This startup got a meeting with Mark Suster by getting clever with Google ads

Posted by on 14 March, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

Startups have done some wild things to get the attention of VCs. In fact, Instacart founder Apoorva Mehta sent YC partner (at the time) Garry Tan a six-pack of beer through the service after missing the deadline for Y Combinator by two months.

Yesterday, the ingenuity of startups struck again.

Tadabase.io, an enterprise startup that offers no-code tools to help businesses automate their processes, has had an ad running that was… well, hyper targeted.

ProductHunt founder and WeekendFund investor Ryan Hoover discovered the ad and shared it on Twitter.

Hoover told TechCrunch he was Googling Mark Suster to facilitate an introduction between Suster and one of Hoover’s portfolio companies. Instead, he found a Google ad directed squarely at Suster from Tadabase.io.

“Mark Suster, you haven’t invested in nocode” read the paid listing. “Therefore, we put this ad here to get your attention. If you’re not Mark, please don’t click here and save us some money.”

I reached out to Suster, managing partner at UpFront Ventures, to see what he thought of the ad. He told me he “loved it” and has already contacted the CEO to set up a call for next week.

Whether this clever Google ad will result in an actual investment is yet to be determined. Also unclear: will Ryan Hoover get in on the deal?

I reached out to Tadabase founder and CEO Moe Levine via email to ask about the ad, how they went about targeting, and how he feels about his upcoming phone call next week. He hasn’t responded yet. I’ll update if/when he does.

Posted Under: Tech News
Pentagon asks court for time to reconsider JEDI award to Microsoft

Posted by on 13 March, 2020

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The JEDI contract award process might never be done. Following legal challenges from Amazon after the Pentagon’s massive, $10 billion cloud contract was awarded to Microsoft in October, the Pentagon indicated in court documents last night that it wishes to reconsider the award.

It’s just the latest plot twist in an epic government procurement saga.

Here’s what we know. The Pentagon filing is based on Amazon’s complaints about the technical part of the deal only. Amazon has said that it believes political interference influenced the awarding of the contract. However, the cloud computing giant also believes it beat Microsoft on the technical merits in a majority of instances required in the request for proposals issued by the Pentagon.

In fact, sources told TechCrunch, “AWS’s protest identified evaluation errors, clear deficiencies and unmistakable bias in six of the eight evaluation factors.”

Obviously Amazon was happy to hear this news. “We are pleased that the DoD has acknowledged ‘substantial and legitimate’ issues that affected the JEDI award decision, and that corrective action is necessary,” a spokesperson stated.

“We look forward to complete, fair, and effective corrective action that fully insulates the re-evaluation from political influence and corrects the many issues affecting the initial flawed award.”

The court granted the Pentagon 120 days to review the results again, but indicated it could take longer. In the meantime, the project is at a standstill.

On Friday, the court issued a ruling that Amazon was likely to succeed on its complaint on merit, and that could have been the impetus of this latest action by the Pentagon.

While the political influence piece might not be overtly part of this filing, it does lurk in the background. The president has made it clear that he doesn’t like Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post. As we wrote last year:

Amazon, for instance, could point to Jim Mattis’ book where he wrote that the president told the then Defense Secretary to “screw Bezos out of that $10 billion contract.” Mattis says he refused, saying he would go by the book, but it certainly leaves the door open to a conflict question.

As we previously reported, AWS CEO Andy Jassy stated at a press event at AWS re:Invent in December that the company believed there was political bias at play in the decision-making process.

“What I would say is that it’s fairly obvious that we feel pretty strongly that it was not adjudicated fairly,” he said. He added, “I think that we ended up with a situation where there was political interference. When you have a sitting president, who has shared openly his disdain for a company, and the leader of that company, it makes it really difficult for government agencies, including the DoD, to make objective decisions without fear of reprisal.”

We have requested comment from Microsoft and DoD and will update the story should they respond.

Posted Under: Tech News
Yext aims to deliver more coronavirus-related answers by making its site search free

Posted by on 12 March, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

Yext says that in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s making its Yext Answers site search product free for 90 days.

