Google, Amazon and Microsoft are the landlords. Amidst the coronavirus economic crisis, startups need a break from paying rent. They’re in a cash crunch. Revenue has stopped flowing in, capital markets like venture debt are hesitant and startups and small-to-medium sized businesses are at risk of either having to lay off huge numbers of employees and/or shut down.
Meanwhile, the tech giants are cash rich. Their success this decade means they’re able to weather the storm for a few months. Their customers cannot.
Cloud infrastructure costs area amongst many startups’ top expense besides payroll. The option to pay these cloud bills later could save some from going out of business or axing huge parts of their staff. Both would hurt the tech industry, the economy and the individuals laid off. But most worryingly for the giants, it could destroy their customer base.
The mass layoffs have already begun. Soon we’re sure to start hearing about sizable companies shutting down, upended by COVID-19. But there’s still an opportunity to stop a larger bloodbath from ensuing.
That’s why I have a proposal: cloud relief.
The platform giants should let startups and small businesses defer their cloud infrastructure payments for three to six months until they can pay them back in installments. Amazon AWS, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, these companies’ additional infrastructure products, and other platform providers should let customers pause payment until the worst of the first wave of the COVID-19 economic disruption passes. Profitable SaaS providers like Salesforce could give customers an extension too.
There are plenty of altruistic reasons to do this. They have the resources to help businesses in need. We all need to support each other in these tough times. This could protect tons of families. Some of these startups are providing important services to the public and even discounting them, thereby ramping up their bills while decreasing revenue.
Then there are the PR reasons. After years of techlash and anti-trust scrutiny, here’s the chance for the giants to prove their size can be beneficial to the world. Recruiters could use it as a talking point. “We’re the company that helped save Silicon Valley.” There’s an explanation for them squirreling away so much cash: the rainy day has finally arrived.
But the capitalistic truth and the story they could sell to Wall Street is that it’s not good for our business if our customers go out of business. Look at what happened to infrastructure providers in the dot-com crash. When tons of startups vaporized, so did the profits for those selling them hosting and tools. Any government stimulus for businesses would be better spent by them paying employees than paying the cloud companies that aren’t in danger. Saving one future Netflix from shutting down could cover any short-term loss from helping 100 other businesses.
This isn’t a handout. These startups will still owe the money. They’d just be able to pay it a little later, spread out over their monthly bills for a year or so. Once mass shelter-in-place orders subside, businesses can operate at least a little closer to normal, investors can get less cautious and customers will have the cash they need to pay their dues. Plus interest, if necessary.
Meanwhile, they’ll be locked in and loyal customers for the foreseeable future. Cloud vendors could gate the deferment to only customers that have been with them for X amount of months or that have already spent Y amount on the platform. The vendors also could offer the deferment on the condition that customers add a year or more to their existing contracts. Founders will remember who gave them the benefit of the doubt.
Consider it a marketing expense. Platforms often offer discounts or free trials to new customers. Now it’s existing customers that need a reprieve. Instead of airport ads, the giants could spend the money ensuring they’ll still have plenty of developers building atop them by the end of 2020.
Beyond deferred payment, platforms could just push the due date on all outstanding bills to three or six months from now. Alternatively, they could offer a deep discount such as 50% off for three months if they didn’t want to deal with accruing debt and then servicing it. Customers with multi-year contracts could offered the opportunity to downgrade or renegotiate their contracts without penalties. Any of these might require giving sales quota forgiveness to their account executives.
It would likely be far too complicated and risky to accept equity in lieu of cash, a cut of revenue going forward or to provide loans or credit lines to customers. The clearest and simplest solution is to let startups skip a few payments, then pay more every month later until they clear their debt. When asked for comment or about whether they’re considering payment deferment options, Microsoft declined, and Amazon and Google did not respond.
To be clear, administering payment deferment won’t be simple or free. There are sure to be holes that cloud economists can poke in this proposal, but my goal is to get the conversation started. It could require the giants to change their earnings guidance. Rewriting deals with significantly sized customers will take work on both ends, and there’s a chance of breach of contract disputes. Giants would face the threat of customers recklessly using cloud resources before shutting down or skipping town.
Most taxing would be determining and enforcing the criteria of who’s eligible. The vendors would need to lay out which customers are too big so they don’t accidentally give a cloud-intensive but healthy media company a deferment they don’t need. Businesses that get questionably excluded could make a stink in public. Executing on the plan will require staff when giants are stretched thin trying to handle logistics disruptions, misinformation and accelerating work-from-home usage.
