Honeywell says it will soon launch the world’s most powerful quantum computer

“The best-kept secret in quantum computing.” That’s what Cambridge Quantum Computing (CQC) CEO Ilyas Khan called Honeywell‘s efforts in building the world’s most powerful quantum computer. In a race where most of the major players are vying for attention, Honeywell has quietly worked on its efforts for the last few years (and under strict NDA’s, it seems). But today, the company announced a major breakthrough that it claims will allow it to launch the world’s most powerful quantum computer within the next three months.

In addition, Honeywell also today announced that it has made strategic investments in CQC and Zapata Computing, both of which focus on the software side of quantum computing. The company has also partnered with JPMorgan Chase to develop quantum algorithms using Honeywell’s quantum computer. The company also recently announced a partnership with Microsoft.

Honeywell has long built the kind of complex control systems that power many of the world’s largest industrial sites. It’s that kind of experience, be that that has now allowed it to build an advanced ion trap that is at the core of its efforts.

This ion trap, the company claims in a paper that accompanies today’s announcement, has allowed the team to achieve decoherence times that are significantly longer than those of its competitors.

“It starts really with the heritage that Honeywell had to work from,” Tony Uttley, the president of Honeywell Quantum Solutions, told me. “And we, because of our businesses within aerospace and defense and our business in oil and gas — with solutions that have to do with the integration of complex control systems because of our chemicals and materials businesses — we had all of the underlying pieces for quantum computing, which are just fabulously different from classical computing. You need to have ultra-high vacuum system capabilities. You need to have cryogenic capabilities. You need to have precision control. You need to have lasers and photonic capabilities. You have to have magnetic and vibrational stability capabilities. And for us, we had our own foundry and so we are able to literally design our architecture from the trap up.”

The result of this is a quantum computer that promises to achieve a quantum Volume of 64. Quantum Volume (QV), it’s worth mentioning, is a metric that takes into account both the number of qubits in a system as well as decoherence times. IBM and others have championed this metric as a way to, at least for now, compare the power of various quantum computers.

So far, IBM’s own machines have achieved QV 32, which would make Honeywell’s machine significantly more powerful.

Khan, whose company provides software tools for quantum computing and was one of the first to work with Honeywell on this project, also noted that the focus on the ion trap is giving Honeywell a bit of an advantage. “I think that the choice of the ion trap approach by Honeywell is a reflection of a very deliberate focus on the quality of qubit rather than the number of qubits, which I think is fairly sophisticated,” he said. “Until recently, the headline was always growth, the number of qubits running.”

The Honeywell team noted that many of its current customers are also likely users of its quantum solutions. These customers, after all, are working on exactly the kind of problems in chemistry or material science that quantum computing, at least in its earliest forms, is uniquely suited for.

Currently, Honeywell has about 100 scientists, engineers and developers dedicated to its quantum project.


By Frederic Lardinois

Datastax acquires The Last Pickle

Data management company Datastax, one of the largest contributors to the Apache Cassandra project, today announced that it has acquired The Last Pickle (and no, I don’t know what’s up with that name either), a New Zealand-based Cassandra consulting and services firm that’s behind a number of popular open-source tools for the distributed NoSQL database.

As Datastax Chief Strategy Officer Sam Ramji, who you may remember from his recent tenure at Apigee, the Cloud Foundry Foundation, Google and Autodesk, told me, The Last Pickle is one of the premier Apache Cassandra consulting and services companies. The team there has been building Cassandra-based open source solutions for the likes of Spotify, T Mobile and AT&T since it was founded back in 2012. And while The Last Pickle is based in New Zealand, the company has engineers all over the world that do the heavy lifting and help these companies successfully implement the Cassandra database technology.

It’s worth mentioning that Last Pickle CEO Aaron Morton first discovered Cassandra when he worked for WETA Digital on the special effects for Avatar, where the team used Cassandra to allow the VFX artists to store their data.

“There’s two parts to what they do,” Ramji explained. “One is the very visible consulting, which has led them to become world experts in the operation of Cassandra. So as we automate Cassandra and as we improve the operability of the project with enterprises, their embodied wisdom about how to operate and scale Apache Cassandra is as good as it gets — the best in the world.” And The Last Pickle’s experience in building systems with tens of thousands of nodes — and the challenges that its customers face — is something Datastax can then offer to its customers as well.

And Datastax, of course, also plans to productize The Last Pickle’s open-source tools like the automated repair tool Reaper and the Medusa backup and restore system.

