Lightspeed’s Gaurav Gupta and Grafana Labs’ Raj Dutt will tell us why they financially tied the knot (twice!)

Posted by on 3 February, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

Many founders only know their own experience fundraising and don’t hear much about what other founders went through. On Extra Crunch Live today, we’re going to remedy that.

Grafana Labs has raised upward of $75 million since it launched in 2014. Lightspeed Venture Partners, and partner Gaurav Gupta to be specific, led both the startup’s Series A and Series B rounds. As far as commitments go, that’s a pretty significant one.

The new and improved Extra Crunch Live pairs founders and the investors who led their earlier rounds to talk about how the deal went down, from the moment they met to the conversations they had (including some disagreements) to the relationship as it exists today. Hell, we may even take a peek at the original pitch deck that made it all happen.

Then, we’ll turn our eyes back to you, the audience. That same founder/investor duo (in this case, Grafana Labs CEO Raj Dutt and LVP’s Gaurav Gupta) will take a look at your pitch decks and give their own feedback. (If you haven’t yet submitted a pitch deck to be torn down on Extra Crunch Live, you can do so here.)

The hour-long episode is sandwiched between two 30-minute rounds of networking. From start to finish, it goes from 11:30 a.m. PST/2:30 p.m. EST to 1:30 p.m. PST/4:30 p.m. EST. And Extra Crunch Live will come to you at the same time, every week, with a new pair of speakers.

So let’s learn a little bit more about Gupta and Dutt.

Before becoming an investor, Gupta enjoyed a rich career in the product development sphere, holding positions at Elastic (where he led product management), Splunk (VP of Products), as well as Google, Gateway and the McKenna Group. He joined Lightspeed in 2019 as a partner, focusing primarily on enterprise software. He’s led investments in Impira, Blameless, Hasura and Panther, and of course, Grafana. He sits on the board of the last three companies in that list.

Dutt is the co-founder and CEO at Grafana Labs, but the fast-growing company isn’t his first go at entrepreneurialism. Dutt also founded and led Voxel, a cloud-hosting startup that was acquired by Internap for $30 million in 2012.

We’re absolutely thrilled to have Gupta and Dutt join us on our first episode of Extra Crunch Live in 2021. As a reminder, Extra Crunch Live is for Extra Crunch members only. We’re coming to you with a new pair of speakers every week, and you can catch everything you missed on-demand if you can’t join us live. It’s worth the cost of the subscription on its own, but EC members also get access to our premium content, including market maps and investor surveys. Long story short? Subscribe, smarty. You won’t regret it.

Oh, and here’s a look at other speakers you can expect to see on Extra Crunch Live:

Aydin Senkut (Felicis) + Kevin Busque (Guideline) — February 10
Steve Loughlin (Accel) + Jason Boehmig (Ironclad) — February 17
Matt Harris (Bain Capital Ventures) + Isaac Oates (Justworks) — February 24

And that’s just the February slate!

All the details to register for this upcoming episode (and more) are available below. Can’t wait to see you there!

Posted Under: Tech News
Granulate nabs $30M for software to optimize workloads and latency

Posted by on 3 February, 2021

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Services like video streaming, gaming, media-intensive advertising and marketing technology are putting more strain on bandwidth and backend latency than ever before due to the surge of online traffic in the last year. But for most organizations in today’s usage-based cloud world, that can represent a huge cost in compute power — or a major investment in a company’s own latency technology — to try to address that.

This has created an opportunity for startups building optimization tools. Today, one called Granulate — which has built software for organizations to handle those loads more intelligently and cost-effectively — is announcing a round of funding after seeing a huge boost in business in the last 10 months, with customer growth up 360% and revenues growing 570%.

The Tel Aviv startup has picked up $30 million, a Series B, led by Red Dot Capital Partners, with previous backers Insight Partners, TLV Partners, and Hetz Ventures, and new backer Dawn Capital also participating.

The timing of this Series B speaks to the demand in the market right now: it comes on the back of Granulate closing a $12 million Series A only in April last year. Investors say that its business growth is what prompted them to re-up so soon.

“Granulate’s unique technology and impressive growth since their last funding round reflects a rising market demand for their game-changing optimization solution,” said Yaniv Stern, Managing Partner at Red Dot Capital Partners, in a statement. “For companies facing rising infrastructure costs or focusing on operating cost reduction, Granulate offers a solution that can drive additional improvement regardless of any other solutions already deployed by their clients.”

