Category Archives: Tech News

VCs bet $12M on Troops, a Slackbot for sales teams

Posted by on 4 June, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

Slack wants to be the new operating system for teams, something it has made clear on more than one occasion, including in its recent S-1 filing. To accomplish that goal, it put together an in-house $80 million venture fund in 2015 to invest in third-party developers building on top of its platform.

Weeks ahead of its direct listing on The New York Stock Exchange, it continues to put that money to work.

Troops is the latest to land additional capital from the enterprise giant. The New York-based startup helps sales teams communicate with a customer relationship management tool plugged directly into Slack. In short, it automates routine sales management activities and creates visibility into important deals through integrations with employee emails and Salesforce.

Troops founder and chief executive officer Dan Reich, who previously co-founded TULA Skincare, told TechCrunch he opted to build a Slackbot rather than create an independent platform because Slack is a rocket ship and he wanted a seat on board: “When you think about where Slack will go in the future, it’s obvious to us that companies all over the world will be using it,” he said.

Troops has raised $12 million in Series B funding in a round led by Aspect Ventures, with participation from the Slack Fund, First Round Capital, Felicis Ventures, Susa Ventures, Chicago Ventures, Hone Capital, InVision founder Clark Valberg and others. The round brings Troops’ total raised to $22 million.

Launched in 2015 by New York tech veterans Reich, Scott Britton and Greg Ratner, the trio weren’t initially sure of Slack’s growth trajectory. It wasn’t until Slack confirmed its intent to support the developer ecosystem with a suite of developer tools and a fund that the team focused its efforts on building a Slackbot.

“People sometimes thought of us, at least in the early days, as a little bit crazy,” Reich said. “But now Slack is the fastest-growing SaaS company ever.”

“We think the biggest opportunity in the [enterprise SaaS] category is going to be tools oriented around the customer-facing employee (CRM), and that’s where we are innovating,” he added.

Troops’ tools are helpful for any customer-facing team, Reich explains. Envoy, WeWork, HubSpot and a few hundred others are monthly paying subscribers of the tool, using it to interact with their CRM in a messaging interface and to receive notifications when a deal has closed. Troops integrates with Salesforce, so employees can use it to search records, schedule automatic reports and celebrate company wins.

Slack, in partnership with a number of venture capital funds, including Accel, Kleiner Perkins and Index, has also deployed capital to a number of other startups, like Lattice, Drafted and Loom.

With Slack’s direct listing afoot, the Troops team is counting on the imminent and long-term growth of the company’s platform.

“We think it’s still early days,” Reich said. “In the future, we see every company using something like Troops to manage their day-to-day.”

How Kubernetes came to rule the world

Posted by on 4 June, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

Open source has become the de facto standard for building the software that underpins the complex infrastructure that runs everything from your favorite mobile apps to your company’s barely usable expense tool. Over the course of the last few years, a lot of new software is being deployed on top of Kubernetes, the tool for managing large server clusters running containers that Google open sourced five years ago.

Today, Kubernetes is the fastest growing open-source project and earlier this month, the bi-annual KubeCon+CloudNativeCon conference attracted almost 8,000 developers to sunny Barcelona, Spain, making the event the largest open-source conference in Europe yet.

To talk about how Kubernetes came to be, I sat down with Craig McLuckie, one of the co-founders of Kubernetes at Google (who then went on to his own startup, Heptio, which he sold to VMware); Tim Hockin, another Googler who was an early member on the project and was also on Google’s Borg team; and Gabe Monroy, who co-founded Deis, one of the first successful Kubernetes startups, and then sold it to Microsoft, where he is now the lead PM for Azure Container Compute (and often the public face of Microsoft’s efforts in this area).

Google’s cloud and the rise of containers

To set the stage a bit, it’s worth remembering where Google Cloud and container management were five years ago.

Zuora Central lets developers build connected workflows across services

Posted by on 4 June, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

Zuora has been known throughout its 12-year history as a company that helps manage subscription-based businesses. Today, at its Subscribed San Francisco customer conference, it announced that it’s adding a new twist to the platform with a new service called Zuora Central.

