Ceros launches MarkUp, a design collaboration tool for live websites

When designers need to collaborate with other teams, they can currently turn to products like InVision and Zeplin. But Ceros creative director Jack Dixon said there’s a “pretty interesting gap in the market” — once you move beyond prototypes and start working with websites that are either live or in staging, the process starts to become fragmented, relying on screenshots and email/phone/Google Docs.

That’s why the company (which focuses on powering interactive content “experiences”) is launching a new product called MarkUp. The product was created by a team led by Greg DiNardo and Alex Bullington, who joined Ceros last August through the acquisition of their polling and market research startup Arbit.

Dixon, DiNardo and Bullington gave me a quick demo, showing off how users can mark areas of interest on a website, leave comments and tasks, then mark revisions as completed.

It all looked pretty simple and straightforward, but DiNardo suggested that it’s a real technical challenge — even more than he and Bullington had expected — to provide those kinds of features on top of a live site.

He added that the product’s simplicity was very much by design: “I don’t think we’re going to add a million features … The goal is honestly simplicity, something that graphic designers can kind of live in.”

Eventually, MarkUp could be used not just to solicit design feedback across teams, but also from the public at-large.

Ceros says MarkUp will function separately from the core Ceros Studio platform, but it will be available for free to Studio customers. In fact, it’s already being used by designers at the Huffington Post, Cushman & Wakefield and Informa.

“As of today we want to remove any friction or barrier to entry, so it’s 100 percent free to Ceros customers,” Dixon said. “Getting the  involvement of the broadest community and user bas is going to be critical for this. What we’re learning is that some of the enterprise clients might pay for bigger, more grown-up features [like white labeling]. We can figure out how to monetize later.”


By Anthony Ha

Activist investor Starboard Value taking three Box board seats as involvement deepens

When activist investors Starboard Value took a 7.5% stake in Box last September, there was reasonable speculation that it would begin to try and push an agenda, as activist investors tend to do. While the firm has been quiet to this point, today Box announced that Starboard was adding three members to the 9 member Box board.

At the same time, two long-time Box investors and allies, Rory O’Driscoll from Scale Venture Partners and Josh Stein from DFJ, will be retiring from the board and not seeking re-election at the annual stockholder’s meeting in June.

O’Driscoll involvement with the company dates back a decade, and Stein has been with the company for 14 years and has been a big supporter from almost the beginning of the company.

For starters, Jack Lazar, whose credentials including being chief financial officer at GoPro and Atheros Communications, is joining the board immediately. A second new board member from a list to be agreed upon by Box and Starboard will also be joining immediately.

Finally, a third member will be selected by the newly constituted board in June, giving Starboard three friendly votes and the ability to push the Box agenda in a significant way.

At the time it announced it was taking a stake in Box, Starboard telegraphed that it could be doing something like this. Here’s what it had to say in its filing at the time:

“Depending on various factors including, without limitation, the Issuer’s financial position and investment strategy, the price levels of the Shares, conditions in the securities markets and general economic and industry conditions, the Reporting Persons may in the future take such actions with respect to their investment in the Issuer as they deem appropriate including, without limitation, engaging in communications with management and the Board of Directors of the Issuer, engaging in discussions with stockholders of the Issuer or other third parties about the Issuer and the [Starboard’s] investment, including potential business combinations or dispositions involving the Issuer or certain of its businesses, making recommendations or proposals to the Issuer concerning changes to the capitalization, ownership structure, board structure (including board composition), potential business combinations or dispositions involving the Issuer or certain of its businesses, or suggestions for improving the Issuer’s financial and/or operational performance, purchasing additional Shares, selling some or all of their Shares, engaging in short selling of or any hedging or similar transaction with respect to the Shares…”

Box CEO Aaron Levie appeared at TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise, the week this news about Starboard broke, and he was careful in how he discussed a possible relationship with the firm. “Well, I think in their statement actually they really just identified that they think there’s upside in the stock. It’s still very early in the conversations and process, but again we’re super collaborative in these types of situations. We want to work with all of our investors, and I think that’ll be the same here,” Levie told us at the time.

Now the company has no choice but to work more collaboratively with Starboard as it takes a much more meaningful role on the company board. What impact this will have in the long run is hard to say, but surely significant changes are likely on the way.