Granulate is not disclosing its valuation with this latest round, which brings the total raised by the startup to $45 million. 

The opportunity in the market that Granulate is targeting is the fact that media-heavy content, and services like e-commerce that rely on efficient responsiveness on sites and apps to keep people from abandoning their shopping carts, are all on the rise.

But as companies look to keep customers happy with better quality services, they are also trying to keep an eye on margins and therefore want to keep infrastructure and computing costs low.

Granulate’s solution is software that sits at the server layer — either in the cloud or on-premises, as a customer prefers — that uses AI to detect workloads that a customer tags as important and prioritize them so that they work more efficiently. Granulate said that its software can improve response times by up to 40%, and throughput up to five times, while reducing costs by up to 60%. The company today has partnerships with AWS and Microsoft’s Azure and is in the “early stages” of talks with Google Cloud Platform.

Bigger tech companies like Netflix, Google and Amazon typically invest huge sums to build their own optimization technology, but it’s an area that smaller organizations (and you can still be huge while still being smaller than companies like Google) will not have the bandwith — pun intended — to address in the same way.

“We are aware of similar things going on inside of Netflix as what we have built,” Asaf Ezra, co-founder and CEO of Granulate, said in an interview. “But to us, it’s a testament of how large you need to be to address this issue and the talent you need to hire to address the lowest level issues.”

The company’s customers include at least one major retailer (which it can’t name), AppsFlyer, Period and PicsArt.

What will be interesting to watch is how the growth of 5G will affect the bigger problem: as Ezra notes, it will undoubtedly improve front-end latency.

“5g will not cannibalize Granulate,” he said. “In fact, when it becomes standard, the round trip time will be reduced for data, but the front end will be less of the ratio of the time, while the back-end latency will become more of the problem. 5g would solve only the access to your server, but not latency at the server itself.”

Longer term, it’s likely that Granulate will add more optimization and management solutions around those it already offers for latency, Ezra said, while also looking for ways to stand out apart from others in the same space. Competitors are in the process of some consolidation — witness Spot acquired by NetApp last June — so features based around a wider platform will likely be a key way to keep customers interested.

Posted Under: Tech News
Scratchpad snags $13M Series A to simplify Salesforce data entry

Posted by on 3 February, 2021

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Scratchpad is an early stage startup that wants to make it easier for sales people to get information into Salesforce by placing a notation layer on top of it. Today, it announced a $13 million Series A led by Craft Ventures with participation from Accel.

The company has now raised a total of $16.6 million including the $3.6 million seed round we covered in October. Co-founder and CEO Pouyan Salehi says that he wasn’t really looking to add capital, but the investors understood his vision and the money will help accelerate the product roadmap.

“To be honest, it actually wasn’t on our radar to raise again so soon after we raised what I consider a substantial seed. We had plenty of runway, but we started to see a lot of bottom-up user growth, this bottom-up motion just really started to take hold,” Salehi told me.

He says that lead investor David Sacks, who has built some successful startups himself, really got what they were trying to do, and the deal came together fairly easily. In fact, the company caught the attention of Craft because they were hearing about Scratchpad from their portfolio companies.

The bottoms up approach is certainly something we have seen with developer tools and with software for knowledge workers, but companies often take aim at sales through the sales manager, rather than trying directly to get salespeople to use a particular tool. This approach of getting the end users involved early allows them to gain traction with members of the sales team before approaching management about paid versions.

Traditionally, sales teams don’t like the tools that are thrust upon them. They are essentially databases and even with a visual interface, it doesn’t really match up with the way they work. Scratchpad gives them an interface like a spreadsheet or notes application that they are typically using to hack together a workflow, but with a direct connection to Salesforce.

What the paid tiers provide is a way to bring all this data together and get a bigger picture view of what’s happening on the sales team, and it helps ensure that people are using Salesforce because the data in Scratchpad links to the Salesforce database automatically.

The company has completed the initial work of building the individual salesperson’s workspace, but the next phase, and part of what this capital is going to fund, is building the team workspace and seeing how this data can flow from individuals to a team view to give management more insight into what their individual reps are doing. This includes notes, which usually don’t make it into Salesforce, but provide a lot of context about interactions with customers.