The latest offering gives developers a workflow tool to build connections between systems that extend the given service using both Zuora’s service set and any external services that make sense. Tien Tzuo, founder and CEO at Zuora, sees this as a way for his customers to offer a set of integrated services that take advantage of the fact that these individual things are connected to the internet, whether that’s a car, an appliance, a garage door opener or a multi-million dollar medical device.

And this isn’t even necessarily about taking advantage of your smartphone, although it could include that. It’s about extending the device or service to automate a set of related tasks beyond the subscription service itself. “So you create a workflow diagram in Zuora Central, that’s going to convey all of the logic of this,” he said.

Zuora Central lets developers connect to both Zuroa services and external services. Diagram: Zuroa

As an example, Tzuo says imagine you are renting a car. You have reserved a Ford Focus, but when you get to the lot, you decide you want the Mustang convertible. You don’t have to pull out your phone. You simply walk up to the car and touch the handle. It understands who you are and begins to make a series of connections.There may be a call to unlock the car, a call to the music system to play your driving playlist on Spotify, a call to your car preferences that can set the seats and mirrors and so forth. All of this is possible because the car itself is connected to the internet.

Zuora workflow in action. Screenshot: Zuora

Under the hood, the workflow tool takes advantage of a number of different technologies to make all of this happen including a custom object model, an events and notifications system and a data query engine. All of these tools combine to let developers build these complex workflows and connect to a number of tasks, greatly enhancing the capabilities of the base Zuora platform.

As Tzuo sees it, it’s not unlike what happened when he was Chief Marketing Officer at Salesforce before starting Zuroa when they launched Force.com and the AppExchange as a way to allow developers to extend the Salesforce product beyond its base capabilities.

Tzuo also sees this platform play as a logical move for any company that aspires to be a billion dollar revenue company. The company has a ways to go in that regard. In its most recent report at the end of May, it reported $64.1 million in revenue for the quarter. Whether this new capability will do for Zuora what extending the platform did for Salesforce remains to be seen, but this is certainly a big step for the company.

Foursquare buys Placed from Snap Inc. on the heels of $150M in new funding

Posted by on 31 May, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

Foursquare just made its first acquisition. The location tech company has acquired Placed from Snap Inc on the heels of a fresh $150 million investment led by the Raine Group. The terms of the deal were not disclosed. Placed founder and CEO David Shim will become President of Foursquare.

Placed is the biggest competitor to Foursquare’s Attribution product, which allows brands to track the physical impact (foot traffic to store) of a digital campaign or ad. Up until now, Placed and Attribution by Foursquare combined have measured over $3 billion in ad-to-store visits.

Placed launched in 2011 and raised $13.4 million (according to Crunchbase) before being acquired by Snap Inc. in 2017.

As part of the deal with Foursquare, the company’s Attribution product will henceforth be known as Placed powered by Foursquare. The acquisition also means that Placed powered by Foursquare will have more than 450 measureable media partners, including Twitter, Snap, Pandora, and Waze. Moreover, more than 50 percent of the Fortune 100 are partnered with Placed or Foursquare.

It’s also worth noting that this latest investment of $150 million is the biggest financing round for Foursquare ever, and comes following a $33 million Series F last year.

Here’s what Foursquare CEO Jeff Glueck had to say about the financing in a prepared statement:

This is one of the largest investments ever in the location tech space. The investment will fund our acquisition and also capitalize us for our increased R&D and expansion plans, allowing us to focus on our mission to build the world’s most trusted, independent location technology platform.

That last bit, about an independent location technology platform, is important here. Foursquare is ten years old and has transformed from a consumer-facing location check-in app — a game, really — into a location analytics and development platform.

Indeed, when Glueck paints his vision for the company, he lists five key areas of focus:

  1. Developer Tools to build smarter apps and customer engagement, using geo-context;
  2. Analytics, including consumer insights for planning;
  3. Audiences, so businesses can reach the right consumer segments for their message;
  4. Attribution, to test and learn which messages, segments and channels work best;
  5. Consumer, where through our own apps and Foursquare Labs’ R&D efforts we showcase what’s possible and inspire developers via our innovations around contextual location.

