Lawmatics raises $2.5M to help lawyers market themselves

Lawmatics, a San Diego startup that’s building marketing and CRM software for lawyers, is announcing that it has raised $2.5 million in seed funding.

CEO Matt Siegel used to practice law himself, and he told me that even though tech companies have a wide range of marketing tools to choose from, “lawyers have not been able to adopt them,” because they need a product that’s tailored to their specific needs.

That’s why Siegel founded Lawmatics with CTO Roey Chasman. He said that a law firm’s relationship with its clients can be divided into three phases — intake (when a client is deciding whether to hire a firm); the active legal case; and after the case has been resolved. Apparently most legal software is designed to handle phase two, while Lawmatics focuses on phases one and three.

The platform includes a CRM system to manage the initial client intake process, as well as tools that can automate a lot of what Siegel called the “blocking and tackling” of marketing, like sending birthday messages to former clients — which might sound like a minor task, but Siegel said it’s crucial for law firms to “nurture” those relationships, because most of their business comes from referrals.

Lawmatics’ early adopters, Siegel added, have consisted of the firms in areas where “if you need a lawyer, you go to Google and start searching ‘personal injury,’ ‘bankruptcy,’ ‘estate planning,’ all these consumer-driven law firms.” And the pandemic led to accelerated the startup’s growth, because “lawyers are at home now, their business is virtual and they need more tools.”

Siegel’s had success selling technology to lawyers in the past, with his practice management software startup MyCase acquired by AppFolio in 2012 (AppFolio recently sold MyCase to a variety of funds for $193 million). He said that the strategies for growing both companies are “almost identical” — the products are different, but “it’s really the same segment, running the same playbook, only with additional go-to-market strategies.”

The funding was led by Eniac Ventures and Forefront Venture Partners, with participation from Revel Ventures and Bridge Venture Partners.

“In my 10 years investing I have witnessed few teams more passionate, determined, and capable of revolutionizing an industry,” said Eniac’s Tim Young in a statement. “They have not only created the best software product the legal market has seen, they have created a movement.”

 


By Anthony Ha

With a new focus on marketing software, NewsCred relaunches as Welcome

The company formerly known as NewsCred has a new name and a new product: Welcome.

Co-founder and CEO Shafqat Islam explained that this follows a broader shift in the company’s strategy. While previously known as a content marketing business, Islam said NewsCred has been increasingly focused on building a broader software platform for marketers (a platform that it used itself).

Eventually, this led the company to sell its content services business to business journalism company Industry Dive and its owner Falfurrias Capital Partners over the summer. Now Welcome is officially unveiling its new brand, whcih it’s also using for its new marketing orchestration software.

“It’s not often not often that startups like ours get to close one chapter and open another chapter,” Islam said. “We kind of went back to being a Series A, Series B startup, iterating and working very closely with our customers.”

While today is the official launch of Welcome platform, Islam said the company has been moving the software in this direction for the past year, and that this side of the business has already seen significant growth, with daily average users up 300% year-over-year.

Islam also suggested that while this was the right time to come up with a new company name, it’s something that’s been discussed repeatedly in the past.

Welcome Gantt Calendar

Image Credits: Welcome

“Every time we raised money ever in last 10 years, the new investor would say, ‘What about the name? Can we change it?’” he recalled. “We could never do it, because we had this content heritage built up and enough brand equity. Finally, with this deal, and with the launch of the new software … we came up with the name Welcome.”

While there’s no shortage of marketing software out there already, Islam said marketers need an orchestration system to manage their projects and workflows — most of them, he said, are stuck using “horizontal” project management tools that aren’t really built for their needs, such as Asana or Jira.

“Marketers have very specific needs,” Islam said. “It could be a simple thing like … marketers work with campaigns, so what are your specific campaigns, marketing briefs or marketing-specific workflows? Our approach was: How do we create something that’s really specific to marketers versus all horizontal solutions out there?”

He also noted that “close to half the engineering team works on the interoperability problem,” so that Welcome can integrate all the other tools that marketers are using, like HubSpot and Marketo. The goal, Islam said, is to become “something marketers standardize on,” the way that salespeople log into their Salesforce accounts every day.

