Lightspeed’s Gaurav Gupta and Grafana’s Raj Dutt discuss pitch decks, pricing and how to nail the narrative

Posted by on 5 February, 2021

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Before he was a partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, Gaurav Gupta had his eye on Grafana Labs, the company that supports open-source analytics platform Grafana. But Raj Dutt, Grafana’s co-founder and CEO, played hard to get.

This week on Extra Crunch Live, the duo explained how they came together for Grafana’s Series A — and eventually, its Series B. They also walked us through Grafana’s original Series A pitch deck before Gupta shared the aspects that stood out to him and how he communicated those points to the broader partnership at Lightspeed.

Gupta and Dutt also offered feedback on pitch decks submitted by audience members and shared their thoughts about what makes a great founder presentation, pulling back the curtain on how VCs actually consume pitch decks.

We’ve included highlights below as well as the full video of our conversation.

We record new episodes of Extra Crunch Live each Wednesday at 12 p.m. PST/3 p.m. EST/8 p.m. GMT. Check out the February schedule here.

Episode breakdown:

  • How they met — 2:20
  • Grafana’s early pitch deck — 12:25
  • The enterprise ecosystem — 26:00
  • The pitch deck teardown — 33:00

How they met

As soon as Gupta joined Lightspeed in June 2019, he began pursuing Dutt and Grafana Labs. He texted, called and emailed, but he got little to no response. Eventually, he made plans to go meet the team in Stockholm but, even then, Dutt wasn’t super responsive.

The pair told the story with smiles on their faces. Dutt said that not only was he disorganized and not entirely sure of his own travel plans to see his co-founder in Stockholm, Grafana wasn’t even raising. Still, Gupta persisted and eventually sent a stern email.

“At one point, I was like ‘Raj, forget it. This isn’t working’,” recalled Gupta. “And suddenly he woke up.” Gupta added that he got mad, which “usually does not work for VCs, by the way, but in this case, it kind of worked.”

When they finally met, they got along. Dutt said they were able to talk shop due to Gupta’s experience inside organizations like Splunk and Elastic. Gupta described the trip as a whirlwind, where time just flew by.

“One of the reasons that I liked Gaurav is that he was a new VC,” explained Dutt. “So to me, he seemed like one of the most non-VC VCs I’d ever met. And that was actually quite attractive.”

To this day, Gupta and Dutt don’t have weekly standing meetings. Instead, they speak several times a week, conversing organically about industry news, Grafana’s products and the company’s overall trajectory.

Grafana’s early pitch deck

Dutt shared Grafana’s pre-Series A pitch deck — which he actually sent to Gupta and Lightspeed before they met — with the Extra Crunch Live audience. But as we know now, it was the conversations that Dutt and Gupta had (eventually) that provided the spark for that deal.

Posted Under: Tech News
Daily Crunch: Microsoft rethinks corporate intranet

Posted by on 4 February, 2021

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Microsoft tries to improve corporate intranet, Google will offer new smartphone health measurements and 23andMe is going public via SPAC. This is your Daily Crunch for February 4, 2021.

The big story: Microsoft rethinks corporate intranet

Microsoft launched what it’s calling a new “employee experience platform,” designed to reinvent those corporate intranet sites that large companies use to share content with their employees.

What makes this new platform, called Viva, any different? Well, it integrates with Microsoft’s other collaboration tools like SharePoint and Yammer, along with LinkedIn Learning and other training services, and it also includes team analytics.

In a pre-recorded video, CEO Satya Nadella said Microsoft is launching this because, “We have participated in the largest at-scale remote work experiment the world has seen and it has had a dramatic impact on the employee experience. As the world recovers, there is no going back. Flexibility in when, where and how we work will be key.”

The tech giants

Venmo to gain crypto, budgeting, savings and Honey integrations this year — The Venmo mobile payments app is going to look very different in 2021 as it inches closer to neobank territory.

