As its name suggests, venture firm Pillar VC is focused on building “pillar” companies in Boston and across the Northeast.
The Boston-based seed-stage firm closed a raise of $ 192 million of capital that was split into two funds, $ 169 million for Pillar III and $ 23 million for Pillar Select. More than 25 investors are backing the new fund, including portfolio founders.
Jamie Goldstein, Sarah Hodges and Russ Wilcox are Pillar VC’s three partners, and all three lead investments for Pillar. The trio all have backgrounds as entrepreneurs: Goldstein, who has spent the past two decades in VC, co-founded speech recognition company PureSpeech, which was acquired by Voice Control Systems; Hodges was at online learning company Pluralsight; and Wilcox was CEO of electronic paper company E Ink, which he sold in 2009.
Pillar typically invests in a range of enterprise and consumer startups and aims to target Pillar III at startups focused on biology, enterprise SaaS, AI/ML, crypto, fintech, hardware, manufacturing and logistics. The firm will make pre-seed investments of $ 50,000 to $ 500,000 and seed-round investments of $ 2 million to $ 6 million.
One of the unique aspects of the firm is that it will buy common stock so that it will be aligned with founders and take on the same risks, Goldstein told TechCrunch.
The firm, founded in 2016, already has 50 portfolio companies from its first two funds — Pillar I, which raised $ 57 million, and Pillar $ 100 million. These include cryptocurrency company Circle, which announced a SPAC earlier this month, 3D printing company Desktop Metal that went public, also via SPAC, last year, and PillPack, which was bought by Amazon in 2018.
“Pillar is an experiment, answering the question of ‘what would happen if unicorn CEOs came in and helped bootstrap the next generation’,” Wilcox said. “The experience is working, and Pillar does what VCs ought to do, which is back first-of-its-kind ideas.”
In addition to leading investments, Hodges leads the Pillar VC platform for the firm’s portfolio companies. Many of the portfolio companies are spinouts from universities, and need help turning that technology into a company. Pillar provides guidance to recruit a CEO or partner on the business side, leadership development, recruit talent and makes introductions to potential customers.
Pillar also intends to invest a third of the new fund into that biology category, specifically looking at the convergence of life science and technology, Wilcox said.
In its second fund, the firm started Petri, a pre-seed bio accelerator focused on biotech, and brought in founders using computation and engineering to develop technologies around the areas of agriculture, genetics, cell and gene therapies, medical data and drug discovery. The third fund will continue to support the accelerator through both pre-seed and seed investments.
The first investments from Pillar III are being finalized, but Hodges expects to infuse capital into another 50 companies.
“We are super bullish on Boston,” she added. “So many companies here are growing to be household names, and an exciting energy is coming out.”
ServiceMax, a company that builds software for the field-service industry, announced yesterday that it will go public via a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, in a deal valued at $ 1.4 billion. The transaction comes after ServiceMax was sold to GE for $ 915 million in 2016, before being spun out in late 2018. The company most recently raised $ 80 million from Salesforce Ventures, a key partner.
Broadly, ServiceMax’s business has a history of modest growth and cash consumption.
ServiceMax competes in the growing field-service industry primarily with ServiceNow, and interestingly enough given Salesforce Ventures’ recent investment, Salesforce Service Cloud. Other large enterprise vendors like Microsoft, SAP and Oracle also have similar products. The market looks at helping digitize traditional field service, but also touches on in-house service like IT and HR giving it a broader market in which to play.
GE originally bought the company as part of a growing industrial Internet of Things (IoT) strategy at the time, hoping to have a software service that could work hand in glove with the automated machine maintenance it was looking to implement. When that strategy failed to materialize, the company spun out ServiceMax and until now it remained part of Silver Lake Partners thanks to a deal that was finalized in 2019.
TechCrunch was curious why that was the case, so we dug into the company’s investor presentation for more hints about its financial performance. Broadly, ServiceMax’s business has a history of modest growth and cash consumption. It promises a big change to that storyline, though. Here’s how.
A look at the data
The company’s pitch to investors is that with new capital it can accelerate its growth rate and begin to generate free cash flow. To get there, the company will pursue organic (in-house) and inorganic (acquisition-based) growth. The company’s blank-check combination will provide what the company described as “$ 335 million of gross proceeds,” a hefty sum for the company compared to its most recent funding round.