Islam also argued Welcome will take advantage of the way that the pandemic has accelerated changes in the enterprise sales process.

“I personally believe the way people buy software is changing,” he said. “The days of wining and dining and selling to the CMO, that still exists, but that’s not how everyone wants to buy anymore.”

To adapt to this new world, Islam said the startup is adopting a more “bottoms up” sales approach, with a free version of the platform due for release next month.


By Anthony Ha

Airship acquires SMS commerce company ReplyBuy

Airship is announcing that it has acquired mobile commerce startup ReplyBuy.

The startup (which was a finalist at TechCrunch’s 1st and Future competition in 2016) works with customers like entertainment venues and professional and college sports teams to send messages and sell tickets to fans via SMS. It raised $4 million in funding from Sand Hill Angels, Kosinski Ventures, SEAG Ventures, Enspire Capital, MRTNZ Ventures and others, according to Crunchbase.

Airship, meanwhile, has been expanding its platform beyond push notifications to cover customer communication across SMS, email, mobile wallets and more. But CEO Brett Caine said this is the first time the company is moving into commerce.

While sports and concerts tickets might not be a booming market right now, Caine suggested that the company is actually seeing increased purchasing activity “in and around the Airship platform” as businesses try to drive more in-app purchases. He also suggested that both the COVID-19 pandemic and increased restrictions on mobile data collection and ad targeting are going to “accelerate direct-to-consumer motion by large brands.”

Airship isn’t disclosing the deal price, but Caine said the seven-person ReplyBuy team will be joining the company, with CEO Brandon O’Halloran becoming Airship’s general manager of commerce and CTO Anthony Saia leading the commerce engineering team.

“Nobody directly connects more brands to mobile consumers than Airship,” O’Halloran said in a statement. “Joining Airship offers ReplyBuy the opportunity to serve the global market with a more comprehensive solution across more industries, and provide more valuable mobile customer experiences.”

Caine added, “These are really key roles, demonstrating the importance, in our view, of extending commerce to the customer engagement experience.”

He also said that Airship will continue to support ReplyBuy as a standalone product, while also integrating and extending its capabilities to other areas of the Airship platform.

“This one-to-one commerce at scale is a key part of the ReplyBuy solution,” he said. “We’re going to bring it into all the digital channels that Airship powers [to create] a seamless, fast, easy experience around commerce.”


By Anthony Ha

Socialbakers acquired by customer engagement company Astute

Astute, a customer engagement platform headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, is announcing that it has acquired social media marketing company Socialbakers.

The financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. Socialbakers CEO Yuval Ben-Itzhak will become president of Socialbakers for the combined company, and he told me via email that the entire Socialbakers team will be joining as well, resulting in a combined organization with more than 600 employees and $100 million in annual recurring revenue.

Socialbakers was one of the last independent players from the first wave of social analytics. Founded in 2008 and based in Prague, the company raised a total of $34 million in funding, according to Crunchbase, from investors including Earlybird Venture Capital and Index Ventures. And it’s used by more than 2,5000 brands globally.

Astute, meanwhile, has been around for 25 years, and focuses on unifying customer data. Ben-Itzhak said that by acquiring Socialbakers, Astute will be able to add social media-focused features like audience insights, content planning, influencer marketing and ad analytics.

“Socialbakers and Astute are already sharing dozens of mutual brand customers in the enterprise segment,” he said. “This is, in fact, how the acquisition talks came about. The platform integration process has already started and is expected to continue through Q4.”

In a statement, Astute CEO Mark Zablan also emphasized the comprehensiveness of the resulting platform.

“The lines between customer care, customer experience, and marketing have become increasingly blurred, presenting real challenges for companies,” Zablan said. “Combining the market-leading social media marketing capabilities of Socialbakers with Astute’s engagement suite not only helps our customers tackle this challenge more effectively, but also marks a major milestone along Astute’s journey towards becoming the end-to-end customer engagement platform that the Chief Customer Officer needs to succeed.”


