Contentful raises $80M Series E round for its headless CMS

Headless CMS company Contentful today announced that it has raised an $80 million Series E funding round led by Sapphire Ventures, with participation from General Catalyst, Salesforce Ventures and a number of other new and existing investors. With this, the company has now raised a total of $158.3 million and a Contentful spokesperson tells me that it is approaching a $1 billion valuation.

In addition, the company also today announced that it has hired Bridget Perry as its CMO. She previously led Adobe’s marketing efforts across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Currently, 28% of the Fortune 500 use Contentful to manage their content across platforms. The company says it has a total of 2,200 paying customers right now and these include the likes of Spotify,  ITV, the British Museum, Telus and Urban Outfitters.

Steve Sloan, the company’s CEO who joined the company late last year, attributes its success to the fact that virtually every business today is in the process of figuring out how to become digital and serve its customers across platforms – and that’s a process that has only been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Ten or fifteen years ago, when these content platforms or content management systems were created, they were a) really built for a web-only world and b) where the website was a complement to some other business,” he said. “Today, the mobile app, the mobile web experience is the front door to every business on the planet. And that’s never been any more clear than in this recent COVID crisis, where we’ve seen many, many businesses — even those that are very traditional businesses — realize that the dominant and, in some cases, only way their customers can interact with them is through that digital experience.”

But as they are looking at their options, many decide that they don’t just want to take an off-the-shelf product, Sloan argues, because it doesn’t allow them to build a differentiated offering.

Image Credits: Contentful /

Perry also noted that this is something she saw at Adobe, too, as it built its digital experience business. “Leading marketing at Adobe, we used it ourselves,” she said. “And so the challenge that we heard from customers in the market was how complex it was in some cases to implement, to organize around it, to build those experiences fast and see value and impact on the business. And part of that challenge, I think, stemmed from the kind of monolithic, all-in-one type of suite that Adobe offered. Even as a marketer at Adobe, we had challenges with that kind of time to market and agility. And so what’s really interesting to me — and one of the reasons why I joined Contentful — is that Contentful approaches this in a very different way.”

Sloan noted that putting the round together was a bit of an adventure. Contentful’s existing investors approached the company around the holidays because they wanted to make a bigger investment in the company to fuel its long-term growth. But at the time, the company wasn’t ready to raise new capital yet.

“And then in January and February, we had inbound interest from people who weren’t yet investors, who came to us and said, ‘hey, we really want to invest in this company, we’ve seen the trend and we really believe in it.’ So we went back to our insiders and said, ‘hey, we’re going to think about actually moving in our timeline for raising capital,” Sloan told me. “And then, right about that time is when COVID really broke out, particularly in Western Europe in North America.”

That didn’t faze Contentful’s investors, though.

“One of the things that really stood out about our investors — and particularly our lead investor for this round Sapphire — is that when everybody else was really, really frightened, they were really clear about the opportunity, about their belief in the team and about their understanding of the progress we had already made. And they were really unflinching in terms of their support,” Sloan said.

Unsurprisingly, the company plans to use the new funding to expand its go-to-market efforts (that’s why it hired Perry, after all) but Sloan also noted that Contentful plans to invest quite a bit into R&D as well as it looks to help its customers solve more adjacent problems as well.


By Frederic Lardinois

New Box tools should help ease creation of digitally driven workflows

As COVID-19 has forced companies to move employees from office to home, cloud services have seen a burst in business. Box has been speeding up its product roadmap to help companies who are in the midst of this transition. Today, the company announced the Box Relay template library, which includes a series of workflow templates to help customers build digital workflows faster.

Box CEO Aaron Levie says that the rapid shift to work from home has been a massive accelerant to digital transformation, in some cases driving years of digital transformation into a matter of weeks and months. He says that has made the need to digitize business processes more urgent than ever.

In fact, when he appeared on Extra Crunch Live last month, he indicated that businesses still have way too many manual processes:

We think we’re [in] an environment that anything that can be digitized probably will be. Certainly as this pandemic has reinforced, we have way too many manual processes in businesses. We have way too slow ways of working together and collaborating. And we know that we’re going to move more and more of that to digital platforms.