You might not see an obvious connection between site search and a worldwide pandemic. You might even think this sounds like a marketing gimmick. But Yext CEO Howard Lerman said that for the past 10 days, the company has seen a spike in coronavirus-related searches across sites that use Yext Answers.

After all, Lerman said Yext has a lot of customers in the healthcare industry, such as the IHA medical group. But even beyond that, companies are getting related questions, whether it’s a hotel getting asked about their cleaning procedures, or an airline being asked whether it’s safe to fly or a vodka company getting asked about whether vodka can be used as hand sanitizer.

Businesses could try to answer those questions on a single web page or blog post, but that’s probably not going to be comprehensive. Yext Answers offers a way to present and save this information in a much more structured way, so that a visitor can jump to the exact answer that interests them. In addition, it provides data on what visitors are searching for, so companies can answer the questions that people are actually asking.

Yext is also offering a free plugin that includes frequently asked questions about the coronavirus, with answers sourced directly form the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We have a product that could be pretty useful right now,” Lerman said. “We don’t want people to be getting wrong answers in the time of a global pandemic.”

He added said that the company would normally charge around $100,000 for three months of Yext Answers. However, the free offering will be limited to 1,000 entities (which can be FAQs, locations or anything else), and Lerman said most paying customers are already using more than that.

While the product is free, the company will still schedule an initial setup call with a Yext administrator and provide ongoing email support. You can read more on Yext’s new website.

Posted Under: Tech News
Assembled raises $3.1M led by Stripe to build ‘the operating system for support teams’

Posted by on 11 March, 2020

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CRM software accounts for one-quarter of all enterprise IT spend. But ironically, while a lot of money is spent on platforms like Salesforce or SAP to manage incoming calls and outgoing marketing and sales activity, not a lot of attention is given to the issue of how to help the teams using all that software work better.

What are the peak times for calls? What are the most common questions? Which staff are best skilled at what kinds of questions? And who is actually working at any given time? These are just some of the issues, but in many cases, there isn’t much in the way of tools used to help with these at all — organisations often just hack a spreadsheet platform like Google Sheets or a calendar app to get by, or do nothing at all.

Today, a startup called Assembled is coming out of stealth mode to address that gap in the market, with a platform that’s built specifically to address the kinds of questions and issues that customer support teams encounter and — answered well — can help them work much better.

Out of the gate, Assembled is announcing $3.1 million in seed funding led by Stripe — where the founding team previously worked — with participation also from Basis Set Ventures, Signalfire, and several angel investors (who are also mostly former Stripe employees).

Assembled’s longer-term ambition is to build tools for what co-founder Ryan Wang describes as “the logistics of customer support.”

“We want to become the operating system for support teams,” he said. Most immediately, the company’s focus will be on agent performance. “Teams to want to learn about their top performers and how they spend their time, and offer data to empower their decision-making.”

Stripe — the payments and related services provider that is now valued at $35 billion — has developed a sizeable operation funding startups adjacent to its own interests in cultivating relationships with startups and other smaller businesses. You could consider it a strategic investor in Assembled: alongside Grammarly, Gofundme, Hopper and Harry’s, Stripe is one of Assembled’s marquee customers.

Wang, an ex-Stripe engineer who co-founded Assembled with his brother John and Assembled’s CEO Brian Sze (both also ex-Stripe), said in an interview that the idea for the startup came directly out of the pair’s experiences as early employees at Stripe.

The approach at the startup in its early days was very grass-roots: employees would get together outside the office to go through support tickets as a way of identifying trends and to talk through them to figure out what might need fixing, how to handle issues in the future, and so on.

It was probably a great way for the team to really stay in touch with what customers needed and wanted. But eventually this approach presented a problem: how do you scale this kind of process? To a tech person, the solution would be obvious: build a platform that can help you do this.

“Within the landscape of CRM, we could see that tech hadn’t really been applied to the business of supporting customer support,” Wang said. “That is why we left. We’d understood that it was a broad problem.”

A tool to help improve workforce management for customer support teams is a no brainer for a company already trying to address these issues through its own home-baked solutions. Wang noted that one of its current customers had built out such an extensive map of data on Google Sheets trying to address customer support workforce management that “they broke Google Sheets. It was just too big.”