You’ll notice that its consumer apps, Foursquare and Swarm, are at the bottom of the list. But that’s because Foursquare’s real technological and strategic advantage isn’t in building the best social platform. In fact, Glueck said that more than 90 percent of the company’s revenue came from the enterprise side of the business. Foursquare’s advantage is in the accuracy of its technology, as afforded by the decade of data that has come from Foursquare, Swarm, and the users who have expressly verified their location.

The Pilgrim SDK fits into that top item on the list: developer tools. The Pilgrim SDK allows developers to embed location-smart experiences and notifications into their apps and services. But it also expands Foursquare’s access to data from beyond its own apps to the greater ecosystem, yielding the data it needs to power analytics tools for brands and publishers.

With this acquisition, Placed will be able to leverage Foursquare’s existing map of 105 million places of interest across 190 countries, as well as tap into the measured U.S. audience of over 100 million monthly devices.

Foursquare and Placed share a similar philosophy of building against a truth set of real consumer responses. Getting real people to confirm the name of their location is the only way to know if your technology is accurate or not. Placed has leveraged over 135 million survey responses in its first-party Placed survey apps, all from consumers opted-in to its rewards app. Foursquare expands the truth set for machine learning exponentially by adding in our over 13 billion consumer confirmations.

The hope is that Foursquare is accurate enough to become the de facto location analytics and services company for measuring ad spend. With enough scale, that may allow the company to break into the walled gardens where most of that ad spend is going, Facebook and Google.

Of course, to win as the “world’s most trusted, independent location technology platform,” consumers have to trust the platform. After all, one’s location may be the most sensitive piece of data about them. Foursquare has taken steps to be clear about what its technology is capable of. In fact, at SXSW this year, Foursquare offered a limited run of a product called Hypertrending, which was essentially an anonymized view of real-time location data showing activity in the Austin area.

Here’s what Chairman of the Board and cofounder Dennis Crowley had to say at the time:

We feel the general trend with internet and technology companies these days has been to keep giving users a more and more personalized (albeit opaquely personalized) view of the world, while the companies that create these feeds keep the broad “God View” to themselves. Hypertrending is one example of how we can take Foursquare’s aggregate view of the world and make it available to the users who make it what it is. This is what we mean when we talk about “transparency” – we want to be honest, in public, about what our technology can do, how it works, and the specific design decisions we made in creating it.

With regards to today’s acquisition of Placed, Jeff Glueck had this to say:

Both companies also share a commitment to privacy and consumers being in control. Our Foursquare credo of “data as a privilege” only deepens as our company expands. We believe location should only be shared when consumers can see real value and visible benefits driven by location. We remain dedicated to elevating the industry through respect for transparency, user control, and instituting layers of privacy safeguards.

This new financing brings Foursquare’s total funding to $390.4 million.

The Slack origin story

Posted by on 30 May, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

Let’s rewind a decade.

It’s 2009. Vancouver, Canada.

Stewart Butterfield, known already for his part in building Flickr, a photo-sharing service acquired by Yahoo in 2005, decided to try his hand — again — at building a game. Flickr had been a failed attempt at a game called Game Neverending followed by a big pivot. This time, Butterfield would make it work.

To make his dreams a reality, he joined forces with Flickr’s original chief software architect Cal Henderson, as well as former Flickr employees Eric Costello and Serguei Mourachov, who like himself, had served some time at Yahoo after the acquisition. Together, they would build Tiny Speck, the company behind an artful, non-combat massively multiplayer online game.

Years later, Butterfield would pull off a pivot more massive than his last. Slack, born from the ashes of his fantastical game, would lead a shift toward online productivity tools that fundamentally change the way people work.

Glitch is born

In mid-2009, former TechCrunch reporter-turned-venture-capitalist M.G. Siegler wrote one of the first stories on Butterfield’s mysterious startup plans.