By Anthony Ha

BlueOcean uses automation to deliver affordable brand audits in seven days

BlueOcean is a new startup offering companies a relatively fast and affordable way to see how their brands are performing and what they can do to improve.

CEO Grant McDougall and COO/President Liza Nebel (the pair founded BLueOcean with Chief Data Scientist Matthew Gross) told me they’ve been developing the technology for two years. And although the startup is only officially launching now, it has already worked with prominent brands like Microsoft, Panda Express and Pabst Blue Ribbon.

BlueOcean is focused specifically on the world of brand audits, which are basically detailed analyses of the aspects of a brand that are and aren’t working — and according to Nebel (whose experience includes working on brand and digital strategy at Ogilvy), a single audit can cost brands millions of dollars, often resulting in reports “that aren’t even actionable.”

With BlueOcean, on the other hand, a brand provides only two things — their website and a list of their competitors. Then they get their brand audit one week later, for just $17,000, including recommendations for how to improve.

To do this, the company says it’s applying an “automation-first approach.” McDougall said BlueOcean is pulling from hundreds of different data sources, which will vary from industry to industry, and applying algorithms to understand things like, “What’s the right taxonomy? How do we acquire that data?”

BlueOcean founders Grant McDougall and Liza Nebel

BlueOcean founders Grant McDougall and Liza Nebel (Image Credits: BlueOcean) 

He added, “Strategically, we tend to move up in the organization,” giving both marketing teams and C-level executives the advice they need.

For example, Nebel said that one of BlueOcean’s clients include a large alcohol holding company, which recently launched a line of hard seltzer under an existing alcohol brand. The startup’s brand audit recommended that the company (which Nebel declined to identify) launch a separate hard seltzer brand instead — and now, the company will be launching three different brands.

Nebel also walked me through what she called the “five-minute version” of a brand audit for TechCrunch, which looked at our performance in terms of potential customers, positioning, messaging, offerings and existing customers. Ultimately, BlueOcean gave us a “moderate” score of 97 (but hey, we scored well on being “memorable” and “inspiring”) and recommended steps like publishing a more “steady drumbeat” of content on social media and improving our app experience.

“BlueOcean has become a great addition to further enable us to sharpen our ability to monitor, understand and act through the lens of brand across all of our commercial offerings,” said Microsoft’s director of brand strategy Tim Hoppin in a statement. “We’re excited to work with BlueOcean and use their tools and expertise to strengthen our relationship with the millions of global customers we connect with daily.”


By Anthony Ha

SocialRank sells biz to Trufan, pivots to a mobile LinkedIn

What do you do when your startup idea doesn’t prove big enough? Run it as a scrawny but profitable lifestyle business? Or sell it to a competitor and take another swing at the fences? Social audience analytics and ad targeting startup SocialRank chose the latter and is going for glory.

Today, SocialRank announced it’s sold its business, brand, assets, and customers to influencer marketing campaign composer and distributor Trufan which will run it as a standalone product. But SocialRank’s team isn’t joining up. Instead, the full six-person staff is sticking together to work on a mobile-first professional social network called Upstream aiming to nip at LinkedIn.

SocialRank co-founder and CEO Alex Taub

Started in 2014 amidst a flurry of marketing analytics tools, SocialRank had raised $2.1 million from Rainfall Ventures and others before hitting profitability in 2017. But as the business plateaued, the team saw potential to use data science about people’s identity to get them better jobs.

“A few months ago we decided to start building a new product (what has become Upstream). And when we came to the conclusion to go all-in on Upstream, we knew we couldn’t run two businesses at the same time” SocialRank co-founder and CEO Alex Taub tells me. “We decided then to run a bit of a process. We ended up with a few offers but ultimately felt like Trufan was the best one to continue the business into the future.”

The move lets SocialRank avoid stranding its existing customers like the NFL, Netflix, and Samsung that rely on its audience segmentation software. Instead, they’ll continue to be supported by Trufan where Taub and fellow co-founder Michael Schonfeld will become advisors.

“While we built a sustainable business, we essentially knew that if we wanted to go real big, we would need to go to the drawing board” Taub explains.

