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Today — August 21st 2019Your RSS feeds

Apple exec Susan Prescott is coming to TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise

By Ron Miller

Susan Prescott, Apple’s vice president of markets, apps and services, has been at Apple since 2003. She worked with the company’s co-founder Steve Jobs, and has witnessed such milestones as the launch of the iPhone and the iPad. Prescott will be coming to TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise in San Francisco on September 5 to discuss Apple’s enterprise strategy.

Prescott has been closely involved in that from the earliest days of the iPhone, and as she told TechCrunch in a 2018 article on Apple’s enterprise strategy, the company was thinking about the enterprise as a potential market from the start. “Early on we engaged with businesses and IT to understand their needs, and have added enterprise features with every major software release,” she said at the time.

When you think about it, it was in fact the iPhone and the iPad that led to the Consumerization of IT and Bring Your Own Device movements, two huge trends in enterprise IT that began in the 2011 timeframe. Later the company helped grow the business further by partnering with such enterprise stalwarts as IBM, SAP, Cisco, GE and most recently Salesforce along with systems integrators like Deloitte and Accenture. Today, the company offers a range of business tools including Apple Business Chat and Apple Business Manager, an IT management tool for managing Macs, iPhones and iPads and the apps that run on them.

All of that adds up to robust enterprise strategy, and Prescott will discuss all of that and more with TechCrunch editors. We’ll dive into Apple’s history in the enterprise and what it’s doing today to enhance that part of its business.

In all, Prescott has over 25 years of technology industry experience. Before joining Apple in 2003, she worked for Adobe where she had a range of engineering, marketing and management roles. Her last position before joining Apple in 2003 was Vice President of product management and marketing in Adobe’s Creative Professional Solutions group.

Grab your $349 tickets today to join the show and meet amazing enterprise leaders. Don’t wait! Ticket prices go up at the door! If you book 4+ tickets you’ll save 20% – book for your team here.

Yesterday — August 20th 2019Your RSS feeds

States to launch antitrust investigation into big tech companies, reports say

By Manish Singh

The state attorneys in more than a dozen states are preparing to begin an antitrust investigation of the tech giants, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times reported Monday, putting the spotlight on an industry that is already facing federal scrutiny.

The bipartisan group of attorneys from as many as 20 states is expected to formally launch a probe as soon as next month to assess whether tech companies are using their dominant market position to hurt competition, WSJ reported.

If true, the move follows the Department of Justice, which last month announced its own antitrust review of how online platforms scaled to their gigantic sizes and whether they are using their power to curb competition and stifle innovation. Earlier this year, the Federal Trade Commission formed a task force to monitor competition among tech platforms.

It won’t be unprecedented for a group of states to look at a technology giant. In 1998, 20 states joined the Justice Department in suing Microsoft . The states could play a key role in building evidence and garnering public support for major investigations.

Because the tentacles of Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple reach so many industries, any investigation into them could last for years.

Apple and Google pointed the Times to their previous official statements on the matter, in which they have argued that they have been vastly innovative and created an environment that has benefited the consumers. Amazon and Facebook did not comment.

Also on Monday, Joseph Simons, the chairman of FTC, warned that Facebook’s planned effort to integrate Instagram and WhatsApp could stymie any attempt by the agency to break up the social media giant.

“If they’re maintaining separate business structures and infrastructure, it’s much easier to have a divestiture in that circumstance than in where they’re completely enmeshed and all the eggs are scrambled,” Simons told the Financial Times.

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

The five great reasons to attend TechCrunch’s Enterprise show Sept. 5 in SF

By Robert Frawley

The vast enterprise tech category is Silicon Valley’s richest, and today it’s poised to change faster than ever before. That’s probably the biggest reason to come to TechCrunch’s first-ever show focused entirely on enterprise. But here are five more reasons to commit to joining TechCrunch’s editors on September 5 at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for an outstanding day (agenda here) addressing the tech tsunami sweeping through enterprise. 

