Extra Crunch roundup: Inside Sprinklr’s IPO filing, how digital transformation is reshaping markets

Despite a recent history of uneven cash flow and moderate growth, SaaS customer experience management platform Sprinklr has filed to go public.

In today’s edition of The Exchange, Alex Wilhelm pores over the New York-based unicorn’s S-1 to better understand exactly what Sprinklr offers: “Marketing and comms software, with some machine learning built in.”

Despite 19% growth in revenue over the last fiscal year, its deficits increased during the same period. But with more than $250 million in cash available, “Sprinklr is not going public because it needs the money,” says Alex.

Since we were off yesterday for Memorial Day, today’s roundup is brief, but we’ll have much more to recap on Friday. Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch!

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist


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Once a buzzword, digital transformation is reshaping markets

Digital transformation concept. Binary code. AI (Artificial Intelligence).

Image Credits: metamorworks / Getty Images

The changes brought by a global shift to remote work and schooling are myriad, but in the business realm, they have yielded a change in corporate behavior and consumer expectations — changes that showed up in a bushel of earnings reports last week.

Startups have told us for several quarters that their markets are picking up momentum as customers shake up buying behavior with a distinct advantage for companies helping users move into the digital realm.

Public company results are now confirming the startups’ perspective. The accelerating digital transformation is real, and we have the data to prove it.

3 views on the future of meetings

In a recent episode of TechCrunch Equity, hosts Danny Crichton, Natasha Mascarenhas and Alex Wilhelm connected the dots between multiple funding rounds to sketch out three perspectives on the future of workplace meetings.

Each agreed that the traditional meeting is broken, so we gathered their perspectives about where the industry is heading and which aspects are ripe for disruption:

  • Alex Wilhelm: Faster information throughput, please.
  • Natasha Mascarenhas: Meetings should be ongoing, not in calendar invites.
  • Danny Crichton: Redesign meetings for flow.


By Walter Thompson

Upstack raises $50M for its platform and advisory to help businesses plan and buy for digital transformation

Digital transformation has been one of the biggest catchphrases of the past year, with many an organization forced to reckon with aging IT, a lack of digital strategy, or simply the challenges of growth after being faced with newly-remote workforces, customers doing everything online and other tech demands.

Now, a startup called Upstack that has built a platform to help those businesses evaluate how to grapple with those next steps — including planning and costing out different options and scenarios, and then ultimately buying solutions — is announcing financing to do some growth of its own.

The New York startup has picked up funding of $50 million, money that it will be using to continue building out its platform and expanding its services business.

The funding is coming from Berkshire Partners, and it’s being described as an “initial investment”. The firm, which makes private equity and late-stage growth investments, typically puts between $100 million and $1 billion in its portfolio companies so this could end up as a bigger number, especially when you consider the size of the market that Upstack is tackling: the cloud and internet infrastructure brokerage industry generates annual revenues “in excess of $70 billion,” the company estimates.

We’re asking about the valuation, but PitchBook notes that the median valuation in its deals is around $211 million. Upstack had previously raised around $35 million.

Upstack today already provides tools to large enterprises, government organizations, and smaller businesses to compare offerings and plan out pricing for different scenarios covering a range of IT areas, including private, public and hybrid cloud deployments; data center investments; network connectivity; business continuity and mobile services, and the plan is to bring in more categories to the mix, including unified communications and security.

Notably, Upstack itself is profitable and names a lot of customers that themselves are tech companies — they include Cisco, Accenture, cloud storage company Backblaze, Riverbed and Lumen — a mark of how digital transformation and planning for it are not necessarily a core competency even of digital businesses, but especially those that are not technology companies. It says it has helped complete over 3,700 IT projects across 1,000 engagements to date.

“Upstack was founded to bring enterprise-grade advisory services to businesses of all sizes,” said Christopher Trapp, founder and CEO, in a statement. “Berkshire’s expertise in the data center, connectivity and managed services sectors aligns well with our commitment to enabling and empowering a world-class ecosystem of technology solutions advisors with a platform that delivers higher value to their customers.”

