Google closes $2.6B Looker acquisition

When Google announced that it was acquiring data analytics startup Looker for $2.6 billion, it was a big deal on a couple of levels. It was a lot of money and it represented the first large deal under the leadership of Thomas Kurian. Today, the company announced that deal has officially closed and Looker is part of the Google Cloud Platform.

While Kurian was happy to announce that Looker was officially part of the Google family, he made it clear in a blog post that the analytics arm would continue to support multiple cloud vendors beyond Google.

“Google Cloud and Looker share a common philosophy around delivering open solutions and supporting customers wherever they are—be it on Google Cloud, in other public clouds, or on premises. As more organizations adopt a multi-cloud strategy, Looker customers and partners can expect continued support of all cloud data management systems like Amazon Redshift, Azure SQL, Snowflake, Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server and Teradata,” Kurian wrote.

As is typical in a deal like this, Looker CEO Frank Bien sees the much larger Google giving his company the resources to grow much faster than it could have on its own. “Joining Google Cloud provides us better reach, strengthens our resources, and brings together some of the best minds in both analytics and cloud infrastructure to build an exciting path forward for our customers and partners. The mission that we undertook seven years ago as Looker takes a significant step forward beginning today,” Bien wrote in his post.

At the time the deal was announced in June, the company shared a slide, which showed where Looker fits in what they call their “Smart Analytics Platform,” which provides ways to process, understand, analyze and visualize data. Looker fills in a spot in the visualization stack while continuing to support other clouds.

Slide: Google

Looker was founded in 2011 and raised more than $280 million, according to Crunchbase. Investors included Redpoint, Meritech Capital Partners, First Round Capital, Kleiner Perkins, CapitalG and PremjiInvest. The last deal before the acquisition was a $103 million Series E investment on a $1.6 billion valuation in December 2018.


By Ron Miller

Good news for enterprise startups: SaaS helped kill the single-vendor stack

In the old days of enterprise software, when companies like IBM, Oracle and Microsoft ruled the roost, there was a tendency to shop from a single vendor. You bought the whole stack, which made life easier for IT — even if it didn’t always work out so well for end users, who were stuck using software that was designed with administrators in mind.

Once Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) came along, IT no longer had complete control over software choices. The companies that dominated the market began to stumble — although Microsoft later found its way — and a new generation of SaaS vendors developed.

As that happened, users saw a way to pick and choose software that worked best for them, as they were no longer bound to clunky enterprise software; they wanted tools at work that worked as well as the ones they used in the consumer space at home.

Through freemium models and low-cost subscriptions, individual employees and teams started selecting their own tools, and a new way of buying software began to take hold. Instead of buying software from a single shop, consumers could buy the best tool for the job. This in turn, led to wider adoption, as these small groups of users led the way to more lucrative enterprise deals.

The philosophical change has worked well for enterprise startups. The new world means a well-executed idea can beat an incumbent with a similar product. Just ask companies like Slack, Zoom and Box, which have shown what’s possible when you put users first.


By Ron Miller

Fb Workplace co-founder launches downtime fire alarm Kintaba

“It’s an open secret that every company is on fire” says Kintaba co-founder John Egan. “At any given moment something is going horribly wrong in a way that it has never gone wrong before.” Code failure downtimes, server outages, and hack attacks plague engineering teams. Yet the tools for waking up the right employees, assembling a team to fix the problem, and doing a post-mortem to assess how to prevent it from happening again can be as chaotic as the crisis itself.

Text messages, Slack channels, task managers, and Google Docs aren’t sufficient for actually learning from mistakes. Alerting systems like PagerDuty focus on the rapid response, but not the educational process in the aftermath. Finally there’s a more holistic solution to incident response with today’s launch of Kintaba.

The Kintaba team experienced these pains first hand while working at Facebook after Egan and Zac Morris’ Y Combinator-backed data transfer startup Caffeinated Mind was acqui-hired in 2012. Years later when they tried to build a blockchain startup and the whole stack was constantly in flames, they longed for a better incident alert tool. So they built one themselves and named it after the Japanese art of Kintsugi, where gold is used to fill in cracked pottery “which teaches us to embrace the imperfect and to value the repaired” Egan says.

With today’s launch, Kintaba offers a clear dashboard where everyone in the company can see what major problems have cropped up, plus who’s responding and how. Kintaba’s live activity log  and collaboration space for responders let them debate and analyze their mitigation moves. It integrates with Slack, and lets team members subscribe to different levels of alerts or search through issues with categorized hashtags.

“The ability to turn catastrophes into opportunities is one of the biggest differentiating factors between successful and unsuccessful teams and companies” says Egan. That’s why Kintaba doesn’t stop when your outage does.

Kintaba Founders (from left): John Egan Zac Morris Cole Potrocky

As the fire gets contained, Kintaba provides a rich text editor connected to its dashboard for quickly constructing a post-mortem of what went wrong, why, what fixes were tried, what worked, and how to safeguard systems for the future. Its automated scheduling assistant helps teams plan meetings to internalize the post-mortem.