#1 Artificial Intelligence.
At once the most consequential and most hyped technology, no one doubts that AI will change business software and increase productivity like few if any, technologies before it. To peek ahead  into that future, TechCrunch will interview Andrew Ng, arguably the world’s most experienced AI practitioner at huge companies (Baidu, Google) as well as at startups. AI will be a theme across every session, but we’ll address again it head-on in a panel with investor Jocelyn Goldfein (Zetta), founder Bindu Reddy (Reality Engines) and executive John Ball (Salesforce / Einstein). 

#2. Data, The Cloud and Kubernetes.
If AI is at the dawn of tomorrow, cloud transformation is the high noon of today.  90% of the world’s data was created in the past two years, and no enterprise can keep its data hoard on-prem forever. Azure’s CTO
Mark Russinovitch (CTO) will discuss Microsft’s vision for the cloud. Leaders in the open-source Kubernetes revolution, Joe Beda (VMWare) and Aparna Sinha (Google) and others will dig into what Kubernetes means to companies making the move to cloud. And last, there is the question of how to find signal in all the data – which will bring three visionary founders to the stage: Benoit Dageville (Snowflake), Ali Ghodsi (Databricks), Murli Thirumale (Portworx). 

#3 Everything else on the main stage!
Let’s start with a fireside chat with
SAP CEO Bill McDermott and Qualtrics Chief Experience Officer Julie Larson-Green.  We have top investors talking where they are making their bets, and security experts talking data and privacy. And then there is quantum,  the technology revolution waiting on the other side of AI: Jay Gambetta, the principal theoretical scientist behind IBM’s quantum computing effort,  Jim Clarke, the director of quantum hardware at Intel Labs, and Krysta Svore, style="font-weight: 400;"> who leads the Microsoft’s quantum effort.

All told, there are 21 programming sessions.

#4 Network and get your questions answered.
There will be two Q&A breakout sessions with top enterprise investors for founders (and anyone else) to query investors directly. Plus, TechCrunch’s unbeatable CrunchMatch app makes it really easy to set up meetings with the other attendees, an
incredible array of folks, plus the  20 early-stage startups exhibiting on the expo floor.

#5 SAP
Enterprise giant SAP is our sponsor for the show, and they are not only bringing a squad of top executives, they are producing four parallel track sessions featuring key SAP Chief Innovation Officer
Max Wessel,  SAP Chief Designer and Futurist  Martin Wezowski and SAP.IO’s managing director Ram Jambunathan (SAP.iO) in sessions including, how to scale-up an enterprise startup, how startups win large enterprise customers, and what the enterprise future looks like.

Check out the complete agenda. Don’t miss this show! This line-up is a view into the future like none other. 

Grab your $349 tickets today, and don’t wait till the day of to book because prices go up at the door!

We still have 2 Startup Demo Tables left. Each table comes with 4 tickets and a prime location to demo your startup on the expo floor. Book your demo table now before they’re all gone!

Week in Review: Snapchat beats a dead horse

By Lucas Matney

Hey. This is Week-in-Review, where I give a heavy amount of analysis and/or rambling thoughts on one story while scouring the rest of the hundreds of stories that emerged on TechCrunch this week to surface my favorites for your reading pleasure.

Last week, I talked about how Netflix might have some rough times ahead as Disney barrels towards it.


3d video spectacles 3

The big story

There is plenty to be said about the potential of smart glasses. I write about them at length for TechCrunch and I’ve talked to a lot of founders doing cool stuff. That being said, I don’t have any idea what Snap is doing with the introduction of a third-generation of its Spectacles video sunglasses.

The first-gen were a marketing smash hit, their sales proved to be a major failure for the company which bet big and seemingly walked away with a landfill’s worth of the glasses.

Snap’s latest version of Spectacles were announced in Vogue this week, they are much more expensive at $380 and their main feature is that they have two cameras which capture images in light depth which can lead to these cute little 3D boomerangs. One one hand, it’s nice to see the company showing perseverance with a tough market, on the other it’s kind of funny to see them push the same rock up the hill again.

