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SAP’s Bill McDermott on stepping down as CEO

SAP’s CEO Bill McDermott today announced that he wouldn’t seek to renew his contract for the next year and step down immediately after nine years at the helm of the German enterprise giant.

Shortly after the announcement, I talked to McDermott, as well as SAP’s new co-CEOs Jennifer Morgan and Christian Klein. During the call, McDermott stressed that his decision to step down was very much a personal one, and that while he’s not ready to retire just yet, he simply believes that now is the right time for him to pass on the reins of the company.

To say that today’s news came as a surprise is a bit of an understatement, but it seems like it’s something McDermott has been thinking about for a while. But after talking to McDermott, Morgan and Klein, I can’t help but think that the actual decision came rather recently.

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

Keeping an Enterprise Behemoth on Course with Bill McDermott SAPDSC00240

“I’m not afraid to make decisions. That’s one of the things I’m known for,” he told me when I asked him about how the process unfolded. “This one, I did a lot of deep soul searching. I really did think about it very heavily — and I know that it’s the right time and that’s why I’m so happy. When you can make decisions from a position of strength, you’re always happy.”

He also noted that he has been with SAP for 17 years, with almost 10 years as CEO, and that he recently spent some time talking to fellow high-level CEOs.

“The consensus was 10 years is about the right amount of time for a CEO because you’ve accomplished a lot of things if you did the job well, but you certainly didn’t stay too long. And if you did really well, you had a fantastic success plan,” he said.

In “the recent past,” McDermott met with SAP chairman and co-founder Hasso Plattner to explain to him that he wouldn’t renew his contract. According to McDermott, both of them agreed that the company is currently at “maximum strength” and that this would be the best time to put the succession plan into action.

SAP's new co-CEO Jennifer Morgan.

SAP co-CEO Jennifer Morgan.

“With the continuity of Jennifer and Christian obviously already serving on the board and doing an unbelievable job, we said let’s control our destiny. I’m not going to renew, and these are the two best people for the job without question. Then they’ll get a chance to go to Capital Markets Day [in November]. Set that next phase of our growth story. Kick off the New Year — and do so with a clean slate and a clean run to the finish line.

“Very rarely do CEOs get the joy of handing over a company at maximum strength. And today is a great day for SAP. It’s a great day for me personally and Hasso Plattner, the chairman and [co-]founder of SAP. And also — and most importantly — a great day for Jennifer Morgan and Christian Klein.”

Don’t expect for McDermott to just fade into the background, though, now that he is leaving SAP. If you’ve ever met or seen McDermott speak, you know that he’s unlikely to simply retire. “I’m busy. I’m passionate and I’m just getting warmed up,” he said.

As for the new leadership, Morgan and Klein noted that they hadn’t had a lot of time to think about the strategy going forward. Both previously held executive positions in the company and served on SAP’s board together for the last few years. For now, it seems, they are planning on continuing on a similar path as McDermott.

“We’re excited about creating a renewed focus on the engineering DNA of SAP, combining the amazing strength and heritage of SAP — and many of the folks who have built the products that so many customers around the world run today — with a new DNA that’s come in from many of the cloud acquisitions that we’ve made,” Morgan said, noting that both she and Klein spent a lot of time over the last few months bringing their teams together in new ways. “So I think for us, that tapestry of talent and that real sense of urgency and support of our customers and innovation is top of mind for us.”

SAP co-CEO Christian Klein

SAP co-CEO Christian Klein

Klein also stressed that he believes SAP’s current strategy is the right one. “We had unbelievable deals again in Q3 where we actually combined our latest innovations — where we combined Qualtrics with SuccessFactors with S/4 [Hana] to drive unbelievable business value for our customers. This is the way to go. The business case is there. I see a huge shift now towards S/4, and the core and business case is there, supporting new business models, driving automation, steering the company in real time. All of these assets are now coming together with our great cloud assets, so for me, the strategy works.”

Having co-CEOs can be a recipe for conflict, but McDermott’s time as CEO also started out as co-CEO, so the company does have some experience there. Morgan and Klein noted that they worked together on the SAP board before and know each other quite well.

What’s next for the new CEOs? “There has to be a huge focus on Q4,” Klein said. “And then, of course, we will continue like we did in the past. I’ve known Jen now for quite a while — there was a lot of trust there in the past and I’m really now excited to really move forward together with her and driving huge business outcomes for our customers. And let’s not forget our employees. Our employee morale is at an all-time high. And we know how important that is to our employees. We definitely want that to continue.”

It’s hard to imagine SAP with McDermott, but we’ve clearly not seen the last of him yet. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw him pop up as the CEO of another company soon.

Below is my interview with McDermott from TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise.

Facebook has acquired Servicefriend, which builds ‘hybrid’ chatbots, for Calibra customer service

As Facebook prepares to launch its new cryptocurrency Libra in 2020, it’s putting the pieces in place to help it run. In one of the latest developments, it has acquired Servicefriend, a startup that built bots — chat clients for messaging apps based on artificial intelligence — to help customer service teams, TechCrunch has confirmed.

The news was first reported in Israel, where Servicefriend is based, after one of its investors, Roberto Singler, alerted local publication The Marker about the deal. We reached out to Ido Arad, one of the co-founders of the company, who referred our questions to a team at Facebook. Facebook then confirmed the acquisition with an Apple-like non-specific statement:

“We acquire smaller tech companies from time to time. We don’t always discuss our plans,” a Facebook spokesperson said.