It’s resonating with thousands of users (although Salehi didn’t want to share an exact customer number just yet). Customers include Autodesk, Brex, Lacework, Snowflake and Twilio.

Sacks says that he liked the viral way the product has been spreading. “Once a rep starts using Scratchpad, two things tend to happen: it becomes a daily habit, and they share it with their teammates. This phenomena of viral spread is rare and indicates a very strong product-market fit,” he said in a statement.

Posted Under: Tech News
Lightspeed and Max Levchin bet on Balance to bring B2B payments into the digital world

Posted by on 3 February, 2021

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Consumer payments is by no means a solved problem (I’ll trigger one hundred blockchain people if I say otherwise), but it sure as heck a pretty improved one. Checkout is a breeze with modern tools ranging from Stripe and PayPal to Fast and Rapyd to Apple and Google Pay. If you happen to need financing, on-the-spot lending platforms like Affirm, which recently debuted on NASDAQ and is currently valued at $26 billion, will extend that financing nearly instantaneously.

Then you head over to B2B payments … and you recoil in horror as you migrate away from a utopian future of promise to the ruins of an antiquated past. A mash-mash of payment methods from paper checks to wire transfers get sent against invoices, none of which are automatically synchronized across financial information systems. Financing is complicated and offered by a bank through — gasp — an actual phone call. Shudder, because there probably involves a fax machine somewhere in that loop.

Balance is looking to modernize all of it, as fast as possible.

Balance offers efficient B2B payments that allows merchants to offer a variety of payment methods including ACH and bank wires as well as a variety of payment terms including payment on delivery, net payment terms, and payment by milestone. Behind the scenes, Balance underwrites the terms of those transactions requiring financing by evaluating the risk of the customer, the merchant, and the specific payment terms selected. Balance is built on top of Stripe and offers all of Stripe’s credit card payment options, but then extends far beyond them.

Balance’s checkout flow includes options to pick financing terms and means of payment. Photo via Balance.

Take, for instance, your typical SaaS offering. Typically, employees will buy individual seat licenses to the software with their corporate cards (managed maybe with Brex), a payment facilitated through Stripe or PayPal. As a company spends more and more on that particular software, one of the two parties will reach out and negotiate a comprehensive enterprise rate for single payment. It is here that Balance becomes key. That full payment could be done on Balance, with net 30 payment terms using a bank wire all automatically synced against an invoice offered by the service to the customer.

B2B payments is a massive market measured in the tens of trillions globally, which is perhaps one reason why Balance has an all-star fintech investing syndicate behind its seed round. It raised $5.5 million from Tal Morgenstern of Lightspeed, Stripe and Max Levchin through his SciFi VC. Lightspeed previously backed Levchin’s Affirm. Balance was part of the summer 2020 batch of Y Combinator, although declined to appear at demo day and remained in stealth as its seed round had already been locked in. UpWest Labs, which invests in Israeli companies heading to the U.S. market, also invested.

Balance was founded by Bar Geron and Yoni Shuster in late 2019 to early 2020 and came through their experience working at PayPal together. “PayPal is a key part of the story,” Geron said, describing how the duo learned about the consumer payments world. Shuster stayed on at PayPal, while Geron headed to Behalf, a company that also works on B2B financing and cash flow management. Geron said that Behalf was a “pain point solution” to the challenge of offering net payment terms, but that the company didn’t attempt to digitize the mostly analog model of payments. Geron saw an opportunity and linked up with Shuster to take a more expansive approach to the problem.

Balance founders Bar Geron and Yoni Shuster. Photo via Balance.

Our dream is to “make B2B payments as easy as car payments,” Geron said. “What we wanted to do is to make it as easy as Stripe … take a snippet of code and just put it on your site.” With that in place, Balance’s other features like invoice syncing and financing become instant features.

Through Y Combinator, the team learned that other tech companies constantly confronted these problems, and that they would serve as useful first customers. The critical customers though in Geron’s mind are B2B marketplaces where there are few solutions to synchronize the complexities of marketplace transactions. Geron says that “we have several customers in that space.” Another key customer segment are service providers who work on milestone-based payments, such as 20% upfront and 80% on delivery. “We automated [all that] and put it online,” he said.

