Salesforce’s Benioff pledges no ‘significant’ layoffs for 90 days

In a Twitter thread on Tuesday, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff outlined an eight-step plan to keep people safe and find treatments and a vaccine for the COVID-19 virus, all while working to find a way to get people back to work safely. He also asked that all CEOs take a 90-day “no lay off” pledge to help everyone get through the crisis.

The same day, he posted another tweet pledging to not make any “significant” layoffs for 90 days. When TechCrunch asked Salesforce to comment on the difference between the two tweets, the company chose not to comment any further on the matter and let the tweets stand on their own.

It sounds like Benioff’s second tweet, which also asked employees to consider paying their own hourly workers like housekeepers and dog walkers throughout the layoff period, whether they were working or not, was designed to give the CEO some wiggle room for at least some layoffs.

Salesforce has almost 50,000 employees worldwide. Even if the company were to lay off just 1% of employees it would equal 500 people without jobs, though it’s not clear if that would count as “significant.” Perhaps more likely, the company might make some cuts to staff for performance or HR-related reasons, but not broad cuts, and thus make both of its CEO’s claims essentially true.

Salesforce is a wildly successful company. It celebrated its 20th anniversary last fall and has grown from a pesky startup to a software behemoth with a projected revenue of over $20 billion for FY2021. It currently has almost $8 billion in cash and equivalents on hand. Certainly companies that use Salesforce’s products will continue to need them, even with the workforce at home.

While it could have an impact on that projection for FY2021 and its ability to land new customers this quarter, it seems like it has the money and revenue to ride out the situation for the short term without making any moves to reduce headcount at this critical time.


By Ron Miller

Activist investor Starboard Value taking three Box board seats as involvement deepens

When activist investors Starboard Value took a 7.5% stake in Box last September, there was reasonable speculation that it would begin to try and push an agenda, as activist investors tend to do. While the firm has been quiet to this point, today Box announced that Starboard was adding three members to the 9 member Box board.

At the same time, two long-time Box investors and allies, Rory O’Driscoll from Scale Venture Partners and Josh Stein from DFJ, will be retiring from the board and not seeking re-election at the annual stockholder’s meeting in June.

O’Driscoll involvement with the company dates back a decade, and Stein has been with the company for 14 years and has been a big supporter from almost the beginning of the company.

For starters, Jack Lazar, whose credentials including being chief financial officer at GoPro and Atheros Communications, is joining the board immediately. A second new board member from a list to be agreed upon by Box and Starboard will also be joining immediately.

Finally, a third member will be selected by the newly constituted board in June, giving Starboard three friendly votes and the ability to push the Box agenda in a significant way.

At the time it announced it was taking a stake in Box, Starboard telegraphed that it could be doing something like this. Here’s what it had to say in its filing at the time:

“Depending on various factors including, without limitation, the Issuer’s financial position and investment strategy, the price levels of the Shares, conditions in the securities markets and general economic and industry conditions, the Reporting Persons may in the future take such actions with respect to their investment in the Issuer as they deem appropriate including, without limitation, engaging in communications with management and the Board of Directors of the Issuer, engaging in discussions with stockholders of the Issuer or other third parties about the Issuer and the [Starboard’s] investment, including potential business combinations or dispositions involving the Issuer or certain of its businesses, making recommendations or proposals to the Issuer concerning changes to the capitalization, ownership structure, board structure (including board composition), potential business combinations or dispositions involving the Issuer or certain of its businesses, or suggestions for improving the Issuer’s financial and/or operational performance, purchasing additional Shares, selling some or all of their Shares, engaging in short selling of or any hedging or similar transaction with respect to the Shares…”

Box CEO Aaron Levie appeared at TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise, the week this news about Starboard broke, and he was careful in how he discussed a possible relationship with the firm. “Well, I think in their statement actually they really just identified that they think there’s upside in the stock. It’s still very early in the conversations and process, but again we’re super collaborative in these types of situations. We want to work with all of our investors, and I think that’ll be the same here,” Levie told us at the time.

Now the company has no choice but to work more collaboratively with Starboard as it takes a much more meaningful role on the company board. What impact this will have in the long run is hard to say, but surely significant changes are likely on the way.


By Ron Miller

Box’s Aaron Levie says it will take creativity and focus to get through this crisis

The COVID-19 virus is touching every aspect of our lives and having a profound impact on individuals, businesses and society at large. Box’s Aaron Levie has built a successful business from dorm room to IPO and beyond. He spoke to TechCrunch today about the level of creativity and focus that it’s going to take to succeed in the current environment.