Several people, including Arad, his co-founder Shahar Ben Ami, and at least one other indicate that they now work at Facebook within the Calibra digital wallet group on their LinkedIn profiles. Their jobs at the social network started this month, meaning this acquisition closed in recent weeks. (Several others indicate that they are still at Servicefriend, meaning they too may have likely made the move as well.)

Although Facebook isn’t specifying what they will be working on, the most obvious area will be in building a bot — or more likely, a network of bots — for the customer service layer for the Calibra digital wallet that Facebook is developing.

Facebook’s plan is to build a range of financial services for people to use Calibra to pay out and receive Libra — for example, to send money to contacts, pay bills, top up their phones, buy things and more.

It remains to be seen just how much people will trust Facebook as a provider of all these. So that is where having “human” and accessible customer service experience will be essential.

“We are here for you,” Calibra notes on its welcome page, where it promises 24-7 support in WhatsApp and Messenger for its users.

Screenshot 2019 09 21 at 23.25.18

Servicefriend has worked on Facebook’s platform in the past: specifically it built “hybrid” bots for Messenger for companies to use to complement teams of humans, to better scale their services on messaging platforms. In one Messenger bot that Servicefriend built for Globe Telecom in the Philippines, it noted that the hybrid bot was able to bring the “agent hours” down to under 20 hours for each 1,000 customer interactions.

Bots have been a relatively problematic area for Facebook. The company launched a personal assistant called M in 2015, and then bots that let users talk to businesses in 2016 on Messenger, with quite some fanfare, although the reality was that nothing really worked as well as promised, and in some cases worked significantly worse than whatever services they aimed to replace.

While AI-based assistants such as Alexa have become synonymous with how a computer can carry on a conversation and provide information to humans, the consensus around bots these days is that the most workable way forward is to build services that complement, rather than completely replace, teams.

For Facebook, getting its customer service on Calibra right can help it build and expand its credibility (note: another area where Servicefriend has build services is in using customer service as a marketing channel). Getting it wrong could mean issues not just with customers, but with partners and possibly regulators.

Google and Twitter are using AMD’s new EPYC Rome processors in their datacenters

AMD announced that Google and Twitter are among the companies now using EPYC Rome processors during a launch event for the 7nm chips today. The release of EPYC Rome marks a major step in AMD’s processor war with Intel, which said last month that its own 7nm chips, Ice Lake, won’t be available until 2021 (though it is expected to release its 10nm node this year).

Intel is still the biggest datacenter processor maker by far, however, and also counts Google and Twitter among its customers. But AMD’s latest releases and its strategy of undercutting competitors with lower pricing have quickly transformed it into a formidable rival.

Google has used other AMD chips before, including in its “Millionth Server,” built in 2008, and says it is now the first company to use second-generation EPYC chips in its datacenters. Later this year, Google will also make virtual machines that run on the chips available to Google Cloud customers.

In a press statement, Bart Sano, Google vice president of engineering, said “AMD 2nd Gen Epyc processors will help us continue to do what we do best in our datacenters: innovate. Its scalable compute, memory and I/O performance will expand out ability to drive innovation forward in our infrastructure and will give Google Cloud customers the flexibility to choose the best VM for their workloads.”

Twitter plans to begin using EPYC Rome in its datacenter infrastructure later this year. Its senior director of engineering, Jennifer Fraser, said the chips will reduce the energy consumption of its datacenters. “Using the AMD EPYC 7702 processor, we can scale out our compute clusters with more cores in less space using less power, which translates to 25% lower [total cost of ownership] for Twitter.”

In a comparison test between 2-socket Intel Xeon 6242 and AMD EPYC 7702P processors, AMD claimed that its chips were able to reduce total cost of ownership by up to 50% across “numerous workloads.” AMD EPYC Rome’s flagship is the 64-core, 128-thread 7742 chip, with a 2.25 base frequency, 225 default TDP and 256MB of total cache, starts at $6,950.

Alibaba to help Salesforce localize and sell in China

Salesforce, the 20-year-old leader in customer relationship management (CRM) tools, is making a foray into Asia by working with one of the country’s largest tech firms, Alibaba.

Alibaba will be the exclusive provider of Salesforce to enterprise customers in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan, and Salesforce will become the exclusive enterprise CRM software suite sold by Alibaba, the companies announced on Thursday.

The Chinese internet has for years been dominated by consumer-facing services such as Tencent’s WeChat messenger and Alibaba’s Taobao marketplace, but enterprise software is starting to garner strong interest from businesses and investors. Workflow automation startup Laiye, for example, recently closed a $35 million funding round led by Cathay Innovation, a growth-stage fund that believes “enterprise software is about to grow rapidly” in China.

The partners have something to gain from each other. Alibaba does not have a Salesforce equivalent serving the raft of small-and-medium businesses selling through its e-commerce marketplaces or using its cloud computing services, so the alliance with the American cloud behemoth will fill that gap.

On the other hand, Salesforce will gain sales avenues in China through Alibaba, whose cloud infrastructure and data platform will help the American firm “offer localized solutions and better serve its multinational customers,” said Ken Shen, vice president of Alibaba Cloud Intelligence, in a statement.