Google to offer heart and respiratory rate measurements using just your smartphone’s camera — Google is introducing features that will allow users to take vital health measurements using just the camera they already have on their smartphone.

HubSpot acquires media startup The Hustle — HubSpot says content is an increasingly important part of its business, with customers finding its products through things like YouTube videos and HubSpot Academy.

Startups, funding and venture capital

23andMe set to go public via a Virgin Group SPAC merger — The transaction is expected to result in 23andMe having around $984 million in cash available at close.

Accel backs Mexican startup Flink’s effort to bring consumer investing to Latin America — Since launching its first brokerage product in July of 2020, Flink has surpassed 1 million users and 800,000 active brokerage accounts.

Tovala, the smart oven and meal kit service, heats up with $30M more in funding — This is the second round of funding for the startup in the space of six months.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Four strategies for deep tech founders who are fundraising — Step one: Use storytelling to highlight your big vision.

Why one Databricks investor thinks the company may be undervalued — The recent Databricks funding round, a $1 billion investment at a $28 billion valuation, was one of the year’s most notable private investments so far.

Extra Crunch is now hiring for reporter, editor and project manager positions — Extra Crunch is about to turn two years old and we now have a lot of demanding subscribers. (We love them, of course.)

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

A growing number of startups are creating APIs to assess and offset corporate carbon emissions — It was only a matter of time before application programming interfaces came for the carbon credit offsets.

The cloud infrastructure market hit $129B in 2020 — That’s up from around $97 billion in 2019, according to data from Synergy Research Group.

China’s national blockchain network embraces global developers — Last year, an ambitious, government-backed blockchain infrastructure network launched in China.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Posted Under: Tech News
Google Cloud launches Apigee X, the next generation of its API management platform

Posted by on 4 February, 2021

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Google today announced the launch of Apigee X, the next major release of the Apgiee API management platform it acquired back in 2016.

“If you look at what’s happening — especially after the pandemic started in March last year — the volume of digital activities has gone up in every kind of industry, all kinds of use cases are coming up. And one of the things we see is the need for a really high-performance, reliable, global digital transformation platform,” Amit Zavery, Google Cloud’s head of platform, told me.

He noted that the number of API calls has gone up 47 percent from last year and that the platform now handles about 2.2 trillion API calls per year.

At the core of the updates are deeper integrations with Google Cloud’s AI, security and networking tools. In practice, this means Apigee users can now deploy their APIs across 24 Google Cloud regions, for example, and use Google’s caching services in more than 100 edge locations.

Image Credits: Google

In addition, Apigee X now integrates with Google’s Cloud Armor firewall and its Cloud Identity Access Management platform. This also means that Apigee users won’t have to use third-party tools for their firewall and identity management needs.

“We do a lot of AI/ML-based anomaly detection and operations management,” Zavery explained. “We can predict any kind of malicious intent or any other things which might happen to those API calls or your traffic by embedding a lot of those insights into our API platform. I think [that] is a big improvement, as well as new features, especially in operations management, security management, vulnerability management and making those a core capability so that as a business, you don’t have to worry about all these things. It comes with the core capabilities and that is really where the front doors of digital front-ends can shine and customers can focus on that.”

The platform now also makes better use of Google’s AI capabilities to help users identify anomalies or predict traffic for peak seasons. The idea here is to help customers automate a lot of the standards automation tasks and, of course, improve security at the same time.

As Zavery stressed, API management is now about more than just managing traffic between applications. But more than just helping customers manage their digital transformation projects, the Apigee team is now thinking about what it calls ‘digital excellence.’ “That’s how we’re thinking of the journey for customers moving from not just ‘hey, I can have a front end,’ but what about all the excellent things you want to do and how we can do that,” Zavery said.

“During these uncertain times, organizations worldwide are doubling-down on their API strategies to operate anywhere, automate processes, and deliver new digital experiences quickly and securely,” said James Fairweather, Chief Innovation Officer at Pitney Bowes. “By powering APIs with new capabilities like reCAPTCHA Enterprise, Cloud Armor (WAF), and Cloud CDN, Apigee X makes it easy for enterprises like us to scale digital initiatives, and deliver innovative experiences to our customers, employees and partners.”

