Spain’s Factorial raises $80M at a $530M valuation on the back of strong traction for its ‘Workday for SMBs’

Factorial, a startup out of Barcelona that has built a platform that lets SMBs run human resources functions with the same kind of tools that typically are used by much bigger companies, is today announcing some funding to bulk up its own position: the company has raised $80 million, funding that it will be using to expand its operations geographically — specifically deeper into Latin American markets — and to continue to augment its product with more features.

CEO Jordi Romero, who co-founded the startup with Pau Ramon and Bernat Farrero — said in an interview that Factorial has seen a huge boom of growth in the last 18 months and counts more than anything 75,000 customers across 65 countries, with the average size of each customer in the range of 100 employees, although they can be significantly (single-digit) smaller or potentially up to 1,000 (the “M” of SMB, or SME as it’s often called in Europe).

“We have a generous definition of SME,” Romero said of how the company first started with a target of 10-15 employees but is now working in the size bracket that it is. “But that is the limit. This is the segment that needs the most help. We see other competitors of ours are trying to move into SME and they are screwing up their product by making it too complex. SMEs want solutions that have as much data as possible in one single place. That is unique to the SME.” Customers can include smaller franchises of much larger organizations, too: KFC, Booking.com, and Whisbi are among those that fall into this category for Factorial.

Factorial offers a one-stop shop to manage hiring, onboarding, payroll management, time off, performance management, internal communications and more. Other services such as the actual process of payroll or sourcing candidates, it partners and integrates closely with more localized third parties.

The Series B is being led by Tiger Global, and past investors CRV, Creandum, Point Nine and K Fund also participating, at a valuation we understand from sources close to the deal to be around $530 million post-money. Factorial has raised $100 million to date, including a $16 million Series A round in early 2020, just ahead of the Covid-19 pandemic really taking hold of the world.

That timing turned out to be significant: Factorial, as you might expect of an HR startup, was shaped by Covid-19 in a pretty powerful way.

The pandemic, as we have seen, massively changed how — and where — many of us work. In the world of desk jobs, offices largely disappeared overnight, with people shifting to working at home in compliance with shelter-in-place orders to curb the spread of the virus, and then in many cases staying there even after those were lifted as companies grappled both with balancing the best (and least infectious) way forward and their own employees’ demands for safety and productivity. Front-line workers, meanwhile, faced a completely new set of challenges in doing their jobs, whether it was to minimize exposure to the coronavirus, or dealing with giant volumes of demand for their services. Across both, organizations were facing economics-based contractions, furloughs, and in other cases, hiring pushes, despite being office-less to carry all that out.

All of this had an impact on HR. People who needed to manage others, and those working for organizations, suddenly needed — and were willing to pay for — new kinds of tools to carry out their roles.

But it wasn’t always like this. In the early days, Romero said the company had to quickly adjust to what the market was doing.

“We target HR leaders and they are currently very distracted with furloughs and layoffs right now, so we turned around and focused on how we could provide the best value to them,” Romero said to me during the Series A back in early 2020. Then, Factorial made its product free to use and found new interest from businesses that had never used cloud-based services before but needed to get something quickly up and running to use while working from home (and that cloud migration turned out to be a much bigger trend played out across a number of sectors). Those turning to Factorial had previously kept all their records in local files or at best a “Dropbox folder, but nothing else,” Romero said.

It also provided tools specifically to address the most pressing needs HR people had at the time, such as guidance on how to implement furloughs and layoffs, best practices for communication policies and more. “We had to get creative,” Romero said.

But it wasn’t all simple. “We did suffer at the beginning,” Romero now says. “People were doing furloughs and [frankly] less attention was being paid to software purchasing. People were just surviving. Then gradually, people realized they needed to improve their systems in the cloud, to manage remote people better, and so on.” So after a couple of very slow months, things started to take off, he said.

Factorial’s rise is part of a much, longer-term bigger trend in which the enterprise technology world has at long last started to turn its attention to how to take the tools that originally were built for larger organizations, and right size them for smaller customers.

The metrics are completely different: large enterprises are harder to win as customers, but represent a giant payoff when they do sign up; smaller enterprises represent genuine scale since there are so many of them globally — 400 million, accounting for 95% of all firms worldwide. But so are the product demands, as Romero pointed out previously: SMBs also want powerful tools, but they need to work in a more efficient, and out-of-the-box way.

Factorial is not the only HR startup that has been honing in on this, of course. Among the wider field are PeopleHR, Workday, Infor, ADP, Zenefits, Gusto, IBM, Oracle, SAP and Rippling; and a very close competitor out of Europe, Germany’s Personio, raised $125 million on a $1.7 billion valuation earlier this year, speaking not just to the opportunity but the success it is seeing in it.

But the major fragmentation in the market, the fact that there are so many potential customers, and Factorial’s own rapid traction are three reasons why investors approached the startup, which was not proactively seeking funding when it decided to go ahead with this Series B.

“The HR software market opportunity is very large in Europe, and Factorial is incredibly well positioned to capitalize on it,” said John Curtius, Partner at Tiger Global, in a statement. “Our diligence found a product that delighted customers and a world-class team well-positioned to achieve Factorial’s potential.”

“It is now clear that labor markets around the world have shifted over the past 18 months,” added Reid Christian, general partner at CRV, which led its previous round, which had been CRV’s first investment in Spain. “This has strained employers who need to manage their HR processes and properly serve their employees. Factorial was always architected to support employers across geographies with their HR and payroll needs, and this has only accelerated the demand for their platform. We are excited to continue to support the company through this funding round and the next phase of growth for the business.”

Notably, Romero told me that the fundraising process really evolved between the two rounds, with the first needing him flying around the world to meet people, and the second happening over video links, while he was recovering himself from Covid-19. Given that it was not too long ago that the most ambitious startups in Europe were encouraged to relocate to the U.S. if they wanted to succeed, it seems that it’s not just the world of HR that is rapidly shifting in line with new global conditions.


By Ingrid Lunden

Homebase raises $70M for a team management platform aimed at SMBs and their hourly workers

Small and medium enterprises have become a big opportunity in the world of B2B technology in the last several years, and today a startup that’s building tools aimed at helping them manage their teams of workers is announcing some funding that underscores the state of that market. Homebase, which provides a platform that helps SMBs manage various services related to their hourly workforces, has closed $70 million in funding, a Series C that values the company at between $500 million and $600 million, according to sources close to the startup.

The round has a number of big names in it that are as much a sign of how large VCs are valuing the SMB market right now, as it is of the strategic interest of the individuals who are also participating. GGV Capital is leading the round, with past backers Bain Capital Ventures, Baseline Ventures, Bedrock, Cowboy Ventures, and Khosla Ventures also participating. Individuals meanwhile include president of Focus Brands Kat Cole, Jocelyn Mangan (a board member at PapaJohns and Chownow and former COO of Snag), former CFO of payroll and benefits company Gusto Mike Dinsdale, Guild Education founder Rachel Carlson, star athletes Jrue and Lauren Holiday and alright alright alright actor and famous everyman and future political candidate Matthew McConaughey.

Homebase has raised $108 million to date.

The funding is coming on the heels of strong growth for Homebase (which is not to be confused with the UK/Irish home improvement chain of the same name, nor the YC-backed Vietnamese proptech startup).

