LinkedIn ads polls and live video-based events in a focus on more virtual engagement

With a large part of the working world doing jobs from home when possible these days, the focus right now is on how best to recreate the atmosphere of an office virtually, and how to replicate online essential work that used to be done in person. Today, LinkedIn announced a couple of big new feature updates that point to how it’s trying to play a part in both of these: it’s launching a new Polls feature for users to canvas opinions and get feedback; and it’s launching a new “LinkedIn Virtual Events” tool that lets people create and broadcast video events via its platform.

Despite now being owned by Microsoft, interestingly it doesn’t seem that the Virtual Events service taps into Teams or Skype, Microsoft’s two other big video products that it has been pushing hard at a time when use of video streaming for work, education and play is going through the roof.

The polls feature — you can see an example of one in the picture below, or respond to that specific poll here — is a quick-fire and low-bar way of asking a question and encouraging engagement: LinkedIn says that a poll takes only about 30 seconds to put together, and responding doesn’t require thinking of something to write, but gives the respondent more of a ‘voice’ than he or she would get just by providing a “like” or other reaction.

But as with some of the other social features that LinkedIn has implemented over the years, its timing has not been quite right. With polls, you might say it’s been frustratingly late… or you might say it left the party too early.

The feature was first spotted by developer and app digger Jane Manchun Wong a couple of weeks ago, but it comes years after Twitter and Facebook have had polls in place on their platforms. I’d say it’s taken LinkedIn years to catch up, but actually it had polls in place years ago, yet chose to sunset the feature, back in 2014.

You could argue that LinkedIn miscalled the direction that social would go with engagement, or that it took too long to resuscitate the experience, or that the novelty of the concept that now worn off. Or you might say that LinkedIn has picked just the right time to bring it back, at a time when people are spending more time online than ever and are looking for more ways of varying the experience and interacting.

Two important distinctions as you can see above, however, are that you are polling a very specific audience of people in your professional circle, and those people can both respond to the poll but also include comments and reactions. Both of these set the feature as it works on LinkedIn apart from the others and should give it some… engagement.

The polls feature is getting rolled out (again) starting today.

The LinkedIn Virtual Events feature, meanwhile, falls into a similar placement as polls: it’s a way of getting people to engage more on LinkedIn, it taps into trends that are huge outside of the platform — in this case, videoconferencing — and it’s something that is coming surprisingly late to LinkedIn, given its existing product assets.

But is also potentially going to prove very popular because it’s filling a very specific need.

LinkedIn Virtual Events is a merger of two products that LinkedIn launched last year, a live video broadcasting tool called LinkedIn Live, and its efforts to foster a sideline in offline, in person networking with LinkedIn Events. The idea here is that while physical events have been put on pause in the current climate — many cities have made group activities illegal in an attempt to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus — you can continue to use LinkedIn Events to plan them, but now carry them out over the Live platform. 

Given how huge the conferencing industry has become, I am guessing that we will be seeing a lot of attempts at recreating something of those events in a virtual, online context. LinkedIn’s take on the challenge — via Virtual Events — could therefore become a strong contender to host these.

When LinkedIn first launched Events I did ask the company whether it planned to expand them online using live, and indeed that did seem to be the plan. LinkedIn now says that it “accelerated” its product roadmap — unsurprising, given the current market — to merge the two products for targeted audiences.

That’s why we accelerated our product roadmap to bring you a tighter integration between LinkedIn Events and LinkedIn Live, turning these two products into a new virtual events solution that enables you to stay connected to your communities and meet your customers wherever they are. This new offering is designed to help you strengthen relationships with more targeted audiences.

This is not a simple integration, I should point out: LinkedIn is working with third-party broadcasting partners — the initial list includes Restream, Wirecast, Streamyard and Socialive — to raise the level of production quality, which will be essential especially if you are asking people to pay for events, and if you have any hope of replicating some of the networking other features that are cornerstones of conferencing and other in-person events.

It’s also building on what has been a successful product so far for LinkedIn: the company says that Live has 23X more comments per post and 6X more reactions per post than simple native video.


By Ingrid Lunden

Confluent lands another big round with $250M Series E on $4.2B valuation

The pandemic may feel all-encompassing at the moment, but Confluent announced a $250 million Series E today, showing that major investment continues in spite of the dire economic situation at the moment.