Kintaba’s well-pedigreed team and their approach to an unsexy but critical software-as-a-service attracted $2.25 million in funding led by New York’s FirstMark Capital.

“All these features add up to Kintaba taking away all the annoying administrative overhead and organization that comes with running a successful modern incident management practice” says Egan, “so you can focus on fixing the big issues and learning from the experience.”

Egan, Morris and Cole Potrocky met while working at Facebook, which is known for spawning other enterprise productivity startups based on its top-notch internal tools. Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz built a task management system to reduce how many meetings he had to hold, then left to turn that into Asana which filed to go public this week.

The trio had been working on internal communication and engineering tools as well as the procedures for employing them. “We saw first hand working at companies like Facebook how powerful those practices can be and wanted to make them easier for anyone to implement without having to stitch a bunch of tools together” Egan tells me. He stuck around to co-found Facebook’ enterprise collaboration suite Workplace while Potrocky built engineering architecture there and Morris became a mobile security lead at Uber.

Like many blockchain projects, Kintaba’s predecessor, crypto collectibles wallet Vault, proved an engineering nightmare without clear product market fit. So the team ditched it, pivoted to build out the internal alerting tool they’d been tinkering with. That origin story sounds a lot like Slack’s, which began as a gaming company that pivoted to turn its internal chat tool into a business.

So what’s the difference between Kintaba and just using Slack and email or a monitoring tool like PagerDuty, Splunk’s VictorOps, or Atlassian’s OpsGenie? Here’s how Egan breaks a sit downtime situation handled with Kintaba:

“You’re on call and your pager is blowing up because all your servers have stopped serving data. You’re overwhelmed and the root cause could be any of the multitude of systems sending you alerts. With Kintaba, you aren’t left to fend for yourself. You declare an incident with high severity and the system creates a collaborative space that automatically adds an experienced IMOC (incident manager on call) along with other relevant on calls. Kintaba also posts in a company-wide incident Slack channel. Now you can work together to solve the problem right inside the incident’s collaborative space or in Slack while simultaneously keeping stakeholders updated by directing them to the Kintaba incident page instead of sending out update emails. Interested parties can get quick info from the stickied comments and #tags. Once the incident is resolved, Kintaba helps you write a postmortem of what went wrong, how it was fixed, and what will be done to prevent it from happening. Kintaba then automatically distributes the postmortem and sets up an incident review on your calendar.”

Essentially, instead of having one employee panicking about what to do until the team struggles to coordinate across a bunch of fragmented messaging threads, a smoother incident reporting process and all the discussion happens in Kintaba. And if there’s a security breach that a non-engineer notices, they can launch a Kintaba alert and assemble the legal and PR team to help too.

Alternatively, Egan describes the downtime  fiascos he’d experience without Kintaba like this:

The on call has to start waking up their management chain to try and figure out who needs to be involved. The team maybe throws a Slack channel together but since there’s no common high severity incident management system and so many teams are affected by the downtime, other teams are also throwing slack channels together, email threads are happening all over the place, and multiple groups of people are trying to solve the problem at once. Engineers begin stepping all over each other and sales teams start emailing managers demanding to know what’s happening. Once the problem is solved, no one thinks to write up a postmortem and even if they do it only gets distributed to a few people and isn’t saved outside that email chain. Managers blame each other and point fingers at people instead of taking a level headed approach to reviewing the process that led to the failure. In short: panic, thrash, and poor communication.

While monitoring apps like PagerDuty can do a good job of indicating there’s a problem, they’re weaker at the collaborative resolution and post-mortem process, and designed just for engineers rather than everyone like Kintaba. Egan says “It’s kind of like comparing the difference between the warning lights on a piece of machinery and the big red emergency button on a factory floor.  We’re the big red button . . . That also means you don’t have to rip out PagerDuty to use Kintaba” since it can be the trigger that starts the Kintaba flow.

Still, Kintaba will have to prove that it’s so much better than a shared Google Doc, an adequate replacement for monitoring solutions, or a necessary add-on that companies should pay $12 per user per month. PagerDuty’s deeper technical focus helped it go public a year ago, though it’s fallen about 60% since to a market cap of $1.75 billion. Still, customers like Dropbox, Zoom, and Vodafone rely on its SMS incident alerts, while Kintaba’s integration with Slack might not be enough to rouse coders from their slumber when something catches fire.

If Kintaba can succeed in incident resolution with today’s launch, the four-person team sees adjacent markets in task prioritization, knowledge sharing, observability, and team collaboration, though those would pit it against some massive rivals. If it can’t, perhaps Slack or Microsoft Teams could be suitable soft landings for Kintaba, bringing more structured systems for dealing with major screwups to their communication platforms.

When asked why he wanted to build a legacy atop software that might seem a bit boring on the surface, Egan concluded that “Companies using Kintaba should be learning faster than their competitors . . . Everyone deserves to work within a culture that grows stronger through failure.”


