WordPress.com parent company launches work collaboration platform Happy Tools

Posted by on 1 April, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, WooCommerce and Jetpack, is launching a new suite of products focused on the future of work — Happy Tools. Automattic is a remote company with over 850 employees working from 68 countries. And the company has built a bunch of products over the years to communicate, collaborate and work.

With Happy Tools, Automattic plans to turn those internal tools into actual products. The first product is Happy Schedule, a scheduling service that Automattic is using to deliver 24/7 customer support.

“Ideas about releasing our internal tools have been kicking around Automattic for years, but it’s been about finding the right moment and the right product to lead with,” Automattic product lead for Happy Tools Matt Wondra told me. “When we started building Happy Schedule a year ago we realized that designing a tool for our own scheduling needs also filled a clear gap in the [workforce management] landscape.”

“No other product out there gave us the flexibility and visibility we needed to comfortably schedule a globally distributed team. Since it was a greenfield internal project, we could engineer it from the ground up with public release in mind. And it just made sense to launch Happy Tools first into an industry we know so well — customer support.”

Happy Schedule is a modern web app and it should feel more like Google Calendar instead of some SAP product. For instance, you can click and drag your mouse to create an event — no need to input a start time and an end time.

But this is just a start. Automatic plans to launch more products over time so that you can work more efficiently as a remote team. The company is using a software-as-a-service approach and it costs $5 per user per month to access Happy Tools.

It’s interesting to see that Automattic is promising a suite of products from day one. It won’t just be a bunch of different products. When you subscribe to Happy Tools, you should be able to access multiple products that work together, just like a G Suite subscription lets you access Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive, etc. This strategy will improve engagement and stickiness over time.

Posted Under: Tech News
Mailgun changes hands again as Thoma Bravo buys majority stake

Posted by on 1 April, 2019

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Mailgun, an email API delivery service, announced today that it was selling a majority stake in the company to private equity firm Thoma Bravo. The companies did not share terms, but this is the second owner in the company’s 8+ year history.

Mailgun provides API services for building email functionality into applications. It has over 150,000 customers today using its APIs, according to data provided by the company.

In a blog post announcing the investment, CEO William Conway said the new money should help the company expand its capabilities and accelerate the product roadmap, a common refrain from companies about to be acquired.

“We will be investing millions in the development of products you can use to enhance your deliverability, gain more insights into your emails and deliver an unparalleled experience for your customers. We’re also doubling down on customer success and enablement to ensure our customers have exactly what they need to scale their communications,” Conway wrote in the blog post.

The company, which was founded in 2010 and was a part of the Y Combinator Winter 2011 cohort, has had a complex history. Rackspace acquired it in 2012 and held onto it until 2017 when it spun out into a private company. At that point, Turn/River, another private equity firm,  invested $50 million in the company. After today’s deal, Turn/River will maintain a minority ownership stake in Mailgun.

Mailgun typically competes with companies like MailChimp and SendGrid. Thoma Bravo has a history buying enterprise software companies. Most recently, it bought a majority stake in enterprise software company Apttus. It also has investments in SolarWinds, SailPoint and Blue Point Systems.

Thoma Bravo did not respond to a request for comment before publishing.

Posted Under: Tech News
German LinkedIn rival Xing is rebranding as ‘New Work’ acquires recruitment platform Honeypot for up to $64M

Posted by on 1 April, 2019

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Xing, the business networking platform that has been described as Germany’s answer to LinkedIn, has made an acquisition to beef up its recruitment business ahead of a rebrand of the business as “New Work.” The company has acquired Honeypot, a German startup that has built a job-hunting platform for tech people, for up to €57 million ($64 million). Xing tells us that Honeypot is its biggest acquisition to date.

The figure includes the acquisition (€22 million) plus a potential earn-out of up to €35 million if certain targets are met in the next three years.

Xing said that it plans to rebrand as New Work in the second half of 2019, bringing together a number of other assets it has acquired and built over the years.