SocialRank

Two-year-old Trufan has raised $1.8 million Canadian from Round13 Capital, local Toronto startup Clearbanc’s founders, and several NBA players. Trufan helps brands like Western Union and Kay Jewellers design marketing initiatives that engage their customer communities through social media. It’s raising an extra $400,000 USD in venture debt from Round13 to finance the acquisition, which should make Trufan cash-flow positive by the end of the year.

Why isn’t the SocialRank team going along for the ride? Taub said LinkedIn was leaving too much opportunity on the table. While it’s good for putting resumes online and searching for people, “All the social stuff are sort of bolt-ons that came after Facebook and Twitter arrived. People forget but LinkedIn is the oldest active social network out there”, Taub tells me, meaning it’s a bit outdated.

Trufan’s team

Rather than attack head-on, the newly forged Upstream plans to pick the Microsoft-owned professional network apart with better approaches to certain features. “I love the idea of ‘the unbundling of LinkedIn’, ala what’s been happening with Craigslist for the past few years” says Taub. “The first foundational piece we are building is a social professional network around giving and getting help. We’ll also be focused on the unbundling of the groups aspect of LinkedIn.”

Taub concludes that entrepreneurs can shackle themselves to impossible goals if they take too much venture capital for the wrong business. As we’ve seen with SoftBank, investors demand huge returns that can require pursuing risky and unsustainable expansion strategies.

“We realized that SocialRank had potential to be a few hundred million dollar in revenue business but venture growth wasn’t exactly the model for it” Taub says. “You need the potential of billions in revenue and a steep growth curve.” A professional network for the smartphone age has that kind of addressable market. And the team might feel better getting out of bed each day knowing they’re unlocking career paths for people instead of just getting them to click ads.


By Josh Constine

Amperity acquires Custora to improve its customer data platform

Amperity announced today that it’s acquiring another company in the customer data business, Custora.

Amperity co-founder and CEO Kabir Shahani told me that Custora’s technology complements what Amperity is already offering. To illustrate this point, he said that customer data tools fall into three big buckets: “The first is know your customer, the second is … use insights to make decisions, the third is … activate the data and use it to serve the customer.”

Amperity’s strength, Shahani said, is in that first bucket, while Custora’s is in the second. So with this acquisition (Amperity’s first), the existing Amperity technology will become the Amperity Customer 360, while Custora is rebranded as Amperity Insights.

The products can still be used separately, but Custora CEO Corey Pierson argued that they’re particularly powerful together.

“The stronger you actually know your customer, the stronger you have your customer 360 profile, the better those insights are,” Pierson said. “When we sit on top of Amperity, every insight we produce is more valuable to our customers.”

Shahani said Pierson and the rest of his team will be joining Seattle-based Amperity, with Custora’s New York office becoming the combined company’s East Coast headquarters.

The financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. According to Crunchbase, Custora previously raised a total of $20.3 million in funding.


By Anthony Ha

Seismic acquires Percolate to expand its marketing tools

Seismic is announcing that it’s acquiring Percolate in a deal that it says is combining “two essential pillars of the marketing technology stack.”

It sounds like the two companies aren’t direct competitors, but they offer related tools: Seismic helps companies create and manage the content they use in sales and marketing, while Percolate expanded from a social media publishing tool to a  broader suite of software for managing the marketing process.

As part of the acquisition, Percolate CEO Randy Wootton is joining the Seismic team, where he will continue to lead Percolate, and where he will report to Seismic CEO Doug Winter. The combined company will have a headcount of more than 800 people.

“Both of our companies endeavor to foster better alignment between marketing and sales and improve the buyer/seller interaction, resulting in accelerated deals and pipeline for our customers,” Wootton said in a statement. “Combining with Seismic allows Percolate to provide even more capability to our customer base and more value to the marketing ecosystem.”

The financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. Percolate raised a total of $106.5 million from investors including GGV Capital, Sequoia Capital, Lightspeed, Slow Ventures, Lerer Hippeau and First Round Capital, according to Crunchbase.

