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Yesterday — November 30th 2020Your RSS feeds

Vista acquires Gainsight for $1.1B, adding to its growing enterprise arsenal

By Ron Miller

Vista Equity Partners hasn’t been shy about scooping up enterprise companies over the years, and today it added to a growing portfolio with its purchase of Gainsight. The company’s software helps clients with customer success, meaning it helps create a positive customer experience when they interact with your brand, making them more likely to come back and recommend you to others. Sources pegged the price tag at $1.1 billion.

As you might expect, both parties are putting a happy face on the deal, talking about how they can work together to grow Gainsight further. Certainly, other companies like Ping Identity seem to have benefited from joining forces with Vista. Being part of a well-capitalized firm allowed them to make some strategic investments along the way to eventually going public last year.

Gainsight and Vista are certainly hoping for a similar outcome in this case. Monti Saroya, co-head of the Vista Flagship Fund and senior managing director at the firm, sees a company with a lot of potential that could expand and grow with help from Vista’s consulting arm, which helps portfolio companies with different aspects of their business like sales, marketing and operations.

“We are excited to partner with the Gainsight team in its next phase of growth, helping the company to expand the category it has created and deliver even more solutions that drive retention and growth to businesses across the globe,” Saroya said in a statement.

Gainsight CEO Nick Mehta likes the idea of being part of Vista’s portfolio of enterprise companies, many of whom are using his company’s products.

“We’ve known Vista for years, since 24 of their portfolio companies use Gainsight. We’ve seen Gainsight clients like JAMF and Ping Identity partner with Vista and then go public. We believe we are just getting started with customer success, so we wanted the right partner for the long term and we’re excited to work with Vista on the next phase of our journey,” Mehta told TechCrunch.

Brent Leary, principle analyst at CRM Essentials, who covers the sales and marketing space, says that it appears that Vista is piecing together a sales and marketing platform that it could flip or go public in a few years.

“It’s not only the power that’s in the platform, it’s also the money. And Vista seems to be piecing together an engagement platform based on the acquisitions of Gainsight, Pipedrive and even last year’s Acquia purchase. Vista isn’t afraid to spend big money, if they can make even bigger money in a couple years if they can make these pieces fit together,” Leary told TechCrunch.

While Gainsight exits as a unicorn, the deal might not have been the outcome it was looking for. The company raised more than $187 million, according to PitchBook data, though its fundraising had slowed in recent years. Gainsight raised $50 million in April of 2017 at a post-money valuation of $515 million, again per PitchBook. In July of 2018 it added $25 million to its coffers, and the final entry was a small debt investment raised in 2019.

It could be that the startup saw its growth slow down, leaving it somewhere between ready for new venture investment and profitability. That’s a gap that PE shops like Vista look for, write a check, shake up a company and hopefully exit at an elevated price.

Gainsight hired a new chief revenue officer last month, notably. Per Forbes, the company was on track to reach “about” $100 million ARR by the end of 2020, giving it a revenue multiple of around 11x in the deal. That’s under current market norms, which could imply that Gainsight had either lower gross margins than comparable companies, or as previously noted, that its growth had slowed.

A $1.1 billion exit is never something to bemoan — and every startup wants to become a unicorn — but Gainsight and Mehta are well known, and we were hoping for the details only an S-1 could deliver. Perhaps one day with Vista’s help that could happen.

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

Adobe expands customer data platform to include B2B sales

By Ron Miller

The concept of the customer data platform (CDP) is a relatively new one. Up until now, it has focused primarily on pulling data about an individual consumer from a variety of channels into a super record, where in theory you can serve more meaningful content and deliver more customized experiences based on all this detailed knowledge. Adobe announced its intention today to create such a product for business to business (B2B) customers, a key market where this kind of data consolidation had been missing.

Indeed Brian Glover, Adobe’s director of product marketing for Marketo Engage, who has been put in charge of this product, says that these kinds of sales are much more complex and B2B sales and marketing teams are clamoring for a CDP.

“We have spent the last couple of years integrating Marketo Engage across Adobe Experience Cloud, and now what we’re doing is building out the next generation of new and complimentary B2B offerings on the Experience platform, the first of which is the B2B CDP offering,” Glover told me.