“This acquisition is an excellent addition to our New Work portfolio,” Thomas Vollmoeller, CEO at Xing, said in a statement. “Honeypot focuses on candidates by helping them to find a job matching their individual preferences… With subsidiaries and brands such as kununu and HalloFreelancer, Xing is far more than just a single network. New Work is the umbrella spanning all our business activities.” Xing said that all the smaller companies will keep their branding.

Xing already offered job listings as part of its platform, with 20,000 businesses as customers; but Honeypot will add a few different things to the mix.

First, it will give Xing more traction specifically in the tech vertical, since Honeypot first started out in 2015 targeting developers although it later expanded to other tech jobs.

Second, Honeypot’s structure is a natural fit for a social recuitment platform: as with a lot of social recruiting, Honeypot lets recruiters use platforms, profile pages and social graphics to find and approach candidates, rather than candidates reaching out in response to specific opportunities.

Honeypot adds additional features to help make this process more accurate and less of a waste of time on both sides. Those doing the recruiting have to provide specific details around salary and, say, programming languages required, as part of their outreach. On the other side, individuals go through a “brief expertise check” to vet them, and they too have to be a bit more specific on what they can and what they want to do, and what they want to earn, to help weed out opportunities that might not be suitable.

Third, the acquisition will help Xing make a bigger push into building its profile outside of Germany into more of Europe, as New Work.

This is no small thing. Xing years ago was considered a would-be rival to LinkedIn. But — and this was perhaps even more true in the past, and Xing was founded in 2003 — scaling startups to be global players out of Europe can be a challenge, even more so when there is a formidable direct competitor growing quickly as well.

In the end, Xing developed as a much more modest operation, relatively speaking. While LinkedIn today has some 600 million users and was acquired by Microsoft in 2016 for $26.2 billion, Xing is publicly traded and currently valued at around $2 billion (€1.81 billion), with some 15 million members.

Xing says that today Honeypot’s current emphasis is German-speaking countries and the Netherlands, which together cover some of the biggest startup hubs in Europe, including Berlin and Amsterdam.

The company is still relatively small but growing, adding 1,000 IT specialists to its books each week, with some 100,000 individuals and 1,500 businesses currently registered. Xing said that it will be investing in the company to expand to more markets in Europe, as well as to grow its business by tapping Xing’s own customer base.

Although there have been some notable exceptions like payments startup Adyen from the Netherlands, Farfetch from the UK and Spotify (originally from Stockholm, grown in London and now increasingly a US company), scaling startups in Europe has proven to be challenging.

One of the big reasons why has to do with a shortage of talent to build these companies: in Germany alone — home to the buzzy startup city of Berlin — there are 82,000 unfilled tech jobs. In other words, there is an opportunity for more user-friendly platforms to help connect those dots.

XING and Honeypot both have the vision of helping people to further their career. We want Honeypot to offer the world’s largest work-life community for IT specialists by giving candidates the power to decide on their next career step,” said Kaya Taner, CEO who founded Honeypot with Emma Tracey. “We will continue to pursue this vision with XING. Going forward, around 100,000 IT specialists from all over the world who are registered on Honeypot will be able to connect with the many first-rate employers in German-speaking countries. This will enable Honeypot to continue developing its domestic market, while also further expanding its international community.”

Posted Under: Tech News
ServiceNow teams with Workplace by Facebook on service chatbot

Posted by on 29 March, 2019

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One of the great things about enterprise chat applications beyond giving employees a common channel to communicate, is the ability to integrate with other enterprise applications. Today, Workplace, Facebook’s enterprise collaboration and communication application, and ServiceNow announced a new chatbot to make it easier for employees to navigate a company’s help desks inside Workplace Chat.

The beauty of the chatbot is that employees can get answers to common questions whenever they want, wherever they happen to be. The Workplace-ServiceNow integration happens in Workplace Chat and can can involve IT or HR help desk scenarios. A chatbot can help companies save time and money, and employees can get answers to common problems much faster.

Previously, getting these kind of answers would have required navigating multiple systems, making a phone call or submitting a ticket to the appropriate help desk. This approach provides a level of convenience and immediacy.