Seismic, meanwhile, raised a $100 million investment at a $1 billion valuation last year.


By Anthony Ha

MediaRadar’s new product helps event organizers maximize sales

MediaRadar CEO Todd Krizelman describes his company as having “a very specific objective, which is to help media salespeople sell more advertising” by providing them with crucial data. And with today’s launch of MediaRadar Events, Krizelman hopes to do something similar for event organizers.

These customer groups might actually be one and the same, as plenty of companies (including TechCrunch) see both advertising and events as part of their business. In fact, Krizelman said customer demand “basically pushed us into this business.

He also suggested that that after years of seeing traditional ad dollars shifting into digital, “the money is now moving out of digital into events.”

If you’re organizing a trade show, you can use MediaRadar Events to learn about the overall size of the market, and then see who’s been purchasing sponsorships and exhibitor booths at similar events.

The product doesn’t just tell you who to reach out to, but how much these companies have paid for booths and sponsorships in the past, whether there are seasonal patterns in their conference spending and how that spending fits into their overall marketing budget — after all, Krizelman said, “In 2019, very few companies are siloed by media format as a buyer or a seller. Anyone doing that is putting their business at risk.”

He also described collecting the data needed to power MediaRadar Events as “much more complicated than we expected,” which is why it took the team two years to build the product. He said that data comes from three sources — some of it is posted publicly by event organizers, some of is shared directly by the event organizers with MediaRadar and in some cases members of the MediaRadar team will attend the events themselves.

MediaRadar Events support a wide range of events, although Krizelman acknowledged that it doesn’t have data for every industry. For example, he suggested that a convention for coin-operated laundromat owners might be “too niche” (though he hastened to add that he meant no offense to the laundromat business).

In a statement, James Ogle — chief financial officer at AdExchanger owner Access Intelligence — said:

Hosting events and the resulting revenue that comes from them is a big part of our business. However, the event space is getting more and more crowded and also more niche. Relevancy equals value, so we want to make sure our attendees are within the right target market for our exhibitors. MediaRadar provides critical transparency into the marketplace.


By Anthony Ha

Comscore raises $20M with an option to bump it to $50M, in a bid to rebuild its digital measurement business

Comscore’s name is usually in the news because of its widely-cited research and stats around media traffic and other analysis charting digital consumer behavior. More recently, it’s been coming up for another reason: ongoing corporate upheaval and its tumbling stock price. Today comes the latest development in that story: the company announced that it has raised $20 million, with the option of increasing the sum to $50 million, from a firm called CVI Investments.

“This transaction strengthens our balance sheet and positions us to pursue our refocused growth strategy while providing the flexibility to better apply resources to meet our business objectives, and ultimately drive long-term value for our stockholders,” Dale Fuller, Interim Chief Executive Officer of Comscore, said in a statement.

As explained in the 8-K, the money is coming in the form of a share purchase that is expected to close around June 26.

Comscore did not give more specifics about how it plans to use the funding, but it comes at a tricky time, with the stock today at one point dipping to a 52-week low at $7.39/share. Earlier this year, it lost both its CEO and its president, and then this month its COO departed after less than a month with the company. Counting its current interim CEO, it has been through five CEOs in the last five years. In May, the loss-making company also announced that it would be reducing headcount by 10%, or 180 people, as part of a restructuring and effort to move into profitability.

Comscore competes with the likes of Nielsen in measuring media consumption and patterns of digital consumers, but that is not its only challenge.

The company, and others like it, have traditionally been a key component in the world of advertising, as they provide an inportant, third-party assessment of audience data, necessary for helping to plan media spend and campaigns. But the rise of adtech and marketing tech, and a new array of places where ad inventory is placed beyond websites, has created a new level of more granular measurements and customer demands, so part of the challenge for Comscore has been to build new products to meet those new scenarios.

Its most recent series of executive departures and workforce reductions have not been the first faced by the company: it has also been the subject of an SEC investigation into its accounting practices, having admitted in 2018 that it overstated revenues by some $127 million resulting from a long-term WPP partnership. Prior to that, longtime CEO Gian Fulgoni left the company over the same problem.

