric Jacobson, VP of product management at Salesforce says that when COVID hit, it pretty much stopped field service in its tracks during April, but like many other parts of business, it began to pick up again later in the quarter, and people still needed to have their appliances maintained.

“Even though we’re sheltering in place, the physical world still has physical needs. Hospitals still have to maintain their equipment. Employees still need to have equipment replaced or repaired while working at home, and people still need their washing machine [or other appliances] repaired,” Jacobson said.

Today’s announcements are designed in some ways for a COVID world where efficiency is more critical than ever. That means the field service tech needs to be prepared ahead of time on all of the details of the nature of the repair. He or she has to have the right parts and customers need to know when their technician will be there.

While it’s possible to do much of that in a manual fashion, adding a dose of AI helps streamline and scale that process. For starters, the company announced Dynamic Priority. Certainly humans are capable of prioritizing a list of repairs, but by letting the machine set priority based on factors like service agreement type or how critical the repair is, it can organize calls much faster, leaving dispatchers to handle other tasks.

Even before the day starts, technicians receive their schedule and using machine learning, can determine what parts they are most likely to need in the truck for the day’s repairs. Based on the nature of the repair and the particular make and model of machine, the Einstein Recommendation Builder can help predict the parts that will be needed to minimize the number of required trips, something that is important at all times, but especially during a pandemic.

“It’s always been an inconvenience and annoyance to have somebody come back for a follow up appointment. But now it’s not just an annoyance, it’s actually a safety consideration for you and for the technician because it’s increased exposure,” Jacobson explained

Salesforce also wants to give the customer the same capability, they are used to getting in a ride share app, where you can track the progress of the driver to your destination. Appointment Assistant, a new app gives customers this ability, so they know when to expect the repair person to arrive.

Finally, Salesforce has teamed with ServiceMax to offer a new capability to get the big picture view of an asset with the goal of ensuring uptime, particularly important in settings like hospitals or manufacturing. “We’ve partnered with a long-time Salesforce partner ServiceMax to create a brand new offering that takes industry best practice and builds it right in. Asset 360 builds on top of Salesforce field service and delivers those specific capabilities around asset performance insight, viewing and managing up time and managing warranty processes to really ensure availability,” he said.

As with all Salesforce announcements, the availability of these capabilities will vary as each in various forms of development. “Dynamic Priority will be generally available in October 2020. Einstein Recommendation Builder will be in beta in October 2020. Asset 360 will be generally available in November 2020. Appointment Assistant will be in closed pilot in US in October 2020,” according to information provided by the company.

InfoSum raises $15.1M for its privacy-first, federated approach to big data analytics

Posted by on 1 September, 2020

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Data protection and data privacy have gone from niche concerns to mainstream issues in the last several years, thanks to new regulations and a cascade of costly breaches that have laid bare the problems that arise when information and data security are treated haphazardly.

Yet that swing has also thrown up a whole series of issues for organisations and business functions that depend on sharing and exchanging data in order to work. Today, a startup that has built a new way of exchanging data while still keeping privacy in mind — starting first by applying the concept to the “marketing industrial complex” — is announcing a round of funding as it continues to pick up momentum.

InfoSum, a London startup that has built a way for organizations to share their data with each other without passing it on to each other — by way of a federated, decentralized architecture that uses mathematical representations to organise, “read” and query the data — is today announcing that it has raised $15.1 million.

Data may be the new oil, but according to founder and CEO Nick Halstead, that just means “it’s sticky and gets all over the place.” That is to say, InfoSum is looking for a new way to use data that is less messy, and less prone to leakage, and ultimately devaluation.

The Series A is being co-led by Upfront Ventures and IA Ventures. A number of strategics using InfoSum — Ascential, Akamai, Experian, British broadcaster ITV and AT&T’s Xandr — are also participating in the round. The startup has raised $23 million to date.

Nicholas Halstead, the founder and CEO who previously had founded and led another big data company, DataSift (the startup that gained early fame as a middleman for Twitter’s firehose of data, until Twitter called time on that relationship to push its own business strategy), said in an interview that the plan is to use the funding to continue fuelling its growth, with a specific focus on the US market.

To that end, Brian Lesser — the founder and former CEO of Xandr (AT&T’s adtech business that is now a part of AT&T’s WarnerMedia), and previous to that the North American CEO of GroupM — is joining the company as executive chairman. Lesser had originally led Xandr’s investment into InfoSum and had previously been on the board of the startup.