Balance makes money on what is known as a “factoring fee” where it pays the merchant ahead of the payment from the customer. Geron noted its 2%, although the actual rate varies based on the risk involved.

The two founders are based in Israel, although like most startups these days, they have a distributed workforce.

Posted Under: Tech News
TouchCast raises $55M to grow its mixed reality-based virtual event platform

Posted by on 3 February, 2021

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Events — when they haven’t been cancelled altogether in the last 12 months due to the global health pandemic — have gone virtual and online, and a wave of startups that are helping people create and participate in those experiences are seeing a surge of attention, and funding.

In the latest development, New York video startup TouchCast — which has developed a platform aimed at companies to produce lifelike, virtual conferences and other events without much technical heavy-lifting — has picked up funding of $55 million, money that co-founder and CEO Edo Segal said the startup will use to build out its services and teams after being “overrun by demand” in the wake of Covid-19.

The funding is being led by a strategic investor, Accenture Ventures — the investment arm of the systems integrator and consultancy behemoth — with Alexander Capital Ventures, Saatchi Invest, Ronald Lauder and other unnamed investors also participating. The startup up to now has been largely self-funded, and while Segal isn’t disclosing the valuation he said it was definitely in the 9-figures (that is, somewhere in the large region of hundreds of millions of dollars).

Accenture has been using TouchCast’s technology for its own events, but that is likely just one part of its interest: Accenture also has a lot of corporate customers that tap it to build and implement interactive services, so potentially this could lead to more customers into TouchCast’s pipeline.

(Case in point: my interview with Segal, over Zoom, found me speaking to him in the middle of a vast aircraft hangar, with a 747 from one of the big airlines of the world — I won’t say which — parked behind him. He said he’d just come from a business pitch with the airline in question.)

A lot of what we have seen in virtual events, and in particular conferences, has to date has been, effectively, a managed version of a group call on one of the established videoconferencing platforms like Zoom, Google’s Hangout, Microsoft’s Teams, Webex, and so on.

You get a screen with participants’ individual video streams presented to you in a grid more reminiscent of the opening credits of the Brady Bunch or Hollywood Squares than an actual stage or venue.

There are some, of course, who are taking a much different route. Witness Apple’s online events in the last year, productions that have elevated what a virtual event can mean, with more detail and information, and less awkwardness, than an actual live event.

The problem is that not every company is Apple, unable to afford much less execute Hollywood-level presentations.

The essence of what TouchCast has built, as Segal describes it, is a platform that combines computer vision, video streaming technology and natural language processing to let other organizations create experiences that are closer to that of the iPhone giant’s than they are to a game show.

“We have created a platform so that all companies can create events like Apple’s,” Segal said. “We’re taking them on a journey beyond people sitting in their home offices.”

Yet “home office” remains the operative phrase. With TouchCast, people (the organizers and the on-stage participants) still use basic videoconferencing solutions like Zoom and Teams — in their homes, even — to produce the action. But behind the scenes, TouchCast is taking those videos, using computer vision to trim out the people and place them into virtual “venues” so that they appear as if they are on stage in an actual conference.

These venues come from a selection of templates, or the organiser can arrange for a specific venue to be shot and used. And in addition to the actual event, TouchCast then also provides tools for audience members to participate with questions and to chat to each other. As the event is progressing, TouchCast also produces transcriptions and summaries of the key points for those who want them.

Segal said that TouchCast is not planning to make this a consumer-focused product, not even on the B2B2C side, but it’s preparing a feature so that when business conference organisers do want to hold a music segment with a special guest, those can be incorporated, too. (In all honesty, it seems like a small leap to use this for more consumer-focused events, too.)

TouchCast’s growth into a startup serving an audience of hungry and anxious event planners has been an interesting pivot that is a reminder to founders (and investors) that the right opportunities might not be the ones you think they are.

You might recall that the company first came out of stealth back in 2013, with former TechCrunch editor Erick Schonfeld one of the co-founders.

Back then, the company’s concept was to supercharge online video, by making it easier for creators to bring in interactive elements and media widgets into their work, to essentially make videos closer to the kind of interactivity and busy media mix that we find on webpages themselves.

All that might have been too clever by half. Or, it was simply not the right time for that technology. The service never made many waves, and one of my colleagues even assumed it had deadpooled at some point.

