Salesforce Commerce Cloud releases four quick-start pandemic business packs

As we move deeper into the pandemic, it’s clear that the way we conduct business is changing, maybe forever. That means that business has to change too — and fast. But if you’ve never conducted business digitally or only nominally, how do you suddenly transform on the fly?

Salesforce Commerce Cloud CEO Mike Micucci says that they were hearing from customers they needed help. Salesforce decided to build four packages of services very quickly for customers specifically designed to help conduct business during COVID-19. The company even has SI partners who will run everything for the first three months, so these businesses don’t have to do much of anything except turn the key (so to speak).

The four tools are part of the Salesforce Quick Start Commerce Solutions and include Quick Start Commerce for D2C Consumer and Essential Goods to get a site up running fast, Quick Start Commerce for Grocery and Food Service to help restaurants and grocery stores set up online curbside food purchasing systems, Quick Start Commerce for B2B for companies setting up business-to-business sites and Quick Start Commerce for Buy Online and Curbside Pickup, which enables non-food companies to move in-store inventories online, and arrange curbside pick up systems.

Quick Start Commerce for Buy Online and Curbside Pickup. Image Credit: Salesforce

Micucci says that online commerce has been operating at a holiday kind of surge since we went into lockdown 10 weeks ago and customers have been clamoring for help. He said that they responded initially with a series of materials on best practices for getting online quickly, but customers wanted something more concrete.

“We needed to bring the software to bear on this. So we designed these four quick start packages. Essentially, the whole model was that we need to get you running in weeks, not months. The goal was literally [to get you up in] two weeks, and included software, obviously our cloud-based commerce and whatnot, but more importantly it included a package of services,” Micucci explained.

To build that package, it involved more than just Salesforce itself. It needed to get partners involved too to include payment, shipping, order management and other related kinds of tooling, depending on the package requirements.

Finally, they wanted to even remove the site management headaches from the customer, at least initially. Understanding that it would be difficult for businesses to train people internally to manage the system at this time, they got systems integrators involved to do it for them for the first three months. If the customer wants to take over sooner, they can, and if they want the SI to continue to manage the whole thing, that’s fine too.

As Salesforce itself moved out of the office and home, it was observing that online sales were spiking, and Micucci says after a couple of weeks of making sure the workforce was settled, he started hearing from customers about the problems they were having conducting business, and they went to work. The first of these packages came together in just a couple of weeks including partners.

They got them out to customers for quick Beta testing and refinement to the extent they could, but the guiding principle in producing these packages was speed over perfection. They realize the products will very likely require further refinement as they get out into the field, but they learned you can produce a package to meet a pressing customer need, and do it quickly, and that’s a lesson that will likely resonate even after this crisis is over.


By Ron Miller

Why we’re doubling down on cloud investments right now

Years from now, people will look back on the COVID-19 pandemic as a watershed moment for society and the global economy.

Wearing a mask might be as common as owning a phone; telework, telemedicine and online education will be more of a norm than a backup plan; and for the global economy, the cloud will have transformed the underlying infrastructure of businesses and entire industries.

COVID-19 is a turning point for the cloud and cloud company founders. For its computing power and as a delivery model of software, the cloud has been embraced as a solution to many challenges that businesses face during today’s economic downturn and recovery. Not only is the cloud industry more resilient than other industries, but the cloud model offers businesses a promising future in the age of social distancing and beyond.

We believe that once founders find shelter in the cloud, they’ll never go back.

Cloud’s resiliency amid historic volatility

Over the past decade, there’s been a massive market shift from on-premises to cloud, as 94% of enterprises use at least one cloud service today. 2020 was already a milestone year for the cloud industry, as aggregate SaaS and IaaS run-rate revenue each crossed $100 billion, and the BVP Nasdaq Emerging Cloud Index (^EMCLOUD) market cap crossed $1 trillion in early February. Yet in a matter of days, as the COVID-19 pandemic spread, fear tore through financial markets.

In early March, public markets experienced the steepest crash in history with volatility we haven’t seen since the Great Recession. The cloud index market cap dropped to ~$750 million and cloud multiples returned close to their historical averages of ~7x while the VIX volatility index spiked to the mid-80s. Both at global highs in February 2020, the ^EMCLOUD and the S&P 500 traded off by roughly 35% by mid-March. Over the next two months, though, the ^EMCLOUD recouped those losses, charging to a new all-time high on May 7.

The cloud index has continued its rise since then, and as of the close on May 11 has a market cap above $1.2 trillion and has returned to the lofty 12x forward run rate revenue multiples from 2019. Similar to Adobe in 2012, we expect many enterprises to transition over to the cloud model, and the index will continue to expand. As we predicted in this year’s State of the Cloud 2020, by 2025 we expect the cloud to penetrate 50% of enterprise software.


By Walter Thompson

Startups are transforming global trade in the COVID-19 era

Global trade watchers breathed a sigh of relief on January 15, 2020.

After two years of threats, tariffs and tweets, there was finally a truce in the trade war between the U.S. and China. The agreement signed by President Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He in the Oval Office didn’t resolve all trade tensions and maintained most of the $360 billion in tariffs the administration had put on Chinese goods. But for the first time in months, it looked like manufacturers, importers and shippers could start to put two difficult years behind them.

Then came COVID-19, at first a local disruption in Wuhan, China. Then it spread throughout Hubei province, causing havoc in a concentric circle that eventually engulfed the rest of China, where industrial production fell by more than 13.5% in the first two months of the year. When the virus spread everywhere, chaos ensued: Factories shuttered. Borders closed. Supply chains crumbled.

“It has had a cascading effect through the entire world’s economy,” says Anja Manuel, co-founder and managing partner of Rice, Hadley, Gates & Manuel LLC, an international strategic consulting firm based in Silicon Valley.

