Salesforce brings AI power to its search tool

Enterprise search tools have always suffered from the success of Google. Users wanted to find the content they needed internally in the same way they found it on the web. Enterprise search has never been able to meet those lofty expectations, but today Salesforce announced Einstein Search, an AI-powered search tool for Salesforce users that is designed to point them to the exact information they are looking for.

Will Breetz, VP of product management at Salesforce says that enterprise search has suffered over the years for a variety of reasons. “Enterprise search has gotten a bad rap, but deservedly so. Part of that is because in many ways it is more difficult than consumer search, and there’s a lot of headwinds,” Breetz explained.

To solve these issues, the company decided to put the power of its Einstein artificial intelligence engine to bear on the problem. For starters, it might not know the popularity of a given topic like Google, but it can learn the behaviors of an individual and deliver the right answer based on a person’s profile including geography and past activity to deliver a more meaningful answer.

Einstein Search Personal

Image: Salesforce

Next, it allows you to enter natural language search phrasing to find the exact information you need, and the search tool understands and delivers the results. For instance, you could enter, “my open opportunities in Boston” and using natural language understanding, the tool can translate that into the exact set of results you are looking for –your open opportunities in Boston. You could use conventional search to click a series of check boxes to narrow the list of results to only Boston, but this is faster and more efficient.

Finally, based on what the intelligence engine knows about you, and on your search parameters, it can predict the most likely actions you want to take and provide quick action buttons in the results to help you do that, reducing the time to action. It may not seem like much, but each reduced workflow adds up throughout a day, and the idea is to anticipate your requirements and help you get your work done more quickly.

Salesforce appears to have flipped the enterprise search problem. Instead of having a limited set of data being a handicap for enterprise search, it is taking advantage of that, and applying AI to help deliver more meaningful results. It’s for a limited set of findings for now such as accounts, contacts and opportunities, but the company plans to additional options over time.


By Ron Miller

Aliro comes out of stealth with $2.7M to ‘democratize’ quantum computing with developer tools

It’s still early days for quantum computing, but we’re nonetheless seeing an interesting group of startups emerging that are helping the world take advantage of the new technology now. Aliro Technologies, a Harvard startup that has built a platform for developers to code more easily for quantum environments — “write once, run anywhere” is one of the startup’s mottos — is today coming out of stealth and announcing its first funding of $2.7 million to get it off the ground.

The seed round is being led Flybridge Capital Partners, with participation also from Crosslink Ventures and Samsung NEXT’s Q Fund, a fund the corporate investor launched last year dedicated specifically to emerging areas like quantum computing and AI.

Aliro is wading into the market at a key moment in the development of quantum computing.

While vendors continue to build new quantum hardware to be able to tackle the kinds of complex calculations that cannot be handled by current binary-based machines, for example around medicine discovery, or multi-variabled forecasting — just today IBM announced plans for a 53-qubit device — even so, it’s widely acknowledged that the computers that have been built so far face a number of critical problems that will hamper wide adoption.

The interesting development of recent times is the emergence of startups that are tackling these specific critical problems, dovetailing that progress with that of building the hardware itself. Take the fact that quantum machines so far have been too prone to error when used for extended amounts of time: last week, I wrote about a startup called Q-CTRL that has built firmware that sits on top of the machines to identify when errors are creeping in and provide fixes to stave off crashes.

The specific area that Aliro is addressing is the fact that quantum hardware is still very fragmented: each machine has its own proprietary language and operating techniques and sometimes even purpose for which it’s been optimised. It’s a landscape that is challenging for specialists to engage in, let alone the wider world of developers.

“We’re at the early stage of the hardware, where quantum computers have no standardisation, even those based on same technology have different qubits (the basic building block of quantum activity) and connectivity. It’s like digital computing in 1940s,” said CEO and chairman Jim Ricotta. (The company is co-founded by Harvard computational materials science professor Prineha Narang along with Michael Cubeddu and Will Finegan, who are actually still undergraduate students at the university.)

“Because it’s a different style of computing, software developers are not used to quantum circuits,” and engaging with them is “not the same as using procedural languages. There is a steep on-ramp from high-performance classical computing to quantum computing.”

While Aliro is coming out of stealth, it appears that the company is not being specific with details about how its platform actually works. But the basic idea is that Aliro’s platform will essentially be an engine that will let developers work in the languages that they know, and identify problems that they would like to solve; it will then assess the code and provide a channel for how to optimise that code and put it into quantum-ready language, and suggest the best machine to process the task.

The development points to an interesting way that we may well see quantum computing develop, at least in its early stages. Today, we have a handful of companies building and working on quantum computers, but there is still a question mark over whether these kinds of machines will ever be widely deployed, or if — like cloud computing — they will exist among a smaller amount of providers who will provide access to them on-demand, SaaS-style. Such a model would seem to fit with how much computing is sold today in the form of instances, and would open the door to large cloud names like Amazon, Google and Microsoft playing a big role in how this would be disseminated.

Such questions are still theoretical, of course, given some of the underlying problems that have yet to be fixed, but the march of progress seems inevitable, with forecasts predicting that quantum computing is likely to be a $2.2 billion industry by 2025, and if this is a route that is taken, the middlemen like Aliro could play an important role.

