DealHub raises $20M Series B for its sales platform

DealHub.io, an Austin-based platform that helps businesses manage the entire process of their sales engagements, today announced that it has raised a $20 million Series B funding round. The round was led by Israel Growth Partners, with participation from existing investor Cornerstone Venture Partners. This brings DealHub’s total funding to $24.5 million.

The company describes itself as a ‘revenue amplification’ platform (or ‘RevAmp,’ as DealHub likes to call it) that represents the next generation of existing sales and revenue operations tools. It’s meant to give businesses a more complete view of buyers and their intent, and streamline the sales processes from proposal to pricing quotes, subscription management and (electronic) signatures.

“Yesterday’s siloed sales tools no longer cut it in the new Work from Anywhere era,” said Eyal Elbahary, CEO & Co-founder of DealHub.io. “Sales has undergone the largest disruption it has ever seen. Not only have sales teams needed to adapt to more sophisticated and informed buyers, but remote selling and digital transformation have compelled them to evolve the traditional sales process into a unique human-to-human interaction.”

The platform integrates with virtually all of the standard CRM tools, including Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics and Freshworks, as well as e-signature platforms like DocuSign.

The company didn’t share any revenue data, but it notes that the new funding round follows “continued multi-year hyper-growth.” In part, the company argues, demand for its platform has been driven by sales teams that need new tools, given that they — for the most part — can’t travel to meet their (potential) customers face-to-face.

“Revenue leaders need the agility to keep pace with today’s fast and ever-changing business environment. They cannot afford to be restrained by rigid and costly to implement tools to manage their sales processes,” said Uri Erde, General Partner at Israel Growth Partners. “RevAmp provides a simple to operate, intuitive, no-code solution that makes it possible for sales organizations to continuously adapt to the modern sales ecosystem. Furthermore, it provides sales leaders the visibility and insights they need to manage and consistently accelerate revenue growth. We’re excited to back the innovation DealHub is bringing to the world of revenue operations and help fuel its growth.”


By Frederic Lardinois

Once a buzzword, digital transformation is reshaping markets

The notion of digital transformation evolved from a buzzword joke to a critical and accelerating fact during the COVID-19 pandemic. The changes wrought by a global shift to remote work and schooling are myriad, but in the business realm they have yielded a change in corporate behavior and consumer expectation — changes that showed up in a bushel of earnings reports this week.

TechCrunch may tend to have a private-company focus, but we do keep tabs on public companies in the tech world as they often provide hints, notes and other pointers on how startups may be faring. In this case, however, we’re working in reverse; startups have told us for several quarters now that their markets are picking up momentum as customers shake up their buying behavior with a distinct advantage for companies helping customers move into the digital realm. And public company results are now confirming the startups’ perspective.

The accelerating digital transformation is real, and we have the data to support the point.

What follows is a digest of notes concerning the recent earnings results from Box, Sprout Social, Yext, Snowflake and Salesforce. We’ll approach each in micro to save time, but as always there’s more digging to be done if you have time. Let’s go!

Enterprise earnings go up

Kicking off with Yext, the company beat expectations in its most recent quarter. Today its shares are up 18%. And a call with the company’s CEO Howard Lerman underscored our general thesis regarding the digital transformation’s acceleration.

In brief, Yext’s evolution from a company that plugged corporate information into external search engines to building and selling search tech itself has been resonating in the market. Why? Lerman explained that consumers more and more expect digital service in response to their questions — “who wants to call a 1-800 number,” he asked rhetorically — which is forcing companies to rethink the way they handle customer inquiries.

In turn, those companies are looking to companies like Yext that offer technology to better answer customer queries in a digital format. It’s customer-friendly, and could save companies money as call centers are expensive. A change in behavior accelerated by the pandemic is forcing companies to adapt, driving their purchase of more digital technologies like this.

It’s proof that a transformation doesn’t have to be dramatic to have pretty strong impacts on how corporations buy and sell online.


