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

Anthony Lin named permanent managing director and head of Intel Capital

When Wendell Brooks stepped down as managing partner and head of Intel Capital last August, Anthony Lin was named to replace him on an interim basis. At the time, it wasn’t clear if he would be given the role permanently, but today, six months later, the answer is known.

In a letter to the firm’s portfolio CEOs published on the company website, Lin mentioned, almost casually that he had taken on the two roles on a permanent basis. “Personally, I want to share that I have been appointed to managing partner and head of Intel Capital. I have been a member of the investment committee for the past several years and am humbly awed by the talent of our entrepreneurs and our team,” he wrote.

Lin takes over in a time of turmoil for Intel as the company struggles to regain its place in the semiconductor business that it dominated for decades. Meanwhile, Intel itself has a new CEO with Pat Gelsinger returning in January from VMware to lead the organization.

As the corporate investment arm of Intel, it looks for companies that can help the parent company understand where to invest resources in the future. If that is its goal, perhaps it hasn’t done a great job as Intel has lost some of its edge when it comes to innovation.

Lin, who was formerly head of mergers and acquisitions and international investing at the firm, can use the power of the firm’s investment dollars to try help point the parent company in the right direction and help find new ways to build innovative solutions on the Intel platform.

Lin acknowledged how challenging 2020 was for everyone, and his company was no exception, but the firm invested in 75 startups including 35 new deals and 40 deals involving companies it had previously invested in. It  has also made a commitment to invest in companies with more diverse founders. To that end, 30% of new venture stage dollars went to startups led by diverse leaders, according to Lin.

What’s more, the company made a five year commitment that 15% of all of its deals would go to companies with Black founders. It made some progress towards that goal, but there is still a ways to go. “At the end of 2020, 9% of our new venture deals and 15% of our venture dollars committed were in companies led by Black founders. We know there is more progress to be made and we will continue to encourage, foster and invest in diverse and inclusive teams,” he wrote.

Lin faces a big challenge ahead as he takes over a role that had the same leader for the first 28 years in Arvind Sodhani. His predecessor, Brooks, was there for five years. Now it passes to Lin and he needs to use the firm’s investment might to help Gelsinger advance the goals of the broader firm, while making sound investments.


By Ron Miller

Is overseeing cloud operations the new career path to CEO?

When Amazon announced last week that founder and CEO Jeff Bezos planned to step back from overseeing operations and shift into an executive chairman role, it also revealed that AWS CEO Andy Jassy, head of the company’s profitable cloud division, would replace him.

As Bessemer partner Byron Deeter pointed out on Twitter, Jassy’s promotion was similar to Satya Nadella’s ascent at Microsoft: in 2014, he moved from executive VP in charge of Azure to the chief exec’s office. Similarly, Arvind Krishna, who was promoted to replace Ginni Rometti as IBM CEO last year, also was formerly head of the company’s cloud business.

Could Nadella’s successful rise serve as a blueprint for Amazon as it makes a similar transition? While there are major differences in the missions of these companies, it’s inevitable that we will compare these two executives based on their former jobs. It’s true that they have an awful lot in common, but there are some stark differences, too.

Replacing a legend

For starters, Jassy is taking over for someone who founded one of the world’s biggest corporations. Nadella replaced Steve Ballmer, who had taken over for the company’s face, Bill Gates. Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research, says this notable difference could have a huge impact for Jassy with his founder boss still looking over his shoulder.

“There’s a lot of similarity in the two situations, but Satya was a little removed from the founder Gates. Bezos will always hover and be there, whereas Gates (and Ballmer) had retired for good. [ … ] It was clear [they] would not be coming back. [ … ] For Jassy, the owner could [conceivably] come back anytime,” Mueller said.

But Andrew Bartels, an analyst at Forrester Research, says it’s not a coincidence that both leaders were plucked from the cloud divisions of their respective companies, even if it was seven years apart.

“In both cases, these hyperscale business units of Microsoft and Amazon were the fastest-growing and best-performing units of the companies. [ … ] In both cases, cloud infrastructure was seen as a platform on top of which and around which other cloud offerings could be developed,” Bartels said. The companies both believe that the leaders of these two growth engines were best suited to lead the company into the future.


By Ron Miller

What Andy Jassy’s promotion to Amazon CEO could mean for AWS

Blockbuster news struck late this afternoon when Amazon announced that Jeff Bezos would be stepping back as CEO of Amazon, the company he built from a business in his garage to worldwide behemoth. As he takes on the role of executive chairman, his replacement will be none other than AWS CEO Andy Jassy.