Today’s round follows last year’s $125 million Series D. At that point the company was valued a mere $2.5 billion. Investors obviously see a lot of potential here.

Coatue Management led the round with help from Altimeter Capital and Franklin Templeton. Existing investors Index Ventures and Sequoia Capital also participated. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $456 million.

The company is based on Apache Kafka, the open source streaming data project that emerged from LinkedIn in 2011. Confluent launched in 2014 and has gained steam, funding and gaudy valuations along the way.

CEO and co-founder Jay Kreps reports that growth continued last year when sales grew 100% over the previous year. A big part of that is the cloud product the company launched in 2017. It added a free tier last September, which feels pretty prescient right about now.

But the company isn’t making money giving stuff away, so much as attracting users, who can become customers at some point as they make their way through the sales funnel. The beauty of the cloud product is that you can buy by the sip.

The company has big plans for the product this year. Although Kreps was loath to go into detail, he says that there will be a series of changes coming up this year that will add significantly to the product’s capabilities.

“As part of this we’re going to have a major new set of capabilities for our cloud service, and for open source Kafka, and for our product that we’re going to announce every month for the rest of the year,” Kreps told TechCrunch. These will start rolling out the first week in May.

While he wouldn’t get specific, he says that it relates to the changing nature of cloud infrastructure deployment. “This whole infrastructure area is really evolving as it moves to the cloud. And so it has to become much, much more elastic and scalable as it really changes how it works. And we’re going to have announcements around what we think are the core capabilities of event streaming in the cloud,” he said.

While a round this big with a valuation this high and an institutional investor like Franklin Tempeton involved typically means an IPO could be the next step, Kreps was not ready to talk about that, except to say the company does plan to begin behaving in the cadence of a public company with a set of quarterly earnings, just not for public consumption yet.

The company was founded in 2014. It has 1000 employees and has plans to continue to hire and to expand the product. Kreps sees plenty of opportunity here in spite of the current economics.

“I don’t think you want to just turtle up and hang on to your existing customers and not expand if you’re in a market that’s really growing. What really got this round of investors excited is the fact that we’re onto something that has a huge market, and we want to continue to advance, even in these really weird uncertain times,” he said.


By Ron Miller

Box is now letting all staff work from home to reduce coronavirus risk

Box has joined a number of tech companies supporting employees to work remotely from home in response  the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19.

It’s applying the policy to all staff, regardless of location.

Late yesterday Box co-founder Aaron Levie tweeted a statement detailing the cloud computing company’s response to COVID-19 — to, as he put it, “ensure the availability of our service and safety of our employees”.

In recent days Twitter has similarly encouraged all staff members to work from home. While companies including Amazon, Google, LinkedIn and Microsoft have also advised some staff to work remotely to reduce the risk of exposure to the virus.

In its response statement Box writes that it’s enacted its business continuity plans “to ensure core business functions and technology are operational in the event of any potential disruption”.

“We have long recognized the potential risks associated with service interruptions due to adverse events, such as an earthquake, power outage or a public health crisis like COVID-19, affecting our strategic, operational, stakeholder and customer obligations. This is why we have had a Business Continuity program in place to provide the policies and plans necessary for protecting Box’s operations and critical business functions,” the company writes.

In a section on “workforce resilience and business continuity” it notes that work from home practices are a normal part of its business operations but says it’s now extending the option to all its staff, regardless of the office or location they normally work out of — saying it’s doing so “out of an abundance of caution during COVID-19”.

Other measures the company says it’s taken to further reduce risk include suspending all international travel and limiting non-essential domestic travel; reducing large customer events and gatherings; and emphasizing health and hygiene across all office locations — “by maintaining sanitation supplies and encouraging an ‘if you are sick, stay home’ mindset”.

It also says it’s conducting all new hire orientation and candidate interviews virtually.

Box names a number of tools it says it routinely uses to support mobility and remote working, including its own service for secure content collaboration; Zoom’s video communication tool; the Slack messaging app; Okta for secure ID; plus additional unnamed “critical cloud tools” for ensuring “uninterrupted remote work for all employees”.

