Segment launches customer journey tool to build fine-grained personal experiences

Twilio Segment announced a tool, which is available starting today, to help marketers create fine-grained customer journeys. Up until now the company has enabled marketers to build buyer personas and broader audiences, but this enables users to have much greater control of their interactions with a customer.

Company co-founder and CEO Peter Reinhardt says that marketers have been craving the ability to build more customized customer journeys and this tool gives them that. “It’s basically taking the power that existed in personas and audiences and actually putting it fully in marketers’ hands to build their dream journeys across every channel with the best data,” he said.

This enables marketers to stitch together a whole sequence of audiences. “Say when someone comes to the top of the funnel, they want to do X, then if they want to branch it and use X or Y, then do two different things, and you can keep branching and personalizing via this whole journey to cover the whole lifecycle.”

He says this capability has existed in some tools, but the Twilio Segment offering enables it to be used in more than 300 tools in the Segment ecosystem. “This is the first time that we’re going to be able to really do that and orchestrate this way, not just for a limited subset of channels, but across all of the channels,” he said.

Marketers can build branching by dragging and dropping journey components to send people on different paths depending on things like if they are a regular customer or a first-time customer or just about anything you can think of. Reinhardt says that flexibility is a key attribute of the new feature.

While it’s competing with some major players like Adobe and Salesforce in this space, Reinhardt believes this capability really gives Twilio a leg up over the competitors. “I think if you look at more of the legacy journey builders, [their products] are not built on real time data, meaning that they’re actually missing basically all of the interesting behavioral data that marketers actually build on,” he said.

Segment was acquired by Twilio last year for $3.2 billion, and part of the reason for that was to increase its customer engagement capabilities. Segment gives Twilio a customer data platform to build on top of its other communications tooling, and today’s announcement expands on that capability.


By Ron Miller

Breinify announces $11M seed to bring data science to the marketing team

Breinify is a startup working to apply data science to personalization, and do it in a way that makes it accessible to nontechnical marketing employees to build more meaningful customer experiences. Today the company announced a funding round totaling $11 million.

The investment was led by Gutbrain Ventures and PBJ Capital with participation from Streamlined Ventures, CXO Fund, Amino Capital, Startup Capital Ventures and Sterling Road.

Breinify co-founder and CEO Diane Keng says that she and co-founder and CTO Philipp Meisen started the company to bring predictive personalization based on data science to marketers with the goal of helping them improve a customer’s experience by personalizing messages tailored to individual tastes.

“We’re big believers that the world, especially consumer brands, really need strong predictive personalization. But when you think about consumer big brands or the retailers that you buy from, most of them aren’t data scientists, nor do they really know how to activate [machine learning] at scale,” Keng told TechCrunch.

She says that she wanted to make this type of technology more accessible by hiding the complexity behind the algorithms powering the platform. “Instead of telling you how powerful the algorithms are, we show you [what that means for the] consumer experience, and in the end what that means for both the consumer and you as a marketer individually,” she said.

That involves the kind of customizations you might expect around website messaging, emails, texts or whatever channel a marketer might be using to communicate with the buyer. “So the AI decides you should be shown these products, this offer, this specific promotion at this time, [whether it’s] the web, email or SMS. So you’re not getting the same content across different channels, and we do all that automatically for you, and that’s [driven by the algorithms],” she said.

Breinify launched in 2016 and participated in the TechCrunch Disrupt Startup Battlefield competition in San Francisco that year. She said it was early days for the company, but it helped them focus their approach. “I think it gave us a huge stage presence. It gave us a chance to test out the idea just to see where the market was in regards to needing a solution like this. We definitely learned a lot. I think it showed us that people were interested in personalization,” she said. And although the company didn’t win the competition, it ended up walking away with a funding deal.

Today the startup is growing fast and has 24 employees, up from 10 last year. Keng, who is an Asian woman, places a high premium on diversity.

“We partner with about four different kinds of diversity groups right now to source candidates, but at the end of the day, I think if you are someone that’s eager to learn, and you might not have all the skills yet, and you’re [part of an under-represented] group we encourage everyone to apply as much as possible. We put a lot of work into trying to create a really well-rounded group,” she said.


By Ron Miller

Kenya’s Ajua acquires WayaWaya to consolidate consumer experience play in African SMEs

Kenyan consumer experience platform for businesses in Africa, Ajua today announced that it has acquired WayaWaya, a Kenya-based AI and ML messaging and payments company.

WayaWaya’s customers and partners include the likes of I&M Bank, Interswitch and MTN. The company offers a range of services, from digital banking and payment services to financial services APIs and payment bots.

According to Ajua, the acquisition is primarily focused on WayaWaya’s payments bots system known as Janja. The platform, which has customers like Airtel, Ezee Money, Housing Finance Company of Kenya (HF Group), enables borderless banking and payments across apps and social media platforms. Teddy Ogallo, the entrepreneur who founded WayaWaya, joins Ajua as VP of Product APIs and Integrations.