By Josh Constine

What Nutanix got right (and wrong) in its IPO roadshow

Back in 2016, Nutanix decided to take the big step of going public. Part of that process was creating a pitch deck and presenting it during its roadshow, a coming-out party when a company goes on tour prior to its IPO and pitches itself to investors of all stripes.

It’s a huge moment in the life of any company, and after talking to CEO Dheeraj Pandey and CFO Duston Williams, one we better understood. They spoke about how every detail helped define their company and demonstrate its long-term investment value to investors who might not have been entirely familiar with the startup or its technology.

Pandey and Williams reported going through more than 100 versions of the deck before they finished the one they took on the road. Pandey said they had a data room checking every fact, every number — which they then checked yet again.

In a separate Extra Crunch post, we looked at the process of building that deck. Today, we’re looking more closely at the content of the deck itself, especially the numbers Nutanix presented to the world. We want to see what investors did more than three years ago and what’s happened since — did the company live up to its promises?

Plan of attack


By Ron Miller

As SaaS stocks set new records, Atlassian’s earnings show there’s still room to grow

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

SaaS stocks had a good run in late 2019. TechCrunch covered their ascent, a recovery from early-year doldrums and a summer slowdown. In 2020 so far, SaaS and cloud stocks have surged to all-time highs. The latest records are only a hair higher than what the same companies saw in July of last year, but they represent a return to form all the same.

Given that public SaaS companies have now managed to crest their prior highs and have been rewarded for doing so with several days of flat trading, you might think that there isn’t much room left for them to rise. Not so, at least according to Atlassian . The well-known software company reported earnings after-hours yesterday and the market quickly pushed its shares up by more than 10%.

Why? It’s worth understanding, because if we know why Atlassian is suddenly worth lots more, we’ll better grok what investors — public and private — are hunting for in SaaS companies and how much more room they may have to rise.


By Alex Wilhelm

Shared inbox startup Front raises $59 million round led by other tech CEOs

Front is raising a $59 million Series C funding round. Interestingly, the startup hasn’t raised with a traditional VC firm leading the round. A handful of super business angels are investing directly in the productivity startup and leading the round.

Business angels include Atlassian co-founder and co-CEO Mike Cannon-Brookes, Atlassian President Jay Simons, Okta co-founder and COO Frederic Kerrest, Qualtrics co-founders Ryan Smith and Jared Smith and Zoom CEO Eric Yuan. Existing investors including Sequoia Capital, Initialized Capital and Anthos Capital are participating in this round as well.

While Front doesn’t share its valuation, the company says that the valuation has quadrupled compared to the previous funding round. Annual recurring venue has also quadrupled over the same period.

The structure of this round is unusual, but it’s on purpose. Front, like many other startups, is trying to redefine the future of work. That’s why the startup wanted to surround itself with leaders of other companies who share the same purpose.

“First, because we didn't need to raise (we still had two years of runway), and it's always better to raise when we don't need it. The last few months have given me much more clarity into our go-to-market strategy,” Front co-founder and CEO Mathilde Collin told me.

Front is a collaborative inbox for your company. For instance, if you want to share an email address with your coworkers ([email protected] or [email protected]), you can integrate those shared inboxes with Front and work on those conversations as a team.

It opens up a ton of possibilities. You can assign conversations to a specific person, @-mention your coworkers to send them a notification, start a conversation with your team before you hit reply, share a draft with other people, etc.

Front also supports other communication channels, such as text messages, WhatsApp messages, a chat module on your website and more. As your team gets bigger, Front helps you avoid double replies by alerting other users when you’re working on a reply.

In addition to those collaboration features, Front helps you automate your workload as much as possible. You can set up automated workflows so that a specific conversation ends up in front of the right pair of eyes. You can create canned responses for the entire team as well.

Front also integrates with popular third-party services, such as Salesforce, HubSpot, Clearbit and dozens of others. Front customers include MailChimp, Shopify and Stripe.

While Front supports multiple channels, email represents the biggest challenge. If you think about it, email hasn’t changed much over the past decade. The last significant evolution was the rise of Gmail, G Suite and web-based clients. In other words, Front wants to disrupt Outlook and Gmail.

With today’s funding round, the company plans to iterate on the product front with Office 365 support for its calendar, an offline mode and refinements across the board. The company also plans to scale up its sales and go-to-market team with an office in Phoenix and a new CMO.


By Romain Dillet

How some founders are raising capital outside of the VC world

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

Today, we’re exploring fundraising from outside the venture world.

Founders looking to raise capital to power their growing companies have more options than ever. Traditional bank loans are an option, of course. As is venture capital. But between the two exists a growing world of firms and funds looking to put capital to work in young companies that have growing revenues and predictable economics.

Firms like Clearbanc are rising to meet demand for capital with more risk appetite than a traditional bank looking for collateral, but less than an early-stage venture firm. Clearbanc offers growth-focused capital to ecommerce and consumer SaaS companies for a flat fee, repaid out of future revenues. Such revenue-based financing is becoming increasingly popular; you could say the category has roots in the sort of venture debt that groups like Silicon Valley Bank have lent for decades, but there’s more of it than ever and in different flavors.