Not at all, it turns out. Segal (a serial entrepreneur who also used to work at AOL as VP of emerging platforms — AOL being the company that acquired TechCrunch and eventually became a part of Verizon) notes that the technology that TouchCast is using for its conferencing solution is essentially the same as what it built for its original video product.

After launching an earlier, less feature-rich version of what it has on the market today, it took the company about six months to retool it, adding in more mixed reality customization via the use of Unreal Engine, to make it what it is now, and to meet the demand it started to see from customers, who approached the startup for their own events after attending conferences held by others using TouchCast.

“It took us eight years to get to our overnight success story,” Segal joked.

Figures from Grand View Research cited by TouchCast estimate that virtual events will be a $400 billion business by 2027, and that has made for a pretty large array of companies building out experiences that will make those events worth attending, and putting on.

They include the likes of Hopin and Bizzabo — both of which have recently also raised big rounds — but also more enhanced services from the big, established players in videoconferencing like Zoom, Google, Microsoft, Cisco and more.

It’s no surprise to see Accenture throwing its hat into that ring as a backer of what it has decided is one of the more interesting technology players in that mix.

The reason is because many understand and now accept that — similar to working life in general — it’s very likely that even when we do return to “live” events, the virtual component, and the expectation that it will work well and be compelling enough to watch, is here to stay.

“Digital disruption, distributed workforces, and customer experience are the driving forces behind the need for companies to transform how they do business and move toward the future of work,” said Tom Lounibos, managing director, Accenture Ventures, in a statement. “For organizations to harness the power of virtual experiences to deliver business impact, the pandemic has shown that quality interactions and insights are needed. Our investment in Touchcast demonstrates our commitment to identifying the latest technologies that help address our clients’ critical business needs.”

Posted Under: Tech News
What Andy Jassy’s promotion to Amazon CEO could mean for AWS

Posted by on 2 February, 2021

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Blockbuster news struck late this afternoon when Amazon announced that Jeff Bezos would be stepping back as CEO of Amazon, the company he built from a business in his garage to worldwide behemoth. As he takes on the role of executive chairman, his replacement will be none other than AWS CEO Andy Jassy.

With Jassy moving into his new role at the company, the immediate question is who replaces him to run AWS. Let the games begin. Among the names being tossed about in the rumor mill are Peter DeSantis, vice president of global infrastructure at AWS and Matt Garman, who is vice president of sales and marketing. Both are members of Bezos’ elite executive team known as the S-team and either would make sense as Jassy’s successor. Nobody knows for sure though, and it could be any number of people inside the organization, or even someone from outside. (We have asked Amazon PR to provide clarity on the successor, but as of publication we had not heard from them.)

Holger Mueller, a senior analyst at Constellation Research, says that Jassy is being rewarded for doing a stellar job raising AWS from a tiny side business to one on a $50 billion run rate. “On the finance side it makes sense to appoint an executive who intimately knows Amazon’s most profitable business, that operates in more competitive markets. [Appointing Jassy] ensures that the new Amazon CEO does not break the ‘golden goose’,” Mueller told me.

Alex Smith, VP of channels, who covers the cloud infrastructure market at analyst firm Canalys, says the writing has been on the wall that a transition was in the works. “This move has been coming for some time. Jassy is the second most public-facing figure at Amazon and has lead one of its most successful business units. Bezos can go out on a high and focus on his many other ventures,” Smith said.

Smith adds that this move should enhance AWS’s place in the organization. “I think this is more of an AWS gain, in terms of its increasing strategic importance to Amazon going forward, rather than loss in terms of losing Andy as direct lead. I expect he’ll remain close to that organization.”

Ed Anderson, a Gartner analyst also sees Jassy as the obvious choice to take over for Bezos. “Amazon is a company driven by technology innovation, something Andy has been doing at AWS for many years now. Also, it’s worth noting that Andy Jassy has an impressive track record of building and running a very large business. Under Andy’s leadership, AWS has grown to be one of the biggest technology companies in the world and one of the most impactful in defining what the future of computing will be,” Anderson said.

In the company earnings report released today, AWS came in at $12.74 billion for the quarter up 28% YoY from $9.6 billion a year ago. That puts the company on an elite $50 billion run rate. No other cloud infrastructure vendor, even the mighty Microsoft, is even close in this category. Microsoft stands at around 20% marketshare compared to AWS’s approximately 33% market share.