“I have been working with the Aliro team for the past year and could not be more excited about the opportunity to help them build a foundational company in Quantum Computing software, “ said David Aronoff, General Partner at Flybridge, in a statement. “Their innovative approach and unique combination of leading Quantum researchers and a world-class proven executive team, make Aliro a formidable player in this exciting new sector.

“At Samsung NEXT we are focused on what the world will look like in the future, helping to make that a reality,” said Ajay Singh, Samsung NEXT’s Q Fund, in a statement. “We were drawn to Prineha and her team by their impressive backgrounds and extent of research into quantum computing. We believe that Aliro’s unique software products will revolutionize the entire category, by speeding up the inflection point where quantum becomes as accessible as classical computing. This could have implications on anything from drug discovery, materials development or chemistry. Aliro’s ability to map quantum circuits to heterogeneous hardware in an efficient way will be truly transformative and we’re thrilled to be on this journey with them.”


By Ingrid Lunden

Salesforce is developing an app to help build a sustainable company

Salesforce has always tried to be a socially responsible company, encouraging employees to work in the community, giving 1% of its profits to different causes and building and productizing the 1-1-1 philanthropic model. The company now wants to help other organizations be more sustainable to reduce their carbon footprint, and today it announced it is working on a product to help.

Patrick Flynn, VP of sustainability at Salesforce, says that it sees sustainability as a key issue, and one that requires action right now. The question was how Salesforce could help. As a highly successful software company, it decided to put that particular set of skills to work on the problem.

“We’ve been thinking about how can Salesforce really take action in the face of climate change. Climate change is the biggest, most important and most complex challenge humans have ever faced, and we know right now, every individual, every company needs to step forward and do everything it can,” Flynn told TechCrunch.

And to that end, the company is developing the Salesforce Sustainability Cloud, to help track a company’s sustainability efforts. The tool should look familiar to Salesforce customers, but instead of tracking customers or sales, this tool tracks carbon emissions, renewable energy usage and how well a company is meeting its sustainability goals.

Dashboards

Image: Salesforce

The tool works with internal data and third-party data as needed, and is subject to both an internal audit by the Sustainability team and third-party organizations to be sure that Salesforce (and Sustainability Cloud customers) are meeting their goals.

Salesforce has been using this product internally to measure its own sustainability efforts, which Flynn leads. “We use the product to measure our footprint across all sorts of different aspects of our operations from data centers, public cloud, real estate — and we work with third-party providers everywhere we can to have them make their operations cleaner, and more powered by renewable energy and less carbon intensive,” he said. When there is carbon generated, the company uses carbon offsets to finance sustainability projects such as clean cookstoves or helping preserve the Amazon rainforest.

Flynn says increasingly the investor community is looking for proof that companies are building a real, verifiable sustainability program, and the Sustainability Cloud, is an effort to provide that information both for Salesforce and for other companies who are in a similar position.

The product is in Beta now and is expected to be ready next year. Flynn could not say how much they plan to charge for this service yet, but he said the goal of the product is positive social impact.


By Ron Miller

Boston-based DataRobot raises $206M Series E to bring AI to enterprise

Artificial intelligence is playing an increasingly large role in enterprise software, and Boston’s DataRobot has been helping companies build, manage and deploy machine learning models for some time now. Today, the company announced a $206 million Series E investment led by Sapphire Ventures.

Other participants in this round included new investors Tiger Global Management, World Innovation Lab, Alliance Bernstein PCI, and EDBI along with existing investors DFJ Growth, Geodesic Capital, Intel Capital, Sands Capital, NEA and Meritech.

Today’s investment brings the total raised to $431 million, according to the company. It has a pre-money valuation of $1 billion, according to PitchBook. DataRobot would not confirm this number.

The company has been catching the attention of these investors by offering a machine learning platform aimed at analysts, developers and data scientists to help build predictive models much more quickly than it typically takes using traditional methodologies. Once built, the company provides a way to deliver the model in the form of an API, simplifying deployment.

The late-stage startup plans to use the money to continue building out its product line, while looking for acquisition opportunities where it makes sense. The company also announced the availability of a new product today, DataRobot MLOps, a tool to manage, monitor and deploy machine learning models across a large organization.

The company, which was founded in 2012, claims it has had triple-digit recurring revenue growth dating back to 2015, as well as one billion models built on the platform to-date. Customers contributing to that number include a broad range of companies such as Humana, United Airlines, Harvard Business School and Deloitte.


By Ron Miller

IEX’s Katsuyama is no flash in the pan

When you watch a commercial for one of the major stock exchanges, you are welcomed into a world of fast-moving, slick images full of glistening buildings, lush crops and happy people. They are typically interspersed with shots of intrepid executives veering out over the horizon as if to say, “I’ve got a long-term vision, and the exchange where my stock is listed is a valuable partner in achieving my goals.” It’s all very reassuring and stylish. But there’s another side to the story.

I have been educated about the realities of today’s stock exchange universe through recent visits with Brad Katsuyama, co-founder and CEO of IEX (a.k.a. The Investors Exchange). If Katsuyama’s name rings a bell, and you don’t work on Wall Street, it’s likely because you remember him as the protagonist of Michael Lewis’s 2014 best-seller, Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, which explored high-frequency trading (HFT) and made the case that the stock market was rigged, really badly.

Five years later, some of the worst practices Lewis highlighted are things of the past, and there are several attributes of the American equity markets that are widely admired around the world. In many ways, though, the realities of stock trading have gotten more unseemly, thanks to sophisticated trading technologies (e.g., microwave radio transmissions that can carry information at almost the speed of light), and pitched battles among the exchanges, investors and regulators over issues including the rebates stock exchanges pay to attract investors’ orders and the price of market data charged by the exchanges.

