Laiye, China’s answer to UiPath, closes $50 million Series C+

Robotic process automation has become buzzy in the last few months. New York-based UiPath is on course to launch an initial public offering after gaining an astounding valuation of $35 billion in February. Over in China, homegrown RPA startup Laiye is making waves as well.

Laiye, which develops software to mimic mundane workplace tasks like keyboard strokes and mouse clicks, announced it has raised $50 million in a Series C+ round. The proceeds came about a year after the Beijing-based company pulled in the first tranche of its Series C round.

Laiye, six years old and led by Baidu veterans, has raised over $130 million to date according to public information.

Leading investors in the Series C+ round were Ping An Global Voyager Fund, an early-stage strategic investment vehicle of Chinese financial conglomerate Ping An, and Shanghai Artificial Intelligence Industry Equity Investment Fund, a government-backed fund. Other participants included Lightspeed China Partners, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Sequoia China and Wu Capital.

RPA tools are attracting companies looking for ways to automate workflows during COVID-19, which has disrupted office collaboration. But the enterprise tech was already gaining traction prior to the pandemic. As my colleague, Ron Miller wrote this month on the heels of UiPath’s S1 filing:

“The category was gaining in popularity by that point because it addressed automation in a legacy context. That meant companies with deep legacy technology — practically everyone not born in the cloud — could automate across older platforms without ripping and replacing, an expensive and risky undertaking that most CEOs would rather not take.”

In one case, Laiye’s RPA software helped the social security workers in the city of Lanzhou speed up their account reconciliation process by 75%; in the past, they would have to type in pensioners’ information and check manually whether the details were correct.

In another instance, Laiye’s chatbot helped automate the national population census in several southern Chinese cities, freeing census takers from visiting households door-to-door.

Laiye said its RPA enterprise business achieved positive cash flow and its chatbot business turned profitability in the fourth quarter of 2020. Its free-to-use edition has amassed over 400,000 developers, and the company also runs a bot marketplace connecting freelance developers to small-time businesses with automation needs.

Laiye is expanding its services globally and boasts that its footprint now spams Asia, the United States and Europe.

“Laiye aims to foster the world’s largest developer community for software robots and built the world’s largest bot marketplace in the next three years, and we plan to certify at least one million software robot developers by 2025,” said Wang Guanchun, chair and CEO of Laiye.

“We believe that digital workforce and intelligent automation will reach all walks of life as long as more human workers can be up-skilled with knowledge in RPA and AI”.


By Rita Liao

Microsoft brings tighter integration to Dynamics 365 and Teams

As the pandemic drags on and we learn about the requirements of working from home with distributed teams, users could be craving more integration across their tools to help reduce the clicks required to complete a set of tasks. Today at the Ignite Conference, Microsoft announced tighter integration between its business suite Dynamics 365 and its collaboration tool Teams to help with that issue.

Alysa Taylor, corporate VP for business applications and global industry at Microsoft, pointed out that one of the advantages of this native integration approach is that it helps reduce context switching across different applications. “We are committed to really bringing together the collaboration platform and the business process layer to enable salespeople, service representatives, operations managers [and other similar roles] to really have a unified platform in which they both collaborate and have their everyday business functions,” Taylor explained.

This could manifest itself in a number of different ways across marketing, sales and service. For instance, a marketer can create a webinar, which they set up and track in Dynamics 365 Marketing tools and run in Teams as a streaming event with the Teams streaming setup integrated directly into the Dynamics 365 console.

In a sales example Taylor says, “We’re enabling sellers to be able to track the career movements of their contacts using the LinkedIn Sales Navigator, as well as connect very specific sales records within Microsoft Teams without ever having to leave Dynamics 365 Sales. So you can be in the Sales application and you have the ability to deeply understand a contact and any contact changes that occur in Teams, and that’s automatically updated in Sales.”

If your company is not an all-Microsoft shop and wants to use different tools as part of these workflows, Taylor says that you can use Microsoft cross-cloud connectors to connect to another service, and this is true regardless of the tasks involved (so long as the connector to the desired application is available).