Levie pointed out that his company was a fledgling startup when the economic downturn hit in 2008, but he thinks this one could have a much greater impact on business than that one did.

“I think Silicon Valley is going to definitely experience this in a very, very significant way. We were building a company in 2008, and that was extremely hard, but I don’t think it is going to compare to how hard the coming year is going to be,” Levie said.

This morning on Twitter, Levie wrote that we are in uncharted territory, and everyone will have to work together to help navigate this crisis.

He believes the government will need to step in to help individuals and businesses alike. “Businesses, who have lots of employees, need to be supported, but fundamentally we need to make sure that we’re focused on all the workers that are out of work, hopefully just temporarily displaced, but we’re going to need a lot of government financial support to get through this,” he said.

For startups, he advised startups to firmly focus on their mission. “It’s about extreme focus right now. It’s about extreme discipline. It’s about making sure that you’re maintaining your culture during this time,” Levie said.

As for his own company, he’s looking a three areas: his employees, his customers and the community. He said his first priority is making sure his employees are safe and healthy and that the hourly workers who support the business normally are being taken care of as we move through this unprecedented situation.

Secondly, he’s making sure that he supports his customers. To that end the company has removed any license limits as customers deal with increased usage with employees working from home.

He has also joined forces with Cloudflare in an effort to provide small businesses with 90 days of free services to help ride out the situation, and he said they would revisit extending these programs if the situation continues.

Thirdly, he says every business who can has to look at ways to support the communities where they live to assist non-profit organizations who are helping in the response. “This is an event where business communities globally are going to have to put more of a concerted effort on this than any issue in modern history,” Levie said.

Levie is not alone in this thinking by any means. He points to other leaders such as Chuck Robbins, Marc Benioff and Tim Cook, all who have stepped up in recent days to offer help and support.

He has built his company from the ground up to one that’s on nearly an $800 million run rate, but like so many business leaders, he is dealing with a situation which, as he said, has no playbook. Like every other CEO, he’s trying to help keep his business thriving, while not losing sight of the needs of the people in his organization, his customers or his community. It’s not an easy balancing act for anyone right now.


By Ron Miller

Slack introduces simplified interface as usage moves deeper into companies

When Slack first launched in 2013, the product was quickly embraced by developers, and the early product reflected that. To get at advanced tools, you used a slash (/) command, but the company recognizes that as it moves deeper into the enterprise, it needed to simplify the interface.

Today, the company introduced a newly designed interface aimed at easing the user experience, making Slack more of an accessible enterprise communications hub.

Jaime DeLanghe, director of product management at Slack, says that the messaging application has become a central place for people to communicate about work, which has grown even more important as many of us have begun working from home as a result of COVID-19.

But DeLanghe says usage was up even before the recent work from home trend began taking off. “People are connected to Slack, on average, about nine hours a day and they’re using Slack actively for almost 90 minutes,” she told TechCrunch.

To that end, she says her team has been working hard to update the interface.

“From my team’s perspective, we want to make sure that the experience is as simple to understand and get on-boarded as possible,” she said. That also means surfacing more advanced tooling, which has been hidden behind those slash commands in previous versions of the tool.

She said that the company has been trying to address the needs of the changing audience over the years by adding many new features, but admits that has resulted in some interface clutter. Today’s redesign is meant to address that.

New Slack interface. Screenshot: Slack

Among the new features, besides the overall cleaner look, many people will welcome the new ability to nest channels to organize them better in the Channel sidebar. As your channels proliferate, it becomes harder to navigate them all. Starting today, users can organize their channels into logical groupings with labels.

New nested channel labels in Slack. Screenshot: Slack

DeLanghe is careful to point out that this channel organization is personal, and cannot be done at an administrative level. “The channels don’t actually live inside of another channel. You’re creating a label for them, so that you can organize them in the sidebar for just yourself, not for everybody,” she explained.

Other new features include an improved navigation bar at the top of the window, a centralized search and help tool also located at the top of the window and a universal compose button in the Sidebar.

All of these new features are designed to help make Slack more accessible to users, as more employees start using it across an organization.


By Ron Miller

SaaStr postpones annual conference as county officials discourage large gatherings

SaaStr, the venture firm that puts on the largest conference for SaaS companies, postponed its SaaStr Annual 2020 conference today amid concerns from local and national officials around large gatherings in light of the COVID-19 virus. The event was scheduled to take place next week.

On March 5th, Santa Clara County issued updated guidelines that included, “[Minimizing] the number of employees working within arm’s length of one another, including minimizing or canceling large in-person meetings and conferences.”