As both Ramji and Datastax VP of Engineering Josh McKenzie stressed, Cassandra has seen a lot of commercial development in recent years, with the likes of AWS now offering a managed Cassandra service, for example, but there wasn’t all that much hype around the project anymore. But they argue that’s a good thing. Now that it is over ten years old, Cassandra has been battle-hardened. For the last ten years, Ramji argues, the industry tried to figure out what the de factor standard for scale-out computing should be. By 2019, it became clear that Kubernetes was the answer to that.

“This next decade is about what is the de facto standard for scale-out data? We think that’s got certain affordances, certain structural needs and we think that the decades that Cassandra has spent getting harden puts it in a position to be data for that wave.”

McKenzie also noted that Cassandra provides users with a number of built-in features like support for mutiple data centers and geo-replication, rolling updates and live scaling, as well as wide support across programming languages, give it a number of advantages over competing databases.

“It’s easy to forget how much Cassandra gives you for free just based on its architecture,” he said. “Losing the power in an entire datacenter, upgrading the version of the database, hardware failing every day? No problem. The cluster is 100 percent always still up and available. The tooling and expertise of The Last Pickle really help bring all this distributed and resilient power into the hands of the masses.”

The two companies did not disclose the price of the acquisition.


By Frederic Lardinois

Google cancels Cloud Next because of coronavirus, goes online-only

Google today announced that it is canceling the physical part of Cloud Next, its cloud-focused event and its largest annual conference by far with around 30,000 attendees, over concerns around the current spread of COVID-19.

Given all of the recent conference cancellations, this announcement doesn’t come as a huge surprise, especially after Facebook canceled its F8 developer conference only a few days ago.

Cloud Next was scheduled to run from Apri 6 to 8. Instead of the physical event, Google will now host an online event under the “Google Cloud Next ’20: Digital Connect” moniker. So there will still be keynotes and breakout sessions, as well as the ability to connect with experts.

“Innovation is in Google’s DNA and we are leveraging this strength to bring you an immersive and inspiring event this year without the risk of travel,” the company notes in today’s announcement.

The virtual event will be free and in an email to attendees, Google says that it will automatically refund all tickets to this year’s conference. It will also automatically cancel all hotel reservations made through its conference reservation system.

It now remains to be seen what happens to Google’s other major conference, I/O, which is slated to run from May 12 to 14 in Mountain View. The same holds true for Microsoft’s rival Build conference in Seattle, which is scheduled to start on May 19. These are the two premier annual news events for both companies, but given the current situation, nobody would be surprised if they got canceled, too.


By Frederic Lardinois

Thoma Bravo completes $3.9B Sophos acquisition

Thoma Bravo announced today that it has closed its hefty $3.9 billion acquisition of security firm Sophos, marking yet another private equity deal in the books.

The deal was originally announced in October. Stockholders voted to approve the deal in December.

They were paid $7.40 USD per share for their trouble, according to the company, and it indicated that as part of the closing, the stock had ceased trading on the London Stock Exchange. It also pointed out that investors who got in at the IPO price in June 2015 made a 168% premium on that investment.

Sophos hopes its new owner can help the company continue to modernize the platform. “With Thoma Bravo as a partner, we believe we can accelerate our progress and get to the future even faster, with dramatic benefits for our customers, our partners and our company as a whole,” Sophos CEO Kris Hagerman said in a statement. Whether it will enjoy those benefits or not, time will tell.

As for the buyer, it sees a company with a strong set of channel partners that it can access to generate more revenue moving forward under the Thoma Bravo umbrella. Sophos currently partners with 53,000 resellers and managed service providers, and counts more than 420,000 companies as customers. The platform currently helps protect 100 million users, according to the company. The buyer believes it can help build on these numbers.

The company was founded way back in 1985, and raised over $500 million before going public in 2015, according to PitchBook data. Products include Managed Threat Response, XG Firewall and Intercept X Endpoint.


By Ron Miller

Thought Machine nabs $83M for a cloud-based platform that powers banking services

The world of consumer banking has seen a massive shift in the last ten years. Gone are the days where you could open an account, take out a loan, or discuss changing the terms of your banking only by visiting a physical branch. Now, you can do all this and more with a few quick taps on your phone screen — a shift that has accelerated with customers expecting and demanding even faster and more responsive banking services.

As one mark of that switch, today a startup called Thought Machine, which has built cloud-based technology that powers this new generation of services on behalf of both old and new banks, is announcing some significant funding — $83 million — a Series B that the company plans to use to continue investing in its platform and growing its customer base.