Indeed, Bob van Winden, Stripe’s head of operations, noted: “Millions of businesses rely on Stripe every day. To support them, we obsess over every detail of delivering fast, reliable customer service, including free 24×7 phone and chat support. This led us to Assembled, which our global support teams are using to stay coordinated and focused on helping Stripe’s users thrive.”

Less obvious is the use case when a company has never identified these issues, or sees them but haven’t made efforts to try to solve them because it seems too difficult. (The classic issues here are that Assembled is “too clever by half”, or “too ahead of its time.”) That presents both an open market for Assembled, but also a greenfield challenge.

One route to customers has been to integrate with more established CRM packages. Currently Assembled integrates with Salesforce, Kustomer and Zendesk, so that it can source data from these to provide more insights to users.

Another is to provide a set of tools that speak to the wider trend for analytics and data-based insights that can be used to improve how a company works. Indeed, just as Kustomer has disrupted the idea of a CRM being focused a narrow funnel of inbound requests, Assembled also is rethinking how to parse data to figure out what a customer support person should be doing and when. 

The startup provides a way to forecast inbound support query volumes, and to map that into staffing plans that cover multiple channels like chat, email, phone and social media. The staffing plan, in turn, also acts as a scheduling tool to set up group and single calendars for individuals.

A team’s activity, meanwhile, is tracked through a set of metrics that whole team can see and use to calibrate their work better.

Going forward, you can imagine Assembled expanding in a couple of different directions. One might be to offer workforce management to more teams beyond customer support, but that also have to work out how to manage inbound requests and turn them into more efficient work plans. Another might be to continue expanding the kinds of tools it might provide to customer support teams to continue complementing basic CRMs, in particular as customer support comes to mean different things, depending on who the “customer” actually is.

“We see the term ‘customer support’ evolving,” Wang said. “The big struggle is what is the encompassing term should be instead. Generally, our view is that we want to transform and elevate what customer support means. It’s not just about call centers, but any drivers of customer experience related to your products.”

Posted Under: Tech News
AWS launches Bottlerocket, a Linux-based OS for container hosting

Posted by on 11 March, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

AWS has launched its own open-source operating system for running containers on both virtual machines and bare metal hosts. Bottlerocket, as the new OS is called, is basically a stripped-down Linux distribution that’s akin to projects like CoreOS’s now-defunct Container Linux and Google’s container-optimized OS. The OS is currently in its developer preview phase, but you can test it as an Amazon Machine Image for EC2 (and by extension, under Amazon EKS, too).

As AWS chief evangelist Jeff Barr notes in his announcement, Bottlerocket supports Docker images and images that conform to the Open Container Initiative image format, which means it’ll basically run all Linux-based containers you can throw at it.

One feature that makes Bottleneck stand out is that it does away with a package-based update system. Instead, it uses an image-based model that, as Barr notes, “allows for a rapid & complete rollback if necessary.” The idea here is that this makes updates easier. At the core of this update process is “The Update Framework,” an open-source project hosted by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation.

AWS says it will provide three years of support (after General Availability) for its own builds of Bottlerocket. As of now, the project is very much focused on AWS, of course, but the code is available on GitHub and chances are we will see others expand on AWS’ work.

The company is launching the project in cooperation with a number of partners, including Alcide, Armory, CrowdStrike, Datadog, New Relic, Sysdig, Tiger, Trend Micro and Waveworks.

“Container-optimized operating systems will give dev teams the additional speed and efficiency to run higher throughput workloads with better security and uptime,” said Michael Gerstenhaber, Director of Product Management at Datadog.” We are excited to work with AWS on Bottlerocket, so that as customers take advantage of the increased scale they can continue to monitor these ephemeral environments with confidence.”

 

Posted Under: Tech News
Hitachi Vantara acquires what’s left of Containership

Posted by on 10 March, 2020

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Hitachi Vantara, the wholly owned subsidiary of Hitachi that focuses on building hardware and software to help companies manage their data, today announced that it has acquired the assets of Containership, one of the earlier players in the container ecosystem, which shut down its operations last October.