Still, this is the moment when the fortunate need to lend a hand to the vulnerable. Not a hand out, but a hand up. Companies with billions in cash in their coffers could save those struggling to pay salaries. All the fundraisers and info centers and hackathons are great, but this is how the tech giants can live up to their lofty mission statements.
We all live in the cloud now. Don’t evict us. #CloudRelief
As companies that are used to having workers in the same building struggle to find ways to work from home, one company that has been remote from Day One is GitLab . It recently published a handbook to help other companies who are facing the work-from-home challenge for the first time.
Lest you think GitLab is a small organization, it’s not. It’s 1,200 employees strong, all of which work from home in a mind boggling 67 countries. And it’s doing well. In September, the company raised $ 268 million on a $ 2.75 billion valuation.
Given that it has found a way to make a decentralized company work, GitLab has decided to share the best practices they’ve built up over the years to help others just starting on this journey.
Among the key bits of advice in the 34-page report, perhaps the most important to note when you begin working apart is to document everything. GitLab has a reputation for hyper transparency, publishing everything from its 3-year business strategy to its projected IPO date for the world to see.
But it’s also about writing down policies and procedures and making them available to the remote workforce. When you’re not in the same building, you can’t simply walk up to someone’s cubicle and ask a question, so you need to be vigilant about documenting your processes in a handbook that is available online and searchable.
“By adopting a handbook-first approach, team members have ‘a single source of truth’ for answers. Even though documentation takes a little more time upfront, it prevents people from having to ask the same question repeatedly. Remote work is what led to the development of GitLab’s publicly viewable handbook,” the company wrote in the e-book.
That includes an on-boarding procedure because folks aren’t coming into a meeting with HR when they start at GitLab. It’s essential to have all the information new hires need in one place, and the company has worked hard to build on-boarding templates. They also offer remote GitLab 101 meetings to orient folks who need more face time to get going.
You would think when you work like this, meetings would be required, but GitLab suggests making meetings optional. That’s because people are spread across the world’s time zones, making it difficult to get everyone together at the same time. Instead, the company records meetings and brainstorms ideas, essentially virtual white-boarding in Google Docs.
Another key piece of advice is to align your values with a remote way of working. That means changing your management approach to fit the expectations of a remote workforce. “If your values are structured to encourage conventional colocated workplace norms (such as consensus gathering or recurring meetings with in-person teams), rewrite them. If values are inconsistent with the foundation of remote work, there’s bound to be disappointment and confusion. Values can set the right expectations and provide a clear direction for the company going forward,” the company wrote.
This is just scratching the surface of what’s in the handbook, but it’s a valuable resource for anyone who is trying to find a way to function in a remote work environment. Each company will have its own culture and way of dealing with this, of course, but when a company like GitLab, which was born remote, provides this level of advice, it pays to listen and take advantage of their many years of expertise.
As society comes to grips with the growing worldwide crisis related to the COVID-19 virus, many companies are stepping up in different ways. Today, two major tech companies — Amazon and IBM — each announced programs to encourage developers to find solutions to a variety of problems related to the pandemic.
For starters, AWS, Amazon’s cloud arm, announced the AWS Diagnostic Development Initiative. It has set aside $ 20 million, which it will distribute in the form of AWS credits and technical support. The program is designed to assist and encourage teams working on COVID-19 diagnostic issues with the goal of developing better diagnostic tooling.
“In our Amazon Web Services (AWS) business, one area where we have heard an urgent need is in the research and development of diagnostics, which consist of rapid, accurate detection and testing of COVID-19. Better diagnostics will help accelerate treatment and containment, and in time, shorten the course of this epidemic,” Teresa Carlson wrote in the company’s Day One blog today.
The program aims to help customers who are working on building diagnostics solutions to bring products to market more quickly, and also encourage teams working on related problems to work together.
The company also announced it was forming an advisory group made up of scientists and health policy experts to assist companies involved with initiative.
Meanwhile, IBM is refocusing its 2020 Call for Code Global Challenge developer contest on not only solving problems related to global climate change, which was this year’s original charter, but also solving issues around the growing virus crisis by building open-source tooling.