To date, Thought Machine’s customers are primarily in Europe and Asia — they include large, legacy outfits like Standard Chartered, Lloyds Banking Group, and Sweden’s SEB through to “challenger” (AKA neo-) banks like Atom Bank. Some of this financing will go towards boosting the startup’s activities in the US, including opening an office in the country later this year and moving ahead with commercial deals.

The funding is being led by Draper Esprit, with participation also from existing investors Lloyds Banking Group, IQ Capital, Backed and Playfair.

Thought Machine, which started in 2014 and now employs 300, is not disclosing its valuation but Paul Taylor, the CEO and founder, noted that the market cap is currently “increasing healthily.” In its last round, according to PitchBook estimates, the company was valued at around $143 million, which at this stage of funding puts this latest round potentially in the range of between $220 million and $320 million.

Thought Machine is not yet profitable, mainly because it is in growth mode, said Taylor. Of note, the startup has been through one major bankruptcy restructuring, although it appears that this was mainly for organisational purposes: all assets, employees and customers from one business controlled by Taylor were acquired by another.

Thought Machine’s primary product and technology is called VaultOS, a platform that contains a range of banking services — they include current/checking accounts; savings accounts; loans; credit cards and mortgages — that Thought Machine does not sell directly to consumers, but sells by way of a B2B2C model.

The services are provisioned by way of smart contracts, which allows Thought Machine and its banking customers to personalise, vary and segment the terms for each bank — and potentially for each customer of the bank.

It’s a little odd to think that there is an active market for banking services that are not built and owned by the banks themselves. After all, aren’t these the core of what banks are supposed to do?

But one way to think about it is in the context of eating out. Restaurants’ kitchens will often make in-house what they sell and serve. But in some cases, when it makes sense, even the best places will buy in (and subsequently sell) food that was crafted elsewhere. For example, a restaurant will re-sell cheese or charcuterie, and the wine is likely to come from somewhere else, too.

The same is the case for banks, whose “Crown Jewels” are in fact not the mechanics of their banking services, but their customer service, their customer lists, and their deposits. Better banking services (which may not have been built “in-house”) are key to growing these other three.

“There are all sorts of banks, and they are all trying to find niches,” said Taylor. Indeed, the startup is not the only one chasing that business. Others include Mambu, Temenos and Italy’s Edera.

In the case of the legacy banks that work with the startup, the idea is that these behemoths can migrate into the next generation of consumer banking services and banking infrastructure by cherry-picking services from the VaultOS platform.

“Banks have not kept up and are marooned on their own tech, and as each year goes by, it comes more problematic,” noted Taylor.

In the case of neobanks, Thought Machine’s pitch is that it has already built the rails to run a banking service, so a startup — “new challengers like Monzo and Revolut that are creating quite a lot of disruption in the market” (and are growing very quickly as a result) — can integrate into these to get off the ground more quickly and handle scaling with less complexity (and lower costs).

It’s not the only company providing a platform for banking services that are in turn

Taylor was new to fintech when he founded Thought Machine, but he has a notable track record in the world of tech that you could argue played a big role in his subsequent foray into banking.

Formerly an academic specialising in linguistics and engineering, his first startup, Rhetorical Systems, commercialised some of his early speech-to-text research and was later sold to Nuance in 2004.

His second entrepreneurial effort, Phonetic Arts, was another speech startup, aimed at tech that could be used in gaming interactions. In 2010, Google approached the startup to see if it wanted to work on a new speech-to-text service it was building. It ended up acquiring Phonetic Arts, and Taylor took on the role of building and launching Google Now, with that voice tech eventually making its way to Google Maps, accessibility services, the Google Assistant and other places where you speech-based interaction makes an appearance in Google products.

While he was working for years in the field, the step changes that really accelerated voice recognition and speech technology, Taylor said, were the rapid increases in computing power and data networks that “took us over the edge” in terms of what a machine could do, specifically in the cloud.

And those are the same forces, in fact, that led to consumers being able to run our banking services from smartphone apps, and for us to want and expect more personalised services overall. Taylor’s move into building and offering a platform-based service to address the need for multiple third-party banking services follows from that, and also is the natural heir to the platform model you could argue Google and other tech companies have perfected over the years.

Draper Esprit has to date built up a strong portfolio of fintech startups that includes Revolut, N26, TransferWise and Freetrade. Thought Machine’s platform approach is an obvious complement to that list. (Taylor did not disclose if any of those companies are already customers of Thought Machine’s, but if they are not, this investment could be a good way of building inroads.)