Clearly spying the opportunity to onboard new users, as more companies switch on remote working as a result of COVID-19 concerns, Box’s post also links to free training resources for its own cloud computing tools.


By Natasha Lomas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


By Ingrid Lunden

Top VCs on the changing landscape for enterprise startups

Yesterday at TechCrunch’s Enterprise event in San Francisco, we sat down with three venture capitalists who spend a lot of their time thinking about enterprise startups. We wanted to ask what trends they are seeing, what concerns they might have about the state of the market, and of course, how startups might persuade them to write out a check.

We covered a lot of ground with the investors — Jason Green of Emergence Capital, Rebecca Lynn of Canvas Ventures, and Maha Ibrahim of Canaan Partners — who told us, among other things, that startups shouldn’t expect a big M&A event right now, that there’s no first-mover advantage in the enterprise realm, and why grit may be the quality that ends up keeping a startup afloat.

On the growth of enterprise startups:

Jason Green: When we started Emergence 15 years ago, we saw maybe a few hundred startups a year, and we funded about five or six. Today, we see over 1,000 a year; we probably do deep diligence on 25.


By Connie Loizos

Salesforce’s Tableau acquisition is huge, but not the hugest

When you’re talking about 16 billion smackeroos, it’s easy to get lost in the big number. When Salesforce acquired Tableau this morning for $15.7 billion, while it was among the biggest enterprise deals ever, it certainly wasn’t the largest.

There was widespread speculation that when the new tax laws went into effect in 2017, and large tech companies could repatriate large sums of their money stored offshore, we would start to see a wave of M&A activity, and sure enough that’s happened.

As Box CEO Aaron Levie pointed out on Twitter, it also shows that if you can develop a best-of-breed tool that knocks off the existing dominant tool set, you can build a multibillion-dollar company. We have seen this over and over, maybe not $15 billion companies, but substantial companies with multibillion-dollar price tags.

Last year alone we saw 10 deals that equaled $87 billion, with the biggest prize going to IBM when it bought Red Hat for a cool $34 billion, but even that wasn’t the biggest enterprise deal we could track down. In fact, we decided to compile a list of the biggest enterprise deals ever, so you could get a sense of where today’s deal fits.

Salesforce buys MuleSoft for $6.5 billion in 2018

At the time, this was the biggest deal Salesforce had ever done — until today. While the company has been highly acquisitive over the years, it had tended to keep the deals fairly compact for the most part, but it wanted MuleSoft to give it access to enterprise data wherever, it lived and it was willing to pay for it.

Microsoft buys GitHub for $7.5 billion in 2018

Not to be outdone by its rival, Microsoft opened its wallet almost exactly a year ago and bought GitHub for a hefty $7.5 billion. There was some hand-wringing in the developer community at the time, but so far, Microsoft has allowed the company to operate as an independent subsidiary.

SAP buys Qualtrics for $8 billion in 2018

SAP swooped in right before Qualtrics was about to IPO and gave it an offer it couldn’t refuse. Qualtrics gave SAP a tool for measuring customer satisfaction, something it had been lacking and was willing to pay big bucks for.

Oracle acquires NetSuite for $9.3 billion in 2016

It wasn’t really a surprise when Oracle acquired NetSuite. It had been an investor and Oracle needed a good SaaS tool at the time, as it was transitioning to the cloud. NetSuite gave it a ready-to-go packaged cloud service with a built-in set of customers it desperately needed.

Salesforce buys Tableau for $15.7 billion in 2019

That brings us to today’s deal. Salesforce swooped in again and paid an enormous sum of money for the Seattle software company, giving it a data visualization tool that would enable customers to create views of data wherever it lives, whether it’s part of Salesforce or not. What’s more, it was a great complement to last year’s MuleSoft acquisition.

Broadcom acquires CA Technologies for $18.9 billion in 2018

A huge deal in dollars from a year of big deals. Broadcom surprised a few people when a chip vendor paid this kind of money for a legacy enterprise software vendor and IT services company. The $18.9 billion represented a 20% premium for shareholders.

Microsoft snags LinkedIn for $26 billion in 2016

This was a company that Salesforce reportedly wanted badly at the time, but Microsoft was able to flex its financial muscles and come away the winner. The big prize was all of that data, and Microsoft has been working to turn that into products ever since.