While revenue-based financing, speaking generally, is attractive to SaaS and ecommerce companies, other types of startups can benefit from alt-capital sources as well. And, some firms that disburse money to growing companies without an explicit equity stake are finding a way to connect capital to them.

Today, let’s take a quick peek at three firms that have found interesting takes on providing alternative startup financing: Earnest Capital with its innovative SEAL agreement, RevUp Capital, which offers services along with non-equity capital, and Capital, which both invests and loans using its own proprietary rubric.

After all, selling equity in your company to fund sales and marketing costs might not be the most efficient way to finance growth; if you know you are going to get $3 out from $1 in spend, why sell forever shares to do so?

Your options

Before we dig in, there are many players in what we might call the alt-VC space. Lighter Capital came up again and again in emails from founders. Indie.vc has its own model that is pretty neat as well. In honor of starting somewhere, however, we’re kicking off with Earnest, RevUp and Capital. We’ll dive into more players in time. (As always, email me if you have something to share.)


By Alex Wilhelm

Public investors loved SaaS stocks in 2019, and startups should be thankful

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

Today, something short. Continuing our loose collection of look backs of the past year, it’s worth remembering two related facts. First, that this time last year SaaS stocks were getting beat up. And, second, that in the ensuing year they’ve risen mightily.

If you are in a hurry, the gist of our point is that the recovery in value of SaaS stocks probably made a number of 2019 IPOs possible. And, given that SaaS shares have recovered well as a group, that the 2020 IPO season should be active as all heck, provided that things don’t change.

Let’s not forget how slack the public markets were a year ago for a startup category vital to venture capital returns.

Last year

We’re depending on Bessemer’s cloud index today, renamed the “BVP Nasdaq Emerging Cloud Index” when it was rebuilt in October. The Cloud Index is a collection of SaaS and cloud companies that are trackable as a unit, helping provide good data on the value of modern software and tooling concerns.

If the index rises, it’s generally good news for startups as it implies that investors are bidding up the value of SaaS companies as they grow; if the index falls, it implies that revenue multiples are contracting amongst the public comps of SaaS startups.1

Ultimately, startups want public companies that look like them (comps) to have sky-high revenue multiples (price/sales multiples, basically). That helps startups argue for a better valuation during their next round; or it helps them defend their current valuation as they grow.

Given that it’s Christmas Eve, I’m going to present you with a somewhat ugly chart. Today I can do no better. Please excuse the annotation fidelity as well:


By Alex Wilhelm

Three SaaS companies we think will make it to $1B in revenue

What’s the most successful pure SaaS company of all time? The answer is Salesforce, and it’s no contest — the company closed the year on an $18 billion run rate, placing it in a category no other company born in the cloud can touch.

That Salesforce is on such an impressive run rate might suggest that reaching a billion in revenue is a fairly easy proposition for an enterprise SaaS company, but firms in this category grow or drive revenue like Salesforce. Some, in fact, find themselves growing much more slowly than anyone thought, but keep slugging it out as they inch steadily toward the $1 billion mark. This happens to public and private SaaS companies alike, which means that we can look at few public ones thanks to their regular earnings disclosures.

It’s a good time to look back at the year and analyze a few firms that should reach the mythical $1 billion in revenue at some point. Today we’re examining Zuora, a SaaS player focused on building and managing subscription-based services. GuideWire, a company transitioning to SaaS with big ambitions and Box, a well-known SaaS player caught somewhere between big and a billion.

Zuora: betting on SaaS

We’ll start with the smallest company that caught our eye, Zuora . We’ll proceed from here going up in revenue terms.

Zuora is as pure a SaaS company as you can imagine. The San Mateo-based company raised nearly a quarter billion dollars while private to build out the technology that other companies use to help build their own subscription-based businesses. To some degree, Zuora’s success can be viewed as a proxy for SaaS as a whole.

However, while SaaS has chugged along admirably, Zuora has seen its share price fall by more than half in recent quarters.

At issue is the firm’s slowing growth:

  • In the quarter detailed on March 21, 2019, Zuora’s subscription revenue growth slowed to 35% compared to the prior year period. Total revenue growth grew an even slower at 29%.
  • In the quarter announced on May 30, 2019, Zuora’s subscription revenue grew 32% while its total revenue expanded 22%.
  • Moving forward in time, the company’s quarter reported on August 28, 2019 saw subscription revenue growth of 24% and total revenue growth of 21% compared to the year-ago quarter.
  • Finally, in its most recent quarterly report earlier this month, Zuora reported marginally better 25% subscription revenue growth, but slower total revenue growth of 17%.

Why is Zuora’s growth slowing? There’s no single reason to point out. Reading through coverage of the firm’s earnings report reveals a number of issues that the company has dealt with this year, including slow sales rep ramp and some technology complaints. Add in Stripe’s meteoric rise (the unicorn added tools for subscription billing in 2018, expanding the product to Europe earlier this year) and you can see why Zuora has had a tough year.