It’s unclear what impact the executive shuffle will have on the company at large or AWS in particular. In some ways it feels like when Larry Ellison stepped down as CEO of Oracle in 2014 to take on the exact same executive chairman role. While Safra Catz and Mark Hurd took over at co-CEOs in that situation, Ellison has remained intimately involved with the company he helped found. It’s reasonable to assume that Bezos will do the same.

With Jassy, the company is getting a man who has risen through the ranks since joining the company in 1997 after getting an undergraduate degree and an MBA from Harvard. In 2002 he became VP/technical assistant, working directly under Bezos. It was in this role that he began to see the need for a set of common web services for Amazon developers to use. This idea grew into AWS and Jassy became a VP at the fledgling division working his way up until he was appointed CEO in 2016.

Posted Under: Tech News
Atlassian stops selling on-prem licenses, adds new enteprise pricing tier

Posted by on 2 February, 2021

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Atlassian has made it clear for some time that it’s all in on the cloud, but now it’s official. The company stopped selling new on-prem licenses as of yesterday. Perhaps to take away the sting of that move for large organizations, today it announced a new all-inclusive enterprise pricing tier.

Atlassian chief revenue officer Cameron Deatsch says that previously the company had offered a free tier and then standard and premium level paid tiers. “And now this cloud Enterprise Edition will be our highest tier, and what this will allow is for the most complex deployments, the largest customers who need unlimited scale, the customers that have all the security and regulatory requirements, data residency, you name it, — that is what we’re launching starting [today],” Deatsch told me.

What the enterprise tier delivers is unlimited instances across the Atlassian product line for each enterprise customer. That means a big company with multiple divisions could, for instance, have 20 instances of Jira and Trello deployed with one for each division and a central management console, while paying a single price regardless of how much they use.

While the company is supporting existing on-prem customers until 2024, the idea is to now move them to the cloud and this offering should help. One thing we have clearly seen is that the pandemic has accelerated the move to the cloud by companies of every size, and this should encourage the company’s largest customers to make the move.

“The reality is, the demand was there, which was great to see, but we actually had this huge pipeline of our largest customers, basically trying to build their plan over the next couple of years to get to our cloud. The general availability of our Enterprise Edition is going to accelerate that even more,” he said.

It’s a move the company has been working towards for some time, but it really began to take shape when they shifted their operations to AWS and rebuilt the entire stack as a set of microservices beginning in 2016. This was the first step towards being able to handle the increased kinds of workloads an enterprise tier would require.

The company reported earnings at the end of last month with revenue of $501.4 million up 23% YoY with over 11,000 net new subscribers, a record for the company. The new enterprise tier won’t help with new customer volume, but it should help with overall revenue as more customers look for cloud solutions and pricing that meets their needs.

Posted Under: Tech News
Adobe expands Acrobat Web, adds PDF text and image editing

Posted by on 2 February, 2021

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For the longest time, Acrobat was Adobe’s flagship desktop app for working with — and especially editing — PDFs. In recent years, the company launched Acrobat on the web, but it was never quite as fully featured as the desktop version, and one capability a lot of users were looking for, editing text and images in PDFs, remained a desktop-only feature. That’s changing. With its latest update to Acrobat on the web, Adobe is bringing exactly this ability to its online service.

“[Acrobat Web] is strategically important to us because we have more and more people working in the browser,” Todd Gerber, Adobe’s VP for Document Cloud, told me. “Their day begins by logging into whether it’s G Suite or Microsoft Office 365. And so we want to be in all the surfaces where people are doing their work.” The team first launched the ability to create and convert PDFs, but as Gerber noted, it took a while to get to the point where being able to edit PDFs in a performant and real-time way was possible. “We could have done it earlier, but it wouldn’t have been up to the standards of being fast, nimble and quality.” He specifically noted that working with fonts was one of the more difficult problems the team faced in bringing this capability online.

He also noted that even though we tend to think of PDF as an Adobe format, it is an open standard and lots of third-party tools can create PDFs. That large ecosystem, with the potential for variations between implementations, also makes it more difficult to offer editing capabilities for Adobe.