IBM snares Red Hat for $34 billion in 2018

Near the end of last year, IBM made a huge move, acquiring Red Hat for $34 billion. IBM has been preaching a hybrid cloud approach for a number of years, and buying Red Hat gives it a much more compelling hybrid story.

Dell acquires EMC for $67 billion in 2016

This was the biggest of all, by far surpassing today’s deal. A deal this large was in the news for months as it passed various hurdles on the way to closing. Among the jewels that were included in this deal were VMware and Pivotal, the latter of which has since gone public. After this deal, Dell itself went public again last year.


By Ron Miller

Beyond costs, what else can we do to make housing affordable?

This week on Extra Crunch, I am exploring innovations in inclusive housing, looking at how 200+ companies are creating more access and affordability. Yesterday, I focused on startups trying to lower the costs of housing, from property acquisition to management and operations.

Today, I want to focus on innovations that improve housing inclusion more generally, such as efforts to pair housing with transit, small business creation, and mental rehabilitation. These include social impact-focused interventions, interventions that increase income and mobility, and ecosystem-builders in housing innovation.

Nonprofits and social enterprises lead many of these innovations. Yet because these areas are perceived to be not as lucrative, fewer technologists and other professionals have entered them. New business models and technologies have the opportunity to scale many of these alternative institutions — and create tremendous social value. Social impact is increasingly important to millennials, with brands like Patagonia having created loyal fan bases through purpose-driven leadership.

While each of these sections could be their own market map, this overall market map serves as an initial guide to each of these spaces.

Social impact innovations

These innovations address:


By Arman Tabatabai

LinkedIn integrates and updates jobs and hiring platforms, hits 20M job postings

LinkedIn, the social networking platform for the working world that’s now owned by Microsoft, has leveraged its role as a repository for people’s work profiles into making itself a job hunting and recruitment powerhouse.

The company today has amassed more than 20 million job listings — up from a mere 300,000  five years ago — and sees its 600 million users collectively apply to jobs 25 million times per week. That activity also translates to big business: paid subscriptions specifically aimed at recruiters, paid tiers for average users who want to have more access to contacting people for jobs, job ads and more all contribute to LinkedIn’s bottom line, a business that is projected to hit $6.4 billion in revenues for 2019, growing 27 percent in the last quarter.

Now, LinkedIn is stepping up a gear in the operation. After a two-year effort, LinkedIn is today announcing that it has finally integrated its jobs and hiring efforts and announcing a raft of new features for both.

On the jobs front, they include instant job alerts, a redesign of the Jobs home page, and more salary insights available to all users (including free users), with skills assessments coming soon.

On the recruitment front, LinkedIn Jobs, Recruiter, and Pipeline Builder are all coming together to create a more seamless way to manage how you post ads, source candidates and other leads and ultimately  interact with them in the process of hiring them.

“This will mean higher quality candiates, better jobs and a better fit,” VP of product John Jersin said in an interview. When asked why it took so long to integrate these tools — and why the process didn’t happen five years ago, for example, he answered that it was more of a consequence of how expectations have evolved as tech has evolved to question some of the silos that are incumbent to how we do business.

“We designed these systems in a way that worked well, but no one foresaw what we needed,” he said. “Advancements in AI have driven the strategy, and integrating all this means we can all learn better from each other.”

The new features that LinkedIn is bringing to jobseekers are responses to how our communications have evolved with the rise of the smartphone. It notes that jobseekers who respond to ads faster are more likely  to get the job, so now when a job gets posted that meet your search criteria, you can get a ping within minutes of the posting. Meanwhile, the redesign of the Jobs homepage is more mobile friendly, with added search features that take into account how you navigate on handheld devices.

The skill assessments, meanwhile, seems to me to be a direct response to the many new innovations we’ve seen among e-learning and recruitment startups, where companies like Coursera and Triplebyte are offering more tools to people to figure out where the best fit might be for their skills in the working world. LinkedIn notes that these can both be used by individuals to verify their skills — tackling a perennial problem with people putting empty claims on their resumes — and also recruiters to source people for jobs.