He says that they face unique challenges adapting CDP for B2B sales because they typically involve buying groups, meaning you need to customize your messages for different people depending on their role in the process.

An individual consumer usually knows what they want and you can prod them to make a decision and complete the purchase, but a B2B sale is usually longer and more complex involving different levels of procurement. For example, in a technology sale, it may involve the CIO, a group, division or department who will be using the tech, the finance department, legal and others. There may be an RFP and the sales cycle may span months or even years.

Adobe believes this kind of sale should still be able to use the same customized messaging approach you use in an individual sale, perhaps even more so because of the inherent complexity in the process. Yet B2B marketers face the same issues as their B2C counterparts when it comes to having data spread across an organization.

“In B2B that complexity of buying groups and accounts just adds another level to the data management problem because ultimately you need to be able to connect to your customer people data, but you also need to be able to connect the account data too and be able to [bring] the two together,” Glover explained.

By building a more complete picture of each individual in the buying cycle, you can, as Glover puts it, begin to put the bread crumbs together for the entire account. He believes that a CRM isn’t built for this kind of complexity and it requires a specialty tool like a CDP built to support B2B sales and marketing.

Adobe is working with early customers on the product and expects to go into beta before the end of next month with GA some time in the first half of next year.

Grouparoo snares $3M seed to build open source customer data integration framework

By Ron Miller

Creating a great customer experience requires a lot of data from a variety of sources, and pulling that disparate data together has captured the attention of companies and big and small from Salesforce and Adobe to Segment and Klaviyo. Today, Grouparoo, a new startup from three industry vets is the next company up with an open source framework designed to make it easier for developers to access and make use of customer data.

The company announced a $3 million seed investment led by Eniac Ventures and Fuel Capital with participation from Hack VC, Liquid2, SCM Advisors and several unnamed angel investors.

Grouparoo CEO and co-founder Brian Leonard says that his company has created this open source customer data framework based on his own experience and difficulty getting customer data into the various tools he has been using since he was technical founder at TaskRabbit in 2008.

“We’re an open source data framework that helps companies easily sync their customer data from their database or warehouse to all of the SaaS tools where they need it. [After you] install it, you teach it about your customers, like what properties are important in each of those profiles. And then it allows you to segment them into the groups that matter,” Leonard explained.

This could be something like high earners in San Francisco along with names and addresses. Grouparoo can grab this data and transfer it to a marketing tool like Marketo or Zendesk and these tools could then learn who your VIP customers are.

For now the company is just the three founders Leonard, CTO Evan Tahler and COO Andy Jih, and while he wasn’t ready to commit to how many people he might hire in the next 12 months, he sees it being less than 10. At this early stage, the three co-founders have already been considering how to build a diverse and inclusive company, something he helped contribute to while he was at TaskRabbit.

“So, coming from [what we built at TaskRabbit] and starting something new, it’s important to all three of us to start [building a diverse company] from the beginning, and especially combined with this notion that we’re building something open source. We’ve been talking a lot about being open about our culture and what’s important to us,” he said.

TaskRabbit also comes into play in their investment where Fuel GP Leah Solivan was also founder of TaskRabbit. “Grouparoo is solving a real and acute issue that companies grapple with as they scale — giving every member of the team access to the data they need to drive revenue, acquire customers and improve real-time decision making. Brian, Andy and Evan have developed an elegant solution to an issue we experienced firsthand at TaskRabbit,” she said.

For now the company is taking an open source approach to build a community around the tool. It is still pre-revenue, but the plan is to find a way to build something commercial on top of the open source tooling. They are considering an open core license where they can add features or support or offer the tool as a service. Leonard says that is something they intend to work out in 2021.

Adobe acquires marketing workflow startup Workfront for $1.5B

By Ron Miller

Adobe just announced that it is acquiring marketing workflow management startup Workfront for $1.5 billion. Bloomberg first reported the sale would be happening earlier today.