“More and more of our multinational customers are asking us to support them wherever they do business around the world. That’s why today Salesforce announced a strategic partnership with Alibaba,” said Salesforce in a statement.

Overall, only about 10% of Salesforce revenues in the three months ended April 30 originated from Asia, compared to 20% from Europe and 70% from the Americas.

Besides gaining client acquisition channels, the tie-up also enables Salesforce to store its China-based data at Alibaba Cloud. China requires all overseas companies to work with a domestic firm in processing and storing data sourced from Chinese users.

“The partnership ensures that customers of Salesforce that have operations in the Greater China area will have exclusive access to a locally-hosted version of Salesforce from Alibaba Cloud, who understands local business, culture and regulations,” an Alibaba spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Cloud has been an important growth vertical at Alibaba and nabbing a heavyweight ally will only strengthen its foothold as China’s biggest cloud service provider. Salesforce made some headway in Asia last December when it set up a $100 million fund to invest in Japanese enterprise startups and the latest partnership with Alibaba will see the San Francisco-based firm actually go after customers in Asia.

WeWork acquires Waltz, an app that lets users access different spaces with a single credential

WeWork announced today that it will acquire Waltz, a building access and security management startup, for an undisclosed amount. Waltz’s smartphone app and reader allows users to enter different properties with a single credential and will make it easier for WeWork’s enterprise clients, such as GE Healthcare and Microsoft, to manage their employees’ on-demand memberships to WeWork spaces.

WeWork’s announcement said “with deep expertise in mobile access and system integrations, Waltz has the most advanced and sophisticated products to provide that single credential to our members and to help us better connect them with our spaces.” Waltz was founded in 2015 by CEO Matt Kopel and has offices in New York and Montreal. After the acquisition, Waltz will be integrated into WeWork, but maintain its current customer base.

WeWork has been on an acquisition spree over the past year as it evolves from co-working spaces to a software-as-a-service provider. Companies it has bought include office management platforms Teem (for $100 million) and Managed by Q, as well as Euclid, a “spatial analytics platform” that allows companies to analyze the use of workspaces by their employees and participation at meetings and other events.

Likewise, Waltz isn’t just an alternative to keys or access cards. Its cloud-based management portal gives companies data about who enters and exits their buildings and also allows teams to set “Door Groups,” which restricts the use of some spaces to certain people. According to Waltz’s help site, it can also be used to make revenue through ads displayed in its app.

Hong Kong-based fintech startup Qupital raises $15M Series A to expand in mainland China

Qupital, a fintech startup that bills itself as Hong Kong’s largest trade financing platform for SMEs, has closed a $15 million Series A led by CreditEase FinTech Investment Fund (CEFIF), with participation from returning investors Alibaba Hong Kong Entrepreneurs Fund and MindWorks Ventures, both participants in its seed round. To date, Qupital has raised $17 million, including a seed round two years ago, and will use its latest funding to expand its supply chain financing products, launch in mainland Chinese cities and hire more people for its tech development and risk management teams.

CreditEase, which provides loans and other financial services for SMEs in China, will act as a strategic investor, aiding with Qupital’s geographic expansion. Existing investor Alibaba has already helped Qupital reach small businesses on its platform. Qupital will open branches in Chinese cities including Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, along with setting up a new technology center in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area for talent and tech development. In total, it will hire about 100 people for its Hong Kong office this year.

Founded in 2016, Qupital offers lending for SMEs that frequently have cash flow issues because they are in a cycle of waiting for invoices to be paid. Qupital’s loans cover most of the value of an invoice, then matches that with investors and funders who cover the cash with the expectation of a return. The company makes money by charging SMEs a service fee that is a fixed percentage of the total invoice value and then a discount fee, and taking a percentage of net gains made by investors.

Qupital has now processed 8,000 trades, totaling HKD $2 billion in value. It won’t disclose how many SMEs it has worked with, but co-founder and chairman Andy Chan says that number is in the hundreds.

Chan tells TechCrunch that in China, Qupital will not compete directly against traditional financial institutions, because it focuses on financing the Hong Kong business entities of Chinese companies in U.S. and Hong Kong currency, instead of onshore renminbi. It will also target SMEs underserved by traditional lenders, by using alternative data sources to determine their creditworthiness.

In a prepared statement, CEFIF managing director Dennis Cong said “The growing volume of SME and cross-border trading drives a huge demand for alternative financing for SME’s who are underserved in the market and opportunities for investors to earn a decent risk-adjusted return. We look forward to working with Qupital to broaden its source of capital base and create unparalleled investment opportunities for CreditEase.”

Alibaba acquires Israeli VR startup Infinity Augmented Reality

Infinity Augmented Reality, an Israeli virtual reality startup, has been acquired by Alibaba, the companies announced this weekend. The deal’s terms were not disclosed. Alibaba and InfinityAR have had a strategic partnership since 2016, when Alibaba Group led InfinityAR’s Series C. Since then, the two have collaborated on augmented reality, computer vision and artificial intelligence projects.

Founded in 2013, the startup’s augmented glasses platform enables developers in a wide range of industries (retail, gaming, medical, etc.) to integrate AR into their apps. InfinityAR’s products include software for ODMs and OEMs and a SDK plug-in for 3D engines.

Alibaba’s foray into virtual reality started three years ago, when it invested in Magic Leap and then announced a new research lab in China to develop ways of incorporating virtual reality into its e-commerce platform.