Important steps for the company, but there remain a lot of opportunities for smaller and newer upstarts to take bites out of LinkedIn’s business in areas where it is still being slow to develop.

For example, we’ve seen the emergence of interesting, more targeted recruitment startups that focus on, say, recruiting with racial diversity in mind (as in the case of Handshake) or focusing on, say, women returning to work after having children (as in the case of the Mom Project). While LinkedIn has made some baby steps (no pun intended) in this area, there is still a ways to go, opening the door to others to come in.

“This is a challenging and multifaceted problem,” admitted Jersin, “but LinkedIn is committed to trying to solve it.” He said the company has quietly started to work on ways of picking up more information that “could be more useful” in addressing questions like these. “One thing that is important is a sense of trust,” he noted as one of the challenges that needs to be tackled online. “I think we are very lucky to be one of the few companies out there that can say that we would use this information responsibly, in the interests of jobseeker.”


By Ingrid Lunden

Innovations in inclusive housing

Housing is big money. The industry has trillions under management and hundreds of billions under development.

And investors have noticed the potential. Opendoor raised nearly $1.3 billion to help homeowners buy and sell houses more quickly. Katerra raised $1.2 billion to optimize building development and construction, and Compass raised the same amount to help brokers sell real estate better. Even Amazon and Airbnb have entered the fray with high-profile investments.

Amidst this frenetic growth is the seed of the next wave of innovation in the sector. The housing industry — and its affordability problem — is only likely to balloon. By 2030, 84% of the population of developed countries will live in cities.

Yet innovation in housing lags compared to those of other industries. In construction, a major aspect of housing development, players spend less than 1% of their revenues on research and development. Technology companies, like the Amazons of the world, spend nearly 10% on average.

Innovations in older, highly-regulated industries, like housing and real estate, are part of what Steve Case calls the “third wave” of technology. VCs like Case’s Revolution Fund and the SoftBank Vision Fund are investing billions into what they believe is the future.

These innovations are far from silver bullets, especially if they lack involvement from underrepresented communities, avoid policy, and ignore distributive questions about who gets to benefit from more housing.

Yet there are hundreds of interventions reworking housing that cannot be ignored. To help entrepreneurs, investors, and job seekers interested in creating better housing, I mapped these innovations in this package of articles.

To make sense of this broad field, I categorize innovations into two main groups, which I detail in two separate pieces on Extra Crunch. The first (Part 1) identifies the key phases of developing and managing housing. The second (Part 2) section identifies interventions that contribute to housing inclusion more generally, such as efforts to pair housing with transit, small business creation, and mental rehabilitation.

Unfortunately, many of these tools don’t guarantee more affordability. Lowering acquisition costs, for instance, doesn’t mean that renters or homeowners will necessarily benefit from those savings. As a result, some tools likely need to be paired with others to ensure cost savings that benefit end users — and promote long-term affordability. I detail efforts here so that mission-driven advocates as well as startup founders can adopt them for their own efforts.


Topics We Explore

Today:

Coming Tomorrow:

  • Part 2. Other contributions to housing affordability
    • Social Impact Innovations
    • Landlord-Tenant Tools
    • Innovations that Increase Income
    • Innovations that Increase Transit Accessibility and Reduce Parking
    • Innovations that Improve the Ability to Regulate Housing
    • Organizations that Support the Housing Innovation Ecosystem
  • This is Just the Beginning
  • I’m Personally Closely Watching the Following Initiatives.
  • The Limitations of Technology
  • Move Fast and Protect People


Please feel free to let me know what else is exciting by adding a note to your LinkedIn invite here.

If you’re excited about this topic, feel free to subscribe to my future of inclusive housing newsletter by viewing a past issue here.


By Arman Tabatabai

Market map: the 200+ innovative startups transforming affordable housing

In this section of my exploration into innovation in inclusive housing, I am digging into the 200+ companies impacting the key phases of developing and managing housing.

Innovations have reduced costs in the most expensive phases of the housing development and management process. I explore innovations in each of these phases, including construction, land, regulatory, financing, and operational costs.

Reducing Construction Costs

This is one of the top three challenges developers face, exacerbated by rising building material costs and labor shortages.