Posted Under: Tech News
HubSpot acquires media startup The Hustle

Posted by on 4 February, 2021

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Marketing software company HubSpot is acquiring The Hustle, the business and tech media startup behind the popular newsletter of the same name

Axios broke the news of the deal and reported that it values the startup at around $27 million. HubSpot declined to comment on the deal price, and while tweeting about the acquisition, The Hustle CEO Sam Parr wrote, “Early in my career I was transparent with money. But I didn’t like the result of sharing that stuff. So we’re not disclosing the price and HubSpot has agreed. I’m taking it to the grave!”

In its press release about the acquisition, HubSpot noted that customers are finding its products through content like its YouTube videos and HubSpot Academy.

“By acquiring The Hustle, we’ll be able to better meet the needs of these scaling companies by delivering educational, business, and tech trend content in their preferred formats,” said HubSpot’s senior vice president of marketing Kieran Flanagan in a statement. “Sam and his team have a proven ability to create content that entrepreneurs, startups, and scaling companies are deeply passionate about, and I’m excited to bring them on board to take that work to the next level.”

HubSpot says The Hustle’s flagship newsletter has 1.5 million subscribers. It also has a subscription offering called Trends and a podcast called My First Million.

“The goal is to build the largest business content network in the world,” Parr tweeted. “Soon, we’ll expand to a variety of mediums on a bunch of different topics and will have really innovative products coming out. We’re also going to hire the best content creators in the world.”

Posted Under: Tech News
The cloud infrastructure market hit $129B in 2020

Posted by on 4 February, 2021

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The cloud infrastructure market in 2020 reflected society itself, with the richest companies getting richer and the ones at the bottom of the market getting poorer. It grew to $129 billion for the year, according to data from Synergy Research Group. That’s up from around $97 billion in 2019.

Synergy also reported that the cloud infra market reached $37 billion in the fourth quarter, up from $33 billion in the third quarter, and 35% from a year ago.

I’ve heard from every founder under the sun for the last 9 months that the pandemic was accelerating digital transformation, and that a big part of that was an expedited shift to the cloud. These numbers would seem to bear that out.

As usual the big three were Amazon, Microsoft and Google, with Alibaba now firmly entrenched in fourth place and IBM falling back to fifth. But Microsoft grew more quickly than rival Amazon, reaching 20% market share at the end of 2020 for the first time. Keep in mind that the Redmond-based software giant has now doubled its share since 2017. That’s remarkably rapid rapid growth. Meanwhile Google and Alibaba took home 9% and 6% respectively.

Here’s what that all looks like in chart form:

Image Credits: Synergy Research

Amazon is an interesting case in that it has plateaued at around 33% for four straight years of Synergy data, but because it’s one-third share of an increasingly growing market, that means that it has kept growing its public cloud revenues as the category itself has expanded.

Amazon closed out the year with $12.74 billion in Q4 AWS revenue, putting it on a run rate of over just over $50 billion for the first time. That was up from $11.6 billion the prior quarter. While Microsoft’s numbers are always difficult to parse from its earning’s reports, doing the math of 20% of $37 billion, it came in with $7.4 billion up from $5.9 billion last quarter.

Google brought in $3.3 billion, up from $2.98 billion in Q3 2020, and Alibaba pulled in $2.22 billion, up from $1.65 billion over the same timeframe.

John Dinsdale, principal analyst at Synergy says the leaders are pretty firmly entrenched at this point with huge absolute market numbers and also huge gaps between the cloud providers. “AWS has been a great success story for over ten years now and it remains in an extremely strong market position despite increasing competition from a broad swathe of strong IT industry companies. That is a great testament both to Amazon and to the AWS leadership team and you’d have to suspect that will not change with the new regime,’ he told me.