InfoSum got its start several years ago as CognitiveLogic, founded at a time when Halstead was first starting to get his head around the problems that were becoming increasingly urgent in how data was being used by companies, and how newer information architecture models using data warehousing and cloud computing could help solve that.

“I saw the opportunity for data collaboration in a more private way, helping enable companies to work together when it came to customer data,” he said. This eventually led to the company releasing its first product two years ago.

In the interim, and since then, that trend, he noted, has only gained momentum, spurred by the rise of companies like Snowflake that have disrupted the world of data warehousing, cookies have started to increasingly go out of style (and some believe will disappear altogether over time), and the concept of federated architecture has become much more ubiquitous, applied to identity management and other areas.

All of this means that InfoSum’s solution today may be aimed at martech, but it is something that affects a number of industries. Indeed, the decision to focus on marketing technology, he said, was partly because that is the industry that Halstead worked most closely with at DataSift, although the plan is to expand to other verticals as well.

“We’ve done a lot of work to change the marketing industrial complex,” said Lesser, “but its bigger uses cases are in areas like finance and healthcare.”

Steno raises $3.5 million led by First Round to become an extension of law offices

Posted by on 28 August, 2020

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The global legal services industry was worth $849 billion dollars in 2017 and is expected to become a trillion dollar industry by the end of next year. Little wonder that Steno, an L.A.-based startup, wants a piece.

Like most legal services outfits, what it offers are ways for law practices to run more smoothly, including in a world where fewer people are meeting in conference rooms and courthouses and operating instead from disparate locations.

Steno first launched with an offering that centers on court reporting. It lines up court reporters, as well as pays them, removing both potential headaches from lawyers’ to-do lists.

More recently, the startup has added offerings like a remote deposition videoconferencing platform that it insists is not only secure but can manage exhibit handling and other details in ways meant to meet specific legal needs.

It also, very notably, has a lending product that enables lawyers to take depositions without paying until a case is resolved, which can take a year or two. The idea is to free attorneys’ financial resources — including so they can take on other clients — until there’s a payout. Of course, the product is also a potentially lucrative one for Steno, as are most lending products.

We talked earlier this week with the company, which just closed on a $3.5 million seed round led by First Round Capital (it has now raised $5 million altogether).

Unsurprisingly, one of its founders is a lawyer named Dylan Ruga who works as a trial attorney at an L.A.-based law group and knows first-hand the biggest pain points for his peers.

More surprising is his cofounder, Gregory Hong, who previously cofounded the restaurant reservation platform Reserve, which was acquired by Resy, which was acquired by American Express. How did Hong make the leap from one industry to a seemingly very different one?

Hong says he might not have gravitated to the idea if not for Ruga, who was Resy’s trademark attorney and who happened to send Hong the pitch behind Steno to get Hong’s advice. He looked it over as a favor, then he asked to get involved. “I just thought, ‘This is a unique and interesting opportunity’ and said, ‘Dylan, let me run this.’”

Today the 19-month-old startup now has 20 full-time employees and another 10 part-time staffers. One major accelerant to the business has been the pandemic, suggests Hong. Turns out tech-enabled legal support services become even more attractive when lawyers and everyone else in the ecosystem is socially distancing.

Hong suggests that Steno’s idea to marry its services with financing is gaining adherents, too, including amid law groups like JML Law and Simon Law Group, both of which focus largely on personal injury cases.

Indeed, Steno charges — and provides financing — on a per-transaction basis right now, even while its revenue is “somewhat recurring” in that its customers constantly have court cases.

Still, a subscription product is being considered, says Hong. So are other uses for its videoconferencing platform. In the meantime, says Hong, Steno’s tech is “built very well” for legal services, and that’s where it plans to remain focused.

Box benefits from digital transformation as it raises its growth forecast

Posted by on 27 August, 2020

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Box has always been a bit of an enigma for Wall Street and perhaps for enterprise software in general. Unlike vendors who shifted tools like HR, CRM or ERP to the cloud, Box has been building a way to manage content in the cloud. It’s been a little harder to understand than these other enterprise software stalwarts, but slowly but surely Box has shifted into a more efficient, and dare we say, profitable public company.

Yesterday the company filed its Q2021 earnings reports and it was solid. In fact, the company reported revenue of $192.3 million. That’s an increase of 11% year over year and it beat analyst’s expectations of $189.6 million, according to the company. Meanwhile the guidance looked good too moving from a range of $760 to $768 million for the year to a range of $767 to $770 million.