Salesforce, a primary rival of Microsoft in the business software space, spent over $27 billion to buy Slack at the end of last year to bring this kind of integration to its platform. Taylor sees the acquisition as a reaction to the integration Microsoft already has and continues to build.

“I think that Salesforce had to acquire Slack to be able to have that collaboration [we have], so we are years ahead of what they’re going to be able to provide because they will not have these native integrations. So I actually see the Salesforce acquisition as a response to what we’re doing with Dynamics 365 and Teams,” Taylor told me.

It’s worth pointing out that Salesforce is far ahead of Microsoft when it comes market share in the CRM space with over 19% versus under 3% for Microsoft, according to Gartner numbers from 2019. While it’s possible these numbers have shifted some since then, probably not significantly.


By Ron Miller

Wrike launches new AI tools to keep your projects on track

Project management service Wrike today announced a major update to its platform at its user conference that includes a lot of new AI smarts for keeping individual projects on track and on time, as well as new solutions for marketers and project management offices in large corporations. In addition, the company also launched a new budgeting feature and tweaks to the overall user experience.

The highlight of the launch, though, is, without doubt, the launch of the new AI and machine learning capabilities in Wrike . With more than 20,000 customers and over 2 million users on the platform, Wrike has collected a trove of data about projects that it can use to power these machine learning models.

Image Credits: Wrike

The way Wrike is now using AI falls into three categories: project risk prediction, task prioritization and tools for speeding up the overall project management workflow.

Figuring out the status of a project and knowing where delays could impact the overall project is often half the job. Wrike can now predict potential delays and alert project and team leaders when it sees events that signal potential issues. To do this, it uses basic information like start and end dates, but more importantly, it looks at the prior outcomes of similar projects to assess risks. Those predictions can then be fed into Wrike’s automation engine to trigger actions that could mitigate the risk to the project.

Task prioritization does what you would expect and helps you figure out what you should focus on right now to help a project move forward. No surprises there.

What is maybe more surprising is that the team is also launching voice commands (through Siri on iOS) and Gmail-like smart replies (in English for iOS and Android). Those aren’t exactly core features of a project management tools, but as the company notes, these features help remove the overall friction and reduce latencies. Another new feature that falls into this category is support for optical character recognition to allow you to scan printed and handwritten notes from your phones and attach them to tasks (iOS only).

“With more employees working from home, work and personal life are becoming intertwined,” the company argues. “As workers use AI in their personal lives, team managers and everyday users expect the smarts they’re accustomed to in consumer devices and apps to help them manage their work as well. Wrike Work Intelligence is the most comprehensive machine learning foundation that taps into tens of millions of work-related user engagements to power cross-functional collaboration to help organizations achieve operational efficiency, create new opportunities and accelerate digital transformation. Teams can focus on the work that matters most, predict and minimize delays, and cut communication latencies.”

Image Credits: Wrike

The other major new feature — at least if you’re in digital marketing — is Wrike’s new ability to pull in data about your campaigns from about 50 advertising, marketing automation and social media tools, which is then displayed inside the Wrike experience. In a fast-moving field, having all that data at your fingertips and right inside the tool where you think about how to manage these projects seems like a smart idea.

Image Credits: Wrike

Somewhat related, Wrike’s new budgeting feature also now makes it easier for teams to keep their projects within budget, using a new built-in rate card to manage project pricing and update their financials.

“We use Wrike for an extensive project management and performance metrics system,” said Shannon Buerk, the CEO of engage2learn, which tested this new budgeting tool. “We have tried other PM systems and have found Wrike to be the best of all worlds: easy to use for everyone and savvy enough to provide valuable reporting to inform our work. Converting all inefficiencies into productive time that moves your mission forward is one of the keys to a culture of engagement and ownership within an organization, even remotely. Wrike has helped us get there.”


By Frederic Lardinois

Microsoft brings new robotic process automation features to its Power Platform

Earlier this year, Microsoft acquired Softomotive, a player in the low-code robotic process automation space with a focus on Windows. Today, at its Ignite conference, the company is launching Power Automate Desktop, a new application based on Softomotive’s technology that lets anyone automate desktop workflows without needing to program.