Per Crunchbase, WayaWaya has just raised $75,000. Although the two companies did not disclose the financial details of the acquisition, Ajua is expected to have paid 10 times more than WayaWaya’s total raise.

Ajua, formerly mSurvey, was founded in 2012 by Kenfield Griffith. The company is solving a consumer data problem for African businesses to understand their business better and drive growth.

“There’s a lot of commerce happening on the continent and Ajua wants companies to move from transaction numbers to the customers behind such transaction,” Griffith told TechCrunch. “Imagine if we knew what drove consumer habits for businesses. I mean, that’s a huge exponential curve for African businesses.”

Teddy Ogallo (Founder, WayaWaya) & Kenfield Griffith (CEO, Ajua)

Teddy Ogallo (Founder, WayaWaya) & Kenfield Griffith (CEO, Ajua)

Nigeria’s SME market alone is valued at $220 billion annually. And while businesses, mostly big enterprises, can afford customer communication tools, a large segment of small businesses are being left out. Ajua’s play is to use data and analytics to connect companies with their customers in real time. “We’ve taken what makes enterprise customers successful, and we’re capturing it in a simple format so SMEs can have the same tools,” Griffith added

Since most consumer behavior for these SMEs happens offline, Ajua gives businesses unique USSD codes to receive payments, get feedback and offer discounts to their customers. It is one of the products Ajua has launched over the years for customer feedback at the point of service to businesses that cumulatively have over 45 million customers.

The company’s partners and clients also include Coca-Cola, FBNQuest, GoodLife Pharmacy, Java House, Safaricom, Standard Chartered and Total.

As an intelligent messaging bot, Janja is used by individuals and businesses across WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Telegram to automate customer support and make cross-border payments. So, Janja’s integration into Ajua’s product stack will close much of the acquirer’s customer experience loop by automating responses and giving customers what they want, when they want it.

This acquisition comes a month after Ajua announced that it partnered with telecom operator MTN Nigeria to launch a customer management product for Nigerian businesses. The product called MTN EnGauge carries the same features present in Ajua but, in this case, is tailored solely for businesses using the MTN network. The roll-out is expected to generate more data for Ajua’s thousands of users. It will also be upgraded to incorporate Janja and other services.

In hindsight, it appears Ajua could have created a product like Janja in-house due to its vast experience in the consumer experience space. However, the company chose an acquisition and Griffith gave two reasons why — building a similar product would have taken a long time and Ogallo seemed to know Janja’s business and operations so well, it just made sense to get him on board. 

“Teddy was going the same direction we’re going. We just thought to acquire WayaWaya instead and make a really good company out of both products attempting to solve the same problem. To me, it’s all about solving the problem together rather than going alone,” said the CEO. 

On why he accepted the acquisition, Ogallo, who now has a new role, noted that Ajua’s ability to scale customer service and experience and also help businesses was one reason and earned admiration from him. “Seeing how WayaWaya’s technology can complement Ajua’s innovative products and services, and help scale and monetize businesses, is an exciting opportunity for us, and we are happy that our teams will be collaborating to build something unique for the continent,” he added

This is a solid infrastructure play from Ajua coming from a founder who is a massive advocate of acquisition and consolidation. Griffith believes that the two are strategies for a speedier route to new markets and channels in Africa

I think there are lots of ways we can build the ecosystem. There are lots of young talent building stuff, and they don’t have access to capital to get to the next stage. The question is if they want to race to the finish line or take off time and get acquired. I think there’s a huge opportunity in Africa if you want to solve complex problems by acquisition.”

There has been an uptick in local acquisitions in Africa from startups within a single country and between two countries in the past three years. For the former, Nigerian recruitment platform Jobberman’s acquisition of NGCareers last year comes to mind. And there are pan-African instances like Lagos-based hub CcHub’s acquisition of iHub, its Nairobi counterpart; Ethiopian software provider Apposit sell-off to Nigerian fintech Paga; and Johannesburg-based fintech MFS Africa acquiring Uganda’s Beyonic.

The common theme among the acquisitions (and most African acquisitions) is their undisclosed sums. For Ajua, Griffith cited regulatory issues as one reason why the company is keeping the figure under wraps.

Since launching nine years ago, Ajua has raised a total of $3.5 million, according to Crunchbase. Given the nature of this acquisition and partnership with MTN, the company might set sights on another fundraise to scale aggressively into Nigeria (a market it entered in 2019) and other African countries.


By Tage Kene-Okafor

Customer experience startup Sprinklr files confidential S-1 with SEC

Sprinklr, a New York-based customer experience company, announced today it has filed a confidential S-1 ahead of a possible IPO.

“Sprinklr today announced that it has confidentially submitted a draft registration statement on Form S-1 with the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) relating to the proposed initial public offering of its common stock,” the company said in a statement.

It also indicated that it will determine the exact number of shares and the price range at a later point after it receives approval from the SEC to go public.