By Ron Miller

Box’s Aaron Levie says it will take creativity and focus to get through this crisis

The COVID-19 virus is touching every aspect of our lives and having a profound impact on individuals, businesses and society at large. Box’s Aaron Levie has built a successful business from dorm room to IPO and beyond. He spoke to TechCrunch today about the level of creativity and focus that it’s going to take to succeed in the current environment.

Levie pointed out that his company was a fledgling startup when the economic downturn hit in 2008, but he thinks this one could have a much greater impact on business than that one did.

“I think Silicon Valley is going to definitely experience this in a very, very significant way. We were building a company in 2008, and that was extremely hard, but I don’t think it is going to compare to how hard the coming year is going to be,” Levie said.

This morning on Twitter, Levie wrote that we are in uncharted territory, and everyone will have to work together to help navigate this crisis.

He believes the government will need to step in to help individuals and businesses alike. “Businesses, who have lots of employees, need to be supported, but fundamentally we need to make sure that we’re focused on all the workers that are out of work, hopefully just temporarily displaced, but we’re going to need a lot of government financial support to get through this,” he said.

For startups, he advised startups to firmly focus on their mission. “It’s about extreme focus right now. It’s about extreme discipline. It’s about making sure that you’re maintaining your culture during this time,” Levie said.

As for his own company, he’s looking a three areas: his employees, his customers and the community. He said his first priority is making sure his employees are safe and healthy and that the hourly workers who support the business normally are being taken care of as we move through this unprecedented situation.

Secondly, he’s making sure that he supports his customers. To that end the company has removed any license limits as customers deal with increased usage with employees working from home.

He has also joined forces with Cloudflare in an effort to provide small businesses with 90 days of free services to help ride out the situation, and he said they would revisit extending these programs if the situation continues.

Thirdly, he says every business who can has to look at ways to support the communities where they live to assist non-profit organizations who are helping in the response. “This is an event where business communities globally are going to have to put more of a concerted effort on this than any issue in modern history,” Levie said.

Levie is not alone in this thinking by any means. He points to other leaders such as Chuck Robbins, Marc Benioff and Tim Cook, all who have stepped up in recent days to offer help and support.

He has built his company from the ground up to one that’s on nearly an $800 million run rate, but like so many business leaders, he is dealing with a situation which, as he said, has no playbook. Like every other CEO, he’s trying to help keep his business thriving, while not losing sight of the needs of the people in his organization, his customers or his community. It’s not an easy balancing act for anyone right now.


By Ron Miller

AWS, IBM launch programs to encourage developers solving COVID-19 problems

As society comes to grips with the growing worldwide crisis related to the COVID-19 virus, many companies are stepping up in different ways. Today, two major tech companies — Amazon and IBM — each announced programs to encourage developers find solutions to a variety of problems related to the pandemic.

For starters, AWS, Amazon’s cloud arm, announced the AWS Diagnostic Development Initiative. It has set aside $20 million, which it will distribute in the form of AWS credits and technical support. The program is designed to assist and encourage teams working on COVID-19 diagnostic issues with the goal of developing better diagnostic tooling.

“In our Amazon Web Services (AWS) business, one area where we have heard an urgent need is in the research and development of diagnostics, which consist of rapid, accurate detection and testing of COVID-19. Better diagnostics will help accelerate treatment and containment, and in time, shorten the course of this epidemic,” Teresa Carlson wrote in the company’s Day One blog today.

The program aims to help customers who are working on building diagnostics solutions to bring products to market more quickly, and also encouraging teams to work together who are working on related problems.

The company also announced, it was forming an advisory group made up of scientists and health policy experts to assist companies involved with initiative.

Meanwhile IBM is refocusing its 2020 Call for Code Global Challenge developer contest on not only solving problem related to global climate change, which was this year’s original charter, but also solving issues around the growing virus crisis by building open source tooling.

“In a very short period of time, COVID-19 has revealed the limits of the systems we take for granted. The 2020 Call for Code Global Challenge will arm you with resources […] to build open source technology solutions that address three main COVID-19 areas: crisis communication during an emergency, ways to improve remote learning, and how to inspire cooperative local communities,” the company wrote in a blog post.

All of these areas are being taxed as more people are forced to stay in-doors as we to try and contain the virus. The company hopes to incentivize developers working on these issues to help solve some of these problems.