The crisis has caused a drastic contraction in global trade; the World Trade Organization estimates trade volumes will fall 13-20% in 2020. And spinning activity back up could be tricky: Even as China starts to get back online, the slowdown there could reduce worldwide exports by $50 billion this year. When factories do reopen, there’s no guarantee whether they will have parts available or empty warehouses, says Manuel, who also serves on the advisory board of Flexport, a shipping logistics startup. “Our supply chains are so tightly-knit and so just-in-time that throw a few wrenches in it like we’ve just done, and it’s going to be really hard to stand it back up again. The idea that we go back to normal the moment we lift restrictions is unlikely, fanciful, even.”

Getting to that new normal, though, is a job that a number of logistics startups are embracing. Already on the rise, companies like Flexport, Haven and Factiv see a global trade crisis as a setback, but also an opportunity to demonstrate the value of their digital platforms in a very much analog industry.

Information is king

As companies along the global supply chain reel from these fast-moving events, they are increasingly turning to firms that can offer them information — and the options that come with it.

“In moments of lots of volatility, you want to make sure the data you’re looking at is real,” says Sanne Manders, Flexport’s COO. “Where before you could get away with a weekly supply chain update, now you need accurate and timely data every minute. If you don’t, you’re not agile to make decisions.”


By Walter Thompson

Stripe adds card issuing, localized card networks and expanded approvals tool

At a time when more transactions than ever are happening online, payments behemoth Stripe is announcing three new features to continue expanding its reach.

The company today announced that it will now offer card issuing services directly to businesses to let them in turn make credit cards for customers tailored to specific purposes. Alongside that, it’s going to expand the number of accepted local, large card networks to cut down some of the steps it takes to make transactions in international markets. And finally, it’s launching a “revenue optimization” feature that essentially will use Stripe’s AI algorithms to reassess and approve more flagged transactions that might have otherwise been rejected in the past.

Together the three features underscore how Stripe is continuing to scale up with more services around its core payment processing APIs, a significant step in the wake of last week announcing its biggest fundraise to date: $600 million at a $36 billion valuation.

The rollouts of the new products are specifically coming at a time when Stripe has seen a big boost in usage among some (but not all) of its customers, said John Collison, Stripe’s co-founder and president, in an interview. Instacart, which is providing grocery delivery at a time when many are living under stay-at-home orders, has seen transactions up by 300% in recent weeks. Another newer customer, Zoom, is also seeing business boom. Amazon, Stripe’s behemoth customer that Collison would not discuss in any specific terms except to confirm it’s a close partner, is also seeing extremely heavy usage.

But other Stripe users — for example, many of its sea of small business users — are seeing huge pressures, while still others, faced with no physical business, are just starting to approach e-commerce in earnest for the first time. Stripe’s idea is that the launches today can help it address all of these scenarios.

“What we’re seeing in the COVID-19 world is that the impact is not minor,” said Collison. “Online has always been steadily taking a share from offline, but now many [projected] years of that migration are happening in the space of a few weeks.”

Stripe is among those companies that have been very mum about when they might go public — a state of affairs that only become more set in recent times, given how the IPO market has all but dried up in the midst of a health pandemic and economic slump. That has meant very little transparency about how Stripe is run, whether it’s profitable and how much revenues it makes.

But Stripe did note last week that it had some $2 billion in cash and cash reserves, which at least speaks to a level of financial stability. And another hint of efficiency might be gleaned from today’s product news.

While these three new services don’t necessarily sound like they are connected to each other, what they have underpinning them is that they are all building on top of tech and services that Stripe has previously rolled out. This speaks to how, even as the company now handles some 250 million API requests daily, it’s keeping some lean practices in place in terms of how it invests and maximises engineering and business development resources.

The card issuing service, for example, is built on a card service that Stripe launched last year. Originally aimed at businesses to provide their employees with credit cards — for example to better manage their own work-related expenses, or to make transactions on behalf of the business — now businesses can use the card issuing platform to build out aspects of its customer-facing services.

For example, Stripe noted that the first customer, Zipcar, will now be placing credit cards in each of its vehicles, which drivers can use to fuel up the vehicles (that is, the cards can only be used to buy gas). Another example Collison gave for how these could be implemented would be in a food delivery service, for example for a Postmates delivery person to use the card to pay for the meal that a customer has already paid Postmates to pick up and deliver to them.

Collison noted that while other startups like Marqeta have built big businesses around innovative card issuing services, “this is the first time it’s being issued on a self-serving basis,” meaning companies that want to use these cards can now set this up more quickly as a “programmatic card” experience, akin to self-serve, programmatic ads online.

It seems also to be good news for investors. “Stripe Issuing is a big step forward,” said Alex Rampell, general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, in a statement. “Not just for the millions of businesses running on Stripe, but for credit cards as a fundamental technology. Businesses can now use an API to create and issue cards exactly when and where they need them, and they can do it in a few clicks, not a few months. As investors, we’re excited by all the potential new companies and business models that will emerge as a result.”

Meanwhile, the revenue “optimization” engine that Stripe is rolling out is built on the same machine learning algorithms that it originally built for Radar, its fraud prevention tool that originally launched in 2016 and was extended to larger enterprises in 2018. This makes a lot of sense, since oftentimes the reason transactions get rejected is because of the suspicion of fraud. Why it’s taken four years to extend that to improve how transactions are approved or rejected is not entirely clear, but Stripe estimates that it could enable a further $2.5 billion in transactions annually.

One reason why the revenue optimization may have taken some time to roll out was because while Stripe offers a very seamless, simple API for users, it’s doing a lot of complex work behind the scenes knitting together a lot of very fragmented payment flows between card issuers, banks, businesses, customers and more in order to make transactions possible.