By Ron Miller

Slack wants to be more than a text-based messaging platform

Last October as Slack was preparing for its virtual Frontiers conference, the company began thinking about different ways people could communicate on the platform. While it had built its name on being able to integrate a lot of services in a single place to alleviate the dreaded task-switching phenomenon, it has been largely text-based up until now.

More recently, Slack has started developing a few new features that could bring different ways of interacting to the platform. CEO Stewart Butterfield discussed them on Thursday with former TechCrunch reporter Josh Constine, now a SignalFire investor, in a Clubhouse interview.

The talk was about the future of work, and Slack believes these new ways of communicating could help employees better connect online as we shift to a hybrid work world — one which has been hastened by the pandemic over the last year. There is a general consensus that many companies will continue to work in a hybrid fashion, even when the pandemic is over.

For starters, Slack aims to add a way to communicate by video. But instead of trying to compete with Zoom or Microsoft Teams, Slack is envisioning an experience that’s more like Instagram Stories.

Think about the CEO sharing an important announcement with the company, or the kind of information that might have gone out in a company-wide email. Instead, you can skip the inbox and deliver the message directly by video. It’s taking a page from the consumer approach to social and trying to move it into the enterprise.

Writing in a company blog post earlier this week, Slack chief product officer Tamar Yehoshua was clear this was going to be an asynchronous approach, rather than a meeting kind of experience.

“To help with this, we are piloting ways to shift meetings toward an asynchronous video experience that feels native in Slack. It allows us to express nuance and enthusiasm without a meeting,” she wrote.

While it was at it, Slack decided to create a way of just chatting by voice. As Butterfield told Constine in his Clubhouse interview, this is essentially Clubhouse (or Twitter Spaces) being built for Slack.

Yeah, I’ve always believed the ‘good artists copy, great artists steal’ thing, so we’re just building Clubhouse into Slack, essentially. Like that idea that you can drop in, the conversation’s happening whether you’re there or not, you can enter and leave when you want, as opposed to a call that starts and stops, is an amazing model for encouraging that spontaneity and that serendipity and conversations that only need to be three minutes, but the only option for you to schedule them is 30 minutes. So look out for Clubhouse built into Slack.

Again, it’s taking a consumer social idea and applying it to a business setting with the idea of finding other ways to keep you in Slack when you could be using other tools to achieve the same thing, whether it be Zoom meetings, email or your phone.

Butterfield also hinted hinted that another feature — asynchronous audio, allowing you to leave the equivalent of a voicemail — could be coming some time in the future. A Slack spokesperson confirmed that it was in the works, but wasn’t ready to share details yet.

It’s impossible to look at these features without thinking about them in the context of the $27 billion Salesforce acquisition of Slack at the end of last year. When you put them all together, you have this set of tools that let you communicate in whatever way makes the most sense to you.

When you combine that Slack Connect DM, a new feature to communicate outside the organization that was released this week to some controversy, as people wanted assurances that they could control spam and harassment, it takes the concept one step further — outside the organization itself.

As part of a larger entity like Salesforce, these tools could be useful across sales, service and even marketing as a way to communicate in a variety of ways inside and outside the organization. And they greatly expand the value prop of Slack as it becomes part of Salesforce sometime later this year.

While it began talking about the new audio and video features last fall, the company has been piloting them since the beginning of this year. So far Slack is not saying when the new features will be generally available.


By Ron Miller

Why Adam Selipsky was the logical choice to run AWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


By Ron Miller

Salesforce updates includes sales info overlay for Zoom meetings

The pandemic has clearly had an impact on the way we work, and this is especially true for salespeople. Salesforce introduced a number updates to Sales Cloud this morning including Salesforce Meetings, a smart overlay for Zoom meetings that gives information and advice to the sales team as they interact with potential customers in online meetings.

Bill Patterson, EVP and General Manager of CRM applications at Salesforce says that the company wanted to help sales teams manage these types of interactions better and take advantage of the fact they are digital.

“There’s a broad recognition, not just from Salesforce, but really from every sales organization that selling is forever changed, and I think that there’s been a broad understanding, and maybe a surprise in learning how effective we can be in the from anywhere kind of times, whether that’s in office or not in office or whatever,” Patterson explained.