The company most recently raised $200 million on a $2.7 billion valuation last year. It was its first fundraise in 4 years. At the time, founder and CEO Ragy Thomas said his company expected to end 2020 with $400 million in ARR, certainly a healthy number on which to embark as a public company.

He also said that Sprinklr’s next fundraise would be an IPO, making him true to his word. “I’ve been public about the pathway around this, and the path is that the next financial milestone will be an IPO,” he told me at the time of the $200 million round. He said that with COVID, it probably was a year or so away, but the timing appears to have sped up.

Sprinklr sees customer experience management as a natural extension of CRM, and as such a huge market potentially worth a $100 billion, according to Thomas. But he also admitted that he was up against some big competitors like Salesforce and Adobe, helping explain why he fundraised last year.

Sprinklr was founded in 2009 with a focus on social media listening, but it announced a hard push into customer experience in 2017 when it added marketing, advertising, research, customer and e-commerce to its social efforts.

The company has raised $585 million to-date, and has also been highly acquisitive buying 11 companies along the way as it added functionality to the base platform, according to Crunchbase data.


By Ron Miller

Following acquisition, Episerver rebrands as Optimizely

After acquiring Optimizely last fall, content management company Episerver is adopting the Optimizely name for the entire organization.

CEO Alex Atzberger told me that the company will be rolling out new branding in the next coming months, as well as renaming its entire product suite to reflect the Optimizely brand.

“We believe it’s no longer just about personalizing the experience or driving recommendations,” Atzberger said. “The brand and word Optimizely really signifies optimal performance. Companies today of any size, any scale [need to be] much more sophisticated in terms of how they digitally connect with their customers. It’s a never-ending story.”

At the same time, he emphasized that Episerver is making the change from “a position of strength,” with the combined company seeing double-digit revenue growth last year and going live with more than 250 new customers.

Asked whether adopting the Optimizely name was always part of the post-acquisition plan, Atzberger replied, “When we acquired Optimizely, we knew that we would be acquiring not just a great product, not just a great customer base, but also acquiring a very well-known brand. We had not yet decided on [rebranding], but it was certainly something that, for me, was part of the consideration.”

In addition to announcing the new company name, Episerver/Optimizely is also announcing a new platform that it’s calling Optimization-as-a-Service, which integrates aspects of Optimizely and Episerver products to offer web targeting, testing and recommendations. As Atzberger put it, this new platform allows customers to determine “who to show something to, what content to show and how to actually show this content.”


By Anthony Ha

Salesforce applies AI to workflow with Einstein Automate

While Salesforce made a big splash yesterday with the announcement that it’s buying Slack for $27.7 billion, it’s not the only thing going on for the CRM giant this week. In fact Dreamforce, the company’s customer extravaganza is also on the docket. While it is virtual this year, there are still product announcements aplenty and today the company announced Einstein Automate, a new AI-fueled set of workflow solutions.

Sarah Franklin, EVP & GM of Platform, Trailhead and AppExchange at Salesforce says that she is seeing companies facing a digital imperative to automate processes as things move ever more quickly online, being driven there even faster by the pandemic. “With Einstein Automate, everyone can change the speed of work and be more productive through intelligent workflow automation,” she said in a statement.

Brent Leary, principal analyst at CRM Essentials says that combined these tools are designed to help customers get to work more quickly. “It’s not only about identifying the insight, it’s about making it easier to leverage it at the the right time. And this should make it easier for users to do it without spending more time and effort,” Leary told TechCrunch.

Einstein is the commercial name given to Salesforce’s artificial intelligence platform that touches every aspect of the company’s product line, bringing automation to many tasks and making it easier to find the most valuable information on customers, which is often buried in an avalanche of data.

Einstein Automate encompasses several products designed to improve workflows inside organizations. For starters, the company has created Flow Orchestrator, a tool that uses a low-code, drag and drop approach for building workflows, but it doesn’t stop there. It also relies on AI to provide help suggest logical next steps to speed up workflow creation.

Salesforce is also bringing Mulesoft, the integration company it bought for $6.5 billion in 2018 into the mix. Instead of processes like a mortgage approval workflow, the Mulesoft piece lets IT build complex integrations between applications across the enterprise, and the Salesforce family of products more easily.

To make it easier to build these workflows, Salesforce is announcing the Einstein Automate collection page available in AppExchange, the company’s application marketplace. The collection includes over 700 pre-built connectors so customers can grab and go as they build these workflows, and finally it’s updating the OmniStudio, their platform for generating customer experiences. As Salesforce describes it, “Included in OmniStudio is a suite of resources and no-code tools, including pre-built guided experiences, templates and more, allowing users to deploy digital-first experiences like licensing and permit applications quickly and with ease. ”

Per usual with Salesforce Dreamforce announcements, the Flow Orchestrator being announced today won’t be available in beta until next summer. The Mulesoft component will be available in early 2021, but the OmniStudio updates and the Einstein connections collection are available today.