ZoomInfo announced this morning it intends to acquire conversational sales intelligence tool Chorus.AI for $ 575 million. Shares of ZoomInfo are unchanged in pre-market trading following the news, per Yahoo Finance data.
Sales intelligence, Chorus’s market, is a hot space that uses AI to “listen” to sales conversations to help improve interactions between salespeople and customers. ZoomInfo is mostly known for providing information about customers, so the acquisition expands the acquiring company’s platform in a significant way.
The company sees an opportunity to bring together different parts of the sales process in a single platform by “combining ZoomInfo’s historic top-of-the-funnel strength with insights driven from the middle of the funnel in the customer conversations that Chorus captures,” it said in a release.
“With Chorus, the entire organization can make better decisions by surfacing insights and analytics that you would only get if you sat in on every sales or customer success call,” ZoomInfo CEO and founder Henry Schuck said in a blog post announcing the deal.
Ahead of the transaction, ZoomInfo was valued at just under $ 21 billion.
Chorus looks for what it calls “smart themes” in sales calls, which help managers steer sales teams towards the types of conversation and tone that is likely to drive more revenue. In fact, Chorus holds the largest patent portfolio related to conversational intelligence, according to the company.
Chorus was founded in 2015 and raised over $ 100 million along the way, according to Pitchbook data. The most recent round was a $ 45 million Series C last year.
Crunchbase News reports that at the time of its Series C round of funding, Chorus had “doubled its headcount to more than 100 employees and tripled its revenue over the past year.” That’s the sort of growth that venture capitalists covet, making the company’s 2020 funding round a non-surprise.
Notably PitchBook data indicates that the company’s final private valuation was around the $ 150 million mark; if accurate, it would imply that the company’s last private round was expensive in dilution terms. And that its investors did well in the exit, quickly more than trebling the capital that was last invested, with investors who put capital in earlier doing even better.
But we’re slightly skeptical of the company’s available valuation history given the growth that it claimed at the time of its Series C; it feels low. If that’s the case, the company’s exit multiple would decrease, making its final sale price slightly less impressive.
Of course a half-billion dollar exit is always material, even if venture capitalists in today’s red-hot, and expensive market are more interested in $ 1 billion exits and larger.
Chorus.ai will likely not be the final exit in the conversational intelligence space. Its rival Gong (often known by its URL, Gong.io) is one of the hotter startups in this space, having raised over $ 500 million. Its most recent raise was $ 250 million on a $ 7.25 billion valuation last month.
The implication of the Chrous.ai exit and Gong’s enormous private valuation is that the application of AI to audio data in a sales environment is incredibly useful, given the number of customers the two companies’ aggregate valuation implies.
Netskope, focused on Secure Access Service Edge architecture, announced Friday a $ 300 million investment round on a post-money valuation of $ 7.5 billion.
The oversubscribed insider investment was led by ICONIQ Growth, which was joined by other existing investors, including Lightspeed Venture Partners, Accel, Sequoia Capital Global Equities, Base Partners, Sapphire Ventures and Geodesic Capital.
Netskope co-founder and CEO Sanjay Beri told TechCrunch that since its founding in 2012, the company’s mission has been to guide companies through their digital transformation by finding what is most valuable to them — sensitive data — and protecting it.
“What we had before in the market didn’t work for that world,” he said. “The theory is that digital transformation is inevitable, so our vision is to transform that market so people could do that, and that is what we are building nearly a decade later.”
With this new round, Netskope continues to rack up large rounds: it raised $ 340 million last February, which gave it a valuation of nearly $ 3 billion. Prior to that, it was a $ 168.7 million round at the end of 2018.
Similar to other rounds, the company was not actively seeking new capital, but that it was “an inside round with people who know everything about us,” Beri said.
“The reality is we could have raised $ 1 billion, but we don’t need more capital,” he added. “However, having a continued strong balance sheet isn’t a bad thing. We are fortunate to be in that situation, and our destination is to be the most impactful cybersecurity company in the world.