“So what is Tiny Speck all about?” Siegler wrote. “That is still not entirely clear. The word on the street has been that it’s some kind of new social gaming endeavor, but all they’ll say on the site is ‘we are working on something huge and fun and we need help.’”

Siegler would go on to invest in Slack as a general partner at GV, the venture capital arm of Alphabet .

“Clearly this is a creative project,” Siegler added. “It almost sounds like they’re making an animated movie. As awesome as that would be, with people like Henderson on board, you can bet there’s impressive engineering going on to turn this all into a game of some sort (if that is in fact what this is all about).”

After months of speculation, Tiny Speck unveiled its project: Glitch, an online game set inside the brains of 11 giants. It would be free with in-game purchases available and eventually, a paid subscription for power users.

Fintech and clean tech? An odd couple or a perfect marriage?

Posted by on 30 May, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

The Valley’s rocky history with clean tech investing has been well-documented.

Startups focused on non-emitting generation resources were once lauded as the next big cash cow, but the sector’s hype quickly got away from reality.

Complex underlying science, severe capital intensity, slow-moving customers, and high-cost business models outside the comfort zones of typical venture capital, ultimately caused a swath of venture-backed companies and investors in the clean tech boom to fall flat.

Yet, decarbonization and sustainability are issues that only seem to grow more dire and more galvanizing for founders and investors by the day, and more company builders are searching for new ways to promote environmental resilience.

While funding for clean tech startups can be hard to find nowadays, over time we’ve seen clean tech startups shift down the stack away from hardware-focused generation plays towards vertical-focused downstream software.

A far cry from past waves of venture-backed energy startups, the downstream clean tech companies offered more familiar technology with more familiar business models, geared towards more recognizable verticals and end users. Now, investors from less traditional clean tech backgrounds are coming out of the woodworks to take a swing at the energy space.

An emerging group of non-traditional investors getting involved in the clean energy space are those traditionally focused on fintech, such as New York and Europe based venture firm Anthemis — a financial services-focused team that recently sat down with our fintech contributor Gregg Schoenberg and I (check out the full meat of the conversation on Extra Crunch).

The tie between clean tech startups and fintech investors may seem tenuous at first thought. However, financial services has long played a significant role in the energy sector and is now becoming a more common end customer for energy startups focused on operations, management and analytics platforms, thus creating real opportunity for fintech investors to offer differentiated value.

Finance powering the world?

Though the conversation around energy resources and decarbonization often focuses on politics, a significant portion of decisions made in the energy generation business is driven by pure economics — Is it cheaper to run X resource relative to resources Y and Z at a given point in time? Based on bid prices for Request for Proposals (RFPs) in a specific market and the cost-competitiveness of certain resources, will a developer be able to hit their targeted rate of return if they build, buy or operate a certain type of generation asset?

Alternative generation sources like wind, solid oxide fuel cells, or large-scale or even rooftop solar have reached more competitive cost levels – in many parts of the US, wind and solar are in fact often the cheapest form of generation for power providers to run.

Thus as renewable resources have grown more cost competitive, more, infrastructure developers, and other new entrants have been emptying their wallets to buy up or build renewable assets like large scale solar or wind farms, with the American Council on Renewable Energy even forecasting cumulative private investment in renewable energy possibly reaching up to $1 trillion in the US by 2030.

A major and swelling set of renewable energy sources are now led by financial types looking for tools and platforms to better understand the operating and financial performance of their assets, in order to better maximize their return profile in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Therefore, fintech-focused venture firms with financial service pedigrees, like Anthemis, now find themselves in pole position when it comes to understanding clean tech startup customers, how they make purchase decisions, and what they’re looking for in a product.

In certain cases, fintech firms can even offer significant insight into shaping the efficacy of a product offering. For example, Anthemis portfolio company kWh Analytics provides a risk management and analytics platform for solar investors and operators that helps break down production, financial analysis, and portfolio performance.

For platforms like kWh analytics, fintech-focused firms can better understand the value proposition offered and help platforms understand how their technology can mechanically influence rates of return or otherwise.