Adding to its difficulties, the company has lost more money while its growth has slowed. Zuora’s net loss expanded from $53.6 million in the three calendar quarters of 2018. That rose to $59.9 million over the same period in 2019. But the news is not all bad.

In spite of these numbers, Zuora is still growing; the company expects around $276 to $278 million in revenue in its current fiscal year and between $206 and $207 million in subscription top-line revenue over the same period.

At the revenue growth pace set in its most recent quarter (17% in the third quarter of its fiscal 2020) the company is eight years from reaching $1 billion in revenue. However, Zuora’s rising subscription growth rate in the same period is very encouraging. And, the company’s cash burn is declining. Indeed, in the most recent quarter Zuora’s operations generated cash. That improvement led to the firm’s free cash flow improving by half in the first three calendar quarters of 2019.

It also has pedigree on its side. Founder and CEO Tien Tzuo was employee number 11 at Salesforce when the company launched in 1999. He left the company in 2007 to start Zuora after realizing that traditional accounting methods designed to account for selling a widget wouldn’t work in the subscription world.

Zuora’s subscription revenue is high-margin, but the rest of its revenue (services, mostly) is not. So, with less thirst for cash and modestly improving subscription revenue growth, Zuora is still on the path towards the next revenue threshold despite a rough past year.

Guidewire: going SaaS the hard way


By Ron Miller

Box looks to balance growth and profitability as it matures

Prevailing wisdom states that as an enterprise SaaS company evolves, there’s a tendency to sacrifice profitability for growth — understandably so, especially in the early days of the company. At some point, however, a company needs to become profitable.

Box has struggled to reach that goal since going public in 2015, but yesterday, it delivered a mostly positive earnings report. Wall Street seemed to approve, with the stock up 6.75% as we published this article.

Box CEO Aaron Levie says the goal moving forward is to find better balance between growth and profitability. In his post-report call with analysts, Levie pointed to some positive numbers.

“As we shared in October [at BoxWorks], we are focused on driving a balance of long-term growth and improved profitability as measured by the combination of revenue growth plus free cash flow margin. On this combined metric, we expect to deliver a significant increase in FY ’21 to at least 25% and eventually reaching at least 35% in FY ’23,” Levie said.

Growing the platform

Part of the maturation and drive to profitability is spurred by the fact that Box now has a more complete product platform. While many struggle to understand the company’s business model, it provides content management in the cloud and modernizing that aspect of enterprise software. As a result, there are few pure-play content management vendors that can do what Box does in a cloud context.


By Ron Miller

Vivun snags $3M seed round to bring order to pre-sales

Vivun, a startup that wants to help companies keep better track of pre-sales data announced a $3 million seed round today led by Unusual Ventures, the venture firm run by Harness CEO Jyoti Bansal.

Vivun founder and CEO Matt Darrow says that pre-sales team works more closely with the customer than anyone else, delivering demos and proof of concepts, and generally helping sales get over the finish line. While sales has CRM to store knowledge about the customer, pre-sales has been lacking a tool to track info about their interactions with customers, and that’s what his company built.

“The main problem that we solve is we give technology to those pre-sales leaders to run and operate their teams, but then take those insights from the group that knows more about the technology and the customer than anybody else, and we deliver that across the organization to the product team, sales team and executive staff,” Darrow explained.

Darrow is a Zuora alumni, and his story is similar to that company’s founder Tien Tzuo, who built the first billing system for Salesforce, then founded Zuroa to build a subscription billing system for everyone else. Similarly, Darrow built a pre-sales tool for Zuroa after finding there wasn’t anything else out there that was devoted specifically to tracking that kind of information.

“At Zuora, I had to build everything from scratch. After the IPO, I realized that this is something that every tech company can take advantage of because every technology company will really need this role to be of high value and impact,” he said.

The company not only tracks information via a mobile app and browser tool, it also has a reporting dashboard to help companies understand and share the information the pre-sales team is hearing from the customer. For example, they might know that x number of customers have been asking for a certain feature, and this information can be organized and passed onto other parts of the company.

Screenshot: Vivun

Bansal, who was previously CEO and co-founder at AppDynamics, a company he sold to Cisco for $3.7 billion just before its IPO in 2017, saw a company filling a big hole in the enterprise software ecosystem. He is not just an investor, he’s also a customer.

“To be successful, a technology company needs to understand three things: where it will be in five years, what its customers need right now, and what the market wants that it’s not currently providing. Pre-sales has answers to all three questions and is a strategically important department that needs management, analytics, and tools for accelerating deals. Yet, no one was making software for this critical department until Vivun,” he said in a statement.

The company was founded in 2018 and has been bootstrapped until now. It spent the first year building out the product. Today, the company has 20 customers including SignalFx (acquired by Splunk in August for $1.05 billion) and Harness.


