Facebook has acquired Servicefriend, which builds ‘hybrid’ chatbots, for Calibra customer service

As Facebook prepares to launch its new cryptocurrency Libra in 2020, it’s putting the pieces in place to help it run. In one of the latest developments, it has acquired Servicefriend, a startup that built bots — chat clients for messaging apps based on artificial intelligence — to help customer service teams, TechCrunch has confirmed.

The news was first reported in Israel, where Servicefriend is based, after one of its investors, Roberto Singler, alerted local publication The Marker about the deal. We reached out to Ido Arad, one of the co-founders of the company, who referred our questions to a team at Facebook. Facebook then confirmed the acquisition with an Apple-like non-specific statement:

“We acquire smaller tech companies from time to time. We don’t always discuss our plans,” a Facebook spokesperson said.

Several people, including Arad, his co-founder Shahar Ben Ami, and at least one other indicate that they now work at Facebook within the Calibra digital wallet group on their LinkedIn profiles. Their jobs at the social network started this month, meaning this acquisition closed in recent weeks. (Several others indicate that they are still at Servicefriend, meaning they too may have likely made the move as well.)

Although Facebook isn’t specifying what they will be working on, the most obvious area will be in building a bot — or more likely, a network of bots — for the customer service layer for the Calibra digital wallet that Facebook is developing.

Facebook’s plan is to build a range of financial services for people to use Calibra to pay out and receive Libra — for example, to send money to contacts, pay bills, top up their phones, buy things and more.

It remains to be seen just how much people will trust Facebook as a provider of all these. So that is where having “human” and accessible customer service experience will be essential.

“We are here for you,” Calibra notes on its welcome page, where it promises 24-7 support in WhatsApp and Messenger for its users.

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Servicefriend has worked on Facebook’s platform in the past: specifically it built “hybrid” bots for Messenger for companies to use to complement teams of humans, to better scale their services on messaging platforms. In one Messenger bot that Servicefriend built for Globe Telecom in the Philippines, it noted that the hybrid bot was able to bring the “agent hours” down to under 20 hours for each 1,000 customer interactions.

Bots have been a relatively problematic area for Facebook. The company launched a personal assistant called M in 2015, and then bots that let users talk to businesses in 2016 on Messenger, with quite some fanfare, although the reality was that nothing really worked as well as promised, and in some cases worked significantly worse than whatever services they aimed to replace.

While AI-based assistants such as Alexa have become synonymous with how a computer can carry on a conversation and provide information to humans, the consensus around bots these days is that the most workable way forward is to build services that complement, rather than completely replace, teams.

For Facebook, getting its customer service on Calibra right can help it build and expand its credibility (note: another area where Servicefriend has build services is in using customer service as a marketing channel). Getting it wrong could mean issues not just with customers, but with partners and possibly regulators.


By Ingrid Lunden

A 23-year-old B2B company has shown how keen India is for tech IPOs

Away from the limelight of the press and the frenzy of fundraising, a tech startup in India has achieved a feat that few of its peers have managed: going public.

IndiaMART, the country’s largest online platform for selling products directly to businesses, raised nearly $70 million in a rare tech IPO for India this week.

The milestone for the 23-year-old firm is so uncommon for India’s otherwise burgeoning startup ecosystem that, beyond being over-subscribed 36 times, pent up demand for IndiaMART’s stock saw its share price pop 40% on its first day of trading on National Stock Exchange on Thursday — a momentum that it sustained on Friday.

The stock ended Friday at Rs 1326 ($19.3), compared to its issue price of Rs 973 ($14.2).

IndiaMART is the first business-to-business e-commerce firm to go public in India. Its IPO also marks the first listing for a firm following the May reelection of Narendra Modi as the nation’s Prime Minister and the months-long drought that led to it.

Accounting firm EY said it expects more companies from India to follow suit and file for IPO in the coming months.

“Now that national elections are over and favorable results secured, IPO activity is expected to gain momentum in H2 2019 (second half of the year). Companies that had filed their offer documents with the Indian stock markets regulator during H2 2018 and Q1 2019 may finally come to market in the months ahead,” it said in a statement (PDF).

IndiaMART’s origin

The fireworks of the IPO are just as impressive as IndiaMART’s journey.

The startup was founded in 1996 and for the first 13 years, it focused on exports to customers abroad, but it has since modernized its business following the wave of the internet.

“The thesis was, in 1996, there were no computers or internet in India. The information about India’s market to the West was very limited,” Dinesh Agarwal, co-founder and CEO of IndiaMART, told TechCrunch in an interview.

Until 2008, IndiaMART was fully bootstrapped and profitable with $10 million in revenue, Agarwal said. But things started to dramatically change in that year.

“The Indian rupee became very strong against the dollar, which dwindled the exports business. This is also when the stock market was collapsing in the West, which further hurt the exports demand,” he explained.

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Dinesh Agarwal, founder and CEO of IndiaMart.com, poses for a profile shot on July 29, 2015 in Noida, India.

By this time, millions of people in India were on the internet and, with tens of millions of people owning a feature phone, the conditions of the market had begun to shift towards digital.

“This is when we decided to pursue a completely different path. We started to focus on the domestic market,” Agarwal said.