The core of the Upstack’s proposition is a platform that system integrators, or advisors, plus end users themselves, can use to design and compare pricing for different services and solutions. This is an unsung but critical aspect of the ecosystem: We love to hear and write about all the interesting enterprise technology that is being developed, but the truth of the matter is that buying and using that tech is never just a simple click on a “buy” button.

Even for smaller organizations, buying tech can be a hugely time-consuming task. It involves evaluating different companies and what they have to offer — which can differ widely in the same category, and gets more complex when you start to compare different technological approaches to the same problem.

It also includes the task of designing solutions to fit one’s particular network. And finally, there are the calculations that need to be made to determine the real cost of services once implemented in an organization. It also gives users the ability to present their work, which also forms a critical part of the evaluating and decision-making process. When you think about all of this, it’s no wonder that so many organizations have opted to follow the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” school of digital strategy.

As technology has evolved, the concept of digital transformation itself has become more complicated, making tools like Upstack’s more in demand both by companies and the people they hire to do this work for them. Upstack also employs a group of about 15 advisors — consultants — who also provide insight and guidance in the procurement process, and it seems some of the funding will also be used to invest in expanding that team.

(Incidentally, the model of balancing technology with human experts is one used by other enterprise startups that are built around the premise of helping businesses procure technology: BlueVoyant, a security startup that has built a platform to help businesses manage and use different security services, also retains advisors who are experts in that field.)

The advisors are part of the business model: Upstack’s customers can either pay Upstack a consulting fee to work with its advisors, or Upstack receives a commission from suppliers that a company ends up using, having evaluated and selected them via the Upstack platform.

The company competes with traditional systems integrators and consultants, but it seems that the fact that it has built a tech platform that some of its competitors also use is one reason why it’s caught the eye of investors, and also seen strong growth.

Indeed, when you consider the breadth of services that a company might use within their infrastructure — whether it’s software to run sales or marketing, or AI to run a recommendation for products on a site, or business intelligence or RPA — it will be interesting to see how and if Upstack considers deeper moves into these areas.

“Upstack has quickly become a leader in a large, rapidly growing and highly fragmented market,” said Josh Johnson, principal at Berkshire Partners, in a statement. “Our experience has reinforced the importance of the agent channel to enterprises designing and procuring digital infrastructure. Upstack’s platform accelerates this digital transformation by helping its advisors better serve their enterprise customers. We look forward to supporting Upstack’s continued growth through M&A and further investment in the platform.”


By Ingrid Lunden

SAP launches ‘RISE with SAP,’ a concierge service for digital transformation

SAP today announced a new offering it calls ‘RISE with SAP,’ a solution that is meant to help the company’s customers go through their respective digital transformations and become what SAP calls ‘intelligent enterprises.’ RISE is a subscription service that combines a set of services and product offerings.

SAP’s head of product success Sven Denecken (and its COO for S/4Hana) described it as “the best concierge service you can get for your digital transformation” when I talked to him earlier this week. “We need to help our clients to embrace that change that they see currently,” he said. “Transformation is a journey. Every client wants to become that smarter, faster and that nimbler business, but they, of course, also see that they are faced with challenges today and in the future. This continuous transformation is what is happening to businesses. And we do know from working together with them, that actually they agree with those fundamentals. They want to be an intelligent enterprise. They want to adapt and change. But the key question is how to get there? And the key question they ask us is, please help us to get there.”

With RISE for SAP, businesses will get a single contact at SAP to help guide them through their journey, but also access to the SAP partner ecosystem.

The first step in this process, Denecken stressed, isn’t necessarily to bring in new technology, though that is also part of it, but to help businesses redesign and optimize their business processes and implement the best practices in their verticals — and then measure the outcome. “Business process redesign means that you analyze how your business processes perform. How can you get tailored recommendations? How can you benchmark against industry standards? And this helps you to set the tone and also to motivate your people — your IT, your business people — to adapt,” Denecken described. He also noted that in order for a digital transformation project to succeed, IT and business leaders and employees have to work together.

In part, that includes technology offerings and adopting robotic process automation (RPA), for example. As Denecken stressed, all of this builds on top of the work SAP has done with its customers over the years to define business processes and KPIs.