By Ron Miller

Linear takes $4.2M led by Sequoia to build a better bug tracker and more

Software will eat the world, as the saying goes, but in doing so, some developers are likely to get a little indigestion. That is to say, building products requires working with disparate and distributed teams, and while developers may have an ever-growing array of algorithms, APIs and technology at their disposal to do this, ironically the platforms to track it all haven’t evolved with the times. Now three developers have taken their own experience of that disconnect to create a new kind of platform, Linear, which they believe addresses the needs of software developers better by being faster and more intuitive. It’s bug tracking you actually want to use.

Today, Linear is announcing a seed round of $4.2 million led by Sequoia, with participation also from Index Ventures and a number of investors, startup founders and others that will also advise Linear as it grows. They include Dylan Field (Founder and CEO, Figma), Emily Choi (COO, Coinbase), Charlie Cheever (Co-Founder of Expo & Quora), Gustaf Alströmer (Partner, Y Combinator), Tikhon Berstram (Co-Founder, Parse), Larry Gadea (CEO, Envoy), Jude Gomila (CEO, Golden), James Smith (CEO, Bugsnag), Fred Stevens-Smith (CEO, Rainforest), Bobby Goodlatte, Marc McGabe, Julia DeWahl and others.

Cofounders Karri Saarinen, Tuomas Artman, and Jori Lallo — all Finnish but now based in the Bay Area — know something first-hand about software development and the trials and tribulations of working with disparate and distributed teams. Saarinen was previously the principal designer of Airbnb, as well as the first designer of Coinbase; Artman had been staff engineer and architect at Uber; and Lallo also had been at Coinbase as a senior engineer building its API and front end.

“When we worked at many startups and growth companies we felt that the tools weren’t matching the way we’re thinking or operating,” Saarinen said in an email interview. “It also seemed that no-one had took a fresh look at this as a design problem. We believe there is a much better, modern workflow waiting to be discovered. We believe creators should focus on the work they create, not tracking or reporting what they are doing. Managers should spend their time prioritizing and giving direction, not bugging their teams for updates. Running the process shouldn’t sap your team’s energy and come in the way of creating.”

Linear cofounders (from left): KarriSaarinen, Jori Lallo, and Tuomas Artma

All of that translates to, first and foremost, speed and a platform whose main purpose is to help you work faster. “While some say speed is not really a feature, we believe it’s the core foundation for tools you use daily,” Saarinen noted.

A ⌘K command calls up a menu of shortcuts to edit an issue’s status, assign a task, and more so that everything can be handled with keyboard shortcuts. Pages load quickly and synchronise in real time (and search updates alongside that). Users can work offline if they need to. And of course there is also a dark mode for night owls.

The platform is still very much in its early stages. It currently has three integrations based on some of the most common tools used by developers — GitHub (where you can link Pull Requests and close Linear issues on merge), Figma designs (where you can get image previews and embeds of Figma designs), and Slack (you can create issues from Slack and then get notifications on updates). There are plans to add more over time.

We started solving the problem from the end-user perspective, the contributor, like an engineer or a designer and starting to address things that are important for them, can help them and their teams,” Saarinen said. “We aim to also bring clarity for the teams by making the concepts simple, clear but powerful. For example, instead of talking about epics, we have Projects that help track larger feature work or tracks of work.”

Indeed, speed is not the only aim with Linear. Saarinen also said another area they hope to address is general work practices, with a take that seems to echo a turn away from time spent on manual management and more focus on automating that process.

“Right now at many companies you have to manually move things around, schedule sprints, and all kinds of other minor things,” he said. “We think that next generation tools should have built in automated workflows that help teams and companies operate much more effectively. Teams shouldn’t spend a third or more of their time a week just for running the process.”

The last objective Linear is hoping to tackle is one that we’re often sorely lacking in the wider world, too: context.

“Companies are setting their high-level goals, roadmaps and teams work on projects,” he said. “Often leadership doesn’t have good visibility into what is actually happening and how projects are tracking. Teams and contributors don’t always have the context or understanding of why they are working on the things, since you cannot follow the chain from your task to the company goal. We think that there are ways to build Linear to be a real-time picture of what is happening in the company when it comes to building products, and give the necessary context to everyone.”

Linear is a late entrant in a world filled with collaboration apps, and specifically workflow and collaboration apps targeting the developer community. These include not just Slack and GitHub, but Atlassian’s Trello and Jira, as well as Asana, Basecamp and many more.

Saarinen would not be drawn out on which of these (or others) that it sees as direct competition, noting that none are addressing developer issues of speed, ease of use and context as well as Linear is.

“There are many tools in the market and many companies are talking about making ‘work better,’” he said. “And while there are many issue tracking and project management tools, they are not supporting the workflow of the individual and team. A lot of the value these tools sell is around tracking work that happens, not actually helping people to be more effective. Since our focus is on the individual contributor and intelligent integration with their workflow, we can support them better and as a side effect makes the information in the system more up to date.”

