DREAMTECH NEWS

Google says it’ll invest $13B in U.S. data centers and offices this year

Google today announced that it will invest $13 billion in data centers and offices across the U.S. in 2019. That’s up from $9 billion in investments last year. Many of these investments will go to states like Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Texas, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Virginia, where Google plans new or expanded data centers. Though like most years, it’ll also continue to expand many of its existing offices in Seattle, Chicago and New York, as well as in its home state of California.

Given Google’s push for more cloud customers, it’s also interesting to see that the company continues to expand its data center presence across the country. Google will soon open its first data centers in Nevada, Nebraska, Ohio and Texas, for example, and it will expand its Oklahoma, South Carolina and Virginia data centers. Google clearly isn’t slowing down in its race to compete with AWS and Azure.

“These new investments will give us the capacity to hire tens of thousands of employees, and enable the creation of more than 10,000 new construction jobs in Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Texas, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Virginia,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai writes today. “With this new investment, Google will now have a home in 24 total states, including data centers in 13 communities. 2019 marks the second year in a row we’ll be growing faster outside of the Bay Area than in it.”

Given the current backlash against many tech companies and automation in general, it’s probably no surprise that Google wants to emphasize the number of jobs it is creating (and especially jobs in Middle America). The construction jobs are obviously temporary, though, and data centers don’t need a lot of employees to run once they are up and running. Still, Google promises that this will give it the “capacity to hire tens of thousands of employees.”


By Frederic Lardinois

Block Kit helps deliver more visually appealing content in Slack

Slack has become a critical communications tool for many organizations. One of the things that has driven its rapid success has been the ability to connect to external enterprise apps inside of Slack, giving employees what is essentially a centralized workhub. This ability has led to some unintended consequences around formatting issues, which Slack addressed today with two new tools, Block Kit and Block Kit Builder.

Block Kit lets developers present dense content in a much more visually appealing way, while Block Kit Builder is a prototyping tool for building more attractive apps inside Slack. The idea is to provide a way to deliver content inside of Slack without having to do work-arounds to make the content look good.

Before and after applying Block Kit. Screen: Slack

Bear Douglas, who is Slack’s director of developer of relations, says developers have been quite creative up until now when it comes to formatting, but the company has been working to simplify it. Today’s announcement is the culmination of that work.

“Block Kit makes it easier for people to quickly design a customized app in Slack. We’ve launched a no-code builder that will let people design the messages that they show inside Slack,” she explained.

She said, that while this tool is really designed for people with some programming or Slack admin-level knowledge, the ultimate goal is to make it easy enough for non-technical end users to build apps in Slack, something that is on the road map. What enhancing these tools does, however, is show people just what is possible inside of Slack.

“When people see Block Kit in action, it is illuminating about what can be done, and it helps them understand that it doesn’t just need to be your communications center or [something that pings you] when your website blows up. You can actually get work done inside of Slack,” she said.

One other advantage of using Block Kit is that apps will display messages consistently, whether you are using the web or mobile. Prior to having these tools, work-arounds might have looked fine on the web, but the spacing might have been off on mobile or vice versa. Block Kit lets you design consistent interfaces across platforms.

Among the tools Slack is offering, none is actually earth shattering, but in total they provide users with the ability to format their content in a way that makes sense using common design elements like image containers, dividers and sections. They are also offering buttons, drop-down menus and a calendar picker.

Both of these tools are available starting today in the Block Kit hub.


By Ron Miller

Fiverr acquires ClearVoice to double down on content marketing

Fiverr is acquiring ClearVoice, a company that helps customers like Intuit and Carfax find professionals to write promotional content.

The two companies seem like a natural fit, since they both operate marketplaces for freelancers. Fiverr covers a much broader swath of freelance work, but CEO Micha Kaufman (pictured above) said the marketplace’s professional writing category grew 220 percent between the fourth quarters of 2017 and 2018, and he predicted that the need for content marketing will only increase.