I don’t claim to be an expert on the inner workings of the stock market, but I do know this: Likening the life cycle of a trade to sausage-making is an insult to kielbasa. More than ever, trading is an arcane, highly technical and bewildering part of our broader economic infrastructure, which is just the way many industry participants like it: Nothing to see here, folks.

Meanwhile, Katsuyama, company president Ronan Ryan and the IEX team have turned IEX into the eighth largest stock exchange company, globally, by notional value traded, and have transformed the concept of a “speed bump” into a mainstream exchange feature.

Brad Aug 12

Brad Katsuyama. Image via IEX Trading

Despite these and other accomplishments, IEX finds itself in the middle of a vicious battle with powerful incumbents that seem increasingly emboldened to use their muscle in Washington, D.C. What’s more, new entrants, such as The Long-Term Stock Exchange and Members Exchange, are gearing up to enter the fray in US equities, while global exchanges such as the Hong Kong Stock Exchange seek to bulk up by making audacious moves like attempting to acquire the venerable London Stock Exchange.

But when you sell such distinct advantages to one group that really can only benefit from that, it leads to the question of why anyone would want to trade on that market. It’s like walking into a playing field where you know that the deck is stacked against you.

As my discussion with Katsuyama reveals, IEX may have taken some punches in carving out a position for itself in this high-stakes war characterized by cutting-edge technology and size. However, the IEX team remains girded for battle and confident that it can continue to make headway in offering a fair and transparent option for market participants over the long term.

Gregg Schoenberg: Given Flash Boys and the attention it generated for you on Main Street, I’d like to establish something upfront. Does IEX exist for the asset manager, the individual, or both?

Brad Katsuyama: We exist primarily for the asset manager, and helping them helps the individual. We’re one step removed from the individual, and part of that is due to regulation. Only brokers can connect to exchanges, and the asset manager connects to the broker.

Schoenberg: To put a finer point on it, you believe in fairness and being the good guy. But you are not Robinhood. You are a capitalist.

Katsuyama: Yes, but we want to make money fairly. Actually, we thought initially about starting the business as a nonprofit, But once we laid out all the people we would need to convince to work for us, we realized it would’ve been hard for us to attract the skill sets needed as a nonprofit.

Schoenberg: Do you believe that the US equity market today primarily serves investors or traders?


By Gregg Schoenberg

GitLab hauls in $268M Series E on 2.768B valuation

GitLab is a company that doesn’t pull any punches or try to be coy. It actually has had a page on its website for sometime stating it intends to go public on November 18, 2020. You don’t see that level of transparency from late-stage startups all that often. Today, the company announced a huge $268 million Series E on a tidy $2.768 billion valuation.

Investors included Adage Capital Management, L.P, Alkeon Capital, Altimeter Capital, Blackrock, Inc., Capital Group, Coatue Management, D1 Capital Partners, Franklin Templeton, Light Street Capital, Tiger Management Corp and Two Sigma Investments LP.

The company seems to be primed and ready for that eventual IPO. Last year, GitLab co-founder and CEO Sid Sijbrandij says that his CFO Paul Machle told him he wanted to begin planning to go public, and he would need two years in advance to prepare the company. As Sijbrandij tells it, he told him to pick a date.

“He said, I’ll pick the 16th of November because that’s the birthday of my twins. It’s also the last week before Thanksgiving, and after Thanksgiving, the stock market is less active, so that’s a good time to go out,” Sijbrandij told TechCrunch.

He said that he considered it a done deal and put the date on the GitLab Strategy page, a page that outlines the company’s plans for everything it intends to do. It turned out that he was a bit too quick on the draw. Machle had checked the date in the interim and realized that it was a Monday, which is not traditionally a great day to go out, so they decided to do it two days later. Now the target date is officially November 18, 2020.

Screenshot 2019 09 17 08.35.33 2

GitLab has the date it’s planning to go public listed on its Strategy page.

As for that $268 million, it gives the company considerable runway ahead of that planned event, but Sijbrandij says it also gives him flexibility in how to take the company public. “One other consideration is that there are two options to go public. You can do an IPO or direct listing. We wanted to preserve the optionality of doing a direct listing next year. So if we do a direct listing, we’re not going to raise any additional money, and we wanted to make sure that this is this is enough in that case,” he explained.

Sijbrandij says that the company made a deliberate decision to be transparent early on. Being based on an open source project, it’s sometimes tricky to make that transition to commercial company, and sometimes that has a negative impact on the community and the number of contributions. Transparency was a way to combat that, and it seems to be working.

He reports that the community contributes 200 improvements to the GitLab open source product every month, and that’s double the amount of just a year ago, so the community is still highly active in spite of the parent company’s commercial success.

It did not escape his notice that Microsoft acquired GitHub last year for $7.5 billion. It’s worth noting that GitLab is a similar kind of kind of company that helps developers manage and distribute code in a DevOps environment. He claims in spite of that eye-popping number, his goal is to remain an independent company and take this through to the next phase.

“Our ambition is to stay an independent company. And that’s why we put out the ambition early to become a listed company. That’s not totally in our control as the majority of the company is owned by investors, but as long as we’re more positive about the future than the people around us, I think we can we have a shot at not getting acquired,” he said.