By Ron Miller

Vista acquires Gainsight for $1.1B, adding to its growing enterprise arsenal

Vista Equity Partners hasn’t been shy about scooping up enterprise companies over the years, and today it added to a growing portfolio with its purchase of Gainsight.  The company’s software helps clients with customer success, meaning it helps create a positive customer experience when they interact with your brand, making them more likely to come back and recommend you to others. Sources pegged the price tag at $1.1 billion.

As you might expect, both parties are putting a happy face on the deal, talking about how they can work together to grow Gainsight further. Certainly, other companies like Ping Identity seem to have benefited from joining forces with Vista. Being part of a well capitalized firm allowed them to make some strategic investments along the way to eventually going public last year.

Gainsight and Vista are certainly hoping for a similar outcome in this case. Monti Saroya, co-head of the Vista Flagship Fund and senior managing director at the firm sees a company with a lot of potential that could expand and grow with help from Vista’s consulting arm, which helps portfolio companies with different aspects of their business like sales, marketing and operations.

“We are excited to partner with the Gainsight team in its next phase of growth, helping the company to expand the category it has created and deliver even more solutions that drive retention and growth to businesses across the globe,” Saroya said in a statement.

Gainsight CEO Nick Mehta likes the idea of being part of Vista’s portfolio of enterprise companies, many of whom are using his company’s products.

“We’ve known Vista for years, since 24 of their portfolio companies use Gainsight. We’ve seen Gainsight clients like JAMF and Ping Identity partner with Vista and then go public. We believe we are just getting started with customer success, so we wanted the right partner for the long term and we’re excited to work with Vista on the next phase of our journey,” Mehta told TechCrunch.

Brent Leary, principle analyst at CRM Essentials, who covers the sales and marketing space says that it appears that Vista is piecing together a sales and marketing platform that it could flip or go public in a few years.

“It’s not only the power that’s in the platform, it’s also the money. And Vista seems to be piecing together an engagement platform based on the acquisitions of Gainsight, Pipedrive and even last year’s Acquia purchase. Vista isn’t afraid to spend big money, if they can make even bigger money in a couple years if they can make these pieces fit together,” Leary told me.

While Gainsight exits as a unicorn, the deal might not have been the outcome it was looking for. The company raised over $187 million, according to Pitchbook data, though its fundraising had slowed in recent years. Gainsight raised $50 million in April of 2017 at a post-money valuation of $515 million, again per Pitchbook. In July of 2018 it added $25 million to its coffers, and the final entry was a small debt investment raised in 2019.

It could be that the startup saw its growth slow down, leaving it somewhere between ready for new venture investment and profitability. That’s a gap that PE shops like Vista look for, write a check, shake up a company and hopefully exit at an elevated price.

Gainsight hired a new chief revenue officer last month, notably. Per Forbes, the company was on track to reach “about” $100 million ARR by the end of 2020, giving it a revenue multiple of around 11x in the deal. That’s under current market norms, which could imply that Gainsight had either lower gross margins than comparable companies, or as previously noted, that its growth had slowed.

A $1.1 billion exit is never something to bemoan — and every startup wants to become a unicorn — but Gainsight and Mehta are well known, and we were hoping for the details only an S-1 could deliver. Perhaps one day with Vista’s help that could happen.


By Ron Miller

Grouparoo snares $3M seed to build open source customer data integration framework

Creating a great customer experience requires a lot of data from a variety of sources, and pulling that disparate data together has captured the attention of companies and big and small from Salesforce and Adobe to Segment and Klaviyo. Today, Grouparoo, a new startup from three industry vets is the next company up with an open source framework designed to make it easier for developers to access and make use of customer data.

The company announced a $3 million seed investment led by Eniac Ventures and Fuel Capital with participation from Hack VC, Liquid2, SCM Advisors and several unnamed angel investors.

Grouparoo CEO and co-founder Brian Leonard says that his company has created this open source customer data framework based on his own experience and difficulty getting customer data into the various tools he has been using since he was technical founder at TaskRabbit in 2008.

“We’re an open source data framework that helps companies easily sync their customer data from their database or warehouse to all of the SaaS tools where they need it. [After you] install it, you teach it about your customers, like what properties are important in each of those profiles. And then it allows you to segment them into the groups that matter,” Leonard explained.

This could be something like high earners in San Francisco along with names and addresses. Grouparoo can grab this data and transfer it to a marketing tool like Marketo or Zendesk and these tools could then learn who your VIP customers are.

For now the company is just the three founders Leonard, CTO Evan Tahler and COO Andy Jih, and while he wasn’t ready to commit to how many people he might hire in the next 12 months, he sees it being less than 10. At this early stage, the three co-founders have already been considering how to build a diverse and inclusive company, something he helped contribute to while he was at TaskRabbit.