Box Relay is the company’s workflow tool, and while it has had the ability to create workflows, it required a certain level of knowledge and way of thinking to make that happen. Levie says that they wanted to make it as simple as possible for customers to build workflows to digitize manual processes.

“We are announcing an all new set of Box Relay templates, which are going straight to the heart of how do you automate and digitize business processes across the entire enterprise and make it really simple to do that,” he explained.

This could include things like a contract review, change order process or budget review to name a few examples. The template includes the pieces to get going, but the customer can customize the process to meet the needs of the individual organization’s requirements.

Image Credits: Box

While this is confined to Box-built templates for now, Levie says that down the road this could include the ability for customers to deploy templates of their own, or even for third parties like systems integrators to build industry or client-specific templates. But for today, it’s just about the ones you get out of the box from Box.

At the same time, the company is announcing the File Request feature, a name Levie admits doesn’t really do the feature justice. The idea is that in a workflow such as a paperless bank loan process, the individual has to submit multiple documents without having a Box account. After the company receives the documents, it can kick off a workflow automatically based on receiving the set of documents.

He says the combination of these two new capabilities will give customers the ability to digitize more and more of their processes and bring in a level of automation that wasn’t previously possible in Relay. “The combination of these two features is about driving automation across the entire enterprise and digitizing many more paper-based and manual processes in the enterprise,” Levie said.

Box will not be charging additional fees for these new features to customers using Box Relay. File Request should be available at the end of this month, while the template library should be available by the end of July, according to the company.


By Ron Miller

Box makes quick decision to add new collaboration capabilities in face of pandemic

When the shutdown began six weeks ago, the powers that be at Box sat down for a meeting to discuss the situation. They weren’t in the same room of course. They were like everyone else, separated by the virus, but they saw this as a key moment for Box as a company.

They had been talking about digital transformation for years, trying to help customers get there with their cloud content management platform, and this was a pivotal moment with millions of employees working at home.

Box CEO Aaron Levie says the company’s executives had to decide if the change in work style they were seeing at that moment was going to be a temporary event or something that changed work forever.

After some debate, they concluded that it was going to change things for the long term, and that meant accelerating the product road map. “We made the bet six weeks ago that this was going to be a long-term change about how business works, and even if offices opened back up, we thought that companies were going to want to be resilient for this type of event in the future,” Levie explained.

From Box’s perspective, they saw this playing it in three crucial ways. Employees would need to be able to share files securely (their sweet spot). They would need to collaborate with folks inside and outside the organization. Finally, as you are working inside other cloud applications, what is the best way to interact with files stored in Box?

These are all scenarios that Levie has been talking about for years, and to some extent Box offered already, but they wanted to tighten everything up, while adding some new functionality. For starters, they are offering a cleaner interface to make it easier for users to interact with and share files.

They are also helping users organize those files with a new feature called Collections, which lets them group their files and folders in ways that make sense to them. For starters, this is on an individual basis, but Levie says they are already hearing requests to be able to publish collections inside the organization, something that could come down the road.

Next, they are adding an annotations capability that makes it easy to add comments either as a single editor or in a group discussion about a file. Think Google Docs collaboration tools, but for any document, allowing an individual or group to comment on a file remotely in real time, something many folks need to do right now.

Image Credit: Box

Finally, external partners and customers can share files in Box from a special landing page. Levie says that this is working in conjunction with Box Shield, and the malware detection capability announced last month to make sure these files are shared in a secure fashion.

“Companies are going to need to make sure that no matter what happens — in the fall, next year or 10 years from now — that they can be resilient to an event where people can’t transact physically, where you don’t have  manual processes, where employees can go work from home instantaneously, and so that’s going to change dramatically how you adjust your company’s priorities from a technology standpoint,” Levie said.

These new features may not answer all of those huge strategic questions, but this is a case where Box saw an opening for the company to address this change in how people work more directly, and they sped up the roadmap to seize it.