Workfront was founded back in 2001, making it a bit long in tooth for a private company that has raised $375 million, according to Crunchbase. But it gives Adobe more online marketing tooling to fit into its Experience Cloud. This one helps companies manage complex projects inside the marketing department

“The combination of Adobe and Workfront will further accelerate Adobe’s leadership in customer experience management, providing a pioneering solution that spans the entire lifecycle of digital experiences, from ideation to activation,” Anil Chakravarthy, executive vice president and general manager for Adobe’s digital experience business and worldwide field operations said in a statement.

Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research says the acquisition will help Adobe customers manage the complexities of marketing project management. “Scheduling and managing work had gotten orders of mangnitude more complex for enterprises, and Adobe is accounting for that with the acquisition of Workfront, providing better tool support for the new future of work,” Mueller told TechCrunch.

The two companies are actually partners and work together frequently sharing 1000 common customers among Workfront’s 3000 total customer base. In fact, Workfront has APIs that connect to Adobe Creative Cloud and Experience Cloud, two parts of the company’s product family that marketers frequently access. As Adobe battles Salesforce, SAP and Oracle in the marketing automation space, it’s been using its checkbook to acquire additional fire power in recent years.

This acquisition comes after Adobe spent $1.6 billion for Magento and $4.75 billion for Marketo in 2018. That’s almost $8 billion for three companies in under two years, even as it builds out parts of its Adobe Experience Cloud in-house. Combined, it shows just how serious the company is about making headway in this valuable area.

Customer experience has always been an essential element of online and in-person transactions, making sure the customer feels good about the interactions it has with a brand. It not only keeps them coming back, but it encourages them to act as ambassadors on behalf of a company, something that has incredible value.

Conversely a bad experience can lead to the opposite impact, causing a prospective or even loyal customer to abandon a brand and speak badly about it to friends online and in person. Adobe hopes that by bringing another marketing tool into the fold, it can help its customers increase the likelihood of a positive online customer experience. This one should allow company marketing personnel working at a company to move marketing projects through a workflow from idea to online.

The deal is expected to close in the first quarter of Adobe’s fiscal year. Per usual, it will be subject to typical regulatory scrutiny.

This is a breaking story. We will continue to update as we get additional information.

5 UX design research mistakes you can stop making today

By Walter Thompson
Jason Buhle Contributor
Jason Buhle is a professor in the online Master of Science in the Applied Psychology program at the University of Southern California and Director of UX Strategy at AnswerLab, the largest independent consultancy exclusively focused on UX research.

A recent article in Entrepreneur magazine listed “inadequate testing” as the top reason why startups fail. Inadequate testing essentially means inadequate or sub-par user research that leads to poor UX design which, not surprisingly, usually ends in failure. While working with startups and tech companies, I have also seen how even when people know how important user research is, they may not necessarily know how to conduct it in optimal ways.

Let’s look, then, at some of the biggest UX research mistakes companies make and what I wish I had known when I first started.

Conduct UX research early and throughout product development

When considering any potential product or service, it’s best to get certain questions answered as soon as possible. Is it actually going to be something useful and feasible for the target users and their organizations? Are your initial; assumptions correct? Ideas that seem good at first may not seem so great after research, and many commonly criticized failures were likely results of insufficient research. This is why it’s vital to begin user research early before product development has even begun.

While it is important to conduct foundational research early on, you also want to make sure to conduct evaluative research by continuously testing your product as you build or upgrade it. One of the reasons why Google products product like Gmail or YouTube are relatively easy to use for most people is that Google has teams continuously testing their products, making sure that their users know where to find what they’re looking for.

Don’t do all of the user research yourself

One of the mistakes I see many startups and entrepreneurs make (and that I myself made early on) is doing all of the UX research themselves. In some ways, books like Lean Startup” have bolstered this tendency by stressing the need to “get out of the building” and get to know your users. In itself this isn’t a bad idea—it’s good to know who your users are and to build empathy for their experiences. Likewise, this isn’t to say that you should not do any research yourselves.

However, you also want to be sure to complement that by having professional, third party UX researchers do research for you as well. When you are heavily invested in your research, as you invariably would be if it is your own product, it is difficult to conduct it in an unbiased way. And when your research participants know that you are asking them about your own project, they are not likely to provide you with good signal that can actually help you improve your product.