With today’s launch, Adobe is also introducing a couple of additional browser-based features: protecting PDFs, splitting them into two and merging multiple PDFs. In addition, after working with Google last year to offer a handful of Acrobat shortcuts using the .new domain, Adobe is now launching a set of new shortcuts like EditPDF.new. The company plans to roll out more of these over the course of the next year.

In total, Adobe says, the company saw about 10 million clicks on its existing shortcuts, which just goes to show how many people try to convert or sign PDFs every day.

As Gerber noted, a lot of potential users don’t necessarily think of Acrobat first. Instead, what they want to do is compress a PDF or convert it. Acrobat Web and the .new domains help the company bring a new audience to the platform, he believes. “It’s unlocking a new audience for us that didn’t initially think of Adobe. They think about PDFs, they think about what they need to do with them,” he said. “So it’s allowing us to expand our customer base by being relevant in the way that they’re looking to discover and ultimately transact. Our journey with Acrobat web actually started with that notion: let’s go after the non-branded searches.”

Adobe, of course, funnels to the Acrobat desktop app all branded searches where users are explicitly looking for Acrobat, but for the more casual user, it brings them to Acrobat Web where they can easily perform whatever action they came for without even signing up for the service.

Posted Under: Tech News
Oyster snaps up $20M for its HR platform aimed at distributed workforces

Posted by on 2 February, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

The growth of remote working and managing workforces that are distributed well beyond the confines of a centralized physical office — or even a single country — have put a spotlight on the human resources technology that organizations use to help manage those people. Today, one of the HR startups that’s been seeing a surge of growth is announcing a round of funding to double down on its business.

Oyster, a startup and platform that helps companies through the process of hiring, onboarding and then providing contractors and full-time employees in the area  of “knowledge work” with HR services like payroll, benefits and salary management, has closed a Series A round of $20 million.

The company is already working in 100 countries, and CEO and Tony Jamous (who co-founded the company with Jack Mardack) said in an interview that the plan is to expand that list of markets, and also bring in new services, particularly to address the opportunity in emerging markets to hire more people.

Currently, Oyster does not cover candidate sourcing or any of the interviewing and evaluation process: those could be areas where it might build its own tech or partner to provide them as part of its one-stop shop. It has dabbled in virtual job fairs, as a pointer to one potential product that it might explore.

“There 1.5 billion knowledge workers coming into the workforce in next 10 years, mostly from emerging economies, while in developed economies there are some 90 million jobs unfilled,” Jamous said. “There are super powers you can gain from being globally distributed, but it poses a major challenge around HR and payroll.”

Emergence Capital, the B2B VC that has backed the likes of Zoom, Salesforce, Bill.com and our former sister site Crunchbase, is leading the funding. The Slack Fund (Slack’s strategic investment vehicle), and London firm Connect Ventures (which has previously backed the company at seed stage) are also participating.  The investment will accelerate Oyster’s rapid growth, and support its mission of enabling people to work from anywhere.

Oyster’s valuation is not being disclosed. The startup has raised about $24 million to date.

One of the great ironies of the global health pandemic is that while our worlds have become much smaller — travel and even local activities have been drastically curtailed and many of us spend day in, day out at home — the employment opportunity and scope of how organizations are expected to operate has become significantly bigger.

Public health-enforced remote working has led to companies de-coupling workers from offices, and that has opened the door to seeking out and working with the best talent, regardless of location.

This predicament may have become more acute in the last year, but it’s been one that has been gradually coming into focus for years, helped by trends in cloud computing and globalization. Jamous said that the idea for Oyster came to him was something that he’s been thinking about for years, but became more apparent when he was still at his previous startup, Nexmo — the cloud communications provider that was acquired by Vonage for $230 million in in 2016. 

At Nexmo we wanted to be a great local employer. We were headquartered in two countries but wanted to have people everywhere,” he said. “We spent millions building employment infrastructure to do that, becoming knowledgable about local laws in France, Korea and more countries.” He realized quickly that this was a highly inefficient way to work. “We weren’t ready for the complexity and diversity of issues that would come up.”

After he moved on from Nexmo and did some angel investing (he backs other distributed work juggernauts like Hopin, among others), he decided that he would try to tackle the workforce challenge as the focus of his next venture.