The company was founded in 2014 and was a member of Y Combinator in 2015. It has been on a steady growth trajectory ever since. hauling in over $436 million. The last round before today’s announcement was a $100 million Series D last September.


By Ron Miller

LinkedIn launches skills assessments, tests that let you beef up your credentials for job hunting

LinkedIn, the social networking service for the working world, is today taking the wraps off its latest effort to provide its users with better tools for presenting their professional selves, and to make the process of recruitment on the platform more effective. It will now offer a new feature called Skills Assessments: short, multiple-choice tests that users can take to verify their knowledge in areas like computer languages, software packages and other work-related skills.

The feature is being rolled out globally today but in a small test mode, LinkedIn says that 2 million tests have already been taken and applied across the platform, a sign of how it might well be a very popular, and needed, feature. First up are English-language tests covering some 75 different skills, all free to take, but the plan, according to Emrecan Dogan, the group product manager in its talent solutions division, is to “ramp that up agressively” in the near future, both adding in different languages and more test areas.

(Important sidenote: Dogan joined LinkedIn when his company ScoreBeyond was quietly acquired by LinkedIn last year. ScoreBeyond was an online testing service to help students prep for college entrance exams. Given LinkedIn’s efforts to get closer to younger users — again, in part because of competitive pressure — I suspect that is one area where LinkedIn will likely want to expand this assessment tool longer term, if it takes off.)

The skills assessment tool is coming at an important moment for LinkedIn.

The Microsoft-owned company now has nearly 650 million people around the world using its social networking tools to connect with each other for professional purposes, most often to network, talk about work, or find work.

That makes for a fascinating and lucrative economy of scale when it comes to rolling out its products. But it comes with a major drawback, too: the bigger the platform gets, the harder it is to track and verify details about each and every individual on it. The skills assessment becomes one way of at least being able to verify certain people’s skills in specific areas, and for that information to start feeding into other channels and products on the platform.

It’s also a critical competitive move: the company is by far the biggest platform of its kind on the internet today, but smaller rivals are building interesting products to chip away at that lead in specific areas. Triplebyte, for example, has created a platform for those looking to hire engineers, and engineers looking for new roles, to connect by way of the engineers — yes — taking online tests to measure their skills and match them up with compatible job opportunities. Triplebyte is focused on just one field — software engineering — but the template is a disruptive one that, if replicated in other verticals, could slowly start to chip away at LinkedIn’s hegemony.

And testing on actual skills is just one area where verification has fallen short on LinkedIn: another big trend in recruitment is the push for more diverse workforces. The thinking is that traditionally too many of the parameters that have been used up to now to assess people — what college was attended, or where people have worked already — have been essentially cutting many already-disenfranchised groups out of the process. Given that LinkedIn currently has no way of ascertaining when people on its platform are from minority backgrounds, a skills assessment — and especially a good result on one — might potentially help tip the balance in favor of meritrocracy (if not proactive diversity focused hiring as such).

For regular users, the option to take skills assessments and add them to your profile will appear for users as a button in the skills and endorsements area of their profiles. Users take short tests — currently only multiple choice — which Dogan says are created by professionals who are subject area experts that already work with LinkedIn, for example to write content for LinkedIn learning.

These tests measure your knowledge in specific areas, and if you pass, you are given a badge that you can apply to your profile page, and potentially broadcast out to those who are looking for people with the skills you’ve just verified you have. (This is presuming that you are not cheating and having someone else take the test for you, or taking it while looking up answers elsewhere.) You can opt out of sharing the information anywhere else, if you choose.

If you fail, you have three months to wait before taking it again, and in the meantime LinkedIn will use the moment to upsell you on its other content: you get offered LinkedIn Learning tests to improve your skills.

For those who pass, they will need to retake tests every year to keep their badges and credentials.

On the side of recruiters, they are able to use the data that gets amassed through the tests as a way of better filtering out users when sourcing candidate pools for job openings. This is a huge issue on a platform like LinkedIn: while having a large group of people on there is a boost for finding matches, in fact there can be too many, and too much of a challenge and time suck to figure out who is genuinely suitable for a particular role.

There is another angle where the skills are being used to help LinkedIn monetise: those who are putting in ads for jobs can now buy ads that are targeted specifically to people with certain skills that have been verified through assessments.

There are still some shortfalls in the skills assessment tool as it exists now. For example, coding tests are all multiple choice, but that’s not how many coding environments work these days. (Triplebyte for example offers collaborative assessments.) And of course, skills is just one aspect of how people might fit into a particular working environment. (Currently there are no plans to bring in psychometric or similar assessments, Dogan said.) This is an interesting start, however, and worth testing the waters as more interesting variations in recruitment and connecting professionals online continue to proliferate.

 


By Ingrid Lunden

Data storage company Cloudian launches a new edge analytics subsidiary called Edgematrix

Cloudian, a company that enables businesses to store and manage massive amounts of data, announced today the launch of Edgematrix, a new unit focused on edge analytics for large data sets. Edgematrix, a majority-owned subsidiary of Cloudian, will first be available in Japan, where both companies are based. It has raised a $9 million Series A from strategic investors NTT Docomo, Shimizu Corporation and Japan Post Capital, as well as Cloudian co-founder and CEO Michael Tso and board director Jonathan Epstein. The funding will be used on product development, deployment and sales and marketing.