Containership, which launched as part of our 2015 Disrupt New York Startup Battlefield, started as a service that helped businesses move their containerized workloads between clouds, but as so many similar startups, it then moved on to focus solely on Kubernetes and helping enterprises manage their Kubernetes infrastructure. Before it called it quits, the company’s specialty was managing multi-cloud Kubernetes deployments. The company wasn’t able to monetize its Kubernetes efforts quickly enough, though, the company said at the time in a blog post that it has now removed from its website.

Containership enables customers to easily deploy and manage Kubernetes clusters and containerized applications in public cloud, private cloud, and on-premise environments,” writes Bobby Soni, the COO for digital infrastructure at Hitachi Vantara. “The software addresses critical cloud native application issues facing customers working with Kubernetes such as persistent storage support, centralized authentication, access control, audit logging, continuous deployment, workload portability, cost analysis, autoscaling, upgrades, and more.”

Hitachi Vantara tells me that it is not acquiring any of Containership’s customer contracts or employees and has no plans to keep the Containership brand. “Our primary focus is to develop new offerings based on the Containership IP. We do hope to engage with prior customers once our new offerings become commercially available,” a company spokesperson said.

The companies did not disclose the price of the acquisition. Pittsburgh-based Containership only raised about $2.6 million since it was founded in 2014, though, and things had become pretty quiet around the company in the last year or two before its early demise. Chances are then that the price wasn’t all that high. Investors include Birchmere Ventures, Draper Triangle and Innovation Works.

Hitachi Vantara says it will continue to work with the Kubernetes community. Containership was a member of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation. Hitachi never was, but after this acquisition, that may change.

Posted Under: Tech News
Dell spent $67B buying EMC — more than 3 years later, was it worth the debt?

Posted by on 10 March, 2020

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Dell’s 2015 decision to buy EMC for $67 billion remains the largest pure tech deal in history, but a transaction of such magnitude created a mountain of debt for the Texas-based company and its primary backer, Silver Lake.

Dell would eventually take on close to $50 billion in debt. Years later, where are they in terms of paying that back, and has the deal paid for itself?

When EMC put itself up for sale, it was under pressure from activist investors Elliott Management to break up the company. In particular, Elliott reportedly wanted the company to sell one of its most valuable parts, VMware, which it believed would help boost EMC’s share price. (Elliott is currently turning the screws on Twitter and SoftBank.)

Whatever the reason, once the company went up for sale, Dell and private equity firm Silver Lake came ‘a callin with an offer EMC CEO Joe Tucci couldn’t refuse. The arrangement represented great returns for his shareholders, and Tucci got to exit on his terms, telling Elliott to take a hike (even if it was Elliott that got the ball rolling in the first place).

Dell eventually took itself public again in late 2018, probably to help raise some of the money it needed to pay off its debts. We are more than three years past the point where the Dell-EMC deal closed, so we decided to take a look back and see if Dell was wise to take on such debt or not.

What it got with EMC

Posted Under: Tech News
YC-backed Snapboard is a no-code platform for building internal tools

Posted by on 10 March, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

No code tools are on the rise, and a YC-backed company called Snapboard is looking to join the fight.

Snapboard, led by solo founder Calum Moore, started when Moore decided to build one product a week for a year as a personal challenge. In the second week, he realized just how many apps and services it took not only to build the product, but to post about it on social media.

He wanted a way to manage all those apps and tools from one dashboard. So he built Snapboard.

Snapboard allows users to link together and manage a wide variety of apps and platforms in a single, customizable dashboard. Users can create boards that act as internal tools without getting the product or engineering team involved for an internal project. Moore describes it as “Airtable, but with all of your data already in there.”

Right now, more than 50 apps are available on the Snapboard platform, including Shopify, Dropbox, Google Analytics, MailChimp, MongoDB, MySQL, Trello, Zendesk, and many more. Moore isn’t concerned with onboarding new integrated apps for Snapboard as most of the popular tools used by startups and tech firms are API supported.