“So, coming from [what we built at TaskRabbit] and starting something new, it’s important to all three of us to start [building a diverse company] from the beginning, and especially combined with this notion that we’re building something open source. We’ve been talking a lot about being open about our culture and what’s important to us,” he said.

TaskRabbit also comes into play in their investment where Fuel GP Leah Solivan was also founder of TaskRabbit. “Grouparoo is solving a real and acute issue that companies grapple with as they scale — giving every member of the team access to the data they need to drive revenue, acquire customers and improve real-time decision making. Brian, Andy and Evan have developed an elegant solution to an issue we experienced firsthand at TaskRabbit,” she said.

For now the company is taking an open source approach to build a community around the tool. It is still pre-revenue, but the plan is to find a way to build something commercial on top of the open source tooling. They are considering an open core license where they can add features or support or offer the tool as a service. Leonard says that is something they intend to work out in 2021.


By Ron Miller

Adobe acquires marketing workflow startup Workfront for $1.5B

Adobe just announced that it is acquiring marketing workflow management startup Workfront for $1.5 billion. Bloomberg first reported the sale would be happening earlier today.

Workfront was founded back in 2001, making it a bit long in tooth for a private company that has raised $375 million, according to Crunchbase. But it gives Adobe more online marketing tooling to fit into its Experience Cloud. This one helps companies manage complex projects inside the marketing department.

“The combination of Adobe and Workfront will further accelerate Adobe’s leadership in customer experience management, providing a pioneering solution that spans the entire lifecycle of digital experiences, from ideation to activation,” Anil Chakravarthy, executive vice president and general manager for Adobe’s digital experience business and worldwide field operations said in a statement.

Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research says the acquisition will help Adobe customers manage the complexities of marketing project management. “Scheduling and managing work had gotten orders of mangnitude more complex for enterprises, and Adobe is accounting for that with the acquisition of Workfront, providing better tool support for the new future of work,” Mueller told TechCrunch.

The two companies are actually partners and work together frequently sharing 1000 common customers among Workfront’s 3000 total customer base. In fact, Workfront has APIs that connect to Adobe Creative Cloud and Experience Cloud, two parts of the company’s product family that marketers frequently access. As Adobe battles Salesforce, SAP and Oracle in the marketing automation space, it’s been using its checkbook to acquire additional fire power in recent years.

This acquisition comes after Adobe spent $1.6 billion for Magento and $4.75 billion for Marketo in 2018. That’s almost $8 billion for three companies in under two years, even as it builds out parts of its Adobe Experience Cloud in-house. Combined, it shows just how serious the company is about making headway in this valuable area.

Customer experience has always been an essential element of online and in-person transactions, making sure the customer feels good about the interactions it has with a brand. It not only keeps them coming back, but it encourages them to act as ambassadors on behalf of a company, something that has incredible value.

Conversely a bad experience can lead to the opposite impact, causing a prospective or even loyal customer to abandon a brand and speak badly about it to friends online and in person. Adobe hopes that by bringing another marketing tool into the fold, it can help its customers increase the likelihood of a positive online customer experience. This one should allow company marketing personnel working at a company to move marketing projects through a workflow from idea to online.

The deal is expected to close in the first quarter of Adobe’s fiscal year. Per usual, it will be subject to typical regulatory scrutiny.

This is a breaking story. We will continue to update as we get additional information.


By Ron Miller

SAP shares fall sharply after COVID-19 cuts revenue, profit forecast at software giant

SAP announced its Q3 earnings yesterday, with its aggregate results down across the board. And after missing earnings expectations, the company also revised its 2021 outlook down. The combined bad news spooked investors, crashing its shares by over 20% in pre-market trading and the stock wasn’t showing any signs of improving in early trading.

The German software giant has lost tens of billions of dollars in market cap as a result.

The overall report was gloomy, with total revenues falling 4% to €6.54 billion, cloud and software revenue down 2%, and operating profit down 12%. The only bright spot was its pure-cloud category, which grew 11% to €1.98 billion.

SAP’s revenue result was around €310 million under expectations, though its per-share profit beat both adjusted, and non-adjusted expectations.

While SAP’s big revenue miss might have been enough to send investors racing for the exits, its revised forecast doubled concerns. Even though the company said that its customers are accelerating their move to the cloud during the pandemic — something that TechCrunch has been tracking for some time now — SAP also said that the pandemic is slowing sales, and large projects.

Constellation Research anayst Holger Mueller says this is resulting in an unexpected revenue slow-down.

“What has happened at SAP is a cloud revenue delay as customers know that SAP is only investing into cloud products, and they have to migrate to those in the future. The news is that SAP customers are not migrating to the cloud during a pandemic,” Mueller told TechCrunch.

In a sign of the times, SAP spent a portion of its earnings results talking about 2025 results, a maneuver that failed to allay investor concerns that the pandemic was dramatically impacting SAP’s business today and in the coming year.