Companies can brainstorm common questions and answers and build them in the ServiceNow Virtual Agent Designer. It comes with some standard templates, and doesn’t require any kind of advanced scripting or programming skills. Instead, non-technical end users can adapt pre-populated templates to meet the needs, language and workflows of an individual organization.

Screenshot: ServiceNow

This is all part of a strategy by Facebook to integrate more enterprise applications into the tool. In May at the F8 conference, Facebook announced 52 such integrations from companies like Atlassian, SurveyMonkey, Hubspot and Marketo (the company Adobe bought in September for $4.75 billion).

This is part of a broader enterprise chat application trend around making these applications the center of every employee’s work life, while reducing task switching, the act of moving from application to application. This kind of integration is something that Slack has done very well and has up until now provided it with a differentiator, but the other enterprise players are catching on and today’s announcement with ServiceNow is part of that.

Posted Under: Tech News
Alibaba has acquired Teambition, a China-based Trello and Asana rival, in its enterprise push

Posted by on 29 March, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

Alibaba has made an acquisition as it continues to square up to the opportunity in enterprise services in China and beyond, akin to what its US counterpart Amazon has done with AWS. TechCrunch has confirmed that the e-commerce and cloud services giant has acquired Teambition, a Microsoft- and Tencent-backed platform for coworkers to plan and collaborate on projects together, similar to Trello and Asana.

There were rumors of an acquisition circulating yesterday in Chinese media. Alibaba has now confirmed the acquisition to TechCrunch but declined to provide any other details.

Teambition had raised about $17 million in funding since 2013, with investors including Tencent, Microsoft, IDG Capital and Gobi Ventures. Gobi also manages investments on behalf of Alibaba, and that might have been one route to how the two became acquainted. Alibaba’s last acquisition in enterprise was German big data startup Data Artisans for $103 million.

As with others in the project management and collaboration space, Teambition provides users with mobile and desktop apps to interact with the service, and in addition to the main planning interface, there is one designed for CRM called Bingo, as well as a “knowledge base” where businesses can keep extra documentation and other collateral.

The deal is another sign of how Alibaba has been slowly building a business in enterprise powerhouse over the last several years as it races to keep its pole position in the Chinese market, as well as gain a stronger foothold in the wider Asian region and beyond.

In China alone, it has been estimated that enterprise services is a $1 billion opportunity, but with no clear leader at the moment across a range of verticals and segments that fall under that general umbrella, there is a lot to play for, and likely a lot more consolidation to come. (And it’s not the only one: Bytedance — more known for consumer services like TikTok — is rumored to be building a Slack competitor, and Tencent also has its sights on the sector, as does Baidu.)

As with AWS, Alibaba’s enterprise business stems out of the cloud-based infrastructure Alibaba has built for its own e-commerce powerhouse, which it has productised as a service for third parties that it calls Alibaba Cloud, which (like AWS) offers a range of cloud-storage and serving tiers to users.

On top of that, Alibaba has been building and integrating a number of apps and other services that leverage that cloud infrastructure, providing more stickiness for the core service as well as the potential for developing further revenue streams with customers.

These apps and services range from the recently-launched “A100” business transformation initiative, where Alibaba proposes working with large companies to digitise and modernize (and help run) their IT backends; through to specific products, such as Alibaba’s Slack competitor DingTalk.

With Alibaba declining to give us any details beyond a confirmation of the acquisition, and Teambition not returning our requests for comment, our best guess is that this app could be a fit in either of areas. That is to say, one option for Alibaba would be to integrate it and use it as part of a wider “business transformation” and modernization offering, or as a standalone product, as it currently exists.

Teambition today counts a number of Chinese giants, and giants with Chinese outposts, as customers, including Huawei, Xiaomi, TCL, and McDonalds in its customer list. The company currently has nothing on its site indicating an acquisition or any notices regarding future services, so it seems to be business as usual for now.

The opportunity around collaboration and workplace communication has become a very hot area in the last few years, spurred by the general growth of social media in the consumer market and people in business environments wanting to bring in the same kinds of tools to help them get work done. Planning and project management — the area that Teambition and its competitors address — is considered a key pillar in the wider collaboration space alongside cloud services to store and serve files and real-time communication services.