Beri said the company just completed a “three-year journey building the largest cloud network that is 15 milliseconds from anyone in the world,” and intends to invest the new funds into continued R&D, expanding its platform and Netskope’s go-to-market strategy to meet demand for a market it estimated would be valued at $ 30 billion by 2024, he said.
Even pre-pandemic the company had strong hypergrowth over the past year, surpassing the market average annual growth of 50%, he added.
Today’s investment brings the total raised by Santa Clara-based Netskope to just over $ 1 billion, according to Crunchbase data.
With the company racking up that kind of capital, the next natural step would be to become a public company. Beri admits that Netskope could be public now, though it doesn’t have to do it for the traditional reasons of raising capital or marketing.
“Going public is one day on our path, but you probably won’t see us raise another private round,” Beri said.
The war between Box’s current leadership and activist shareholder Starboard took a new turn today with a detailed timeline outlining the two groups’ relationship, thanks to an SEC filing and companion press release. Box is pushing back against a slate of board candidates put forth by Starboard, which wants to shake up the company’s leadership and sell it.
The SEC filing details a lengthy series of phone calls, meetings and other communications between the technology company and Starboard, which has held a stake in Box greater than 5% since September of 2019. Since then shares of Box have risen by around $ 10 per share.
Today’s news is multi-faceted, but we’ve learned more concerning Starboard’s demands that Box sell itself; how strongly the investor wanted co-founder and CEO Aaron Levie to be fired; and that the company’s complaints about a KKR-led investment into Box that it used to repurchase its shares did not match its behavior, in that Starboard asked to participate in the transaction despite its public statements.
Activist investors, a bit like short-sellers, are either groups that you generally like or do not. In this case, however, we can learn quite a lot from the Box filing. Including the sheer amount of time and communication that it takes to manage such an investor from the perspective of one of its public-market investments.
What follows are key excerpts from Box’s SEC filing on the matter, starting with its early stake and early agreement with Starboard:
- On September 3, 2019, representatives of Starboard contacted Mr. Levie to inform Mr. Levie that Starboard would be filing a
- Schedule 13D with the SEC reporting a 7.5% ownership stake in the company.
- On March 9, 2020, Mr. O’Driscoll and Ms. Barsamian had a call with representatives of Starboard to discuss entering into a settlement agreement with Starboard.
- On March 22, 2020, the company and Starboard entered into an agreement[.]
Also on March 23, 2020, Starboard reported beneficial ownership of 7.7% of the outstanding Class A common stock.
Then Box reported earnings, which Starboard appeared to praise:
- On May 27, 2020, the company reported its fiscal first quarter results, noting a 13% increase in year-over-year revenue, a 900 basis point increase in year-over-year GAAP operating margin and a $ 36.4 million increase in year-over-year cash flow from operations. Peter Feld, a representative of Starboard, and Mr. Levie had an email conversation related to the company’s first quarter results in which Mr. Feld stated “you guys are on a good path…congrats to the team and keep it up.”
- Also on May 29, 2020, Starboard reported that it had decreased its beneficial ownership to 6.0% of the outstanding Class A common stock.
The same pattern repeated during Box’s next earnings report:
- On August 27, 2020, Mr. Levie, Mr. Smith and company IR discussed the company’s earnings release with Starboard. Starboard indicated it was pleased with the rate of margin expansion and where the company was heading. In an email exchange between Mr. Feld and Mr. Levie related to the company’s results, Mr. Feld stated that he was “thrilled to see the company breaking out and performing better both on the top and bottom line. Appreciate you guys working with us and accepting the counsel. Not everyone behaves that way and it is greatly appreciated. Shows your comfort as a leader and a willingness to adapt. Very impressive.”
Then Box reported its next quarter’s results, which was followed by a change in message from Starboard (emphasis TechCrunch):
- On December 1, 2020, the company announced its fiscal third quarter results, noting an 11% increase in year-over-year revenue, an improvement of 2100 basis points in year-over-year GAAP operating margin and a $ 36 million increase in year-over-year cash flow from operations. The company also provided guidance regarding its fiscal fourth quarter results, noting that its revised revenue guidance was due to “lower professional services bookings than we noted previously, which creates a roughly $ 2 million headwind” and that the company was being “prudent in our growth expectations given the macroeconomic challenges that our customers are facing.” The revised guidance for revenue was 1.1% below analysts’ consensus estimates of $ 198.8 million.