During a time of extreme social and economic upheaval when all aspects of society are being affected, businesses, academia and governments need to work together to solve a myriad of problems related to the virus. These are just a couple examples of that.


By Ron Miller

Google cancels I/O developer conference in light of COVID-19 crisis

Google announced on Twitter today that it was canceling its annual I/O developer conference out of concern for the health and safety of all involved. It will not be holding any online conference in its place either.

“Out of concern for the health and safety of our developers, employees, and local communities — and in line with recent ‘shelter in place’ orders by the local Bay Area counties — we sadly will not be holding I/O in any capacity this year,” the company tweeted.

This is not a small deal, as Google uses this, and the Google Cloud Next conference, which it has also canceled, to let developers, customers, partners and other interested parties know about what new features, products and services they will be introducing in the coming year.

Without a major venue to announce these new tools, it will be harder for the company to get the word out about them or gain the power of human networking that these conferences provide. All of that is taking a backseat this year over concerns about the virus.

The company made clear that it does not intend to reschedule these events in person or in a virtual capacity at all this year, and will look for other ways to inform the community of changes, updates and new services in the coming months.

“Right now, the most important thing all of us can do is focus our attention on helping people with the new challenges we all face. Please know that we remain committed to finding other ways to share platform updates with you through our developer blogs and community forums,” the company wrote.


By Ron Miller

Even in the age of COVID-19, you need to stay focused on the customer

It’s easy to think, as we find ourselves in the midst of a truly unprecedented situation, that the rules of building a successful business have suddenly changed. While the world may be topsy-turvy at the moment, keeping your customer at the center of your business strategy is more important than ever.

That means finding creative ways to engage with your customers and thinking deeply about what they need as the world changes before our eyes.

As a small example on a local level, Pandemonium Books and Games in Cambridge, Massachusetts has started offering same-day delivery to neighborhoods in the Boston area for a $5 fee and a $20 minimum purchase.

This is taking a difficult situation and finding a way to stay connected with customers, while keeping the business going through difficult times. It’s something that your most loyal customers will certainly remember when we return to some semblance of normalcy — and it’s just a great community service.

When you hear from leaders of the world’s most successful technology companies, whether it’s Jeff Bezos at Amazon or Marc Benioff at Salesforce, these two executives are constantly pushing their organizations to put the customer first.

At Amazon, that manifests itself in the company motto that it’s always Day 1. That motto means they never can become complacent and always place the customer first. In his 2016 Letter to Shareholders, Bezos described what he meant:

There are many ways to center a business. You can be competitor focused, you can be product focused, you can be technology focused, you can be business model focused, and there are more. But in my view, obsessive customer focus is by far the most protective of Day 1 vitality.

Benioff runs his company with a similar world view, and it’s no coincidence that both companies are so wildly successful. In his recent book, Trailblazer, Benioff wrote about the importance of relentless customer focus:

Nothing a company does is more essential than how it engages with customers. In a world where online portals are replacing customer service centers and algorithms are replacing humans on the front lines, companies like ours continually need to show that the personal connections our customers craved were still — and always would be — there.

In our current crisis, that focus becomes ever more important and universal. In his last interview before his death in January, Clayton Christensen, author of the seminal book Innovator’s Dilemma, told MIT Sloan Management Review that while these organizations had other things going for them, customer centricity was certainly a big factor in their success.

They have all built organizations that have put the customers, and their Job to Be Done, at the center. They also have demonstrated the ability to manage emergent strategy well. However, they also have been in the fortunate circumstance where their core businesses have been growing at phenomenal rates, and they have had the presence of the founder to help, to personally get involved in key strategic decisions.

While you don’t want to appear like you are taking advantage of a bad situation, there are ways you can help your customers by thinking of new ways engage and help them in a difficult time. Many companies are offering services for free for the next several months to help customers get through the financial uncertainty we are facing in the near term. Others are posting free content and access to other resources on websites.

While it’s understood that some customers simply won’t have money to spend in the coming months, those that do will have different needs than they did before and you have to be ready to address them, whatever that means to your business.

This virus is going to force us to rethink about a lot of the ways we run our businesses, our society and our lives, but if you keep your customer at the center of all your decisions, even in the midst of such a crisis, you will be setting the foundation for a successful business whenever we return to normal.


By Ron Miller

Storj brings low-cost decentralized cloud storage to the enterprise

Storj, a startup that developed a low-cost, decentralized cloud storage solution, announced a new version today called Tardigrade Decentralized Cloud Storage Service.