The financial service customers for clean energy-related platforms extends past just private equity firms. Platforms have been and are being built around energy trading, renewable energy financing (think financing for rooftop solar) or the surrounding insurance market for assets.

When speaking with several of Anthemis’ clean tech portfolio companies, founders emphasized the value of having a fintech investor on board that not only knows the customer in these cases, but that also has a deep understanding of the broader financial ecosystem that surrounds energy assets.

Founders and firms seem to be realizing that various arms of financial services are playing growing roles when it comes to the development and access to clean energy resources.

By offering platforms and surrounding infrastructure that can improve the ease of operations for the growing number of finance-driven operators or can improve the actual financial performance of energy resources, companies can influence the fight for environmental sustainability by accelerating the development and adoption of cleaner resources.

Ultimately, a massive number of energy decisions are made by financial services firms and fintech firms may often times know the customers and products of downstream clean-tech startups more than most.  And while the financial services sector has often been labeled as dirty by some, the vital role it can play in the future of sustainable energy offers the industry a real chance to clean up its image.

How we scaled our startup by being remote first

Posted by on 29 May, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

Startups are often associated with the benefits and toys provided in their offices. Foosball tables! Free food! Dog friendly! But what if the future of startups was less about physical office space and more about remote-first work environments? What if, in fact, the most compelling aspect of a startup work environment is that the employees don’t have to go to one?

A remote-first company model has been Seeq’s strategy since our founding in 2013. We have raised $35 million and grown to more than 100 employees around the globe. Remote-first is clearly working for us and may be the best model for other software companies as well.

So, who is Seeq and what’s been the key to making the remote-first model work for us?  And why did we do it in the first place?

Seeq is a remote-first startup – i.e. it was founded with the intention of not having a physical headquarters or offices, and still operates that way – that is developing an advanced analytics application that enables process engineers and subject matter experts in oil & gas, pharmaceuticals, utilities, and other process manufacturing industries to investigate and publish insights from the massive amounts of sensor data they generate and store.

To succeed, we needed to build a team quickly with two skill sets: 1) software development expertise, including machine learning, AI, data visualization, open source, agile development processes, cloud, etc. and 2) deep domain expertise in the industries we target.

Which means there is no one location where we can hire all the employees we need: Silicon Valley for software, Houston for oil & gas, New Jersey for fine chemicals, Seattle for cloud expertise, water utilizes across the country, and so forth. But being remote-first gives has made recruiting and hiring these high-demand roles easier much easier than if we were collocated.

Image via Seeq Corporation

Job postings on remote-specific web sites like FlexJobs, Remote.co and Remote OK typically draw hundreds of applicants in a matter of days. This enables Seeq to hire great employees who might not call Seattle, Houston or Silicon Valley home – and is particularly attractive to employees with location-dependent spouses or employees who simply want to work where they want to live.

But a remote-first strategy and hiring quality employees for the skills you need is not enough: succeeding as a remote-first company requires a plan and execution around the “3 C’s of remote-first”.

The three requirements to remote-first success are the three C’s: communication, commitment and culture.

Talkspace picks up $50 million Series D

Posted by on 29 May, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

Talkspace, the platform that lets patients and therapists communicate online, has today announced the close of a $50 million financing round led by Revolution Growth. Existing investors, such as Norwest Venture Partners, Omura Capital, Spark Capital, and Compound Ventures are also participating in the round.

As part of the deal, Revolution Growth’s Patrick Conroy will join the Talkspace Board of Directors.

Talkspace launched back in 2012 with a mission to make therapy accessible to as many people as possible. The platform allows users to pay a subscription fee for unlimited messaging with one of the company’s 5,000 healthcare professionals. Since launch, Talkspace has rolled out products specific to certain users, such as teenagers or couples.

The company also partners with insurance providers and employers to offer Talkspace services to their members/employees as part of a commercial business. Today, Talkspace has announced a partnership with Optum Health. This expands TalkSpace’s commercial reach to 5 million people.

According to the release, Talkspace will use the funding to accelerate the growth of its commercial business.