These features will be rolling out starting today, and over the next weeks.


By Ron Miller

HubSpot unveils new content management system aimed at marketers

HubSpot, the Boston-based inbound marketing firm, announced today it is launching a standalone content management system designed to make it easy for marketing personnel to add and update content.

While content management, in a sense, has been core to HubSpot from the beginning — many companies use their blogging platform, for example — the company built this one from the ground up for marketers, says chief marketing officer Kipp Bodnar.

“For me, the marketer owning the website is one of the most thankless jobs you have. There’s a lot of pain associated with it. Your CEO asks you to update a bio or your legal team needs a new terms of service. Everybody’s coming at you from everywhere and the actual management of websites has just a huge amount of pain associated with it,” he said.

Angela DeFranco, the company’s director of product management, says that HubSpot wanted to address that problem with a product designed specifically for the marketing team. “We wanted to build a content management system and a suite of tools that could stand on its own and take away the pain of content management, not only from the marketer but also from the developer and the people that help the site run,” she said.

The product is built on the notion of themes that allow the marketer and developer helping to build the site to get the look and feel they want, while balancing what De Franco calls “the paradox between powerful and easy-to-use.”

It allows developers to use the languages they want to build the site, while taking advantage of the HubSpot CMS’s modular structure. At the same time, the modules give marketers a friendly interface to make frequent changes required in a modern website.

“When you actually get into the editor and you’re dragging in, for example, your event registration theme module, it inherits the styling and the characteristic, the look and feel of that theme overall that the developers had set up and custom built for your team,” she said.

“The theme module is really the crux of how we were able to achieve some of these more complex functionality features and power, while also allowing that with drag-and-drop ease of use to build a full site as a marketer,” DeFranco added.

HubSpot was founded in 2006. It raised over $100 million, according to Crunchbase data, before going public in 2014.


By Ron Miller

Egnyte unifies its security and productivity tooling into single platform

Egnyte announced today it was combining its two main products — Egnyte Protect and Egnyte Connect — into a single platform to help customers manage, govern and secure the data from a single set of tools.

Egynte co-founder and CEO Vineet Jain says that this new single platform approach is being driven chiefly by the sheer volume of data they are seeing from customers, especially as they shift from on-prem to the cloud.

“The underlying pervasive theme is that there’s a rapid acceleration of data going to the cloud and we’ve seen that in our customers,” Jain told TechCrunch. He says that long-time customers have been shifting from terabytes to petabytes of data, while new customers are starting out with a few hundred terabytes instead of five or ten.

As this has happened, he says customers are asking for a way to deal with this data glut with a single platform because the volume of data makes it too much to handle with separate tools. “Instead of looking at this as separate problems, customers are saying they want a solution that helps address the productivity part at the same time as the security part. That’s because there is more data in the cloud, and concerns around data security and privacy, along with increasing compliance requirements, are driving the need to have it in one unified platform,” he explained.

The company is doing this because managing the data needs to be tied to security and governance policies. “They are not ultimately separate ideas,” Jain says.

Jain says up until recently, the company saw the data management piece as the way into a customer, and after they had that locked down, they would move to layer on security and compliance as a value-add. Today, partly due to the data glut and partly due to compliance regulations, Jain says, these are no longer separate ideas, and his company has evolved its approach to meet the changing requirements of customers.

Egnyte was founded in 2007 and has raised over $138 million on a $460 million post valuation, according to Pitchbook data. Its most recent round was $75 million led by Goldman Sachs in September, 2018. Egnyte passed the $100 million ARR mark in November.


By Ron Miller

Box looks to balance growth and profitability as it matures

Prevailing wisdom states that as an enterprise SaaS company evolves, there’s a tendency to sacrifice profitability for growth — understandably so, especially in the early days of the company. At some point, however, a company needs to become profitable.

Box has struggled to reach that goal since going public in 2015, but yesterday, it delivered a mostly positive earnings report. Wall Street seemed to approve, with the stock up 6.75% as we published this article.