By Arman Tabatabai

Adobe announces deeper data sharing partnership with Microsoft around accounts

Microsoft and Adobe have been building a relationship for some time, and today the two companies announced a deeper integration between the two platforms at Adobe Summit in Las Vegas.

It involves sharing Marketo data, the company that Adobe acquired last September for $4.75 billion. Because it’s marketers, they were duty-bound to give it a new name. This data sharing approach is being dubbed Account Based Experience or ABX for short. The two companies are sharing data account data between a number of sources including Marketo Engage in Adobe Experience Cloud and Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Sales, as well as the LinkedIn, the business social platform Microsoft bought in 2016 for a whopping $26.2 billion.

Microsoft has been trying to find ways to put that LinkedIn data to work, and tools like Marketo can use the data in LinkedIn to understand their account contacts better. Steve Lucas, former CEO at Marketo, who is now Senior Vice President and head of the Marketo team at Adobe says accounts tend to be much more complex sales than selling to individuals, involving multiple decision makers. It’s a sales cycle that can stretch on for months, and having access to additional data about the account contacts can have a big impact.

“With these new account-based capabilities, marketing and sales teams will have increased alignment around the people and accounts they are engaging, and new ways to measure that business impact,” Lucas explained in a statement.

Brent Leary, principal at CRM Essentials, who has been working in CRM, customer service and marketing for years sees this as useful partnership for customers from both vendors. “Integrating Microsoft Dynamics and LinkedIn more closely with Marketo gives Adobe’s Experience Cloud some great data to leverage in order to have a more complete picture of B2B customers,” Leary told TechCrunch.

The goal is to close complex sales, and having access to more complete data across the two product sets can help achieve that.


By Ron Miller

Mixmax brings LinkedIn integration and better task automation to its Gmail tool

Mixmax today introduced version 2.0 of its Gmail-based tool and plugin for Chrome that promises to make your daily communications chores a bit easier to handle.

With version 2.0, Mixmax gets an updated editor that better integrates with the current Gmail interface and that gets out of the way of popular extensions like Grammarly. That’s table stakes, of course, but I’ve tested it for a bit and the new version does indeed do a better job of integrating itself into the current Gmail interface and feels a bit faster, too.

What’s more interesting in that the service now features a better integration with LinkedIn . There’s both an integration with the LinkedIn Sales Navigator, LinkedIn’s tool for generating sales leads and contacting them, and LinkedIn’s messaging tools for sending InMail and connection requests — and see info about a recipient’s LinkedIn profile, including the LinkedIn Icebreakers section — right from the Mixmax interface.

Together with its existing Salesforce integration, this should make the service even more interesting to sales people. And the Salesforce integration, too, is getting a bit of a new feature that can now automatically create a new contact in the CRM tool when a prospect’s email address — maybe from LinkedIn — isn’t in your database yet.

Also new in Mixmax 2.0 is something the company calls “Beast Mode.” Not my favorite name, I have to admit, but it’s an interesting task automation tool that focusing on helping customer-facing users prioritize and complete batches of tasks quickly and that extends the service’s current automation tools.

Finally, Mixmax now also features a Salesforce-linked dialer widget for making calls right from the Chrome extension.

“We’ve always been focused on helping business people communicate better, and everything we’re rolling out for Mixmax 2.0 only underscores that focus,” said Mixmax CEO and Co-Founder Olof Mathé. “Many of our users live in Gmail and our integration with LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator ensures users can conveniently make richer connections and seamlessly expand their networks as part of their email workflow.”

Whether you get these new features depends on how much you pay, though. Everybody, including free users, get access to the refreshed interface. Beast Mode and the dialer are available with the enterprise plan, the company’s highest-level plan which doesn’t have a published price. ThedDialer is also available for an extra $20/user/month on the $49/month/user Growth plan. LinkedIn Sales Navigator support is available with the growth and enterprise plans.

Sadly, that means that if you are on the cheaper Starter and Small Business plans ($9/user/month and $24/user/month respectively), you won’t see any of these new features anytime soon.


By Frederic Lardinois

Open-source leader Confluent raises $125m on $2.5b valuation

Confluent, the commercial company built on top of the open source Apache Kafka project, announced a $125 million Series D round this morning on an enormous $2.5 billion valuation.