“We are delighted to be partnering with Thought Machine in this phase of their growth,” said Vinoth Jayakumar, Investment Director, Draper Esprit, in a statement. “Our investments in Revolut and N26 demonstrate how banking is undergoing a once in a generation transformation in the technology it uses and the benefit it confers to the customers of the bank. We continue to invest in our thesis of the technology layer that forms the backbone of banking. Thought Machine stands out by way of the strength of its engineering capability, and is unique in being the only company in the banking technology space that has developed a platform capable of hosting and migrating international Tier 1 banks. This allows innovative banks to expand beyond digital retail propositions to being able to run every function and type of financial transaction in the cloud.”

“We first backed Thought Machine at seed stage in 2016 and have seen it grow from a startup to a 300-person strong global scaleup with a global customer base and potential to become one of the most valuable European fintech companies,” said Max Bautin, Founding Partner of IQ Capital, in a statement. “I am delighted to continue to support Paul and the team on this journey, with an additional £15 million investment from our £100 million Growth Fund, aimed at our venture portfolio outperformers.”


By Ingrid Lunden

Notivize makes it easier for non-technical teams to optimize app notifications

A new startup called Notivize aims to give product teams direct access to one of their most important tools for increasing user engagement — notifications.

The company has been testing the product with select customers since last year and says it has already sent hundreds of thousands of notifications. And this week, it announced that it has raised $500,000 in seed funding led by Heroic Ventures.

Notivize co-founder Matt Bornski has worked at a number of startups including AppLovin and Wink, and he said he has “so many stories I can tell you about the time it takes to change a notification that’s deeply embedded in your stack.”

To be clear, Bornski isn’t talking about a simple marketing message that’s part of a scheduled campaign. Instead, he said that the “most valuable” notifications (e.g., the ones that users actually respond to) are usually driven by activity in an app.

For example, it might sound obvious to send an SMS message to a customer once the product they’ve purchased has shipped, but Bornski said that actually creating a notification like that would normally require an engineer to write new code.

“There’s the traditional way that these things are built: The product team specs out that we need to send this email when this happens, or send this SMS or notification when this happens, then the engineering team will go in and find the part of the code where they detect that such a thing has happened,” he said. “What we really want to do is give [the product team] the toolkit, and I think we have.”

Notivize rule

So with Notivize, non-coding members of the product and marketing team can write “if-then” rules that will trigger a notification. And this, Bornski said, also makes it easier to “A/B test and optimize your copy and your send times and your channels” to ensure that your notifications are as effective as possible.

He added that companies usually don’t build this for themselves, because when they’re first building an app, it’s “not a rational thing to invest your time and effort in when you’re just testing the market or you’re struggling for product market fit.” Later on, however, it can be challenging to “go in and rip out all the old stuff” — so instead, you can just take advantage of what Notivize has already built.

Bornski also emphasized that the company isn’t trying to replace services that provide the “plumbing” for notifications. Indeed, Notivize actually integrates with SendGrid and Twilio to send the notifications.

“The actual sending is not the core value [of what we do],” he said. “We’re improving the quality of what you’re paying for, of what you send.”

Notivize allows customers to send up to 100 messages per month for free. After that, pricing starts at $14.99 per month.

“The steady march of low-code and no-code solutions into the product management and marketing stack continues to unlock market velocity and product innovation,” said Heroic Ventures founder Michael Fertik in a statement. “Having been an early investor in several developer platforms, it is clear that Notivize has cracked the code on how to empower non-technical teams to manage critical yet complex product workflows.”


By Anthony Ha

Superhuman CEO Rahul Vohra on waitlists, freemium pricing and future products

The “Sent via Superhuman iOS” email signature has become one of the strangest flexes in the tech industry, but its influence is enduring, as the $30 per month invite-only email app continues to shape how a wave of personal productivity startups are building their business and product strategies.

I had a chance to chat with Superhuman CEO and founder Rahul Vohra earlier this month during an oddly busy time for him. He had just announced a dedicated $7 million angel fund with his friend Todd Goldberg (which I wrote up here) and we also noted that LinkedIn is killing off Sales Navigator, a feature driven by Rapportive, which Vohra founded and later sold in 2012. All the while, his buzzy email company is plugging along, amassing more interested users. Vohra tells me there are now more than 275,000 people on the waitlist for Superhuman.

Below is a chunk of my conversation with Vohra, which has been edited for length and clarity.


TechCrunch: When you go out to raise funding and a chunk of your theoretical user base is sitting on a waitlist, is it a little tougher to determine the total market for your product?