With Jassy moving into his new role at the company, the immediate question is who replaces him to run AWS. Let the games begin. Among the names being tossed about in the rumor mill are Peter DeSantis, vice president of global infrastructure at AWS and Matt Garman, who is Vice President of sales and marketing. Both are members of Bezos’ elite executive team known as the S-team and either would make sense as Jassy’s successor. Nobody knows for sure though, and it could be any number of people inside the organization, or even someone from outside. (We have asked Amazon PR to provide clarity on the successor, but as of publication we had not heard from them.)

Holger Mueller, a senior analyst at Constellation Research, says that Jassy is being rewarded for doing a stellar job raising AWS from a tiny side business to one on a $50 billion run rate. “On the finance side it makes sense to appoint an executive who intimately knows Amazon’s most profitable business, that operates in more competitive markets. [Appointing Jassy] ensures that the new Amazon CEO does not break the ‘golden goose’,” Mueller told me.

Alex Smith, VP of channels, who covers the cloud infrastructure market at analyst firm Canalys, says the writing has been on the wall that a transition was in the works. “This move has been coming for some time. Jassy is the second most public-facing figure at Amazon and has lead one of its most successful business units. Bezos can go out on a high and focus on his many other ventures,” Smith said.

Smith adds that this move should enhance AWS’s place in the organization. “I think this is more of an AWS gain, in terms of its increasing strategic importance to Amazon going forwards, rather than loss in terms of losing Andy as direct lead. I expect he’ll remain close to that organization.”

Ed Anderson, a Gartner analyst also sees Jassy as the obvious choice to take over for Bezos. “Amazon is a company driven by technology innovation, something Andy has been doing at AWS for many years now. Also, it’s worth noting that Andy Jassy has an impressive track record of building and running a very large business. Under Andy’s leadership, AWS has grown to be one of the biggest technology companies in the world and one of the most impactful in defining what the future of computing will be,” Anderson said.

In the company earnings report released today, AWS came in at $12.74 billion for the quarter up 28% YoY from $9.60 billion a year ago. That puts the company on an elite $50 billion run rate. No other cloud infrastructure vendor, even the mighty Microsoft, is even close in this category. Microsoft stands at around 20% marketshare compared to AWS’s approximately 33% market share.

It’s unclear what impact the executive shuffle will have on the company at large or AWS in particular. In some ways it feels like when Larry Ellison stepped down as CEO of Oracle in 2014 to take on the exact same executive chairman role. While Safra Catz and Mark Hurd took over at co-CEOs in that situation, Ellison has remained intimately involved with the company he helped found. It’s reasonable to assume that Bezos will do the same.

With Jassy, the company is getting a man who has risen through the ranks since joining the company in 1997 after getting an undergraduate degree and an MBA from Harvard. In 2002 he became VP/ technical assistant, working directly under Bezos. It was in this role that he began to see the need for a set of common web services for Amazon developers to use. This idea grew into AWS and Jassy became a VP at the fledgling division working his way up until he was appointed CEO in 2016.


By Ron Miller

Oyster snaps up $20M for its HR platform aimed at distributed workforces

The growth of remote working and managing workforces that are distributed well beyond the confines of a centralized physical office — or even a single country — have put a spotlight on the human resources technology that organizations use to help manage those people. Today, one of the HR startups that’s been seeing a surge of growth is announcing a round of funding to double down on its business.

Oyster, a startup and platform that helps companies through the process of hiring, onboarding and then providing contractors and full-time employees in the area  of “knowledge work” with HR services like payroll, benefits and salary management, has closed a Series A round of $20 million.

The company is already working in 100 countries, and CEO and Tony Jamous (who co-founded the company with Jack Mardack) said in an interview that the plan is to expand that list of markets, and also bring in new services, particularly to address the opportunity in emerging markets to hire more people.

Currently, Oyster does not cover candidate sourcing or any of the interviewing and evaluation process: those could be areas where it might build its own tech or partner to provide them as part of its one-stop shop. It has dabbled in virtual job fairs, as a pointer to one potential product that it might explore.

“There 1.5 billion knowledge workers coming into the workforce in next 10 years, mostly from emerging economies, while in developed economies there are some 90 million jobs unfilled,” Jamous said. “There are super powers you can gain from being globally distributed, but it poses a major challenge around HR and payroll.”