Over the last 10 years, IndiaMART has become the largest e-commerce platform for businesses with about 60% market share, according to research firm KPMG. It handles 97,000 product categories — ranging from machine parts, medical equipment and textile products to cranes — and has amassed 83 million buyers and 5.5 million suppliers from thousands of towns and cities of India.

According to the most recent data published by the Indian government, there are about 50 to 60 million small and medium-sized businesses in India, but only around 10 million of them have any presence on the web. Some 97% of the top 50 companies listed on National Stock Exchange use IndiaMART’s services, Agarwal said.

That’s not to say that the transition to the current day was a straightforward process for the company. IndiaMART tried to capitalize on its early mover advantage with a stream of new services which ultimately didn’t reap the desired rewards.

In 2002, it launched a travel portal for businesses. A year later, it launched a business verification service. It also unveiled a payments platform called ABCPayments. None of these services worked and the firm quickly moved on.

Part of IndiaMART’s success story is its firm leadership and how cautiously it has raised and spent its money, Rajesh Sawhney, a serial angel investor who sits on IndiaMART’s board, told TechCrunch in an interview.

IndiaMART, which employs about 4,000 people, is operationally profitable as of the financial year that ended in March this year. It clocked some $82 million in revenue in the year. It has raised about $32 million to date from Intel Capital, Amadeus Capital Partners and Quona Capital. (Notably, Agarwal said that he rejected offers from VCs for a very long time.)

The firm makes most of its revenue from subscriptions it sells to sellers. A subscription gives a seller a range of benefits including getting featured on storefronts.

Where the industry stands

There are only a handful of internet companies in India that have gone public in the last decade. Online travel service MakeMyTrip went public in 2010. Software firm Intellect Design Arena and e-commerce store Koovs listed in 2014, then travel portal Yatra and e-commerce firm Infibeam followed two years later.

India has consistently attracted billions of dollars in funding in recent years and produced many unicorns. Those include Flipkart, which was acquired by Walmart last year for $16 billion, Paytm, which has raised more than $2 billion to date, Swiggy, which has bagged $1.5 billion to date, Zomato, which has raised $750 million, and relatively new entrant Byju’s — but few of them are nearing profitability and most likely do not see an IPO in their immediate future.

In that context, IndiaMART may set a benchmark for others to follow.

“The fact that we have a homegrown digital commerce business, serving both the urban and smaller cities, and having struggled and been around for so long building a very difficult business and finally going public in the local exchange is a phenomenal story,” Ganesh Rengaswamy, a partner at Quona Capital, told TechCrunch in an interview. “It keeps the story of India tech, to the Western world, going.”

Generally, it is agreed that there are too few IPOs in India and the industry can benefit from momentum and encouragement of high profile and successful public listings.

“There is a firm consensus that in India, markets will prefer only the IPOs of companies that are profitable. And investors in India might not value those companies. Both of these issues are being addressed by IndiaMART,” said Sawhney.

“We need 30 to 40 more IPOs. This will also mean that the stock market here has matured and understands the tech stocks and how it is different from other consumer stocks they usually handle. More tech companies going public would also pave the way for many to explore stock exchanges outside of India.

“Indian market is ready for more tech stocks. We just need to get more companies to go out there,” Sawhney added, although he did predict that it will take a few years before the vast majority of leading startups are ready for the public market.

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The Indian government, for its part, this week announced a number of incentives to uplift the “entrepreneurial spirit” in the nation.

Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the government would ease foreign direct investment rules for certain sectors — including e-commerce, food delivery, grocery — and improve the digital payments ecosystem. Sitharaman, who is the first woman to hold this position in India, said the government would also launch a TV program to help startups connect with venture capitalists.

The path ahead for IndiaMART

IndiaMART has managed to build a sticky business that compels more than 55% of its customers to come back to the platform and make another transaction within 90 days, Agarwal — its CEO — said. With some 3,500 of its 4,000 employees classified as sales executives, the company is aggressive in its pursuit of new customers. Moving forward, that will remain one of its biggest focuses, according to Agarwal.

“Most of our time still goes into educating MSMEs on how to use the internet. That was a challenge 20 years ago and it remains a challenge today,” he told TechCrunch.

In recent years, IndiaMART has begun to expand its suite of offerings to its business customers in a bid to increase the value they get from its platform and thus increase their reliance on its service.

IndiaMART has built a customer relationship management (CRM) tool so that customers need not rely on spreadsheets or other third-party services.

“We will continue to explore more SaaS offerings and look into solving problems in accounting, invoice management and other areas,” said Agarwal.

The firm also recently started to offer payment facilitation between buyers and sellers through a PayPal -like escrow system.

“This will bridge the trust gap between the entities and improve an MSME’s ability to accept all kinds of payment options including the new age offerings.”

There’s an elephant in the room, however.

A bigger challenge that looms for IndiaMART is the growing interest of Amazon and Walmart in the business-to-business space. Several startups including Udaan — which has raised north of $280 million from DST Global and Lightspeed Venture Partners — have risen up in recent years and are increasingly expanding their operations. Agarwal did not seem much worried, however, telling TechCrunch that he believes that his prime competition is more focused on B2C and serving niche audiences. Besides he has $100 million in the bank himself.

Indeed, as Quona Capital’s Rengaswamy astutely noted, competition is not new for IndiaMART — the company has survived and thrived more than two decades of it.

“Alibaba came and gave up,” he noted.