On the technical side, SAP is obviously offering its own services, including its Business Technology Platform, and cloud infrastructure, but it will also support customers on all of the large cloud providers. Also included in RISE is support for more than 2,200 APIs to integrate various on-premises, cloud and non-SAP systems, access to SAP’s low-code and no-code capabilities and, of course, its database and analytics offerings.

“Geopolitical tensions, environmental challenges and the ongoing pandemic are forcing businesses to deal with change faster than ever before,” said Christian Klein, SAP’s CEO, in today’s announcement. “Companies that can adapt their business processes quickly will thrive – and SAP can help them achieve this. This is what RISE with SAP is all about: It helps customers continuously unlock new ways of running businesses in the cloud to stay ahead of their industry.”

With this new offering, SAP is now providing its customers with a number of solutions that were previously available through its partner ecosystem. Denecken doesn’t see this as SAP competing with its own partners, though. Instead, he argues that this is very much a partner play and that this new solution will likely only bring more customers to its partners as well.

“Needless to say, this has been a negotiation with those partners,” he said. “Because yes, it’s sometimes topics that we now take over they [previously] did. But we are looking for scale here. The need in the market for digital transformation has just started. And this is where we see that this is definitely a big offering, together with partners. “


By Frederic Lardinois

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

Box builds a digital hub to help fight content fragmentation

The interconnectedness of the cloud has allowed us to share content widely with people inside and outside the organization and across different applications, but that ability has created a problem of its own, a kind of digital fragmentation. How do you track how that piece of content is being used across a range of cloud services? It’s a problem Box wants to solve with its latest features, Activity Stream and Recommended Apps.

The company made the announcements at BoxWorks, its annual customer conference being held this week in San Francisco,

Activity Stream provides a way to track your content in real time as it moves through the organization, including who touches it and what applications it’s used in, acting as a kind of digital audit trail. One of the big problems with content in the cloud age is understanding what happened to it after you created it. Did it get used in Salesforce or ServiceNow or Slack? You can now follow the path of your content and see how people have shared it, and this could help remove some of the disconnect people feel in the digital world.

As Jeetu Patel, Box’s Chief Product and Chief Strategy Officer points out, an average large company could have more than a thousand apps and there is no good way to connect the dots when it comes to tracking unstructured content and getting a unified view of the digital trail.

“We integrate with over 1400 applications, and as we integrate with those applications, we thought if we could surface those events, it would be insanely useful to our users,” he said. Patel sees this as the beginning of an important construct, the notion of a content hub where you can see the entire transaction record associated with a piece of content.

Activity Stream sidebar inside Box. Photo: Box

But Box didn’t want to stop with just a laundry list of the connections. It also created deep links into the applications being used, so a user can click a link, open the application and view the content in the context of that other application. “It seems like Box was a logical place to get a bird’s eye view of how content is being used,” Patel said, explaining Box’s thinking in creating this feature.

A related feature is a list of Recommended Apps. Based the Box Graph, and what Box knows about the user, the content they use, and how it’s interconnected with other cloud apps, it also displays a list of recommended apps right in the Box interface. This lets users access those applications in the context of their work, so for instance, they could share the content in Slack right from the document.

Recommended Apps bar inside Box. Photo: Box

For starters, Recommended Apps integrations include G Suite apps, Slack, Salesforce, DocuSign and Netsuite, but Patel says anyone who is integrated with the web app via the API will start showing up in Activity Stream.

While the products were announced today, Box is still working out the kinks in terms of how this will work. They expect these features to be available early next year. If they can pull this off, it will go a long way toward solving the digital fragmentation problem and making Box the content center for organizations.


By Ron Miller

Parsable secures $40M investment to bring digital to industrial workers

As we increasingly hear about automation, artificial intelligence and robots taking away industrial jobs, Parsable, a San Francisco-based startup sees a different reality, one with millions of workers who for the most part have been left behind when it comes to bringing digital transformation to their jobs.

Parsable has developed a Connected Worker platform to help bring high tech solutions to deskless industrial workers who have been working mostly with paper-based processes. Today, it announced a $40 million Series C cash injection to keep building on that idea.