The round was led by existing investor Sequoia Capital with participation from Index Ventures and Benchmark, who also participated in previous rounds. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $206 million, according the company.

The valuation soared from the previous round when the company was valued at $500 million. What’s more, the company’s bookings have scaled along with the valuation.

Graph: Confluent

 

While CEO Jay Kreps wouldn’t comment directly on a future IPO, he hinted that it is something the company is looking to do at some point. “With our growth and momentum so far, and with the latest funding, we are in a very good position to and have a desire to build a strong, independent company…” Kreps told TechCrunch.

Confluent and Kafka have developed a streaming data technology that processes massive amounts of information in real time, something that comes in handy in today’s data-intensive environment. The base streaming database technology was developed at LinkedIn as a means of moving massive amounts of messages. The company decided to open source that technology in 2011, and Confluent launched as the commercial arm in 2014.

Kreps, writing in a company blog post announcing the funding, said that the events concept encompasses the basic building blocks of businesses. “These events are the orders, sales and customer experiences, that constitute the operation of the business. Databases have long helped to store the current state of the world, but we think this is only half of the story. What is missing are the continually flowing stream of events that represents everything happening in a company, and that can act as the lifeblood of its operation,” he wrote.

Kreps pointed out that as an open source project, Confluent depends on the community. “This is not something we’re doing alone. Apache Kafka has a massive community of contributors of which we’re just one part,” he wrote.

While the base open source component remains available for free download, it doesn’t include the additional tooling the company has built to make it easier for enterprises to use Kafka.
Recent additions include a managed cloud version of the product and a marketplace, Confluent Hub, for sharing extensions to the platform.

As we watch the company’s valuation soar, it does so against a backdrop of other companies based on open source selling for big bucks in 2018 including IBM buying Red Hat for $34 billion in October and Salesforce acquiring Mulesoft in June for $6.5 billion.

The company’s most recent round was $50 million in March, 2017.


By Ron Miller

LinkedIn cuts off email address exports with new privacy setting

A win for privacy on LinkedIn could be a big loss for businesses, recruiters, and anyone else expecting to be able to export the email addresses of their connections. LinkedIn just quietly introduced a new privacy setting that defaults to blocking other users from exporting your email address. That could prevent some spam, and protect users who didn’t realize anyone who they’re connected to could download their email address into a giant spreadsheet. But the launch of this new setting without warning or even a formal announcement could piss off users who’d invested tons of time into the professional networking site in hopes of contacting their connections outside of it.

TechCrunch was tipped off by a reader that emails were no longer coming through as part of LinkedIn’s Archive tool for exporting your data. Now LinkedIn confirms to TechCrunch that “This is a new setting that gives our members even more control their email address on LinkedIn. If you take a look at the setting titled “Who can download your email”, you’ll see we’ve added a more detailed setting that defaults to the strongest privacy option. Members can choose to change that setting based on their preference. This gives our members control over who can download their email address via a data export.”

That new option can be found under Settings & Privacy -> Privacy -> Who Can See My Email Address? This “Allow your connections to download your email [address of user] in their data export?” toggle defaults to ‘No’. Most users don’t know it exists since LinkedIn didn’t announce it, there’s merely been a folded up section added to the Help center on email visibility, and few might voluntarily change it to ‘Yes’ since there’s no explanation of why you’d want to. That means nearly no one’s email addresses will appear in LinkedIn Archive exports any more. Your connections will still be able to see your email address if they navigate to your profile, but they can’t grab those from their whole graph.

Facebook came to the same conclusion about restricting email exports back when it was in a data portability fight with Google in 2010. Facebook had been encouraging users to import their Gmail contacts, but refused to let users export their Friends’ email addresses. It argued that users own their own email addresses, but not those of their Friends, so they couldn’t be downloaded — though that stance conveniently prevented any other app from bootstrapping a competing social graph by importing your Facebook friend list in any usable way. I’ve argued that Facebook needs to make friend lists interoperable to give users choice about what apps they use, both because it’s the right thing to do but also because it could deter regulation.