Salesforce Meetings gives that overlay of information, whether it’s advice to slow down the pace of your speech or information about the person speaking. It can also compile action items and present a To Do list to participants at the end of each meeting to make sure that tasks don’t fall through the cracks.

This is made possible in part through the Einstein intelligence layer that is built across the entire Salesforce platform. In this case, it takes advantage of a new tool called Einstein Intelligent Insights, which the company is also exposing as a feature for developers to build their own solutions using this tool.

For sales people who might find the tool a bit too invasive, you can dial the confidence level of the information up or down on an individual basis, so that you can get a lot of information or a little depending on your needs.

For now, it works with Zoom and the company has been working closely with the Zoom development team to provide the API and SDK tooling it needs to pull something like this off, according to Patterson. He notes that plans are in the works to make it compatible with WebEx and Microsoft Teams in the future.

While the idea was in the works prior to the pandemic, COVID created a sense of urgency for this kind of feature, as well as other features announced today like Pipeline Inspection, which uses AI to analyze the sales pipeline. It searches for changes to deals over time with the goal of finding the ones that could benefit most from coaching or managerial support to get them over the finish line.

Brent Leary, founder and principal analyst at CRM Essentials says that this ability to capture information in online meetings is changing the way we think about CRM.

“The thing the caught my attention is how tightly integrated video meetings/collaboration is now into sales process. This is really compelling because meeting interactions that may not find their way into the CRM system are now automatically captured,” Leary told me.

Salesforce Meetings is available today, while Pipeline Inspection is expected to be available this summer.


By Ron Miller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


By Ron Miller

Automattic acquires analytics company Parse.ly

Automattic, the for-profit company tied to open source web publishing platform WordPress, is announcing that it has acquired analytics provider Parse.ly.

Specifically, Parse.ly is now part of WPVIP, the organization within Automattic that offers enterprise hosting and support to publishers including TechCrunch. (We use Parse.ly, too.)

WPVIP CEO Nick Gernert described this as the organization’s first large enterprise software acquisition, reflecting a strategy that has expanded beyond news and media organizations — businesses like Salesforce (whose venture arm invested $300 million in Automattic back in 2019), the NBA, Condé Nast, Facebook and Microsoft now use WPVIP for their content and marketing needs.

Both companies, Gernert said, come from similar backgrounds, with “roots” in digital publishing and a “heavy focus on understanding the impact of content.”

“We’ve really to shift more towards content marketing and starting to think more deeply beyond just what traditional page analytics provide,” he continued. That means doing more than measuring pageviews and time on site and “really starting to look more deeply at things like conversation, attribution, areas … that from a marketer’s perspective are impactful.”

WordPress and Parse.ly already work well together, but the plan is to make WPVIP features available to Parse.ly customers while also making more Parse.ly data available to WPVIP publishers. And Gernert said there also opportunities to add more commerce-related data to Parse.ly, since Automattic also owns WooCommerce.

The goal, he said, is to “make Parse.ly better for WordPress and best for WPVIP.”

At the same time, he added, “There’s no plans here to make Parse.ly the only analytics solution that runs on our platform. We want to preserve the flexibility and interoperability [of WordPress], and we want to make sure from a Parse.ly perspective that it still exists as a standalone product. That’s key to its future and we will continue to invest in it.”

Parse.ly was founded in 2009 and has raised $12.9 million in funding from investors including Grotech Ventures and Blumberg Capital, according to Crunchbase. Parse.ly founders Sachin Kamdar and Andrew Montalenti are joining WPVIP, with Kamdar leading go-to-market strategy for Parse.ly and Montalenti leading product.

“We’ve always had deep admiration for WPVIP’s market position as the gold standard for enterprise content teams, and we’re thrilled to be able to join together,” Kamdar said in a statement. “From the culture and people, to the product, market and vision, we’re in lockstep to create more value for our customers. This powerful combination of content and intelligence will push the industry forward at an accelerated pace.”

The financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.