For 2020, SAP made the following cuts to its forecasts:

  • €8.0 – 8.2 billion non-IFRS cloud revenue at constant currencies (previously €8.3 – 8.7 billion
  • €23.1 – 23.6 billion non-IFRS cloud and software revenue at constant currencies (previously €23.4 – 24.0 billion)
  • €27.2 – 27.8 billion non-IFRS total revenue at constant currencies (previously €27.8 – 28.5 billion)
  • €8.1 – 8.5 billion non-IFRS operating profit at constant currencies (previously €8.1 – 8.7 billion)

So, €300 million to €500 million in cloud revenue is now gone, along with €300 million to €400 million in cloud and software revenue, and €600 to €700 million in total revenue. That cut profit expectations by up to €200 million.

The company, however, is trying to put a happy face on the future projections, believing that as the impact of COVID begins to diminish, existing customers will eventually shift to the cloud and that will drive significant new revenues over the longer term. The trade-off is short-term pain for the next year or two.

“Over the next two years, we expect to see muted growth of revenue accompanied by a flat to slightly lower operating profit. After 2022 momentum will pick up considerably though. Initial headwinds of the accelerated cloud transition will start to turn into tailwinds for revenue and profit. […] That translates to accelerated revenue growth and double digit operating profit growth from 2023 onwards,” SAP CFO Luka Mucic said in a call with analysts this morning.

The question now becomes can they meet these projections, and if the longer-term approach during a pandemic will placate investors. As of this morning, they weren’t looking happy about it.


By Ron Miller

Customer experience and digital transformation concepts are merging during the pandemic

Customer experience and digital transformation are two terms we’ve been hearing about for years, but have often remained nebulous in many organizations — something to aspire to perhaps, but not take completely seriously. Yet the pandemic has been a forcing event for both concepts, thrusting the ideas front and center.

Suddenly startups that help with either of these concepts are seeing rising demand, even in a year with an overall difficult economic climate. If you are fortunate enough to be helping companies digitize a process or improve how customers interact with companies, you may be seeing increased interest from customers and potential acquirers (and this was true even before this year). A case in point is Twilio acquiring Segment for $3.2 billion recently to help build data-fueled applications to interact with customers.

Even though building a positive customer experience has never been completely about digital, at a time where it’s difficult to interact with customers in person, the digital side of it has taken new urgency. As COVID-19 took hold this year, businesses, large and small, suddenly realized the only way to connect to their customers was digitally. At that point, digital transformation became customer experience’s buddy when other ways of contacting one another have been severely limited.

Pandemic brings changes

Just about every startup founder I talk to these days, along with bigger, more established companies, talk about how the pandemic has pushed companies to digitally transform much faster than they would have without COVID.

Brent Leary, founder at CRM Essentials, says that the pandemic has certainly expedited the need to bring these two big ideas together and created opportunities as that happens. “The coronavirus, as terrible as it has been in so many ways to so many people, has created opportunities for companies to build direct-to-consumer (D2C) digital pipelines that can make them stronger companies despite the current hardships,” Leary told TechCrunch.

The cloud plays a big role in the digital transformation process, and for the last decade, we have seen companies make a slow but steady shift to the cloud. When you have a situation like we’ve had with the coronavirus, it speeds everything up. As it turns out, being in the cloud helps you move faster because you don’t have to worry about all of the overhead of running a business critical application as the SaaS vendors take care of all that for you.


By Ron Miller

SAP continues to build out customer experience business with Emarsys acquisition

SAP seemed to be all in on customer experience when it acquired Qualtrics for $8 billion in 2018. It continued on that journey today when it announced it was acquiring Austrian cloud marketing company Emarsys for an undisclosed amount of money.

Emarsys, which raised over $55 million, according to PitchBook data, gives SAP customer personalization technology. If you talk to any marketing automation vendor over the last several years, the focus has been on using a variety of data and touch points to understand the customer better, and deliver more meaningful online experiences.

With the pandemic closing or limiting access to brick and mortar stores, personalization has taken a new urgency as customers are increasingly shopping online and companies need to meet them where they are.

With Emarsys, the company is getting an omnichannel marketing solution that they say is designed to deliver messages to customers wherever they are including e-mail, mobile, social, SMS, and the web, and deliver that at scale.

When SAP announced it was spinning out Qualtrics a couple of months ago, just 20 months after buying, it left some question about whether SAP was fully committed to customer experience business.

Brent Leary, founder and principal analyst at CRM Essentials says that the acquisition shows that SAP is still very much in the game. “This illustrates that SAP is serious about CX and competing in a highly competitive space. Emarsys adds industry-specific customer engagement capabilities that should help SAP CX customers accelerate their efforts to provide their customers with the experiences they expect as their needs change over time,” Leary told TechCrunch.

As an ERP company at its core, SAP has traditionally focused on back office kind of operations, but Bob Stutz, president, SAP Customer Experience sees this acquisition as a way to continue bringing back office and front office operations together.