Rahul Vohra: That’s a good question. When we were doing our Series B, it was very easily answered because we’re one of a cohort of companies, that includes Notion and Airtable and Figma, where the addressable market — assuming you can build a product that’s good enough — is utterly enormous.

With my last company, Rapportive, there was a lot of conversation around, “oh, what’s the business model? What’s the market? How many people need this?” This almost never came up in any fundraising conversation. People were more like, “well, if this thing works, obviously the market is basically all of prosumer productivity and that is, no matter how you define it, absolutely huge.”


By Lucas Matney

Microsoft’s Cortana drops consumer skills as it refocuses on business users

With the next version of Windows 10, coming this spring, Microsoft’s Cortana digital assistant will lose a number of consumer skills around music and connected homes, as well as some third-party skills. That’s very much in line with Microsoft’s new focus for Cortana, but it may still come as a surprise to the dozens of loyal Cortana fans.

Microsoft is also turning off Cortana support in its Microsoft Launcher on Android by the end of April and on older versions of Windows that have reached their end-of-service date, which usually comes about 36 months after the original release.

cortana

As the company explained last year, it now mostly thinks of Cortana as a service for business users. The new Cortana is all about productivity, with deep integrations into Microsoft’s suite of Office tools, for example. In this context, consumer services are only a distraction, and Microsoft is leaving that market to the likes of Amazon and Google .

Because the new Cortana experience is all about Microsoft 365, the subscription service that includes access to the Office tools, email, online storage and more, it doesn’t come as a surprise that the assistant’s new feature will give you access to data from these tools, including your calendar, Microsoft To Do notes and more.

And while some consumer features are going away, Microsoft stresses that Cortana will still be able to tell you a joke, set alarms and timers, and give you answers from Bing.

For now, all of this only applies to English-speaking users in the U.S. Outside of the U.S., most of the productivity features will launch in the future.


By Frederic Lardinois

DocuSign acquires Seal Software for $188M to enhance its AI chops

Contract management service DocuSign today announced that it is acquiring Seal Software for $188 million in cash. The acquisition is expected to close later this year. DocuSign, it’s worth noting, previously invested $15 million in Seal Software in 2019.

Seal Software was founded in 2010, and, while it may not be a mainstream brand, its customers include the likes of PayPal, Dell, Nokia and DocuSign itself. These companies use Seal for its contract management tools, but also for its analytics, discovery and data extraction services. And it’s these AI smarts the company developed over time to help businesses analyze their contracts that made DocuSign acquire the company. This can help them significantly reduce their time for legal reviews, for example.

“Seal was built to make finding, analyzing, and extracting data from contracts simpler and faster,” DocuSign CEO John O’Melia said in today’s announcement. “We have a natural synergy with DocuSign, and our team is excited to leverage our AI expertise to help make the Agreement Cloud even smarter. Also, given the company’s scale and expansive vision, becoming part of DocuSign will provide great opportunities for our customers and partners.”

DocuSign says it will continue to sell Seal’s analytics tools. What’s surely more important to DocuSign, though, is that it will also leverage the company’s AI tools to bolster its DocuSign CLM offering. CLM is DocuSign’s service for automating the full contract life cycle, with a graphical interface for creating workflows and collaboration tools for reviewing and tracking changes, among other things. And integration with Seal’s tools, DocuSign argues, will allow it to provide its customers with a “faster, more efficient agreement process,” while Seal’s customers will benefit from deeper integrations with the DocuSign Agreement Cloud.


By Frederic Lardinois

Google Cloud’s newest data center opens in Salt Lake City

Google Cloud announced today that it’s a new data center in Salt Lake City has opened, making it the 22nd such center the company has opened to-date.

This Salt Lake City data center marks the third in the western region joining LA and Dalles, Oregon with the goal of providing lower latency compute power across the region.

“We’re committed to building the most secure, high-performance and scalable public cloud, and we continue to make critical infrastructure investments that deliver our cloud services closer to customers that need them the most,” said Jennifer Chason, director of Google Cloud Enterprise for the Western States and Southern California said in a statement.

Cloud vendors in general are trying to open more locations closer to potential customers. This is a similar approach taken by AWS when it announced its LA local zone at AWS re:Invent last year. The idea is to reduce latency by moving compute resources closer to the companies who need the, or to spread workloads across a set of regional resources.

Google also announced that PayPal, a company that was already a customer, has signed a multi-year contract, and will be moving parts of its payment systems into the western region. It’s worth noting that Salt Lake City is also home to a thriving startup scene that could benefit from having a data center located close by.