The company now has some 100,000 small businesses, with 1 million employees in total, on its platform, which use Homebase to manage all manner of activities related to workers that are paid hourly, including (most recently) payroll, as well as shift scheduling, timeclocks and timesheets, hiring and onboarding, communication, and HR compliance.

John Waldmann, Homebase’s founder and CEO, said the funding will go towards both continuing to bring on more customers, as well as expand the list of services offered to them, which could include more features geared to front-line and service workers, as well as features for small businesses who might also have some “desk” workers who might still work hourly.

The common thread, Waldmann said, is not the exact nature of those jobs, but the fact that all of them, partly because of that hourly aspect, have been largely underserved by tech up to now.

“From the beginning, our mission was to help local businesses and their teams,” he said. Part of his inspiration he said came from people he knew: a childhood friend who owned an independent, expanding restaurant chain, and was going through the challenges of managing his teams there, carrying out most of his work on paper; and his sister who worked in hospitality, which didn’t look all that different from his restaurant friend’s challenges. She had to call in to see when she was working, writing her hours in a notebook to make sure she got paid accurately. 

“There are a lot of tech companies focused on making work easier for folks that sit at computers or desks, but are building tools for these others,” Waldmann said. “In the world of work, the experience just looks different with technology.”

Homebase currently is focused on the North American market — there are some 5 million small businesses in the U.S. alone, and so there is a lot of opportunity there. The huge pressure that many them have experienced in the last 18 months of Covid-19 living, leading some to shut down altogether, has also focused the mind on how to manage and carry out work much more efficiently and in a more organized way to ensure you know where your staff is, and that your staff knows what it should be doing at all times.

What will be interesting is to see what kinds of services Homebase adds to its platform over time: in a way it’s a sign of how the hourly wage workers are becoming a more sophisticated and salient aspect of the workforce, with their own unique demands. Payroll, which is now live in 27 states, also comes with pay advances, opening the door to other kinds of financial services for Homebase, for example.

“Small businesses are the lifeblood of the American economy, with more than 60% of Americans employed by one of our 30 million small businesses. In a post-pandemic world, technology has never been more important to businesses of all sizes, including SMBs,” said Jeff Richards, managing aartner at GGV Capital and new Homebase board member. “The team at Homebase has worked tirelessly for years to bring technology to SMBs in a way that helps drive increased profitability, better hiring and growth. We’re thrilled to see Homebase playing such an important role in America’s small business recovery and thrilled to be part of the mission going forward.”

It’s interesting to see McConaughey involved in this round, given that he’s most recently made a turn towards politics, with plans to run for governor of Texas in 2022. “Hard working people who work in and run restaurants and local businesses are important to all of us,” he said. “They play an important role in giving our cities a sense of livelihood, identity, and community. This is why I’ve invested in Homebase. Homebase brings small business operations into the modern age and helps folks across the country not only continue to work harder, but work smarter.”


By Ingrid Lunden

SmartRecruiters raises $110M at a $1.5B valuation to expand its end-to-end recruitment platform

The global Covid-19 pandemic had a chilling effect on a number of industries and their workforces, resulting in mass furloughs and layoffs. But now, with countries now taking steps back to “normal”, that has been leading, in many cases, back to a hiring surge. Today, SmartRecruiters, one of the companies that has built software to handle that process more smoothly, is announcing $110 million in funding to seize the moment.

The funding, a Series E, is coming in at a $1.5 billion valuation, the company confirmed. Silver Lake Waterman is leading this round, with previous backers Insight Partners, and Mayfield Fund also participating.

The investment will be used in two areas. First, SmartRecruiters plans to continue expanding business — its primary customers are large enterprises with Visa, Square, McDonald’s, Ubisoft, FireEye, Biogen, Equinox and Public Storage among them, and the plan will be to bring on more of these globally. Jerome Ternynck, SmartRecruiters’ CEO and founder, pointed out that one of its clients made a move recently in which it had to swiftly ramp up by 10,000 people in 90 days.

“That is the scale of the great rehire that we are aiming to serve,” he said.

And second, it plans to hire and invest more in product. Specifically, Ternynck said the company is looking to build more intelligence into its platform, so that it can help customers find ideal matches for roles and provide them with tools to automate and reduce the busy work of managing a recruitment process.

This is a notable area for growth, and one that smaller startups have also identified and are building to fix: just yesterday, one of them, Dover, announced a Series A.

Ternynck likes to describe SmartRecruiters as “the Salesforce of recruiting”, by which he means that it provides a system of record for large enterprises who can manage 100% of the process of recruitment, from sourcing candidates to hire.

“In recruiting tech, we are the mothership,” he said, with some 600 vendors integrated into its platform — a mark of how fragmented the wider industry really is.

(Salesforce, incidentally, is an investor in SmartRecruiters, and while right now it’s not directly working with its portfolio company to build recruitment into what it operates as essentially a massive CRM behemoth, it’s an interesting prospect and seems like a no-brainer that it might try to some day. Ternynck would not comment…)

There are already a lot of application tracking systems in the market that can handle the basics of logging candidates and managing their progress through the screening, interview, references, and hiring/rejection cycle — Ternynck, in fact founded and sold one of the pioneers in that space, But the problem with these is that they are limited and often work within their own silos. He refers to these ATS systems as “the first generation” of recruitment software, a generation that is now getting replaced.

There are some big changes driving that evolution, and specifically SmartRecruiters’ growth. One key area is the bigger shift in “digital transformation”, precipitated by the pandemic but also a bigger shift to cloud-based computing and evolutions in big data management. Fragmentation is rife in recruiting, but we now are equipped in the world of IT with many, many ways of navigating that and using the wide amount of information out there to our advantage.

But there is another, more epistemological shift, too. Recruitment, and talent in general, has become a critical part of how a company conceives of its future success. Get the right people on board and you will grow. Fail to hire correctly and you will not, and you might even fail.

“This round and our progression signals the fact that CEOs have been forced to care more about recruiting,” he said. They want want to hire the best, he added, but that is fundamentally different from how recruiting has traditionally been approached, which is focused on cost per hire.

“This means recruiting is coming out of the administration function and into value add and sales and marketing,” he added. (That’s another interesting parallel with Dover which has gone so far as to conceive of its recruitment approach as “orchestration”, a word more commonly associated with sales software.)

The pandemic has had an impact here, too: employees and “hires” today are not what they used to be. It has become more acceptable to work remotely, and what people have come to expect out of jobs, and what roles they are coming from when applying, are all so different, and that also demands a different kind of platform to engage with them.

Indeed, that bigger area — sometimes referred to as “the future of work” — is part of what attracted this investment.

“Hiring talent and building human capital is more complex and important than ever, and SmartRecruiters is well positioned to help companies attract and land top talent,” said Shawn O’Neill, Managing Director and Group Head, Silver Lake Waterman, in a statement. “Their scale and customer growth are testament to their strong leadership and industry leading platform. We are excited to help fuel SmartRecruiters’ next growth chapter.”

Interestingly, Ternynck noted that even despite the mass layoffs and furloughs experienced in some industries in the last year and a half, SmartRecruiters has seen business grow, even through some of the worst moments of Covid-19. Over the last 12 months, bookings have grown by 70%, he said. That’s a mark of how recruiting priorities are indeed changing, regardless of whether it’s a SmartRecruiters, or another kind of company entirely — and there are many, from Taleo and Cornerstone, through to smaller hopefuls like Dover, and even Salesforce — who might reap the spoils longer term.