InfinityAR’s research and development team will begin working out of Alibaba’s Israel Machine Laboratory, part of Alibaba DAMO Academy, the R&D initiative it is pouring $15 billion into with the goal of eventually serving two billion customers and creating 100 million jobs by 2036. DAMO Academy collaborates with universities around the world and Alibaba’s Israel Machine Laboratory has a partnership with Tel Aviv University focused on video analysis and machine learning.

In a press statement, the laboratory’s head, Lihi Zelnik-Manor, said “Alibaba is delighted to be working with InfinityAR as one team after three years of partnership. The talented team brings unique knowhow in sensor fusion, computer vision and navigation technologies. We look forward to exploring these leading technologies and offering additional benefits to customers, partners and developers.”

Wandelbots raises $6.8M to make programming a robot as easy as putting on a jacket

Industrial robotics is on track to be worth around $20 billion by 2020, but while it may something in common with other categories of cutting-edge tech — innovative use of artificial intelligence, pushing the boundaries of autonomous machines that are disrupting pre-existing technology — there is one key area where it differs: each robotics firm uses its own proprietary software and operating systems to run its machines, making programming the robots complicated, time-consuming and expensive.

A startup out of Germany called Wandelbots (a portmanteau of “change” and “robots” in German) has come up with an innovative way to skirt around that challenge: it has built a bridge that connects the operating systems of the 12 most popular industrial robotics makers with what a business wants them to do, and now they can be trained by a person wearing a jacket kitted with dozens of sensors.

“We are providing a universal language to teach those robots in the same way, independent of the technology stack,” said CEO Christian Piechnick said in an interview. Essentially reverse engineering the process of how a lot of software is built, Wandelbots is creating what is a Linux-like underpinning to all of it.

With some very big deals under its belt with the likes of Volkwagen, Infineon and Midea, the startup out of Dresden has now raised €6 million ($6.8 million), a Series A to take it to its next level of growth and specifically to open an office in China. The funding comes from Paua VenturesEQT Ventures and other unnamed previous investors. (It had previously raised a seed round around the time it was a finalist in our Disrupt Battlefield last year, pre-launch.)

Notably, Paua has a bit of a history of backing transformational software companies (it also invests in Stripe), and EQT, being connected to a private equity firm, is treating this as a strategic investment that might be deployed across its own assets.

Piechnick — who co-founded Wandelbots with Georg Püschel, Maria Piechnick, Sebastian Werner, Jan Falkenberg and Giang Nguyen on the back of research they did at university — said that typical programming of industrial robots to perform a task could have in the past taken three months, the employment of specialist systems integrators, and of course an extra cost on top of the machines themselves.

Someone with no technical knowledge, wearing one of Wandelbots’ jackets, can bring that process down to 10 minutes, with costs reduced by a factor of ten.

“In order to offer competitive products in the face of the rapid changes within the automotive industry, we need more cost savings and greater speed in the areas of production and automation of manufacturing processes,” said Marco Weiß, Head of New Mobility & Innovations at Volkswagen Sachsen GmbH, in a statement. “Wandelbots’ technology opens up significant opportunities for automation. Using Wandelbots offering, the installation and setup of robotic solutions can be implemented incredibly quickly by teams with limited programming skills.”

Wandelbots’ focus at the moment is on programming robotic arms rather than the mobile machines that you may have seen Amazon and others using to move goods around warehouses. For now, this means that there is not a strong crossover in terms of competition between these two branches of enterprise robotics.

However, Amazon has been expanding and working on new areas beyond warehouse movements: it has, for example, been working ways of using computer vision and robotic arms to identify and pick out the most optimal fruits and vegetables out of boxes to put into grocery orders.

Innovations like that from Amazon and others could see more pressure for innovation among robotics makers, although Piechnick notes that up to now we’ve seen very little in the way of movement, and there may never be (creating more opportunity for companies like his that build more usability).

“Attempts to build robotics operating systems have been tried over and over again, and each time it’s failed,” he said. “But robotics has completely different requirements, such as real time computing, safety issues and many other different factors. A robot in operation is much more complicated than a phone.” He also added that Wandelbots itself has a number of innovations of its own currently going through the patent process, which will widen its own functionality too in terms of what and how its software can train a robot to do. (This may see more than jackets enter the mix.)

As with companies in the area of robotic process automation — which uses AI to take over more mundane back-office features — Piechnick maintains that what he has built, and the rise of robotics overall, is not going to replace workers, but put them on to other roles, while allowing businesses to expand the scope of what they can do that a human might never have been able to execute.

“No company we work with has ever replaced a human worker with a robot,” he said, explaining that generally the upgrade is from machine to better machine. “It makes you more efficient and cost reductive, and it allows you to put your good people on more complicated tasks.”

Currently, Wandelbots is working with large-scale enterprises, although ultimately, it’s smaller businesses that are its target customer, he said.

“Previously the ROI on robots was too difficult for SMEs,” he said. “With our tech this changes.”

“Wandelbots will be one of the key companies enabling the mass-adoption of industrial robotics by revolutionizing how robots are trained and used,” said Georg Stockinger, Partner at Paua Ventures, in a statement. “Over the last few years, we’ve seen a steep decline in robotic hardware costs. Now, Wandelbots’ resolves the remaining hurdle to disruptive growth in industrial automation – the ease and speed of implementation and teaching. Both factors together will create a perfect storm, driving the next wave of industrial revolution.”

