When you look at the most successful companies in the world, they are almost never just one simple service. Instead, they offer a platform with a range of services and an ability to connect to it to allow external partners and developers to extend the base functionality that the company provides.
Aspiring to be a platform and actually succeeding at building one are not the same. While every startup probably sees themselves as becoming a platform play eventually, the fact is it’s hard to build one. But if you can succeed and your set of services become an integral part of a given business workflow, your company could become bigger and more successful than even the most optimistic founder ever imagined.
Look at the biggest tech companies in the world, from Microsoft to Oracle to Facebook to Google and Amazon. All of them offer a rich complex platform of services. All of them provide a way for third parties to plug in and take advantage of them in some way, even if it’s by using the company’s sheer popularity to advertise.
Michael A. Cusumano, David B. Yoffie and Annabelle Gawer, who wrote the book The Business of Platforms, wrote an article recently in MIT Sloan Review on The Future of Platforms, saying that simply becoming a platform doesn’t guarantee success for a startup.
“Because, like all companies, platforms must ultimately perform better than their competitors. In addition, to survive long-term, platforms must also be politically and socially viable, or they risk being crushed by government regulation or social opposition, as well as potentially massive debt obligations,” they wrote.
In other words, it’s not cheap or easy to build a successful platform, but the rewards are vast. As Cusumano, Yoffie and Gawer point out their studies have found, “…Platform companies achieved their sales with half the number of employees [of successful non-platform companies]. Moreover, platform companies were twice as profitable, were growing twice as fast, and were more than twice as valuable as their conventional counterparts.”
From an enterprise perspective, look at a company like Salesforce . The company learned long ago that it couldn’t possibly build every permutation of customer requirements with a relatively small team of engineers (especially early on), so it started to build hooks into the platform it had built to allow customers and consultants to customize it to meet the needs of individual organizations.
Eventually Salesforce built APIs, then it built a whole set of development tools, and built a marketplace to share these add-ons. Some startups like FinancialForce, Vlocity and Veeva have built whole companies on top of Salesforce.
Rory O’Driscoll, a partner at Scale Venture Partners, speaking at a venture capitalist panel at BoxWorks in 2014, said that many startups aspire to be platforms, but it’s harder than it looks. “You don’t make a platform. Third-party developers only engage when you achieve a critical mass of users. You have to do something else and then become a platform. You don’t come fully formed as a platform,” he said at the time.
If you’re thinking, how you could possibly start a company like that in the middle of a massive economic crisis, consider that Microsoft launched in 1975 in the middle of recession. Google and Salesforce both launched in the late 1990s, just ahead of the dot-com crash, and Facebook launched in 2004, four years before the massive downturn in 2008. All went on to become tremendously successful companies
That success often requires massive spending and sales and marketing burn, but when it works, the rewards are enormous. Just don’t expect that it’s an easy path to success.
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.
Stock trading app Robinhood is valued at $ 7.6 billion, but it only operates in the U.S. Freshly funded fintech startup Alpaca does the dirty work so developers worldwide can launch their own competitors to that investing unicorn. Like the Stripe of stocks, Alpaca’s API handles the banking, security and regulatory complexity, allowing other startups to quickly build brokerage apps on top for free. It has already crossed $ 1 billion in transactions within a year of launch.
The potential to power the backend of a new generation of fintech apps has attracted a $ 6 million Series A round for Alpaca led by Spark Capital . Instead of charging developers, Alpaca earns its money through payment for order flow, interest on cash deposits and margin lending, much like Robinhood.
“I want to make sure that people even outside the U.S. have access” to a way of building wealth that’s historically only “available to rich people” Alpaca co-founder and CEO Yoshi Yokokawa tells me.
Hailing from Japan, Yokokawa followed his friends into the investment banking industry, where he worked at Lehman Brothers until its collapse. After his grandmother got sick, he moved into day-trading for three years and realized “all the broker dealer business tools were pretty bad.” But when he heard of Robinhood in 2013 and saw it actually catering to users’ needs, he thought, “I need to be involved in this new transformation” of fintech.
Yokokawa ended up first building a business selling deep learning AI to banks and trading firms in the foreign exchange market. Watching clients struggle to quickly integrate new technology revealed the lack of available developer tools. By 2017, he was pivoting the business and applying for FINRA approval. Alpaca launched in late 2018, letting developers paste in code to let their users buy and sell securities.