An important — and unanswered question — that follows the successful IPO is how IndiaMART’s stock will fare over the coming months. A glance to the U.S. — where hyped companies like Uber, Lyft and others have seen prices taper off — shows clearly that early demand and sustained stock performance are not one and the same.

Nobody knows at this point, and the added complexity at play is that the concept of a tech IPO is so uncommon in India that there is no definitive answer to it… yet. But IndiaMART’s biggest achievement may be that it sets the pathway that many others will follow.


By Manish Singh

KKR has acquired Corel (including its recent acquisition Parallels), reportedly for $1B+

Only six months after snapping up virtualization specialist Parallels, Canadian software company Corel is itself getting acquired. TechCrunch has learned and confirmed with multiple sources that private equity giant KKR has closed a deal to buy the company from Vector Capital, which has owned some or all of Corel since 2003.

KKR’s interest in Corel was first rumored in May, when PE Hub reported the two were in talks for a sale valued at over $1 billion. At the time, representatives of Corel declined to comment, although our sources inside the company indicated that the reports were not inaccurate.

Fast forward to today, and both KKR and and a spokesperson for Parallels/Corel declined to comment. But, we now have a copy of the memo provided by an internal source that has been sent out to staff announcing that the deal has indeed closed, and that Corel is now officially part of the KKR family of companies.

According to the memo, KKR is very optimistic about Corel’s prospects. It plans to give Corel an “infusion of capital” to accelerate its growth, which will go into two areas. First will be expanding operations for the existing business: Corel is the company behind a number of longstanding software brands including WordPerfect, Corel Draw, WinZip, PaintShop Pro. Second will be making acquisitions (and the sheer proliferation of promising startups in the last decade dedicated to all variety of apps and other software that may have found it a challenge to scale means Corel could have rich pickings).

There are no layoffs planned as part of the deal, and the official announcement had been planned to go out next week, but now looks like it may be moved up to tomorrow (Wednesday).

Vector and Corel itself have never publicly disclosed much on user numbers or financials, but Vector has described the company as “highly profitable”, with dividends of over $300 million to date. The memo we’ve seen notes that Corel (including Parallels) has millions of customers across its various software platforms and apps.

The acquisition of Corel by KKR marks another chapter in the company’s long corporate history.

Founded in the 1980s — when personal computers were just starting to enter the mainstream but well before we had anything like the internet (not to mention the world of cloud-based apps) that we know today — Corel once positioned itself as a potential competitor to Microsoft in the software wars.

When Corel purchased WordPerfect from Novel in 1996, Corel founder Michael Cowpland viewed the software package as an integral part of that rivalry, describing it as the Pepsi to Microsoft’s Coke — that is, Word.

Microsoft proved the mightier of the two, and it even eventually signed a partnership with Corel that saw it investing in the company: a sell out, as one disappointed Canadian journalist described it at the time. The two have also sparred over patents.

Corel, which went public early in its life, got battered in the first dot-com bust (which was not helped by an insider trading scandal that led to Cowpland’s departure). Vector stepped in and took it private in 2003.

After restructuring the company, Vector listed Corel again in 2006. But, amid another recession that again hit Corel hard, it once more took it private in 2010. In the intervening years, Corel has been focused on modernising its offerings, bringing in e-commerce, direct downloads, subscriptions, and acquisitions to bring the company’s products and wider business closer to how consumers and workers use computers today.

Parallels was a part of that strategy: its products help people work seamlessly across multiple platforms, letting employees (and IT managers) run a unified workflow regardless of the device or operating system, with Parallels providing support for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Chromebook, Linux, Raspberry Pi and cloud — a timely offering in the current, fragmented IT market.

If the $1 billion+ figure is accurate, that strategy seems to have worked: across the two times that Vector took Corel private, it never paid more than $124 million for the company (the second time, as its stock was tanking, it paid just $30 million).


By Ingrid Lunden

Foursquare buys Placed from Snap Inc. on the heels of $150M in new funding

Foursquare just made its first acquisition. The location tech company has acquired Placed from Snap Inc on the heels of a fresh $150 million investment led by the Raine Group. The terms of the deal were not disclosed. Placed founder and CEO David Shim will become President of Foursquare.

Placed is the biggest competitor to Foursquare’s Attribution product, which allows brands to track the physical impact (foot traffic to store) of a digital campaign or ad. Up until now, Placed and Attribution by Foursquare combined have measured over $3 billion in ad-to-store visits.

Placed launched in 2011 and raised $13.4 million (according to Crunchbase) before being acquired by Snap Inc. in 2017.

As part of the deal with Foursquare, the company’s Attribution product will henceforth be known as Placed powered by Foursquare. The acquisition also means that Placed powered by Foursquare will have more than 450 measureable media partners, including Twitter, Snap, Pandora, and Waze. Moreover, more than 50 percent of the Fortune 100 are partnered with Placed or Foursquare.

It’s also worth noting that this latest investment of $150 million is the biggest financing round for Foursquare ever, and comes following a $33 million Series F last year.

Here’s what Foursquare CEO Jeff Glueck had to say about the financing in a prepared statement:

This is one of the largest investments ever in the location tech space. The investment will fund our acquisition and also capitalize us for our increased R&D and expansion plans, allowing us to focus on our mission to build the world’s most trusted, independent location technology platform.