 

 

Growing pains at venture-backed Moogsoft lead to layoffs

Eight months after bringing in a $40 million Series D, Moogsoft‘s co-founder and chief executive officer Phil Tee confirmed to TechCrunch that the IT incident management startup had shed 18 percent of its workforce, or just over 30 employees.

The layoffs took place at the end of October; shortly after, Moogsoft announced two executive hires. Among the additions was Amer Deeba, who recently resigned from Qualys after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charged him with insider trading.

Founded in 2012, San Francisco-based Moogsoft provides artificial intelligence for IT operations (AIOps) to help teams work more efficiently and avoid outages. The startup has raised $90 million in equity funding to date, garnering a $220 million valuation with its latest round, according to PitchBook. It’s backed by Goldman Sachs, Wing Venture Capital, Redpoint Ventures, Dell’s corporate venture capital arm, Singtel Innov8, Northgate Capital and others. Wing VC founder and long-time Accel managing partner Peter Wagner and Redpoint partner John Walecka are among the investors currently sitting on Moogsoft’s board of directors.

Tee, the founder of two public companies (Micromuse and Riversoft) admitted the layoffs affected several teams across the company. The cuts, however, are not a sign of a struggling business, he said, but rather a right of passage for a startup seeking venture scale.

“We are a classic VC-backed startup that has sort of grown up,” Tee told TechCrunch earlier today. “In pretty much every successful company, there is a point in time where there’s an adjustment in strategy … Unfortunately, when you do that, it becomes a question of do we have the right people?”

Moogsoft doubled revenue last year and added 50 Fortune 200 companies as customers, according to a statement announcing its latest capital infusion. Tee said he’s “extremely chipper” about the road ahead and the company’s recent C-suite hires.

Moogsoft’s newest hires, CFO Raman Kapur (left) and COO Amer Deeba (right).

Moogsoft announced its latest executive hires on November 2, only one week after completing the round of layoffs, a common strategy for companies looking to cast a shadow on less-than-stellar news, like major staff cuts. Those hires include former Splunk vice president of finance Raman Kapur as Moogsoft’s first-ever chief financial officer and Amer Deeba, a long-time Qualys executive, as its chief operating officer.

Deeba spent the last 17 years at Qualys, a publicly traded provider of cloud-based security and compliance solutions. In August, he resigned amid allegations of insider trading. The SEC announced its charges against Deeba on August 30, claiming he had notified his two brothers of Qualys’ missed revenue targets before the company publicly announced its financial results in the spring of 2015.

“Deeba informed his two brothers about the miss and contacted his brothers’ brokerage firm to coordinate the sale of all of his brothers’ Qualys stock,” the SEC wrote in a statement. “When Qualys publicly announced its financial results, it reported that it had missed its previously-announced first-quarter revenue guidance and that it was revising its full-year 2015 revenue guidance downward. On the same day, Deeba sent a message to one of his brothers saying, ‘We announced the bad news today.’ The next day, Qualys’s stock price dropped 25%. Although Deeba made no profits from his conduct, Deeba’s brothers collectively avoided losses of $581,170 by selling their Qualys stock.”

Under the terms of Deeba’s settlement, he is ineligible to serve as an officer or director of any SEC-reporting company for two years and has been ordered to pay a $581,170 penalty.

Tee, for his part, said there was never any admission of guilt from Deeba and that he’s already had a positive impact on Moogsoft.

“[Deeba] is a tremendously impressive individual and he has the full confidence of myself and the board,” Tee said.

 

Oracle acquires DataFox, a developer of ‘predictive intelligence as a service’ across millions of company records

Oracle today announced that it has made another acquisition, this time to enhance both the kind of data that it can provide to its business customers, and its artificial intelligence capabilities: it is buying DataFox, a startup that has amassed a huge company database — currently covering 2.8 million public and private businesses, adding 1.2 million each year — and uses AI to analyse that to make larger business predictions. The business intelligence resulting from that service can in turn be used for a range of CRM-related services: prioritising sales accounts, finding leads, and so on.

“The combination of Oracle and DataFox will enhance Oracle Cloud Applications with an extensive set of AI-derived company-level data and signals, enabling customers to reach even better decisions and business outcomes,” noted Steve Miranda, EVP of applications development at Oracle, in a note to DataFox customers announcing the deal. He said that DataFox will sit among Oracle’s existing portfolio of business planning services like ERP, CX, HCM and SCM. “Together, Oracle and DataFox will enrich cloud applications with AI-driven company-level data, powering recommendations to elevate business performance across the enterprise.”

Terms of the deal do not appear to have been disclosed but we are trying to find out. DataFox — which launched in 2014 as a contender in the TC Battlefield at Disrupt — had raised just under $19 million and was last valued at $33 million back in January 2017, according to PitchBook. Investors in the company included Slack, GV, Howard Linzon, and strategic investor Goldman Sachs among others.

Oracle said that it is not committing to a specific product roadmap for DataFox longer term, but for now it will be keeping the product going as is for those who are already customers. The startup counted Goldman Sachs, Bain & Company and Twilio among those using its services. 