The new service comes with an enterprise service level agreement (SLA) that promises 99.9999999% file durability and over 99.95 percent availability, which it claims is on par with Amazon S3.

The company has come up with an unusual system to store files safely, taking advantage of excess storage capacity around the world. They are effectively doing with storage what Airbnb does with an extra bedroom, enabling people and organizations to sell that excess capacity to make extra money.

It’s fair to ask if that wouldn’t be a dangerous way to store files, but Storj Executive Chairman Ben Golub says that they have come up with a way of distributing the data across drives on their network so that no single file would ever be fully exposed.

“What we do in order to make this work is, first, before any data is uploaded, our customers encrypt the data, and they hold the keys so nobody else can decrypt the data. And then every part of a file is split into 80 pieces, of which any 30 can be used to reconstitute it. And each of those 80 pieces goes to a different drive on the network,” Golub explained.

That means even if a hacker were able to somehow get at one encrypted piece of the puzzle, he or she would need 29 others, and the encryption keys, to put the file back together again. “All a storage node operator sees is gibberish, and they only see a portion of the file. So if a bad person wanted to get your file, they would have to compromise something like 30 different networks in order to get [a single file], and even if they did that they would only have gibberish unless you also lost your encryption keys,” he said.

The ability to buy excess capacity allows Storj to offer storage at much lower prices than typical cloud storage. Golub says his company’s list prices are one-half to one-third cheaper than Amazon S3 storage and it’s S3-compatible.

The company launched in 2014 and has 20,000 users on 100,000 distributed nodes today, but this is the first time it has launched an enterprise version of the cloud storage solution.


By Ron Miller

Big opening for startups that help move entrenched on-prem workloads to the cloud

AWS CEO Andy Jassy showed signs of frustration at his AWS re:Invent keynote address in December.

Customers weren’t moving to the cloud nearly fast enough for his taste, and he prodded them to move along. Some of their hesitation, as Jassy pointed out, was due to institutional inertia, but some of it also was due to a technology problem related to getting entrenched, on-prem workloads to the cloud.

When a challenge of this magnitude presents itself and you have the head of the world’s largest cloud infrastructure vendor imploring customers to move faster, you can be sure any number of players will start paying attention.

Sure enough, cloud infrastructure vendors (ISVs) have developed new migration solutions to help break that big data logjam. Large ISVs like Accenture and Deloitte are also happy to help your company deal with migration issues, but this opportunity also offers a big opening for startups aiming to solve the hard problems associated with moving certain workloads to the cloud.

Think about problems like getting data off of a mainframe and into the cloud or moving an on-prem data warehouse. We spoke to a number of experts to figure out where this migration market is going and if the future looks bright for cloud-migration startups.

Cloud-migration blues

It’s hard to nail down exactly the percentage of workloads that have been moved to the cloud at this point, but most experts agree there’s still a great deal of growth ahead. Some of the more optimistic projections have pegged it at around 20%, with the U.S. far ahead of the rest of the world.


By Ron Miller

Chinese cloud infrastructure market generated $3.3B in Q42019

Research firm Canalys reports that the Chinese cloud infrastructure market grew 66.9% to $3.3 billion in the last quarter of 2019, right before the COVID-19 virus hit the country. China is the second largest cloud infrastructure market in the world with 10.8% share.

The quarter puts the Chinese market on a $13.2 billion run rate. Canalys pegged the US market at $14 billion for the same time period with a 47% worldwide market share.

Alibaba led the way in China with over 46% market share. Like its American eCommerce giant counterpart, Amazon, Alibaba has a cloud arm, and it dominates in its country much the same way AWS does in the U.S.

Tencent was in second with 18%, roughly the equivalent of Microsoft Azure’s share in the US, and Baidu AI Cloud came in third with 8.8%, roughly the equivalent of Google’s US market share.

Slide: Canalys

Matthew Ball, an analyst at Canalys says the fourth quarter numbers predate the medical crisis due to the COVID-19 outbreak in China. “In terms of growth drivers for Q4, we have seen the ongoing demand for on-demand compute and storage accelerate throughout 2019, as private and public organizations embark on digital transformation projects and start building platforms and applications to develop new services.”

Ball says gaming was a big cloud customer, as was healthcare, finance, transport and industry. He also pointed to growth in facial recognition technology as part of the smart city sector.