Google Cloud’s parent company Alphabet’s recently shared the cloud division’s quarterly earnings for the first time, indicating that it was on a run rate of more than $10 billion. While it still has a long way to go catch rivals Microsoft and Amazon, as it expands its reach in this fashion, it could help grow that market share.


By Ron Miller

London-based Gyana raises $3.9M for a no-code approach to data science

Coding and other computer science expertise remain some of the more important skills that a person can have in the working world today, but in the last few years, we have also seen a big rise in a new generation of tools providing an alternative way of reaping the fruits of technology: “no-code” software, which lets anyone — technical or non-technical — build apps, games, AI-based chatbots, and other products that used to be the exclusive terrain of engineers and computer scientists.

Today, one of the newer startups in the category — London-based Gyana, which lets non-technical people run data science analytics on any structured dataset — is announcing a round of £3 million to fuel its next stage of growth.

Led by UK firm Fuel Ventures, other investors in this round include Biz Stone of Twitter, Green Shores Capital and U+I , and it brings the total raised by the startup to $6.8 million since being founded in 2015.

Gyana (Sanskrit for “knowledge”) was co-founded by Joyeeta Das and David Kell, who were both pursuing post-graduate degrees at Oxford: Das, a former engineer, was getting an MBA, and Kell was doing a PhD in physics.

Das said that the idea of building this tool came out of the fact that the pair could see a big disconnect emerging not just in their studies, but also in the world at large — not so much a digital divide, as a digital light year in terms of the distance between the groups of who and who doesn’t know how to work in the realm of data science.

“Everyone talks about using data to inform decision making, and the world becoming data-driven, but actually that proposition is available to less than one percent of the world,” she said.

Out of that, the pair decided to work on building a platform that Das describes as a way to empower “citizen data scientists”, by letting users upload any structured data set (for example, a .CSV file) and running a series of queries on it to be able to visualise trends and other insights more easily.

While the longer term goal may be for any person to be able to produce an analytical insight out of a long list of numbers, the more practical and immediate application has been in enterprise services and building tools for non-technical knowledge workers to make better, data-driven decisions.

To prove out its software, the startup first built an app based on the platform that it calls Neera (Sanskrit for “water”), which specifically parses footfall and other “human movement” metrics, useful for applications in retail, real estate and civic planning — for example to determine well certain retail locations are performing, footfall in popular locations, decisions on where to place or remove stores, or how to price a piece of property.

Starting out with the aim of mid-market and smaller companies — those most likely not to have in-house data scientists to meet their business needs — startup has already picked up a series of customers that are actually quite a lot bigger than that. They include Vodafone, Barclays, EY, Pret a Manger, Knight Frank and the UK Ministry of Defense. It says it has some £1 million in contracts with these firms currently.

That, in turn, has served as the trigger to raise this latest round of funding and to launch Vayu (Sanskrit for “air”) — a more general purpose app that covers a wider set of parameters that can be applied to a dataset. So far, it has been adopted by academic researchers, financial services employees, and others that use analysis in their work, Das said.

With both Vayu and Neera, the aim — refreshingly — is to make the whole experience as privacy-friendly as possible, Das noted. Currently, you download an app if you want to use Gyana, and you keep your data local as you work on it. Gyana has no “anonymization” and no retention of data in its processes, except things like analytics around where your cursor hovers, so that Gyana knows how it can improve its product.

“There are always ways to reverse engineer these things,” Das said of anonymization. “We just wanted to make sure that we are not accidentally creating a situation where, despite learning from anaonyised materials, you can’t reverse engineer what people are analysing. We are just not convinced.”

While there is something commendable about building and shipping a tool with a lot of potential to it, Gyana runs the risk of facing what I think of as the “water, water everywhere” problem. Sometimes if a person really has no experience or specific aim, it can be hard to think of how to get started when you can do anything. Das said they have also identified this, and so while currently Gyana already offers some tutorials and helper tools within the app to nudge the user along, the plan is to eventually bring in a large variety of datasets for people to get started with, and also to develop a more intuitive way to “read” the basics of the files in order to figure out what kinds of data inquiries a person is most likely to want to make.

The rise of “no-code” software has been a swift one in the world of tech spanning the proliferation of startups, big acquisitions, and large funding rounds. Companies like Airtable and DashDash are aimed at building analytics leaning on interfaces that follow the basic design of a spreadsheet; AppSheet, which is a no-code mobile app building platform, was recently acquired by Google; and Roblox (for building games without needing to code) and Uncorq (for app development) have both raised significant funding just this week. In the area of no-code data analytics and visualisation, there are biggies like Tableau, as well as Trifacta, RapidMiner and more.