Cloudian itself has raised a total of $174 million, including a $94 million Series E round announced last year. Its products include the Hyperstore platform, which allows businesses to store hundreds of petrabytes of data on premise, and software for data analytics and machine learning. Edgematrix uses Hyperstore for storing large-scale data sets and its own AI software and hardware for data processing at the “edge” of networks, closer to where data is collected from IoT devices like sensors.

The company’s solutions were created for situations where real-time analytics is necessary. For example, it can be used to detect the make, model and year of cars on highways so targeted billboard ads can be displayed to their drivers.

Tso told TechCrunch in an email that Edgematrix was launched after Cloudian co-founder and president Hiroshi Ohta and a team spent two years working on technology to help Cloudian customers process and analyze their data more efficiently.

“With more and more data being created at the edge, including IoT data, there’s a growing need for being able to apply real-time data analysis and decision-making at or near the edge, minimizing the transmission costs and latencies involved in moving the data elsewhere,” said Tso. “Based on the initial success of a small Cloudian team developing AI software solutions and attracting a number of top-tier customers, we decided that the best way to build on this success was establishing a subsidiary with strategic investors.”

Edgematrix is launching in Japan first because spending on AI systems there is expected to grow faster than in any other market, at a compound annual growth rate of 45.3% from 2018 to 2023, according to IDC.

“Japan has been ahead of the curve as an early adopter of AI technology, with both the governmetn and private sector viewing it as essential to boosting productivity,” said Tso. “Edgematrix will focus on the Japanese market for at least the next year, and assuming that all goes well, it would then expand to North America and Europe.”


By Catherine Shu

Ten years after Adobe bought Omniture, the deal comes into clearer focus

Ten years ago this week, Adobe acquired Omniture for $1.8 billion. At the time, Adobe was a software company selling boxed software like Dreamweaver, Flash and Photoshop to creatives. Many people were baffled by the move, not realizing that purchasing a web analytics company was really the first volley in a full company transformation to the cloud and a shift in focus from consumer to enterprise.

It would take many years for the full vision to unfold, so you can forgive people for not recognizing the implications of the acquisition at the time, but CEO Shantanu Narayen seemed to give an inkling of what he had in mind. “This is a game-changer for both Adobe and our customers. We will enable advertisers, media companies and e-tailers to realize the full value of their digital assets,” he said in a statement after the acquisition became public.

While most people thought that perhaps this move involved some sort of link between design and data, it would turn out to be more complex than that. Tony Byrne, founder and principal analyst at Real Story Group, tried to figure out the thinking behind the deal in an EContent column published a couple of months after it was announced.

“Going forward, I think the real action will continue to revolve around integrating management and metrics, less so than integrating design and metrics. And that’s why I also think that Adobe isn’t done acquiring yet,” It was pure speculation on Byrne’s part, but it proved prescient.

There’s something happening here


By Ron Miller

Daily Crunch: Salesforce launches vertical clouds

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Salesforce doubles down on verticals, launches Manufacturing and Consumer Goods Clouds

Salesforce unveiled two new business units today as part of its strategy to build specialized solutions for specific industries.

For example, with its Manufacturing Cloud, Salesforce says it has built a way for sales agreements to link up with a company’s ERP and forecasting software, allowing for improved demand prediction.

2. Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S6 combines creative flexibility with great design

Darrell Etherington says the new Galaxy Tab S6 (with pricing starting at $649.99) expands the definition of what a tablet can be.

3. Facebook rolls out new video tools, plus Instagram and IGTV scheduling feature

The highlights include better ways to prep for and simulcast live broadcasts, ways to take better advantage of Watch Party events, new metrics to track video performance and a much-anticipated option to schedule Instagram/IGTV content for up to six months in advance.

4. Hear how to build a billion-dollar SaaS company at TechCrunch Disrupt

This year we’ll welcome three people to the Extra Crunch stage who know first-hand what it takes to join the billion-dollar club: Battery Ventures partner Neeraj Agrawal, HelloSign COO Whitney Bouck and Harness CEO Jyoti Bansal.

image001 1

5. Beekeeper raises $45M Series B to become the ‘Slack for non-desk employees’

Beekeeper has built a mobile-first communications platform for employers who need to communicate with blue-collar and service-oriented workers.

6. How to get people to open your emails

We tackle the obvious stuff that can help with low open rates, as well as bigger challenges: Let’s say 60% of your audience opens your email — how can you get the remaining 40% to open and read it too? (Extra Crunch membership required.)

7. This week’s TechCrunch podcasts

The Equity team has some thoughts on the latest WeWork drama, and how it shows that valuations are essentially meaningless. And on Original Content, we review the Netflix documentary series “The Family.”


By Anthony Ha

Walt Disney Studios partners with Microsoft Azure on cloud innovation lab

Seems like everything is going to the cloud these days, so why should moving-making be left out? Today, Walt Disney Studios announced a five-year partnership with Microsoft around an innovation lab to find ways to shift content production to the Azure cloud.

The project involves the Walt Disney StudioLab, an innovation work space where Disney personnel can experiment with moving different workflows to the cloud. The movie production software company, Avid is also involved.

The hope is that by working together, the three parties can come up with creative, cloud-based workflows that can accelerate the innovation cycle at the prestigious movie maker. Every big company is looking for ways to innovate, regardless of their core business, and Disney is no different.