Now international developers and small hedge funds are building atop the Alpaca API so they don’t have to reinvent the underlying infrastructure themselves right away. Alpaca works with clearing broker NTC, and then marks up margin trading while earning interest and payment for order flow. It also offers products like AlpacaForecast, with short-term predictions of stock prices, AlpacaRadar for detecting price swings and its MarketStore financial database server.
The $ 6 million from Spark Capital, Social Leverage, Portag3, Fathom Capital and Zillionize adds to $ 5.8 million in previous funding from investors, including Y Combinator. The startup plans to spend the cash on hiring to handle partnerships with bigger businesses, supporting its developer community and ensuring compliance.
One major question is whether fintech businesses that start to grow atop Alpaca and drive its revenues will try to declare independence and later invest in their own technology stack. There’s the additional risk of a security breach that might scare away clients.
Alpaca’s top competitor, Interactive Brokers, offers trading APIs, but other services as well that distract it from fostering a robust developer community, Yokokawa tells me. Alpaca focuses on providing great documentation, open-source contribution and SDKs in different languages that make it more developer-friendly. It will also have to watch out for other fintech services startups like DriveWealth and well-funded Galileo.
There’s a big opportunity to capitalize on the race to integrate stock trading into other finance apps to drive stickiness because it’s a consistent, voluntary behavior rather than a chore or something only done a few times a year. Lender SoFi and point-of-sale system Square both recently became broker dealers as well, and Yokokawa predicts more and more apps will push into the space.
Why would we need so many stock trading apps? “Every single person is involved with money, so the market is huge. Instead of one-player takes all, there will be different players that can all do well,” Yokokawa tells me. “Like banks and investment banks co-exist, it will never be that Bank of America takes 80% of the pie. I think differentiation will be on customer acquisition, and operations management efficiency.”
The co-founder’s biggest concern is keeping up with all the new opportunities in financial services, from cash management and cryptocurrency that Robinhood already deals in, to security token offerings and fractional investing. Yokokawa says, “I need to make sure I’m on top of everything and that we’re executing with the right timing so we don’t lose.”
The CEO hopes that Alpaca will one day power broader access to the U.S. stock market back in Japan, noting that if a modern nation still lags behind in fintech, the rest of the world surely fares even worse. “I want to connect this asset class to as many people as possible on the earth.”
Sisense announced today that it has acquired Periscope Data to create what it is calling a complete data science and analytics platform for customers. The companies did not disclose the purchase price.
The two companies’ CEOs met about 18 months ago at a conference, and running similar kinds of companies, hit it off. They began talking and, after a time, realized it might make sense to combine the two startups because each one was attacking the data problem from a different angle.
Sisense, which has raised $ 174 million, tends to serve business intelligence requirements either for internal use or externally with customers. Periscope, which has raised more than $ 34 million, looks at the data science end of the business.
Both CEOs say they could have eventually built these capabilities into their respective platforms, but after meeting they decided to bring the two companies together instead, and they made a deal.
“I realized over the last 18 months [as we spoke] that we’re actually building leadership positions into two unique areas of the market that will slowly become one as industries and technologies evolve,” Sisense CEO Amir Orad told TechCrunch.
Periscope CEO Harry Glasser says that as his company built a company around advanced analytics and predictive modeling, he saw a growing opportunity around operationalizing these insights across an organization, something he could do much more quickly in combination with Sisense.
“[We have been] pulled into this broader business intelligence conversation, and it has put us in a place where as we do this merger, we are able to instantly leapfrog the three years it would have taken us to deliver that to our customers, and deliver operationalized insights on integration day on day one,” Glasser explained.
The two executives say this is part of a larger trend about companies becoming more data-driven, a phrase that seems trite by now, but as a recent Harvard Business School study found, it’s still a big challenge for companies to achieve.
Orad says that you can debate the pace of change, but that overall, companies are going to operate better when they use data to drive decisions. “I think it’s an interesting intellectual debate, but the direction is one direction. People who deploy this technology will provide better care, better service, hire better, promote employees and grow them better, have better marketing, better sales and be more cost effective,” he said.
Orad and Glasser recognize that many acquisitions don’t succeed, but they believe they are bringing together two like-minded companies that will have a combined ARR of $ 100 million and 700 employees.
“That’s the icing on the cake, knowing that the cultures are so compatible, knowing that they work so well together, but it starts from a conviction that this advanced analytics can be operationalized throughout enterprises and [with] their customers. This is going to drive transformation inside our customers that’s really great for them and turns them into data-driven companies,” Glasser said.
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