Gartner predicts that by 2024, some 65% of all app development will be made on low- or no-code platforms, and Forrester estimates that the no- and low-code market will be worth some $10 billion this year, rising to $21.2 billion by 2024.

That represents a big business opportunity for the likes of Gyana, which has been unique in using the no-code approach specifically to tackle the area of data science.

However, in the spirit of citizen data scientists, the intention is to keep a consumer version of the apps free to use as it works on signing up enterprise users with more enhanced paid products, which will be priced on an annual license basis (currently clients are paying between $6,000 and $12,000 depending on usage, she said).

“We want to do free for as long as we can,” Das said, both in relation to the data tools and the datasets that it will offer to users. “The biggest value add is not about accessing premium data that is hard to get. We are not a data marketplace but we want to provide data that makes sense to access,” adding that even with business users, “we’d like you to do 90% of what you want to do without paying for anything.”


By Ingrid Lunden

As Block exits, Salesforce forecasts it will surpass $20B in revenue in FY2021

When Keith Block joined Salesforce from Oracle in 2013, the CRM giant was already a successful SaaS vendor on a billion dollar quarterly revenue cadence. When the co-CEO announced he was stepping down yesterday, the company reported revenue of $4.9 billion for the quarter.

During his tenure, the the company’s scale more than quadrupled, earning an impressive $17.1 billion last year, and as Block announced at the earnings call, the company he was leaving was forecasting revenue of $21 billion for FY2021.

Consider that it was that long ago in May 2017 that we wrote about the company reaching the $10 billion mark. It’s perilously easy to get lost in these numbers, to take them for granted and think they don’t mean as much as they do. It’s hard work to build a billion SaaS business, never mind $10 billion or $20 billion.

Yet Salesforce is embarking on unchartered territory for a SaaS company. It’s approaching $20 billion in revenue for a single year.

Growth through acquisition

Granted the company keeps growing revenue by making big deals like buying Mulesoft for $6.5 billion in 2018 or Tableau for $15.7 billion in 2019, or just this week buying Vlocity for a mere $1.33 billion. That means the company spent more than $25 billion over a couple of years to buy substantial companies that help them build their business.

Block took a moment to brag a bit about his accomplishments including how some of those purchases performed during his swan song call with Salesforce, calling it a capstone of his time at Salesforce.

“In Q4, we grew 32% in the Americas, 28% in APAC and 47% in EMEA in constant currency. Now that includes our recent acquisitions. And at the close of FY 2020, the number of Salesforce customers spending $20 million annually grew 34%,” he said.

Think about that last number for just a minute. This a SaaS vendor with the number of customers spending $20 million growing by 34%. Block helped orchestrate that growth and worked with the executive team to help determine which companies it should be targeting.

At a press conference in 2016 at Dreamforce, he discussed Salesforce’s acquisition strategy. At the time, it had bought a 10 of a dozen companies it would end up acquiring that year. It would buy only in one 2017, before revving up again 2018. Here’s what he said about what they look for in a company, as we reported in an article at the time:

“We look at culture. Will it be a good cultural fit? Is it a good product fit? Is there talent? Is there financial value? What are the risks of assimilating the company into our company,” Block explained.

What’s next for Block?

There is no word on what Block will do next beyond acting as an advisor to his former co-CEO Marc Benioff, who took time in the earnings call to thank his colleague for his time at Salesforce. As well, he should.

As Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst point out, Block leaves a big hole as he steps away. “If there is no equivalent replacement, you will see a significant impact in sales. Keith brought industries and sales discipline,” Wang told TechCrunch

It will be interesting to watch what he does next, and who, if anyone, will benefit from his vast experience helping to build the most successful pure SaaS company on the planet.


By Ron Miller

Freshworks acquires AnsweriQ

Customer engagement platform Freshworks today announced that it has acquired AnsweriQ, a startup that provides AI tools for self-service solutions and agent-assisted use cases where the ultimate goal is to quickly provide customers with answers and make agents more efficient.

The companies did not disclose the acquisition price. AnsweriQ last raised a funding round in 2017, when it received $5 million in a Series A round from Madrona Venture Group.

Freshworks founder and CEO Girish Mathrubootham tells me that he was introduced to the company through a friend, but that he had also previously come across AnsweriQ as a player in the customer service automation space for large clients in high-volume call centers.