The third product announcement speaks to how Stripe is simplifying a bit more of that. Now, it’s able to provide direct links into six big card networks — Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover, JCB and China Union Pay, which effectively covers the major card networks in North and Latin America, Southeast Asia and Europe. Previously, Stripe would have had to work with third parties to integrate acceptance of all of these networks in different regions, which would have cut into Stripe’s own margins and also given it less flexibility in terms of how it could handle the transaction data.

Launching the revenue optimization by being able to apply machine learning to the transaction data is one example of where and how it might be able to apply more innovative processes from now on.

While Stripe is mainly focused today on how to serve its wider customer base and to just help business continue to keep running, Collison noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a measurable impact on Stripe beyond just boosts in business for some of its customers.

The whole company has been working remotely for weeks, including its development team, making for challenging times in building and rolling out services.

And Stripe, along with others, is also in the early stages of piloting how it will play a role in issuing small business loans as part of the CARES Act, he said.

In addition to that, he noted that there has been an emergence of more medical and telehealth services using Stripe for payments.

Before now, many of those use cases had been blocked by the banks, he said, for reasons of the industries themselves being strictly regulated in terms of what kind of data could get passed across networks and the sensitive nature of the businesses themselves. He said that a lot of that has started to get unblocked in the current climate, and “the growth of telemedicine has been off the charts.”


By Ingrid Lunden

Will China’s coronavirus-related trends shape the future for American VCs?

For the past month, VC investment pace seems to have slacked off in the U.S., but deal activities in China are picking up following a slowdown prompted by the COVID-19 outbreak.

According to PitchBook, “Chinese firms recorded 66 venture capital deals for the week ended March 28, the most of any week in 2020 and just below figures from the same time last year,” (although 2019 was a slow year). There is a natural lag between when deals are made and when they are announced, but still, there are some interesting trends that I couldn’t help noticing.

While many U.S.-based VCs haven’t had a chance to focus on new deals, recent investment trends coming out of China may indicate which shifts might persist after the crisis and what it could mean for the U.S. investor community.

Image Credits: PitchBook


By Walter Thompson

In the wake of COVID-19, UK puts up £20M in grants to develop resilient tech for critical industries

Most of the world — despite the canaries in the coal mine — was unprepared to cope with the coronavirus outbreak that’s now besieging us. Now, work is starting to get underway both to help manage what is going on now and better prepare us in the future. In the latest development, the UK government today announced that it will issue £20 million ($24.5 million) in grants of up to £50,000 each to startups and other businesses that are developing tools to improve resilience for critical industries — in other words, those that need to keep moving when something cataclysmic like a pandemic hits.

You can start your application here. Unlike a lot of other government efforts, this one is aimed at a quick start: you need to be ready to kick of your project using the grant no later than June 2020, but earlier is okay, too.

Awarded through Innovate UK, which part of UK Research and Innovation (itself a division of the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), the grants will be available to businesses of any size as long as they are UK-registered, and aim to cover a wide swathe of industries that form the core fabric of how society and the economy can continue to operate.

“The Covid-19 situation is not just a health emergency, but also one that effects the economy and society. With that in mind, Innovate UK has launched this rapid response competition today seeking smart ideas from innovators,” said Dr Ian Campbell Executive Chair, Innovate UK, in a statement. “These could be proposals to help the distribution of goods, educate children remotely, keep families digitally connected and even new ideas to stream music and entertainment. The UK needs a great national effort and Innovate UK is helping by unleashing the power of innovation for people and businesses in need.”

These include not just what are typically considered “critical” industries like healthcare and food production and distribution, but also those that are less tangible but equally important in keeping society running smoothly, like entertainment and wellbeing services:

  • community support services
  • couriers and delivery (rural and/or city based)
  • education and culture
  • entertainment (live entertainment, music, etc.)
  • financial services
  • food manufacture and processing
  • healthcare
  • hospitality
  • personal protection equipment
  • remote working
  • retail
  • social care
  • sport and recreation
  • transport
  • wellbeing

The idea is to introduce new technologies and processes that will support existing businesses and organizations, not use the funding to build new startups from scratch. Those getting the funding could already be businesses in these categories, or building tools to help companies that fall under these themes.

The grants were announced at a time where we are seeing a huge surge of companies step up to the challenge of helping communities and countries cope with COVID-19. That’s included not only those that already made medical supplies increase production, but a number of other businesses step in and try to help where they can, or recalibrate what they normally do to make their factories or other assets more useful. (For example, in the UK, Rolls Royce, Airbus and the Formula 1 team are all working on ventilators and other hospital equipment, a model of industry retooling that has been seen in many other countries, too.)

That trend is what helped to inspire this newest wave of non-equity grants.

“The response of researchers and businesses to the coronavirus outbreak have been remarkable,” said Science Minister Amanda Solloway in a statement. “This new investment will support the development of technologies that can help industries, communities and individuals adapt to new ways of working when situations like this, and other incidents, arise.”

The remit here is intentionally open-ended but will likely be shaped by some of the shortcomings and cracks that have been appearing in recent weeks while systems get severely stress-tested.

So, unsurprisingly, the sample innovations that UK Innovate cites appear to directly relate to that. They include things like technology to help respond to spikes in online consumer demand — every grocery service in the online and physical world has been overwhelmed by customer traffic, leading to sites crashing, people leaving stores disappointed at what they cannot find, and general panic. Or services for families to connect with and remotely monitor vulnerable relatives: while Zoom and the rest have seen huge surges in traffic, there are still too many people on the other side of the digital divide who cannot access or use these. And better education tools: again, there are thousands of edtech companies in the world, but in the UK at least, I wouldn’t say that the educational authorities had done even a small degree of disaster planning, leaving individual schools to scramble and figure out ways to keep teaching remotely that works for everyone (again not always easy with digital divides, safeguarding and other issues).

None of this can cure coronavirus or stop another pandemic from happening — there are plenty of others that are working very squarely on that now, too — but these are equally critical to get right to make sure that a health disaster doesn’t extend into a more permanent economic or societal one.

