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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.

Hulu UX teardown: 5 user experience fails and how to fix them

By Steve O'Hear

Hulu is the first major streaming platform to offer a social watching experience. And with most major league sports now being allowed to resume behind closed doors, Hulu’s combined proposition with ESPN will likely help entertain the service’s 30+ million users over the winter months.

But users have a surplus in choice of streaming services right now, so how will Hulu stay competitive?

With the help of UX expert Peter Ramsey from Built for Mars, we’re going to give Hulu an Extra Crunch UX teardown, demonstrating five ways it could improve its overall user experience. These include easy product comparisons, consistent widths, proportionate progress bars and other suggestions.

Comparing features inside packages

If your product/service has different tiers/versions, ensure that the differences between these options are obvious and easy to compare.

The fail: Hulu has four different packages, but the listed features are inconsistent between options, making it incredibly difficult to compare. Instead of using bullet points, they’ve buried the benefits within paragraphs.

The fix: Break the paragraphs down into bullet points. Then, make sure that the bullet points are worded consistently between options.

 

Steve O’Hear: I’m really surprised this one got past the marketing department. Not a lot to say except that I would argue that when UX, including layout and copywriting decisions, become decoupled from business goals and customer wants, a company is in trouble. Would you agree that’s what has happened here?

Peter Ramsey: Honestly, this happens all the time. I think it’s just a symptom of the designers building things that look nice, not things that work nicely. I probably raise this issue on about one-third of the private audits I do — it’s that common.

Keep a consistent width

Try to maintain a consistent page width throughout a single journey — unless there’s a major benefit to changing the width.

The fail: During the Hulu sign-up process, the page width doubles at a totally unnecessary point. This is disorienting for the user, with no obvious rationale.

The fix: Hulu has a pretty consistent first-half of their journey and then it drops the ball. I’d redesign these “extra-wide” pages to be the default width.

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.

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.

Disney+ UX teardown: Wins, fails and fixes

By Steve O'Hear

Disney announced earlier this month that it’s going all-in on streaming media.

As part of this new strategy, the company is undergoing a major reorganisation of its media and entertainment business that will focus on developing productions that will debut on its streaming and broadcast services.

This will include merging the company’s media businesses, ads and distribution, and Disney+ divisions so that they’ll now operate under the same business unit.

As TechCrunch’s Jonathan Shieber reports, Disney’s announcement follows a significant change to its release schedule to address new realities, including a collapsing theatrical release business; production issues; and the runaway success of its Disney+ streaming service — all caused or accelerated by the national failure to effectively address the COVID-19 pandemic.

So what better time than now to give Disney+ the Extra Crunch user experience teardown treatment. With the help of Built for Mars founder and UX expert Peter Ramsey, we highlight some of the things Disney+ gets right and things that should be fixed. They include zero distractions while signing up, “the power of percentages,” and the importance of designing for trackpad, mouse and touch outside of native applications.

Zero distractions while signing up

If the user is trying to complete a very specific task — such as making a payment — don’t distract them. They’re experiencing event-driven behaviour.

The win: Disney have almost entirely removed any kind of distractions when signing up. This includes the header and footer. They want you to stay on-task.

Image Credits: Disney+

Steve O’Hear: This seems like a very easy win but one we don’t see as often as perhaps we should. Am I right that most sign-up flows aren’t this distraction-free and why do you think that is?

Peter Ramsey: Yeah, it’s such an easy win. Sometimes you see sign-up screens that have Google Adwords on it, and I think, “You’re risking the user getting distracted and leaving for what, half a penny?” If I had to guess why more companies don’t utilise this technique, it’s probably just because they don’t want to deal with the technical hassle of hiding a bunch of elements.

The power of percentages

Only use percentages when it makes sense. 80% off sounds like a lot, but 3% doesn’t. Percentages can be a great way of making a discount seem larger than it actually is, but sometimes it can have the reverse effect. This is because people are generally bad at accurately estimating discounts. “What’s 13% off £78?”

The fail: If you sign up to a year of Disney+, then you’re offered 16% free. But 16% isn’t easy to calculate in your head — so people guess. And sometimes, their guesses may be less than the actual value of the discount.

The fix: In this instance, it would be far more compelling (and require less mental arithmetic), if it was marketed as “60 days free.” Sixty days is both easy to understand and easy to assign value to.

Image Credits: Disney+

Percentages may be harder to process or evaluate in isolation as an end user but they are easy to compare with each other i.e., we all know 25% off is better than 10% off. Aren’t you advocating obscuring the actual saving in favour of what sounds better on a case-by-case basis and therefore actually working against the end user? Of course I’m playing devils advocate a little here.

So, it’s actually a really complex dilemma, and there’s no “easy” answer — this would probably make a great dinner time conversation. Yes, if you’re offering two discounts, then a percentage may be the easiest way for people to compare them.

Adobe beefs up developer tools to make it easer to build apps on Experience Cloud

By Ron Miller

Adobe has had a developer program for years called Adobe.io, but today at the Adobe Developers Live virtual conference, the company announced some new tools with a fresh emphasis on helping developers build custom apps on the Adobe Experience Cloud.

Jason Woosley, VP of developer experience and commerce at Adobe says that the pandemic has forced companies to build enhanced digital experiences much more quickly than they might have, and the new tools being announced today are at least partly related to helping speed up the development of better online experiences.

“Our focus is very specifically on making the experience generation business something that’s very attractive to developers and very accessible to developers so we’re announcing a number of tools,” Woosley told TechCrunch.

The idea is to build a more complete framework over time to make it easier to build applications and connect to data sources that take advantage of the Experience Cloud tooling. For starters, Project Firefly is designed to help developers build applications more quickly by providing a higher level of automation than was previously available.

“Project Firefly creates an extensibility framework that reduces the boilerplate that a developer would need to get started working with the Experience Cloud, and extends that into the customizations that we know every implementation eventually needs to differentiate the storefront experience, the website experience or whatever customer touch point as these things become increasingly digital,” he said.

In order to make those new experiences open to all, the company is also announcing React Spectrum, an open source set of libraries and tools designed to help members of the Adobe developer community build more accessible applications and websites.

“It comes with all of the accessibility features that often get forgotten when you’re in a race to market, so it’s nice to make sure that you will be very inclusive with your design, making sure that you’re bringing on all aspects of your audiences,” Woosley said.

Finally, a big part of interacting with Experience Cloud is taking advantage of all of the data that’s available to help build those more customized interactions with customers that having that data enables. To that end, the company is announcing some new web and mobile software development kits (SDKs) designed to help make it simpler to link to Experience Cloud data sources as you build your applications.

Project Firefly is generally available starting today as are several React Spectrum components and some data connection SDKs. The company intends to keep adding to these various pieces in the coming months.

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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