He sees Microsoft as a worthy rival, but one that is bound to hit a growth wall at some point. “It is certainly feasible that Microsoft will continue to narrow the gap between itself and Amazon, but the bigger Microsoft Azure becomes the tougher it is to maintain really high growth rates. That is just the law of large numbers.”

Meanwhile, market share at the bottom of the cloud infrastructure space continued to decline even while the number of dollars at stake have continued to expand dramatically. “The market share losers have been the large group of smaller cloud providers, who collectively have lost 13 percentage points of market share over the last 16 quarters,” Synergy wrote in a statement.

Dinsdale says all is not lost for these players, however. “Regarding the smaller players (or the big companies that have only a small market share), they can either focus on specific market niches (can be based around geography, service type or customer vertical) or they can try to offer a broad range of cloud services to a broad range of customers. Companies doing the former can do quite well, while companies doing the latter will find it extremely tough,” Dinsdale told me.

It’s worth noting that Canalys has slightly different numbers with a total market of around $142 billion and almost $40 billion for the quarter, but the percentages are in line with Synergy’s:

Canalys 4th quarter 2021 cloud infrastructure market share percentages

Image Credits: Canalys

At some point the numbers get so big they almost cease to have meaning, but as large as the public cloud revenue numbers become, they remain a relatively small percentage of overall worldwide IT spend. According to Gartner estimates, worldwide IT spend in 2020 was $3.6 trillion (with a T). That means that the cloud infrastructure market accounted for just 3.85% of total spend in 2020.

Think about that for a moment: less than 4% of IT spend currently is on cloud infrastructure, leaving so much room for growth and for those billions to grow ever bigger in the coming years.

It would certainly make it more interesting if someone could come in and disrupt the leaders, but for now at least they are going to be hard to push out of the way unless something unforeseen and dramatic happens to the way we think about computing.

Posted Under: Tech News
Microsoft launches Viva, its new take on the old intranet

Posted by on 4 February, 2021

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Microsoft today launched Viva, a new “employee experience platform,” or, in non-marketing terms, its new take on the intranet sites most large companies tend to offer their employees. This includes standard features like access to internal communications built on integrations with SharePoint, Yammer and other Microsoft tools. In addition, Viva also offers access to team analytics and an integration with LinkedIn Learning and other training content providers (including the likes of SAP SuccessFactors), as well as what Microsoft calls Viva Topics for knowledge sharing within a company.

If you’re like most employees, you know that your company spends a lot of money on internal communications and its accompanying intranet offerings — and you then promptly ignore that in order to get actual work done. But Microsoft argues that times are changing, as remote work is here to stay for many companies, even after the pandemic (hopefully) ends. Even if a small percentage of a company’s workforce remains remote or opts for a hybrid approach, those workers still need to have access to the right tools and feel like they are part of the company.

Image Credits: Microsoft

“We have participated in the largest at-scale remote work experiment the world has seen and it has had a dramatic impact on the employee experience,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a pre-recorded video. “As the world recovers, there is no going back. Flexibility in when, where and how we work will be key.”

He argues that every organization will require a unified employee experience platform that supports workers from their onboarding process to collaborating with their colleagues and continuing their education within the company. Yet as employees work remotely, companies are now struggling to keep their internal culture and foster community among employees. Viva aims to fix this.

Unsurprisingly, Viva is powered by Microsoft 365 and all of the tools that come with that, as well as integrations with Microsoft Teams, the company’s flagship collaboration service, and even Yammer, the employee communication tool it acquired back in 2012 and continues to support.

There are several parts to Viva: Viva Connections for accessing company news, policies, benefits and internal communities (powered by Yammer); Viva Learning for, you guessed it, accessing learning resources; and Viva Topics, the service’s take on company-wide knowledge sharing. For the most part, that’s all standard fair in any modern intranet, whether it’s from a startup provider or an established player like Jive.