By Anthony Ha

Scratchpad snags $13M Series A to simplify Salesforce data entry

Scratchpad is an early stage startup that wants to make it easier for sales people to get information into Salesforce by placing a notation layer on top of it. Today, it announced a $13 million Series A led by Craft Ventures with participation from Accel.

The company has now raised a total of $16.6 million including the $3.6 million seed round we covered in October. Co-founder and CEO Pouyan Salehi says that he wasn’t really looking to add capital, but the investors understood his vision and the money will help accelerate the product roadmap.

“To be honest, it actually wasn’t on our radar to raise again so soon after we raised what I consider a substantial seed. We had plenty of runway, but we started to see a lot of bottom-up user growth, this bottom-up motion just really started to take hold,” Salehi told me.

He says that lead investor David Sacks, who has built some successful startups himself, really got what they were trying to do, and the deal came together fairly easily. In fact, the company caught the attention of Craft because they were hearing about Scratchpad from their portfolio companies.

The bottoms up approach is certainly something we have seen with developer tools and with software for knowledge workers, but companies often take aim at sales through the sales manager, rather than trying directly to get salespeople to use a particular tool. This approach of getting the end users involved early allows them to gain traction with members of the sales team before approaching management about paid versions.

Traditionally, sales teams don’t like the tools that are thrust upon them. They are essentially databases and even with a visual interface, it doesn’t really match up with the way they work. Scratchpad gives them an interface like a spreadsheet or notes application that they are typically using to hack together a workflow, but with a direct connection to Salesforce.

What the paid tiers provide is a way to bring all this data together and get a bigger picture view of what’s happening on the sales team, and it helps ensure that people are using Salesforce because the data in Scratchpad links to the Salesforce database automatically.

The company has completed the initial work of building the individual salesperson’s workspace, but the next phase, and part of what this capital is going to fund, is building the team workspace and seeing how this data can flow from individuals to a team view to give management more insight into what their individual reps are doing. This includes notes, which usually don’t make it into Salesforce, but provide a lot of context about interactions with customers.

It’s resonating with thousands of users (although Salehi didn’t want to share an exact customer number just yet). Customers include Autodesk, Brex, Lacework, Snowflake and Twilio.

Sacks says that he liked the viral way the product has been spreading. “Once a rep starts using Scratchpad, two things tend to happen: it becomes a daily habit, and they share it with their teammates. This phenomena of viral spread is rare and indicates a very strong product-market fit,” he said in a statement.


By Ron Miller

Salesforce promotes former Vlocity CEO David Schmaier to president and CPO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


By Ron Miller

Salesforce has built a deep bench of executive talent via acquisition

When Salesforce acquired Quip in 2016 for $750 million, it gained CEO and co-founder Bret Taylor as part of the deal. Taylor has since risen quickly through the ranks of the software giant to become president and COO, second in command behind CEO Marc Benioff. Taylor’s experience shows that startup founders can sometimes play a key role in the companies that acquire them.

Benioff, 56, has been running Salesforce since its founding more than 20 years ago. While he hasn’t given any public hints that he intends to leave anytime soon, if he wanted to step back from the day-to-day running of the company or even job share the role, he has a deep bench of executive talent including many experienced CEOs, who like Taylor came to the company via acquisition.

One way to step back from the enormous responsibility of running Salesforce would be by sharing the role.

He and his wife Lynne have been active in charitable giving and in 2016 signed The Giving Pledge, an initiative from the The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to give a majority of their wealth to philanthropy. One could see him wanting to put more time into pursuing these charitable endeavors just as Gates did 20 years ago. As a means of comparison, Gates founded Microsoft in 1975 and stayed for 25 years until he left in 2000 to run his charitable foundation full time.

Even if this remains purely speculative for the moment, there is a group of people behind him with deep industry experience, who could be well-suited to take over should the time ever come.

Resurrecting the co-CEO role

One way to step back from the enormous responsibility of running Salesforce would be by sharing the role. In fact, for more than a year starting in 2018, Benioff actually shared the top job with Keith Block until his departure last year. When they worked together, the arrangement seemed to work out just fine with Block dealing with many larger customers and helping the software giant reach its $20 billion revenue goal.