The use cases are innumerable, which is just as challenging as it is beneficial. Moore detailed a few examples, including building boards for each individual customer, combining Stripe data with emails sent through Mail Chimp to try and target behavior.

However, the flexibility of the platform means that it can do almost anything, but only if you know what you want to do with it. It can be difficult to evangelize for something that is so nebulous, and can be used so many ways.

Moore says the key is to sprint on building out the template library for Snapboard, offering new users a multitude of options as inspiration.

Snapboard offers a free tier, and then charges $10/month/seat for more advanced features. Thus far, the company has 3,000 registered users and around 230 WAUs.

The company is targeting tech companies but sees the potential for other industries to tap into Snapboard’s internal tool-making platform.

Beyond the difficulty of messaging a platform that can be used in countless ways, Moore identifies UX design as one of the company’s greatest challenges.

“We’re taking something only developers used to be able to do and making it available for everyone else,” said Moore. “If you give a developer a platform, they’ll work their way through it. They’ll find some way to make it work. Whereas, with less technical people, they want products to be very obvious and easy to use. So, for us, it’s about delivering that kind of technical experience in a really non-technical way.”

Snapboard has raised a total of $150K from Y Combinator and will present in the upcoming demo day.

Posted Under: Tech News
Electric reopens Series B to make room for Dick Costolo and Adam Bain

Posted by on 10 March, 2020

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Electric, the platform that delivers IT services to small and medium businesses, has today announced that it has raised an additional $14.5 million on its Series B from 01 Advisors, the fund led by Twitter alums Dick Costolo and Adam Bain.

Though the funding is a part of the company’s Series B financing, founder Ryan Denehy explained that the deal was signed on a uptick in valuation, though wouldn’t elaborate further.

Electric raised a $25 million Series B led by GGV in January of 2019.

The company allows businesses with small IT teams, or no IT team, to get on the platform and either automate or manage with one click the various administrative facets of that role. Most IT tasks are focused on administration, distribution and maintenance of software programs.

Electric customers ensure that the software is installed on every corporate machine, effectively giving the top IT employee or decision-maker an easy way to grant and revoke permissions, assign roles, and make sure software is up to date on various machines.

The hope is that this allows IT specialists to focus on the jobs that are best suited to their skills, such as troubleshooting, hardware installation and other more difficult tasks.

Denehy said that this new fundraise was all about bringing strategic operators under the tent, not cash. He explained that at the close of last year, VCs started reaching out to get in on the company’s Series C. The team sat down for a board meeting where they weighed their options, one of which being a $40 million Series C.

“We have no immediate use for most of that money,” said Denehy. “Is it going to make our customers happy or is it going to make us a better run company? It’s kind of a philosophical question. A lot of founders sort of equate success to the fact that they raised two rounds within six months of each other, and I just took the contrarian view. I wondered what we could actually do to make our company run better and the conclusion was to get the best business leaders and operators in tech to get around the table at our company.”

This brings Electric’s total funding to just over $50 million. Denehy says part of the reluctance around fundraising stemmed from the fact that Electric had tripled top line growth over the past two years. But that doesn’t mean he had all the answers when it comes to hyper growth and scaling the business.

Costolo recalled when Bain first met Ryan Denehy, and came back excited about his willingness to learn.

“Ryan is a really enthusiastic founder/CEO,” said Costolo. “Some founders know they don’t have the answers to everything and that there’s still a lot to learn, and they want to learn. And Ryan is right down the middle for that.”

Costolo also explained that he’s excited about how well Electric fits in to the dogma of ‘software is eating the world’, automating these low-level tasks to free up resources and energy for higher-order tasks.

Costolo and Bain operate slightly unusually for a growth-stage fund (01 Advisors writes checks for later A rounds and B rounds). The duo don’t want to take board seats, as they’d rather be “sitting next to the founder instead of across the table from the founder.”

This results in a hands-on approach based on their experience as operators. Remember, Costolo grew Twitter to a market cap of $23.4 billion before stepping down, and Bain spent six years at Twitter as President of Global Revenue and Partnerships before stepping into the COO role.