By Ingrid Lunden

Dover raises $20M to bring the concept of ‘orchestration’ to recruitment

Despite being one of the earliest adopters of using the world wide web to disrupt how its business is done and connect with more potential customers, the recruitment industry ironically remains one of the more fragmented and behind the times when it comes to using new, cloud based services to work more efficiently. A new startup is hoping to change that, and it’s picked up some funding on strong, early signs of traction.

Dover, which has built what CEO and co-founder Max Kolysh describes as a “recruitment orchestration platform” — aimed at recruiters, it helps them juggle and aggregate multiple candidate pools to source suitable job candidates automatically, and then manage the process of outreach (including using tools to automatically re-write job descriptions, as well as to write recruitment and rejection letters) — has raised $20 million from an impressive list of investors.

Tiger Global led the Series A round, with Founders Fund, Abstract Ventures, and Y Combinator also investing. Dover was part of YC’s Summer 2019 class (which debuted in August 2020), and Founders Fund led its seed round. Since leaving the incubator, it’s picked up more than 100 customers, mostly from the world of tech, including ClearBanc, Lattice, Samsara and others, even larger companies that you might have assumed would have their own in-house orchestration and automation platforms in place already.

“Orchestration” in the world of business IT is commonly used for software built for the fields of sales and marketing: in both of these, there is a lot of fragmentation and work involved in sourcing good leads to become potential customers, and so tech companies have built platforms both to source interesting contacts and handle some of the initial steps needed to reach out to them, and get them engaged.

That, it turns out, is a very apt way to think of the recruitment industry, too, not least because it also, to a degree, involves a company “selling” itself to candidates to get them interested.

“I would say recruiting is sales and marketing,” Kolysh said. “We’re comparable to sales ops, but sales is 5-10 years ahead in terms of technology.”

Recruiters, especially those working in industries where talent is at a premium and therefore proactively hiring good people can be a challenge, are faced with a lot of busy work to find interesting candidates and engage them to consider open jobs, and subsequently handling the bigger process of screening, reaching out to them, and potentially rejecting some while making offers to others.

This is mainly because the process of doing all of these is typically very fragmented: mot only are there different tools built to handle these different processes, but there is an almost endless list of sources today where people go to look for work, or get their names out there.

Dover’s approach is based on embracing that fragmentation and making it easier to handle. Using AI, it taps platforms like LinkedIn, Indeed and Triplebyte — a likely list, given its initial focus on tech — to source candidates that it believes are good fits for a particular opening at a company.

Dover does this with a mix of AI and understanding what a recruiter is looking for, plus any extra parameters if they have been set by the recruiter to carry this out (for example, diversity screening, if the employer would like to have a candidate pool that is in line with a company’s inclusion targets).

Dover also uses data science and AI to help calibrate a recruiter’s communications with would-be candidates, from the opening job description through to job offer or rejection letters. (Why dwell on rejection letters? Because these candidates are already in short list, and so even if they didn’t get one particular job, they are likely good prospects for future rolls.)

“No human wants to write 100 cold emails per week but on the other hand, there are many ppl to hit up,” Kolysh said of the challenges that recruiters face. “When a company is seeing a lot of growth, it needs to scale fast. You just can’t do that with a human anymore.” Kolysh — who co-founded the company with Anvisha Pai (CTO) and George Carollo (COO) — said all three founders experienced that first-hand working at previous startups and trying to recruit while also building the other aspects of the business. (They are pictured above, along with founding engineer John Holliman.)

Given how much orchestration has caught on in the world of sales, there is a strong opportunity here for Dover to bring a similar approach to recruitment, based on what seems to be a very close understanding of the flawed recruitment process as it exists today. Whether that brings more competitors to the space — or more tools from some of the bigger players in, say, candidate sourcing — will be one factor to watch, as will how and if Dover manages to make the leap to other industries beyond tech.

But for now, its usefulness for a particular segment of the market is also what caught the eye of Tiger Global.

John Luttig, the partner who led the round for Tiger Global, noted in an interview that most recruiting tools in the market today might best be described as point solutions, addressing scheduling, or interviews, for example.

“It’s the full stack here that is appealing,” he told me. “And it’s automated, which is particularly valuable for early and mid-stage tech companies, to keep candidates from falling through the cracks. It also saves time from having to build up big recruiting departments. And because Dover owns all that work, those working in recruitment can instead focus on culture building, or assessing the candidates.”


By Ingrid Lunden

Remote raises $150M on a $1B+ valuation to manage payroll and more for organizations’ global workforces

For many of us, going to work these days no longer means going into a specific office like it used to; and today one of the startups that’s built a platform to help cater for that new, bigger world of employment — wherever talent might be — is announcing a major round of funding on the back of strong demand for its tools.

Remote, which provides tools to manage onboarding, payroll, benefits and other services for tech and other knowledge workers located in remote countries — be they contractors or full-time employees — has raised $150 million. Job van der Voort, the Dutch-based CEO and co-founder of New York-based Remote, confirmed in an interview that funding values Remote at over $1 billion.

Accel is leading this Series B, with participation also from previous investors Sequoia, Index Ventures, Two Sigma, General Catalyst and Day One Ventures.

The funding will be used in a couple of areas. First and foremost, it will go towards expanding its business to more markets. The startup has been built from the ground up in a fully-integrated way, and in contrast to a number of others that it competes with in providing Employer of Record services, Remote fully owns all of its infrastructure. It now provides its HR services, as fully-operational legal entities, for 50 countries has a target of growing that to 80 by the end of this year. The platform is also set to be enhanced with more tools around areas like benefits, equity incentive planning, visa and immigration support and employee relocation.

“We are doubling down on our approach,” Van der Voort said. “We try to fully own the entire stack: entity, operations, experts in house, payroll, benefits and visa and immigration — all of the items that come up most often. We want to to build infrastructure products, foundational products because those have a higher level of quality and ultimately a lower price.”

In addition, Remote will be using the funding to continue building more tools and partnerships to integrate with other providers of services in what is a very fragmented human resources market. Two of these are being announced today to coincide with the funding news: Remote has launched a Global Employee API that HR platforms that focus on domestic payroll can integrate to provide their own international offering powered by Remote. HR platform Rippling (Parker Conrad’s latest act) is one of its first customers. And Remote is also getting cosier with other parts of the HR chain of services: applicant tracking system Greenhouse now integrating with it to help with the onboarding process for new hires.

$150 million at a $1 billion+ valuation is a very, very sizable Series B, even by today’s flush-market standards, but it comes after a bumper year for the company, and in particular since November last year when it raised a Series A of $35 million. In the last nine months, customer numbers have grown seven-fold, with users on the platform increasing 10 times. Most interestingly, perhaps, is that Remote’s revenues — it’s packages start at $149 per month but go up from there — have increased by a much bigger amount: 65x, the company said. That basically points to the fact that engagement from those users — how much they are leaning on Remote’s tech — has skyrocketed.

Although there are a lot of competitors in the same space as Remote — they include a number of more local players alongside a pretty big range of startups like Oyster (which announced $50 million in funding in June), Deel, which is now valued at $1.25 billionTuring; Papaya Global (now also valued at over $1 billion); and many more — the opportunity they are collectively tackling is a massive one that, if anything, appears to be growing.