Before Block became co-CEO, he had a myriad other high-level titles including co-chairman, president and COO — two of which, by the way, Taylor has today. That was a lot of responsibility for one person inside a company the size of Salesforce, but promoting him to co-CEO from COO gave the company a way to reward his hard work and help keep him from jumping ship (he eventually did anyway).

As Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research points out, the co-CEO concept has worked out well at major enterprise companies that have tried it in the past, and it helped with continuity. “Salesforce, SAP and Oracle all didn’t miss a beat really with the co-CEO departures,” he said.

If Benioff wanted to go back to the shared responsibility model and take some work off his plate, making Taylor (or someone else) co-CEO would be one way to achieve that. Certainly, Brent Leary, lead analyst at CRM Essentials sees Taylor gaining increasing responsibility as time goes along, giving credence to the idea.

“Ever since Quip was acquired Taylor seemed to be on the fast track, becoming president and chief product officer less than a year-and-a-half after the acquisition, and then two years later being promoted to chief operating officer,” Leary said.

Who else could be in line?

While Taylor isn’t the only person who could step into Benioff’s shoes, he looks like he has the best shot at the moment, especially in light of the $27.7 billion Slack deal he helped deliver earlier this month.

“Taylor being publicly praised by Benioff for playing a significant role in the Slack acquisition, Salesforce’s largest acquisition to date, shows how much he has solidified his place at the highest levels of influence and decision-making in the organization,” Leary pointed out.

But Mueller posits that his rapid promotions could also show something might be lacking with internal options, especially around product. “Taylor is a great, smart guy, but his rise shows more the product organization bench depth challenges that Salesforce has,” he said.


By Ron Miller

Daily Crunch: Slack and Salesforce execs explain their big acquisition

We learn more about Slack’s future, Revolut adds new payment features and DoorDash pushes its IPO range upward. This is your Daily Crunch for December 4, 2020.

The big story: Slack and Salesforce execs explain their big acquisition

After Salesforce announced this week that it’s acquiring Slack for $27.7 billion, Ron Miller spoke to Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield and Salesforce President and COO Bret Taylor to learn more about the deal.

Butterfield claimed that Slack will remain relatively independent within Salesforce, allowing the team to “do more of what we were already doing.” He also insisted that all the talk about competing with Microsoft Teams is “overblown.”

“The challenge for us was the narrative,” Butterfield said. “They’re just good [at] PR or something that I couldn’t figure out.”

Startups, funding and venture capital

Revolut lets businesses accept online payments — With this move, the company is competing directly with Stripe, Adyen, Braintree and Checkout.com.

Health tech venture firm OTV closes new $170M fund and expands into Asia — This year, the firm led rounds in telehealth platforms TytoCare and Lemonaid Health.

Zephr raises $8M to help news publishers grow subscription revenue — The startup’s customers already include publishers like McClatchy, News Corp Australia, Dennis Publishing and PEI Media.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

DoorDash amps its IPO range ahead of blockbuster IPO — The food delivery unicorn now expects to debut at $90 to $95 per share, up from a previous range of $75 to $85.

Enter new markets and embrace a distributed workforce to grow during a pandemic — Is this the right time to expand overseas?

Three ways the pandemic is transforming tech spending — All companies are digital product companies now.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

WH’s AI EO is BS — Devin Coldewey is not impressed by the White House’s new executive order on artificial intelligence.

China’s internet regulator takes aim at forced data collection — China is a step closer to cracking down on unscrupulous data collection by app developers.

Gift Guide: Games on every platform to get you through the long, COVID winter — It’s a great time to be a gamer.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.


By Anthony Ha

Everyone has an opinion on the $27.7B Slack acquisition

When the Salesforce-Slack deal was officially announced on Tuesday afternoon, and the number appeared, it was kind of hard to believe. Salesforce had shelled out more than $27 billion to buy Slack and bring it into the Salesforce family of products. The company sees a key missing piece in Slack, and that could explain why it was willing to spend such an astonishing amount of money to get it.