Box CEO Aaron Levie says the goal moving forward is to find better balance between growth and profitability. In his post-report call with analysts, Levie pointed to some positive numbers.

“As we shared in October [at BoxWorks], we are focused on driving a balance of long-term growth and improved profitability as measured by the combination of revenue growth plus free cash flow margin. On this combined metric, we expect to deliver a significant increase in FY ’21 to at least 25% and eventually reaching at least 35% in FY ’23,” Levie said.

Growing the platform

Part of the maturation and drive to profitability is spurred by the fact that Box now has a more complete product platform. While many struggle to understand the company’s business model, it provides content management in the cloud and modernizing that aspect of enterprise software. As a result, there are few pure-play content management vendors that can do what Box does in a cloud context.


By Ron Miller

Salesforce Ventures invested $300M in Automattic while Salesforce was building a CMS

In September, Salesforce Ventures, the venture of arm of Salesforce, announced a hefty $300 million investment in Automattic, the company behind WordPress, the ubiquitous content management system (CMS). At the same time, the company was putting the finishing touches on Salesforce CMS, an in-house project it released last week.

The question is, why did it choose to do both?

One reason could be that WordPress isn’t just well-liked; it’s also the world’s most popular content management system, running 34 percent of the world’s 10 billion websites — including this one — according to the company. With Automattic valued at $3 billion, that gives Salesforce Ventures a 10 percent stake.

Given the substantial investment, you wouldn’t have been irrational to at least consider the idea that Salesforce may have had its eye on this company as an acquisition target. In fact, at the time of the funding, Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg told TechCrunch’s Romain Dillet that there could be some partnerships and integrations with Salesforce in the future.

Now we have a Salesforce CMS, and a potential partnership with one of the world’s largest web content management (WCM) tools, and it’s possible that the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.


By Ron Miller

Salesforce announces new content management system

Salesforce has its fingers in a lot of parts of the customer experience, so why not content management? Today, the company announced a brand new tool called Salesforce Content Management System, which it says is designed from the ground up to deliver a quality customer experience across multiple channels.

The idea is to provide a way for customers to create, manage and deliver more meaningful content across multiple channels from within the Salesforce family of products. The company claims it doesn’t require any kind of deep technical knowledge to do it, meaning marketers and product people should be able to create and deliver content without the help of IT, once the system is properly set up.

Anna Rosenman, Salesforce’s VP of product marketing for Community Cloud, Commerce Cloud and Salesforce CMS says the company created the new CMS to answer a customer demand. “Our customers have been asking for a dedicated CMS. The systems that they’ve been relying on so far tend to be legacy tools that are hard to use and built for a single-channel or site,” she said.

Photo: Salesforce

While users can create more personalized content based on what they know about the customer based on Salesforce data, Rosenman says the key differentiator here is the ability to connect to third-party systems. “A hybrid CMS provides a native experience channel or touchpoint, but also gives you the flexibility to present content to any touchpoint built on a third-party system,” she explained.

Tony Byrne, founder and principal analyst at Real Story Group, who has followed the Web CMS space for two decades, says this isn’t the first time that Salesforce has tried content management. The previous iteration was called Salesforce Sites. “They made big promises around that platform, got some major customers on board and then dropped it,” Byrne said.

He says that because it’s a major challenge to build a sophisticated multi-channel CMS. “It’s easy to build a simple CMS. It’s much harder to build an extensible, enterprise platform,” he said. He added, “There’s a lot of work they still need to do to feed other platforms around things like connectors, simulation, tracking, very advanced asset management (e.g., compound assets), object-oriented storage, etc.”

But Rosenman says that the system’s built-in flexibility is designed to provide that, and even be used in conjunction with existing legacy tools if need be.

What’s interesting here is that Salesforce decided to build this tool, rather than buying a company and integrating it into the Salesforce family, an approach it has not been afraid to take in the past. In fact, the company pursues an aggressive acquisition strategy. This year alone it spent more than $15 billion to buy Tableau and another $1.35 billion to buy ClickSoftware.

In this case, in the tension between building and buying, it decided to build instead. Time will tell if that was a good decision or not.