As for next year, Ball says the firm still sees big growth in the market despite the virus impact in Q12020. “In addition to the continuation of digital projects once business returns to normality, we anticipate many businesses new to using cloud services during the crisis will continue use and become paying customers,” he said. The cloud companies have been offering a number of free options to businesses during the crisis.

“The overall outcome of current events around the world will be that companies will assess their business continuity measures and make sure they can continue to operate if events are ever repeated,” he said.


By Ron Miller

Around is the new floating head video chat multitasking app

You have to actually get work done, not just video call all day, but apps like Zoom want to take over your screen. Remote workers who need to stay in touch while staying productive are forced to juggle tabs. Meanwhile, call participants often look and sound far away, dwarfed by their background and drowned in noise.

Today, Around launches its new video chat software that crops participants down to just circles that float on your screen so you have space for other apps. Designed for laptops, Around uses auto-zoom and noise cancelling to keep your face and voice in focus. Instead of crowding around one computer or piling into a big-screen conference room, up to 15 people can call from their own laptop without echo — even from right next to each other.

“Traditional videoconferencing tries to maximize visual presence. But too much presence gets in the way of your work,” says Around CEO Dominik Zane. “People want to make eye contact. They want to connect. But they also want to get stuff done. Around treats video as the means to an end, not the end in itself.”

Around becomes available today by request in invite-only beta for Mac, windows, Linux, and web. It’s been in private beta since last summer, but now users can sign up here for early access to Around. The freemium model means anyone can slide the app into their stack without paying at first.

After two years in stealth, Around’s 12-person distributed team reveals that it’s raised $5.2 million in seed funding over multiple rounds from Floodgate, Initialized Capital, Credo Ventures, AngelList’s Naval Ravikant, Product Hunt’s Ryan Hoover, Crashlytics’ Jeff Seibert, and angel Tommy Leep. The plan is to invest in talent and infrastructure to keep video calls snappy.

Not Just A Picturephone

Around CEO Dominik Zane

Around was born out of frustration with remote work collaboration. Zane and fellow Around co-founder Pavel Serbajlo had built mobile marketing company M.dot that was acquired by GoDaddy by using a fully distributed team. But they discovered that Zoom was “built around decades-old assumptions of what a video call should be” says Zane. “A Zoom video call is basically a telephone connected to a video camera. In terms of design, it’s not much different from the original Picturephone demoed at the 1964 World’s Fair.”

So together, they started Around as a video chat app that slips into the background rather than dominating the foreground. “We stripped out every unnecessary pixel by building a real-time panning and zooming technology that automatically keeps callers’ faces–and only their faces–in view at all times” Zane explains. It’s basically Facebook Messenger’s old Chat Heads design, but for the desktop enterprise.

Calls start with a shared link or /Around Slack command. You’re never unexpectedly dumped into a call, so you can stay on task. Since participants are closely cropped to their faces and not blown up full screen, they don’t have to worry about cleaning their workspace or exactly how their hair looks. That reduces the divide between work-from-homers and those in the office.

As for technology, Around’s “EchoTerminator” uses ultrasonic audio to detect nearby laptops and synchronization to eliminate those strange feedback sounds. Around also employs artificial intelligence and the fast CPUs of modern laptops to suppress noise like sirens, dog barks, washing machines, or screaming children. A browser version means you don’t have to wait for people to download anything, and visual emotes like “Cool idea” pop up below people’s faces so they don’t have to interrupt the speaker.

Traditional video chat vs Around

“Around is what you get when you rethink video chat for a 21st-century audience, with 21st-century technology,” says Initialized co-founder and general partner Garry Tan. “Around has cracked an incredibly difficult problem, integrating video into the way people actually work today. It makes other video-call products feel clumsy by comparison.”

There’s one big thing missing from Around: mobile. Since it’s meant for multitasking, it’s desktop/laptop only. But that orthodoxy ignores the fact that a team member on the go might still want to chime in on chats, even with just audio. Mobile apps are on the roadmap, though, with plans to allow direct dial-in and live transitioning from laptop to mobile. The 15-participant limit also prevents Around from working for all-hands meetings.

Competing with video calling giant Zoom will be a serious challenge. Nearly a decade of perfecting its technology gives Zoom super low latency so people don’t talk over each other. Around will have to hope that its smaller windows let it keep delays down. There’s also other multitask video apps like Loom’s asynchronously-recorded video clips that prevent distraction.