That last bit, about an independent location technology platform, is important here. Foursquare is ten years old and has transformed from a consumer-facing location check-in app — a game, really — into a location analytics and development platform.

Indeed, when Glueck paints his vision for the company, he lists five key areas of focus:

  1. Developer Tools to build smarter apps and customer engagement, using geo-context;
  2. Analytics, including consumer insights for planning;
  3. Audiences, so businesses can reach the right consumer segments for their message;
  4. Attribution, to test and learn which messages, segments and channels work best;
  5. Consumer, where through our own apps and Foursquare Labs’ R&D efforts we showcase what’s possible and inspire developers via our innovations around contextual location.

You’ll notice that its consumer apps, Foursquare and Swarm, are at the bottom of the list. But that’s because Foursquare’s real technological and strategic advantage isn’t in building the best social platform. In fact, Glueck said that more than 90 percent of the company’s revenue came from the enterprise side of the business. Foursquare’s advantage is in the accuracy of its technology, as afforded by the decade of data that has come from Foursquare, Swarm, and the users who have expressly verified their location.

The Pilgrim SDK fits into that top item on the list: developer tools. The Pilgrim SDK allows developers to embed location-smart experiences and notifications into their apps and services. But it also expands Foursquare’s access to data from beyond its own apps to the greater ecosystem, yielding the data it needs to power analytics tools for brands and publishers.

With this acquisition, Placed will be able to leverage Foursquare’s existing map of 105 million places of interest across 190 countries, as well as tap into the measured U.S. audience of over 100 million monthly devices.

Foursquare and Placed share a similar philosophy of building against a truth set of real consumer responses. Getting real people to confirm the name of their location is the only way to know if your technology is accurate or not. Placed has leveraged over 135 million survey responses in its first-party Placed survey apps, all from consumers opted-in to its rewards app. Foursquare expands the truth set for machine learning exponentially by adding in our over 13 billion consumer confirmations.

The hope is that Foursquare is accurate enough to become the de facto location analytics and services company for measuring ad spend. With enough scale, that may allow the company to break into the walled gardens where most of that ad spend is going, Facebook and Google.

Of course, to win as the “world’s most trusted, independent location technology platform,” consumers have to trust the platform. After all, one’s location may be the most sensitive piece of data about them. Foursquare has taken steps to be clear about what its technology is capable of. In fact, at SXSW this year, Foursquare offered a limited run of a product called Hypertrending, which was essentially an anonymized view of real-time location data showing activity in the Austin area.

Here’s what Chairman of the Board and cofounder Dennis Crowley had to say at the time:

We feel the general trend with internet and technology companies these days has been to keep giving users a more and more personalized (albeit opaquely personalized) view of the world, while the companies that create these feeds keep the broad “God View” to themselves. Hypertrending is one example of how we can take Foursquare’s aggregate view of the world and make it available to the users who make it what it is. This is what we mean when we talk about “transparency” – we want to be honest, in public, about what our technology can do, how it works, and the specific design decisions we made in creating it.

With regards to today’s acquisition of Placed, Jeff Glueck had this to say:

Both companies also share a commitment to privacy and consumers being in control. Our Foursquare credo of “data as a privilege” only deepens as our company expands. We believe location should only be shared when consumers can see real value and visible benefits driven by location. We remain dedicated to elevating the industry through respect for transparency, user control, and instituting layers of privacy safeguards.

This new financing brings Foursquare’s total funding to $390.4 million.


By Jordan Crook

Zendesk acquires Smooch, doubles down on support via messaging apps like WhatsApp

One of the bigger developments in customer services has been the impact of social media — both as a place to vent frustration or praise (mostly frustration), and — especially over messaging apps — as a place for businesses to connect with their users.

Now, customer support specialist Zendesk has made an acquisition so that it can make a bigger move into how it works within social media platforms, and specifically messaging apps: it has acquired Smooch, a startup that describes itself as an “omnichannel messaging platform,” which companies’ customer care teams can use to interact with people over messaging platforms like WhatsApp, WeChat, Line and Messenger, as well as SMS and email.

Smooch was in fact one of the first partners for the WhatsApp Business API, alongside VoiceSageNexmoInfobip, Twilio, MessageBird and others are already advertising their services in this area.

It had also been a longtime partner of Zendesk’s, powering the company’s own WhatsApp Business integration and other features. The two already have some customers in common, including Uber. Other Smooch customers include Four Seasons, SXSW, Betterment, Clarabridge, Harry’s, LVMH, Delivery Hero and BarkBox.

Terms of the deal are not being disclosed, but Zendesk SVP  class=”il”>Shawna Wolverton said in an interview that that the startup’s entire team of 48, led by co-founder and CEO Warren Levitan, are being offered positions with Zendesk. Smooch is based out of Montreal, Canada — so this represents an expansion for Zendesk into building an office in Canada.

Its backers included iNovia, TA Associates and Real Ventures, who collectively had backed it with less than $10 million (when you leave in inflated hills surrounding Silicon Valley, numbers magically decline). As Zendesk is publicly traded, we may get more of a picture of the price in future quarterly reports. This is the company’s fifth acquisition to date.

The deal underscores the big impact that messaging apps are making in customer service. While phone and internet are massive points of contact, messaging apps is one of the most-requested features Zendesk’s customers are asking for, “because they want to be where their customers are,” with WhatsApp — now at 1.5 billion users — currently at the top of the pile, Wolverton said. (More than half of Zendesk’s revenues are from outside the US, which speaks to why WhatsApp — which is bigger outside the US than it is in it — is a popular request.)