Slack, which is now valued at over $7 billion, has said it’s filed paperwork for a public listing, while Asana is now valued at $1.5 billion, while Trello’s owner Atlassian now has a market cap of nearly $26 billion.

Posted Under: Tech News
Marketing tech vendors need to find right balance between digital and human interactions

Posted by on 29 March, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

As I walked the long halls of Adobe Summit this week in Las Vegas and listened to the company’s marketing and data integration story, I thought about the obvious disconnect that happens between brands and their customers. With tons of data, a growing set of tools to bring it together, and a desire to build an optimal experience, you would think we have been set up for thrilling consumer experiences, yet we all know that is not always what happens when the rubber meets the road.

Maybe part of the problem is that data sitting in databases doesn’t always translate into employee action when dealing directly with consumers. In many cases, the experience isn’t smooth, data isn’t passed from one source to another, and when you do eventually reach a person, they aren’t always knowledgeable or even nice.

It’s to the point that when my data does get passed smoothly from bot to human CSA, and I’m not asked for the same information for the second or even third time, I’m pleasantly surprised, even a little shocked.

That’s probably not the story marketing automation vendors like Adobe and Salesforce want to hear, but it is probably far more common than the one about delighted customers. I understand that the goal is to provide APIs to connect systems. It’s to stream data in real time from a variety of channels. It’s about understanding that data better by applying intelligent analytics, and to some extent I’m sure that’s happening and that there are brands who truly do want to delight us.

The disconnect could be happening because brands can control what happens in the digital world much better than the real one. They can know at a precise level when you interact with them and try to right wrongs or inconsistencies as quickly as possible. The problem is when we move to human interactions — people talking to people at the point of sale in a store, or in an office or via any communications channel — all of that data might not be helpful or even available.

The answer to that isn’t to give us more digital tools, or more tech in general, but to work to improve human-to-human communication, and maybe arm those human employees with the very types of information they need to understand the person they are dealing with when they are standing in front of them.

If brands can eventually get these human touch points right, they will build more loyal customers who want to come back, the ultimate goal, but right now the emphasis seems to be more on technology and the digital realm. That may not always achieve the desired results.

This is not necessarily the fault of Adobe, Salesforce or any technology vendor trying to solve this problem, but the human side of the equation needs to be a much stronger point of focus than it currently seems to be. In the end, all the data in the world isn’t going to save a brand from a rude or uninformed employee in the moment of customer contact, and that one bad moment can haunt a brand for a long, long time, regardless how sophisticated the marketing technology it’s using may be.

Posted Under: Tech News
User Interviews, a platform for product feedback, raises $5 million

Posted by on 29 March, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

It’s not uncommon to hear CEOs and business leaders talk about focusing on the consumer. But the only way to build for the consumer is to hear what they want, which can be a resource-intensive thing to retrieve.

User Interviews, an ERA-backed company out of New York, is looking to lighten that load with a fresh $5 million in seed funding from Accomplice, Las Olas, FJ Labs, and ERA.

User Interviews actually started out as Mobile Suites, an amenities logistics platform for hotels. It was a dud, and the team — Basel Fakhoury, Dennis Meng and Bob Saris — decided to do far more user research before determining the next product.

In the process of talking to customers to understand their pain points, they realized just how difficult collecting user feedback could be.

That’s how User Interviews was born. The platform’s first product, called Recruit, offers a network of non-users that can be matched with companies to provide feedback. In fact, User Interviews’ first sales were made by simply responding to Craigslist ads posted by companies looking for non-users from which they could collect feedback.

But because the majority of user research is based on existing users, the company also built Research Hub, which is essentially a CRM system for user feedback and research. To be clear, User Interviews doesn’t facilitate the actual interviews with users, but does track the feedback, facilitate sending emails, and ensures that no one from the research team is reaching out to a single user too often.

With Recruit, User Interviews charges $30/person that it matches with a company for feedback. Research Hub costs starts at $150/month.

“Right now, our greatest challenge is that our clients are the best product people in the world, and we have a huge pipeline of amazing ideas that are very valuable and no one is doing yet that our clients would love,” said CEO and founder Basel Fakhoury. “But we have to build it fast enough.”