- On December 2, 2020, Box’s common stock declined approximately 9% from its prior close of $ 18.54 to $ 16.91. On December 2, 2020 and December 4, 2020, Mr. Levie, Mr. Smith and Box IR discussed the company’s earnings release with representatives of Starboard. Despite the prior support Mr. Feld communicated to the company, Starboard reversed course and demanded that the company explore a sale of the entire company or fire the company’s CEO, or otherwise face a proxy contest from Starboard. Mr. Feld further stated that the company should not turn down an offer from a third party to buy the entire company “in the low twenties” and that Starboard would be a seller at such a price.
Recall that Box shares are now in the mid-$ 26s. At the time, however, Box shares lost value (emphasis: TechCrunch)
- On December 16, 2020, two weeks after earnings, the company’s stock price closed at $ 18.85, which was above where it was trading immediately prior to the announcement of the company’s fiscal third quarter results on December 1, 2020.
- On January 11, 2021, Starboard disclosed that it had increased its beneficial ownership to 7.9% of the outstanding Class A common stock.
- On January 15, 2021, Mr. Lazar and Ms. Barsamian had a call with representatives from Starboard. Mr. Feld expressed his view that, while the company’s Convertible Senior Notes were executed on favorable terms, he was not supportive of the transaction. He reiterated his demand that the company sell itself and indicated that if the company did not do so then it must replace its CEO or otherwise face a proxy contest from Starboard to replace the CEO.
Over the next few months, Box bought SignRequest, reported earnings, and engaged external parties to try to help it bolster shareholder value. Then the KKR deal came onto the table:
- On March 31, 2021, the Strategy Committee met to discuss the status of the strategic review. At such time, the Strategy Committee was in receipt of a proposal from KKR pursuant to which KKR and certain partners would make an investment in the form of convertible preferred stock at an initial yield of 3%, which had been negotiated down from KKR’s proposal of 7% yield in its preliminary indication of interest in early March.
The deal was unanimously approved by Box’s board, and announced on April 8th, 2021. Starboard was not stoked about the transaction, however:
- Later on April 8, 2021, Ms. Mayer and Mr. Lazar had a call with representatives of Starboard. Mr. Feld expressed Starboard’s strong displeasure with the results of the strategic review. During the conversation, Mr. Feld indicated that he would stop the fight immediately if Mr. Levie were replaced.
- On April 14, 2021, Ms. Mayer, Mr. Lazar and Ms. Barsamian had a call with Mr. Feld. Despite his prior statements, Mr. Feld now indicated that Starboard was not willing to sell its shares of Class A common stock at $ 21 or $ 22 per share. Mr. Feld requested that the company release KKR from its obligation to vote in favor of the company as a gesture of good faith. Mr. Feld reiterated Starboard’s desire to replace Mr. Levie as CEO and indicated that he would like to join the Board of Directors if the company did so. Ms. Mayer offered Mr. Feld the opportunity to execute a non-disclosure agreement to receive more information about the strategic review process, which Mr. Feld immediately declined.
Box was like, all right, but Feld doesn’t get to be on the board:
- On April 20, 2021, Ms. Mayer and Mr. Lazar had a call with representatives of Starboard. Mr. Feld stated that Starboard would not move forward with its planned director nominations if Starboard were offered the opportunity to participate in the KKR-Led Transaction and Mr. Feld were appointed to the Board of Directors. Mr. Feld reiterated that he was not willing to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
- On April 27, 2021, Mr. Park had a discussion with Mr. Feld. During this conversation, Mr. Feld reiterated his desire for Starboard to participate as an investor in the KKR-Led Transaction.
- On April 28, 2021, Ms. Mayer and Mr. Lazar informed Mr. Feld that the Board of Directors was amenable to allowing Starboard to participate in the KKR-Led Transaction but would not appoint Mr. Feld as a director. Mr. Feld indicated that there is no path to a settlement that doesn’t include appointing him to the Board of Directors.
And then Starboard initiated a proxy war.