Snap is having an awesome 2019 after a laughably bad 2018, the stock has recovered from record lows and is trading in its IPO price wheelhouse. It seems like they’re ripe for something new and exciting, not beautiful yet iterative.

The $150 Spectacles 2 are still for sale, though they seem quite a bit dated-looking at this point. Spectacles 3 seem to be geared entirely towards women, and I’m sure they made that call after seeing the active users of previous generations, but given the write-down they took on the first-generation, something tells me that Snap’s continued experimentation here is borne out of some stubbornness form Spiegel and the higher-ups who want the Snap brand to live in a high fashion world and want to be at the forefront of an AR industry that seems to have already moved onto different things.

Send me feedback
on Twitter @lucasmtny or email
lucas@techcrunch.com

On to the rest of the week’s news.

tumblr phone sold

Trends of the week

Here are a few big news items from big companies, with green links to all the sweet, sweet added context:

  • WordPress buys Tumblr for chump change
    Tumblr, a game-changing blogging network that shifted online habits and exited for $1.1 billion just changed hands after Verizon (which owns TechCrunch) unloaded the property for a reported $3 million. Read more about this nightmarish deal here.
  • Trump gives American hardware a holiday season pass on tariffs 
    The ongoing trade war with China generally seems to be rough news for American companies deeply intertwined with the manufacturing centers there, but Trump is giving U.S. companies a Christmas reprieve from the tariffs, allowing certain types of hardware to be exempt from the recent rate increases through December. Read more here.
  • Facebook loses one last acquisition co-founder
    This week, the final remnant of Facebook’s major acquisitions left the company. Oculus co-founder Nate Mitchell announced he was leaving. Now, Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus are all helmed by Facebook leadership and not a single co-founder from the three companies remains onboard. Read more here.

GAFA Gaffes

How did the top tech companies screw up this week? This clearly needs its own section, in order of badness:

  1. Facebook’s turn in audio transcription debacle:
    [Facebook transcribed users’ audio messages without permission]
  2. Google’s hate speech detection algorithms get critiqued:
    [Racial bias observed in hate speech detection algorithm from Google]
  3. Amazon has a little email mishap:
    [Amazon customers say they received emails for other people’s orders]

Adam Neumann (WeWork) at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2017

Extra Crunch

Our premium subscription service had another week of interesting deep dives. My colleague Danny Crichton wrote about the “tech” conundrum that is WeWork and the questions that are still unanswered after the company filed documents this week to go public.

WeWork’s S-1 misses these three key points

…How is margin changing at its older locations? How is margin changing as it opens up in places like India, with very different costs and revenues? How do those margins change over time as a property matures? WeWork spills serious amounts of ink saying that these numbers do get better … without seemingly being willing to actually offer up the numbers themselves…

Here are some of our other top reads this week for premium subscribers. This week, we published a major deep dive into the world’s next music unicorn and we dug deep into marketplace startups.

Sign up for more newsletters in your inbox (including this one) here.

How Facebook does IT

By Frederic Lardinois

If you have ever worked at any sizable company, the word “IT” probably doesn’t conjure up many warm feelings. If you’re working for an old, traditional enterprise company, you probably don’t expect anything else, though. If you’re working for a modern tech company, though, chances are your expectations are a bit higher. And once you’re at the scale of a company like Facebook, a lot of the third-party services that work for smaller companies simply don’t work anymore.

To discuss how Facebook thinks about its IT strategy and why it now builds most of its IT tools in-house, I sat down with the company’s CIO, Atish Banerjea, at its Menlo Park headquarter.

Before joining Facebook in 2016 to head up what it now calls its “Enterprise Engineering” organization, Banerjea was the CIO or CTO at companies like NBCUniversal, Dex One and Pearson.

“If you think about Facebook 10 years ago, we were very much a traditional IT shop at that point,” he told me. “We were responsible for just core IT services, responsible for compliance and responsible for change management. But basically, if you think about the trajectory of the company, were probably about 2,000 employees around the end of 2010. But at the end of last year, we were close to 37,000 employees.”