“The types of channels that brands and companies need to be involved in and engaging in conversation with their audience are just growing,” Kaufman said. “I think any brand today that wants to be relevant needs to create a lot of engaging, interesting, creative content in their space, and I think that that creates a high demand for good content writers.”

Kaufman also noted that this is Fiverr’s third acquisition in two years, and he said he’s a “big believer … in the consolidation of vertical businesses into horizontal businesses such as ours — the fact that we cover over 200 categories gives us a tremendous amount of power to serve customers across many different types of needs.”

So what does the acquisition bring to the table that Fiverr wasn’t offering already? Kaufman said the ClearVoice team has “a lot of know how, both in technology side and the actual content side,” which will allow Fiverr to “cater to customers of all sizes and all needs.”

ClearVoice editorial calendar

ClearVoice editorial calendar

More specifically, he said most of Fiverr’s content marketing customers are small businesses, while ClearVoice is able to work with large enterprises, especially with its collaboration and workflow tools that allow those enterprises to create content at “high velocity.”

Founded in 2014 by Jay Swansson and Joe Griffin (who still serve as co-CEOs), ClearVoice has raised a total of $3.1 million in funding from investors including PC Ventures, Desert Angels, Peak Ventures and Service Provider Capital, according to Crunchbase.

Fiverr is not disclosing the financial terms of the acquisition. The company says ClearVoice will continue to operate as an independent subsidiary.

“We are thrilled to be joining a company that is changing how people and companies work together in the modern era,” Swansson said in a statement. “This new chapter is a chance for us to use Fiverr’s depth and knowledge to globally scale our business and advance our mission of creating a platform that allows for worldwide creative collaboration.”


By Anthony Ha

Donde Search picks up $6 million to help fashion retailers with visual search

Donde Search has just closed a $6 million Series A investment led by Matrix Partners, with participation from previous investors such as senior leaders from AliExpress, Google and Waze.

Donde first launched in 2014 as a consumer-facing app that helped users search and discover apparel items based on visual characteristics rather than text-based searches. In early 2018, the company pivoted to the enterprise space, helping retailers power suggestions and related items on their websites.

Here’s how it works:

Retailers partnered with Donde hand over their product catalog and run it through the Donde algorithm, which identifies all the visual features associated with each product. Retailers can then add a widget to their site to let users search based on those features (like sleeve length or type, color or material).

As users interact with the products, the website adapts to that behavior to offer personalized product recommendations and related items.

Moreover, Donde offers an analytics dashboard that not only provides insights on the customer’s own website, but a look into trends being featured on competing e-commerce websites to understand the industry in general.

Donde was founded by Liat Zakay, who previously served as a software engineer and R&D team manager in the Israeli intelligence unit 8200. Using her technical expertise, she built Donde to solve her own problem of not having the time or energy to go through the tedious process of online shopping.

Zakay told TechCrunch that Donde is focused on apparel for now, but that the technology can be applied to almost any vertical.

“One of the interesting pieces about Donde is that it’s language agnostic,” said Zakay. “You don’t need to know what it’s called and it doesn’t matter what language you speak, you can still find what you want based on visual features. Which makes us extremely relevant to global retailers.”

The new funding, which will be used to expand the product and the team, came shortly after the announcement of Donde’s partnership with Forever 21. The fast-fashion retailer tested out the Donde platform on its mobile app and, after a month, saw a 20 percent increase in average purchase value and higher conversions. Forever 21 has now expanded the program, putting Donde on the web, as well.

Donde said it is working on pilot programs with several other retailers across the U.S. and Europe.

Fast fashion, in particular, represents a big opportunity for Donde. Because product turnover is so fast, retailers rarely have reliable data around a certain SKU, with the website being run on outdated data from last “season.”

This latest round brings Donde’s total funding to $9.5 million, with backing from UpWest, Afterdox and Golden Seeds.