“With Emarsys technology, SAP Customer Experience solutions can link commerce signals with the back office and activate the preferred channel of the customer with a relevant and consistently personalized message, allowing customers the freedom to choose their own engagement,” Stutz said in a statement.

The company, which is based in Austria, was founded back in 2000 when marketing was a very different world. It has built a customer base of 1500 companies with 800 employees in 13 offices across the globe. All of this will become part of SAP, of course and come under Stutz’s purview.

As with all transactions of this type it will be subject to regulatory approval, but the deal is expected to close this quarter.


By Ron Miller

New Zendesk dashboard delivers customer service data in real time

Zendesk has been offering customers the ability to track customer service statistics for some time, but it has always been a look back. Today, the company announced a new product called Explorer Enterprise that lets customers capture that valuable info in real time, and share it with anyone in the organization, whether they have a Zendesk license or not.

While it has had Explorer in place for a couple of years now, Jon Aniano, senior VP of product at Zendesk says the new enterprise product is in response to growing customer data requirements. “We now have a way to deliver what we call Live Team Dashboards, which delivers real time analytics directly to Zendesk users,” Aniano told TechCrunch.

In the days before COVID that meant displaying these on big monitors throughout the customer service center. Today, as we deal with the pandemic, and customer service reps are just as likely to be working from home, it means giving management the tools they need to understand what’s happening in real time, a growing requirement for Zendesk customers as they scale, regardless of the pandemic.

“What we’ve found over the last few years is that our customers’ appetite for operational analytics is insatiable, and as customers grow, as customer service needs get more complex, the demands on a contact center operator or customer service team are higher and higher, and teams really need new sets of tools and new types of capabilities to meet what they’re trying to do in delivering customer service at scale in the world,” Aniano told TechCrunch.

One of the reasons for this is the shift from phone and email as the primary ways of accessing customer service to messaging tools like WhatsApp. “With the shift to messaging, there are new demands on contact centers to be able to handle real-time interactions at scale with their customers,” he said.

And in order to meet that kind of demand, it requires real-time analytics that Zendesk is providing with this announcement. This arms managers with the data they need to put their customer service resources where they are needed most in the moment in real time.

But Zendesk is also giving customers the ability to share these statistics with anyone in the company. “Users can share a dashboard or historical report with anybody in the company regardless of whether they have access to Zendesk. They can share it in Slack, or they can embed a dashboard anywhere where other people in the company would like to have access to those metrics,” Aniano explained.

The new service will be available starting on August 31st for $19 per user per month.


By Ron Miller

SAP decision to spin out Qualtrics 20 months after spending $8B surprises industry watchers

When SAP announced it was spinning out Qualtrics on Sunday, a company it bought less than two years ago for an eye-popping $8 billion, it was enough to make your head spin. At the time, then CEO Bill McDermott saw it as a way to bridge the company’s core operational with customer data, while acquiring a cloud company that could help generate recurring revenue for the ERP giant, and maybe give it a dose of innovation along the way.

But Sunday night the company announced it was spinning out the acquisition, giving its $8 billion baby independence, and essentially handing the company back to founder Ryan Smith, who will become the largest individual shareholder when this all over.

It’s not every day you see founders pull in a windfall like $8 billion, get sucked into the belly of the large corporate beast and come out the other side just 20 months later with the cash, independence and CEO as the largest individual stockholder.

While SAP will own a majority of the stock, much like Dell owns a majority of VMware, the company will operate independently and have its own board. It can acquire other firms and make decisions separately from SAP.

We spoke to a few industry analysts to find out what they think about all this, and while the reasoning behind the move involves a lot of complex pieces, it could be as simple as the deal was done under the previous CEO, and the new one was ready to move on from it.

Bold step

It’s certainly unusual for a company like SAP to spend this kind of money, and then turn around so quickly and spin it off. In fact, Brent Leary, principal analyst at CRM Essentials, says that this was a move he didn’t see coming, and it could be related to that fat purchase price. “To me it could mean that SAP didn’t see the synergies of the acquisition panning out as they had envisioned and are looking to recoup some of their investment,” Leary told TechCrunch.

Holger Mueller, an analyst with Constellation Research agreed with Leary’s assessment, but doesn’t think that means the deal failed. “SAP doesn’t lose anything in regards to their […] data and experience vision, as they still retain [controlling interest in Qualtrics] . It also opens the opportunity for Qualtrics to partner with other ERP vendors [and broaden its overall market],” he said.

Jeanne Bliss, founder and president at CustomerBLISS, a company that helps clients deliver better customer experiences sees this as a positive step forward for Qualtrics. “This spin off enables Qualtrics to focus on its core business and prove its ability to provide essential technology executives are searching for to enable speed of decision making, innovation and customization,” she said.