Traditionally, IT organizations rely on third-party tools and software, but as Facebook grew to this current size, many third-party solutions simply weren’t able to scale with it. At that point, the team decided to take matters into its own hands and go from being a traditional IT organization to one that could build tools in-house. Today, the company is pretty much self-sufficient when it comes to running its IT operations, but getting to this point took a while.

“We had to pretty much reinvent ourselves into a true engineering product organization and went to a full ‘build’ mindset,” said Banerjea. That’s not something every organization is obviously able to do, but, as Banerjea joked, one of the reasons why this works at Facebook “is because we can — we have that benefit of the talent pool that is here at Facebook.”

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The company then took this talent and basically replicated the kind of team it would help on the customer side to build out its IT tools, with engineers, designers, product managers, content strategies, people and research. “We also made the decision at that point that we will hold the same bar and we will hold the same standards so that the products we create internally will be as world-class as the products we’re rolling out externally.”

One of the tools that wasn’t up to Facebook’s scaling challenges was video conferencing. The company was using a third-party tool for that, but that just wasn’t working anymore. In 2018, Facebook was consuming about 20 million conference minutes per month. In 2019, the company is now at 40 million per month.

Besides the obvious scaling challenge, Facebook is also doing this to be able to offer its employees custom software that fits their workflows. It’s one thing to adapt existing third-party tools, after all, and another to build custom tools to support a company’s business processes.

Banerjea told me that creating this new structure was a relatively easy sell inside the company. Every transformation comes with its own challenges, though. For Facebook’s Enterprise  Engineering team, that included having to recruit new skill sets into the organization. The first few months of this process were painful, Banerjea admitted, as the company had to up-level the skills of many existing employees and shed a significant number of contractors. “There are certain areas where we really felt that we had to have Facebook DNA in order to make sure that we were actually building things the right way,” he explained.

Facebook’s structure creates an additional challenge for the team. When you’re joining Facebook as a new employee, you have plenty of teams to choose from, after all, and if you have the choice of working on Instagram or WhatsApp or the core Facebook app — all of which touch millions of people — working on internal tools with fewer than 40,000 users doesn’t sound all that exciting.

“When young kids who come straight from college and they come into Facebook, they don’t know any better. So they think this is how the world is,” Banerjea said. “But when we have experienced people come in who have worked at other companies, the first thing I hear is ‘oh my goodness, we’ve never seen internal tools of this caliber before.’ The way we recruit, the way we do performance management, the way we do learning and development — every facet of how that employee works has been touched in terms of their life cycle here.”

Event Center 02

Facebook first started building these internal tools around 2012, though it wasn’t until Banerjea joined in 2016 that it rebranded the organization and set up today’s structure. He also noted that some of those original tools were good, but not up to the caliber employees would expect from the company.

“The really big change that we went through was up-leveling our building skills to really become at the same caliber as if we were to build those products for an external customer. We want to have the same experience for people internally.”

The company went as far as replacing and rebuilding the commercial Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system it had been using for years. If there’s one thing that big companies rely on, it’s their ERP systems, given they often handle everything from finance and HR to supply chain management and manufacturing. That’s basically what all of their backend tools rely on (and what companies like SAP, Oracle and others charge a lot of money for). “In that 2016/2017 time frame, we realized that that was not a very good strategy,” Banerjea said. In Facebook’s case, the old ERP handled the inventory management for its data centers, among many other things. When that old system went down, the company couldn’t ship parts to its data centers.

“So what we started doing was we started peeling off all the business logic from our backend ERP and we started rewriting it ourselves on our own platform,” he explained. “Today, for our ERP, the backend is just the database, but all the business logic, all of the functionality is actually all custom written by us on our own platform. So we’ve completely rewritten our ERP, so to speak.”

In practice, all of this means that ideally, Facebook’s employees face far less friction when they join the company, for example, or when they need to replace a broken laptop, get a new phone to test features or simply order a new screen for their desk.

One classic use case is onboarding, where new employees get their company laptop, mobile phones and access to all of their systems, for example. At Facebook, that’s also the start of a six-week bootcamp that gets new engineers up to speed with how things work at Facebook. Back in 2016, when new classes tended to still have less than 200 new employees, that was still mostly a manual task. Today, with far more incoming employees, the Enterprise Engineering team has automated most of that — and that includes managing the supply chain that ensures the laptops and phones for these new employees are actually available.