By Ron Miller

Google Docs gets an API for task automation

Google today announced the general availability of a new API for Google Docs that will allow developers to automate many of the tasks that users typically do manually in the company’s online office suite. The API has been in developer preview since last April’s Google Cloud Next 2018 and is now available to all developers.

As Google notes, the REST API was designed to help developers build workflow automation services for their users, build content management services and create documents in bulk. Using the API, developers can also set up processes that manipulate documents after the fact to update them, and the API also features the ability to insert, delete, move, merge and format text, insert inline images and work with lists, among other things.

The canonical use case here is invoicing, where you need to regularly create similar documents with ever-changing order numbers and line items based on information from third-party systems (or maybe even just a Google Sheet). Google also notes that the API’s import/export abilities allow you to use Docs for internal content management systems.

Some of the companies that built solutions based on the new API during the preview period include Zapier, Netflix, Mailchimp and Final Draft. Zapier integrated the Docs API into its own workflow automation tool to help its users create offer letters based on a template, for example, while Netflix used it to build an internal tool that helps its engineers gather data and automate its documentation workflow.

 

 


By Frederic Lardinois

Box hires former SAP exec as Chief Information Security Officer

Box announced today that it has hired Lakshmi Hanspal to be the company’s new Chief Information Security Officer (CISO). She boasts 20 years of security experience including holding executive security roles at SAP Ariba and Bank of America. She also spent time in a senior role at PayPal.

In a blog post announcing the hire, the company defined her role this way: “In the role of CISO, Lakshmi will be responsible for Box’s cyber security practice, security operations and data and platform protection.”

Hanspal sees similarities in Box from her time at SAP Ariba, but she recognizes that she will face a different set of challenges. “My role at Box is similar to what I focused on at SAP Ariba with the biggest difference being Box’s geographical footprint. Box is a born in the cloud company and expanding rapidly globally, so my focus will also include securing public cloud operations (future stack) and risk transparency for our customers,” she told TechCrunch.

She said that will involve improving service maturity and sustainability through automation, while continuing to ensure the highest level of security of both Box corporate and product platforms.

Box CEO Aaron Levie indicated that security is central to everything Box does, so finding the right Chief Information Security Officer was absolutely critical. “Not only does Lakshmi bring with her an impressive and diverse leadership experience from her time at SAP, PayPal and Bank of America, but she’s an incredible team builder and culture add for Box that will take our security team to the next level,” Levie said.

Hanspal is the third woman on Box’s executive team, joining Stephanie Carullo, who was hired as Chief Operating Officer in 2017 and Chief People Officer, Christie Lake.”


By Ron Miller

Box releases Skills, which lets developers apply AI and machine learning to Box content

When you have as much data under management as Box does, you have the key ingredient for artificial intelligence and machine learning, which feeds on copious amounts of data. Box is giving developers access to this data, while letting them choose the AI and machine learning algorithms they want to use. Today, the company announced the general availability of the Box Skills SDK, originally announced at BoxWorks a year ago.

Jeetu Patel, Box’s chief product officer and chief strategy officer, says Beta customers have been focusing on use cases specific to each company. They have been pulling information from different classes of content that matter most to them to bring an element of automation to their content management. “If there’s a way to bring a level of automation with machine learning, rather than doing it manually, that would meaningfully change the way that business processes can function,” Patel told TechCrunch.

Among the use cases Box has been seeing with the 300 Beta testers, is using artificial intelligence to recognize the contents of a photo for the purpose of auto tagging, thereby eliminating the need for humans to do that tagging. Another example is in contract management where the terms are pulled automatically from the contract, saving the legal team from having to do this.

Where this can get really powerful though is that the Skill can drive a more complex automated workflow inside of Box. If, for example, the Skill is driving the creation of automated metadata, that can in turn drive a workflow, Patel said.

Box is providing the means to ingest Box data into a given AI or machine learning algorithm, but instead of trying to create those on its own, it’s been relying on partners who have more specific expertise such as IBM Watson, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform and Amazon Web Services. In fact, Box says it is working with dozens of AI and machine learning partners.