The deal is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it shows that larger platform providers are on the hunt for more AI-driven tools to provide an increasingly sophisticated level of service to customers. Second, in this case, it’s a sign of how content remains a compelling proposition, when it is presented and able to be manipulated for specific ends. Many customer databases can get old and out of date, so the idea of constantly trawling information sources in order to create the most accurate record of businesses possible is a very compelling idea to anyone who has faced the alternative, and that goes even more so in sales environments when people are trying to look their sharpest.

It also shows that, although both companies have evolved quite a lot, and there are many other alternatives on the market, Oracle remains in hot competition with Salesforce for customers and are hoping to woo and keep more of them with the better, integrated innovations. That also points to Oracle potentially cross and up-selling people who come to them by way of DataFox, which is an SaaS that pitches itself very much as something anyone can subscribe to online.

Twilio’s contact center products just got more analytical with Ytica acquisition

Twilio, a company best known for supplying a communications APIs for developers has a product called Twilio Flex for building sophisticated customer service applications on top of Twilio’s APIs. Today, it announced it was acquiring Ytica (pronounced Why-tica) to provide an operational and analytical layer on top of the customer service solution.

The companies would not discuss the purchase price, but Twilio indicated it does not expect the acquisition to have a material impact on its “results, operations or financial condition.” In other words, it probably didn’t cost much.

Ytica, which is based in Prague, has actually been a partner with Twilio for some time, so coming together in this fashion really made a lot of sense, especially as Twilio has been developing Flex.

Twilio Flex is an app platform for contact centers, which offers a full stack of applications and allows users to deliver customer support over multiple channels, Al Cook, general manager of Twilio Flex explained. “Flex deploys like SaaS, but because it’s built on top of APIs, you can reach in and change how Flex works,” he said. That is very appealing, especially for larger operations looking for a flexible, cloud-based solution without the baggage of on-prem legacy products.

What the product was lacking, however, was a native way to manage customer service representatives from within the application, and understand through analytics and dashboards, how well or poorly the team was doing. Having that ability to measure the effectiveness of the team becomes even more critical the larger the group becomes, and Cook indicated some Flex users are managing enormous groups with 10,000-20,000 employees.

Ytica provides a way to measure the performance of customer service staff, allowing management to monitor and intervene and coach when necessary. “It made so much sense to join together as one team. They have huge experience in the contact center, and a similar philosophy to build something customizable and programmable in the cloud,” Cook said.

While Ytica works with other vendors beyond Twilio, CEO Simon Vostrý says that they will continue to support those customers, even as they join the Twilio family. “We can run Flex and can continue to run this separately. We have customers running on other SaaS platforms, and we will continue to support them,” he said.

The company will remain in Prague and become a Twilio satellite office. All 14 employees are expected to join the Twilio team and Cook says plans are already in the works to expand the Prague team.

SessionM customer loyalty data aggregator snags $23.8 M investment

SessionM announced a $23.8 million Series E investment led by Salesforce Ventures. A bushel of existing investors including Causeway Media Partners, CRV, General Atlantic, Highland Capital and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers also contributed to the round. The company has now raised over $97 million.

At its core, SessionM aggregates loyalty data for brands to help them understand their customer better, says company co-founder and CEO Lars Albright. “We are a customer data and engagement platform that helps companies build more loyal and profitable relationships with their consumers,” he explained.

Essentially that means, they are pulling data from a variety of sources and helping brands offer customers more targeted incentives, offers and product recommendations “We give [our users] a holistic view of that customer and what motivates them,” he said.

Screenshot: SessionM (cropped)

To achieve this, SessionM takes advantage of machine learning to analyze the data stream and integrates with partner platforms like Salesforce, Adobe and others. This certainly fits in with Adobe’s goal to build a customer service experience system of record and Salesforce’s acquisition of Mulesoft in March to integrate data from across an organization, all in the interest of better understanding the customer.

When it comes to using data like this, especially with the advent of GDPR in the EU in May, Albright recognizes that companies need to be more careful with data, and that it has really enhanced the sensitivity around stewardship for all data-driven businesses like his.

“We’ve been at the forefront of adopting the right product requirements and features that allow our clients and businesses to give their consumers the necessary control to be sure we’re complying with all the GDPR regulations,” he explained.

The company was not discussing valuation or revenue. Their most recent round prior to today’s announcement, was a Series D in 2016 for $35 million also led by Salesforce Ventures.

SessionM, which was founded in 2011, has around 200 employees with headquarters in downtown Boston. Customers include Coca-Cola, L’Oreal and Barney’s.

Cogito scores $37M as AI-driven sentiment analysis biz grows

Cogito announced a $37 million Series C investment today led by Goldman Sachs Growth Equity. Previous investors Salesforce Ventures and OpenView also chipped in. Mark Midle of Goldman Sachs’ Merchant Banking Division, has joined Cogito’s Board of Directors

The company has raised over $64 million since it emerged from the MIT Human Dynamics Lab back in 2007 trying to use the artificial intelligence technology available at the time to understand sentiment and apply it in a business context.

While it took some time for the technology to catch up with the vision, and find the right use case, company CEO and founder Joshua Feast says today they are helping customer service representatives understand the sentiment and emotional context of the person on the line and give them behavioral cues on how to proceed.

“We sell software to very large software, premium brands with many thousands of people in contact centers. The purpose of our solution is to help provide a really wonderful service experience in moments of truth,” he explained. Anyone who deals with a large company’s customer service has likely felt there is sometimes a disconnect between the person on the phone and their ability to understand your predicament and solve your problem.