Hiring internationally has always been a costly, time-consuming and organizationally-challenged endeavor, so much so that many companies have opted not to do it at all, or to reserve it for very unique cases. That paradigm has drastically shifted in recent years, however.

Even before Covid-19 hit, there was a shortage of talent, resulting in a competitive struggle for good people, in company’s home markets, which encouraged companies to look further afield when hiring. Then, once looking further afield, those employers had to give consideration to employing those people remotely — that is, letting them work from afar — because the process of relocating them had also become more expensive and harder to work through.

Then Covid-19 happened, and everyone, including people working in a company’s HQ, started to work remotely, changing the goalposts yet again on what is expected by workers, and what organizations are willing to consider when bringing a new person on board, or managing someone it already knows, just from a much farther distance.

While a lot of that has played out in the idea of relocating to different cities in the same country — Miami and Austin getting a big wave of Silicon Valley “expats” being two examples of that — it seems just a short leap to consider that now that sourcing and managing is taking on a much more international provide. A lot of new hires, as well as existing employees who are possibly not from the US to begin with, or simply want to see another part of the world, are now also a part of the mix. That is where companies like Remote are coming in and lowering the barriers to entry by making it as easy to hire and manage a person abroad as it is in your own city.

“Remote is at the center of a profound shift in the way that companies hire,” said Miles Clements, a partner at Accel, in a statement. “Their new Global Employee API opens up access to Remote’s robust global employment infrastructure and knowledge map, and will help any HR provider expand internationally at a speed impossible before. Remote’s future vision as a financial services provider will consolidate complicated processes into one trusted platform, and we’re excited to partner with the global leader in the quickly emerging category of remote work.”

And it’s interesting to see it now partnering with the likes of Rippling. It was a no-brainer that as the latter company matured and grew, that it would have to consider how to handle the international component. Using an API from Remote is an example of how the model that has played out in communications (led by companies like Twilio and Sinch) and fintech (hello, Stripe), also has an analogue in HR, with Remote taking the charge on that.

And to be clear, for now Remote has no plans to build a product that it would sell directly to individuals.

“Individuals are reaching out to us, saying, ‘I found this job and can you help me and make sure I get paid?’ That’s been interesting,” Van der Voort said. “We thought about [building a product for them] but we have so much to do with employers first.” One thing that’s heartening in Remote’s approach is that it wouldn’t want to provide this service unless it could completely follow through on it, which in the case of an individual would mean “vetting every major employer,” he said, which is too big a task for it right now.

In the meantime, Remote itself has walked the walk when it comes to remote working. Originally co-founded by two European transplants to San Francisco, the pair had first-hand experience of the paradoxical pains and opportunities of being in an organization that uses remote workforces.

Van der Voort had been the VP of product for GitLab, which he scaled from 5 to 450 employees working remotely (it’s now a customer of Remote’s); and before co-founding Remote CTO Marcelo Lebre had been VP of engineering for Unbabel — another startup focused on reducing international barriers, this time between how companies and global customers communicate.

Today, not only is the CEO based out of Amsterdam in The Netherlands and CTO in Lisbon, Portugal, but New York-based Remote itself has grown to 220 from 50 employees, and this wider group has also been working remotely across 47 countries since November 2020.

“The world is looking very different today,” Van der Voort said. “The biggest change for us has been the size of the organization. We’ve gone from 50 to more than 200 employees, and I haven’t met any of them! We have tried to follow our values of bringing opportunity everywhere so we hire everywhere as we solve that for our customers, too.”


By Ingrid Lunden

Jim Whitehurst steps down as president at IBM just 14 months after taking role

In a surprise announcement today, IBM announced that Jim Whitehurst, who came over in the Red deal, would be stepping down as company president just 14 months after taking over in that role.

IBM didn’t give a lot of details as to why he was stepping away, but acknowledged his key role in helping bring the 2018 $34 billion Red Hat deal to fruition and helping bring the two companies together after the deal closed. “Jim has been instrumental in articulating IBM’s strategy, but also, in ensuring that IBM and Red Hat work well together and that our technology platforms and innovations provide more value to our clients,” the company stated.

He will stay on as a senior advisor to Krishna, but it begs the question why he is leaving after such a short time in the role, and what he plans to do next. Oftentimes after a deal of this magnitude closes, there is an agreement as to how long key executives will stay. It could be simply that the period has expired and Whitehurst wants to move on, but some saw him as the heir apparent to Krishna and the move comes as a surprise when looked at in that context.

“I am surprised because I always thought Jim would be next in line as IBM CEO. I also liked the pairing between a lifer IBMer and an outsider,” Patrick Moorhead, founder and principal analyst at Moor Insight & Strategies told TechCrunch.

Regardless, it leaves a big hole in Krishna’s leadership team as he works to transform the company into one that is primarily focused on hybrid cloud.  Whitehurst was undoubtedly in a position to help drive that change through his depth of industry knowledge and his credibility with the open source community from his time at Red Hat. He is not someone who would be easily replaced and the announcement didn’t mention anyone filling his role.

When IBM bought Red Hat in 2018 for $34 billion, it led to a cascading set of changes at both companies. First Ginni Rometty stepped down as CEO at IBM and Arvind Krishna took over. At the same time, Jim Whitehurst, who had been Red Hat CEO moved to IBM as president and long-time employee Paul Cormier moved into his role.

At the same time, the company also announced some other changes including that long-time IBM executive Bridget van Kralingen announced she too was stepping away, leaving her role as senior vice president of global markets. Rob Thomas, who had been senior vice president of IBM cloud and data platform, will step in to replace Van Kraligen.


By Ron Miller

New Relic is bringing in a new CEO as founder Lew Cirne moves to executive chairman role

At the market close this afternoon ahead of its earnings report, New Relic, an applications performance monitoring company, announced that founder Lew Cirne would be stepping down as CEO and moving into the executive chairman role.

At the same time, the company announced that Bill Staples, a software industry vet, would be taking over as CEO. Staples joined the company last year as chief product officer before being quickly promoted to president and chief product officer in January. Today’s promotion marks a rapid rise through the ranks to lead the company.

Cirne said when he began thinking about stepping into that executive chairman role, he was looking for a trusted partner to take his place as CEO, and he found that in Staples. “Every founder’s dream is for the company to have a long lasting impact, and then when the time is right for them to step into a different role. To do that, you need a trusted partner that will lead with the right core values and bring to the table what the company needs as an active partner. And so I’m really excited to move to the executive chairman role [and to have Bill be that person],” Cirne told me.

For Staples, who has worked at large organizations throughout his career, this opportunity to lead the company as CEO is the pinnacle of his long career arc. He called the promotion humbling, but one he believes he is ready to take on.

“This is a new chapter for me, a new experience to be a CEO of a public company with a billion dollar plus value valuation, but I think the experience I have in the seat of our customers, as well as the experience I’ve had at Microsoft and Adobe, very large companies with very large stakes running large organizations has really prepared me well for this next phase,” Staples said.

Cirne says he plans to take some time off this summer to give Staples the space to grow as the leader of the company without being in the shadow of the founder and long-time CEO, but he plans to come back and work with him as the executive chairman moving forward come the fall.