Extra Crunch Partner Perk: Get 6 months free of Zendesk Support and Sales CRM

By J.M. Donaldson

We’re excited to announce an update to the Extra Crunch Partner Perk from Zendesk. Starting today, annual and two-year Extra Crunch members that are new to Zendesk, and meet their startup qualifications, can now receive six months of free access to Zendesk’s Sales CRM, in addition to Zendesk Support Suite, Zendesk Explore and Zendesk Sunshine.

Here is an overview of the program.

Zendesk is a service-first CRM company with support, sales and customer engagement products designed to improve customer relationships. This offer is only available for startups that are new to Zendesk, have fewer than 100 employees and are funded but have not raised beyond a Series B.

The Zendesk Partner Perk from Extra Crunch is inclusive of subscription fees, free for six months, after which you will be responsible for payment. Any downgrades to your Zendesk subscription will result in the forfeiture of the promotion, so please check with Zendesk first regarding any changes (startups@zendesk.com). Some add-ons such as Zendesk Talk and Zendesk Sell minutes are not included. Complete details of what’s included can be found here.

Customer experience and digital transformation concepts are merging during the pandemic

By Ron Miller

Customer experience and digital transformation are two terms we’ve been hearing about for years, but have often remained nebulous in many organizations — something to aspire to perhaps, but not take completely seriously. Yet the pandemic has been a forcing event for both concepts, thrusting the ideas front and center.

Suddenly startups that help with either of these concepts are seeing rising demand, even in a year with an overall difficult economic climate. If you are fortunate enough to be helping companies digitize a process or improve how customers interact with companies, you may be seeing increased interest from customers and potential acquirers (and this was true even before this year). A case in point is Twilio acquiring Segment for $3.2 billion recently to help build data-fueled applications to interact with customers.

Even though building a positive customer experience has never been completely about digital, at a time where it’s difficult to interact with customers in person, the digital side of it has taken new urgency. As COVID-19 took hold this year, businesses, large and small, suddenly realized the only way to connect to their customers was digitally. At that point, digital transformation became customer experience’s buddy when other ways of contacting one another have been severely limited.

Pandemic brings changes

Just about every startup founder I talk to these days, along with bigger, more established companies, talk about how the pandemic has pushed companies to digitally transform much faster than they would have without COVID.

Brent Leary, founder at CRM Essentials, says that the pandemic has certainly expedited the need to bring these two big ideas together and created opportunities as that happens. “The coronavirus, as terrible as it has been in so many ways to so many people, has created opportunities for companies to build direct-to-consumer (D2C) digital pipelines that can make them stronger companies despite the current hardships,” Leary told TechCrunch.

The cloud plays a big role in the digital transformation process, and for the last decade, we have seen companies make a slow but steady shift to the cloud. When you have a situation like we’ve had with the coronavirus, it speeds everything up. As it turns out, being in the cloud helps you move faster because you don’t have to worry about all of the overhead of running a business critical application as the SaaS vendors take care of all that for you.

Twilio’s $3.2B Segment acquisition is about helping developers build data-fueled apps

By Ron Miller

The pandemic has forced businesses to change the way they interact with customers. Whether it’s how they deliver goods and services, or how they communicate, there is one common denominator, and that’s that everything is being forced to be digitally driven much faster.

To some extent, that’s what drove Twilio to acquire Segment for $3.2 billion today. (We wrote about the deal over the weekend. Forbes broke the story last Friday night.) When you get down to it, the two companies fit together well, and expand the platform by giving Twilio customers access to valuable customer data. Chee Chew, Twilio’s chief product officer says while it may feel like the company is pivoting in the direction of customer experience, they don’t necessarily see it that way.

“A lot of people have thought about us as a communications company, but we think of ourselves as a customer engagement company. We really think about how we help businesses communicate more effectively with their customers,” Chew told TechCrunch.

Laurie McCabe, co-founder and partner at SMB Group, sees the move related to the pandemic and the need companies have to serve customers in a more fully digital way. “More customers are realizing that delivering a great customer experience is key to survive through the pandemic, and thriving as the economy recovers — and are willing to spend to do this even in uncertain times,” McCabe said.