That’s partly a by-product of how popular messaging apps are full-stop, with more than 75 percent of all smartphone users having at least one messaging app in use on their devices.

“We live in a messaging-centric world, and customers expect the convenience and interactivity of messaging to be part of their experiences,” said Mikkel Svane, Zendesk founder, CEO and chairman, in a statement. “As long-time partners with Smooch, we know first hand how much they have advanced the conversational experience to bring together all forms of messaging and create a continuous conversation between customers and businesses.”

 

While the two companies were already working together, the acquisition will mean a closer integration.

That will be in multiple areas. Last year, Zendesk launched a new CRM play called Sunshine, going head to head with the likes of Salesforce in helping businesses better organise and make use of customer data. Smooch will build on that strategy to bring in data to Sunshine from messaging apps and the interactions that take place on them. Also last year, Zendesk launched an omnichannel play, a platform called The Suite, which it says “has become one of our most successful products ever,” with a 400 percent rise in its customers taking an omnichannel approach. Smooch already forms a key part of that, and it will be even more tightly so.

On the outbound side, for now, there will be two areas where Smooch will be used, Wolverton said. First will be on the basic level of giving Zendesk users the ability to see and create messaging app discussions within a dashboard where they are able to monitor and handle all customer relationship contacts: a conversation that was inititated now on, say, Twitter, can be easily moved into WhatsApp or whatever more direct channel someone wants to use.

Second, Wolverton said that customer care workers can use Smooch to send on “micro apps” to users to handle routine service enquiries, for example sending them links to make or change seat assignments on a flight.

Over time, the plan will be to bring in more automated options into the experience, which opens the door for using more AI and potentially bots down the line.


By Ingrid Lunden

The Exit: an AI startup’s McPivot

Five years ago, Dynamic Yield was courting an investment from The New York Times as it looked to shift how publishers paywalled their content. Last month, Chicago-based fast food king McDonald’s bought the Israeli company for $300 million, a source told TechCrunch, with the purpose of rethinking how people order drive-thru chicken nuggets.

The pivot from courting the grey lady to the golden arches isn’t as drastic as it sounds. In a lot of ways, it’s the result of the company learning to say “no” to certain customers. At least, that’s what Bessemer’s Adam Fisher tells us.

The Exit is a new series at TechCrunch. It’s an exit interview of sorts with a VC who was in the right place at the right time but made the right call on an investment that paid off. 

Fisher

Fisher was Dynamic Yield founder Liad Agmon’s first call when he started looking for funds from institutional investors. Bessemer bankrolled the bulk of a $1.7 million funding round which valued the startup at $5 million pre-money back in 2013. The firm ended up putting about $15 million into Dynamic Yield, which raised ~$85 million in total from backers including Marker Capital, Union Tech Ventures, Baidu and The New York Times.

Fisher and I chatted at length about the company’s challenging rise and how Israel’s tech scene is still being underestimated. Fisher has 11 years at Bessemer under his belt and 14 exits including Wix, Intucell, Ravello and Leaba.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity. 


Saying “No”

Lucas Matney: So, right off the bat, how exactly did this tool initially built for publishers end up becoming something that McDonalds wanted?

Adam Fisher: I mean, the story of Dynamic Yield is unique. Liad, the founder and CEO, he was an entrepreneur in residence in our Herzliya office back in 2011. I’d identified him earlier from his previous company, and I just said, ‘Well, that’s the kind of guy I’d love to work with.’ I didn’t like his previous company, but there was something about his charisma, his technology background, his youth, which I just felt like “Wow, he’s going to do something interesting.” And so when he sold his previous company, coincidentally to another Chicago based company called Sears, I invited him and I think he found it very flattering, so he joined us as an EIR.


By Lucas Matney

WeWork acquires Managed By Q

Managed By Q, the office management platform based out of New York, has today been acquired by The We Company, formerly known as WeWork.

Financial terms were not disclosed. The WSJ reports that it was a cash and stock deal. Managed By Q, which has 500 employees, will remain as a wholly owned separate entity and CEO Dan Teran will remain on following the acquisition to join WeWork leadership.

Upon its latest financing in January, Managed By Q was valued at $249 million, according to PitchBook.

Here’s what Teran had to say in a prepared statement:

We are excited for this incredible opportunity to deepen our commitment to realizing our ambitious vision of building an operating system for the built world. WeWork is uniquely positioned to invest in workplace technology and services, and I look forward to partnering with their team to build more robust products for our clients and create a global platform to help companies push the bounds on our collective potential.

Managed By Q was founded in 2014 with a plan to change the way that offices run. The platform allowed office managers and other decision-makers to handle supply stocking, cleaning, IT support and other non-work related tasks in the office by simply using the Managed By Q dashboard. Managed By Q serves the demand through a combination of in-house operators and third-party vendors and service providers.

Notably, Managed By Q took a different tack than most other logistics companies, employing their operators as W2 workers instead of 1099 contractors. Moreover, Managed By Q offered a stock option plan to operators that gives 5 percent of the company back to those employees.