With Slack, Salesforce now has what CEO Marc Benioff called the interface to everything, something he says that the company has thought about for years. In 2010, they tried building it themselves with Chatter, a social tool that never really caught on in a big way. With Slack they finally have it.

“We’ve always had the vision of the social enterprise at Salesforce for more than a decade. Oh, we’ve had Dreamforces entirely dedicated to the vision of what a collaborative interface, a high production interface with applications and an ecosystem would look like wrapped on top of our Customer 360,” Benioff said.

He added that ironically in a building right next door to Salesforce Park you’ll find Slack headquarters. They won’t have to go far to collaborate (or you know, they can just use Slack).

From Chatter to Slack

Neeraj Agrawal, general partner at Battery Ventures says that Benioff has had an interest in enterprise social going back years and this is his way of finally delivering.”Remember Chatter? Benioff was dead on with this trend. He lost Yammer to Microsoft (when Microsoft acquired it for $1.2 billion) about 7-8 years ago, and then launched Chatter. It was a huge bet, but didn’t work. Slack is really Chatter 2.0,” he said.

Chuck Ganapathi, CEO and co-founder at Tact.ai was product lead on the Chatter product at Salesforce in the 2009 timeframe. He wrote in a soon-to-be-published blog post he shared with TechCrunch, that it failed for a lot of reasons, but mostly because at its core, Salesforce was still a bunch of database guys and enterprise social was a very different animal.

“Salesforce is a database-centric company, founded by Oracle ex-pats on a relational DB foundation. Messaging apps must be architected to handle unstructured data, with a big focus on UX, which weren’t core competencies at Salesforce. Sometime after I left, the company seemed to lose interest in improving Chatter, except maybe as a component of other products,” he wrote.

But Benioff never lost interest in the concept of incorporating social into the Salesforce platform. It just took another 10 years or so and bushel of money to make it happen.

A good match or not?

Leyla Seka, a partner at Operator Capital, who formerly ran the AppExchange at Salesforce, sees good things ahead with a combined Slack and Salesforce. “Salesforce and Slack together will offer a powerful duo of applications that will help companies work more effectively together. I think that COVID-19 has shown us how critical it is to get employees the data they need to do their job, but also the community they need to thrive at their job. The marriage of Salesforce and Slack promises to do just that,” Seka told me.

Brent Leary, principal analyst at CRM Essentials was knocked out by the price tag, but says it shows that Salesforce is not afraid to go after what it wants, even if it has to pay a hefty price to get it. “This goes to show Salesforce has absolutely no fear in them when it comes to this deal. They are willing to throw down the big bucks on this acquisition because they see a huge payoff by adding this piece into their platform,” he said.

As for Slack, he sees it as a way for them to take the fast track to the enterprise big leagues. “And for Slack they go from competing with AMOSS (Adobe, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, Salesforce) to joining the one of them, and the company that really made the most sense for them to team up with,” he said.

Laurie McCabe, an analyst and founder at SMB Group agrees with Leary’s take, saying Salesforce doesn’t hesitate when it thinks the value is there. “In this case, Slack gives them a strong collaboration offering that will help them compete more effectively against Microsoft’s growing cloud portfolio, which of course includes CRM and Teams,” she said.

Show me the money

Battery’s Agrawal believes this deal is all about generating revenue, and it was willing to pay a premium to move the needle in billion dollar chunks. The end game he believes is about catching Microsoft, or at the very least getting to $1 trillion (with a T, folks) in market cap.

It’s worth noting that investors are not showing signs, initially at least, of liking this deal with the stock down over 8% today and 16.5% since the rumor of Salesforce’s interest in Slack surfaced last week before the Thanksgiving holiday. That translates into over $18 billion in lost market cap, probably not the reaction that they were hoping for. But Salesforce is big enough that it can afford to play a long game, and reach its financial goals with the help of Slack.