Last year, it was reported that Comscore had engaged Goldman Sachs to reach out to parties potentially interested in acquiring it, including strategic acquirers operating in a similar space and buyout firms. The talks were never confirmed and nothing ever materialised at the time.

The company’s market cap is now at around $460 million, having seen its share price decline drastically since 2015.

 


By Ingrid Lunden

Foursquare buys Placed from Snap Inc. on the heels of $150M in new funding

Foursquare just made its first acquisition. The location tech company has acquired Placed from Snap Inc on the heels of a fresh $150 million investment led by the Raine Group. The terms of the deal were not disclosed. Placed founder and CEO David Shim will become President of Foursquare.

Placed is the biggest competitor to Foursquare’s Attribution product, which allows brands to track the physical impact (foot traffic to store) of a digital campaign or ad. Up until now, Placed and Attribution by Foursquare combined have measured over $3 billion in ad-to-store visits.

Placed launched in 2011 and raised $13.4 million (according to Crunchbase) before being acquired by Snap Inc. in 2017.

As part of the deal with Foursquare, the company’s Attribution product will henceforth be known as Placed powered by Foursquare. The acquisition also means that Placed powered by Foursquare will have more than 450 measureable media partners, including Twitter, Snap, Pandora, and Waze. Moreover, more than 50 percent of the Fortune 100 are partnered with Placed or Foursquare.

It’s also worth noting that this latest investment of $150 million is the biggest financing round for Foursquare ever, and comes following a $33 million Series F last year.

Here’s what Foursquare CEO Jeff Glueck had to say about the financing in a prepared statement:

This is one of the largest investments ever in the location tech space. The investment will fund our acquisition and also capitalize us for our increased R&D and expansion plans, allowing us to focus on our mission to build the world’s most trusted, independent location technology platform.

That last bit, about an independent location technology platform, is important here. Foursquare is ten years old and has transformed from a consumer-facing location check-in app — a game, really — into a location analytics and development platform.

Indeed, when Glueck paints his vision for the company, he lists five key areas of focus:

  1. Developer Tools to build smarter apps and customer engagement, using geo-context;
  2. Analytics, including consumer insights for planning;
  3. Audiences, so businesses can reach the right consumer segments for their message;
  4. Attribution, to test and learn which messages, segments and channels work best;
  5. Consumer, where through our own apps and Foursquare Labs’ R&D efforts we showcase what’s possible and inspire developers via our innovations around contextual location.

You’ll notice that its consumer apps, Foursquare and Swarm, are at the bottom of the list. But that’s because Foursquare’s real technological and strategic advantage isn’t in building the best social platform. In fact, Glueck said that more than 90 percent of the company’s revenue came from the enterprise side of the business. Foursquare’s advantage is in the accuracy of its technology, as afforded by the decade of data that has come from Foursquare, Swarm, and the users who have expressly verified their location.

The Pilgrim SDK fits into that top item on the list: developer tools. The Pilgrim SDK allows developers to embed location-smart experiences and notifications into their apps and services. But it also expands Foursquare’s access to data from beyond its own apps to the greater ecosystem, yielding the data it needs to power analytics tools for brands and publishers.

With this acquisition, Placed will be able to leverage Foursquare’s existing map of 105 million places of interest across 190 countries, as well as tap into the measured U.S. audience of over 100 million monthly devices.

Foursquare and Placed share a similar philosophy of building against a truth set of real consumer responses. Getting real people to confirm the name of their location is the only way to know if your technology is accurate or not. Placed has leveraged over 135 million survey responses in its first-party Placed survey apps, all from consumers opted-in to its rewards app. Foursquare expands the truth set for machine learning exponentially by adding in our over 13 billion consumer confirmations.

The hope is that Foursquare is accurate enough to become the de facto location analytics and services company for measuring ad spend. With enough scale, that may allow the company to break into the walled gardens where most of that ad spend is going, Facebook and Google.