Certainly Chew recognized that Segment gives them something they were lacking by providing developers with direct access to customer data, and that could lead to some interesting applications.

“The data capabilities that Segment has are providing a full view of the customer. It really layers across everything we do. I think of it as a horizontal add across the channels and extending beyond. So I think it really helps us advance in a different sort of way […] towards getting the holistic view of the customer and enabling our customers to build intelligence services on top,” he said.

Brent Leary, founder and principal analyst at CRM Essentials, sees Segment helping to provide a powerful data-fueled developer experience. “This move allows Twilio to impact the data-insight-interaction-experience transformation process by removing friction from developers using their platform,” Leary explained. In other words, it gives developers that ability that Chew alluded to, to use data to build more varied applications using Twilio APIs.

Paul Greenberg, author of CRM at the Speed of Light, and founder and principal analyst at 56 Group agrees saying, “Segment gives Twilio the ability to use customer data in what is already a powerful unified communications platform and hub. And since it is, in effect, APIs for both, the flexibility [for developers] is enormous,” he said.

That may be so, but Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research says the company has to be seeing that the pure communication parts of the platform like SMS are becoming increasingly commoditized, and this deal, along with the SendGrid acquisition in 2018, gives Twilio a place to expand its platform into a much more lucrative data space.

“Twilio needs more growth path and it looks like its strategy is moving up the stack, at least with the acquisition of Segment. Data movement and data residence compliance is a huge headache for enterprises when they build their next generation applications,” Mueller said.

As Chew said, early on the problems were related to building SMS messages into applications and that was the problem that Twilio was trying to solve because that’s what developers needed at the time, but as it moves forward, it wants to provide a more unified customer communications experience, and Segment should help advance that capability in a big way for them.

Twilio is buying customer data startup Segment for between $3B and $4B

By Ron Miller

Sources have told TechCrunch that Twilio intends to acquire customer data startup Segment for between $3 and $4 billion. Forbes broke the story on Friday night, reporting a price tag of $3.2 billion.

We have heard from a couple of industry sources that the deal is in the works and could be announced as early as Monday.

Twilio and Segment are both API companies. That means they create an easy way for developers to tap into a specific type of functionality without writing a lot of code. As I wrote in a 2017 article on Segment, it provides a set of APIs to pull together customer data from a variety of sources:

Segment has made a name for itself by providing a set of APIs that enable it to gather data about a customer from a variety of sources like your CRM tool, customer service application and website and pull that all together into a single view of the customer, something that is the goal of every company in the customer information business.

While Twilio’s main focus since it launched in 2008 has been on making it easy to embed communications functionality into any app, it signaled a switch in direction when it released the Flex customer service API in March 2018. Later that same year, it bought SendGrid, an email marketing API company for $2 billion.

Twilio’s market cap as of Friday was an impressive $45 billion. You could see how it can afford to flex its financial muscles to combine Twilio’s core API mission, especially Flex, with the ability to pull customer data with Segment and create customized email or ads with SendGrid.

This could enable Twilio to expand beyond pure core communications capabilities and it could come at the cost of around $5 billion for the two companies, a good deal for what could turn out to be a substantial business as more and more companies look for ways to understand and communicate with their customers in more relevant ways across multiple channels.

As Semil Shah from early stage VC firm Haystack wrote in the company blog yesterday, Segment saw a different way to gather customer data, and Twilio was wise to swoop in and buy it.

Segment’s belief was that a traditional CRM wasn’t robust enough for the enterprise to properly manage its pipe. Segment entered to provide customer data infrastructure to offer a more unified experience. Now under the Twilio umbrella, Segment can continue to build key integrations (like they have for Twilio data), which is being used globally inside Fortune 500 companies already.

Segment was founded in 2011 and raised over $283 million, according to Crunchbase data. Its most recent raise was $175 million in April on a $1.5 billion valuation.

Twilio stock closed at $306.24 per share on Friday up $2.39%.

Neither Segment nor Twilio responded to our request for comment. If that changes, we will update the story.