What to make of all of this? That trying to shake up a company from the position of a minority stake is not impossible, with Starboard able to exercise influence on Box despite having a sub-10% ownership position. And that Box was not willing to put a person on the board that wanted to fire its CEO.
What’s slightly silly about all of this is that the fight is coming at a time when Box is doing better than it has in some time. Its profitability has improved greatly, and in its most recent quarter the company topped expectations and raised its forward financial guidance.
There were times in Box’s history when it may have deserved a whacking for poor performance, but now? It’s slightly weird. Also recall that Starboard has already made quite a lot of money on its Box stake, with the company’s value appreciating sharply since the investor bought in.
Most media coverage is surrounding the public criticism by Starboard of the KKR deal and its private demand to be let into the deal. That dynamic is easily explained: Starboard thought that the deal wouldn’t make it money, but later decided that it could. So it changed its tune; if you are expecting an investor to do anything but try to maximize returns, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
A person close to the company told TechCrunch that the current situation should be a win-win for everyone involved, but Starboard is not seeing it that way. “If you’re a near term shareholder, [like Starboard] then the path Box has taken has already been better. And if you’re a long term shareholder, Box sees significantly more upside. […] So overwhelmingly, the company believes this is the best path for shareholders and it’s already been proven out to be that,” the person said.
Alan Pelz-Sharpe, founder and principal analyst at the Deep Analysis, who has been watching the content management space for many years, says the battle isn’t much of a surprise given that the two have been at odds pretty much from the start of the relationship.
“Like any activist investor Starboard is interested in a quick increase in shareholder values and a flip. Box is in it for the long run. Further, it seems that Starboard may have mistimed or miscalculated their moves, Box clearly was not as weak as they appeared to believe and Box has been doing well over the past year. Bringing in KKR was the start of a big fight back, and the proposed changes couldn’t make it any clearer that they are fed up with Starboard and ready to fight back hard,” Pelz-Sharpe said.
He added that publicly revealing details of the two companies’ interactions is a bit unusual, but he thinks it was appropriate here.
“Actually naming and shaming, detailing Starboard’s moves and seemingly contradictory statements, is unusual but it may be effective. Starboard won’t back down without a fight, but from an investor relations/PR perspective this looks bad for them and it may well be time to walk away. That being said, I wouldn’t bet on Starboard walking away, as Silicon Valley has a habit of moving forward when they should be walking back from increasingly damaging situations”
What comes next is a vote on Box’s board makeup, which should happen later this summer. Let’s see who wins.
It’s worth noting that we attempted to contact Starboard Value, but as of publication they had not gotten back to us. Box indicated that the press release and SEC filing speak for themselves.
In a surprise announcement today, IBM announced that Jim Whitehurst, who came over in the Red Hat deal, would be stepping down as company president just 14 months after taking over in that role.
IBM didn’t give a lot of details as to why he was stepping away, but acknowledged his key role in helping bring the 2018 $ 34 billion Red Hat deal to fruition and helping bring the two companies together after the deal closed. “Jim has been instrumental in articulating IBM’s strategy, but also, in ensuring that IBM and Red Hat work well together and that our technology platforms and innovations provide more value to our clients,” the company stated.
He will stay on as a senior adviser to Krishna, but it begs the question why he is leaving after such a short time in the role, and what he plans to do next. Oftentimes after a deal of this magnitude closes, there is an agreement as to how long key executives will stay. It could be simply that the period has expired and Whitehurst wants to move on, but some saw him as the heir apparent to Krishna and the move comes as a surprise when looked at in that context.
“I am surprised because I always thought Jim would be next in line as IBM CEO. I also liked the pairing between a lifer IBMer and an outsider,” Patrick Moorhead, founder and principal analyst at Moor Insight & Strategies told TechCrunch.
Regardless, it leaves a big hole in Krishna’s leadership team as he works to transform the company into one that is primarily focused on hybrid cloud. Whitehurst was undoubtedly in a position to help drive that change through his depth of industry knowledge and his credibility with the open source community from his time at Red Hat. He is not someone who would be easily replaced and the announcement didn’t mention anyone filling his role.