Viva Insights feels like the odd one out here, especially after Microsoft’s kerfuffle around its Productivity Score. The idea here is to give managers insights into whether their team (but not individual team members) are at risk of burnout, for example, in order to encourage them to turn off notifications or set daily priorities (a good manager, I’d hope, could do this without analytics, but here we are, in 2021). It’s also meant to help company leaders “address complex challenges and respond to change by shedding light on organizational work patterns and trends.” Sure.

Because this is Microsoft in 2021, there’s also a lot of talk about employee well-being in today’s announcement. For most employees, that means fewer meetings, more focus time and turning off notifications after work. Obviously there are technical tools to help with that, but it’s really a question of company culture and management. I’m not sure you need analytics integrated with LinkedIn’s Glint for that, but you can now have those, too.

“As the world of work changes, the next horizon of innovation will come from a focus on creativity, engagement and well-being so organizations can build cultures of resilience and ingenuity,” said Jared Spataro, corporate vice president, Microsoft 365. “Our vision is to deliver a platform for the employee experience that helps organizations create a thriving culture with engaged employees and inspiring leaders.”

Posted Under: Tech News
BigChange raises $102M for a platform to help manage service fleets

Posted by on 4 February, 2021

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We talk a lot these days about the future of work and the proliferation of new and better tools for distributed workforces, but companies focused on developing fleet management software — even if they have not really been viewed as “tech startups” — have been working on this problem for many years already. Today, one of the older players in the field is announcing its first significant round of investment, a sign both of how investors are taking more notice of these B2B players, and how the companies themselves are seeing a new opportunity for growth.

BigChange, a UK startup that builds fleet management software to help track and direct jobs to those on the go whose “offices” tend to be vehicles, has closed a round of £75 million ($102 million at today’s rates). U.S. investor Great Hill Partners.

The company has built a business by tapping into the advances of technology to build apps for field service engineers and those back at the mothership who run operations and help manage their jobs, workers who in the past might have used phone calls, paperwork and lots of extra round trips between offices and sites in order to run things.

“I founded BigChange to revolutionise mobile workforce management and bring it into the 21st century. Our platform eliminates paperwork, dramatically cuts carbon, creates efficiency, promotes safer driving and means that engineers are spending less time on the roads or filling out forms and more time completing jobs,” said founder and CEO Martin Port in a statement. “We are incredibly excited to partner with Great Hill and leverage their successful track-record scaling vertical and enterprise software companies both in the UK and overseas.”

BigChange said that Great Hill’s stake values the company at £100 million (or $136 million). One report points to part of that funding being a secondary transaction, with Port pocketing £48 million of that. The company has been around since 2012 and appears to be profitable. It has raised very little in funding (around $2 million) before this, at one point trying to raise an angel round but cancelling the process before it completed, according to filings tracked by PitchBook.

As the technology industry continues to become essentially a part of every other industry in the world, this deal is notable as a sign of how its boundaries are expanding and getting more blurred.

BigChange is not a London startup, nor from the Cambridge or Oxford areas, nor from Bristol or anywhere in the south. It’s from the north, specifically Leeds — a city that has an impressive number of startups in it even if these have not had anything like the funding or attention that startups in cities and areas in the South have attracted. (One eye-catching exception is the online store Pharmacy2U: the Leeds startup has been backed by Atomico, BGF and others: given the interest of companies like Amazon to grow in this space, it’s likely one to watch.)

One of the big themes in technology right now is how a lot of the action is getting decentralised — a result of many of us now working remotely to stave off the spread of Covid-19, many people using that situation to reconsider whether they need to be living in any specific place at all, and subsequently choosing to relocate from expensive regions like the Bay Area to other places for better quality of life.

There are of course other cities like Manchester, Edinburg, Cardiff and more in the U.K. with technology ecosystems (just as there have been across many cities in the U.S. for years). But when one of these, this time out of Leeds, attracts a significant funding round, it points to the potential of something similar playing out in the U.K., too, with not just talent but more money going into regions beyond the usual suspects.

The other part of the decentralisation story here focuses on what BigChange is actually building.