YC grad DigitalBrain snags $3.4M seed to streamline customer service tasks

By Ron Miller

Most startup founders have a tough road to their first round of funding, but the founders of Digital Brain had it a bit tougher than most. The two young founders survived by entering and winning hackathons to pay their rent and put food on the table. One of the ideas they came up with at those hackathons was DigitalBrain, a layer that sits on top of customer service software like Zendesk to streamline tasks and ease the job of customer service agents.

They ended up in Y Combinator in the Summer 2020 class, and today the company announced a $3.4 million seed investment. This total includes $3 million raised this round, which closed in August, and previously unannounced investments of $250,000 in March from Unshackled Ventures and $150,000 from Y Combinator in May.

The round was led by Moxxie Ventures, with help from Caffeinated Capital, Unshackled Ventures, Shrug Capital, Weekend Fund, Underscore VC and Scribble Ventures, along with a slew of individual investors.

Company co-founder Kesava Kirupa Dinakaran says that after he and his partner Dmitry Dolgopolov met at a hackathon in May 2019, they moved into a community house in San Francisco full of startup founders. They kept hearing from their housemates about the issues their companies faced with customer service as they began scaling. Like any good entrepreneur, they decided to build something to solve that problem.

DigitalBrain is an external layer that sits on top of existing help desk software to actually help the support agents get through their tickets twice as fast, and we’re doing that by automating a lot of internal workflows, and giving them all the context and information they need to respond to each ticket, making the experience of responding to these tickets significantly faster,” Dinakaran told TechCrunch.

What this means in practice is that customer service reps work in DigitalBrain to process their tickets, and as they come upon a problem such as canceling an order or reporting a bug, instead of traversing several systems to fix it, they choose the appropriate action in DigitalBrain, enter the required information and the problem is resolved for them automatically. In the case of a bug, it would file a Jira ticket with engineering. In the case of canceling an order, it would take all of the actions and update all of the records required by this request.

As Dinakaran points out, they aren’t typical Silicon Valley startup founders. They are 20-year-old immigrants from India and Russia, respectively, who came to the U.S. with coding skills and a dream of building a company. “We are both outsiders to Silicon Valley. We didn’t go to college. We don’t come from families of means. We wanted to come here and build our initial network from the ground up,” he said.

Eventually they met some folks through their housemates, who suggested that they apply to Y Combinator. “As we started to meet people that we met through our community house here, some of them were YC founders and they kept saying I think you guys will love the YC community, not just in terms of your ethos, but also just purely from a perspective of meeting new people and where you are,” he said.

He said while he and his co-founder have trouble wrapping their arms around a number like the amount they have in the bank now, considering it wasn’t that long ago that they were struggling to meet expenses every month, they recognize this money buys them an opportunity to help start building a more substantial company.

“What we’re trying to do is really accelerate the development and building of what we’re doing. And we think if we push the gas pedal with the resources we’ve gotten, we’ll be able to accelerate bringing on the next couple of customers, and start onboarding some of the larger companies we’re interested in,” he said.

How Twilio built its own conference platform

By Ron Miller

Twilio’s annual customer conference was supposed to happen in May, but like everyone else who had live events scheduled for this year, it ran smack-dab into COVID-19 and was forced to cancel. That left the company wondering how to reimagine the event online. It began an RFP process to find a vendor to help, but eventually concluded it could use its own APIs and built a platform on its own.

That’s a pretty bold move, but one of the key issues facing Twilio was how to recreate the in-person experience of the show floor where people could chat with specific API experts. After much internal deliberation, they realized that was what their communication API products were designed to do.

Once they committed to going their own way, they began a long process that involved figuring out must-have features, building consensus in the company, creating a development and testing cycle and finding third-party partnerships to help them when they ran into the limitations of their own products.

All that work culminates this week when Twilio holds its annual Signal Conference online Wednesday and Thursday. We spoke to In-Young Chang, director of experience at Twilio, to learn how this project came together.

Chang said once the decision was made to go virtual, the biggest issue for them (and for anyone putting on a virtual conference) was how to recreate that human connection that is a natural part of the in-person conference experience.