When IBM bought Red Hat in 2018 for $ 34 billion, it led to a cascading set of changes at both companies. First Ginni Rometty stepped down as CEO at IBM and Arvind Krishna took over. At the same time, Jim Whitehurst, who had been Red Hat CEO moved to IBM as president and long-time employee Paul Cormier moved into his role.
At the same time, the company also announced some other changes including that long-time IBM executive Bridget van Kralingen announced she too was stepping away, leaving her role as senior vice president of global markets. Rob Thomas, who had been senior vice president of IBM cloud and data platform, will step in to replace Van Kraligen.
Vantage, a service that helps businesses analyze and reduce their AWS costs, today announced that it has raised a $ 4 million seed round led by Andreessen Horowitz. A number of angel investors, including Brianne Kimmel, Julia Lipton, Stephanie Friedman, Calvin French Owen, Ben and Moisey Uretsky, Mitch Wainer and Justin Gage, also participated in this round
Vantage started out with a focus on making the AWS console a bit easier to use — and help businesses figure out what they are spending their cloud infrastructure budgets on in the process. But as Vantage co-founder and CEO Ben Schaechter told me, it was the cost transparency features that really caught on with users.
“We were advertising ourselves as being an alternative AWS console with a focus on developer experience and cost transparency,” he said.”What was interesting is — even in the early days of early access before the formal GA launch in January — I would say more than 95% of the feedback that we were getting from customers was entirely around the cost features that we had in Vantage.”
Like any good startup, the Vantage team looked at this and decided to double down on these features and highlight them in its marketing, though it kept the existing AWS Console-related tools as well. The reason the other tools didn’t quite take off, Schaechter believes, is because more and more, AWS users have become accustomed to infrastructure-as-code to do their own automatic provisioning. And with that, they spend a lot less time in the AWS Console anyway.
“But one consistent thing — across the board — was that people were having a really, really hard time twelve times a year, where they would get a shock AWS bill and had to figure out what happened. What Vantage is doing today is providing a lot of value on the transparency front there,” he said.
Over the course of the last few months, the team added a number of new features to its cost transparency tools, including machine learning-driven predictions (both on the overall account level and service level) and the ability to share reports across teams.
While Vantage expects to add support for other clouds in the future, likely starting with Azure and then GCP, that’s actually not what the team is focused on right now. Instead, Schaechter noted, the team plans to add support for bringing in data from third-party cloud services instead.
“The number one line item for companies tends to be AWS, GCP, Azure,” he said. “But then, after that, it’s Datadog Cloudflare Sumo Logic, things along those lines. Right now, there’s no way to see, P&L or an ROI from a cloud usage-based perspective. Vantage can be the tool where that’s showing you essentially, all of your cloud costs in one space.”
That is likely the vision the investors bought in as well and even though Vantage is now going up against enterprise tools like Apptio’s Cloudability and VMware’s CloudHealth, Schaechter doesn’t seem to be all that worried about the competition. He argues that these are tools that were born in a time when AWS had only a handful of services and only a few ways of interacting with those. He believes that Vantage, as a modern self-service platform, will have quite a few advantages over these older services.
“You can get up and running in a few clicks. You don’t have to talk to a sales team. We’re helping a large number of startups at this stage all the way up to the enterprise, whereas Cloudability and Cloud Health are, in my mind, kind of antiquated enterprise offerings. No startup is choosing to use those at this point, as far as I know,” he said.
The team, which until now mostly consisted of Schaechter and his co-founder and CTO Brooke McKim, bootstrapped to company up to this point. Now they plan to use the new capital to build out its team (and the company is actively hiring right now), both on the development and go-to-market side.
The company offers a free starter plan for businesses that track up to $ 2,500 in monthly AWS cost, with paid plans starting at $ 30 per month for those who need to track larger accounts.
Coda entered the market with an ambitious, but simple, mission. Since launching in 2014, it has seemingly forged a path to realizing its vision with $ 140 million in funding and 25,000 teams across the globe using the platform.
Coda is simple in that its focus is on the document, one of the oldest content formats/tools on the internet, and indeed in the history of software. Its ambition lies in the fact that there are massive incumbents in this space, like Google and Microsoft.
Co-founder and CEO Shishir Mehrotra told TechCrunch that that level of competition wasn’t a hindrance, mainly because the company was very good at communicating its value and building highly effective flywheels for growth.