Here’s what Talkspace CEO and cofounder Oren Frank had to say in a prepared statement:

Our advanced capabilities in data science enable us to not only open access to therapy, but also identify the attributes of successful therapeutic relationships and apply that knowledge throughout the predictive products we build, to the therapists that use our platform, and in the content we provide.

This brings Talkspace’s total funding to $106.7 million, according to Crunchbase.

Logz.io lands $52M to keep growing open source-based logging tools

Posted by on 29 May, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

Logz.io announced a $52 million Series D investment today. The round was led by General Catalyst.

Other investors participating in the round included OpenView Ventures, 83North, Giza Venture Capital, Vintage Investment Partners, Greenspring Associates and Next47. Today’s investment brings the total raised to nearly $100 million, according to Crunchbase data.

Logz.io is a company built on top of the open source tools Elasticsearch, Logstash, and Kibana (collectively known by the acronym ELK) and Grafana. It’s taking those tools in a typical open source business approach, packaging them up and offering them as a service. This approach enables large organizations to take advantage of these tools without having to deal with the raw open source projects.

The company’s solutions intelligently scan logs looking for anomalies. When it finds them, it surfaces the problem and informs IT or security, depending on the scenario, using a tool like PagerDuty. This area of the market has been dominated in recent years by vendors like Splunk and Sumo Logic, but company founder and CEO Tomer Levy saw a chance to disrupt that space by packaging a set of open source logging tools that were rapidly increasing in popularity. They believed could build on that growing popularity, while solving a pain point the founders had actually experienced in previous positions, which is always a good starting point for a startup idea.

Screenshot: Logz.io

“We saw that the majority of the market is actually using open source. So we said, we want to solve this problem, a problem we have faced in the past and didn’t have a solution. What we’re going to do is we’re going to provide you with an easy-to-use cloud service that is offering an open source compatible solution,” Levy explained. In other words, they wanted to build on that open source idea, but offer it in a form that was easier to consume.

Larry Bohn, who is leading the investment for General Catalyst, says that his firm liked the idea of a company building on top of open source because it provides a built-in community of developers to drive the startup’s growth — and it appears to be working. “The numbers here were staggering in terms of how quickly people were adopting this and how quickly it was growing. It was very clear to us that the company was enjoying great success without much of a commercial orientation,” Bohn explained.

In fact, Logz.io already has 700 customers including large names like Schneider Electric, The Economist and British Airways. The company has 175 employees today, but Levy says they expect to grow that 250 by the end of this year, as they use this money to accelerate their overall growth.

Equalum grabs $18M Series B to help companies ingest data faster

Posted by on 29 May, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

Equalum, an Israeli startup, which helps companies gather data from a variety of enterprise sources, announced an $18 million Series B investment today.

The round was led by Planven Investments . Other participants included United Ventures and prior investors Innovation Endeavors and GE Ventures along with a group of unnamed individuals. Today’s haul brings the total raised to $25 million, according to data provided by the company.

Equalum CEO and founder Nir Livneh says his company essentially acts as the data pipes to feed artificial intelligence, machine and more traditional business intelligence requirements. “Equalum is a real-time data ingestion platform. The idea of the platform is to be able to [gather] data coming from a bunch of enterprise system sources and be able to centralize that data and send it in real-time into analytic environments and feed those analytic environments,” Livneh explained.

He sees the money from this round as a way to continue to expand the original vision he had for the company. His approach in many ways is a classic Series B play. “I think the original thesis was validated. We have proven that we can go into Fortune 100 companies and get our solution adopted quickly,” he said. The next step is to expand beyond the original set of several dozen large customers and accelerate growth.

The company was founded in 2015 in Tel Aviv in Israel. It still maintains its R&D arm there today with sales, marketing and management in Silicon Valley. Interestingly, its first customer was GE, which was also an early investor via GE Ventures.

Livneh says that he sees lots of room to grow in this market, which he says is still dominated by legacy vendors. He believes he can swoop in and replace aging offerings by offering a more modern and streamlined approach to data collection. Time will tell if he is right.

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