Here, it’s one of the many companies that have dived into the area of building apps and larger pieces of software aimed not at “knowledge workers” but those who do not sit at desks, are on the move, and tend to work with their hands. For those who are on the road, it has apps to better manage their jobs and routes (which it calls JourneyWatch). For those back in the dispatch part of the operations, it has an app to track them better and use the software to balance the jobs and gain further analytics from the work (sold as JobWatch). These work on ruggedised devices and lean on SaaS architecture for distribution, and there are some 50,000 people across some 1,500 organizations using its apps today, with those customers located around the world, but with a large proportion of them in the U.K. itself.

BigChange is not the only company targeting workers in the field. We covered a significant funding round for another one of them out of North America, Jobber, which builds software for service professionals, just last month. Others tapping into the opportunity of bringing tech to a wider audience beyond knowledge workers include Hover (technology and a wider set of tools for home repair people to source materials, make pricing and work estimates, and run the administration of their businesses) and GoSite (a platform to help all kinds of SMBs — the key factor being that many of them are coming online for the first time — build out and run their businesses). Others in this specific area include Klipboard, Azuga, ServiceTitan, ServiceMax and more.

You might recognise the name Great Hill Partners as the PE firm that has taken majority stakes in a range of media companies like Gizmodo, Ziff Davis (way back when) and Storyblocks, and backed companies like The Real Real and Wayfair. In this case, the company was attracted by how BigChange was being adopted by a very wide range of industries that fall under “field service” as part of their workload.

“Unlike niche players that focus on smaller customers and specific sub-verticals, Martin and his accomplished team have built a flexible, all-in-one platform for field service professionals and operators,” said Drew Loucks, a partner at Great Hill Partners, in a statement. “BigChange’s technology is differentiated not only by its ability to serve commercial and residential clients of nearly any scale or vertical, but also by its award-winning product development and customer service capabilities.”

Posted Under: Tech News
Rocket.Chat raises $19M for its open-source approach to integrated enterprise messaging

Posted by on 3 February, 2021

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Chat platforms like Slack have been game-changers when it comes to what business users want and expect out of their work communications. Today, a company that’s aiming to move the goalpost again with an integrated, open-source alternative is announcing some funding to fuel its growth.

Rocket.Chat, a startup and open-source-based platform of the same name used by banks, the U.S. Navy, NGOs and other organizations big and small to set up and run any variety of secure virtual communications services from one place — they can include not just team chat, but also customer service, collaboration platforms covering your staff and outside partners, school classrooms, conferences and more — has raised $19 million.

The company plans to use the funding both to continue adding more customers, but also expanding the platform’s functionality, including more security features, a way to use the service over federated blockchain architecture, apps for marketplaces, options for bots, and more social media and omnichannel customer service integrations, and potentially facilities for virtual events.

As more business interactions have gone virtual, it has essentially opened the door for companies like Rocket.Chat building virtual communications platforms to build in an increasing number of features into what it does.

The Series A round of funding has four lead investors — Valor Capital Group, Greycroft, Monashees and NEA — with e.ventures, Graphene Ventures, ONEVC and DGF also participating. The Porto Alegre, Brazil-based startup (which is incorporated in Delaware) has now raised $27 million to date.

Rocket.Chat is not disclosing its valuation with this round, but it comes on the back of some significant growth in the last year. The startup now has 16 million registered users across 150 countries, with eight million of them monthly active users. Of that 16 million, 11.3 million users registered for the service in the past six months. It’s currently installed on some 845,000 servers, the company said, and has over 1,500 developers building on its platform.

Rocket.Chat’s funding and expanding business comes as part of a bigger focus overall for open-source platforms.

The promise of open source in the world of enterprise IT has been that it provides a platform to customise a service to fit with how the organization in question wants to use it, while at the same time providing tools to make sure it is robust enough in terms of security, extensibility and more for use in a business environment.