But the team also built the backend that powers the company’s more traditional IT help desks, where employees can walk up and get their issues fixed (and passwords reset).

Event Center 10

To talk more about how Facebook handles the logistics of that, I sat down with Koshambi Shah, who heads up the company’s Enterprise Supply Chain organization, which pretty much handles every piece of hardware and software the company delivers and deploys to its employees around the world (and that global nature of the company brings its own challenges and additional complexity). The team, which has fewer than 30 people, is made up of employees with experience in manufacturing, retail and consumer supply chains.

Typically, enterprises offer their employees a minimal set of choices when it comes to the laptops and phones they issue to their employees, and the operating systems that can run on them tend to be limited. Facebook’s engineers have to be able to test new features on a wide range of devices and operating systems. There are, after all, still users on the iPhone 4s or BlackBerry that the company wants to support. To do this, Shah’s organization actually makes thousands of SKUs available to employees and is able to deliver 98% of them within three days or less. It’s not just sending a laptop via FedEx, though. “We do the budgeting, the financial planning, the forecasting, the supply/demand balancing,” Shah said. “We do the asset management. We make sure the asset — what is needed, when it’s needed, where it’s needed — is there consistently.”

In many large companies, every asset request is double guessed. Facebook, on the other hand, places a lot of trust in its employees, it seems. There’s a self-service portal, the Enterprise Store, that allows employees to easily request phones, laptops, chargers (which get lost a lot) and other accessories as needed, without having to wait for approval (though if you request a laptop every week, somebody will surely want to have a word with you). Everything is obviously tracked in detail, but the overall experience is closer to shopping at an online retailer than using an enterprise asset management system. The Enterprise Store will tell you where a device is available, for example, so you can pick it up yourself (but you can always have it delivered to your desk, too, because this is, after all, a Silicon Valley company).

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For accessories, Facebook also offers self-service vending machines, and employees can walk up to the help desk.

The company also recently introduced an Amazon Locker-style setup that allows employees to check out devices as needed. At these smart lockers, employees simply have to scan their badge, choose a device and, once the appropriate door has opened, pick up the phone, tablet, laptop or VR devices they were looking for and move on. Once they are done with it, they can come back and check the device back in. No questions asked. “We trust that people make the right decision for the good of the company,” Shah said. For laptops and other accessories, the company does show the employee the price of those items, though, so it’s clear how much a certain request costs the company. “We empower you with the data for you to make the best decision for your company.”

Talking about cost, Shah told me the Supply Chain organization tracks a number of metrics. One of those is obviously cost. “We do give back about 4% year-over-year, that’s our commitment back to the businesses in terms of the efficiencies we build for every user we support. So we measure ourselves in terms of cost per supported user. And we give back 4% on an annualized basis in the efficiencies.”

Unsurprisingly, the company has by now gathered enough data about employee requests (Shah said the team fulfills about half a million transactions per year) that it can use machine learning to understand trends and be proactive about replacing devices, for example.

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Facebooks’ Enterprise Engineering group doesn’t just support internal customers, though. Another interesting aspect to Facebook’s Enterprise Engineering group is that it also runs the company’s internal and external events, including the likes of F8, the company’s annual developer conference. To do this, the company built out conference rooms that can seat thousands of people, with all of the logistics that go with that.

The company also showed me one of its newest meeting rooms where there are dozens of microphones and speakers hanging from the ceiling that make it easier for everybody in the room to participate in a meeting and be heard by everybody else. That’s part of what the organization’s “New Builds” team is responsible for, and something that’s possible because the company also takes a very hands-on approach to building and managing its offices.

Facebook also runs a number of small studios in its Menlo Park and New York offices, where both employees and the occasional external VIP can host Facebook Live videos.