Of course, to win as the “world’s most trusted, independent location technology platform,” consumers have to trust the platform. After all, one’s location may be the most sensitive piece of data about them. Foursquare has taken steps to be clear about what its technology is capable of. In fact, at SXSW this year, Foursquare offered a limited run of a product called Hypertrending, which was essentially an anonymized view of real-time location data showing activity in the Austin area.

Here’s what Chairman of the Board and cofounder Dennis Crowley had to say at the time:

We feel the general trend with internet and technology companies these days has been to keep giving users a more and more personalized (albeit opaquely personalized) view of the world, while the companies that create these feeds keep the broad “God View” to themselves. Hypertrending is one example of how we can take Foursquare’s aggregate view of the world and make it available to the users who make it what it is. This is what we mean when we talk about “transparency” – we want to be honest, in public, about what our technology can do, how it works, and the specific design decisions we made in creating it.

With regards to today’s acquisition of Placed, Jeff Glueck had this to say:

Both companies also share a commitment to privacy and consumers being in control. Our Foursquare credo of “data as a privilege” only deepens as our company expands. We believe location should only be shared when consumers can see real value and visible benefits driven by location. We remain dedicated to elevating the industry through respect for transparency, user control, and instituting layers of privacy safeguards.

This new financing brings Foursquare’s total funding to $390.4 million.


By Jordan Crook

CEO Howard Lerman on building a public company and the future of Yext

It’s just over two years since Yext debuted on the New York Stock Exchange, and to mark the occasion, I sat down with co-founder and CEO Howard Lerman for an interview.

As Lerman noted, Yext — which allows businesses to manage their profiles and information across a wide variety of online services — actually presented onstage at the TechCrunch 50 conference back in 2009. Now, it boasts a market capitalization of nearly $2.3 billion, and it just revealed plans to take over a nine-floor building in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, turning it into Yext’s global headquarters.

My interview with Lerman actually came before the announcement, though he managed to drop in a few veiled hints about the company making a big move in real estate.

More concretely, we talked about how Lerman’s management style has evolved from scrappy startup founder to a public company CEO — he described holding five-minute meetings with every Yext employee as “one of the best management techniques” he’s ever adopted.

Lerman also argued that as online misinformation has become a big issue, Yext has only become more important: “Our founding principle is that the ultimate authority on how many calories are in a Big Mac is McDonald’s. The ultimate authority on where Burger King is open is Burger King.”

Vowing that he will remain CEO of Yext for “as long as this board will have me,” Lerman ended our conversation with a passionate defense of the idea that “a company is the ultimate vehicle in America to effect good in the world.”

You can read a transcript of our conversation below, edited and condensed for clarity.

TechCrunch: To start with a really broad question, how do you think Yext is different now than it was two years ago?

Howard Lerman: One of the things that’s defined Yext over the years is our continuous willingness to reinvent ourselves. You started covering us in 2009 [at] TechCrunch 50, we were a launch company there.

And here we are now. One of the cool things about being public is: It’s a total gamechanger. It’s a gamechanger not just for access to capital, but it’s particularly important in global markets. And I’m not talking about capital markets, I’m talking about the markets in which we sell software. We have offices now from Berlin to Shanghai.


By Anthony Ha

Mailchimp expands from email to full marketing platform, says it will make $700M in 2019

Mailchimp, a bootstrapped startup out of Atlanta, Georgia, is known best as a popular tool for organizations to manage their customer-facing email activities — a profitable business that its CEO told TechCrunch has now grown to around 11 million customers and is on track for $700 million in revenue in 2019.

To help hit that number, Mailchimp is taking the wraps off a significant update aimed at catapulting it into the next level of business services. Beginning later this week, Mailchimp will start to offer a full marketing platform aimed at smaller organizations.

Going beyond email, the new platform will feature technology to record and track customer leads, the ability to purchase domains and build sites, ad retargeting on Facebook and Instagram, social media management and business intelligence that leverages a new move in the artificial intelligence to provide recommendations to users on how and when to market to whom.

When the service goes live on Wednesday, Mailchimp also plans a pretty significant shift of its pricing into four tiers of free, $9.99/month, $14.99/month or $299/month (up from the current pricing of free, $10/month, $199/month) — with those fees scaling depending on usage and features.