The company has raised a total of $128.25 million since launch from investors such as GV, RRE and Kapor Capital. Managed By Q currently serves the markets of New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and Silicon Valley, with plans to aggressively expand following the acquisition, according to the WSJ.

Not only has Managed By Q swiftly matured into a big player in the NY tech scene and Future Of Work space, but it has also fostered interesting competition and consolidation within the space. Managed By Q has itself made several acquisitions, including the purchase of NVS (an office space planning and project management service) and Hivy (an internal comms tool to let employees tell office managers what they need).


By Jordan Crook

Atlassian acquires AgileCraft for $166M

Atlassian today announced that it has acquired AgileCraft, a service that aims to give enterprises plan their strategic projects and workstreams. The service provides business leaders with additional insights into the current status of technical projects and gives them insights into the bottlenecks, risks and dependencies of these projects. Indeed, the focus of AgileCraft is less on technical teams than on the business teams that support them and help them manage the digital transformation of their businesses.

The price total of the acquisition is about $166 million, with $154 million in cash and the remainder in restricted shares.

“Many leaders are still making mission-critical decisions using their instincts and best guesses instead of data,” said Scott Farquhar, Atlassian’s co-founder and co-CEO, in today’s announcement. “As Atlassian tools spread through organizations, technology leaders need better visibility into work performed by their teams. With AgileCraft joining Atlassian, we believe we’re the best company to help executives align the work across their organization – providing an all-encompassing view that connects strategy, work, and outcomes.”

As the name implies, AgileCraft focuses on the Agile methodology, though it also offers a bit of flexibility there with support for frameworks like SAFe, LeSS, Spotify. It supports pulling in data from tools like Atlassian’s Jira, but also Microsoft’s Team Foundation Server, IBM’s RTC and other services.

Atlassian will continue to operate AgileCraft, which had raised about $10.1 million before the acquisition. as a standalone service. “We will continue to focus relentlessly on our customers’ success,” writes AgileCraft’s founder and CEO Steve Elliott. “We remain dedicated to pioneering enterprise agility and are thrilled to team up with the outstanding people at Atlassian to help our customers thrive.”

Over the years, Atlassian started embracing users and use cases for its tools that go beyond its core tools for development tools. Jira is a prime example for this. Today’s acquisition continues this trend in that AgileCraft aims to bring many of the methodologies that tech teams use to the rest of the company.

Atlassian doesn’t typically make a lot of acquisitions. Its pace is close to about one major buy per year. Last year, the company picked up OpsGenie for $295 million. In 2017, it acquired Trello for $425 million, the company’s biggest acquisition to date. Other major products the company acquired include StatusPage, BlueJimp, HipChat and Bitbucket (all the way back in 2010).


By Frederic Lardinois

Okta to acquire workflow automation startup Azuqua for $52.5M

During its earnings report yesterday afternoon, Okta announced it intends to acquire Azuqua, a Bellevue, Washington workflow automation startup for $52.5 million.

In a blog post announcing the news, Okta co-founder and COO Frederic Kerrest saw the combining of the two companies as a way to move smoothly between applications in a complex workflow without having to constantly present your credentials.

“With Okta and Azuqua, IT teams will be able to use pre-built connectors and logic to create streamlined identity processes and increase operational speed. And, product teams will be able to embed this technology in their own applications alongside Okta’s core authentication and user management technology to build…integrated customer experiences,” Kerrest wrote.

In a modern enterprise, people and work are constantly shifting and moving between applications and services and combining automation software with identity and access management could offer a seamless way to move between them.

This represents Okta’s largest acquisition to-date and follows Stormpath almost exactly two years ago and ScaleFT last July. Taken together, you can see a company that is trying to become a more comprehensive identity platform.

Azuqua, which had raised $16 million since it launched in 2013, appears to have given investors  a pretty decent return. When the deal closes, Okta intends to bring its team on board and leave them in place in their Bellevue offices, creating a Northwest presence for the San Francisco company. Azuqua customers include Airbnb, McDonald’s, VMware and Hubspot,

Okta was founded in 2009 and raised over $229 million before going public April, 2017.


By Ron Miller

Compass acquires Contactually, a CRM provider to the real estate industry

Compass, the real estate tech platform that is now worth $4.4 billion, has made an acquisition to give its agents a boost when it comes to looking for good leads on properties to sell. It is acquiring Contactually, an AI-based CRM platform designed specifically for the industry, which includes features like linking up a list of homes sold by a brokerage with records of sales in the area and other property indexes to determine which properties might be good targets to tap for future listings.

Contactually had already been powering Compass’s own CRM service that it launched last year so there is already a degree of integration between the two.

Terms of the deal are not being disclosed. Crunchbase notes that Contactually had raised around $18 million from VCs that included Rally Ventures, Grotech and Point Nine Capital, and it was last valued at around $30 million in 2016, according to PitchBook. From what I understand, the startup had strong penetration in the market so it’s likely that the price was a bit higher than this previous valuation.

The plan is to bring over all of Contactually’s team of 32 employees, led by Zvi Band, the co-founder and CEO, to integrate the company’s product into Compass’s platform completely. They will report to CTO Joseph Sirosh and head of product Eytan Seidman. It will also mean a bigger operation for Compass in Washington, DC, which is where Contactually had been based.