As he step into this new role, Staples will be taking over. “Certainly I have a lot to learn about what it takes to be a great CEO, but I also come in with a lot of confidence that I’ve managed organizations at scale. You know I’ve been part of P&Ls that were many times larger than New Relic, and I have confidence that I can help New Relic grow as a company.”

Hope Cochran, managing director at Madrona Ventures, who is also the chairman of the New Relic Board said that the board fully backs of the decision to pass the CEO torch from Cirne to Staples. “With the foundation that Lew built and Bill’s leadership, New Relic has a very bright future ahead and a clear path to accelerate growth as the leader in observability,” she said in a statement.

The official transition is scheduled to take place on July 1st.


By Ron Miller

Busy day at VMware ended yesterday with Ragurham as CEO and COO Poonen exiting

They say for every door that opens another closes and the executive shuffle at VMware is certainly proving that old chestnut true. Four months after Pat Gelsinger stepped down as CEO to return to run Intel, the virtual machine pioneer announced yesterday that long-time exec Raghu Raghuram was taking over that role.

That set in motion another change when COO Sanjay Poonen, whom some had speculated might get the CEO job, announced yesterday afternoon on Twitter that he was leaving the company after 7 years.

Coincidence? We think not.

Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research says that he was surprised that Poonen didn’t get the job, but perhaps the VMware board valued Raghuram’s product focus more highly. “At 50, he [would have been] a long term solution, and he did a great job on the End User Computing (EUC) side of the product before becoming COO. I guess that it is still not VMware’s core business,” he said.

Regardless, Mueller still liked the choice of Raghuram as CEO, saying that he brought stability and reliability to the position, but he sees him likely as a solid interim solution for several years as the company spins out from Dell and becomes an fully independent organization again.

“Obviously the board wanted to have someone who knows product, and has been there a long time, and is associated with the VMware core success — so that creates relatability [and stability].” He added, “At 57 he is the transitional candidate, and a good choice, a veteran who is happy to run this 2-3 or maybe 5 years and won’t go anywhere [in the interim]. And the board has time to find a long-term solution,” Mueller told me.

Mark Lockwood, lead analyst on VMware at Gartner sees Raghuram as the right man for the job with no reservations, one who will continue to implement the current strategy while putting his own stamp on the position.

“That the VMware board chose someone in Raghu Raghuram who has been the technical strategy executive inside the company for years speaks volumes about the board’s comfort level with the existing strategy trajectory of the company. Mr. Raghuram will most certainly steer the company slightly differently than Mr. Gelsinger did, but at least from the outside, the CEO appointment appears to be a stamp of approval on the company’s broad portfolio,” Lockwood said.

As for Poonen, he says that the writing was on the wall when he didn’t get the promotion. “Although Sanjay Poonen has indeed been a valuable executive for VMware, it was always unlikely that he would remain if not chosen for the CEO role,” Lockwood said.

Stephen Elliot, an analyst at IDC, was also bullish on the Raghuram appointment, saying he brings a broad understanding of the company, and that’s important to VMware right now. “He understands VMware customers, the technologies, M&A, and the importance of execution and its impact on profitable growth. He has been central to almost every successful strategy the company has created, and been a leader for product strategy and execution. He has a very good balance of making tactical and strategic moves to anticipate the value VMware can deliver for customers in a 1-3 year horizon,” Elliot said.

Elliot thinks Poonen will be just fine and will find a landing spot pretty quickly. “He is another very talented executive; he will become a CEO elsewhere, and another company will be very lucky,” he said. He says that it will take time to see if there is any impact from that, but he believes that VMware shouldn’t have trouble attracting other executive talent to fill in any gaps.

For every every executive move, there are choices for replacements, and subsequent fall-out from those choices. We saw a full-fledged example of that yesterday on display at VMware. If these industry experts are right, the company chose stability and reliability and a deep understanding of product. That would seem to be solid enough reasoning on the part of the board, even though Poonen leaving seems to be collateral damage from the decision, and a big loss for the company.


By Ron Miller

Worksome pulls $13M into its high skill freelancer talent platform

More money for the now very buzzy business of reshaping how people work: Worksome is announcing it recently closed a $13 million Series A funding round for its “freelance talent platform” — after racking up 10x growth in revenue since January 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic sparked a remote working boom.

The 2017 founded startup, which has a couple of ex-Googlers in its leadership team, has built a platform to connect freelancers looking for professional roles with employers needing tools to find and manage freelancer talent.

It says it’s seeing traction with large enterprise customers that have traditionally used Managed Service Providers (MSPs) to manage and pay external workforces — and views employment agency giants like Randstad, Adecco and Manpower as ripe targets for disruption.

“Most multinational enterprises manage flexible workers using legacy MSPs,” says CEO and co-founder Morten Petersen (one of the Xooglers). “These largely analogue businesses manage complex compliance and processes around hiring and managing freelance workforces with handheld processes and outdated technology that is not built for managing fluid workforces. Worksome tackles this industry head on with a better, faster and simpler solution to manage large freelancer and contractor workforces.”

Worksome focuses on helping medium/large companies — who are working with at least 20+ freelancers at a time — fill vacancies within teams rather than helping companies outsource projects, per Petersen, who suggests the latter is the focus for the majority of freelancer platforms.

“Worksome helps [companies] onboard people who will provide necessary skills and will be integral to longer-term business operations. It makes matches between companies and skilled freelancers, which the businesses go on to trust, form relationships with and come back to time and time again,” he goes on.

“When companies hire dozens or hundreds of freelancers at one time, processes can get very complicated,” he adds, arguing that on compliance and payments Worksome “takes on a much greater responsibility than other freelancing platforms to make big hires easier”.

The startup also says it’s concerned with looking out for (and looking after) its freelancer talent pool — saying it wants to create “a world of meaningful work” on its platform, and ensure freelancers are paid fairly and competitively. (And also that they are paid faster than they otherwise might be, given it takes care of their payroll so they don’t have to chase payments from employers.)

The business started life in Copenhagen — and its Series A has a distinctly Nordic flavor, with investment coming from the Danish business angel and investor on the local version of the Dragons’ Den TV program Løvens Hule; the former Minister for Higher Education and Science, Tommy Ahlers; and family home manufacturer Lind & Risør.

It had raised just under $6M prior to thus round, per Crunchbase, and also counts some (unnamed) Google executives among its earlier investors.

Freelancer platforms (and marketplaces) aren’t new, of course. There are also an increasing number of players in this space — buoyed by a new flush of VC dollars chasing the ‘future of work’, whatever hybrid home-office flexible shape that might take. So Worksome is by no means alone in offering tech tools to streamline the interface between freelancers and businesses.

A few others that spring to mind include Lystable (now Kalo), Malt, Fiverr — or, for techie job matching specifically, the likes of HackerRank — plus, on the blue collar work side, Jobandtalent. There’s also a growing number of startups focusing on helping freelancer teams specifically (e.g. Collective), so there’s a trend towards increasing specialism.

Worksome says it differentiates vs other players (legacy and startups) by combining services like tax compliance, background and ID checks and handling payroll and other admin with an AI powered platform that matches talent to projects.

Although it’s not the only startup offering to do the back-office admin/payroll piece, either, nor the only one using AI to match skilled professionals to projects. But it claims it’s going further than rival ‘freelancer-as-a-service’ platforms — saying it wants to “address the entire value chain” (aka: “everything from the hiring of freelance talent to onboarding and payment”).