Company founder Jason Lemkin said his team was prepared to go forward and had put stringent safeguards in place. “We put in place health and safety measures no one else in the industry equaled, but once the County made its statement, we needed to reschedule,” he told TechCrunch.

They outlined the health guidelines for the event in an article on the company website earlier this week, including not allowing anyone from a hot zone to attend, passport checks to enforce that, temperature checks and more. As Lemkin tweeted:

The event will now be folded into the company’s fall conference, which they say will be even bigger now, while replacing the company’s annual Scale conference. “Following that [guidance from Santa Clara County] and guidance from the CDC, and the growing escalation of the Covid-19 outbreak around the world and in the United States, SaaStr Annual must now be rescheduled and merged with our existing fall event into a new, less formal ‘SaaStr Bi-Annual’ to take place in September 2020,” the company wrote in a statement.

Lemkin expressed frustration with authorities today on Twitter about the lack of leadership on this:

The event included some of the biggest names in SaaS, from Jennifer Tejada of DataDog and Aaron Levie of Box and many more. It’s an event that’s designed to help SaaS companies of all sizes discuss the issues facing them, in one place, with panels, interviews and sessions.


By Ron Miller

London-based Gyana raises $3.9M for a no-code approach to data science

Coding and other computer science expertise remain some of the more important skills that a person can have in the working world today, but in the last few years, we have also seen a big rise in a new generation of tools providing an alternative way of reaping the fruits of technology: “no-code” software, which lets anyone — technical or non-technical — build apps, games, AI-based chatbots, and other products that used to be the exclusive terrain of engineers and computer scientists.

Today, one of the newer startups in the category — London-based Gyana, which lets non-technical people run data science analytics on any structured dataset — is announcing a round of £3 million to fuel its next stage of growth.

Led by UK firm Fuel Ventures, other investors in this round include Biz Stone of Twitter, Green Shores Capital and U+I , and it brings the total raised by the startup to $6.8 million since being founded in 2015.

Gyana (Sanskrit for “knowledge”) was co-founded by Joyeeta Das and David Kell, who were both pursuing post-graduate degrees at Oxford: Das, a former engineer, was getting an MBA, and Kell was doing a PhD in physics.

Das said that the idea of building this tool came out of the fact that the pair could see a big disconnect emerging not just in their studies, but also in the world at large — not so much a digital divide, as a digital light year in terms of the distance between the groups of who and who doesn’t know how to work in the realm of data science.

“Everyone talks about using data to inform decision making, and the world becoming data-driven, but actually that proposition is available to less than one percent of the world,” she said.

Out of that, the pair decided to work on building a platform that Das describes as a way to empower “citizen data scientists”, by letting users upload any structured data set (for example, a .CSV file) and running a series of queries on it to be able to visualise trends and other insights more easily.

While the longer term goal may be for any person to be able to produce an analytical insight out of a long list of numbers, the more practical and immediate application has been in enterprise services and building tools for non-technical knowledge workers to make better, data-driven decisions.

To prove out its software, the startup first built an app based on the platform that it calls Neera (Sanskrit for “water”), which specifically parses footfall and other “human movement” metrics, useful for applications in retail, real estate and civic planning — for example to determine well certain retail locations are performing, footfall in popular locations, decisions on where to place or remove stores, or how to price a piece of property.

Starting out with the aim of mid-market and smaller companies — those most likely not to have in-house data scientists to meet their business needs — startup has already picked up a series of customers that are actually quite a lot bigger than that. They include Vodafone, Barclays, EY, Pret a Manger, Knight Frank and the UK Ministry of Defense. It says it has some £1 million in contracts with these firms currently.

That, in turn, has served as the trigger to raise this latest round of funding and to launch Vayu (Sanskrit for “air”) — a more general purpose app that covers a wider set of parameters that can be applied to a dataset. So far, it has been adopted by academic researchers, financial services employees, and others that use analysis in their work, Das said.

With both Vayu and Neera, the aim — refreshingly — is to make the whole experience as privacy-friendly as possible, Das noted. Currently, you download an app if you want to use Gyana, and you keep your data local as you work on it. Gyana has no “anonymization” and no retention of data in its processes, except things like analytics around where your cursor hovers, so that Gyana knows how it can improve its product.

“There are always ways to reverse engineer these things,” Das said of anonymization. “We just wanted to make sure that we are not accidentally creating a situation where, despite learning from anaonyised materials, you can’t reverse engineer what people are analysing. We are just not convinced.”