The company’s first step was to put out a request for proposals with event software vendors. She said that the problem was that these platforms hadn’t been designed for the most part to be fully virtual. At best, they had a hybrid approach, where some people attended virtually, but most were there in person.

“We met with a lot of different vendors, vendors that a lot of big tech companies were using, but there were pros to some of them, and then cons to others, and none of them truly fit everything that we needed, which was connecting our customers to product experts [like we do at our in-person conferences],” Chang told TechCrunch.

Even though they had winnowed the proposals down to a manageable few, they weren’t truly satisfied with what the event software vendors were offering, and they came to a realization.

“Either we find a vendor who can do this fully custom in three months’ time, or [we do it ourselves]. This is what we do. This is in our DNA, so we can make this happen. The hard part became how do you prioritize because once we made the conference fully software-based, the possibilities were endless,” she said.

All of this happened pretty quickly. The team interviewed the vendors in May, and by June made the decision to build it themselves. They began the process of designing the event software they would be using, taking advantage of their own communications capabilities, first and foremost.

The first thing they needed to do was meet with various stakeholders inside the company and figure out the must-have features in their custom platform. She said that reeling in people’s ambitions for version 1.0 of the platform was part of the challenge that they faced trying to pull this together.

“We only had three months. It wasn’t going to be totally perfect. There had to be some prioritization and compromises, but with our APIs we [felt that we] could totally make this happen,” Chang said.

They started meeting with different groups across the company to find out their must-haves. They knew that they wanted to recreate this personal contact experience. Other needs included typical conference activities like being able to collect leads and build agendas and the kinds of things you would expect to do at any conference, whether in-person or virtual.

As the team met with the various constituencies across the company, they began to get a sense of what they needed to build and they created a priorities document, which they reviewed with the Signal leadership team. “There were some hard conversations and some debates, but everyone really had goodwill toward each other knowing that we only had a few months,” she said.

Signal Concierge Agent for virtual Twilio Signal Conference

Signal Concierge Agent helps attendees navigate the online conference. Image Credits: Twilio

The team believed it could build a platform that met the company’s needs, but with only 10 developers working on it, they had a huge challenge to get it done in three months.

With one of the major priorities putting customers together with the right Twilio personnel, they decided to put their customer service platform, Twilio Flex, to work on the problem. Flex combines voice, messaging, video and chat in one interface. While the conference wasn’t a pure customer service issue, they believed that they could leverage the platform to direct requests to people with the right expertise and recreate the experience of walking up to the booth and asking questions of a Twilio employee with a particular skill set.

“Twilio Flex has Taskrouter, which allows us to assign agents unique skills-based characteristics, like you’re a video expert, so I’m going to tag you as a video expert. If anyone has a question around video, I know that we can route it directly to you,” Chang explained.

They also built a bot companion, called Signal Concierge, that moves through the online experience with each attendee and helps them find what they need, applying their customer service approach to the conference experience.

“Signal Concierge is your conference companion, so that if you ever have a question about what session you should go to next or [you want to talk to an expert], there’s just one place that you have to go to get an answer to your question, and we’ll be there to help you with it,” she said.

The company couldn’t do everything with Twilio’s tools, so it turned to third parties in those cases. “We continued our partnership with Klik, a conference data and badging platform all available via API. And Perficient, a Twilio SI partner we hired to augment the internal team to more quickly implement the custom Twilio Flex experience in the tight time frame we had. And Plexus, who provided streaming capabilities that we could use in an open-source video player,” she said.

They spent September testing what they built, making sure the Signal Concierge was routing requests correctly and all the moving parts were working. They open the virtual doors on Wednesday morning and get to see how well they pulled it off.

Chang says she is proud of what her team pulled off, but recognizes this is a first pass and future versions will have additional features that they didn’t have time to build.

“This is V1 of the platform. It’s not by any means exactly what we want, but we’re really proud of what we were able to accomplish from scoping the content to actually building the platform within three months’ time,” she said.

Sprinklr raises $200M on $2.7B valuation four years after last investment

By Ron Miller

Sprinklr has been busy the last few years acquiring a dozen companies, then rewriting their code base and incorporating them into the company’s customer experience platform. Today, the late-stage startup went back to the fund raising well for the first time in three years, and it was a doozy, raising $200 million on a $2.7 billion valuation.