More information and applications are here.


By Ingrid Lunden

Nomagic, a startup out of Poland, picks up $8.6M for its pick-and-place warehouse robots

Factories and warehouses have been two of the biggest markets for robots in the last several years, with machines taking on mundane, if limited, processes to speed up work and free up humans to do other, more complex tasks. Now, a startup out of Poland that is widening the scope of what those robots can do is announcing funding, a sign not just of how robotic technology has been evolving, but of the growing demand for more automation, specifically in the world of logistics and fulfilment.

Nomagic, which has developed way for a robotic arm to identify an item from an unordered selection, pick it up and then pack it into a box, is today announcing that it has raised $8.6 million in funding, one of the largest-ever seed rounds for a Polish startup. Co-led by Khosla Ventures and Hoxton Ventures, the round also included participation from DN Capital, Capnamic Ventures and Manta Ray, all previous backers of Nomagic.

There are a number of robotic arms on the market today that can be programmed to pick up and deposit items from Point A to Point B. But we are only starting to see a new wave of companies focus on bringing these to fulfilment environments because of the limitations of those arms: they can only work when the items are already “ordered” in a predictable way, such as on an assembly line, which has mean that fulfilment of, for example, online orders is usually carried out by humans.

Nomagic has incorporated a new degree of computer vision, machine learning and other AI-based technologies to  elevate the capabilities of those robotic arm. Robots powered by its tech can successfully select items from an “unstructured” group of objects — that is, not an assembly line, but potentially another box — before picking it up and placing it elsewhere.

Kacper Nowicki, the ex-Googler CEO of Nomagic who co-founded the company with Marek Cygan (formerly of Climate Corporation) and Tristan d’Orgeval (an academic), noted that while there has been some work on the problem of unstructured objects and industrial robots — in the US, there are some live implementations taking shape, with one, Covariant, recently exiting stealth mode — it has been mostly a “missing piece” in terms of the innovation that has been done to make logistics and fulfilment more efficient.

That is to say, there has been little in the way of bigger commercial roll outs of the technology, creating an opportunity in what is a huge market: fulfilment services are projected to be a $56 billion market by 2021 (currently the US is the biggest single region, estimated at between $13.5 billion and $15.5 billion).

“If every product were a tablet or phone, you could automate a regular robotic arm to pick and pack,” Nowicki said. “But if you have something else, say something in plastic, or a really huge diversity of products, then that is where the problems come in.”

Nowicki was a longtime Googler who moved from Silicon Valley back to Poland to build the company’s first engineering team in the country. In his years at Google, Nowicki worked in areas including Google Cloud and search, but also saw the AI developments underway at Google’s DeepMind subsidiary, and decided he wanted to tackle a new problem for his next challenge.

His interest underscores what has been something of a fork in artificial intelligence in recent years. While some of the earliest implementations of the principles of AI were indeed on robots, these days a lot of robotic hardware seems clunky and even outmoded, while much more of the focus of AI has shifted to software and “non-physical” systems aimed at replicating and improving upon human thought. Even the word “robot” is now just as likely to be seen in the phrase “robotic process automation”, which in fact has nothing to do with physical robots, but software.

“A lot of AI applications are not that appealing,” Nowicki simply noted (indeed, while Nowicki didn’t spell it out, DeepMind in particular has faced a lot of controversy over its own work in areas like healthcare). “But improvements in existing robotics systems by applying machine learning and computer vision so that they can operate in unstructured environments caught my attention. There has been so little automation actually in physical systems, and I believe it’s a place where we still will see a lot of change.”

Interestingly, while the company is focusing on hardware, it’s not actually building hardware per se, but is working on software that can run on the most popular robotic arms in the market today to make them “smarter”.

“We believe that most of the intellectual property in in AI is in the software stack, not the hardware,” said Orgeval. “We look at it as a mechatronics problem, but even there, we believe that this is mainly a software problem.”

Having Khosla as a backer is notable given that a very large part of the VC’s prolific investing has been in North America up to now. Nowicki said he had a connection to the firm by way of his time in the Bay Area, where before Google, Vinod Khosla backed a startup of his (which went bust in one of the dot-com downturns).

While there is an opportunity for Nomagic to take its idea global, for now Khosla’s interested because of the a closer opportunity at home, where Nomagic is already working with third-party logistics and fulfilment providers, as well as retailers like Cdiscount, a French Amazon-style, soup-to-nuts online marketplace.

“The Nomagic team has made significant strides since its founding in 2017,” says Sven Strohband, Managing Director of Khosla Ventures, in a statement. “There’s a massive opportunity within the European market for warehouse robotics and automation, and NoMagic is well-positioned to capture some of that market share.”

WARSAW, POLAND – Feb 4, 2020 – Nomagic, provider of smart pick & place robots for warehouses, announced today the closing of a $8.6 million Seed investment round led by Khosla Ventures. The round is one of the biggest seed rounds for a Polish startup yet. Hoxton Ventures (London) co-led the round with existing investors DN Capital (London), Capnamic Ventures (Cologne) and Manta Ray (London).

“The Nomagic team has made significant strides since its founding in 2017,” says Sven Strohband, Managing Director of Khosla Ventures. “There’s a massive opportunity within the European market for warehouse robotics and automation, and NoMagic is well-positioned to capture some of that market share.”

Founded on the premise that order fulfillment in warehouses requires repetitive manual tasks for which it is harder and harder to find operators, Nomagic develops AI-based solutions using robotic arms to reliably pick and place millions of different products. Their smart robots are able to determine how to pick never seen products and detect rare anomalies such as robots picking two items at once. In 2019, Nomagic deployed its solution at Cdiscount, the leading French e-commerce platform, to build the first fully automated packing line for e-commerce.


By Ingrid Lunden

Salesforce announces new tools to boost developer experience on Commerce Cloud

Salesforce announced some new developer tools today, designed to make it easier for programmers to build applications on top of Commerce Cloud in what is known in industry parlance as a “headless” system.