“The big idea of Power Platform is that we want to go make it so development is accessible to everybody,” Charles Lamanna, Microsoft’s corporate VP for its low-code platform, told me. “And development includes understanding and reporting on your data with Power BI, building web and mobile applications with Power Apps, automating your tasks — whether it’s through robotic process automation or workflow automation — with Power Automate, or building chatbots and chat-based experiences with Power Virtual Agent.”

Power Automate already allowed users to connect web-based applications, similar to Zapier and IFTTT, but the company also launched a browser extension late last year to help users connect native system components to Power Automate. Now, with the integration of the Softomotive technology and the launch of this new low-code Windows application, it’s taking this integration into the native Windows user interface one step further.

“Everything still runs in the cloud and still connects to the cloud, but you now have a rich desktop application to author and record your UI automations,” Lamanna explained. He likened it to an “ultimate connector,” noting that the “ultimate API is just the UI.”

He also stressed that the new app feels like any other modern Office app, like Outlook (which is getting a new Mac version today, by the way) or Word. And like the modern versions of those apps, Power Automate Desktop derives a lot of its power from being connected to the cloud.

It’s also worth noting that Power Automate isn’t just a platform for automating simple two or three-step processes (like sending you a text message when your boss emails you), but also for multistep, business-critical workflows. T-Mobile, for example, is using the platform to automate some of the integration processes between its systems and Sprint.

Lamanna noted that for some large enterprises, adopting these kinds of low-code services necessitates a bit of a culture shift. IT still needs to have some insights into how these tools are used, after all, to ensure that data is kept safe, for example.

Another new feature the company announced today is an integration between the Power Platform and GitHub, which is now in public preview. The idea here is to give developers the ability to create their own software lifecycle workflows. “One of the core ideas of Power Platform is that it’s low code,” Lamanna said. “So it’s built first for business users, business analysts, not the classical developers. But pro devs are welcome. The saying I have is: we’re throwing a party for business users, but pro devs are also invited to the party.” But to get them onto the platform, the team wants to meet them where they are and let them use the tools they already use — and that’s GitHub (and Visual Studio and Visual Studio Code).


By Frederic Lardinois

Superhuman CEO Rahul Vohra on waitlists, freemium pricing and future products

The “Sent via Superhuman iOS” email signature has become one of the strangest flexes in the tech industry, but its influence is enduring, as the $30 per month invite-only email app continues to shape how a wave of personal productivity startups are building their business and product strategies.

I had a chance to chat with Superhuman CEO and founder Rahul Vohra earlier this month during an oddly busy time for him. He had just announced a dedicated $7 million angel fund with his friend Todd Goldberg (which I wrote up here) and we also noted that LinkedIn is killing off Sales Navigator, a feature driven by Rapportive, which Vohra founded and later sold in 2012. All the while, his buzzy email company is plugging along, amassing more interested users. Vohra tells me there are now more than 275,000 people on the waitlist for Superhuman.

Below is a chunk of my conversation with Vohra, which has been edited for length and clarity.


TechCrunch: When you go out to raise funding and a chunk of your theoretical user base is sitting on a waitlist, is it a little tougher to determine the total market for your product?

Rahul Vohra: That’s a good question. When we were doing our Series B, it was very easily answered because we’re one of a cohort of companies, that includes Notion and Airtable and Figma, where the addressable market — assuming you can build a product that’s good enough — is utterly enormous.

With my last company, Rapportive, there was a lot of conversation around, “oh, what’s the business model? What’s the market? How many people need this?” This almost never came up in any fundraising conversation. People were more like, “well, if this thing works, obviously the market is basically all of prosumer productivity and that is, no matter how you define it, absolutely huge.”


By Lucas Matney

Microsoft Teams gets Yammer integration, secure private channels, and more

You’re forgiven if you thought Yammer, Microsoft’s proto-Slack, not quite realtime, chat application was dead. But it’s actually still alive (and well) — and still serves a purpose as a slower-moving social network-like channel for company- and team-wide announcements. Today, Microsoft announced that, among other updates, it will offer a Yammer integration in Teams, its Slack competitor. Yammer in Teams will live in the left-hand sidebar.