As movie making involves ever greater amounts of computing resources, the cloud is a perfect model for it, allowing them to scale up and down resources as needed, whether rendering scenes or adding special effects. As Disney’s CTO Jamie Voris sees it, this could make these processes more efficient, which could help lower cost and time to production.

“Through this innovation partnership with Microsoft, we’re able to streamline many of our processes so our talented filmmakers can focus on what they do best,” Voris said in a statement. It’s the same kind of cloud value proposition that many large organizations are seeking. They want to speed time to market, while letting technology handle some of the more mundane tasks.

The partnership builds on an existing one that Microsoft already had with Avid where the two companies have been working together to build cloud-based workflows for the film industry using Avid software solutions on Azure. Disney will add its unique requirements to the mix, and over the five years of the partnership, hopes to streamline some of its workflows in a more modern cloud context.


By Ron Miller

FOSSA scores $8.5 million Series A to help enterprise manage open source licenses

As more enterprise developers make use of open source, it becomes increasingly important for companies to make sure that they are complying with licensing requirements. They also need to ensure the open sources bits are being updated over time for security purposes. That’s where FOSSA comes in, and today the company announced an $8.5 million Series A.

The round was led by Bain Capital Ventures with help from Costanoa Ventures and Norwest Venture Partners. Today’s round brings the total raised to $11 million, according to the company.

Company founder and CEO Kevin Wang says that over the last 18 months, the startup has concentrated on building tools to help enterprises comply with their growing use of open source in a safe and legal way. He says that overall this increasing use of open source great news for developers, and for these bigger companies in general. While it enables them to take advantage of all the innovation going on in the open source community, they need to make sure they are in compliance.

“The enterprise is really early on this journey, and that’s where we come in. We provide a platform to help the enterprise manage open source usage at scale,” Wang explained. That involves three main pieces. First it tracks all of the open source and third-party code being used inside a company. Next, it enforces licensing and security policy, and finally, it has a reporting component. “We automate the mass reporting and compliance for all of the housekeeping that comes from using open source at scale,” he said.

The enterprise focus is relatively new for the company. It originally launched in 2017 as a tool for developers to track individual use of open source inside their programs. Wang saw a huge opportunity inside the enterprise to apply this same kind of capability inside larger organizations, who were hungry for tools to help them comply with the myriad open source licenses out there.

“We found that there was no tooling out there that can manage the scale and breadth across all the different enterprise use cases and all the really complex mission-critical code bases,” he said. What’s more, he found that where there were existing tools, they were vastly underutilized or didn’t provide broad enough coverage.

The company announced a $2.2 million seed round in 2017, and since then has grown from 10 to 40 employees. With today’s funding, that should increase as the company is expanding quickly. Wang reports that the startup has been tripling its revenue numbers and customer accounts year over year. The new money should help accelerate that growth and expand the product and markets it can sell into.


By Ron Miller

Salesforce doubles down on verticals, launches Manufacturing and Consumer Goods Clouds

As legacy industries make the migration to cloud-based, digital solutions to run and grow their businesses, Salesforce is hoping that it will get a cut of the action when it comes to their IT investments. The CRM giant has been doubling down on building specialised solutions for individual industry verticals, and today, it is unveiling new business units dedicated to not one but two of them, manufacturing and consumer goods.

The Manufacturing Cloud and Consumer Goods Cloud, as the two new products are called, are the latest in a list of other vertical-specific products that the company has created. Other verticals targeted to date include finance, healthcare, media, non-profits, and retail.

The idea behind Salesforce’s strategy to build industry-specific solutions is that while the CRM and sales processes that go into manufacturing and consumer goods do have some aspects in common with other industries, both also have relatively specific requirements, too, around how sales are agreed and clients are managed.

In the case of manufacturing and consumer goods, both are capital-intensive businesses where those working on the physical products might be very removed from those working on sales (not just in terms of job functions, but in terms of the software that’s used to manage each operation), or those who are in the field who are helping to distribute those goods to the people ultimately selling them.

“In the manufacturing industry, changing customer and market demands can have a devastating effect on the bottom line, so being able to understand what is happening on the ground is imperative for success,” said Cindy Bolt, SVP and GM, Salesforce Manufacturing, in a statement. “Manufacturing Cloud bridges the gap between sales and operations teams while ensuring more predictive and transparent business, so they can build deeper and more trusted relationships with their customers.”

In both the cases of manufacturing and consumer goods, Salesforce is not creating these services out of thin air: the company had already been touting solutions for both sectors as part of its bigger push into specific industries. Past acquisitions of companies like Steelbrick — a specialist in quote-to-cash solutions, a cornerstone of how manufacturing sales are made — are likely to have also played a contributing role in how the new clouds were built.

With the Manufacturing Cloud, Salesforce says that it has included a feature for sales agreements that link up with a company’s ERP and forecasting software to be able to better predict demand from individual customers as well as the wider market. The services are also coming with more analytical insights by way of Einstein Analytics, and more functionality to work with channel partners. Third parties working with Salesforce on joint solutions using Marketing Cloud include Acumen Solutions, Deloitte and Rootstock.

The Consumer Goods Cloud has some parallel with the Manufacturing Cloud, in that both are targeting businesses that are by their nature and by legacy very rooted in physical goods and are therefore not easily “disrupted” by digital innovation. Indeed, despite all that we hear about the might of Amazon and e-commerce, a full 95% of products are still sold in physical stores. That system has a lot of drawbacks, not least of them being challenges with consumer goods brands having accurate control over how products are distributed and ultimately sold.