What that means is that developers can separate the content from the design and management of the site, allowing companies to change either component independently.

To help with this goal, Salesforce announced some new and enhanced APIs that enable developers take advantage of features built into the Commerce Cloud platform without having to build them from scratch. For instance, they could take advantage of Einstein, Salesforce’s artificial intelligence platform, to add elements like next-best actions to the site, the kind of intelligent functionality that would typically be out of reach of most developers.

Developers also often need to connect to other enterprise systems from their eCommerce site to share data with these tools. To fill that need, Salesforce is taking advantage of Mulesoft, the company it purchased almost two years ago for $6.5 billion. Using Mulesoft’s integration technology, Salesforce can help connect to other systems like ERP financial systems or product management tools and exchange information between the two systems.

Brent Leary, founder at CRM Essentials, whose experience with Salesforce goes back to its earliest days, says this about helping give developers the tools that they need to create the same kind of integrated shopping experiences consumers have grown to expect from Amazon.

“These tools give developers real-time insights delivered at the “moment of truth” to optimize conversion opportunities, and automate processes to improve ordering and fulfillment efficiencies. This should give developers in the Salesforce ecosystem what they need to deliver Amazon-like experiences while having to compete with them.” he said.

To help get customers comfortable with these tools, the company also announced a new Commerce Cloud Development Center to access a community of developers who can discuss and share solutions with one another, an SDK with code samples and Trailhead education resources.

Salesforce made these announcement as part of the National Retail Foundation (NRF) Conference taking place in New York City this week.


By Ron Miller

Adobe turns it up to 11, surpassing $11B in revenue

Yesterday, Adobe submitted its quarterly earnings report and the results were quite good. The company generated a tad under $3 billion for the quarter at $2.99 billion, and reported that revenue exceeded $11 billion for FY 2019, its highest ever mark.

“Fiscal 2019 was a phenomenal year for Adobe as we exceeded $11 billion in revenue, a significant milestone for the company. Our record revenue and EPS performance in 2019 makes us one of the largest, most diversified, and profitable software companies in the world. Total Adobe revenue was $11.17 billion in FY 2019, which represents 24% annual growth,” Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen told analysts and reporters in his company’s post-earnings call.

Adobe made a couple of key M&A moves this year that appear to be paying off, including nabbing Magento in May for $1.7 billion and Marketo in September for $4.75 billion. Both companies fit inside its “Digital Experience” revenue bucket. In its most recent quarter, Adobe’s Digital Experience segment generated $859 million in revenue, compared with $821 million in the sequentially previous quarter.

Obviously buying two significant companies this year helped push those numbers, something CFO John Murphy acknowledged in the call:

“Key Q4 highlights include strong year-over-year growth in our Content and Commerce solutions led by Adobe Experience Manager and success with cross-selling and up-selling Magento; Adoption of Adobe Experience Platform, Audience Manager and Real-Time CDP in our Data & Insights solutions; and momentum in our Marketo business, including in the mid-market segment, which helped fuel growth in our Customer Journey Management solutions.”

All of that added up to growth across the Digital Experience category.

But Adobe didn’t simply buy its way to new market share. The company also continued to build a suite of products in-house to help grow new revenue from the enterprise side of its business.

“We’re rapidly evolving our CXM product strategy to deliver generational technology platforms, launch innovative new services and introduce enhancements to our market-leading applications. Adobe Experience Platform is the industry’s first purpose-built CXM platform. With real-time customer profiles, continuous intelligence, and an open and extensible architecture, Adobe Experience Platform makes delivering personalized customer experiences at scale a reality,” Narayan said.

Of course, the enterprise is just part of it. Adobe’s creative tools remain its bread and butter with the Creative tools accounting for $1.74 billion in revenue and Document Cloud adding another $339 million this quarter.

The company is talking confidently about 2020, as its recent acquisitions mature and become a bigger part of the company’s digital experience offerings. But Narayan feels good about the performance this year in digital experience: “When I take a step back and look at what’s happened during the year, I feel really good about the amount of innovation that’s happening. And the second thing I feel really good about is the alignment across Magento, Marketo and just call it, the core DX business in terms of having a more unified and aligned go-to-market, which has not only helped our results, but it’s also helped the operating expense associated with that business,” he said.

It is no small feat for any software company to surpass $11 billion in trailing revenue. Consider that Adobe, which was founded in 1982, goes back to the earliest days of desktop PC software in the 1980s. Yet it has managed to transform into a massive cloud services company over the last five years under Narayan’s leadership and flourish there.


By Ron Miller

Loop Returns picks up $10 million in Series A led by FirstMark Capital

Loop Returns, the startup that helps brands handle returns from online purchases, has today announced the close of a $10 million Series A funding round led by FirstMark Capital. Lerer Hippeau and Ridge Ventures also participated in the round.

Loop started when Jonathan Poma, a cofounder and COO and President, was working at an agency and consulting with a big Shopify brand on how to improve their system for returns and exchanges. After partnering with long-time friend Corbett Morgan Loop Returns was born.

Loop sits on top of Shopify to handle all of a brand’s returns. It first asks the customer if they’d like a different size in the item they bought, quickly managing an exchange. It then asks if the customer would prefer to exchange for a new item altogether, depositing the credit in that person’s account in real time so they can shop for something new immediately.

If an exchange isn’t in the cards, Loop will ask the customer if they’d prefer credit with this brand over a straight-up refund.

The goal, according to Poma and Morgan, is to turn the point of return into a moment where brands can create a life-loyal customer when handled quickly and properly.

The more we shop online, the more brands extend themselves financially, and returns are a big part of that. Returns account for 20 to 30 percent of ecommerce sales, which can become a terrible financial burden on a growing direct-to-consumer brand. And what’s more, the cost of acquiring those users in the first place also goes down the drain.