With coronavirus putting a new emphasis on video technology for tons of companies, finding great engineers could be difficult. “Talent is scarce, and good video is hard tech. Video products are on the rise. Google and large companies snag all the talent, plus they have the ability and scale to train audio-video professionals at universities in northern Europe” Zane tells me. “Talent wars are the biggest risk and obstacle for all real-time video companies.”

But that rise also means there are tons of people fed up with having to stop work to video chat, kids and pets wandering into their calls, and constantly yelling at co-workers to “mute your damn mic!” If ever there was a perfect time to launch Around, it’s now.

“Eight years ago we were a team of locals and immigrants, traveling frequently, moving between locations and offices” Zane recalls. “We realized that this was the future of work and it’s going to be one of the most significant transformations of modern society over the next 30 years . . . We’re building the product we’ve wanted for ourselves.”

One of the best things about working remotely is you don’t have colleagues randomly bugging you about superfluous nonsense. But the heaviness of traditional video chat swings things too far in the other direction. You’re isolated unless you want to make a big deal out of scheduling a call. We need presence and connection, but also the space to remain in flow. We don’t want to be away or on top of each other. We want to be around.


By Josh Constine

Slack introduces simplified interface as usage moves deeper into companies

When Slack first launched in 2013, the product was quickly embraced by developers, and the early product reflected that. To get at advanced tools, you used a slash (/) command, but the company recognizes that as it moves deeper into the enterprise, it needed to simplify the interface.

Today, the company introduced a newly designed interface aimed at easing the user experience, making Slack more of an accessible enterprise communications hub.

Jaime DeLanghe, director of product management at Slack, says that the messaging application has become a central place for people to communicate about work, which has grown even more important as many of us have begun working from home as a result of COVID-19.

But DeLanghe says usage was up even before the recent work from home trend began taking off. “People are connected to Slack, on average, about nine hours a day and they’re using Slack actively for almost 90 minutes,” she told TechCrunch.

To that end, she says her team has been working hard to update the interface.

“From my team’s perspective, we want to make sure that the experience is as simple to understand and get on-boarded as possible,” she said. That also means surfacing more advanced tooling, which has been hidden behind those slash commands in previous versions of the tool.

She said that the company has been trying to address the needs of the changing audience over the years by adding many new features, but admits that has resulted in some interface clutter. Today’s redesign is meant to address that.

New Slack interface. Screenshot: Slack

Among the new features, besides the overall cleaner look, many people will welcome the new ability to nest channels to organize them better in the Channel sidebar. As your channels proliferate, it becomes harder to navigate them all. Starting today, users can organize their channels into logical groupings with labels.

New nested channel labels in Slack. Screenshot: Slack

DeLanghe is careful to point out that this channel organization is personal, and cannot be done at an administrative level. “The channels don’t actually live inside of another channel. You’re creating a label for them, so that you can organize them in the sidebar for just yourself, not for everybody,” she explained.

Other new features include an improved navigation bar at the top of the window, a centralized search and help tool also located at the top of the window and a universal compose button in the Sidebar.

All of these new features are designed to help make Slack more accessible to users, as more employees start using it across an organization.


By Ron Miller

Salesforce hires former banker Arundhati Bhattacharya as chairperson and CEO of India business

Salesforce, the global giant in CRM, said on Wednesday that former banker Arundhati Bhattacharya will be joining the company on April 20 as chairperson and chief executive of its India division.

The San Francisco-headquartered firm said Bhattacharya, who served as the chairperson of the state-run State Bank of India for nearly four decades and oversees financial services group SWIFT India, will be tasked with helping the global giant scale rapidly in India, one of its fastest growing overseas markets.

Arundhati will report to Ulrik Nehammer, General Manager of Salesforce in the APAC region. “Arundhati is an incredible business leader and we are delighted to welcome her to Salesforce as chairperson and CEO India,” said Gavin Patterson, President and CEO of Salesforce International, in a statement.

“India is an important growth market for Salesforce and a world-class innovation and talent hub and Arundhati’s leadership will guide our next phase of growth, customer success and investment in the region,” he said.

Salesforce offers a range of cloud services to customers in India, where it has over 1 million developers and more Trailhead users than in any other market outside of the U.S. The company, which competes with local players Zoho and Freshworks, counts Indian firms redBus, Franklin Templeton, and CEAT as some of its clients.