On a social network like Facebook, barring email exports makes more sense. But on LinkedIn’s professional network where people are purposefully connecting with those they don’t know, and where exporting has always been allowed, making the change silently seems surreptitious. Perhaps LinkedIn didn’t want to bring attention to the fact it was allowing your email address to be slurped up by anyone you’re connected with given the current media climate of intense scrutiny regarding privacy in social tech. But trying to hide a change that’s massively impactful to businesses that rely on LinkedIn could erode the trust of its core users.


By Josh Constine

LinkedIn launches its own Snapchat Stories: “Student Voices”

The social media singularity continues with the arrival of Snapchat Stories-style slideshows on LinkedIn as the app grasps for relevance with a younger audience. LinkedIn confirms to TechCrunch that it plans to build Stories for more sets of users, but first it’s launching “Student Voices” just for university students in the US. The feature appears atop the LinkedIn home screen and lets students post short videos to their Campus Playlist. The videos (no photos allowed) disappear from the playlist after a week while staying permanently visible on a user’s own profile in the Recent Activity section. Students can tap through their school’s own slideshow and watch the Campus Playlists of nearby universities.

LinkedIn now confirms the feature is in testing, with product manager Isha Patel telling TechCrunch “Campus playlists are a new video feature that we’re currently rolling out to college students in the US. As we know, students love to use video to capture moments so we’ve created this new product to help them connect with one another around shared experiences on campus to help create a sense of community.” Student Voices was first spotted by social consultant Carlos Gil, and tipped by Socially Contented’s Cathy Wassell to Matt Navarra.

A LinkedIn spokesperson tells us the motive behind the feature is to get students sharing their academic experiences like internships, career fairs, and class projects that they’d want to show off to recruiters as part of their personal brand. “It’s a great way for students to build out their profile and have this authentic content that shows who they are and what their academic and professional experiences have been. Having these videos live on their profile can help students grow their network, prepare for life after graduation, and help potential employers learn more about them” Patel says.

But unfortunately that ignores the fact that Stories were originally invented for broadcasting off-the-cuff moments that disappear so you DON’T have to worry about their impact on your reputation. That dissonance might confuse users, discourage them from posting to Student Voices, or lead them to assume their clips will disappear from their profile too — which could leave embarrassing content exposed to hirers. “Authenticity” might not necessarily paint users in the best light to recruiters, so it seems more likely that students would post polished clips promoting their achievements…if they use it at all.

LinkedIn seems to be desperate to appeal to the next generation. Social app investigator and TechCrunch’s favorite tipster Jane Manchun Wong today spotted 10 minor new features LinkedIn is prototyping that include youth-centric options like GIF comments, location sharing in messages, and Facebook Reactions-style buttons beyond “Like” such as “Clap”, “Insightful”, “Hmm”, and “Support”.

When users post to Student Stories, they’ll have their university’s logo overlaid as a sticker they can move around. LinkedIn will generate this plus a set of suggested hashtags like #OnCampus based on a user’s profile including what school they say they attend, though users can also overlay their own text captions. Typically, users in the test phase were sharing videos of around 30 to 45 seconds. “Students are taking us to their school hackathons, showing us their group projects, sharing their student group activities and teaching us about causes they care about” Patel explains. You can see an example video here, and watch a sizzle reel about the feature below.

For now, LinkedIn tells me it has no plans to insert ads between clips in Student Voices. But if the Stories content assists with discovering and vetting job candidates, it could make LinkedIn more unique and indispensable to recruiters who do pay for premium access. And if these Stories get a ton of views simply by being emblazoned atop the LinkedIn feed, users might return to the app more frequently to share them. As we’ve seen with the steady increase in popularity of Facebook Stories, if you give people a stage for narcissism, they will fill it.

LinkedIn’s start as a dry web tool for seeking jobs has made for a rocky transition as it tries to become a daily habit for users. Some tactical advice in its feed can be helpful, but much of LinkedIn’s content feels blatantly self-promotional, boring, or transactional. Meanwhile, it’s encountering new competition as Facebook integrates career listings and job applications for blue-collar work into its social network that already sees over a billion people visit each day. It’s understandable why LinkedIn would try to latch on to the visual communication trend, as Facebook estimates Stories sharing will surpass feed sharing across all apps in 2019. But Student Voices nonetheless feels unabashedly “how do you do, fellow kids?”


By Josh Constine