“To get to a market cap of $1 trillion, Salesforce now has to take MSFT head on. Until now, the company has mostly been able to stay in its own swim lane in terms of products. […] To get to a trillion dollars in market cap, Salesforce needs to try to grow in two massive markets,” Agrawal said. Those would be either knowledge worker/desktop (see the 2016 Quip acquisition) or cloud (see the Hyperforce announcement). Agrawal says chances are the company’s best bet is the former, and it was willing to pay top dollar to get it.

“The deal will help Salesforce maintain a 20%+ growth rate over next few years,” he said. Ultimately, he sees it moving the revenue needle, which should eventually drive market cap higher and help achieve those goals.

It’s worth noting that Salesforce president and CEO Bret Taylor said while they intend to integrate Slack deeply into the Salesforce product family, they recognize the power and utility of Slack as a stand-alone product and they don’t intend to do anything that would mess with that.

“Fundamentally, we want to make sure that Slack remains as a kind of technology agnostic platform. We know that Slack is used by millions and millions of people every day to connect every tool under the sun. The most remarkable thing is just how many customers have also just integrated their own custom internal tools as well into this is really kind of the central nervous system for the teams that use it, and we would never want to change that,” he said.

It’s hard to judge a deal this large until we have some hindsight and see how well the two companies have meshed, how well they can incorporate Slack into the Salesforce ecosystem, while allowing that independence Taylor alluded to. If they can find a way to walk that line and Slack becomes that wrapper, that operating system, that glue that holds the Salesforce ecosystem together it will be a good deal, but if Slack stops innovating and withers under the weight of its corporate overlords, then it might not be money well spent.

Time will tell which is the case.


By Ron Miller

With Hyperforce, Salesforce lets you move your data to any public cloud

For much of its existence, Salesforce was a cloud service on its own with its own cloud resources available for its customers, but as the company and cloud computing in general has evolved, Salesforce has moved some of its workloads to other clouds like AWS, Azure and Google. Now, it wants to allow customers to do the same.

To help facilitate that, the company announced Hyperforce today at its Dreamforce customer conference, a new architecture designed from the ground up to help customers deliver workloads to the public cloud of choice.

The idea behind Hyperforce is to enable customers to take all of the data in what Salesforce calls Customer 360 — that’s the company’s detailed view of the customer across channels, Salesforce products and even other systems outside the Salesforce family — and be able to store that in whichever public cloud you want in whatever region you happen to operate. For now, they are in India and Germany, but there are plans to add support for 10 additional countries over the next year.

Company president and CTO Bret Taylor introduced the new approach. “We call this new capability Hyperforce. Simply put, we’ve been working to enable us to deliver Salesforce on public cloud infrastructure all around the world,” Taylor said.

Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research, says the underlying architecture running the Salesforce system is long overdue for an overhaul. At over 20 years old, it’s been around a long time now, but Mueller says that it’s about more than modernizing. “The pandemic requires SaaS vendors to move their offerings from their own data centers to [public cloud] data centers, so they can offer both architectural and commercial elasticity to their customers,” he said.

Mueller added that by bringing Salesforce data into the public cloud, besides the obvious data sovereignty issues it solves, it bring all of the advantages of using public cloud resources.

“Salesforce can now offer both architectural and commercial elasticity to their customers. Commercial elasticity matters a lot to CIOs and CTOs these days because when your business slows down, you pay less, and when your business accelerates, then you can afford to pay more,” he said. He says that Salesforce is bringing an early generation SaaS product and pulling it into the modern age, something that is imperative at this point in the company’s evolution.

But while moving forward, Taylor was careful to point out that they rebuilt the system in such a way as to be fully backwards compatible, so you don’t have to throw out all of the applications and investment you’ve made over the years, something that most companies couldn’t afford to do.”For you developers out there, This is the most remarkable thing. It is 100% backwards compatible, your apps will work with no changes and you can benefit from all of this automatically,” he said.

The company will be rolling out Hyperforce over the next year and beyond as it opens in more regions.