Emergence Capital, the B2B VC that has backed the likes of Zoom, Salesforce, Bill.com and our former sister site Crunchbase, is leading the funding. The Slack Fund (Slack’s strategic investment vehicle), and London firm Connect Ventures (which has previously backed the company at seed stage) are also participating.  The investment will accelerate Oyster’s rapid growth, and support its mission of enabling people to work from anywhere.

Oyster’s valuation is not being disclosed. The startup has raised about $24 million to date.

One of the great ironies of the global health pandemic is that while our worlds have become much smaller — travel and even local activities have been drastically curtailed and many of us spend day in, day out at home — the employment opportunity and scope of how organizations are expected to operate has become significantly bigger.

Public health-enforced remote working has led to companies de-coupling workers from offices, and that has opened the door to seeking out and working with the best talent, regardless of location.

This predicament may have become more acute in the last year, but it’s been one that has been gradually coming into focus for years, helped by trends in cloud computing and globalization. Jamous said that the idea for Oyster came to him was something that he’s been thinking about for years, but became more apparent when he was still at his previous startup, Nexmo — the cloud communications provider that was acquired by Vonage for $230 million in in 2016. 

At Nexmo we wanted to be a great local employer. We were headquartered in two countries but wanted to have people everywhere,” he said. “We spent millions building employment infrastructure to do that, becoming knowledgable about local laws in France, Korea and more countries.” He realized quickly that this was a highly inefficient way to work. “We weren’t ready for the complexity and diversity of issues that would come up.”

After he moved on from Nexmo and did some angel investing (he backs other distributed work juggernauts like Hopin, among others), he decided that he would try to tackle the workforce challenge as the focus of his next venture.

That was in mid-2019, pre-pandemic. It turned out that the timing was spot on, with every organization looking in the next year at ways to address their own distributed workforce challenges.

The emerging market focus, meanwhile, also has a direct link to Jamous himself: he left his home country of Lebanon to study in France when he was 17, and has essentially lived abroad since then. But as with many people who move into developed from emerging markets, he knew that the base of technical talent in his home country was something that was worth tapping and nurturing to help residents and the countries themselves improve their lots in life; and he thought he could use tech to help there, too.

Related to that wider social mission, Oyster has a pending application to become a B-Corporation.

Jamous is not the only one that has founded an HR company based on his personal experience: Turing’s founders have cited their own backgrounds growing up in India and working with people remotely from there as part of their own impetus for building Turing; and Remote’s founder hails from Europe but built Gitlab (where he had been head of product) based on a similar premise of tapping into the talent he knew existed all around the world.

And indeed, Oyster is not alone in tackling this opportunity. The list of HR startups looking to be the ADP’s of the world of distributed work include Deel, Remote, Hibob, Papaya Global, Personio, Factorial, Lattice, Turing and Rippling. And these are just some of the HR startups that have raised money in the last year; there are many, many more.

The attraction of Oyster seems to come in the simplicity of how the services are provided — you have options for contractors, and full-timers, and full, larger staff deployments in other countries. You have options to add on benefits for employees if you choose. And you have some tools to work out how hires fit into your bigger budgets, and also to guide you on remuneration in each local market. Pricing starts at $29 per person, per month for contractors, to $399 for working with full employees, to other packages for larger deployments.

Oyster works with local partners to provide some aspects of these services, but it has built the technology to make the process seamless for the customer. As with other services, it essentially handles the employment and payroll as a local provider on behalf of its customers, but can do so under contract terms that reconcile both a company’s own policies and those of the local jurisdictions (which can differ widely between each other in areas like vacation time, redundancy terms, maternity leave and more).

“It has a few well funded competitors, but that’s usually a good signal,” said Jason Green, the Emergence partner who led on its investment. “But you want to bet on the horse that will lead the race, and that comes down to execution. Here, we are betting on a team that’s done it before, an entrepreneur experienced in building a company and selling it. Tony’s made money and knows how to build a business. But more than that, he’s mission driven and that will matter in the space, and to employees.”


By Ingrid Lunden

Salesforce promotes former Vlocity CEO David Schmaier to president and CPO

Last year I penned a post positing that Salesforce’s propensity to purchase mature enterprise companies not only provided new technology, but was also helping to produce a profusion of executive talent.. As though to prove my point, the company announced today that it was promoting former Vlocity CEO, David Schmaier to president and chief product officer.

Schmaier came to the organization last year when Salesforce acquired his company for $1.33 billion. It seemed like a good match given that Vlocity sold Salesforce solutions designed for certain niches like financial services, health, energy and utilities and government and nonprofits.