By Jordan Crook

Google and IBM still trying desperately to move cloud market share needle

When it comes to the cloud market, there are few known knows. For instance, we know that AWS is the market leader with around 32 percent of market share. We know Microsoft is far back in second place with around 14 percent, the only other company in double digits. We also know that IBM and Google are wallowing in third or fourth place, depending on whose numbers you look at, stuck in single digits. The market keeps expanding, but these two major companies never seem to get a much bigger piece of the pie.

Neither company is satisfied with that of course. Google so much so that it moved on from Diane Greene at the end of last year, bringing in Oracle veteran Thomas Kurian to lead the division out of the doldrums. Meanwhile, IBM made an even bigger splash, plucking Red Hat from the market for $34 billion in October.

This week, the two companies made some more noise, letting the cloud market know that they are not ceding the market to anyone. For IBM, which is holding its big IBM Think conference this week in Las Vegas, it involved opening up Watson to competitor clouds. For a company like IBM, this was a huge move, akin to when Microsoft started building apps for iOS. It was an acknowledgement that working across platforms matters, and that if you want to gain market share, you had better start thinking outside the box.

While becoming cross-platform compatible isn’t exactly a radical notion in general, it most certainly is for a company like IBM, which if it had its druthers and a bit more market share, would probably have been content to maintain the status quo. But if the majority of your customers are pursuing a multi-cloud strategy, it might be a good idea for you to jump on the bandwagon and that’s precisely what IBM has done by opening up access to Watson across clouds in this fashion.

Clearly buying Red Hat was about a hybrid cloud play, and if IBM is serious about that approach, and for $34 billion, it had better be, it would have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. As IBM Watson CTO and chief architect Ruchir Puri told my colleague Frederic Lardinois about the move, “It’s in these hybrid environments, they’ve got multiple cloud implementations, they have data in their private cloud as well. They have been struggling because the providers of AI have been trying to lock them into a particular implementation that is not suitable to this hybrid cloud environment.” This plays right into the Red Hat strategy and I’m betting you’ll see more of this approach in other parts of the product line from IBM this year. (Google als acknowledged this when it announced a hybrid strategy of its own last year.)

Meanwhile Thomas Kurian had his coming out party at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference in San Francisco earlier today. Bloomberg reports that he announced a plan to increase the number of salespeople and train them to understand specific verticals, ripping a page straight from the playbook of his former employer, Oracle.

He suggested that his company would be more aggressive in pursuing traditional enterprise customers, although I’m sure his predecessor, Diane Greene, wasn’t exactly sitting around counting on inbound marketing interest to grow sales. In fact, rumor had it that she wanted to pursue government contracts much more aggressively than the company was willing to do. Now it’s up to Kurian to grow sales. Of course, given that Google doesn’t report cloud revenue it’s hard to know what growth would look like, but perhaps if it has more success it will be more forthcoming.

As Bloomberg’s Shira Ovide tweeted today, it’s one thing to turn to the tried and true enterprise playbook, but that doesn’t mean that executing on that approach is going to be simple, or that Google will be successful in the end.

These two companies obviously desperately want to alter their cloud fortunes, which have been fairly dismal to this point. The moves announced today are clearly part of a broader strategy to move the market share needle, but whether they can or the market positions have long ago hardened remains to be seen.


By Ron Miller

Glide helps you build mobile apps from a spreadsheet without coding

The founders of Glide, a member of the Y Combinator Winter 2019 class, had a notion that building mobile apps in the enterprise was too hard. They decided to simplify the process by starting with a spreadsheet, and automatically turning the contents into a slick mobile app.

David Siegel, CEO and co-founder at Glide, was working with his co-founders Jason Smith, Mark Probst and Antonio Garcia Aprea at Xamerin, a cross-platform mobile development company that Microsoft acquired for $500 million in 2016. There, they witnessed first-hand the difficulty that companies were having building mobile apps. When their two-year stint at Microsoft was over, the four founders decided to build a startup to solve the problem.

“We saw how desperate some of the world’s largest companies were to have a mobile strategy, and also how painful and expensive it is to develop mobile apps. And we haven’t seen significant progress on that 10 years after the smartphone debuted,” Siegel told TechCrunch.