“In a very short period of time, COVID-19 has revealed the limits of the systems we take for granted. The 2020 Call for Code Global Challenge will arm you with resources […] to build open source technology solutions that address three main COVID-19 areas: crisis communication during an emergency, ways to improve remote learning, and how to inspire cooperative local communities,” the company wrote in a blog post.
All of these areas are being taxed as more people are forced to stay indoors as we to try to contain the virus. The company hopes to incentivize developers working on these issues to help solve some of these problems.
During a time of extreme social and economic upheaval when all aspects of society are being affected, businesses, academia and governments need to work together to solve the myriad problems related to the virus. These are just a couple of examples of that.
By now we know that Kubernetes is a wildly popular container management platform, but if you want to use it, you pretty much have to choose between having someone manage it for you or building it yourself. Spectro Cloud emerged from stealth today with a $ 7.5 million investment to give you a third choice that falls somewhere in the middle.
The funding was led by Sierra Ventures with participation from Boldstart Ventures.
Ed Sim, founder at Boldstart, says he liked the team and the tech. “Spectro Cloud is solving a massive pain that every large enterprise is struggling with: how to roll your own Kubernetes service on a managed platform without being beholden to any large vendor,” Sim told TechCrunch.
Spectro co-founder and CEO Tenry Fu says an enterprise should not have to compromise between control and ease of use. “We want to be the first company that brings an easy-to-use managed Kubernetes experience to the enterprise, but also gives them the flexibility to define their own Kubernetes infrastructure stacks at scale,” Fu explained.
Fu says that the stack, in this instance, consists of the base operating system to the Kubernetes version to the storage, networking and other layers like security, logging, monitoring, load balancing or anything that’s infrastructure related around Kubernetes.
“Within an organization in the enterprise you can serve the needs of your various groups, down to pretty granular level with respect to what’s in your infrastructure stack, and then you don’t have to worry about lifecycle management,” he explained. That’s because Spectro Cloud handles that for you, while still giving you that control.
That gives enterprise developers greater deployment flexibility and the ability to move between cloud infrastructure providers more easily, something that is top of mind today as companies don’t want to be locked into a single vendor.
“There’s an infrastructure control continuum that forces enterprises into trade-offs against these needs. At one extreme, the managed offerings offer a kind of nirvana around ease of use, but it’s at the expense of control over things like the cloud that you’re on or when you adopt new ecosystem options like updated versions of Kubernetes.”
Fu and his co-founders have a deep background in this, having previously been part of CliQr, a company that helped customers manage applications across hybrid cloud environments. They sold that company to Cisco in 2016 and began developing Spectro Cloud last spring.
It’s early days, but the company has been working with 16 beta customers.
Addapptation, a startup that wants to build a practical design layer on top of Salesforce and other enterprise tools, announced a $ 1.3 million seed investment today.
2048 Ventures led the round with participation from East Coast Angles, The Millworks II Fund and additional angel investors from New Hampshire, where the firm is located
Co-founder Sumner Vanderhoof says the startup’s goal is to build a user experience platform for enterprise tools like Salesforce . “Our goal is to help make simple, easy to use Salesforce.com solutions built on the addapptation UX platform.
“At the end of the day, we’re really helping transform the way companies work, making their employees more efficient, making the job they do easier and more consistent, so they have a bigger impact on the companies that they work for,” Vanderhoof told TechCrunch.
He says they do this by looking at the company workflow and what issue the customer is trying to solve — such as a problem converting deals through the sales cycle. They will then help build tools and an interface to make it easier to pinpoint this information with the goal of being able to reuse whatever solutions they create for other customers.
He says the platform is template-driven and designed to quickly go from idea to solution. A typical solution takes no longer than two weeks to build and implement. Once a customer is using addapptation, employees can log into the addapptation platform or it can be a layer built into Salesforce providing a more guided experience.
The company has built around 40 plug-ins for the platform, including a heat map that identifies where sales is likely to find the best opportunities to close a deal. The solutions they build are designed to work online or on mobile devices as needed.
Vanderhoof says that the company has a good relationship with Salesforce, and it doesn’t compete directly with the company. “Their main focus is providing tools for a wide audience. Ours is extending the platform beyond what it can do,” he said.
The two founders, Vanderhoof and his wife Carla, took three years building the platform, essentially bootstrapping before taking today’s funding. The company has 15 employees in its Exeter, NH, headquarters and has 20 customers including Comcast and Ingram Micro.