The money came from private equity firm Hellman & Friedman, who also invested $300 million in buying back secondary shares. Meanwhile the company also announced $150 million in convertible securities from Sixth Street Growth. That’s a lot of action for a company that’s been quiet on the fund raising front for three years.

Company founder and CEO Ragy Thomas says he sought the investment now because after building a customer experience platform, he was ready to accelerate and he needed the money to do it. He expects the company to hit $400 million in annual recurring revenue by year’s end and he says that he sees a much bigger opportunity on the horizon.

“We think it’s a $100 billion opportunity and our large public competitors have validated that and continue to do so in the customer experience management space,” he said. Those large competitors include Salesforce and Adobe.

He sees customer experience management as having the kind of growth that CRM has had in the past, and this money gives him more options to grow faster, while working with a big private equity firm.

“So what was appealing in this market for us was not just putting some more money in the bank and being a little more aggressive in growth, innovation, go to market and potential M&A, but what was also appealing is the opportunity to bring someone like a Hellman & Friedman to the table,” Thomas said.

The company has 1000 clients, some spending millions of dollars a year. They currently have 1900 employees in 25 offices around the world, and Thomas wants to add another 500 over the next 12 months, — and he believes that $1 billion in ARR is a realistic goal for the company.

As he builds the company Thomas, who is a person of color, has codified diversity and inclusion into the company’s charter, what he calls the “Sprinklr Way.” For us, diversity and inclusion is not impossible. It is not something that you do to check a box and market yourself. It’s deep in our DNA,” he said.

Tarim Wasim a partner at investor Hellman & Friedman, sees a company with tremendous potential to lead a growing market. “Sprinklr has a unique opportunity to lead a Customer Experience Management market that’s already massive — and growing — as enterprises continue to realize the urgent need to put CXM at the heart of their digital transformation strategy,” Wasim said in a statement.

Sprinklr was founded in 2009. Before today, it last raised $105 million in 2016 led by Temasek Holdings. Past investors include Battery Ventures, ICONIQ Capital and Intel Capital.

Brands that hyper-personalize will win the next decade

By Walter Thompson
Evan Kohn Contributor
A digital marketing and customer experience leader, Evan Kohn is chief business officer at Pypestream, where he created PypePro, an AI onboarding methodology used by Fortune 500 firms.

When people reach out to customer service, they’re seeking more than a solution to their immediate problem. They want empathy and understanding. What they’re often met with is a queue.

Nothing frustrates people more than calling customer support and getting stuck in a loop. According to a study by Vonage, 61% of consumers feel interactive voice response (IVR) actively poisons the customer experience — and only 13% found it more helpful than calling a human directly.

Like many solutions, IVR falls short in personalizing the customer experience (CX). A customer calls in for a specific task like paying a bill and instead cycles through a one-size-fits-all menu that in reality fits nobody. Experiences like this clearly indicate to customers a brand doesn’t care about them as a person, only as a case number.

Personalizing the experience is a start, but this isn’t the end. Customers will expect a one-on-one interaction the moment they enter your customer service channel. To make that happen, AI and analytics are creating scalable opportunities to show your customers how much they matter to you. Brands taking advantage of that opportunity can create unrivaled CX that sets them far ahead of their competition.

The personalization buzzword

Personalization has become a popular buzzword in recent years, but true personalization is much harder to attain than many companies realize. That was the case in 2016 when companies first hopped on the chat bandwagon. The potential for a new communication method was there, but the one-size-fits-all approach companies took in developing their interaction platforms created more problems for customers than it solved.

What they missed is how to create digital experiences in which customers converse with automation that adapts based on user context. Information like their product or service history and preferences should be pulled up the moment a customer engages. Data on disposition, tone, sentiment and stated intent should influence how the customer moves through the system and reaches their desired end goal. That navigation should be effortless and go well beyond text-based communications, including immersive UX options like maps, surveys, carousel selections and more — all in a spirit of lowering the cognitive weight for the customer.

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