Loop Returns hopes to keep that customer in the fold by giving them post-purchase options that are more sticky and more lucrative for the brand than a refund.

The company thinks of it as Connection Infrastructure. Most brands already have a customer acquisition architecture, and Shopify and Amazon are ahead when it comes to the infrastructure around customer convenience. But the ties that bind customers to brands haven’t been optimized for the many D2C brands out there looking to make an impact.

“The big problem we’re trying to solve long term is connection infrastructure,” said Morgan. “Why does this brand matter? Why does it mean something to me? Why does the product matter? We want to enforce more mindfulness and meaning into buying.”

Of course, a more mindful shopper doesn’t yield as many returns. Poma and Morgan admit that the goal of their software is to minimize returns, the very reason for the software’s existence. After all, return volume is one of a handful of variables that help Loop Returns determine what it will charge its brand clients.

But the team is thinking about other layers of the connection infrastructure, with plans to launch a product in 2020 that also focuses on the connection point after purchase. Poma and Morgan believe, with an almost religious reverence, that the brands themselves will help lead shoppers and infrastructure providers to a better, more connected shopping experience.

“Brands are the torch bearers,” said Poma. “They will lead us to a more enlightened era of how we think about buying. Empowerment of the brand will lead us to a better consumerism.”

The cofounders stayed mum on any specific plans for the 2020 product, but did say they will use the funding to expand operations and further build out its current and future products.

Of course, Loop is playing in a crowded space. Not only are there other players thinking about post-purchase connection, but Shopify has itself built out tools to help with exchanges and returns, and even acquired Return Magic, a similar service, in the summer of 2018.

That said, Loop Returns believes that there is a long way to go as it builds the ‘connection infrastructure’ and that one clear path forward is actual personalization. With data from returns and exchanges, Loop Returns is relatively well positioned to take on personalization in a meaningful way.

For now, Loop Returns has more than 200 customers and has handled more than 2 million returns, working with brands like Brooklinen, AllBirds, PuraVida and more.


By Jordan Crook

WeFarm rakes in $13M to grow its marketplace and network for independent farmers

Huge networks like Facebook and LinkedIn have a huge gravitational force in the world of social media — the size of their audiences make them important platforms for advertising and those who want information (for better or worse) to reach as many people as possible. But alongside their growth, we’re seeing a lasting role for platforms and networks focused on more narrow special interests, and today one of them — focused on farmers, of all communities — is picking up a round of funding to propel its growth.

WeFarm, a marketplace and networking site for small-holder farmers (that is, farms not controlled by large agribusinesses), has raised $13 million in a Series A round of funding, with plans to use the money to continue adding more users — farmers — and more services geared to their needs.

The round, which brings the total raised by the company to a modest $20 million, is being led by True Ventures, with AgFunder, June Fund; previous investors LocalGlobe, ADV and Norrsken Foundation; and others also participating.

WeFarm today has around 1.9 million registered users, and its early moves into providing a marketplace — helping to put farmers in touch with local suppliers of goods and gear such as seed and fertilizers — generated $1 million in sales in its first eight months of operations, a sign that there is business to be had here. The startup points out that this growth has been, in fact, “faster… than both Amazon and eBay in their early stages.”

WeFarm is based out of London, but while the startup does have users out of the UK and the rest of Europe, Kenny Ewan, the company’s founder and CEO, said in an interview that it is seeing much more robust activity and growth out of developing economies, where small-scale agriculture reigns supreme, but those working the farms have been massively underserved when it comes to new, digital services.

“We are building an ecosystem for global small scale agriculture, on behalf of farmers,” Ewan said, noting that there are roughly 500 million small scale farms globally, with some 1 billion people working those holdings, which typically extend 1.5-2 hectares and often are focused around staple commercial crops like rice, coffee, cattle or vegetables. “This is probably the biggest industry on Earth, accounting for some 75-80% of the global supply chain, and yet no one has built anything for them. This is significant on many levels.”

The service that WeFarm provides, in turn, is two-fold. The network, which is free to join, first of all serves as sounding board, where farmers — who might live in a community with other farmers, but might also be quite solitary — can ask each other questions or get advice on agricultural or smallholding matters. Think less Facebook and more Stack Exchange here.

That provided a natural progression to WeFarm’s second utility track: a marketplace. Initially Ewan said that it’s been working with — and importantly, vetting — local suppliers to help them connect with farmers and the wider ecosystem for goods and services that they might need

Longer term, the aim will be to provide a place where smallholding famers might be able to exchange goods with each other, or sell on what they are producing.

In addition to providing access to goods for sale, WeFarm is helping to manage the e-commerce process behind it. For example, in regions like Africa, mobile wallets have become de facto bank accounts and proxies for payment cards, so one of the key ways that people can pay for items is via SMS.

“For 90% of our users, we are the only digital service they use, so we have to make sure we can fulfil their trust,” Ewan said. “This is a network of trust for the biggest industry on earth and we have to make sure it works well.”

For True and other investors, this is a long-term play, where financial returns might not be as obvious as moral ones.

“We are enormously inspired by how Kenny and the Wefarm team have empowered the world’s farmers, and we see great potential for their future,” said Jon Callaghan, co-founder of True Ventures, in a statement. “The company is not only impact-driven, but the impressive growth of the Wefarm Marketplace demonstrates exciting commercial opportunities that will connect those farmers to more of what they need to the benefit of all, across the food supply chain. This is a big, global business.”

Still, given the bigger size of the long tail, the company that can consolidate and manage that community potentially has a very valuable business on its hands, too.


By Ingrid Lunden

Salesforce adds integrated order management system to its arsenal

Salesforce certainly has a lot of tools crossing the sales, service and marketing categories, but until today when it announced Lightning Order Management, it lacked an integration layer that allowed companies to work across these systems to manage orders in a seamless way.