Costolo and Bain have already brought their hands-on approach to Electric, having conversations with the Head of HR around how to introduce HR business partners to different departments and how to scale and set goals for the enterprise sales team.

Posted Under: Tech News
MessageBird launches Inbox.ai to ‘disrupt’ the customer service market

Posted by on 10 March, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

MessageBird, the Amsterdam-headquartered cloud communications platform backed by Accel in the U.S. and Europe’s Atomico, is unveiling another new product today, this time taking aim at the $350 billion customer service market.

Dubbed Inbox.ai and positioned as “Slack for external communications,” the new product — which is to be offered largely for free — enables customers to communicate with businesses via practically any channel of their choosing. This includes WhatsApp, SMS, Voice, Messenger, Instagram, WeChat, Apple Business Chat, RCS, Line and Telegram — in a bid to meet customers on their own digital, “messaging-first” turf. In terms of message content, at launch there is already support for text, images, video, geolocation and more.

And perhaps crucially, regardless of channel, incoming messages and customer conversations are presented in a single thread for easy ticketing and collaboration amongst support agents. There’s some built in intelligence, too, with “AI” promising to analyse keywords and anticipate customer needs, including providing a list of suggested replies. Agents can also drag and drop components to create auto-replies, and there’s support for things like automated NPS surveys, or rules for message routing.

As you’d expect from a company that has primarily targeted developers, Inbox.ai leverages webhooks for integration with various third-party tools used by enterprises and also comes pre-loaded with support for Shopify, Slack, Salesforce, Jira, and more. This includes the ability to have content created within Inbox.ai synced with other software used by a company for its various communication, sales and other business processes — even if over time, and for some companies, Inbox.ai may become all they need.

In a video call with MessageBird founder and CEO Robert Vis, he gave me a personal demo of Inbox.ai, including showing how quick the on-boarding process can be for a new business but also for a new customer. He had me WhatsApp a company’s support number and I could instantly see my message show up within the software and was able to send a photo to help with my request and receive other rich media in return.

Vis explained that the impetus for the new offering was his own frustration with customer support from companies in general, who, he says, haven’t adapted to the new world where customers expect to have their issues solved digitally and where it is no longer acceptable to queue for hours on hold or wait 24 hours or more for an email reply.

He says that a quick back of a napkin calculation suggests that, at the age of 35, he has already spent 2 weeks of his life on hold. He also said Inbox.ai wants to solve the continuity of support problem that typically sees customers having to re-explain their issue each time they are handed off to a different support agent or department.

“From a MessageBird perspective, we built these APIs and people [already] have the possibility to build these experiences, so why am I not living in this world?” Vis says rhetorically, after recalling a recent bad experience with his mobile telephone service provider. “I want to live in a world where I can text and have my problems easily solved… What I don’t want is for them to drop me a note into my email and then have to call them”.

So, rather than simply providing developer hooks and carrying out the infrastructure heavy-lifting, MessageBird is betting on its first user-facing product, which, I’m told, raised a few eyebrows amongst the board.

To that end, Vis told me that Inbox.ai was developed by the MessageBird team in 12 months and followed extensive research with customers, support agents and managers. Prior to launch, the software has been tested and is currently used by, HelloFresh and Deliveroo in Europe, Zilingo in Asia, and Join Buggy and Tix Telecom in Latin America.

Challenged on why nobody has really cracked this problem so far, despite a number of attempts to create a single source of customer support “truth,” Vis told me “everybody is talking about it but nobody is doing it”. That’s because you need to understand and then solve three related and difficult problems.

The first is ingesting data from all the various communication channels, for which MessageBird has previous form. The second is “experience generation”: the ability for support agents to easily communicate via rich experiences, such as images, videos, geolocation, tracking codes, discounts etc. That’s something most companies don’t have the developer resources to create, argues Vis. And thirdly is the UI, which has to allow agents to communicate and track tickets seamlessly across channels in a way that is agnostic to where those messages originate from.

“I think this is a new category, I think this is where things converge together,” adds the MessageBird CEO. “We compete with a lot of tools but we’re not any of them. We’re how we think in five years every tool is going to be”.

Posted Under: Tech News
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