Stephanie Zhan, the partner at Sequoia whose speciality is seed and Series A investments and who has led this round, said that Linear first came on her radar when it first launched its private beta (it’s still in private beta and has been running a waitlist to bring on new users. In that time it’s picked up hundreds of companies, including Pitch, Render, Albert, Curology, Spoke, Compound and YC startups including Middesk, Catch and Visly). The company had also been flagged by one of Sequoia’s Scouts, who invested earlier this year

Sequoia Logo Natalie Miyake

Although Linear is based out of San Francisco, it’s interesting that the three founders’ roots are in Finland (with Saarinen in Helsinki this week to speak at the Slush event), and brings up an emerging trend of Silicon Valley VCs looking at founders from further afield than just their own back yard.

“The interesting thing about Linear is that as they’re building a software company around the future of work, they’re also building a remote and distributed team themselves,” Zahn said. The company currently has only four employees.

In that vein, we (and others, it seems) had heard that Sequoia — which today invests in several Europe-based startups, including Tessian, Graphcore, Klarna, Tourlane, Evervault  and CEGX — has been considering establishing a more permanent presence in this part of the world, specifically in London.

Sources familiar with the firm, however, tell us that while it has been sounding out VCs at other firms, saying a London office is on the horizon might be premature, as there are as yet no plans to set up shop here. However, with more companies and European founders entering its portfolio, and as more conversations with VCs turn into decisions to make the leap to help Sequoia source more startups, we could see this strategy turning around quickly.


By Ingrid Lunden

CTO.ai’s developer shortcuts eliminate coding busywork

There’s too much hype about mythical “10X developers”. Everyone’s desperate to hire these ‘ninja rockstars’. In reality, it’s smarter to find ways of deleting annoying chores for the coders you already have. That’s where CTO.ai comes in.

Emerging from stealth today, CTO.ai lets developers build and borrow DevOps shortcuts. These automate long series of steps they usually have to do manually thanks to integrations with GitHub, AWS, Slack, and more. CTO.ai claims it can turn a days-long process like setting up a Kubernetes cluster into a 15-minute task even sales people can handle. The startup offers both a platform for engineering and sharing shortcuts, and a service where it can custom build shortcuts for big customers.

What’s remarkable about CTO.ai is that amidst a frothy funding environment, the 60-person team quietly bootstrapped its way to profitability over the past two years. Why take funding when revenue was up 400% in 18 months? But after a chance meeting aboard a plane connected its high school dropout founder Kyle Campbell with Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield, CTO.ai just raised a $7.5 million seed round led by Slack Fund and Tiger Global.

“Building tools that streamline software development is really expensive for companies, especially when they need their developers focused on building features and shipping to customers” Campbell tells me. The same way startups don’t build their own cloud infrastructure and just use AWS, or don’t build their own telecom APIs and just use Twilio, he wants CTO.ai to be the ‘easy button’ for developer tools.

Teaching Snakes To Eat Elephants

“I’ve been a software engineer since the age of 8” Campbell recalls. In skate-punk attire with a snapback hat, the young man meeting me in a San Francisco mission district cafe almost looked too chill to be a prolific coder. But that’s kind of the point. His startup makes being a developer more accessible.

After spending his 20s in software engineering groups in the Bay, Campbell started his own company Retsly that bridged developers to real estate listings. In 2014, it was acquired by property tech giant Zillow where he worked for a few years.

That’s when he discovered the difficulty of building dev tools inside companies with other priorities. “It’s the equivalent of a snake swallowing an elephant” he jokes. Yet given these tools determine how much time expensive engineers waste on tasks below their skill level, their absence can drag down big enterprises or keep startups from rising.

CTO.ai shrinks the elephant. For example, the busywork of creating a Kubernetes cluster such as having to the create EC2 instances, provision on those instances, and then provision a master node gets slimmed down to just running a shortcut. Campbell writes that “tedious tasks like running reports can be reduced from 1,000 steps down to 10″ through standardization of workflows that turn confusing code essays into simple fill-in-the-blank and multiple-choice questions.

 

The CTO.ai platform offers a wide range of pre-made shortcuts that clients can piggyback on, or they can make and publish their own through a flexible JavaScript environment for the rest of their team or the whole community to use. Companies that need extra help can pay for its DevOps-As-A-Service and reliability offerings to get shortcuts made to solve their biggest problems while keeping everything running smoothly.

5(2X) = 10X

Campbell envisions a new way to create a 10X engineer that doesn’t depend on widely-mocked advice on how to spot and capture them like trophy animals. Instead, he believes 1 developer can make 5 others 2X more efficient by building them shortcuts. And it doesn’t require indulging bad workplace or collaboration habits.

With the new funding that also comes from Yaletown Partners, Pallasite Ventures, Panache Ventures and Jonathan Bixby, CTO.ai wants to build deeper integrations with Slack so developers can run more commands right from the messaging app. The less coding required for use, the broader the set of employees that can use the startup’s tools. CTO.ai may also build a self-service tier to augment its seats plus complexity model for enterprise pricing.