The founders began with research, looking at almost 100 no-code tools and were not really satisfied with any of them. They chose the venerable spreadsheet, a business tool many people use to track information, as the source for their mobile app builder, starting with Google Sheets.

“There’s a saying that spreadsheets are the most the most successful programming model of all time, and smartphones are the most successful computers of all time. So when we started exploring Glide we asked ourselves, can these two forces be combined to create something very valuable to let individuals and businesses build the type of apps that we saw Xamerin customers needed to build, but much more quickly,” Siegel said.

Photo: Glide

The company developed Glide, a service that lets you add information to a Google Sheet spreadsheet, and then very quickly create an app from the contents without coding. “You can easily assemble a polished, data-driven app that you can customize and share as a progressive web app, meaning you can get a link that you can share with anybody, and they can load it in a browser without downloading an app, or you can publish Glide apps as native apps to app stores,” Siegel explained. What’s more, there is a two-way connection between app and spreadsheet, so that when you add information in either place, the other element is updated.

The founders decided to apply at Y Combinator after consulting with former Xamerin CEO, and current GitHub chief executive, Nat Friedman. He and other advisors told them YC would be a great place for first-time founders to get guidance on building a company, taking advantage of the vast YC network.

One of the primary lessons he says that they have learned is the importance of getting out in the field and talking to customers, and not falling into the trap of falling in love with the act of building the tool. The company has actually helped fellow YC companies build mobile apps using the Glide tool.

Glide is live today and people can create apps using their own spreadsheet data, or using the templates available on the site as a starting point. There is a free tier available to try it without obligation.


By Ron Miller

Datadog acquires app testing company Madumbo

Datadog, the popular monitoring and analytics platform, today announced that it has acquired Madumbo, an AI-based application testing platform.

“We’re excited to have the Madumbo team join Datadog,” said Olivier Pomel, Datadog’s CEO. “They’ve built a sophisticated AI platform that can quickly determine if a web application is behaving correctly. We see their core technology strengthening our platform and extending into many new digital experience monitoring capabilities for our customers.”

Paris-based Madumbo, which was incubated at Station F and launched in 2017, offers its users a way to test their web apps without having to write any additional code. It promises to let developers build tests by simply interacting with the site, using the Madumbo test recorder, and to help them build test emails, password and testing data on the fly. The Madumbo system then watches your site and adapts its check to whatever changes you make. This bot also watches for JavaScript errors and other warnings and can be integrated into a deployment script.

The team will join Datadog’s existing Paris office and will work on new products, which Datadog says will be announced later this year. Datadog will phase out the Madumbo platform over the course of the next few months.

“Joining Datadog and bringing Madumbo’s AI-powered testing technology to its platform is an amazing opportunity,” said Gabriel-James Safar, CEO of Madumbo. “We’ve long admired Datadog and its leadership, and are excited to expand the scope of our existing technology by integrating tightly with Datadog’s other offerings.”


By Frederic Lardinois

InVision acquires design file versioning startup Trunk

InVision, the design company valued at $1.9 billion, has today announced the acquisition of Australia-based Trunk.

Trunk is focused wholly on file versioning for designers. In the world of engineering, GitHub has provided a way for developers to keep versions organized — developers can track changes, create a separate branch to experiment, and collaborate more easily with other developers by merging branches. But the same courtesy hasn’t properly been extended to designers, who usually spend plenty of time scrolling through long email chains searching for the latest version of the attachment.

The deal, the terms of which were not disclosed, came about after Trunk applied for funding from InVision’s Design Forward Fund. After taking a look at the Trunk business and getting to know the team better, InVision decided to take it a step further with a proper acquisition offer.

“We’re truly inverting the workflow,” said InVision CEO and founder Clark Valberg . “It’s gone from engineering first to design first because, in the process of building, design is the best place to have conversations across the company. Everyone can understand it and strategize. Engineers have had version control since the very early days.”