“Retail execution remains one of the most important pieces of a consumer goods brands strategy, but so much opportunity is wasted if the field rep doesn’t have the data and technology needed to make smart decisions,” said John Strain, GM and SVP, Retail and Consumer Goods at Salesforce, in a statement. “Consumer Goods Cloud provides these field reps with the tools they need to be successful on the ground while helping build both business opportunities and stronger relationships with their retail partners.”

The company, citing research from PwC, claims that of the $200 billion that’s spent in the US by consumer goods companies each year on merchandising, marketing and sales efforts for in-store sales, some $100 billion of that spend is never used in the way it was originally intended. (That’s one reason so many consumer goods companies have jumped into social media: it’s a way of connecting better and more directly at least with the customers.)

That represents a huge area to tackle for a company likes Salesforce, and the Consumer Goods Cloud is the start of that effort. The product covers software that addresses areas optimising visits to stores, improving relationships with retailers, using Einstein insights for analytics, and ordering software. Partners in the effort include Accenture and PwC.

Another important thing to note here is that Salesforce’s move into the area comes as a competitive strike: Not only are there companies out there that have built products specifically for these markets — Sysco for consumer goods, and Atlatl Software for manufacturing, for example — but Salesforce has to contend with general rivals such as Microsoft and SAP also targeting the same potential customers.

As of last quarter, Sales Cloud now accounts for more than one-quarter of Salesforce’s revenues, but today’s news underscores how “sales” is becoming a more complex and nuanced topic for the company as its business continues to grow, and as cloud-based digital processes become ever more ubiquitous across all sectors beyond simply knowledge workers. As salesforce builds out more solutions to meet every kind of enterprise’s needs, it’s likely there will be more vertical-specific tools making their way to the platform.


By Ingrid Lunden

Hear how to build a billion-dollar SaaS company at TechCrunch Disrupt

There was a time when brick-and-mortar mom and pops framed their first $1 on the wall, but in the SaaS startup the equivalent milestone is $1 billion revenue run-rate.

Salesforce is the SaaS revenue king reporting $4 billion in revenue for its most recent quarterly report, and there are many other relatively new SaaS companies, such as WorkDay, ServiceNow and Atlassian, that have broken the $1 billion barrier.

This year at TechCrunch Disrupt (tickets here!), we welcome three people to the Extra Crunch stage who know first hand what it takes to join the billion dollar club.

Neeraj Agrawal, a partner at Battery Ventures and seasoned enterprise investor, presented his growth thesis in a widely read article for TechCrunch where he outlined the key milestones for a SaaS company to reach a billion dollars.

Whitney Bouck is COO at HelloSign, a startup that was sold to Dropbox in 2018 for $230 million. Bouck was also an executive at Box, guiding their enterprise business from 2011-2015. Prior to that she was at Documentum, which exited in 2003 to EMC for $1.7 billion.

Jyoti Bansal is currently co-founder & CEO of Harness. Previously, he was founder & CEO of AppDynamics, which Cisco acquired in 2017 for $3.7 billion. Bansal is also an investor as co-founder of venture capital firm Unusual Ventures.

The goal of this panel is to help you understand the tools and strategies that go into ramping to a billion in revenue and beyond. It requires a rare combination of good idea, product-market fit, culture and commitment. It also requires figuring out how to evolve the core idea and recover from inevitable mistakes — all while selling investors on your vision.

We’re amped for this conversation, and we can’t wait to see you there! Buy tickets to Disrupt SF here at an early-bird rate!

Did you know Extra Crunch annual members get 20% off all TechCrunch event tickets? Head over here to get your annual pass, and then email [email protected] to get your 20% discount. Please note that it can take up to 24 hours to issue the discount code.



By Ron Miller

Ten questions for 2020 presidential candidate John Delaney

In November 2020, America will go to the polls to vote in perhaps the most consequential election in a generation. The winner will lead the country amid great social, economic and ecological unrest. The 2020 election will be a referendum on both the current White House and the direction of the country at large.

Nearly 20 years into the young century, technology has become a pervasive element in all of our lives, and will continue to only grow more important. Whoever takes the oath of office in January 2021 will have to answer some difficult questions, raging from an impending climate disaster to concerns about job loss at the hands of robotics and automation.

Many of these questions are overlooked in day to day coverage of candidates and during debates. In order to better address the issues, TechCrunch staff has compiled a 10-part questionnaire across a wide range of tech-centric topics. The questions have been sent to national candidates, regardless of party. We will be publishing the answers as we receive them. Candidates are not required to answer all 10 in order for us to publish, but we will be noting which answers have been left blank.

First up is former Congressman John Delaney. Prior to being elected to Maryland’s 6th Congressional District, Delaney co-founded and led healthcare loan service Health Care Financial Partners (HCFP) and  commercial lender CapitalSource. He was elected to Congress in 2013, beating out a 10-term Republican incumbent. Rumored to be running against Maryland governor Larry Hogan for a 2018 bid, Delaney instead announced plans to run for president in 2020.