Now it’s time to ramp up community outreach to drive adoption. CTO.ai recently released a podcast which saw 15,000 downloads in its first 3 weeks, and it’s planning some conference appearances. It also sees virality through its shortcut author pages, which like GitHub profiles let developers show off their contributions and find their next gig.

One risk is that GitHub or another core developer infrastructure provider could try to barge directly into CTO.ai’s business. Google already has Cloud Composer while GitHub launched Actions last year. Campbell says its defense comes through neutrally integrating with everyone, thereby turning potential competitors into partners.

The funding firepower could help CTO.ai build a lead. With every company embracing software, employers battling to keep developers happy, and teams looking to get more of their staff working with code, the startup sits at the intersection of some lucrative trends of technological empowerment.

“I have 3-year-old at home and I think about what it will be like when he comes into creating things online” Campbell concludes. “We want to create an amazing future for software developers, introducing automation so they can focus on what makes them such an important aspect. Devs are defining society!”

[Image Credit: Disney/Pixar via WallHere Goodfon]


By Josh Constine

Former SAP CEO Bill McDermott taking over as ServiceNow CEO

When Bill McDermott announced he was stepping down as CEO at SAP a couple of weeks ago, it certainly felt like a curious move — but he landed on his feet pretty quickly. ServiceNow announced he would be taking over as CEO there. The transition will take place at year-end.

If you’re wondering what happened to the current ServiceNow CEO, John Donahoe, well he landed a job as CEO at Nike. The CEO carousel goes round and round (and painted ponies go up and down).

Jeff Miller, lead independent director on the ServiceNow board of directors, was “thrilled” to have McDermott fill the void left by Donahoe’s departure. “His global experience and proven track record will provide for a smooth transition and continued strong leadership. Bill will further enhance ServiceNow’s momentum and reputation as a digital workflows leader committed to customer success, and as a preferred strategic partner enabling enterprise digital transformation,” Miller said in a statement.

Jennifer Morgan and Christian Klein replaced McDermott as co-CEOs at SAP, and during the announcement, McDermott indicated he would stay until the end of the year to help with the transition. After that, no vacation for McDermott, who will apparently start at ServiceNow after his obligations at SAP end.

As Frederic Lardinois wrote regarding McDermott’s resignation:

I last spoke to McDermott about a month ago, during a fireside chat at our TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise event. At the time, I didn’t come away with the impression that this was a CEO on his way out (though McDermott reminded me that if he had already made his decision a month ago, he probably wouldn’t have given it away).

ServiceNow is a much different company than SAP. SAP was founded in 1972 and was a traditional on-premises software company. ServiceNow was founded in 2004 and was born as a SaaS company. While McDermott was part of a transition from a traditional, on-premises enterprise software company to the cloud, working at ServiceNow he will be leading a much smaller organization. Published estimates have SAP at around 100,000 employees, while ServiceNow now has around 10,000.

It’s worth noting that the company made the announcement after the market closed and it announced its latest quarterly earnings. Wall Street did not appear to the like news, as the stock was down $13.34, or 5.84%, in early after-hours trading.


By Ron Miller

Databricks announces $400M round on $6.2B valuation as analytics platform continues to grow

Databricks is a SaaS business built on top of a bunch of open source tools, and apparently it’s been going pretty well on the business side of things. In fact, the company claims to be one of the fastest growing enterprise cloud companies ever. Today the company announced a massive $400 million Series F funding round on a hefty $6.2 billion valuation. Today’s funding brings the total raised to almost a $900 million.

Andreessen Horowitz’s Late Stage Venture Fund led the round with new investors BlackRock, Inc., T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc. and Tiger Global Management also participating. The institutional investors are particularly interesting here because as a late stage startup, Databricks likely has its eye on a future IPO, and having those investors on board already could give them a head start.

CEO Ali Ghodsi was coy when it came to the IPO, but it sure sounded like that’s a direction he wants to go. “We are one of the fastest growing cloud enterprise software companies on record, which means we have a lot of access to capital as this fundraise shows. The revenue is growing gangbusters, and the brand is also really well known. So an IPO is not something that we’re optimizing for, but it’s something that’s definitely going to happen down the line in the not-too-distant future,” Ghodsi told TechCrunch.

The company announced as of Q3 it’s on a $200 million run rate, and it has a platform that consists of four products, all built on foundational open source: Delta Lake, an open source data lake product; MLflow, an open source project that helps data teams operationalize machine learning; Koalas, which creates a single machine frame work for Spark and Pandos, greatly simplifying working with the two tools; and finally, Spark, the open source analytics engine.

You can download the open source version of all of these tools for free, but they are not easy to use or manage. The way that Databricks make money is by offering each of these tools in the form of Software as a Service. They handle all of the management headaches associated with using these tools and they charge you a subscription price.

It’s a model that seems to be working as the company is growing like crazy. It raised $250 million just last February on a $2.75 billion valuation. Apparently the investors saw room for a lot more growth in the intervening six months, as today’s $6.2 billion valuation shows.


By Ron Miller