The Trunk team will be focusing their energy on Studio, InVision’s design tool, which launched about a year ago.

The launch of Studio was the first time that InVision truly showed its hand, revealing efforts to go well beyond a simple collaboration tool and become the Salesforce of the design world.

In order to do so, InVision is building bridges between itself and other design focused startups, whether its through integrations, investment, or straight-up acquisition.

“As a growing company with some 800 employees, we’re always looking for people who are passionate about each individual slice of this design pie as possible,” said Valberg. “After using Trunk’s technology, we realized that they really really really care about this slice around design file versioning.”

The InVision collaboration suite currently boasts a place at 98 percent of the Fortune 100 companies, with more than 5 million users. This means the company is shifting its focus squarely to Studio. Design collaboration software was a relatively novel idea back when InVision launched, but design software wasn’t. With Studio, InVision is taking on incumbents like Adobe and other newcomers such as Sketch.

Of course, the feature set of Studio itself is important in beating out other design tools, but InVision believes that the real deal closer is integration with the deeper back-end of InVision’s suite of tools, such as InVision collaboration and now, design file versioning.


By Jordan Crook

Google takes Hire, its G Suite recruitment platform, to its first global markets, UK and Canada

The recruitment market is big business — worth some $554 billion annually according to the most recent report from the World Employment Confederation. In the tech world, that translates into a big opportunity to build tools to make a recruiter’s work easier, faster and more likely of success in finding the right people for the job. Now Google is stepping up its own efforts in the space: today it is expanding Hire, its G Suite-based recruitment management platform, to the UK and Canada, its first international markets outside the US.

Google is a somewhat late entrant into the market, launching Hire only in 2017 with the basic ability to use apps like Gmail, Calendar, Spreadsheets and Google Voice to help people manage and track candidates through the recruiting process and doing so by integrating with third-party job boards. In the interim, it has supercharged the service with bells and whistles that draw on the company’s formidable IP in areas like AI and search.

These tools provide robotic process automation-style aids to take away some of the more repetitive tasks around admin.

“Recruiters want time to talk to candidates but they don’t want to sit in systems clicking things,” said Dmitri Krakovsky, the VP leads Hire for Google. “We give time back by automating a lot of functionality.” And they also to sift out needles in haystacks of applicants and surface interesting “lookalikes” who didn’t quite make the cut (or take the job) so that they can be targeted for future opportunities.

And — naturally — while Hire links up with third-party job boards via services like eQuest to bring inbound people into the system, it also provides seamless integration with Jobs by Google, Google’s own vertical search effort that is taking on the traditional job board by letting people look for opportunities with natural language queries in Google’s basic search window

Krakovsky said that the first international launches in Canada and the UK made sense because of the lack of language barrier between them and the US. The UK was key for another reason, too: it gave Google the chance to tweak the product to comply with GDPR, he said, for future launches.

While markets like the UK and US represent some of the very biggest for recruitment services globally, it’s a long tail opportunity, and over time, the ambition will be to take Hire global, positioning it as a key rival against the likes of Taleo, LinkedIn, Jobvite, Zoho, SmartRecruiter and many others in the area of applicant sourcing and tracking.

Currently, Hire ranks only at number 23 among the top 100 applicant tracking systems globally, according to research from OnGig, but it also singles it out for its potential because it is, after all, Google. For now, Krakovsky said it’s not taking on large enterprises or even tiny mom-and-pop shops, but the very large opportunity of between 10 and a couple of thousand employees.

Google’s supercharging of Hire with AI and taking it international highlights another point. One of the biggest meta-trends in recruitment has been a push to try to hire with more diversity in mind, not just to bring fairness to the process, but to infuse businesses with different ways of thinking and catering to different audiences.

While AI is something that can definitely speed up certain processes, it has also been shown to be a potential cesspool of bias based on what is fed into it. One particularly messy example of that, in fact, came from an attempt by Amazon to build an AI-based recruitment tool, which it eventually had to shut down.