Over the years, it has become a big business opportunity, in line with organizations getting more sophisticated in terms of what they expect and need out of their IT services, where off-the-shelf apps may not always fit the bill.

Rocket.Chat positions itself as something of an all-in-one superstore for any and all communications needs, with organizations putting their own services together in whatever way works for their purposes.

It can either be hosted and managed by customers themselves, or used as a cloud-based SaaS, with its pricing ranging between free (for minimal, self-hosted services) to $4 per user per month, or higher, depending on which services customers want to have, whether its hosted and how much the platform is being used each month.

Image Credits: Rocket.Chat

As you can see in the mock-up here, its basic platform looks a little like Slack. But if you are using it for omnichannel communications for customer service, for example, you can build a platform within Rocket.Chat where you incorporate communications from any other platforms that might be used to communicate with customers.

Its work collaboration platform starts with Rocket.Chat’s basic chat interface, but also allows you to integrate alerts and links to other apps that you regularly use, as well as video calls and more. These and other functions built on Rocket.Chat can then be made to interact with each other — for example handing tickets off in customer service to internal tech support teams — or separately.

The idea is that by providing a version that can be hosted and managed by organizations themselves, it gives them more privacy and control over their electronic messaging.

Its thousands of customers reflect an interesting mix of the kinds of organizations that are looking for solutions that do just that.

Gabriel Engel, the CEO and founder, tells me the list includes several military and public sector organizations including the U.S. Navy, financial services companies like Credit Suisse and Citibank, as well as the likes of Cornell, Arizona State, UC Irvine, Bielefeld University and other educational institutions, and a number of other private companies. 

That flexibility does not always play to Rocket.Chat’s advantage, however. Controversially, it seems that the list also includes the other end of the spectrum of organizations that want to keep their messages limited to a very specific audience: Islamic State it turns out also hosts and runs a Rocket.Chat to disseminate messages.

Engel says that while this is not something that the company supports, and that it works with authorities to shut down users like these as much as it can, it’s a consequence of how the service was built:

“We are not able to track usage if they are running Rocket.Chat servers of their own,” he said. “There’s a reason why the U.S. Navy uses Rocket.Chat. And that’s because we cannot track and know what they’re doing. It’s isolated from any external influence, for better or worse.” He added that the company has policies so that if an illicit organization is using its SaaS version, these get taken down in cooperation with authorities. “But just as with Linux, if you download and run Rocket.Chat on your own computer, then obviously it’s out of our reach.”

Hearing about how a platform built with privacy by design can be abused, with seemingly little to be done about it, does seem to offset some of the benefits. The ethics of that predicament, and whether technology can ever solve it, or whether it will be up to government authorities to address, will continue to be a question not just for Rocket.Chat but for all of us.

In the meantime, investors are interested because of the alternative it provides to those groups that need it.

“In today’s environment, organizations must have a secure communication platform to engage teams internally, communicate with customers and partners externally, and connect with safe interest-based communities,” said Dylan Pearce, partner at Greycroft, in a statement. “Rocket.Chat’s world-class management team and open-source community lead the industry in innovation and provide a communications platform capable of serving every person on the planet.” 

Posted Under: Tech News
Polytomic announces $2.4M seed to move business data where it’s needed

Posted by on 3 February, 2021

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There is so much data sitting inside companies these days, but getting data to the people who need it most remains a daunting challenge. Polytomic, a graduate of the Y Combinator Winter 2020 cohort set out to solve that problem, and today the startup announced a $2.4 million seed.

Caffeinated Capital led the round with help from Bow Capital and a number of individual investors including the founders of PlanGrid, Tracy Young and Ralph Gootee, the company where Polytomic founders CEO Ghalib Suleiman and CTO Nathan Yergler both previously worked.

“We synch internal data to business systems. You can imagine your sales team living in Salesforce and would like to see who’s using your product from your customer data that lives in other internal databases. We have a no-code web app that moves internal data to the business systems of the office,” Suleiman told me.