No mention of what those forthcoming products might be, but the current iteration sure seems attractive enough. User Interviews clients include Eventbrite, Glassdoor, AT&T, DirecTV, Lola, LogMeIn, Thumbtack, Casper, ClassPass, Fandango, NNG, Pinterest, Pandora, Colgate, Uber and REI, to name a few.

Posted Under: Tech News
Vizion.ai launches its managed Elasticsearch service

Posted by on 28 March, 2019

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Setting up Elasticsearch, the open-source system that many companies large and small use to power their distributed search and analytics engines, isn’t the hardest thing. What is very hard, though, is to provision the right amount of resources to run the service, especially when your users’ demand comes in spikes, without overpaying for unused capacity. Vizion.ai’s new Elasticsearch Service does away with all of this by essentially offering Elasticsearch as a service and only charging its customers for the infrastructure they use.

Vizion’s service automatically scales up and down as needed. It’s a managed service and delivered as a SaaS platform that can support deployments on both private and public clouds, with full API compatibility with the standard Elastic stack that typically includes tools like Kibana for visualizing data, Beats for sending data to the service and Logstash for transforming the incoming data and setting up data pipelines. Users can easily create several stacks for testing and development, too, for example.

Vizion.ai GM and VP Geoff Tudor

“When you go into the AWS Elasticsearch service, you’re going to be looking at dozens or hundreds of permutations for trying to build your own cluster,” Vision.ai’s VP and GM Geoff Tudor told me. “Which instance size? How many instances? Do I want geographical redundancy? What’s my networking? What’s my security? And if you choose wrong, then that’s going to impact the overall performance. […] We do balancing dynamically behind that infrastructure layer.” To do this, the service looks at the utilization patterns of a given user and then allocates resources to optimize for the specific use case.

What Vizion has done here is take some of the work from its parent company Panzura, a multi-cloud storage service for enterprises that has plenty of patents around data caching, and applied it to this new Elasticsearch service.

There are obviously other companies that offer commercial Elasticsearch platforms already. Tudor acknowledges this, but argues that his company’s platform is different. With other products, he argues, you have to decide on the size of your block storage for your metadata upfront, for example, and you typically want SSDs for better performance, which can quickly get expensive. Thanks to Panzura’s IP, Vizion.ai is able to bring down the cost by caching recent data on SSDs and keeping the rest in cheaper object storage pools.

He also noted that the company is positioning the overall Vizion.ai service, with the Elasticsearch service as one of the earliest components, as a platform for running AI and ML workloads. Support for TensorFlow, PredictionIO (which plays nicely with Elasticsearch) and other tools is also in the works. “We want to make this an easy serverless ML/AI consumption in a multi-cloud fashion, where not only can you leverage the compute, but you can also have your storage of record at a very cost-effective price point.”

Posted Under: Tech News
Kong raises $43M Series C for its API platform

Posted by on 28 March, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

Kong, the open core API management and lifecycle management company previously known as Mashape, today announced that it has raised a $43 million Series C round led by Index Ventures. Previous investors Andreessen Horowitz and Charles River Ventures (CRV), as well as new investors GGV Capital and World Innovation Lab also participated. With this round, Kong has now raised a total of $71 million.

The company’s CEO and co-founder Augusto Marietti tells me that the company plans to use the funds to build out its service control platform. He likened this service to the “nervous system for an organization’s software architecture.”

Right now, Kong is just offering the first pieces of this, though. One area the company plans to especially focus on is security, in addition to its existing management tools, where Kong plans to add more machine learning capabilities over time, too. “It’s obviously a 10-year journey but those two things — immunity with security and machine learning with [Kong] Brain are really a 10-year journey of building an intelligent platform that can manage all the traffic in and out of an organization,” he said.

In addition, the company also plans to invest heavily in its expansion in both Europe and the Asia Pacific market. This also explains the addition of World Innovation Lab as an investor. The firm, after all, focuses heavily on connecting companies in the US with partners in Asia — and especially Japan. As Marietti told me, the company is seeing a lot of demand in Japan and China right now, so it makes sense to capitalize on this, especially as the Chinese market is about to become more easily accessible for foreign companies.