“This is a new product built from the ground up on the Salesforce Lightning Platform to allow our customers to fulfill, manage and service their orders at scale,” Luke Ball, VP of product management at Salesforce told TechCrunch.

He says that order management is an often-overlooked part of the sales process, but it’s one that’s really key to the whole experience you’re trying to provide for your customers. “We think about advertising and acquisition and awareness. We think about creating amazing, compelling commerce experiences on the storefront or on your website or in your app. But I think a lot of brands don’t necessarily think about the delivery experience as part of that customer experience,” he said.

The problem is that order management involves so many different systems along with internal and external stakeholders. Trying to pull them together into a coherent system is harder than it looks, especially when it could also involve older legacy technology. As Ball pointed out, the process includes shipping carriers, warehouse management systems, ERP systems and payment and tax and fraud tools.

The Salesforce solution involves a few key pieces. For starters there is order lifecycle management, what Ball calls the brains of the operation. “This is the core logic of an order management system. Everything that extends commerce beyond the Buy button — supply chain management, order fulfillment, payment capture, invoice creation, inventory availability and custom business logic. This is the bread and butter of an order management system,” he said.

Lightning Order Management 7 LOM AppPicker bezel

Salesforce Lightning Order Management App Picker. Image: Salesforce

Customers start by building visual order workflows. They can move between systems in an App Picker, and the information is shared between Commerce Cloud and Service Cloud, so that as customers move from sales to service, the information moves with them and it makes it easier to process inquiries from customers about an order including returns.

Ball says that Salesforce recognizes that not every customer will be an all-Salesforce shop and the system is designed to work with tools from other vendors, although these external tools won’t show up in the App Picker. It also knows that this process involves external vendors like shipping companies, so they will be offering specific integration apps for Lightning Order Management in the Salesforce AppExchange.

The company is announcing the product today and will be making it generally available in February.


By Ron Miller

Payments giant Stripe debuts a credit card in its latest step into the financing fray

Last week, when the popular payments startup Stripe made some waves with its first move into money lending through the launch of Stripe Capital, we reported that the company was also soon going to be launching a credit card. Now, that news is official. Today, the company is doubling down on financing with the launch of corporate cards for business customers.

Announced officially today to coincide with the company’s developer event Stripe Sessions, the Stripe Corporate Card — as the product is officially called — is a Visa that will be open to businesses that are incorporated in the US, although they can operate elsewhere.

Notably, users are expected to pay their balance in full each month, so for now there is no interest rate, or fee, to use the card, with Stripe making its money by way of the interchange fee that comes with every transaction using the card.

“We’re not freezing cards based on late or no payments,” Cristina Cordova, the business lead overseeing the launch, said in an interview. “A pretty common reason for non-payment is that a person switched bank accounts and forgot to update the information. But we think we’ll have fewer problems because we have banking information for accepting revenue, by way of our payments business.”

The move is another major step ahead for Stripe as it continues to diversify its business and bring on more financial products to become a one-stop shop for e-commerce and other companies for all the transactions they might need to make in the course of their lives. It is a little ironic that it’s taken years for credit cards to get added into the mix, considering Stripe’s earliest homepages and marketing efforts were built around the design of a credit card (a reference to taking payments online, not issuing credit, of course).

In any case, the list of products now offered by Stripe is long — longer, you might say, than it takes to incorporate a Stripe service into a developer workflow. In addition to its API-based flagship payments product — which is available as a direct service or, via Stripe Connect, for third parties via marketplaces and other platforms — it offers billing and invoicing, in-person payment services (via Terminal), business analytics, fraud prevention on transactions (Radar), company incorporation (Atlas), and a range of content around business strategy.

Some of these Stripe products are free to use, and some come at a price: the main point for offering them together is to build more engagement and loyalty from customers to keep them from migrating to other services. In that regard, credit cards are a cornerstone of how businesses operate, to handle day-to-day expenses in a more accountable way, and this is an area that is already well-served by others, including startups like Brex but also a plethora of challenger and traditional banks. So as much as anything else, this is a clear move to help stave off competition.

At the same time, it underscores how Stripe is leveraging the huge amount of data that it has amassed about its users and payments on the platform: it’s not just about enabling single services, but about using the byproducts of those services — data — to put fuel into new products.

Today, to underscore its global ambitions in that regard, Stripe is adding some expansions to several of its existing products. For example, it will now allow businesses to make payouts in local currencies in 45 countries (an important detail, for example, for marketplaces and network-based companies like ridesharing businesses).

The credit card product will follow a model similar to that of Stripe Capital. As with the lending product, there is a single bank issuing the credit and the card. Amber Feng, head of financial infrastructure for Stripe, confirmed to me that it is actually the same bank that’s providing the cash behind Stripe Capital. Stripe is still declining to name the bank itself, but hints that we may hear more about it soon, which leads me to wonder what news might be coming next.

(Funding perhaps would make sense? The company has raised a whopping $785 million to date and has a valuation of $22.5 billion at the moment. Given that Stripe has made indications that a public listing is not on the cards soon, that might imply, with the launch of these new financing products, that more capital might be raised soon.)

Also similar to Stripe Capital, the underwriting of the card is based on Stripe data. That is to say, business users are verified and approved based on turnover (revenues) as measured by the Stripe payments platform itself; and in cases where applicants are “pre-revenue”, they can be evaluated based on other data sources. For example, if they have used Stripe Atlas to incorporate their businesses, the paperwork supplied for that is used by Stripe to vet the customer’s suitability for a credit card.  

Notably, the cards will be delivered in the spirit of instant gratification: if you are applying and get approved, you can download a virtual card within minutes to your Apple Wallet as you await the physical card to arrive in the post.

Stripe is big on data in its own business, and it’s bringing some of that into this product with spending controls that can be set by person and by category; real-time expense reporting by way of texts; rewards of 2% back on spending in the business’s most-used categories; and integration with financial software like Quickbooks and Expensify.