By Ron Miller

Salesforce announces new Service Cloud workforce planning tool

With a pandemic raging across many parts of the world, many companies have customer service agents spread out as well, creating a workforce management nightmare. It wasn’t easy to manage and route requests when CSAs were in one place, it’s even harder with many working from home.

To help answer that problem Salesforce is developing a new product called Service Cloud Workforce Engagement. Bill Patterson, EVP and General Manager for CRM Applications at Salesforce points out that with these workforces spread out, it’s a huge challenge for management to distribute work and keep up with customer volume, especially as customers have moved online during COVID.

“With Service Cloud Workforce Engagement, Salesforce will arm the contact center with a connected solution — all on one platform so our customers can remain resilient and agile no matter what tomorrow may bring,” Patterson said in a statement.

Like many Salesforce products, this one is made up of several key components to deliver a complete solution. For starters, there is Service Forecast for Customer 360, a tool that helps predict workforce requirements and uses AI to distribute customer service requests in a way that makes sense. This can help in planning at a time with a likely predictable uptick in service requests like Black Friday or Cyber Monday, or even those times when there is an unexpected spike.

Next up is Omnichannel Capacity Planning, which helps managers distribute CSAs across channels such as phone, messaging or email wherever they are needed most based on the demand across a given channel.

Finally, there is a teaching component that helps coach customer service agents to give the correct answer in the correct way for a given situation. “To increase agent engagement and performance, companies will be able to quickly onboard and continually train agents by delivering bite-size, guided learning paths directly in the agent’s workspace during their shift,” the company explained.

The company says that Service Cloud Workforce Engagement will be available in the first half of next year.


By Ron Miller

Salesforce applies AI to workflow with Einstein Automate

While Salesforce made a big splash yesterday with the announcement that it’s buying Slack for $27.7 billion, it’s not the only thing going on for the CRM giant this week. In fact Dreamforce, the company’s customer extravaganza is also on the docket. While it is virtual this year, there are still product announcements aplenty and today the company announced Einstein Automate, a new AI-fueled set of workflow solutions.

Sarah Franklin, EVP & GM of Platform, Trailhead and AppExchange at Salesforce says that she is seeing companies facing a digital imperative to automate processes as things move ever more quickly online, being driven there even faster by the pandemic. “With Einstein Automate, everyone can change the speed of work and be more productive through intelligent workflow automation,” she said in a statement.

Brent Leary, principal analyst at CRM Essentials says that combined these tools are designed to help customers get to work more quickly. “It’s not only about identifying the insight, it’s about making it easier to leverage it at the the right time. And this should make it easier for users to do it without spending more time and effort,” Leary told TechCrunch.

Einstein is the commercial name given to Salesforce’s artificial intelligence platform that touches every aspect of the company’s product line, bringing automation to many tasks and making it easier to find the most valuable information on customers, which is often buried in an avalanche of data.

Einstein Automate encompasses several products designed to improve workflows inside organizations. For starters, the company has created Flow Orchestrator, a tool that uses a low-code, drag and drop approach for building workflows, but it doesn’t stop there. It also relies on AI to provide help suggest logical next steps to speed up workflow creation.

Salesforce is also bringing Mulesoft, the integration company it bought for $6.5 billion in 2018 into the mix. Instead of processes like a mortgage approval workflow, the Mulesoft piece lets IT build complex integrations between applications across the enterprise, and the Salesforce family of products more easily.

To make it easier to build these workflows, Salesforce is announcing the Einstein Automate collection page available in AppExchange, the company’s application marketplace. The collection includes over 700 pre-built connectors so customers can grab and go as they build these workflows, and finally it’s updating the OmniStudio, their platform for generating customer experiences. As Salesforce describes it, “Included in OmniStudio is a suite of resources and no-code tools, including pre-built guided experiences, templates and more, allowing users to deploy digital-first experiences like licensing and permit applications quickly and with ease. ”

Per usual with Salesforce Dreamforce announcements, the Flow Orchestrator being announced today won’t be available in beta until next summer. The Mulesoft component will be available in early 2021, but the OmniStudio updates and the Einstein connections collection are available today.


By Ron Miller