“The Contactually team has worked for the past 8 years to build a best-in-class CRM that aggregates relationships and automatically documents every touchpoint,” said Band in a statement “We are proud that our investment into machine learning has resulted in new features like Best Time to Email and other data-driven, follow-up recommendations which help agents be more effective in their day-to-day. After working extensively with the Compass team, it was apparent that joining forces would accelerate our missions of building the future of the industry.”

For the time being, customers who are already using the product — and a large number of real estate brokers and agents in the US already were, at prices that ranged from $59/month to $399/month depending on the level of service — will continue their contracts as before, for the time being.

I suspect that the longer-term plan, however, will be a little different: you have to wonder if agents who compete against Compass would be happy to use a service where their data is being processed by it, and for Compass itself, I would suspect that having this tech for itself would give it an edge over the others.

Compass, I understand from sources, is on track to make $2 billion in revenues in 2019 (its 2018 targets were $1 billion on $34 billion in property sales, and it had previously said it would be doubling that this year). Now in 100 cities, it’s come a long way from its founding in 2012 Ori Allon and Robert Reffkin.

The bigger picture beyond real estate is that, as with many other analog industries, those who are tackling them with tech-first approaches are sweeping up not only existing business, but in many cases helping the whole market to expand. Contactually, as a tool that can help source potential properties for sale that owners hadn’t previously considered putting on the market, could end up serving that very end for Compass.

The focus on using tech to storm into a legacy industry is also coming at an interesting time. As we’ve pointed out before, the housing market is predicted to cool this year, and that will put the squeeze on agents who do not have strong networks of clients and the tools to maximise whatever opportunities there are out there to list and sell properties.

The likes of Opendoor — which appears to be raising money and inching closer to Compass in terms of valuation — is also trying out a different model, which essentially involves becoming a middle part in the chain, buying properties from sellers and selling them on to buyers, to speed up the process and cut out some of the expenses for the end users. That approach underscores the fact that, while the infusion of technology is an inevitable trend, there will be multiple ways of applying that.

This appears to be Compass’s first full acquisition of a tech startup, although it has made partial acquihires in the past.


By Ingrid Lunden

Datadog acquires app testing company Madumbo

Datadog, the popular monitoring and analytics platform, today announced that it has acquired Madumbo, an AI-based application testing platform.

“We’re excited to have the Madumbo team join Datadog,” said Olivier Pomel, Datadog’s CEO. “They’ve built a sophisticated AI platform that can quickly determine if a web application is behaving correctly. We see their core technology strengthening our platform and extending into many new digital experience monitoring capabilities for our customers.”

Paris-based Madumbo, which was incubated at Station F and launched in 2017, offers its users a way to test their web apps without having to write any additional code. It promises to let developers build tests by simply interacting with the site, using the Madumbo test recorder, and to help them build test emails, password and testing data on the fly. The Madumbo system then watches your site and adapts its check to whatever changes you make. This bot also watches for JavaScript errors and other warnings and can be integrated into a deployment script.

The team will join Datadog’s existing Paris office and will work on new products, which Datadog says will be announced later this year. Datadog will phase out the Madumbo platform over the course of the next few months.

“Joining Datadog and bringing Madumbo’s AI-powered testing technology to its platform is an amazing opportunity,” said Gabriel-James Safar, CEO of Madumbo. “We’ve long admired Datadog and its leadership, and are excited to expand the scope of our existing technology by integrating tightly with Datadog’s other offerings.”


By Frederic Lardinois

Microsoft acquires Citus Data

Microsoft today announced that it has acquired Citus Data, a company that focused on making PostgreSQL database faster and more scalable. Citus’ open source PostgreSQL extension essentially turns the application into a distributed database and while there has been a lot of hype around the NoSQL movement and document stores, relational database — and especially PostgreSQL — are still a growing market, in part because of tools from companies like Citus that overcome some of their earlier limitations.

Unsurprisingly, Microsoft plans to work with the Citus Data team to “accelerate the delivery of key, enterprise-ready features from Azure to PostgreSQL and enable critical PostgreSQL workloads to run on Azure with confidence.” The Citus co-founders echo this in their own statement, noting that “as part of Microsoft, we will stay focused on building an amazing database on top of PostgreSQL that gives our users the game-changing scale, performance, and resilience they need. We will continue to drive innovation in this space.”

PostgreSQL is obviously an open source tool and while the fact that Microsoft is now a major open source contributor doesn’t come as a surprise anymore, it’s worth noting that the company stresses that it will continue to work with the PostgreSQL community. In an email, a Microsoft spokesperson also noted that “the acquisition is a proof point in the company’s commitment to open source and accelerating Azure PostgreSQL performance and scale.”

Current Citus customers include the likes of real-time analytics service Chartbeat, email security service Agari and PushOwl, though the company notes that it also counts a number of Fortune 100 companies among its users (they tend to stay anonymous). The company offers both a   database as a service, an on-premises enterprise version and the free open source edition. For the time being, it seems like that’s not changing, though over time, I would suspect that Microsoft will transition users of the hosted service to Azure.

The price of the acquisition was not disclosed. Citus Data, which was founded in 2010 and graduated from the Y Combinator program, previously raised over $13 million from the likes of Khosla Ventures, SV Angel and Data Collective.