By Ingrid Lunden

Sweden’s Hedvig raises $10.4M led by Obvious Ventures to build “nice insurance”

Hedvig, a Swedish startup, is following in the footsteps of Lemonade building a new generation of insurance platforms that use AI to help evaluate customers and operate on a policy of using surplus for social good, and today the company announced the next stage of its growth. The startup has closed a SEK100 million ($10.4 million) round of funding to expand from its current offering of property insurance into a wider range of categories, and begin the costly process of expanding its business into more countries beyond its home market.

The funding values the company at SEK342 million ($35.5 million) — a modest figure considering Lemonade’s recent $300 million round, reportedly (per PitchBook) at a $2.1 billion post-money valuation — but helps position the company to set its sights on being a strong regional player (if not an acquisition target for Lemonade if it wants to quickly add on new regions: the latter kicked off its first services in Europe earlier this year, so its global aspirations are clear).

It currently has 15,000 customers in its home market of Sweden, who use it for property insurance on rented or owned apartments, and Lucas Carlsen, the co-founder and CEO, said in an emailed interview with TechCrunch that it “definitely” plans to expand that to houses as well as other categories. Home insurance also covers contents such as gadgets and travel, and Carlsen said that the former (gadgets) accounts for the majority of claims at the moment.

The round was led by Obvious Ventures, the venture fund co-founded by Twitter/Medium/Blogger co-founder Ev Williams, with D-Ax, the early stage investment arm of Swedish retail giant Axel Johnson Group, also participating, along with past investor Cherry Ventures.

“We are building a global company. We just started in Sweden since we happened to live here, and it serves as a good test market as we have some of the worlds’ most progressive and demanding consumers. Today, we do not have any news to share about future markets, but stay tuned!” said Carlsen.

“The new funding will mainly be used to fuel growth in Sweden, but we’ll also be looking at extending into new markets and insurance categories. Insurance is capital intensive and our new partners are committed to supporting our long-term vision,” he continued.

Indeed, getting an investor like Obvious (which published its own short announcement about the investment, on Medium) involved could open the door to introductions with a number of other investors down the road.

Hedvig is harnessing its purpose, the power of AI, and its human-centered product to create a modern, full-stack insurance company. Their incredible team is delivering against the mission – to give people the world’s most incredible insurance experience – and we at Obvious are honored to help scale it further,” said Vishal Vasishth, one of Obvious Ventures’ other co-founders, in a statement.

Hedvig — named, Carlson said, after a legend of “someone who stood up for others and fought for their causes: that’s what we do,” — will sound familiar to you if you know Lemonade.

It follows in a wave of more socially-forward businesses that are being created, which are using technology to help disrupt the status quo but also to bridge the gap between building services that consumers need, and the principles that they would like to adhere to more if possible. (Other examples include the likes of Beyond Meat, which is also backed by Obvious; as well as the plethora of electric and hybrid vehicle makers; and more.)

In the case of Hedvig and the challenge of insurance, the proposition goes like this:

Hedvig uses technology and innovative algorithms to help assess a potential customer, who is then provided with lowest-cost, and often competitively priced, premiums. Then, as a “full-stack” digital company, it also uses its algorithms to help process claims. Then, after Hedvig uses its bigger pot of money to pay out claims, the annual surplus is donated to charities selected by its customers.

“By not pocketing this money ourselves we can focus on providing the best service possible to you and not on making more money from denying claims,” Carlson said.

Hedvig itself makes money by taking a cut off users’ monthly premiums (it doesn’t specify how much). To date, Hedvig has not disclosed how much it has been able to “give back” according to its business model. But the philosophy is that by digitising some of the more mundane processes that are relegated to human adjustors and customer agents at traditional agencies — and by not being inherently greedy — the startup is able to provide a more pleasant, more efficient, and more conscionable service.


By Ingrid Lunden

India’s Reliance Jio inks deal with Microsoft to expand Office 365, Azure to more businesses; unveils broadband, blockchain, and IoT platforms

India’s Reliance Jio, which has disrupted the telecom and features phone businesses in India in less than three years of existence, is now ready to aggressively foray into many more businesses with the help of global giants including Microsoft.

The subsidiary of India’s largest industrial house Reliance Industries today announced that it will commercially launch its optical fiber broadband business next month, an IoT platform on January 1, 2020, and “one of the world’s biggest blockchain networks” in the next 12 months.

The broadband service, called Jio Giga Fiber, is aimed at individual customers, small and medium sized businesses, as well as enterprises, Mukhesh Ambani, Chairman and Managing Director of Reliance Industries, said at a shareholders meeting Monday. The service, which will be available to consumers starting September 5, will offer free voice calls, high-speed internet and start at Rs 700 per month.

The company also announced a 10-year partnership with Microsoft to leverage the Redmond giant’s Azure, Microsoft 365, and Microsoft AI platforms to launch new cloud datacenters in India to ensure “more of Jio’s customers can access the tools and platforms they need to build their own digital capability,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in a video appearance Monday.

“At Microsoft, our mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. Core to this mission is deep partnerships, like the one we are announcing today with Reliance Jio. Our ambition is to help millions of organizations across India thrive and grow in the era of rapid technological change… Together, we will offer a comprehensive technology solution, from compute to storage, to connectivity and productivity for small and medium-sized businesses everywhere in the country,” he added.

As part of the partnership, Nadella said, Jio and Microsoft will jointly offer Office 365 to more organizations in India, and also bring Azure Cognitive Services to more devices and in many Indian languages to businesses in the country. The solutions will be “accessible” to reach as many people and organizations in India as possible, he added.

Ambani also said Jio is working on a “digital stack” to create a new commerce partnership platform in India to reach tens of millions of merchants, consumers, and producers.

More to follow…


By Manish Singh