Worksome has 550 active clients (i.e. employers in the market for freelancer talent) at this stage; and has accepted 30,000 freelancers into its marketplace so far.

Its current talent pool can take on work across 12 categories, and collectively offers more than 39,000 unique skills, per Petersen.

The biggest categories of freelancer talent on the platform are in Software and IT; Design and Creative Work; Finance and Management Consulting; plus “a long tail of niche skills” within engineering and pharmaceuticals.

While its largest customers are found in the creative industries, tech and IT, pharma and consumer goods. And its biggest markets are the U.K. and U.S.

“We are currently trailing at +20,000 yearly placements,” says Petersen, adding: “The average yearly spend per client is $300,000.”

Worksome says the Series A funding will go on stoking growth by investing in marketing. It also plans to spend on product dev and on building out its team globally (it also has offices in London and New York).

Over the past 12 months the startup doubled the size of its team to 50 — and wants to do so again within 12 months so it can ramp up its enterprise client base in the U.S., U.K. and euro-zone.

“Yes, there are a lot of freelancer platforms out there but a lot of these don’t appreciate that hiring is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to reducing the friction in working with freelancers,” argues Petersen. “Of the time that goes into hiring, managing and paying freelancers, 75% is currently spent on admin such as timesheet approvals, invoicing and compliance checks, leaving only a tiny fraction of time to actually finding talent.”

Worksome woos employers with a “one-click-hire” offer — touting its ability to find and hire freelancers “within seconds”.

If hiring a stranger in seconds sounds ill-advised, Worksome greases this external employment transaction by taking care of vetting the freelancers itself (including carrying out background checks; and using proprietary technology to asses freelancers’ skills and suitability for its marketplace).

“We have a two-step vetting process to ensure that we only allow the best freelance talent onto the Worksome platform,” Petersen tells TechCrunch. “For step one, an inhouse-built robot assesses our freelancer applicants. It analyses their skillset, social media profiles, profile completeness and hourly or daily rate, as well as their CV and work history, to decide whether each person is a good fit for Worksome.

“For step two, our team of talent specialists manually review and decline or approve the freelancers that pass through step one with a score of 85% or more. We have just approved our 30,000th freelancer and will be able to both scale and improve our vetting procedure as we grow.”

A majority of freelancer applicants fail Worksome’s proprietary vetting processes. This is clear because it says it has received 80,000 applicants so far — but only approved 30,000.

That raises interesting questions about how it’s making decisions on who is (and isn’t) an ‘appropriate fit’ for its talent marketplace.

It says its candidate assessing “robot” looks at “whether freelancers can demonstrate the skillset, matching work history, industry experience and profile depth” deemed necessary to meet its quality criteria — giving the example that it would not accept a freelancer who says they can lead complex IT infrastructure projects if they do not have evidence of relevant work, education and skills.

On the AI freelancer-to-project matching side, Worksome says its technology aims to match freelancers “who have the highest likelihood of completing a job with high satisfaction, based on their work-history, and performance and skills used on previous jobs”.

“This creates a feedback loop that… ensure that both clients and freelancers are matched with great people and great work,” is its circular suggestion when we ask about this.

But it also emphasizes that its AI is not making hiring decisions on its own — and is only ever supporting humans in making a choice. (An interesting caveat since existing EU data protection rules, under Article 22 of the GDPR, provide for a right for individuals to object to automated decision making if significant decisions are being taken without meaningful human interaction.) 

Using automation technologies (like AI) to make assessments that determine whether a person gains access to employment opportunities or doesn’t can certainly risk scaled discrimination. So the devil really is in the detail of how these algorithmic assessments are done.

That’s why such uses of technology are set to face close regulatory scrutiny in the European Union — under incoming rules on ‘high risk’ users of artificial intelligence — including the use of AI to match candidates to jobs.

The EU’s current legislative proposals in this area specifically categorize “employment, workers management and access to self-employment” as a high risk use of AI, meaning applications like Worksome are likely to face some of the highest levels of regulatory supervision in the future.

Nonetheless, Worksome is bullish when we ask about the risks associated with using AI as an intermediary for employment opportunities.

“We utilise fairly advanced matching algorithms to very effectively shortlist candidates for a role based solely on objective criteria, rinsed from human bias,” claims Petersen. “Our algorithms don’t take into account gender, ethnicity, name of educational institutions or other aspects that are usually connected to human bias.”

“AI has immense potential in solving major industry challenges such as recruitment bias, low worker mobility and low access to digital skills among small to medium sized businesses. We are firm believers that technology should be utilized to remove human bias’ from any hiring process,” he goes on, adding: “Our tech was built to this very purpose from the beginning, and the new proposed legislation has the potential to serve as a validator for the hard work we’ve put into this.

“The obvious potential downside would be if new legislation would limit innovation by making it harder for startups to experiment with new technologies. As always, legislation like this will impact the Davids more than the Goliaths, even though the intentions may have been the opposite.”

Zooming back out to consider the pandemic-fuelled remote working boom, Worksome confirms that most of the projects for which it supplied freelancers last year were conducted remotely.

“We are currently seeing a slow shift back towards a combination of remote and onsite work and expect this combination to stick amongst most of our clients,” Petersen goes on. “Whenever we are in uncertain economic times, we see a rise in the number of freelancers that companies are using. However, this trend is dwarfed by a much larger overall trend towards flexible work, which drives the real shift in the market. This shift has been accelerated by COVID-19 but has been underway for many years.

“While remote work has unlocked an enormous potential for accessing talent everywhere, 70% of the executives expect to use more temporary workers and contractors onsite than they did before COVID-19, according to a recent McKinsey study. This shows that businesses really value the flexibility in using an on-demand workforce of highly skilled specialists that can interact directly with their own teams.”

Asked whether it’s expecting growth in freelancing to sustain even after we (hopefully) move beyond the pandemic — including if there’s a return to physical offices — Petersen suggests the underlying trend is for businesses to need increased flexibility, regardless of the exact blend of full-time and freelancer staff. So platforms like Worksome are confidently poised to keep growing.

“When you ask business leaders, 90% believe that shifting their talent model to a blend of full-time and freelancers can give a future competitive advantage (Source: BCG),” he says. “We see two major trends driving this sentiment; access to talent, and building an agile and flexible organization. This has become all the more true during the pandemic — a high degree of flexibility is allowing organisations to better navigate both the initial phase of the pandemic as well the current pick up of business activity.

“With the amount of change that we’re currently seeing in the world, and with businesses are constantly re-inventing themselves, the access to highly skilled and flexible talent is absolutely essential — now, in the next 5 years, and beyond.”


By Natasha Lomas

Ahead of Dell’s spin out, VMware appoints longtime exec Raghu Raghuram as its new CEO

Five months after it was announced that Pal Gelsinger would be stepping down as CEO of VMware to take the top job at Intel, the virtualization giant has finally appointed a permanent successor. Raghu Raghuram — a longtime employee of the company — has been appointed the new CEO. He will be taking on the new role on June 1. Until then, CFO Zane Rowe will continue in the role in the interim.

Raghuram has been with the company for 17 years in a variety of roles, most recently COO of products and cloud services. He’s also held positions at the company overseeing areas like datacenters and VMware’s server business. Putting a veteran in at the helm sends a clear message that VMware has picked someone clearly dedicated to the company and its culture. No drama here.