Kong notes that it doubled its headcount in 2018 and now has over 100 enterprise customers, including Yahoo! Japan, Ferrari, SoulCycle and WeWork.

It’s worth noting that while this is officially a Series C investment, Marietti is thinking of it more like a Series B round given that the company went through a major pivot when it moved from being Mashape to its focus on Kong, which was already its most popular open source tool.

“Modern software is now built in the cloud, with applications consuming other applications, service to service,” said Martin Casado, general partner at Andreessen Horowitz . “We’re at the tipping point of enterprise adoption of microservices architectures, and companies are turning to new open source-based developer tools and platforms to fuel their next wave of innovation. Kong is uniquely suited to help enterprises as they make this shift by supporting an organization’s entire service architecture, from centralized or decentralized, monolith or microservices.”

Posted Under: Tech News
Microsoft gives 500 patents to startups

Posted by on 28 March, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

Microsoft today announced a major expansion of its Azure IP Advantage program, which provides its Azure users with protection against patent trolls. This program now also provides customers who are building IoT solutions that connect to Azure with access to 10,000 patents to defend themselves against intellectual property lawsuits.

What’s maybe most interesting here, though, is that Microsoft is also donating 500 patents to startups in the LOT Network. This organization, which counts companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Netflix, SAP, Epic Games, Ford, GM, Lyft and Uber among its well over 150 members, is designed to protect companies against patent trolls by giving them access to a wide library of patents from its member companies and other sources.

“The LOT Network is really committed to helping address the proliferation of intellectual property losses, especially ones that are brought by non-practicing entities, or so-called trolls,” Microsoft  CVP and Deputy General Counsel Erich Andersen told me. 

This new program goes well beyond basic protection from patent trolls, though. Qualified startups who join the LOT Network can acquire Microsoft patents as part of their free membership and as Andresen stressed, the startups will own them outright. The LOT network will be able to provide its startup members with up to three patents from this collection.

There’s one additional requirement here, though: to qualify for getting the patents, these startups also have to meet a $1,000 per month Azure spend. As Andersen told me, though, they don’t have to make any kind of forward pledge. The company will simply look at a startup’s last three monthly Azure bills.

“We want to help the LOT Network grow its network of startups,” Andersen said. “To provide an incentive, we are going to provide these patents to them.” He noted that startups are obviously interested in getting access to patents as a foundation of their companies, but also to raise capital and to defend themselves against trolls.

The patents we’re talking about here cover a wide range of technologies as well as geographies. Andersen noted that we’re talking about U.S. patents as well as European and Chinese patents, for example.

“The idea is that these startups come from a diverse set of industry sectors,” he said. “The hope we have is that when they approach LOT, they’ll find patents among those 500 that are going to be interesting to basically almost any company that might want a foundational set of patents for their business.”

As for the extended Azure IP Advantage program, it’s worth noting that every Azure customer who spends more than $1,000 per month over the past three months and hasn’t filed a patent infringement lawsuit against another Azure customers in the last two years can automatically pick one of the patents in the program’s portfolio to protect itself against frivolous patent lawsuits from trolls (and that’s a different library of patents from the one Microsoft is donating to the LOT Network as part of the startup program).

As Andresen noted, the team looked at how it could enhance the IP program by focusing on a number of specific areas. Microsoft is obviously investing a lot into IoT, so extending the program to this area makes sense. “What we’re basically saying is that if the customer is using IoT technology — regardless of whether it’s Microsoft technology or not — and it’s connected to Azure, then we’re going to provide this patent pick right to help customers defend themselves against patent suits,” Andersen said.

In addition, for those who do choose to use Microsoft IoT technology across the board, Microsoft will provide indemnification, too.

Patent trolls have lately started acquiring IoT patents, so chances are they are getting ready to making use of them and that we’ll see quite a bit of patent litigation in this space in the future. “The early signs we’re seeing indicate that this is something that customers are going to care about in the future,” said Andersen.

Posted Under: Tech News
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