(Existing paid customers maintain current pricing structure and features for the time being and can move to the new packages at any time, the company said. New customers will sign up to the new pricing starting May 15.)

The expansion is part of a longer-term strategic play to widen Mailchimp’s scope by building more services for the typically-underserved but collectively large small business segment. Even as multinationals like Amazon and other large companies continue to feel like they are eating up the mom-and-pop independent business model, SMBs continue to make up 48 percent of the GDP in the US.

And within that, marketing is one of those areas that small businesses might not have invested in much traditionally but are increasingly turning to as so much transactional activity has moved to digital platforms — be it smartphones, computers, or just the tech that powers the TV you watch or music you listen to.

In March, we reported that Mailchimp quietly acquired a small Shopify competitor called LemonStand to start to build more e-commerce tools for its users. And the new marketing platform is the next step in that strategy.

“We still see a big need for small businesses to have something like this,” Ben Chestnut, Mailchimp’s co-founder and CEO, said in an interview. Enterprises have a range of options when it comes to marketing tools, he added, “but small businesses don’t.” The mantra for many building tech for the SMB sector has traditionally been “dumbed down and cheap,” in his words. “We agreed that cheap was good, but not dumbed down. We want to empower them.”

The new services launch also comes at a time when an increasing number of companies are closing in on the small business opportunity, with e-commerce companies like Square, Shopify and PayPal also widening their portfolio of products. (These days, Square is a Mailchimp partner, Shopify is not.)

Marketing is something that Mailchimp had already been dabbling with over the last two years — indeed, customer-facing email services is essentially a form of marketing, too. Other launches have included a Postcards service, offering companies very simple landing pages online (about 10 percent of Mailchimp’s customers do not have their own web sites, Chestnut said), and a tool for companies to create Google, Facebook and Instagram ads.

Mailchimp itself has a big marketing presence already: it says that daily, more than 1.25 million e-commerce orders are generated through Mailchimp campaigns; over 450 million e-commerce orders were made through Mailchimp campaigns in 2018; and its customers have sold over $250 million in goods through multivariate + A/B campaigns run through Mailchimp.

There are clearly a lot of others vying to be the go-to platform for small businesses to do their business — “Google, Facebook, a lot of the big players see the magic and are moving to the space more and more,” Chestnut said — but Mailchimp’s unique selling point — or so it hopes — is that it’s the platform that has no vested interests in other business areas, and will therefore be as focused as the small businesses themselves are. That includes, for example, no upcharging regardless of the platform where you choose to run a campaign.

“We are Switzerland,” Chestnut said.


By Ingrid Lunden

Takeaways from F8 and Facebook’s next phase

Extra Crunch offers members the opportunity to tune into conference calls led and moderated by the TechCrunch writers you read every day. This week, TechCrunch’s Josh Constine and Frederic Lardinois discuss major announcements that came out of Facebook’s F8 conference and dig into how Facebook is trying to redefine itself for the future.

Though touted as a developer-focused conference, Facebook spent much of F8 discussing privacy upgrades, how the company is improving its social impact, and a series of new initiatives on the consumer and enterprise side. Josh and Frederic discuss which announcements seem to make the most strategic sense, and which may create attractive (or unattractive) opportunities for new startups and investment.

“This F8 was aspirational for Facebook. Instead of being about what Facebook is, and accelerating the growth of it, this F8 was about Facebook, and what Facebook wants to be in the future.

That’s not the newsfeed, that’s not pages, that’s not profiles. That’s marketplace, that’s Watch, that’s Groups. With that change, Facebook is finally going to start to decouple itself from the products that have dragged down its brand over the last few years through a series of nonstop scandals.”

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Josh and Frederic dive deeper into Facebook’s plans around its redesign, Messenger, Dating, Marketplace, WhatsApp, VR, smart home hardware and more. The two also dig into the biggest news, or lack thereof, on the developer side, including Facebook’s Ax and BoTorch initiatives.

For access to the full transcription and the call audio, and for the opportunity to participate in future conference calls, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 


By Arman Tabatabai