All of this points to a company that is finding its footing. Let’s not forget, Starboard Value bought a 7.5% stake in the company a year ago, yet the activist investor has mostly stayed quiet and Box seems to be rewarding its patience as the pandemic acts as a forcing function to move customers to the cloud faster– and that seems to be working in Box’s favor.

Let’s get profitable

Box CEO Aaron Levie has not been shy about talking about how the pandemic has pushed companies to move to the cloud much more quickly than they probably would have. He said as a digital company, he was able to move his employees to work from home and remain efficient because of tools like Slack, Zoom, Okta, and yes, Box were in place to help them do that.

All of that helped keep the business going, and even thriving, through the extremely difficult times the pandemic has wrought. “We’re fortunate about how we’ve been able to execute in this environment. It helps that we’re 100% SaaS, and we’ve got a great digital engine to perform the business,” he said.

He added, “And at the same time, as we’ve talked about, we’ve been driving greater profitability. So the efficiency of the businesses has also improved dramatically, and the result was that overall we had a very strong quarter with better growth than expected and better profitability than expected. As a result, we were able to raise our targets on both revenue growth and profitability for the rest of the year,” Levie told TechCrunch.

Let’s get digital

Box is seeing existing customers and new customers alike moving more rapidly to the cloud, and that’s working in its favor. Levie believes that companies are in the process of reassessing their short and longer term digital strategy right now, and looking at what workloads they’ll be moving to the cloud, whether that’s cloud infrastructure, security in the cloud or content.

“Really customers are going to be trying to find a way to be able to shift their most important data and their most important content to the cloud, and that’s what we’re seeing play out within our customer base,” Levie said.

He added,”It’s not really a question anymore if you’re going to go to the cloud, it’s which cloud are you going to go to. And we’ve obviously been very focused on trying to build that leading platform for companies that want to be able to move their data to a cloud environment and be able to manage it securely, drive workflows on it, integrate it across our applications and that’s what we’re seeing,” he said.

That translated into a 60% increase quarter over quarter on the number of large deals over $100,000, and the company crossed 100,000 customers globally on the platform in the most recent quarter, so the approach seems to be working.

Let’s keep building

As with Salesforce a generation earlier, Box decided to build its product set on a platform of services. It enabled customers to tap into these base services like encryption, workflow and metadata and build their own customizations or even fully functional applications by taking advantage of the tools that Box has already built.

Much like Salesforce president and COO Bret Taylor told TechCrunch recently, that platform approach has been an integral part of its success, and Levie sees it similarly for Box. calling it fundamental to his company’s success, as well.

“We would not be here without that platform strategy,” he said. “Because we think about Box as a platform architecture, and we’ve built more and more capabilities into that platform, that’s what is giving us this strategic advantage right now,” he said.

And that hasn’t just worked to help customers using Box, it also helps Box itself to develop new capabilities more rapidly, something that has been absolutely essential during this pandemic when the company has had to react quickly to rapidly changing customer requirements.

Levie is 15 years into his tenure as CEO of Box, but he still sees a company and a market that is just getting started. “The opportunity is only bigger, and it’s more addressable by our product and platform today than it has been at any point in our history. So I think we’re still in the very early stages of digital transformation, and we’re in the earliest stages for how document and content management works in this modern era.”

How Salesforce beat its own target to reach $20B run rate ahead of schedule

Posted by on 27 August, 2020

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Salesforce launched in 1999, one of the early adherents to what would eventually be called SaaS and cloud computing. On Tuesday, the company reached a huge milestone when it surpassed $5 billion in revenue, putting the SaaS giant on a $20 billion run rate for the first time.

Salesforce revenue has been on a firm upward trajectory for years now, but when the company reached $10 billion in revenue in November 2017, CEO Marc Benioff set the goal for $20 billion right then and there, and five years hence the company beat that goal pretty easily. Here’s what he said at the time:

“In fact as the fastest growing enterprise software company ever to reach $10 billion, we are now targeting to grow the company organically to more than $20 billion by fiscal year 2022 and we plan to do that to be the fastest enterprise software company ever to get to $20 billion,” Benioff said at the time.

There are lots of elements that have led to that success. As the Salesforce platform evolved, the company has also had an aggressive acquisition strategy, and companies are moving to the cloud faster than ever before. Yet Salesforce has been able to meet that lofty 2017 goal early, while practicing his own unique form of responsible capitalism in the midst of a pandemic.

The platform play

While there are many factors contributing to the company’s revenue growth, one big part of it is the platform. As a platform, it’s not only about providing a set of software tools like CRM, marketing automation and customer service, it’s also giving customers the ability to build solutions to meet their needs on top of that, taking advantage of the work that Salesforce has done to build its own software stack.