Data lives in silos across every company, and Polytomic lets you build the connectors by dragging and dropping components in the Polytomic interface. This new data then shows up as additional fields in the target application. So you might have a usage percentage field added to Salesforce automatically if you were connecting to customer usage data.

The company actually sells the product to business operations teams, who would be charged with setting up a catalogue or menu of data sources that live in Polytomic. This is usually handled by someone like a business analyst who can configure the different sources. Once that’s done, anyone can build connectors to these data sources by selecting them from the menu and then choosing where to deliver the data.

The founders came up with the idea for the company because when they were at PlanGrid, they faced a problem getting data to the people who needed it in the company. The problem became more pronounced as the company grew and they had ever more data and more employees who needed access to it.

They left PlanGrid in 2018 and launched Polytomic a year later to begin attacking the problem. The two founders joined YC as a way to learn to refine the product, and were still working on it on Demo Day, delivering their presentation off the record because they weren’t quite done with it yet.

They released the first iteration of the product last September and report some progress getting customers and gaining revenue. Early customers include Brex, ShipBob, Sourcegraph and Vanta.

The company has no additional employees beyond the two founders as of yet, but with the seed funding in the bank, they plan to begin hiring a few people this year.

Posted Under: Tech News
Box acquires eSignature startup SignRequest for new content workflows

Posted by on 3 February, 2021

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Box announced this morning that it has agreed to acquire eSignature startup SignRequest for $55 million.The acquisition gives the company a native signature component it has been lacking and opens up new workflows for the company.

Box CEO Aaron Levie says the company has seen increased demand from customers to digitize more of their workflows, and this acquisition is about giving them a signature component right inside Box that will be known as Box Sign moving forward. “With Box Sign, customers can have a seamless esignature experience right where their content already lives,” Levie told me.

While Box has partnerships with other eSignature vendors, this gives it one to call its own, one that will be built into Box starting this summer. As we have learned during this pandemic, the more work we can do remotely, the safer it is. Even after the pandemic ends and we get back to more face-to-face interactions, being able to do things fully in the cloud and removing paper from the workflow will speed up everything.

“The massive push to remote work effectively instantly highlighted for every enterprise where their digital workflows were breaking down. And eSignature was a major part of that — too many industries still rely on paper based processes,” he said.

Levie says that the signature component has been a key missing piece from the platform. “As for our platform, when you look at Snowflake, they’re the data cloud. Salesforce is the sales cloud. Adobe is the marketing cloud. We want to build the content cloud. Imagine one platform that can power the entire lifecycle of content. eSignature has been a major missing link for critical workflows,” he said.

He believes this will open up the platform for a number of scenarios, that while possible before, could not flow as easily between Box components. “Having SignRequest gets us more natively into mission critical workflows like customer contracts, vendor onboarding, healthcare onboarding and supply chain collaboration,” Levie explained.

It’s worth noting that Dropbox acquired HelloSign for $230 million two years ago to provide it with a similar kind of functionality and workflow capability, but analyst Alan Pelz-Sharpe from Deep Analysis, a firm that follows the content management market, says this wasn’t really in reaction to that.

“I think what is interesting here is that Box is going to integrate SignRequest and bundle it as part of the standard service. That’s what really caught my eye as the challenge with eSig is that it’s typically a separate product and so gets limited use. They bought it partly in response to Dropbox, but it was a hole that needed fixing regardless so would have done so anyway,” Pelz-Sharpe explained.

As for SignRequest, the company was founded in the Netherlands in 2014. Neither Pitchbook nor Crunchbase has a record of it raising funds. The plan is for the company’s employees to join Box and help build the signature component that will become Box Sign. According to a message to customers on the company website, existing customers will have the opportunity over the next year to move to Box Sign, and get all of the other components of the Box platform.

Levie says the basic Box Sign function will be built into the platform at no additional charge, but there will be more advanced features coming that they could charge for. The deal is expected to close soon with the SignRequest team remaining in The Netherlands.

Posted Under: Tech News
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