The company said it expects to add 3,000 jobs in India in the next three years and turn the nation into a “leading global talent and innovation hub” for the company. Sunil Jose, who joined the firm in 2017, oversaw some of the company’s India operations previously.

“I could not be more excited to join the Salesforce team to ensure we capture this tremendous opportunity and contribute to India’s development and growth story in a meaningful way,” said Bhattacharya in a statement.

According to research firm IDC, Salesforce and its ecosystem of customers and partners in India are expected to create over $67 billion in business revenues and create more than 540,000 jobs by 2024.


By Manish Singh

Spectro Cloud launches with $7.5M investment to help developers build Kubernetes clusters their way

By now, we know that Kubernetes is a wildly popular container management platform, but if you want to use it, you pretty much have to choose between having someone manage it for you or building it yourself. Spectro Cloud emerged from stealth today with a $7.5 million investment to give you a third choice which falls somewhere in the middle.

The funding was led by Sierra Ventures with participation from Boldstart Ventures.

Ed Sim, founder at Boldstart says he liked the team and the tech. “Spectro Cloud is solving a massive pain that every large enterprise is struggling with; how to roll your own Kubernetes service on a managed platform without being beholden to any large vendor.” Sim told TechCrunch.

Spectro co-founder and CEO Tenry Fu says that an enterprise should not have to compromise between control and ease of use. “We want to be the first company that brings an easy-to-use managed Kubernetes experience to the enterprise, but also gives them the flexibility to define their own Kubernetes infrastructure stacks at scale,” Fu explained.

Fu says that the stack in this instance consists of the base operating system to the Kubernetes version to the storage, networking and other layers like security, logging, monitoring, load balancing or anything that’s infrastructure related around Kubernetes.

“Within an organization in the enterprise you can serve the needs of your various groups, down to pretty granular level with respect to what’s in your infrastructure stack, and then you don’t have to worry about lifecycle management,” he explained. That’s because they handle that for you, while still giving you that control.

That not only gives enterprise developers greater deployment flexibility, it gives them the ability to move between cloud infrastructure providers more easily, something that is top of mind today as companies don’t want to be locked into a single vendor.

“There’s an infrastructure control continuum that forces enterprises into trade offs against these needs. At one extreme, the managed offerings offer a kind of nirvana around ease of use, but it’s at the expense of control over things like the cloud that you’re on or when you adopt new ecosystem options like updated versions of Kubernetes.”

Fu and his co-founders have a deep background in this, having previously been part of CliQr, a company that helped customers manage applications across hybrid cloud environments. They sold that company to Cisco in 2016, and began developing Spectro Cloud last spring.

It’s early days, but the company has been working with 16 Beta customers.


By Ron Miller

Addapptation snares $1.3M seed to build a better UX for Salesforce

Addapptation, a startup that wants to build a practical design layer on top of Salesforce and other enterprise tools, announced a $1.3 million seed investment today.

2048 Ventures led the round with participation from East Coast Angles, The Millworks II Fund and additional angel investors from New Hampshire, where the firm is located

Co-founder Sumner Vanderhoof says the startup’s goal is to build a user experience platform for enterprise tools like Salesforce . “Our goal is to help make simple, easy to use Salesforce.com solutions built on the addapptation UX platform.

“At the end of the day, we’re really helping transform the way companies work, making their employees more efficient, making the job they do easier and more consistent, so they have a bigger impact on the companies that they work for,” Vanderhoof told TechCrunch.

He says they do this by looking at the company workflow and what issue the customer is trying to solve — such as a problem converting deals through the sales cycle. They will then help build tools and an interface to make it easier to pinpoint this information with the goal of being able to reuse whatever solutions they create for other customers.

He says the platform is template-driven and designed to quickly go from idea to solution. A typical solution takes no longer than two weeks to build and implement. Once a customer is using addapptation, employees can log into the addapptation platform or it can be a layer built into Salesforce providing a more guided experience.

The company has built around 40 plug-ins for the platform, including a heat map that identifies where sales is likely to find the best opportunities to close a deal. The solutions they build are designed to work online or on mobile devices as needed.

Photo: addapptation

Vanderhoof says that the company has a good relationship with Salesforce, and it doesn’t compete directly with the company. “Their main focus is providing tools for a wide audience. Ours is extending the platform beyond what it can do,” he said.