Mehrotra was generous enough to let us take a look through his pitch doc (not deck!) on a recent episode of Extra Crunch Live, diving not only into the factors that have made Coda successful, but how he communicated those factors to investors.
Extra Crunch Live also features the ECL Pitch-off, where founders in the audience come “onstage” to pitch their products to our guests. Mehrotra and his investor, Madrona partner S. Somasegar, gave their live feedback on pitches from the audience, which you can check out in the video (full conversation and pitch-off) below.
As a reminder, Extra Crunch Live takes place every Wednesday at 3 p.m. EDT/noon PDT. Anyone can hang out during the episode (which includes networking with other attendees), but access to past episodes is reserved exclusively for Extra Crunch members. Join here.
The soft circle
Like many investors and founders, Mehrotra and Somasegar met well before Mehrotra was working on his own project. They met when both of them worked at Microsoft and maintained a relationship while Mehrotra was at Google.
In their earliest time together, the conversations centered around advice on the Seattle tech ecosystem or on working with a particular team at Microsoft.
“Many people will tell you building relationships with investors … you want to do it outside of a fundraise as much as possible,” said Mehrotra.
Eventually, Mehrotra got to work on Coda and kept in touch with Somasegar. He even pitched him for Series B fundraising — and ultimately got a no. But the relationship persisted.
Google today announced that it is making Workspace, the service formerly known as G Suite (and with a number of new capabilities), available to everyone, including consumers on free Google accounts. The core philosophy behind Workspace is to enable deeper collaboration between users. You can think of it as the same Google productivity apps you’re already familiar with (Gmail, Calendar, Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Meet, Chat, etc.), but with a new wrapper around it and deeper integrations between the different apps.
For individual users who want more from their Workspace, there will also be a new paid offering, though Google isn’t saying how much you’ll have to pay yet. (Update: Google Workspace Individual subscription will be $ 9.99/month, with an introductory price of $ 7.99/month.) With that, users will get access to “premium capabilities, including smart booking services, professional video meetings and personalized email marketing, with much more on the way.” We’ll likely hear more about this later this year. This new paid offering will be available “soon” in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Australia, Brazil and Japan.
Consumers will have to switch from the classic Hangouts experience (RIP) to the new Google Chat to enable it — and with this update, all users will now have access to the new Google Chat, too. Until now, only paying G Suite/Workspace users had access to this new Workspace user experience.
“Collaboration doesn’t stop at the workplace — our products have been optimized for broad participation, sharing and helpfulness since the beginning,” said Javier Soltero, VP and GM, Google Workspace. “Our focus is on delivering consumers, workers, teachers and students alike an equitable approach to collaboration, while still providing flexibility that allows these different subsets of users to take their own approach to communication and collaboration.”
Once enabled, users will encounter quite a few user interface changes. The left rail, for example, will look a little bit like the bottom bar of Gmail on iOS and Android now, with the ability to switch between Mail, Chat, Meet and Spaces (which — yeah — I’m not sure anybody really understands this one, but more about this later). The right rail will continue to bring up various plugins and shortcuts to features like Google Calendar, Tasks and Keep.
A lot of people — especially those who simply want Gmail to be Gmail and don’t care about all of this collaboration stuff in their private lives — will hate this. But at least for the time being, you can still keep the old experience by not switching from Hangouts to the new Google Chat. But for Google, this clearly shows the path Workspace is on.
“Back in October of last year, we announced some very significant updates to our communication and collaboration product line and our business, starting with the new brand and identity that we chose around Google Workspace that’s meant to represent what we believe is the future direction and real opportunity around our product — less around being a suite of individual products and more around being an integrated set of experiences that represent the future of work,” Soltero explained in a press briefing ahead of today’s announcement.
And then there is “Spaces.” Until now, Google Workspace features a tool called “Rooms.” Rooms are now Spaces. I’m not quite sure why, but Google says it is “evolving the Rooms experience in Google Chat into a dedicated place for organizing people, topics, and projects in Google Workspace.”