“We really liked the team and the product and their ability to go up-market and win larger deals,” Mathrubootham said. “In terms of using the AI/ML customer service, the technology that they’ve built was perfectly complementary to everything else that we were building.”

He also noted the client base, which doesn’t overlap with Freshworks’, and the talent at AnsweriQ, including the leadership team, made this a no-brainer.

AnsweriQ, which has customers that use Freshworks and competing products, will continue to operate its existing products for the time being. Over time, Freshworks, of course, hopes to convert many of these users into Freshworks users as well. The company also plans to integrate AnsweriQ’s technology into its Freddy AI engine. The exact branding for these new capabilities remains unclear, but Mathrubootham suggested FreshiQ as an option.

As for the AnsweriQ leadership team, CEO Pradeep Rathinam will be joining Freshworks as chief customer officer.

Rathinam told me that the company was at the point where he was looking to raise the next round of funding. “As we were going to raise the next round of funding, our choices were to go out and raise the next round and go down this path, or look for a complementary platform on which we can vet our products and then get faster customer acquisition and really scale this to hundreds or thousands of customers,” he said. Rathinam also noted that as a pure AI player, AnsweriQ had to deal with lots of complex data privacy and residency issues, so a more comprehensive platform like Freshworks made a lot of sense.

Freshworks has always been relatively acquisitive. Last year, the company acquired the customer success service Natero, for example. With the $150 million Series H round it announced last November, the company now also has the cash on hand to acquire even more customers. Freshworks is currently valued at about $3.5 billion and has 2,7000 employees in 13 offices. With the acquisition of AnsweriQ, it now also has a foothold in Seattle, which it plans to use to attract local talent to the company.


By Frederic Lardinois

Twilio 2010 board deck gives peek at now-public company’s early days

Twilio is best known for its communications API, which allows developers to add messaging, voice or video to their apps with just a small slice of code. The company’s tools are used by customers like Lyft, Airbnb, Salesforce, Box and Duke University.

The former startup went public in 2016 at $15 a share. Yesterday Twilio’s stock closed at $113.90, giving the company a market cap of about $15.6 billion (after a horrendous week on Wall Street). It’s easy to look at its value (among other measures) and declare Twilio a successful public company. But just like every former startup out there, its ascent wasn’t always so certain.

Founded in 2008, Twilio was once a tentative early-stage company feeling its way forward in the market with an unproven product and more future potential than actual results. Recently, the company’s CEO Jeff Lawson shared a Twilio board deck from March 2010.

Naturally, we read through it — how could we not? — but we also decided to analyze it for you, pulling out what we learned and using the snapshot of Twilio’s history to illustrate how far the company has come in the last decade.

The presentation’s original time stamp lands after Twilio’s Series A and just before its Series B, allowing us to see a company molting from a hatchling to something more sturdy that could stand on its own two feet. The company raised $12 million six months after the deck was presented.

To get everyone on the same page, we’ll start with a little history, and then get into the deck itself. Let’s go!

Where Twilio came from


By Ron Miller

Stonly grabs $3.5 million to make customer support more interactive

Stonly is building a service for customer support teams so that they can share step-by-step guides to solve the most common issues. The startup just raised a $3.5 million funding round led by Accel with business angels also participating, such as Eventbrite CTO Renaud Visage and PeopleDoc founders Jonathan Benhamou and Clément Buyse.

The startup isn’t building a chatbot for customer support — chatbots usually don’t understand what you mean and you end up contacting customer support anyway. Stonly believes that scripted guides with multiple questions work much better than both chatbots and intimidating knowledge bases.

But the company is well aware that it isn’t going to replace Zendesk or Intercom overnight. That’s why a Stonly guide is a module that you can embed in your existing tools. The startup currently supports Intercom, Zendesk, Freshdesk and Front.

This way, if somebody contacts you on Front or Intercom, you can reply with a Stonly guide to help your users solve their own issues (at least if it’s a common issue). Stonly is also launching its own more traditional knowledge base powered by Stonly guides so that your client can access common questions through a chat widget.

Putting together a Stonly guide doesn’t require any technical skills. After defining the steps, you can write text, add images, videos and buttons in a web interface. Stonly also supports translations.

And it’s been working well for the startup’s first clients. For instance, Dashlane noticed a 25% decrease in opened tickets for their most frequent issues after using Stonly. Other clients include Devialet, Happn and Calendly.

With today’s funding round, the startup is expanding to the U.S. with a new office in New York and David Rostan joining as head of revenue — he was previously VP of Sales and Marketing at Calendly.


By Romain Dillet