While there is something commendable about building and shipping a tool with a lot of potential to it, Gyana runs the risk of facing what I think of as the “water, water everywhere” problem. Sometimes if a person really has no experience or specific aim, it can be hard to think of how to get started when you can do anything. Das said they have also identified this, and so while currently Gyana already offers some tutorials and helper tools within the app to nudge the user along, the plan is to eventually bring in a large variety of datasets for people to get started with, and also to develop a more intuitive way to “read” the basics of the files in order to figure out what kinds of data inquiries a person is most likely to want to make.

The rise of “no-code” software has been a swift one in the world of tech spanning the proliferation of startups, big acquisitions, and large funding rounds. Companies like Airtable and DashDash are aimed at building analytics leaning on interfaces that follow the basic design of a spreadsheet; AppSheet, which is a no-code mobile app building platform, was recently acquired by Google; and Roblox (for building games without needing to code) and Uncorq (for app development) have both raised significant funding just this week. In the area of no-code data analytics and visualisation, there are biggies like Tableau, as well as Trifacta, RapidMiner and more.

Gartner predicts that by 2024, some 65% of all app development will be made on low- or no-code platforms, and Forrester estimates that the no- and low-code market will be worth some $10 billion this year, rising to $21.2 billion by 2024.

That represents a big business opportunity for the likes of Gyana, which has been unique in using the no-code approach specifically to tackle the area of data science.

However, in the spirit of citizen data scientists, the intention is to keep a consumer version of the apps free to use as it works on signing up enterprise users with more enhanced paid products, which will be priced on an annual license basis (currently clients are paying between $6,000 and $12,000 depending on usage, she said).

“We want to do free for as long as we can,” Das said, both in relation to the data tools and the datasets that it will offer to users. “The biggest value add is not about accessing premium data that is hard to get. We are not a data marketplace but we want to provide data that makes sense to access,” adding that even with business users, “we’d like you to do 90% of what you want to do without paying for anything.”


By Ingrid Lunden

As Block exits, Salesforce forecasts it will surpass $20B in revenue in FY2021

When Keith Block joined Salesforce from Oracle in 2013, the CRM giant was already a successful SaaS vendor on a billion dollar quarterly revenue cadence. When the co-CEO announced he was stepping down yesterday, the company reported revenue of $4.9 billion for the quarter.

During his tenure, the the company’s scale more than quadrupled, earning an impressive $17.1 billion last year, and as Block announced at the earnings call, the company he was leaving was forecasting revenue of $21 billion for FY2021.

Consider that it was that long ago in May 2017 that we wrote about the company reaching the $10 billion mark. It’s perilously easy to get lost in these numbers, to take them for granted and think they don’t mean as much as they do. It’s hard work to build a billion SaaS business, never mind $10 billion or $20 billion.

Yet Salesforce is embarking on unchartered territory for a SaaS company. It’s approaching $20 billion in revenue for a single year.

Growth through acquisition

Granted the company keeps growing revenue by making big deals like buying Mulesoft for $6.5 billion in 2018 or Tableau for $15.7 billion in 2019, or just this week buying Vlocity for a mere $1.33 billion. That means the company spent more than $25 billion over a couple of years to buy substantial companies that help them build their business.

Block took a moment to brag a bit about his accomplishments including how some of those purchases performed during his swan song call with Salesforce, calling it a capstone of his time at Salesforce.

“In Q4, we grew 32% in the Americas, 28% in APAC and 47% in EMEA in constant currency. Now that includes our recent acquisitions. And at the close of FY 2020, the number of Salesforce customers spending $20 million annually grew 34%,” he said.

Think about that last number for just a minute. This a SaaS vendor with the number of customers spending $20 million growing by 34%. Block helped orchestrate that growth and worked with the executive team to help determine which companies it should be targeting.

At a press conference in 2016 at Dreamforce, he discussed Salesforce’s acquisition strategy. At the time, it had bought a 10 of a dozen companies it would end up acquiring that year. It would buy only in one 2017, before revving up again 2018. Here’s what he said about what they look for in a company, as we reported in an article at the time:

“We look at culture. Will it be a good cultural fit? Is it a good product fit? Is there talent? Is there financial value? What are the risks of assimilating the company into our company,” Block explained.

What’s next for Block?

There is no word on what Block will do next beyond acting as an advisor to his former co-CEO Marc Benioff, who took time in the earnings call to thank his colleague for his time at Salesforce. As well, he should.

As Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst point out, Block leaves a big hole as he steps away. “If there is no equivalent replacement, you will see a significant impact in sales. Keith brought industries and sales discipline,” Wang told TechCrunch

It will be interesting to watch what he does next, and who, if anyone, will benefit from his vast experience helping to build the most successful pure SaaS company on the planet.


By Ron Miller

Salesforce grabs Vlocity for $1.33B, a startup with $1B valuation

It’s been a big news day for Salesforce . It announced that Co-CEO Keith Block would be stepping down, and that it had acquired Vlocity for $1.33 billion in an all-cash deal.

It’s no coincidence that Salesforce targeted this startup. It’s a firm that builds six industry-specific CRMs on top of Salesforce — communications, media and entertainment, insurance and financial services, health, energy and utilities and government and nonprofits — and Salesforce Ventures was also an investor. This would appear to have been a deal waiting to happen.

Brent Leary, founder and principal analyst at CRM Essentials says Salesforce saw this as an important target to keep building the business. “Salesforce has been beefing up their abilities to provide industry specific solutions by cultivating strategic ISV partnerships with companies like Vlocity and Veeva (which is focused on life sciences). But this move signals the importance of making these industry capabilities even more a part of the platform offerings,” Leary told TechCrunch.

Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research also liked the deal for Salesforce. “It’s a great deal. Vlocity gives them the industries platform they need. More importantly, it keeps Google from buying them and [could generate] $10 billion in additional industries revenue growth over next 4 years,” he said.

Vlocity had raised about $163 million on a valuation of around a $1 billion as of its most recent round, a $60 million Series C last March. If $1.33 billion seems a little light, given what Vlocity is providing the company, Wang says it’s because Vlocity needed Salesforce more than the other way around.

“Vlocity on its own doesn’t have as big a future without Salesforce. They have to be together. So Salesforce doesn’t need to buy them. They could keep building out, but it’s better for them to buy them now,” Wang said.

In a blog post on the Vlocity website, founder and CEO David Schmaier put a positive spin on the deal, as you would expect. “Upon the close of the transaction, Vlocity — this wonderful company that we, as a team, have created, built, and grown into a transformational solution for six of the most important industries in the enterprise — will become part of Salesforce,” he wrote.

Per usual, the deal would be predicated on regulatory approval and close some time during Salesforce’s second quarter in fiscal 2021.


By Ron Miller

Lightspeed leads Laiye’s $42M round to bet on Chinese enterprise IT

Laiye, a Chinese startup that offers robotic process automation services to several major tech firms in the nation and government agencies, has raised $42 million in a new funding round as it looks to scale its business.

The new financing round, Series C, was co-led by Lightspeed Venture Partners and Lightspeed China Partners. Cathay Innovation, which led the startup’s Series B+ round and Wu Capital, which led the Series B round, also participated in the new round.

China has been the hub for some of the cheapest labor in the world. But in recent years, a number of companies and government agencies have started to improve their efficiency with the help of technology.

That’s where Laiye comes into play. Robotic process automation (RPA) allows software to mimic several human behaviors such as keyboard strokes and mouse clicks.

“For instance, a number of banks did not previously offer APIs, so humans had to sign in and fetch the data and then feed it into some other software. Processes like these could be automated by our platform,” said Arvid Wang, co-founder and co-chief executive of Laiye, in an interview with TechCrunch.

The four-and-a-half-year-old startup, which has raised more than $100 million to date, will use the fresh capital to hire talent from across the globe and expand its services. “We believe robotic process automation will achieve its full potential when it combines AI and the best human talent,” he said.

Laiye’s announcement today comes as the market for robotic automation process is still in nascent stage in China. There are a handful of startups looking into this space, but Laiye, which counts Microsoft as an investor, and Sequoia-backed UiPath are the two clear leaders in the market currently.

As my colleague Rita Liao wrote last year, it was only recently that some entrepreneurs and investors in China started to shift their attention from consumer-facing products to business applications.

Globally, RPA has emerged as the fastest growing market in enterprise space. A Gartner report found last year that RPA market grew over 63% in 2018. Recent surveys have shown that most enterprises in China today are also showing interest in enhancing their RPA projects and AI capabilities.

Laiye today has more than 200 partners and more than 200,000 developers have registered to use its multilingual UiBot RPA platform. UiBot enables integration with Laiye’s native and third-party AI capabilities such as natural language processing, optical character recognition, computer vision, chatbot and machine learning.

“We are very bullish on China, and the opportunities there are massive,” said Lightspeed partner Amy Wu in an interview. “Laiye is doing phenomenally there, and with this new fundraise, they can look to expand globally,” she said.


By Manish Singh

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