For customers who aren’t comfortable doing any of this on their own, Box is also providing a consulting service, where it can come into a customer and help work through a set of requirements and choose the best algorithm for the job.


By Ron Miller

Seismic scores $100 million Series E investment on $1 billion valuation

Seismic has been helping companies create and manage their sales and marketing collateral since 2010. Today the company announced a $100 million Series E investment on a $1 billion valuation.

The round was led by Lightspeed Venture Partners and T Rowe Price. Existing investors General Atlantic, JMI Equity and Jackson Square Ventures also participated in the round. The company has now raised $179 million since inception.

What is attracting this level of investment is Seismic’s sales enablement tools, a kind of content management for sales and marketing. “What we’re trying to do with our technology is to help marketers who are striving to create the right content to help the sellers, and help sellers navigate all of the content out there and put together the right pieces and the right materials that are going to help them move the sales cycle along,” Seismic CEO and co-founder Doug Winter explained.

The inclusion of an investor like T Rowe Price often is a signal of IPO ambitions, and Winter acknowledged the connection, while pointing out that T Rowe Price is also a customer. “We do have a goal to be public-ready as a company that we are aiming for. We are the leader of the space, and we do feel like striving to be a public company and to be the first one in our space to go public. It’s a goal we are going to push for,” Winter told TechCrunch.

But he says taking this investment is more about taking advantage of market opportunity. The money gives Seismic the ability to expand to meet growing sales. Today, the company has more than 600 customers averaging more than $200,000 in spending, according to Winter.

The company acquired the Savo Group in May to help expand its market position. Seismic is based in San Diego with offices in Boston and Chicago (from the acquisition). It also opened offices in the UK and Australia earlier this year and plans further international with the new investment.  The company currently has more than 600 employees including 185 engineers and project managers, and plans to keep hiring as it puts this money to work.


By Ron Miller

Contentful raises $33.5M for its headless CMS platform

Contentful, a Berlin- and San Francisco-based startup that provides content management infrastructure for companies like Spotify, Nike, Lyft and others, today announced that it has raised a $33.5 million Series D funding round led by Sapphire Ventures, with participation from OMERS Ventures and Salesforce Ventures, as well as existing investors General Catalyst, Benchmark, Balderton Capital and Hercules. In total, the company has now raised $78.3 million.

It’s only been less than a year since the company raised its Series C round and as Contentful co-founder and CEO Sascha Konietzke told me, the company didn’t really need to raise right now. “We had just raised our last round about a year ago. We still had plenty of cash in our bank account and we didn’t need to raise as of now,” said Konietzke. “But we saw a lot of economic uncertainty, so we thought it might be a good moment in time to recharge. And at the same time, we already had some interesting conversations ongoing with Sapphire [formeraly SAP Ventures] and Salesforce. So we saw the opportunity to add more funding and also start getting into a tight relationship with both of these players.”

The original plan for Contentful was to focus almost explicitly on mobile. As it turns out, though, the company’s customers also wanted to use the service to handle its web-based applications and these days, Contentful happily supports both. “What we’re seeing is that everything is becoming an application,” he told me. “We started with native mobile application, but even the websites nowadays are often an application.”

In its early days, Contentful also focuses only on developers. Now, however, that’s changing and having these connections to large enterprise players like SAP and Salesforce surely isn’t going to hurt the company as it looks to bring on larger enterprise accounts.

Currently, the company’s focus is very much on Europe and North America, which account for about 80% of its customers. For now, Contentful plans to continue to focus on these regions, though it obviously supports customers anywhere in the world.

Contentful only exists as a hosted platform. As of now, the company doesn’t have any plans for offering a self-hosted version, though Konietzke noted that he does occasionally get requests for this.

What the company is planning to do in the near future, though, is to enable more integrations with existing enterprise tools. “Customers are asking for deeper integrations into their enterprise stack,” Konietzke said. “And that’s what we’re beginning to focus on and where we’re building a lot of capabilities around that.” In addition, support for GraphQL and an expanded rich text editing experience is coming up. The company also recently launched a new editing experience.