Cogito in action giving customer service reps real-time feedback.

He says using his company’s solution, which analyzes the contents of the call in real time, and provides relevant feedback, the goal is to not just complete the service call, but to leave the customer feeling good about the brand and the experience. Certainly a bad experience can have the opposite effect.

He wants to use technology to make the experience a more human interaction and he recognizes that as an organization grows, layers of business process make it harder for the customer service representative to convey that humanity. Feast believes that technology has helped create this problem and it can help solve it too.

While the company is not talking about valuation or specific revenue at this point, Feast reports that revenue has grown 3X over the last year. Among their customers are Humana and Metlife, two large insurance companies, each with thousands of customer service agents.

Cogito is based in downtown Boston with 117 employees at last count, and of course they hope to use the money to add on to that number and help scale this vision further.

“This is about scaling our organization to meet client’s needs. It’s also about deepening what we do. In a lot of ways, we are only scratching the surface [of the underlying technology] in terms of how we can use AI to support emotional connections and help organizations be more human,” Feast said.

Pluralsight prices its IPO at $15 per share, raising over $300M

Pluralsight priced the shares in its IPO at $15 this afternoon, above its previously set target range of between $12 and $14, and will raise as much as $357 million ahead of its public debut tomorrow morning.

Pluralsight offers software development courses, specifically ones targeting employees that are looking to advance in their careers by acquiring new skills in order to transition to higher-level roles. As knowledge workers become increasingly valuable, especially in larger enterprises with sprawling workforces, companies like Pluralsight have found a sweet spot in building tools that enable companies to help identify talent in their own workforce and train them, rather than have to aggressively search outside the company to satisfy their needs. The company has raised $310.5 million in its IPO, with underwriters having the option to purchase an additional 3.1 million shares and bring that up to $357 million.

The company is one of a continuing wave of enterprise IPOs this year, including multiple successful ones like zScalar and Dropbox — the latter of which was more of a flagship as both a hotly-anticipated one and as a company that possesses a unique business model. But nonetheless, it’s shown that there’s an appetite for enterprise startups looking to go public, which offers those companies a way to raise capital in addition to offering their employees liquidity.

Pluralsight will be another of an increasing pack of unicorns in the Utah tech scene that are on their way to going public. Founded in 2004, Pluralsight was largely bootstrapped until its first financing round in 2013 where it raised $27.5 million from Insight Venture Partners. That firm is the company’s largest shareholder, and since then Pluralsight has raised nearly $200 million in financing.

Its The company’s IPO tomorrow will once again test the appetite for fresh IPOs among public investors. Enterprise companies generally offer a more stable batch for venture portfolios, with predictable and reliable growth that eventually carries it to an IPO with varying levels of success. They’re smaller than blockbuster consumer-ish IPOs, but they are the ones that can provide a stable return for funds like IVP.

DocuSign raises $629 million after pricing IPO

DocuSign priced its IPO Thursday evening at $29 per share, netting the company $629 million.

It was a better price than the e-signature company had been expecting. The initially proposed price range was $24 to $26 and then that was raised to $26 to $28.

The price gives the company a valuation of $4.4 billion on the eve of its public debut, above the $3 billion the company had raised for its last private round.

The IPO has been a long-time coming. Founded in 2003, DocuSign had raised over $500 million over the course of 15 years.

The company brought in $518.5 million in revenue for its fiscal year ending in 2018. This is up from $381.5 million last year and $250.5 million the year before. Losses for this year were $52.3 million, down from $115.4 million last year and, $122.6 million for 2016.

“We have a history of operating losses and may not achieve or sustain profitability in the future,” the company warned in the requisite “risk factors” section of the prospectus.

The filing reveals that Sigma Partners is the largest shareholder, owning 12.9% of the company. Ignition Partners owns 11.7% and Frazier Technology Ventures owns 7.2%.

DocuSign, competes HelloSign and Adobe Sign, among others, but has managed to sign up many of the largest enterprises. T-Mobile, Salesforce, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America are amongst its clients. It has a tiered business model, with companies paying more for added services.

HelloSign COO Whitney Bouck said that “this space is changing the way business is done at its foundation — we are finally realizing the future of digital business and exactly how much more profitable it can be by removing the friction caused by outdated technology and processes.” But she said that DocuSign should be wary of competitive “more nimble vendors that can provide more innovative, faster, and more user-friendly solutions at a cheaper price.”

DocuSign has gone through several management changes over the years.  Dan Springer took over as CEO in early 2017, after running Responsys, which went public and then was later bought by Oracle for $1.5 billion. Chairman Keith Krach had been running the company since 2011. He was previously CEO of Ariba, which was acquired by SAP for $4.3 billion.

Pivotal CEO talks IPO and balancing life in Dell family of companies

Pivotal has kind of a strange role for a company. On one hand its part of the EMC federation companies that Dell acquired in 2016 for a cool $67 billion, but it’s also an independently operated entity within that broader Dell family of companies — and that has to be a fine line to walk.

Whatever the challenges, the company went public yesterday and joined VMware as a  separately traded company within Dell. CEO Rob Mee says the company took the step of IPOing because it wanted additional capital.

“I think we can definitely use the capital to invest in marketing and R&D. The wider technology ecosystem is moving quickly. It does take additional investment to keep up,” Mee told TechCrunch just a few hours after his company rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange.