Show me the money

Patrick Moorhead, founder and principal analyst at Moor Insight & Strategy sees the two companies moving towards a VMware/Dell model where SAP removes the direct link between them, which could then make them more attractive to a broader range of customers than perhaps they would have been as part of the SAP family. “The big play here is all financial. With tech stocks up so high, SAP isn’t seeing the value in its stock. I am expecting a VMware kind of alignment with a strategic collaboration agreement,” he said.

Ultimately though, he says the the move reflects a cultural failure on the part of SAP. It simply couldn’t find a way to co-exist with a younger, more nimble company like Qualtrics. “I believe SAP spinning out Qualtrics is a sign that its close connection to create symbiotic value has failed. The original charter was to bring it in to modernize SAP but apparently the “not invented here” attitudes kicked in and doomed integration,” Moorhead said.

That symbiotic connection would have involved McDermott’s vision of combining operational and customer data, but Leary also suggested that since the deal happened under previous the CEO, that perhaps new CEO Christian Klein wants to start with a clean slate and this simply wasn’t his deal.

Qualtrics for the win

In the end, Qualtrics got all that money, gets to IPO after all, and returns to being an independent company selling to a larger potential customer base. All of the analysts we spoke to agreed the news is a win for Qualtrics itself.

Leary says the motivation for the original deal was to give SAP a company that could sell beyond its existing customer base. “It seems like that was the impetus for the acquisition, and the fact that SAP is spinning it off as an IPO 20 months after acquiring Qualtrics gives me the impression that things didn’t come together as expected,” he said.

Mueller also sees nothing but postivies Qualtrics. “It’s a win […] for Qualtrics, which can now deliver what they wanted [from the start], and it’s a win for customers as Qualtrics can run as fast as they want,” he said.

Regardless, the company moves on, and the Qualtrics IPO moves forward, and it’s almost as though Qualtrics gets a do-over with $8 billion in its pocket for its trouble.


By Ron Miller

Medallia acquires voice-to-text specialist Voci Technologies for $59M

M&A has largely slowed down in the current market, but there remain pockets of activity when the timing and price are right. Today, Medallia — a customer experience platform that scans online reviews, social media, and other sources to provide better insights into what a company is doing right and wrong and what needs to get addressed — announced that it would acquire Voci Technologies, a speech-to-text startup, for $59 million in cash.

Medallia plans to integrate the startup’s AI technology so that voice-based interactions — for example from calls into call centers — can be part of the data crunched by its analytics platform. Despite the rise of social media, messaging channels, and (currently) a shift for people to do a lot more online, voice still accounts for the majority of customer interactions for a business, so this is an important area for Medallia to tackle.

“Voci transcribes 100% of live and recorded calls into text that can be analyzed quickly to determine customer satisfaction, adding a powerful set of signals to the Medallia Experience Cloud,” said Leslie Stretch, president and CEO of Medallia, in a statement. “At the same time, Voci enables call analysis moments after each interaction has completed, optimizing every aspect of call center operations securely. Especially important as virtual and remote contact center operations take shape.”

While there are a lot of speech-to-text offerings in the market today, the key with Voci is that it is able to discern a number of other details in the call, including emotion, gender, sentiment, and voice biometric identity. It’s also able to filter out personal identifiable information to ensure more privacy around using the data for further analytics.

Voci started life as a spinout from Carnegie Mellon University (its three founders were all PhDs from the school), and it had raised a total of about $18 million from investors that included Grotech Ventures, Harbert Growth Parnters, and the university itself. It was last valued at $28 million in March 2018 (during a Series B raise), meaning that today’s acquisition was slightly more than double that value.

The company seems to have been on an upswing with its business. Voci has to date processed some 2 billion minutes of speech, and in January, the company published some momentum numbers that said bookings had grown some 63% in the last quarter, boosted by contact center customers.

In addition to contact centers, the company catered to companies in finance, healthcare, insurance and others areas of business process outsourcing, although it does not disclose names. As with all companies and organizations that have products that cater to offering services remotely, Voci has seen stronger demand for its business in recent weeks, at a time when many have curtailed physical contact due to COVID-19-related movement restrictions.

“Our whole company is delighted to be joining forces with experience management leader Medallia. We are thrilled that Voci’s powerful speech to text capabilities will become part of Medallia Experience Cloud,” said Mike Coney, CEO of Voci, in a statement. “The consolidation of all contact center signals with video, survey and other critical feedback is a game changer for the industry.”

It’s not clear whether Voci had been trying to raise money in the last few months, or if this was a proactive approach from Medallia. But more generally, M&A has found itself in a particularly key position in the world of tech: startups are finding it more challenging right now to raise money, and one big question has been whether that will lead to more hail-mary-style M&A plays, as one route for promising businesses and technologies to avoid shutting down altogether.

For its part, Medallia, which went public in July 2019 after raising money from the likes of Sequoia, has seen its stock hit like the rest of the market in recent weeks. Its current market cap is at around $2.8 billion, just $400 million more than its last private valuation.

The deal is expected to close in May 2020, Medallia said.

 


By Ingrid Lunden