1. Which initiatives will you prioritize to limit humankind’s impact on climate and avoid potential climate catastrophe?

My $4 trillion Climate Plan will enable us to reach the goal of net zero emissions by 2050, which the IPCC says is the necessary target to avoid the worst effects of climate change. The centerpiece of my plan is a carbon-fee-and-dividend that will put a price on carbon emissions and return the money to the American people through a dividend. My plan also includes increased federal funding for renewable energy research, advanced nuclear technologies, direct air capture, a new Climate Corps program, and the construction of the Carbon Throughway, which would transport captured carbon from all over the country to the Permian Basin for reuse and permanent sequestration.

2. What is your plan to increase black and Latinx startup founders’ access to funding?

As a former entrepreneur who started two companies that went on to be publicly traded, I am a firm believer in the importance of entrepreneurship. To ensure people from all backgrounds have the support they need to start a new business, I will create nonprofit banks to serve economically distressed communities, launch a new SBIC program to help provide access to capital to minority entrepreneurs, and create a grant program to fund business incubators and accelerators at HBCUs. Additionally, I pledge to appoint an Entrepreneurship Czar who will be responsible for promoting entrepreneurship-friendly policies at all levels of government and encouraging entrepreneurship in rural and urban communities that have been left behind by venture capital investment.

3. Why do you think low-income students are underrepresented in STEM fields and how do you think the government can help fix that problem?

I think a major part of the problem is that schools serving low-income communities don’t have the resources they need to provide a quality STEM education to every student. To fix that, I have an education plan that will increase investment in STEM education and use Title I funding to eliminate the $23 billion annual funding gap between predominantly white and predominantly black school districts. To encourage students to continue their education after they graduate from high school and ensure every student learns the skills they need, my plan also provides two years of free in-state tuition and fees at a public university, community college, or technical school to everyone who completes one year of my mandatory national service program.

4. Do you plan on backing and rolling out paper-only ballots or paper-verified election machines? With many stakeholders in the private sector and the government, how do you aim to coordinate and achieve that?

Making sure that our elections are secure is vital, and I think using voting machines that create a voter-verified paper record could improve security and increase voters’ confidence in the integrity of our elections. To address other facets of the election security issue, I have proposed creating a Department of Cybersecurity to help protect our election systems, and while in Congress I introduced election security legislation to ensure that election vendors are solely owned and controlled by American citizens.

5. What, if any, federal regulation should be enacted for autonomous vehicles?

I was proud to be the founder of the Congressional Artificial Intelligence Caucus, a bipartisan group of lawmakers dedicated to understanding the impacts of advances in AI technology and educating other legislators so they have the knowledge they need to enact policies that ensure these innovations benefit Americans. We need to use the legislative process to have a real conversation involving experts and other stakeholders in order to develop a comprehensive set of regulations regarding autonomous vehicles, which should include standards that address data collection practices and other privacy issues as well as more fundamental questions about public safety.

6. How do you plan to achieve and maintain U.S. superiority in space, both in government programs and private industry?

Space exploration is tremendously important to me as a former Congressman from Maryland, the home of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, major space research centers at the University of Maryland, and many companies that develop crucial aerospace technologies. As president, I will support the NASA budget and will continue to encourage innovation in the private sector.

7. Increased capital in startups founded by American entrepreneurs is a net positive, but should the U.S. allow its businesses to be part-owned by foreign governments, particularly the government of Saudi Arabia?

I am concerned that joint ventures between U.S. businesses and foreign governments, including state-owned enterprises, could facilitate the theft of intellectual property, potentially allowing foreign governments to benefit from taxpayer-funded research. We need to put in place greater protections that defend American innovation from theft.

8. Will U.S.-China technology decoupling harm or benefit U.S. innovation and why?

In general, I am in favor of international technology cooperation but in the case of China, it engages in predatory economic behavior and disregards international rules. Intellectual property theft has become a big problem for American businesses as China allows its companies to steal IP through joint ventures. In theory, U.S.-China collaboration could advance technology and innovation but without proper IP and economic protections, U.S.-China joint ventures and partnerships can be detrimental to the U.S.

9. How large a threat does automation represent to American jobs? Do you have a plan to help train low-skilled workers and otherwise offset job loss?

Automation could lead to the disruption of up to 54 million American jobs if we aren’t prepared and we don’t have the right policies. To help American workers transition to the high-tech, high-skill future economy, I am calling for a national AI strategy that will support public/private AI partnerships, develop a social contract with the communities that are negatively impacted by technology and globalization, and create updated education and job training programs that will help students and those currently in the workforce learn the skills they need.

To help provide jobs to displaced workers and drive economic growth in communities that suffer negative effects from automation, I have proposed a $2 trillion infrastructure plan that would create an infrastructure bank to facilitate state and local government investment, increase the Highway Trust Fund, create a Climate Infrastructure Fund, and create five new matching funds to support water infrastructure, school infrastructure, deferred maintenance projects, rural broadband, and infrastructure projects in disadvantaged communities in urban and rural areas. In addition, my proposed national service program will create new opportunities that allow young adults to learn new skills and gain valuable work experience. For example, my proposal includes a new national infrastructure apprenticeship program that will award a professional certificate proving mastery of particular skill sets for those who complete the program.

10. What steps will you take to restore net neutrality and assure internet users that their traffic and data are safe from manipulation by broadband providers?

I support the Save Net Neutrality Act to restore net neutrality, and I will appoint FCC commissioners who are committed to maintaining a fair and open internet. Additionally, I would work with Congress to update our digital privacy laws and regulations to protect consumers, especially children, from their data being collected without consent.


By Brian Heater