By Frederic Lardinois

After its acquisition, Magento starts integrating Adobe’s personalization and analytics tools

It’s been less than six months since Adobe acquired commerce platform Magento for $1.68 billion and today, at Magento’s annual conference, the company announced the first set of integrations that bring the analytics and personalization features of Adobe’s Experience Cloud to Magento’s Commerce Cloud.

In many ways, the acquisition of Magento helps Adobe close the loop in its marketing story by giving its customers a full spectrum of services that go from analytics, marketing and customer acquisition all the way to closing the transaction. It’s no surprise then that the Experience Cloud and Commerce Cloud are growing closer to, in Adobe’s words, “make every experience shoppable.”

“From the time that this company started to today, our focus has been pretty much exactly the same,” Adobe’s SVP of Strategic Marketing Aseem Chandra told me. “This is, how do we deliver better experiences across any channel in which our customers are interacting with a brand? If you think about the way that customers interact today, every experience is valuable and important. […] It’s no longer just about the product, it’s more about the experience that we deliver around that product that really counts.”

So with these new integrations, Magento Commerce Cloud users will get access to an integration with Adobe Target, for example, the company’s machine learning-based tool for personalizing shopping experiences. Similarly, they’ll get easy access to predictive analytics from Adobe Analytics to analyze their customers’ data and predict future churn and purchasing behavior, among other things.

These kinds of AI/ML capabilities were something Magento had long been thinking about, Magento’s former CEO and new Adobe SVP fo Commerce Mark Lavelle told me, but it took the acquisition by Adobe to really be able to push ahead with this. “Where the world’s going for Magento clients — and really for all of Adobe’s clients — is you can’t do this yourself,” he said. “you need to be associated with a platform that has not just technology and feature functionality, but actually has this living and breathing data environment that that learns and delivers intelligence back into the product so that your job is easier. That’s what Amazon and Google and all of the big companies that we’re all increasingly competing against or cooperating with have. They have that type of scale.” He also noted that at least part of this match-up of Adobe and Magento is to give their clients that kind of scale, even if they are small- or medium-sized merchants.

The other new Adobe-powered feature that’s now available is an integration with the Adobe Experience Manager. That’s Adobe’s content management tool that itself integrates many of these AI technologies for building personalized mobile and web content and shopping experiences.

“The goal here is really in unifying that profile, where we have a lot of behavioral information about our consumers,” said Aseem. “And what Magento allows us to do is bring in the transactional information and put those together so we get a much richer view of who the consumers are and how we personalize that experience with the next interaction that they have with a Magento-based commerce site.”

It’s worth noting that Magento is also launching a number of other new features to its Commerce Cloud that include a new drag-and-drop editing tool for site content, support for building Progressive Web Applications, a streamlined payment tool with improved risk management capabilities, as well as a new integration with the Amazon Sales Channel so Magento stores can sync their inventory with Amazon’s platform. Magneto is also announcing integrations with Google’s Merchant Center and Advertising Channels for Google Smart Shopping Campaigns.


By Frederic Lardinois

Box opens up about the company’s approach to innovation

Most of us never really stop to think about how the software and services we use on a daily basis are created. We just know it’s there when we want to access it, and it works most of the time. But companies don’t just appear and expand randomly, they need a well defined process and methodology to keep innovating or they won’t be around very long.

Box has been around since 2005 and grown into a company on a run rate of over $500 million.  Along the way, it transformed from a consumer focus to one concentrating on enterprise content management and expanded the platform from one that mostly offered online storage and file sharing to one that offers a range of content management services in the cloud.

I recently sat down with Chief Product and Chief Strategy Officer Jeetu Patel . A big part of Patel’s job is to keep the company’s development teams on track and focused on new features that could enhance the Box platform, attract new customers and increase revenue.

Fundamental beliefs

Before you solve a problem, you need the right group of people working on it. Patel says building a team has a few primary principles to help guide the product and team development. It starts with rules and rubrics to develop innovative solutions and help them focus on where to invest their resources in terms of money and people.