The two founders, Vanderhoof and his wife Carla, took three years building the platform, essentially bootstrapping before taking today’s funding.  The company has 15 employees in its Exeter, NH, headquarters and has 20 customers including Comcast and Ingram Micro.


By Ron Miller

Torch & Everwise merge into affordable exec coaching for all

While companies might pay for a CEO coach, lower level employees often get stuck with lame skill-building worksheets or no mentorship at all. Not only does that limit their potential productivity, but it also makes them feel stagnated and undervalued, leading them to jump ship.

Therapy…err…executive coaching is finally becoming destigmatized as entrepreneurs and their teams realize that everyone can’t be crushing it all the time. Building a business is hard. It’s okay to cry sometimes. But the best thing you can do is be vulnerable and seek help.

Torch emerged from stealth last year with $18 million in funding to teach empathy to founders and C-suite execs. Since 2013, Everwise has raised $26 million from Sequoia and others for its peer-to-peer mentorship marketplace that makes workplace guidance accessible to rank-and-file staffers.  Tomorrow they’ll official announce their merger under the Torch name to become a full-stack career coach for every level of employee.

“As human beings, we face huge existential challenges in the form of pandemics, climate change, the threats coming down the pipe from automation and AI” says Torch co-founder and CEO Cameron Yarbrough. “We need to create leaders at every single level of an organization and ignite these people with tools and human support in order to level up in the world.”

Startup acquisitions and mergers can often be train wrecks because companies with different values but overlapping products are jammed together. But apparently it’s gone quite smoothly since the products are so complementary, with all 70 employees across the two companies keeping their jobs. “Everwise is much more bottom up whereas Torch is about the upper levels, and it just sort of made sense” says Garry Tan, partner and co-founder of Initialized Capital that funded Torch’s Series A and is also a client of its coaching.

How does each work? Torch goes deep, conducting extensive 360-interviews with an executive as well as their reports, employees, and peers to assess their empathy, communication, vision, conflict resolution, and collaboration.  clients’ executives do extensive 360-interviews. It establishes quantifiable goals that executives work towards through video call sessions with Torch’s coaches. They learn about setting healthy workplace boundaries, stay calm amidst arguments, motivating staff without seeming preachy, and managing their own ego.

This coaching can be exceedingly valuable for the leaders setting a company’s strategy and tone. But the one-on-one sessions are typically too expensive to buy for all levels of employees. That’s where Everwise comes in.

Everwise goes wide, offers a marketplace with 6000 mentors across different job levels and roles that can provider more affordable personal guidance or group sessions with 10 employees all learning from each other. It also provides a mentorship platform where bigger companies can let their more senior staffers teach junior employees exactly what it takes to succeed. That’s all stitched together with a curated and personalized curriculum of online learning materials. Meanwhile, a company’s HR team can track everyone’s progress and performance through its Academy Builder dashboard.

“We know Gen Z has grown up with mentors by their side from SAT prep” says Torch CMO Cari Jacobs. Everwise lets them stay mentored, even at early stages of their professional life. “As they advance through their career, they might notch up to more executive private coaching.” Post-merger, Torch can keep them sane and ambitious throughout the journey. 

“It really allows us to move up market without sacrificing all the traction we’ve built working with startups and mid-market companies” Yarbrough tells me. Clients have included Reddit and ZenDesk, but also giants like Best Buy, Genentech, and T-Mobile.

The question is whether Everwise’s materials are engaging enough to not become just another employee handbook buried on an HR site that no one ever reads. Otherwise, it could just feel like bloat tacked onto Torch. Meanwhile, scaling up to bigger clients pits Torch against long-standing pillars of the executive coaching industry like Aon and Korn Ferry that have been around for decades and have billions in revenue. Meanwhile, new mental health and coaching platforms are emerging like BetterUp and Sounding Board.

But the market is massive since so few people get great coaching right now. “No one goes to work and is like ‘man, I wish my boss was less mindful’” Tan jokes. When Yarbrough was his coach, the Torch CEO taught the investor that while many startup employees might think they thrive on flexibility, “people really want high love and high structure.” In essence, that’s what Torch is trying to deliver — a sense of emotional comradery mixed with a prod in the direction of fulfilling their destiny.


By Josh Constine