That was in mid-2019, pre-pandemic. It turned out that the timing was spot on, with every organization looking in the next year at ways to address their own distributed workforce challenges.

The emerging market focus, meanwhile, also has a direct link to Jamous himself: he left his home country of Lebanon to study in France when he was 17, and has essentially lived abroad since then. But as with many people who move into developed from emerging markets, he knew that the base of technical talent in his home country was something that was worth tapping and nurturing to help residents and the countries themselves improve their lots in life; and he thought he could use tech to help there, too.

Related to that wider social mission, Oyster has a pending application to become a B-Corporation.

Jamous is not the only one that has founded an HR company based on his personal experience: Turing’s founders have cited their own backgrounds growing up in India and working with people remotely from there as part of their own impetus for building Turing; and Remote’s founder hails from Europe but built Gitlab (where he had been head of product) based on a similar premise of tapping into the talent he knew existed all around the world.

And indeed, Oyster is not alone in tackling this opportunity. The list of HR startups looking to be the ADP’s of the world of distributed work include Deel, Remote, Hibob, Papaya Global, Personio, Factorial, Lattice, Turing and Rippling. And these are just some of the HR startups that have raised money in the last year; there are many, many more.

The attraction of Oyster seems to come in the simplicity of how the services are provided — you have options for contractors, and full-timers, and full, larger staff deployments in other countries. You have options to add on benefits for employees if you choose. And you have some tools to work out how hires fit into your bigger budgets, and also to guide you on remuneration in each local market. Pricing starts at $29 per person, per month for contractors, to $399 for working with full employees, to other packages for larger deployments.

Oyster works with local partners to provide some aspects of these services, but it has built the technology to make the process seamless for the customer. As with other services, it essentially handles the employment and payroll as a local provider on behalf of its customers, but can do so under contract terms that reconcile both a company’s own policies and those of the local jurisdictions (which can differ widely between each other in areas like vacation time, redundancy terms, maternity leave and more).

“It has a few well funded competitors, but that’s usually a good signal,” said Jason Green, the Emergence partner who led on its investment. “But you want to bet on the horse that will lead the race, and that comes down to execution. Here, we are betting on a team that’s done it before, an entrepreneur experienced in building a company and selling it. Tony’s made money and knows how to build a business. But more than that, he’s mission driven and that will matter in the space, and to employees.”

Posted Under: Tech News
Salesforce promotes former Vlocity CEO David Schmaier to president and CPO

Posted by on 1 February, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

Last year I penned a post positing that Salesforce’s propensity to purchase mature enterprise companies not only provided new technology, but was also helping to produce a profusion of executive talent.. As though to prove my point, the company announced today that it was promoting former Vlocity CEO, David Schmaier to president and chief product officer.

Schmaier came to the organization last year when Salesforce acquired his company for $1.33 billion. It seemed like a good match given that Vlocity sold Salesforce solutions designed for certain niches like financial services, health, energy and utilities and government and nonprofits.

As a result, Schmaier knew the product set and the company well. Last June, he was named CEO of the Salesforce Industries division, which was created after the Vlocity acquisition. The connection was clear to Schmaier as he told me at the time of his promotion last year:

“I’ve been involved in various mergers and acquisitions over my 30-year career, and this is the most unique one I’ve ever seen because the products are already 100% integrated because we built our six vertical applications on top of the Salesforce platform. So they’re already 100% Salesforce, which is really kind of amazing. So that’s going to make this that much simpler,” he said.

Brent Leary, founder and principal analyst at CRM Essentials, says that Schmaier’s history in building Vlocity makes this promotion pretty easy given the direction of the company, as well as the industry. “Over the last several years we’ve seen just how important developing industry-specific solutions have become to the major players in the space, and Schmaier’s promotion reaffirms this while illustrating how important creating verticals is to their platform [and] to the future of Salesforce,” he told me.

In a Q&A on the Salesforce website announcing the promotion, Schmaier talked about the challenges companies faced in the last year. “There’s no question 2020 was a challenging year. We are operating in this all-digital, work from anywhere world and things won’t go back to where they were, nor should they. One of the silver linings has been seeing what companies can do when there is no alternative and the imperative is to connect with their customers in entirely new ways,”

In his new position it will be Schmaier’s job to figure out how to help them do that.

Posted Under: Tech News
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