With this, Microsoft’s two main enterprise communications platforms are finally growing together and will give users the option to Teams for fast-moving chats and Yammer as their enterprise social network in the same way Facebook messenger and its news feed complement each other.

Screen Shot 2019 10 31 at 2.36.27 PM

Oh, and Yammer itself has been redesigned, too, using Microsoft’s Fluent Design System across all platforms. And Microsoft is also building it into Outlook, too, to let you respond to messages right from your inbox. This new Yammer will roll out as a private preview in December.

With this update, Teams is getting a number of other new features, too. These include secure private channels, multiwindow chats and meetings, pinned channels and task integration with Microsoft To Do and Planner (because having one todo app is never enough). Microsoft is also making a number of enhancements to Teams Room, with upcoming support for Cisco WebEx and Zoom meetings, the Teams Phone System, which is getting emergency calling, and the IT management features that help admins keep Teams secure.

A Teams client for Linux is also in the works and will be available in public preview later this year.


By Frederic Lardinois

The five great reasons to attend TechCrunch’s Enterprise show Sept. 5 in SF

The vast enterprise tech category is Silicon Valley’s richest, and today it’s poised to change faster than ever before. That’s probably the biggest reason to come to TechCrunch’s first-ever show focused entirely on enterprise. But here are five more reasons to commit to joining TechCrunch’s editors on September 5 at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for an outstanding day (agenda here) addressing the tech tsunami sweeping through enterprise. 

No. 1: Artificial intelligence
At once the most consequential and most hyped technology, no one doubts that AI will change business software and increase productivity like few, if any, technologies before it. To peek ahead into that future, TechCrunch will interview Andrew Ng, arguably the world’s most experienced AI practitioner at huge companies (Baidu, Google) as well as at startups. AI will be a theme across every session, but we’ll address it again head-on in a panel with investor Jocelyn Goldfein (Zetta), founder Bindu Reddy (Reality Engines) and executive John Ball (Salesforce / Einstein). 

No. 2: Data, the cloud and Kubernetes
If AI is at the dawn of tomorrow, cloud transformation is the high noon of today. Indeed, 90% of the world’s data was created in the past two years, and no enterprise can keep its data hoard on-prem forever. Azure’s CTO
Mark Russinovitch will discuss Microsft’s vision for the cloud. Leaders in the open-source Kubernetes revolution — Joe Beda (VMware), Aparna Sinha (Google) and others — will dig into what Kubernetes means to companies making the move to cloud. And last, there is the question of how to find signal in all the data — which will bring three visionary founders to the stage: Benoit Dageville (Snowflake), Ali Ghodsi (Databricks) and Murli Thirumale (Portworx). 

No. 3: Everything else on the main stage!
Let’s start with a fireside chat with
SAP CEO Bill McDermott and Qualtrics Chief Experience Officer Julie Larson-Green. We have top investors talking where they are making their bets, and security experts talking data and privacy. And then there is quantum computing, the technology revolution waiting on the other side of AI: Jay Gambetta, the principal theoretical scientist behind IBM’s quantum computing effort, Jim Clarke, the director of quantum hardware at Intel Labs and Krysta Svore, who leads Microsoft’s quantum effort.

All told, there are 21 programming sessions.

No. 4: Network and get your questions answered
There will be two Q&A breakout sessions with top enterprise investors; this is for founders (and anyone else) to query investors directly. Plus, TechCrunch’s unbeatable CrunchMatch app makes it really easy to set up meetings with the other attendees, an
incredible array of folks, plus the 20 early-stage startups exhibiting on the expo floor.

No. 5: SAP
Enterprise giant SAP is our sponsor for the show, and they are not only bringing a squad of top executives, they are producing four parallel track sessions, featuring key SAP Chief Innovation Officer
Max Wessel, SAP Chief Designer and Futurist Martin Wezowski and SAP.IO’s managing director Ram Jambunathan (SAP.iO), in sessions including how to scale-up an enterprise startup, how startups win large enterprise customers, and what the enterprise future looks like.

Check out the complete agenda. Don’t miss this show! This line-up is a view into the future like none other. 

Grab your $349 tickets today, and don’t wait til the day of to book because prices go up at the door!