Best I can tell, these are Slack-like channels where teams can not just have conversations around a given topic but also organize relevant files and upcoming tasks, all with an integrated Google Meet experience and direct access to working on their files. That’s all good and well, but I’m not sure why Google felt the need to change the name. Maybe it just doesn’t want you to confuse Slack rooms with Google rooms. And it’s called Google Workspace, after all, not Workroom.
New features for Rooms/Spaces include in-line topic threading, presence indicators, custom statuses, expressive reactions and a collapsible view, Google says.
Both free and paid users will get access to these new Spaces once they launch later this year.
But wait, there’s more. A lot more. Google is also introducing a number of new Workspace features today. Google Meet, for example, is getting a companion mode that is meant to foster “collaboration equity in a hybrid world.” The idea here is to give meeting participants who are in a physical meeting room and are interacting with remote participants a companion experience to use features like screen sharing, polls, in-meeting chat, hand raise and Q&A live captions on their personal devices. Every participant using the companion mode will also get their own video tile. This feature will be available in September.
Also new is an RSVP option that will allow you to select whether you will participate remotely, in a meeting room (or not at all), as well as new moderation controls to allow hosts to prevent the use of in-meeting chat and to mute and unmute individual participants.
On the security side, Google today also announced that it will allow users to bring their own encryption keys. Currently, Google encrypts your data, but it does manage the key for you. To strengthen your security, you may want to bring your own keys to the service, so Google has now partnered with providers like Flowcrypt, Futurex, Thales and Virtru to enable this.
“With Client-side encryption, customer data is indecipherable to Google, while users can continue to take advantage of Google’s native web-based collaboration, access content on mobile devices, and share encrypted files externally,” writes Google directors of product management Karthik Lakshminarayanan and Erika Trautman in today’s announcement.
Google is also introducing trust rules for Drive to give admins control over how files can be shared within an organization and externally. And to protect from real phishing threats (not those fake ones your internal security organization sends out every few weeks or so), Google is also now allowing admins to enable the same phishing protections it already offers today to content within an organization to help guard your data against insider threats.
If money is the ultimate commodity, how can fintechs — which sell money, move money or sell insurance against monetary loss — build products that remain differentiated and create lasting value over time?
And why are so many software companies — which already boast highly differentiated offerings and serve huge markets— moving to offer financial services embedded within their products?
A new and attractive hybrid category of company is emerging at the intersection of software and financial services, creating buzz in the investment and entrepreneurial communities, as we discussed at our “Fintech: The Endgame” virtual conference and accompanying report this week.
These specialized companies — in some cases, software companies that also process payments and hold funds on behalf of their customers, and in others, financial-first companies that integrate workflow and features more reminiscent of software companies — combine some of the best attributes of both categories.
From software, they design for strong user engagement linked to helpful, intuitive products that drive retention over the long term. From financials, they draw on the ability to earn revenues indexed to the growth of a customer’s business.
Fintech is poised to revolutionize financial services, both through reinventing existing products and driving new business models as financial services become more pervasive within other sectors.
The powerful combination of these two models is rapidly driving both public and private market value as investors grant these “super” companies premium valuations — in the public sphere, nearly twice the median multiple of pure software companies, according to a Battery analysis.
The near-perfect example of this phenomenon is Shopify, the company that made its name selling software to help business owners launch and manage online stores. Despite achieving notable scale with this original SaaS product, Shopify today makes twice as much revenue from payments as it does from software by enabling those business owners to accept credit card payments and acting as its own payment processor.
The combination of a software solution indexed to e-commerce growth, combined with a profitable payments stream growing even faster than its software revenues, has investors granting Shopify a 31x multiple on its forward revenues, according to CapIQ data as of May 26.
How should we value these fintech companies, anyway?
Before even talking about how investors should value these hybrid companies, it’s worth making the point that in both private and public markets, fintechs have been notoriously hard to value, fomenting controversy and debate in the investment community.
- VOCHI raises additional $2.4 million for its computer vision-powered video editing app
- Cowboy Ventures’ Ted Wang: CEO coaching is ‘about having a second set of eyes’
- How To Combine The Best Amazon PPC & SEO Strategies
- Samsung will announce new foldables on August 11
- Pillar VC closes $192M for two funds targeting SaaS, crypto, biotech, manufacturing