Indeed, the move is coming at a time when there is already a lot of other change underway and speaks to the company looking for stability and continuity to lead it through that. About a month ago, Dell confirmed long-anticipated news that it would be spinning out its stake in VMware in a deal that’s expected to bring Dell at least $9 billion — putting to an end a financial partnership that initially kicked off with an eye-watering acquisition of EMC in 2016. That partnership will not end the strategic relationship, however, which is set to continue and now Raghuram will be in charge of building and leading.

For that reason, you might look at this as a deal nodded through significantly by Dell.

“I am thrilled to have Raghu step into the role of CEO at VMware. Throughout his career, he has led with integrity and conviction, playing an instrumental role in the success of VMware,” said Michael Dell, chairman of the VMware Board of Directors, in a statement. “Raghu is now in position to architect VMware’s future, helping customers and partners accelerate their digital businesses in this multi-cloud world.”

Raghuram has not only been the person overseeing some of VMware’s biggest divisions and newer areas like software-defined networking and cloud computing, but he’s had a central role in building and driving strategy for the company’s core virtualization business, been involved with M&A and, as VMware points out, “key in driving partnerships with Dell Technologies,” among other partners.

“VMware is uniquely poised to lead the multi-cloud computing era with an end-to-end software platform spanning clouds, the data center and the edge, helping to accelerate our customers’ digital transformations,” said Raghuram in a statement. “I am honored, humbled and excited to have been chosen to lead this company to a new phase of growth. We have enormous opportunity, we have the right solutions, the right team, and we will continue to execute with focus, passion, and agility.”

The company also took the moment to update on guidance for its Q1 results, which will be coming out on May 27. Revenues are expected to come in at $2.994 billion, up 9.5% versus the same quarter a year ago. Subscription and SaaS and license revenue, meanwhile, is expected to be $1.387 billion, up 12.5%. GAAP net income per diluted share is expected to be $1.01 per diluted share, and non-GAAP net income per diluted share is expected to be $1.76 per diluted share, it said.


By Ingrid Lunden

EQT Ventures promotes Laura Yao to partner; hires Anne Raimondi as operating partner

EQT Ventures, an investment firm based in Europe, which has raised over €1.2 billion ($1.4B USD) announced that it has promoted Laura Yao to partner. At the same time, the firm announced it recently hired Anne Raimondi, former SVP of Operations at Zendesk as operating partner.

The company is based in Stockholm with offices in London, Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam and Luxembourg. Yao is based in the U.S. office in San Francisco, where she has been working for three years prior to her recent promotion to partner. She says that the company tends to hire people with operator experience because they relate well to the founders of startups they invest in.

“Our goal is to partner with the most ambitious and boldest founders in Europe and the US and kind of be the investors that we all wish we’d had when we were on the other side of the table,” Yao told me.

Yao’s background includes co-founding a startup called The PhenomList in 2011. While she is responsible for looking for new investments, Raimondi works with the existing portfolio of companies, particularly B2B SaaS companies, helping them with practical aspects of building a startup like go-to-market strategy, organizational design, hiring executives and other components of company building.

“I joined earlier this year as an operating partner, so I’m not on the investing side but actually focused on working with existing portfolio company founders as they grow and scale,” Raimondi said.

Unfortunately, female partners like Yao and Raimondi remain a rarity in most venture firms with a Crunchbase report from last April finding that just 3% of investors are women, and that over two-thirds of firms don’t have a single woman as a partner.

EQT has a 50/50 male to female employee ratio, although the partners were all male until Yao was promoted and Raimondi hired. That makes two of 6 as the company attempts to make the investment team reflect the rest of the company and the population at large.

Part of Raimondi’s job is talking to startups about building diverse and equitable organizations and she and Yao know the company needs to model that. She says that thriving startups understand on the product side that to build a successful product, they start with a hypothesis, then develop targets and metrics to test, learn, and then iterate.

She says that they need to do the same thing to build a diverse and inclusive company. That starts with defining what diversity and inclusion looks like and setting up metrics to measure their progress.

“You evaluate [your diversity goals] and hold [the company] accountable to what you’ve signed up for. If you don’t meet them, [you look at] what can you do to improve them. Then you look at how you keep iterating, and then constantly measuring the employee experience across many dimensions, including not only diversity, but the important part of belonging,” Raimondi said.

Both women say their company does a good job at this, and their hiring/promotion proves that. Yao says that the organization as a whole has created a comfortable and inclusive culture. “It’s very collaborative and egalitarian. Anyone can say whatever’s on their mind. It’s very non-hierarchical and a comfortable place for a woman to work. I felt immediately welcomed and that my ideas were welcome immediately,” she said.

The company portfolio includes startups in the US and Europe and the firm sees itself as a bridge between the two locations. Among the companies EQT has invested in include bug bounty startup HackerOne, website building technology Netlify, and quantum computing startup Seeqc.


By Ron Miller

Why Adam Selipsky was the logical choice to run AWS

When AWS CEO Andy Jassy announced in an email to employees yesterday that Tableau CEO Adam Selipsky was returning to run AWS, it was probably not the choice most considered. But to the industry watchers we spoke to over the last couple of days, it was a move that made absolute sense once you thought about it.

Gartner analyst Ed Anderson says that the cultural fit was probably too good for Jassy to pass up. Selipsky spent 11 years helping build the division. It was someone he knew well and had worked side by side with for over a decade. He could slide into the new role and be trusted to continue building the lucrative division.

Anderson says that even though the size and scope of AWS has changed dramatically since Selipsky left in 2016 when the company closed the year on $16 billion run rate, he says that the organization’s cultural dynamics haven’t changed all that much.

“Success in this role requires a deep understanding of the Amazon/AWS culture in addition to a vision for AWS’s future growth. Adam already knows the AWS culture from his previous time at AWS. Yes, AWS was a smaller business when he left, but the fundamental structure and strategy was in place and the culture hasn’t notably evolved since then,” Anderson told me.

Matt McIlwain, managing director at Madrona Venture Group says the experience Selipsky had after he left AWS will prove invaluable when he returns.

“Adam transformed Tableau from a desktop, licensed software company to a cloud, subscription software company that thrived. As the leader of AWS, Adam is returning to a culture he helped grow as the sales and marketing leader that brought AWS to prominence and broke through from startup customers to become the leading enterprise solution for public cloud,” he said.

Holger Mueller, an analyst with Constellation Research says that Selipsky’s business experience gave him the edge over other candidates. “His business acumen won out over [internal candidates] Matt Garmin and Peter DeSantis. Insight on how Salesforce works may be helpful and valued as well,” Mueller pointed out.

As for leaving Tableau and with it Salesforce, the company that purchased it for $15.7 billion in 2019, Brent Leary, founder and principal analyst at CRM Essentials believes that it was only a matter of time before some of these acquired company CEOs left to do other things. In fact, he’s surprised it didn’t happen sooner.

“Given Salesforce’s growing stable of top notch CEOs accumulated by way of a slew of high profile acquisitions, you really can’t expect them all to stay forever, and given Adam Selipsky’s tenure at AWS before becoming Tableau’s CEO, this move makes a whole lot of sense. Amazon brings back one of their own, and he is also a wildly successful CEO in his own right,” Leary said.