Google is well aware of that and have been keeping it in mind when building and expanding Hire particularly to new territories, which in themselves are exercises in handling diversity for AI systems. Krakovsky noted that one example of how Google has been building more “understanding” AI is in its searches for veterans, who can look for jobs using their own jargon for expertise, which automatically gets translated into other skills in the way they might be described by employers outside the military.

That’s for sourcing jobs, of course. The key for the tech world, if it wants to build products that will have international staying power to upset the existing “hire”archy (sorry), will be to bring that kind of levelling to every aspect of the recruiting process over time.

Those at the top are not sitting back, either: just yesterday Jobvite (ranked fifth largest ATS tracking platform) announced a funding round of $200 million and three acquisitions.

 

 


By Ingrid Lunden

Jobvite raises $200M+ and acquires three recruitment startups to expand its platform play

Jobvite, the company that was once an early mover in leveraging social networks to help source job opportunities and find interesting candidates for openings, is today announcing two big moves to double down on its ambition to build a bigger platform for recruitment and applicant tracking.

The company has picked up an investment of over $200 million, and it will be using the money to acquire three smaller companies focusing on different aspects of the recruitment process: Talemetry (which specializes in recruitment marketing); RolePoint (for employee referrals and in-company moves); and Canvas (a text-based conversational bot to get the screening process started).

Jobvite is not disclosing its valuation with the funding, which is coming from private equity firm K1, but for a little guidance, in an interview, Dan Finnigan, Jobvite’s CEO, said it was a majority stake but nowhere near a full acquisition. (PitchBook’s last valuation of the company, of around $150 million, is very old, dating from September 2014; and it has never been confirmed by the company.)

The combined company will have 2,000+ customers that include Schneider Electric, Lenovo, Santander, PayPal, Genuine Parts, and Panasonic.

Finnigan says that Jobvite’s growth, and investor interest in backing that, is happening in tandem with two changes, one technological and another the evolution in how organizations handle human resources.

Several years ago, many companies — hoping to cut costs — merged together their personnel and recruitment operations, “and recruiting became an afterthought,” he said. That led to companies tacking on, as a kind of minimum viable solution, applicant tracking software but little or nothing else.

But more recently, the war for talent has escalated — not just because unemployment is low but because there are now multiple different opportunities and shortages of suitable people for specific, often emerging skills. In turn, businesses have started to realise “that recruiting is the backbone of every company, and that applicant tracking is just not enough,” he said.

At the same time, there have been evolutions in the technology. While a lot of recruitment software (and the recruitment process) has traditionally been quite fragmented, a move to cloud solutions has provided an avenue for consolidating the process and using one platform to manage it. (Google’s launch of Hire, which lets users manage job applicants using G Suite apps; LinkedIn’s recruitment platform; Zoho and SmartRecruiter are all prime examples of how cloud platforms are being used to build more complete sourcing and tracking services.)

Coupled with this is a rising use of technology like machine learning to remove some of the more mechanical aspects of a recruiter’s job to speed up processes.

Jobvite’s three acquisitions all play into both of these trends. Canvas, for example, uses a bot to source initial information about a candidate to start the screening process before human recruiters step in to take over.

Talemetry, meanwhile, taps into marketing tech to help identify where the most ideal candidates might be in order to better target job opportunities at them, in the form of ads or other kind of content.

Lastly, RolePoint will add a new feature to tap into referrals from existing employees, and to help manage in-company moves.

Finnigan likens the cloud-based platform approach that we’re seeing in the market to the impact Salesforce has had on the expanding concept of CRM. “We know that marketing and sales software have continued to evolve with new features like content marketing, and the same has happened in recruitment,” he said.

“We are excited to be investing in such an innovative set of technologies,” says Ron Cano, managing partner at K1 Investment Management, in a statement. “The talent acquisition industry is critical to our economy and ripe for disruption with outdated software still prevalent. K1’s investment will create the only true end-to-end talent acquisition platform and will provide our customers with accelerated growth in innovation of product features and services.”


By Ingrid Lunden