We still have two Startup Demo Tables left. Each table comes with four tickets and a prime location to demo your startup on the expo floor. Book your demo table now before they’re all gone!


By Robert Frawley

SAP’s CEO Bill McDermott will join us at TC Sessions: Enterprise

You can’t talk about enterprise software without talking about SAP, the German software giant that now has a market cap of more than $172 billion, making it Europe’s most valuable tech company. To talk about his company and leadership in a rapidly changing environment for enterprise software, SAP CEO Bill McDermott will join us for a fireside chat at our TC Sessions: Enterprise event on September 5 in San Francisco.

McDermott joined the company as the CEO of SAP America in 2002. He then joined the executive board in 2008 and became co-CEO in 2010. Since becoming the first American to head the company in 2014, McDermott has continued to increase the company’s annual revenue and, maybe more importantly, expanded the company’s product range.

Chances are you know SAP mostly for its Hana in-memory database offering and CRM and enterprise resource management systems. Hana is important enough that all of the major cloud suppliers offer virtual machines specifically tuned for it, something they don’t do for any other piece of software. But SAP also offers services around data and networks management, IoT, blockchain and HR. Its more than 300,000 customers span virtually every industry and include government agencies around the globe, and the company itself has offices in virtually every country in the world.

We will talk to McDermott about the trends he’s seeing in the industry, including his company’s open data alliance with Microsoft and Adobe, his plans to double his company’s market cap, the role that open source now plays in enterprise software and how owning a Long Island deli prepared him for his current job. And we won’t forget SAP’s giant $8 billion acquisition of Qualtrics last year, which allows SAP to couple operational data with customer experience – matching what customers do with why they do it – one of the hottest areas in enterprise.

Outside of SAP, McDermott also serves on the board of directors of companies like Under Armour, Dell SecureWorks and ANSYS.e

Early Bird tickets are on sale for just $249 when you book here, but hurry prices go up by $100 soon! Students, grab your discounted tickets for just $75 here.



By Frederic Lardinois

Elastic’s IPO filing is here

Elastic, the provider of subscription-based data search software used by Dell, Netflix, The New York Times and others, has unveiled its IPO filing after confidentially submitting paperwork to the SEC in June. The company will be the latest in a line of enterprise SaaS businesses to hit the public markets in 2018.

Headquartered in Mountain View, Elastic plans to raise $100 million in its NYSE listing, though that’s likely a placeholder amount. The timing of the filing suggests the company will transition to the public markets this fall; we’ve reached out to the company for more details. 

Elastic will trade under the symbol ESTC.

The business is known for its core product, an open source search tool called ElasticSearch. It also offers a range of analytics and visualization tools meant to help businesses organize large datasets, competing directly with companies like Splunk and even Amazon — a name it mentions 14 times in the filing.

Amazon offers some of our open source features as part of its Amazon Web Services offering. As such, Amazon competes with us for potential customers, and while Amazon cannot provide our proprietary software, the pricing of Amazon’s offerings may limit our ability to adjust,” the company wrote in the filing, which also lists Endeca, FAST, Autonomy and several others as key competitors.

This is our first look at the Elastic’s financials. The company brought in $159.9 million in revenue in the 12 months ended July 30, 2018, up roughly 100% from $88.1 million the year prior. Losses are growing at about the same rate. Elastic reported a net loss of $18.5 million in the second quarter of 2018. That’s an increase from $9.9 million in the same period in 2017.

Founded in 2012, the company has raised about $100 million in venture capital funding, garnering a $700 million the last time it raised VC, which was all the way back in 2014. Its investors include Benchmark, NEA and Future Fund, which each retain a 17.8%, 10.2% and 8.2% pre-IPO stake, respectively.

A flurry of business software companies have opted to go public this year. Domo, a business analytics company based in Utah, went public in June raising $193 million in the process. On top of that, subscription biller Zuora had a positive debut in April in what was a “clear sign post on the road to SaaS maturation,” according to TechCrunch’s Ron Miller. DocuSign and Smartsheet are also recent examples of both high-profile and successful SaaS IPOs.

 


By Kate Clark