While the consensus is that Selipsky is a good choice, he is going to have awfully big shoes to fill.  The fact is that division is continuing to grow like a large company currently on a run rate of over $50 billion. With a track record like that to follow, and Jassy still close at hand, Selipsky has to simply continue letting the unit do its thing while putting his own unique stamp on it.

Any kind of change is disconcerting though, and it will be up to him to put customers and employees at ease and plow ahead into the future. Same mission. New boss.


By Ron Miller

Tableau CEO Adam Selipsky is returning to AWS to replace Andy Jassy as CEO

When Amazon announced last month that Jeff Bezos was moving into the executive chairman role, and AWS CEO Andy Jassy would be taking over the entire Amazon operation, speculation began about who would replace Jassy.

People considered a number of internal candidates such as Peter DeSantis, vice president of global infrastructure at AWS and Matt Garman, who is vice president of sales and marketing. Not many would have chosen Tableau CEO Adam Selipsky, but sure enough he is returning home to run the division he left in 2016.

In an email to employees, Jassy wasted no time getting to the point that Selipsky was his choice, saying that the former employee who helped launch the division when they hired him 2005, spent 11 years helping Jassy build the unit before taking the job at Tableau. Through that lens, the the choice makes perfect sense.

“Adam brings strong judgment, customer obsession, team building, demand generation, and CEO experience to an already very strong AWS leadership team. And, having been in such a senior role at AWS for 11 years, he knows our culture and business well,” Jassy wrote in the email.

Jassy has run the AWS since its earliest days taking it from humble beginnings as a kind of internal experiment on running a storage web service to building a mega division currently on a $51 billion run rate. It is that juggernaut that will be Selipsky to run, but he seems well suited for the job.

He is a seasoned executive, and while he’s been away from AWS when it really began to grow, he still understands the culture well enough to step smoothly into the role.  At the same, he’s leaving Tableau, a company he helped transform from a desktop software company into one firmly in the cloud.

Salesforce bought Tableau in June 2019 for a cool $15.7 billion and Selipsky has remained at the helm since then, but perhaps the lure of running AWS was too great and he decided to take the leap to the new job.

When we wrote a story at the end of last year about Salesforce’s deep bench of executive talent one of the CEOs we pointed at as a possible replacement was Selipsky. But with it looking more like president and COO Bret Taylor would be the heir apparent, perhaps Selipsky was ready for a new challenge.

Selipsky will make his return to AWS on May 17th and spend a few weeks with Jassy in a transitional time before taking over to run the division on his own. As Jassy slides into the Amazon CEO role, it’s clear the two will continue to work closely together, just like they did all those years ago.


By Ron Miller

Google Cloud hires Intel veteran to head its custom chip efforts

There has been a growing industry trend in recent years for large-scale companies to build their own chips. As part of that, Google announced today that it has hired long-time Intel executive Uri Frank as vice president to run its custom chip division.

“The future of cloud infrastructure is bright, and it’s changing fast. As we continue to work to meet computing demands from around the world, today we are thrilled to welcome Uri Frank as our VP of Engineering for server chip design,” Amin Vahdat, Google Fellow and VP of systems infrastructure wrote in a blog post announcing the hire.

With Frank, Google gets an experienced chip industry executive, who spent more than two decades at Intel rising from engineering roles to corporate vice president at the Design Engineering Group, his final role before leaving the company earlier this month.

Frank will lead the custom chip division in Israel as part of Google. As he said in his announcement on LinkedIn, this was a big step to join a company with a long history of building custom silicon.

“Google has designed and built some of the world’s largest and most efficient computing systems. For a long time, custom chips have been an important part of this strategy. I look forward to growing a team here in Israel while accelerating Google Cloud’s innovations in compute infrastructure,” Frank wrote.

Google’s history of building its own chips dates back to 2015 when it launched the first TensorFlow chips. It moved into video processing chips in 2018 and added OpenTitan , an open-source chip with a security angle in 2019.

Frank’s job will be to continue to build on this previous experience to work with customers and partners to build new custom chip architectures. The company wants to move away from buying motherboard components from different vendors to building its own “system on a chip” or SoC, which it says will be drastically more efficient.

“Instead of integrating components on a motherboard where they are separated by inches of wires, we are turning to “Systems on Chip” (SoC) designs where multiple functions sit on the same chip, or on multiple chips inside one package. In other words, the SoC is the new motherboard,” Vahdat wrote.

While Google was early to the “Build Your Own Chip” movement, we’ve seen other large scale companies like Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft begin building their own custom chips in recent years to meet each company’s unique needs and give more precise control over the relationship between the hardware and software.

It will be Frank’s job to lead Google’s custom chip unit and help bring it to the next level.


By Ron Miller

Storm Ventures promotes Pascale Diaine and Frederik Groce to partners

Storm Ventures, a venture firm that focuses on early stage B2B enterprise startups, announced this week that it has promoted Pascale Diaine and Frederik Groce to partners at the firm.

The two new partners have worked their way up over the last several years. Groce joined Storm in 2016 and has invested in enterprise SaaS startups like Workato, Splashtop, NextRequest and Camino. Diaine joined a year later and has invested in firms like Sendoso, German Bionic, InEvent and Talkdesk.

Groce, who is also a founder at BLCK VC and helped organize the Black Venture Institute to create a network of Black investors, says that these promotions show that venture needs to be more diverse, and Storm recognizes this.  “If you think about the way our team works, that’s the way I think venture teams will need to work to be able to be successful in the next 40 years. And so the hope is that over time everyone does this and we’re just early to it,” Groce told me.

Unfortunately, right now that’s not the case, not even close. According to research by Crunchbase, just 12% of venture capitalists are women and two-thirds of firms don’t have any female investors. Meanwhile, only about 4% of ventures investors are Black.

Those numbers have an impact on the number of Black and female founders because as Groce points out the lack of founders in underrepresented groups is in part a networking problem. “In a business that’s predicated on networks if you don’t have diversity in the network, or the teams that are driving those networks, you just can’t make sure you’re seeing great talent across all ecosystems,” he said.

Diaine, who is French and started her career by founding Orange Fab, the corporate accelerator of the European Telco Orange, has brought her international business background to Storm where they helped her tune that experience to an investor focus and supported her as she learned the nuances of the investment side of the business.

“I don’t come from the VC world. I come from the innovative corporate world. So they had to train me and spend time getting me up to date. And they did spend so much time making sure I understood everything to make sure I got to this level,” she said.

Both partners bring their own unique views looking beyond Silicon Valley for investment opportunities. Diaine’s investment include a German, Brazilian and Portuguese company, while Groce’s investments include companies in Chicago, Atlanta and Seattle.

The two partners have also developed an algorithm to help find investments based on a number of online signals, something that has become more important during the pandemic when they couldn’t network in person.

“Frederik and I have been working on [an algorithm to find] what are the signals that you can identify online that will tell you this company’s doing well, this company growing.You have to have a nice set of startup search tracking [signals], but what do you track if you can’t just get the revenue in real time, which is impossible. So we’ve developed an algorithm that helps us identify some of these signals and create alerts on which startups we should pay attention to,” Diaine explained.

She says this data-driven approach should be helpful and augment their in-person efforts even after the pandemic is over and increase their overall efficiency in finding and tracking companies in their portfolios.

 


By Ron Miller