As a result, Schmaier knew the product set and the company well. Last June, he was named CEO of the Salesforce Industries division, which was created after the Vlocity acquisition. The connection was clear to Schmaier as he told me at the time of his promotion last year:

“I’ve been involved in various mergers and acquisitions over my 30-year career, and this is the most unique one I’ve ever seen because the products are already 100% integrated because we built our six vertical applications on top of the Salesforce platform. So they’re already 100% Salesforce, which is really kind of amazing. So that’s going to make this that much simpler,” he said.

Brent Leary, founder and principal analyst at CRM Essentials, says that Schmaier’s history in building Vlocity makes this promotion pretty easy given the direction of the company, as well as the industry. “Over the last several years we’ve seen just how important developing industry-specific solutions have become to the major players in the space, and Schmaier’s promotion reaffirms this while illustrating how important creating verticals is to their platform [and] to the future of Salesforce,” he told me.

In a Q&A on the Salesforce website announcing the promotion, Schmaier talked about the challenges companies faced in the last year. “There’s no question 2020 was a challenging year. We are operating in this all-digital, work from anywhere world and things won’t go back to where they were, nor should they. One of the silver linings has been seeing what companies can do when there is no alternative and the imperative is to connect with their customers in entirely new ways,”

In his new position it will be Schmaier’s job to figure out how to help them do that.


By Ron Miller

Pat Gelsinger stepping down as VMware CEO to replace Bob Swan at Intel

In a move that could have wide ramifications across the tech landscape, Intel announced that VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger would be replacing interim CEO Bob Swann at Intel on February 15th. The question is why would he leave his job to run a struggling chip giant.

The bottom line is he has a long history with Intel, working with some of the biggest names in chip industry lore before he joined VMware in 2009. It has to be a thrill for him to go back to his roots and try to jump start the company.

“I was 18 years old when I joined Intel, fresh out of the Lincoln Technical Institute. Over the next 30 years of my tenure at Intel, I had the honor to be mentored at the feet of Grove, Noyce and Moore,” Gelsinger wrote in a blog post announcing his new position.

Certainly Intel recognized that the history and that Gelsinger’s deep executive experience should help as the company attempts to compete in an increasingly aggressive chip industry landscape. “Pat is a proven technology leader with a distinguished track record of innovation, talent development, and a deep knowledge of Intel. He will continue a values-based cultural leadership approach with a hyper focus on operational execution,” Omar Ishrak, independent chairman of the Intel board said in a statement.

But Gelsinger is walking into a bit of a mess. As my colleague Danny Crichton wrote in his year-end review of the chip industry last month, Intel is far behind its competitors, and it’s going to be tough to play catch-up:

Intel has made numerous strategic blunders in the past two decades, most notably completely missing out on the smartphone revolution and also the custom silicon market that has come to prominence in recent years. It’s also just generally fallen behind in chip fabrication, an area it once dominated and is now behind Taiwan-based TSMC, Crichton wrote.

Patrick Moorhead, founder and principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy agrees with this assertion, saying that Swan was dealt a bad hand, walking in to clean up a mess that has years long timelines. While Gelsinger faces similar issues, Moorhead thinks he can refocus the company. “I am not foreseeing any major strategic changes with Gelsinger, but I do expect him to focus on the company’s engineering culture and get it back to an execution culture” Moorhead told me.

The announcement comes against the backdrop of massive chip industry consolidation last year with over $100 billion changing hands in four deals with NVidia nabbing ARM for $40 billion, the $35 billion AMD-Xilink deal, Analog snagging Maxim for $21 billion and Marvell grabbing Inphi for a mere $10 billion, not to mention Intel dumping its memory unit to SK Hynix for $9 billion.

As for VMware, it has to find a new CEO now. As Moorhead says, the obvious choice will be current COO Sanjay Poonen. Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research says it will be up to Michael Dell who to hand the reins to, but he believes Gelsinger was stuck at Dell and would not get a broader role, so he left.

“VMware has a deep bench, but it will be up to Michael Dell to get a CEO who can innovate on the software side and keep the unique DNA of VMware inside the Dell portfolio going strong, Dell needs the deeper profits of this business for its turnaround,” he said.

The stock market seems to like the move for Intel with the company stock up 7.26%, but not so much for VMware, whose stock was down close to the same amount at 7.72% as went to publication.


By Ron Miller