Bret Taylor, president and chief operating officer at Salesforce says the platform has played a huge role in the company’s success. “Actually our platform is behind a huge part of Salesforce’s momentum in multiple ways. One, which is one thing we’ve talked a lot about, is just the technology characteristics of the platform, namely that it’s low code and fast time to value,” he
said.

He added, “I would say that these low code platforms and the ability to stand up solutions quickly is more relevant than ever before because our customers are going to have to respond to changes in their business faster than ever before,” he said.

He pointed to nCino, a company built on top of Salesforce that went public last month as a prime example of this. The company was built on Salesforce, sold in the AppExchange marketplace and provides a way for banking customers to do business online, taking advantage of all that Salesforce has built to do that.

The acquisition strategy

Another big contributing factor to the company’s success is that beyond the core CRM product, it brought to the table way back in 1999, it has built a broad set of marketing, sales and service tools and as it has done that, it has acquired many companies along the way to accelerate the product road map.

The biggest of those acquisitions by far was the $15.7 billion Tableau deal, which closed just about a year ago. Taylor sees data fueling the push to digital we are seeing during the pandemic, and Tableau is a key part of that.

“Tableau is so strategic, both from a revenue and also from a technology strategy perspective,” he said. That’s because as companies make the shift to digital, it becomes more important than ever to help them visualize and understand that data in order to understand their customer’s requirements better.

“Fundamentally when you look at what a company needs to do to thrive in an all-digital world, it needs to be able respond to [rapid] changes, which means creating a culture around that data,” he said. This enables companies to respond more quickly to changes like new customer demands or shifts in the supply chain.

“All of that is about data, and I think the reason why Tableau grew so much this past quarter is that I think that the conversation around data when you’re digitizing your entire company and digitizing the entire economy, data is more strategic than it ever was,” he said.

With that purchase, combined with the $6.5 billion MuleSoft acquisition in 2018, the company feels like it has a way to capture and visualize data wherever it lives in the enterprise. “It’s worth noting how complementary MuleSoft and Tableau are together. I think of MuleSoft as unlocking all your enterprise data, whether it’s on a legacy system or a modern system, and Tableau enables us to understand it, and so it’s a really strategic overall value proposition because we can come up with a really complete solution around data,” Taylor said.

Capitalism with some heart

Benioff was happy to point out in an appearance on Mad Money Tuesday that even as he has made charity and volunteerism a core part of his organization, he has still delivered solid returns for his shareholders. He told Mad Money host Jim Cramer, “This is a victory for stakeholder capitalism. It shows you can do good and do well.” This is a statement he has made frequently in the past to show that you can be a good corporate citizen and give back to your community, while still making money.

Those values are what separates the company from the pack says Paul Greenberg, founder and principal analyst at 56 Group and author of CRM at the Speed of Light. “Salesforce’s genius, and a large part of the reason I don’t expect any serious slowdown in that extraordinary growth, is that they manage to align the technology business with corporate social responsibility in a way that makes them stand out from any other company,” Greenberg told TechCrunch.

Yesterday’s numbers come after Q12021 in which the company offered softer guidance as it was giving some of its customers, suffering from the impact of the pandemic, more financial flexibility. As it turns out, that didn’t seem to hurt them, and the guidance for next quarter is looking good too: $5.24 billion to $5.25 billion, up approximately 16% year over year, according to the company.

It’s worth noting that while Benioff pledged no new layoffs for 90 days at the start of the pandemic, with that time now ending, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that the company was planning to eliminate 1000 roles out of the organization’s 54,000 total employees, while giving those workers 60 days to find other roles in the company.

Getting to $20 billion

Certainly getting to that $20 billion run rate is significant, as is the speed with which they were able to achieve that goal, but Taylor sees an evolving company, one that is different than the one it was in 2017 when Benioff set that goal.

“I would say the reason we’ve been able to accelerate is through organic [growth], innovation and acquisitions to really build out this vision of a complete customer [picture]. I think it’s more important than ever before,” he said.

He says that when you look at the way the platform has changed, it’s been about bringing multiple customer experience capabilities together under a single umbrella, and giving customers the tools they need to build these out.

“I think we as a company have constantly redefined what customer relationship management means. It’s not just opportunity management for sales teams. It’s customer service, it’s eCommerce, it’s digital marketing, it’s B2B, it’s B2C. It’s. all of the above,” he said.

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