Graphic: Box

When it comes to innovating, you have to structure your teams in such a way that you can react to changing requirements in the marketplace, and in today’s tech world, being agile is more important than ever. “You have to configure your innovation engine from a team, motivation and talent recruiting perspective so that you’ve actually got the right structure in place to provide enough speed and autonomy to the team so that they’re unencumbered and able to execute quickly,” Patel explained

Finally, you need to have a good grip on the customer and the market. That involves constantly assessing market requirements and looking at building products and features that respond to a need, yet that aren’t dated when you launch them.

Start with the customer

Patel says that when all is said and done, the company wants to help its customers by filling a hole in the product set. From a central company philosophy perspective, it begins with the customer. That might sound like pandering on its face, but he says if you keep that goal in mind it really acts as an anchor to the entire process.

“From a core philosophy that we keep in mind, you have to actually make sure that you get everyone really oriented in the company to say you always start from a customer problem and work backwards. But picking the right problem to solve is 90 percent of the battle,” he said.

Solve hard problems

Patel strongly believes that the quality of the problem is directly proportional to the outcome of the project. Part of that is solving a real customer pain point, but it’s also about challenging your engineers. You can be successfully solving the low-hanging fruit problems most of the time, but then you don’t necessarily attract the highest quality engineering talent.

“If you think about really hard problems that have a lot of mission and purpose around them, you can actually attract the best team,” he said.

That means looking for a problem where you can add a lot of value. “The problem that you choose to spend your time solving should be one where you are uniquely positioned to create a 10 x value proposition compared to what might exist in the market today,” Patel explained. If it doesn’t reach that threshold, he believes that there’s no motivation for the customer to change, and it’s not really worth going after.

Build small teams

Once you identify that big problem, you need to form a team to start attacking it. Patel recommends keeping the teams manageable, and he believes in the Amazon approach of the two-pizza team, a group of 8-10 people who can operate on..well…two pizzas. If the teams get too large, he says it becomes difficult to coordinate and too much time gets wasted on logistics instead of innovation.

“Having very defined local missions, having [small] teams carrying out those local missions, and making sure that those team sizes don’t get too large so that they can stay very agile, is a pretty important kind of core operating principle of how we build products,” Patel said.

That becomes even more important as the company scales. The trick is to configure the organization in such a way so that as you grow, you end up with many smaller teams instead of a few bigger ones, and in that way you can better pinpoint team missions.

Developing a Box product

Patel sees four key areas when it comes to finally building that new product at Box. First of all, it needs to be enterprise grade and all that entails — secure, reliable, scalable, fault tolerant and so forth.

That’s Job One, but what generally has differentiated Box in the content management market has been its ease of use. He sees that as removing as much friction as you can from a software-driven business process.

Next, you try to make those processes intelligent and that means understanding the purpose of the content. Patel says that could involve having better search, better surfacing of content and automated trigger events that move that content through a workflow inside a company.

Finally, they look at how it fits inside a workflow because content doesn’t live in a vacuum inside an enterprise. It generally has a defined purposed and the content management system should make it easy to integrate that content into the broader context of its purpose.

Measure twice

Once you have those small teams set up with their missions in place, you have to establish rules and metrics that allow them to work quickly, but still have a set of milestones they have to meet to prove they are on a worthwhile project for the company. You don’t want to be throwing good money after a bad project.

For Patel and Box that involves a set of of metrics that tell you at all times, whether the team is succeeding or failing. Seems simple enough, but it takes a lot of work from a management perspective to define missions and goals and then track them on a regular basis.

He says that involves three elements: “There are three things that we think about including what’s the plan for what you’re going to build, what’s the strategy around what you’re going to build, and then what’s the level of coordination that each one of us have on whether or not what we’re building is, in fact, going to be successful.”

In the end, this is an iterative process, one that keeps evolving as the company grows and develops and as they learn from each project and each team. “We’re constantly looking at the processes and saying, what are the things that need to be adjusted,” Patel said.


By Ron Miller