The round was led by Future Fund with help from B37 and existing investors Lightspeed Venture Partners, Airbus Ventures and Aramco Ventures. Today’s investment brings the total to nearly $70 million.

The Parsable solution works on almost any smartphone or tablet and is designed to enter information while walking around in environments where a desktop PC or laptop simply wouldn’t be practical. That means being able to tap, swipe and select easily in a mobile context.

Photo: Parsable

The challenge the company faced was the perception these workers didn’t deal well with technology. Parsable CEO Lawrence Whittle says the company, which launched in 2013, took its time building its first product because it wanted to give industrial workers something they actually needed, not what engineers thought they needed. This meant a long period of primary research.

The company learned, it had to be dead simple to allow the industry vets who had been on the job for 25 or more years to feel comfortable using it out of the box, while also appealing to younger more tech-savvy workers. The goal was making it feel as familiar as Facebook or texting, common applications even older workers were used to using.

“What we are doing is getting rid of [paper] notebooks for quality, safety and maintenance and providing a digital guide on how to capture work with the objective of increasing efficiency, reducing safety incidents and increasing quality,” Whittle explained.

He likens this to the idea of putting a sensor on a machine, but instead they are putting that instrumentation into the hands of the human worker. “We are effectively putting a sensor on humans to give them connectivity and data to execute work in the same way as machines,” he says.

The company has also made the decision to make the platform flexible to add new technology over time. As an example they support smart glasses, which Whittle says accounts for about 10 percent of its business today. But the founders recognized that reality could change and they wanted to make the platform open enough to take on new technologies as they become available.

Today the company has 30 enterprise customers with 30,000 registered users on the platform. Customers include Ecolab, Schlumberger, Silgan and Shell. They have around 80 employees, but expect to hit 100 by the end of Q3 this year, Whittle says.


By Ron Miller

Pivotal CEO talks IPO and balancing life in Dell family of companies

Pivotal has kind of a strange role for a company. On one hand its part of the EMC federation companies that Dell acquired in 2016 for a cool $67 billion, but it’s also an independently operated entity within that broader Dell family of companies — and that has to be a fine line to walk.

Whatever the challenges, the company went public yesterday and joined VMware as a  separately traded company within Dell. CEO Rob Mee says the company took the step of IPOing because it wanted additional capital.

“I think we can definitely use the capital to invest in marketing and R&D. The wider technology ecosystem is moving quickly. It does take additional investment to keep up,” Mee told TechCrunch just a few hours after his company rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange.

As for that relationship of being a Dell company, he said that Michael Dell let him know early on after the EMC acquisition that he understood the company’s position. “From the time Dell acquired EMC, Michael was clear with me: You run the company. I’m just here to help. Dell is our largest shareholder, but we run independently. There have been opportunities to test that [since the acquisition] and it has held true,” Mee said.

Mee says that independence is essential because Pivotal has to remain technology-agnostic and it can’t favor Dell products and services over that mission. “It’s necessary because our core product is a cloud-agnostic platform. Our core value proposition is independence from any provider — and Dell and VMware are infrastructure providers,” he said.

That said, Mee also can play both sides because he can build products and services that do align with Dell and VMware offerings. “Certainly the companies inside the Dell family are customers of ours. Michael Dell has encouraged the IT group to adopt our methods and they are doing so,” he said. They have also started working more closely with VMware, announcing a container partnership last year.

Photo: Ron Miller

Overall though he sees his company’s mission in much broader terms, doing nothing less than helping the world’s largest companies transform their organizations. “Our mission is to transform how the world builds software. We are focused on the largest organizations in the world. What is a tailwind for us is that the reality is these large companies are at a tipping point of adopting how they digitize and develop software for strategic advantage,” Mee said.

The stock closed up 5 percent last night, but Mee says this isn’t about a single day. “We do very much focus on the long term. We have been executing to a quarterly cadence and have behaved like a public company inside Pivotal [even before the IPO]. We know how to do that while keeping an eye on the long term,” he said.


By Ron Miller