No-code tools are on the rise, and a YC-backed company called Snapboard is looking to join the fight.
Snapboard, led by solo founder Calum Moore, started when Moore decided to build one product a week for a year as a personal challenge. In the second week, he realized just how many apps and services it took not only to build the product, but to post about it on social media.
He wanted a way to manage all those apps and tools from one dashboard. So he built Snapboard.
Snapboard allows users to link and manage a wide variety of apps and platforms in a single, customizable dashboard. Users can create boards that act as internal tools without getting the product or engineering team involved for an internal project. Moore describes it as “Airtable, but with all of your data already in there.”
More than 50 apps are available on the Snapboard platform, including Shopify, Dropbox, Google Analytics, MailChimp, MongoDB, MySQL, Trello, Zendesk and many more. Moore isn’t concerned with onboarding new integrated apps for Snapboard, as most of the popular tools used by startups and tech firms are API supported.
The use cases are innumerable, which is just as challenging as it is beneficial. Moore detailed a few examples, including building boards for each individual customer, combining Stripe data with emails sent through Mail Chimp to try to target behavior.
However, the flexibility of the platform means that it can do almost anything, but only if you know what you want to do with it. It can be difficult to evangelize for something that is so nebulous, and can be used so many ways.
Moore says the key is to sprint on building out the template library for Snapboard, offering new users a multitude of options as inspiration.
Snapboard offers a free tier, and then charges $ 10/month/seat for more advanced features. Thus far, the company has 3,000 registered users and around 230 WAUs.
The company is targeting tech companies but sees the potential for other industries to tap into Snapboard’s internal tool-making platform.
Beyond the difficulty of messaging a platform that can be used in countless ways, Moore identifies UX design as one of the company’s greatest challenges.
“We’re taking something only developers used to be able to do and making it available for everyone else,” said Moore. “If you give a developer a platform, they’ll work their way through it. They’ll find some way to make it work. Whereas, with less technical people, they want products to be very obvious and easy to use. So, for us, it’s about delivering that kind of technical experience in a really non-technical way.”
Snapboard has raised a total of $ 150K from Y Combinator and will present in the upcoming demo day.
The COVID-19 crisis is touching all aspects of society, including how we work. In response, many companies are considering asking some percentage of their workforce to work remotely until the crisis abates.
If your organization doesn’t have a great deal of experience with remote work, there are a number of key things to think about as you set up a program. You are going to be under time constraints when it comes to enacting an action plan, so think about ways to leverage the tools, procedures and technologies you already have in place. You won’t have the luxury of conducting a six-month study.
We spoke to a few people who have been looking at the remote working space for more than a decade and asked about the issues companies should bear in mind when a large number of employees suddenly need to work from home.
The lay of the land
Alan Lepofsky, currently VP of Salesforce Quip, has studied the remote work market for more than a decade. He says there are three main pieces to building a remote working strategy. First, managers need to evaluate which tools they’ll be using to allow employees to continue collaborating when they aren’t together.
Most developers think of Stack Overflow as a question and answer site for their programming questions. But over the last few years, the company has also built a successful business in its Stack Overflow for Teams product, which essentially offers companies a private version of its Q&A product. Indeed, the Teams product now brings in a significant amount of revenue for the company and the new executive team at Stack Overflow is betting that it can help the company grow rapidly in the years to come.
To make Teams even more attractive to businesses, the company today launched a number of new integrations with Jira (Enterprise and Business), GitHub (Enterprise and Business) and Microsoft Teams (Enterprise). These join existing integrations with Slack, Okta and the Business tier of Microsoft Teams.
“I think the integrations that we have been building are reflective of that developer workflow and all of the number of tools that someone who is building and leveraging technology has to interact with,” Stack Overflow Chief Product Officer Teresa Dietrich told me. “When we think about integrations, we think about the vertical right, and I think that ‘developer workflow’ is one of those industry verticals that we’re thinking about. ChatOps is obviously another one, as you can see from our Slack and Teams integration. And the JIRA and GitHub [integrations] that we’re building are really at the core of a developer workflow.”
Current Stack Overflow for Teams customers include the likes of Microsoft, Expensify and Wix. As the company noted, 65 percent of its existing Teams customers use GitHub, so it’s no surprise that it is building out this integration.
A new startup called Notivize aims to give product teams direct access to one of their most important tools for increasing user engagement — notifications.