By Frederic Lardinois

Campaign Monitor acquires email enterprise services Sailthru and Liveclicker

CM Group, the organization behind email-centric services like Campaign Monitor and Emma, today announced that it has acquired marketing automation firm Sailthru and the email personalization service Liveclicker. The group did not disclose the acquisition price but noted that the acquisition would bring in about $60 million in additional revenue and 540 new customers, including Bloomberg and Samsung. Both of these acquisitions quietly closed in 2018.

Compared to Sailthru, which had raised a total of about $250 million in venture funding before the acquisition, Liveclicker is a relatively small company that was bootstrapped and never raised any outside funding. Still, Liveclicker managed to attract customers like AT&T, Quicken Loans and TJX Companies by offering them the ability to personalize their email messages and tailor them to their customers.

Sailthru’s product portfolio is also quite a bit broader and includes similar email marketing tools, but also services to personalize mobile and web experiences, as well as tools to predict churn and make other retail-focused predictions.

“Sailthru and Liveclicker are extraordinary technologies capable of solving important marketing problems, and we will be making additional investments in the businesses to further accelerate their growth,” writes Wellford Dillard, CEO of CM Group. “Bringing these brands together makes it possible for us to provide marketers with the ideal solution for their needs as they navigate the complex and rapidly changing environments in which they operate.”

With this acquisition, the CM Group now has 500 employees and 300,000 customers.


By Frederic Lardinois

Daily Crunch: The age of quantum computing is here

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. IBM unveils its first commercial quantum computer

The 20-qubit system combines the quantum and classical computing parts it takes to use a machine like this for research and business applications into a single package. While it’s worth stressing that the 20-qubit machine is nowhere near powerful enough for most commercial applications, IBM sees this as the first step towards tackling problems that are too complex for classical systems.

2. Apple’s trillion-dollar market cap was always a false idol

Nothing grows forever, not even Apple. Back in August we splashed headlines across the globe glorifying Apple’s brief stint as the world’s first $1 trillion company, but in the end it didn’t matter. Fast-forward four months and Apple has lost more than a third of its stock value, and last week the company lost $75 billion in market cap in a single day.

3. GitHub Free users now get unlimited private repositories

Starting today, free GitHub users will now get unlimited private projects with up to three collaborators. Previously, GitHub had a caveat for its free users that code had to be public if they didn’t pay for the service.

Photo credit: Chesnot/Getty Images

4. Uber’s IPO may not be as eye-popping as we expected

Uber’s public debut later this year is undoubtedly the most anticipated IPO of 2019, but the company’s lofty valuation (valued by some as high as $120 billion) has some investors feeling uneasy.

5. Amazon is getting more serious about Alexa in the car with Telenav deal

Amazon has announced a new partnership with Telenav, a Santa Clara-based provider of connected car services. The collaboration will play a huge role in expanding Amazon’s ability to give drivers relevant information and furthers the company’s mission to bake Alexa into every aspect of your life.

6. I used VR in a car going 90 mph and didn’t get sick

The future of in-vehicle entertainment could be VR. Audi announced at CES that it’s rolling out a new company called Holoride to bring adaptive VR entertainment to cars. The secret sauce here is matching VR content to the slight movements of the vehicle to help those who often get motion sickness.

7. Verizon and T-Mobile call out AT&T over fake 5G labels

Nothing like some CES drama to start your day. AT&T recently shared a shady marketing campaign that labeled its 4G networks as 5G and rivals Verizon and T-Mobile are having none of it.


By Taylor Nakagawa

Palo Alto Networks to acquire RedLock for $173 M to beef up cloud security

Palo Alto Networks launched in 2005 in the age of firewalls. As we all know by now, the enterprise expanded beyond the cozy confines of a firewall long ago and vendors like Palo Alto have moved to securing data in the cloud now too. To that end, the company announced its intent to pay $173 million for RedLock today, an early-stage startup that helps companies make sure their cloud instances are locked down and secure.

The cloud vendors take responsibility for securing their own infrastructure, and for the most part the major vendors have done a decent job. What they can’t do is save their customers from themselves and that’s where a company like RedLock comes in.

As we’ve seen time and again, data has been exposed in cloud storage services like Amazon S3, not through any fault of Amazon itself, but because a faulty configuration has left the data exposed to the open internet. RedLock watches configurations like this and warns companies when something looks amiss.

When company emerged from stealth just a year ago, Varun Badhwar, company founder and CEO told TechCrunch that this is part of Amazon’s shared responsibility model. “They have diagrams where they have responsibility to secure physical infrastructure, but ultimately it’s the customer’s responsibility to secure the content, applications and firewall settings,” Badhwar told TechCrunch last year.

Badhwar speaking in a video interview about the acquisition says they have been focused on helping developers build cloud applications safely and securely, whether that’s Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud Platform. “We think about [RedLock] as guardrails or as bumper lanes in a bowling alley and just not letting somebody get that gutter ball and from a security standpoint, just making sure we don’t deviate from the best practices,” he explained.

“We built a technology platform that’s entirely cloud-based and very quick time to value since customers can just turn it on through API’s, and we love to shine the light and show our customers how to safely move into public cloud,” he added.

He believes that customers will benefit from RedLock’s compliance capabilities being combined with Palo Alto’s analytics capabilities to provide a more complete cloud security solution. It will also fit nicely with Evident.io, a cloud infrastructure security startup, the company acquired in March for $300 million.

RedLock launched in 2015 and has raised $12 million.


By Ron Miller