As for that relationship of being a Dell company, he said that Michael Dell let him know early on after the EMC acquisition that he understood the company’s position. “From the time Dell acquired EMC, Michael was clear with me: You run the company. I’m just here to help. Dell is our largest shareholder, but we run independently. There have been opportunities to test that [since the acquisition] and it has held true,” Mee said.

Mee says that independence is essential because Pivotal has to remain technology-agnostic and it can’t favor Dell products and services over that mission. “It’s necessary because our core product is a cloud-agnostic platform. Our core value proposition is independence from any provider — and Dell and VMware are infrastructure providers,” he said.

That said, Mee also can play both sides because he can build products and services that do align with Dell and VMware offerings. “Certainly the companies inside the Dell family are customers of ours. Michael Dell has encouraged the IT group to adopt our methods and they are doing so,” he said. They have also started working more closely with VMware, announcing a container partnership last year.

Photo: Ron Miller

Overall though he sees his company’s mission in much broader terms, doing nothing less than helping the world’s largest companies transform their organizations. “Our mission is to transform how the world builds software. We are focused on the largest organizations in the world. What is a tailwind for us is that the reality is these large companies are at a tipping point of adopting how they digitize and develop software for strategic advantage,” Mee said.

The stock closed up 5 percent last night, but Mee says this isn’t about a single day. “We do very much focus on the long term. We have been executing to a quarterly cadence and have behaved like a public company inside Pivotal [even before the IPO]. We know how to do that while keeping an eye on the long term,” he said.

Flowspace is AWS for warehouses

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Primer helps governments and corporations monitor and understand the world’s information

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Privitar raises $16M to help ensure privacy in big data analytics

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IBM dangles carrot of full encryption to lure buyers to new z14 mainframe

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DeepGraph feeds enterprise sales teams with hyper-targeted warm leads

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New Clerky tools help startups hire and raise funds without running into legal problems

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Commission your own traffic and construction studies without ever leaving bed using SpaceKnow

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Cloud Foundry launches its developer certification program

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Matroid can watch videos and detect anything within them

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The great enterprise chat race

Track sprinters lined up at starting The competitive deck appears nearly stacked against the startup, and it seems that every other month a new product launches from a major tech company that’s billed in the tech press as the next “Slack Killer.” What Slack does isn’t actually all that original as startup ideas go. It merely provides an environment for teams to share information inside a chat client. Yet… Read More

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Equity podcast: The return of IPOs and Tesla’s billion-dollar bet

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CoSMo CEO Michel Morvan talks about augmented intelligence

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Endor emerges from MIT research with unique predictive analytics tech

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IBM adds new API to quantum computing cloud service

IBM Quantum Computer IBM announced today that it was updating its Quantum Experience cloud with a new API that it hopes will increase the abilities of researchers and other interested parties to build more sophisticated applications with its experimental quantum computing system.
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Ozlo releases a suite of APIs to power your next conversational AI

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Ozlo releases a suite of APIs to power your next conversational AI

Illustration of laptop connected to bookshelf Building on its promise to give the entrenched a run for their money, conversational AI startup Ozlo is making its meticulously crafted knowledge layer available for purchase today. Ozlo’s new suite of APIs that includes tools for both expressing knowledge and understanding language will help to democratize the creation of conversational AI assistants. In the spirit of the expert systems… Read More

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A year after Jasper acquisition Cisco expands the platform

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App platform company MuleSoft files for IPO

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Gamalon leverages the work of an 18th century reverend to organize unstructured enterprise data

Red and white dice casting shadows on grey surface It’s hard to fathom that the work of Reverend Thomas Bayes is still coming back to drive cutting edge advancements in AI, but that’s exactly what’s happening. DARPA-backed Gamalon is the latest carrier of the Bayesian baton, launching today with a solution to help enterprises better manage their gnarly unstructured data.
The world of enterprise is full of unstructured data. Read More

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Amazon launches Chime, a video conferencing and communications service for business

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Statsbot helps businesses pull their data into Slack

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Swiftype launches a new product to help companies search across Dropbox, Office, G Suite and more

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Salesforce acquires Sequence to build out its UX design services

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Google Cloud takes aim at Microsoft customers with new Windows VMs

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Google Cloud takes aim at Microsoft customers with new Windows VMs

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Zenefits launches new tools for employee compliance and looks to simplify pricing

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Google gives G Suite admins more control over security

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Teachable books $4 million to turn everybody into educators online

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Microsoft partners with Trimble, University of Cambridge to make HoloLens a better tool for the construction industry

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Why the $3.7 billion AppDynamics acquisition happened right before IPO

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Cisco snaps up AppDynamics for $3.7B right before its IPO

SAN JOSE, CA - AUGUST 10:  A sign is posted in front of the Cisco Systems headquarters on August 10, 2011 in San Jose, California.  Cisco Systems reported better-than-expected fourth quarter revenues with a 3.3 percent rise to $11.2 billion as the company continues to scale down its business. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) Cisco said today that it would acquire AppDynamics, which helps companies monitor application performance, for a whopping $3.7 billion. And now, it would seem that AppDynamics’ long-awaited IPO (this week!) has been called off in favor of a giant acquisition. It isn’t Cisco’s first major acquisition in recent memory — in fact, the company has been quite active —… Read More

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Secret Double Octopus nabs $6M for a stronger, easier alternative to regular 2FA

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