The company has been testing the product with select customers since last year and says it has already sent hundreds of thousands of notifications. And this week, it announced that it has raised $ 500,000 in seed funding led by Heroic Ventures .
Notivize co-founder Matt Bornski has worked at a number of startups, including AppLovin and Wink, and he said he has “so many stories I can tell you about the time it takes to change a notification that’s deeply embedded in your stack.”
To be clear, Bornski isn’t talking about a simple marketing message that’s part of a scheduled campaign. Instead, he said that the “most valuable” notifications (e.g. the ones that users actually respond to) are usually driven by activity in an app.
For example, it might sound obvious to send an SMS message to a customer once the product they’ve purchased has shipped, but Bornski said that actually creating a notification like that would normally require an engineer to write new code.
“There’s the traditional way that these things are built: The product team specs out that we need to send this email when this happens, or send this SMS or notification when this happens, then the engineering team will go in and find the part of the code where they detect that such a thing has happened,” he said. “What we really want to do is give [the product team] the toolkit, and I think we have.”
So with Notivize, non-coding members of the product and marketing team can write “if-then” rules that will trigger a notification. And this, Bornski said, also makes it easier to “A/B test and optimize your copy and your send times and your channels” to ensure that your notifications are as effective as possible.
He added that companies usually don’t build this for themselves, because when they’re first building an app, it’s “not a rational thing to invest your time and effort in when you’re just testing the market or you’re struggling for product market fit.” Later on, however, it can be challenging to “go in and rip out all the old stuff” — so instead, you can just take advantage of what Notivize has already built.
Bornski also emphasized that the company isn’t trying to replace services that provide the “plumbing” for notifications. Indeed, Notivize actually integrates with SendGrid and Twilio to send the notifications.
“The actual sending is not the core value [of what we do],” he said. “We’re improving the quality of what you’re paying for, of what you send.”
Notivize allows customers to send up to 100 messages per month for free. After that, pricing starts at $ 14.99 per month.
“The steady march of low-code and no-code solutions into the product management and marketing stack continues to unlock market velocity and product innovation,” said Heroic Ventures founder Michael Fertik in a statement. “Having been an early investor in several developer platforms, it is clear that Notivize has cracked the code on how to empower non-technical teams to manage critical yet complex product workflows.”
Much like private businesses, the United States government is in the process of moving workloads to the cloud, and facing a similar set of challenges. Today, CircleCI, the continuous delivery developer service, announced a partnership with AWS GovCloud to help federal government entities using AWS’s government platform to modernize their applications development workflows.
“What this means is that it allows us to run our server offering, which is our on-prem offering, and our government customers can run that on dedicated pure cloud resource [on AWS GovCloud],” CircleCI CEO Jim Rose told TechCrunch.
GovCloud is a dedicated, single tenant cloud platform that lets government entities build FedRAMP-compliant secure cloud solutions (other cloud vendors have similar offerings). FedRAMP is a set of government cloud security standards every cloud vendor has to meet to work with the federal government
CircleCI builds modern continuous delivery/continuous integration (CI/CD) pipelines for development teams pushing changes to the application in a rapid change cycle.
“What GovCloud allows us to do is now provide that same level of security and service for government customers that wanted us to do so in an on prem environment in a dedicated single tenant environment [in the cloud],” Rose explained.
While there are a number of steps involved in building cloud applications, Rose said they are sticking to their core strength around building continuous delivery pipelines. As he says, if you have a legacy mainframe application that changes once every year or two, using CircleCI wouldn’t make sense, but as you begin to modernize, that’s where his company could help.
“[CircleCi comes into play] when you get into more modern cloud applications that are changing in some cases hundreds of times a day, and the sources of change for those applications is getting really diverse and managing that is becoming more complex,” Rose said.
This partnership could involve working directly with an agency, as it has done with the Small Business Administration (SBA), or it might involve a systems integrator, or even AWS, inviting them to be part of a larger RFP.
Rose says he realizes that working with the government can sometimes be controversial. Companies from Chef to Salesforce to Google have run afoul with employees who don’t want to work with certain agencies like DoD or ICE. He says his company has tended to focus on areas where agencies are looking to improve citizen interactions and steered away from other areas.
“From our perspective, given that we’re not super involved in a lot of those areas, but we want to get in front of it, both commercially, as well as on the government side, and determine what falls within the fence line and what’s outside of it,” he said.
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