Event Center 56

Indeed, live video, it seems, is one of the cornerstones of how Facebook employees collaborate and help employees who work from home. Typically, you’d just use the camera on your laptop or maybe a webcam connected to your desktop to do so. But because Facebook actually produces its own camera system with the consumer-oriented Portal, Banerjea’s team decided to use that.

“What we have done is we have actually re-engineered the Portal,” he told me. “We have connected with all of our video conferencing systems in the rooms. So if I have a Portal at home, I can dial into my video conferencing platform and have a conference call just like I’m sitting in any other conference room here in Facebook. And all that software, all the engineering on the portal, that has been done by our teams — some in partnership with our production teams, but a lot of it has been done with Enterprise Engineering.”

Unsurprisingly, there are also groups that manage some of the core infrastructure and security for the company’s internal tools and networks. All of those tools run in the same data centers as Facebook’s consumer-facing applications, though they are obviously sandboxed and isolated from them.

It’s one thing to build all of these tools for internal use, but now, the company is also starting to think about how it can bring some of these tools it built for internal use to some of its external customers. You may not think of Facebook as an enterprise company, but with its Workplace collaboration tool, it has an enterprise service that it sells externally, too. Last year, for the first time, Workplace added a new feature that was incubated inside of Enterprise Engineering. That feature was a version of Facebook’s public Safety Check that the Enterprise Engineering team had originally adapted to the company’s own internal use.

“Many of these things that we are building for Facebook, because we are now very close partners with our Workplace team — they are in the enterprise software business and we are the enterprise software group for Facebook — and many [features] we are building for Facebook are of interest to Workplace customers.”

As Workplace hit the market, Banerjea ended up talking to the CIOs of potential users, including the likes of Delta Air Lines, about how Facebook itself used Workplace internally. But as companies started to adopt Workplace, they realized that they needed integrations with existing third-party services like ERP platforms and Salesforce. Those companies then asked Facebook if it could build those integrations or work with partners to make them available. But at the same time, those customers got exposed to some of the tools that Facebook itself was building internally.

“Safety Check was the first one,” Banerjea said. “We are actually working on three more products this year.” He wouldn’t say what these are, of course, but there is clearly a pipeline of tools that Facebook has built for internal use that it is now looking to commercialize. That’s pretty unusual for any IT organization, which, after all, tends to only focus on internal customers. I don’t expect Facebook to pivot to an enterprise software company anytime soon, but initiatives like this are clearly important to the company and, in some ways, to the morale of the team.

This creates a bit of friction, too, though, given that the Enterprise Engineering group’s mission is to build internal tools for Facebook. “We are now figuring out the deployment model,” Banerjea said. Who, for example, is going to support the external tools the team built? Is it the Enterprise Engineering group or the Workplace team?

Chances are then, that Facebook will bring some of the tools it built for internal use to more enterprises in the long run. That definitely puts a different spin on the idea of the consumerization of enterprise tech. Clearly, not every company operates at the scale of Facebook and needs to build its own tools — and even some companies that could benefit from it don’t have the resources to do so. For Facebook, though, that move seems to have paid off and the tools I saw while talking to the team definitely looked more user-friendly than any off-the-shelf enterprise tools I’ve seen at other large companies.

VMware says it’s looking to acquire Pivotal

By Frederic Lardinois

VMware today confirmed that it is in talks to acquire software development platform Pivotal Software, the service best known for commercializing the open-source Cloud Foundry platform. The proposed transaction would see VMware acquire all outstanding Pivotal Class A stock for $15 per share, a significant markup over Pivotal’s current share price (which unsurprisingly shot up right after the announcement).

Pivotal’s shares have struggled since the company’s IPO in April 2018. The company was originally spun out of EMC Corporation (now DellEMC) and VMware in 2012 to focus on Cloud Foundry, an open-source software development platform that is currently in use by the majority of Fortune 500 companies. A lot of these enterprises are working with Pivotal to support their Cloud Foundry efforts. Dell itself continues to own the majority of VMware and Pivotal, and VMware also owns an interest in Pivotal already and sells Pivotal’s services to its customers, as well. It’s a bit of an ouroboros of a transaction.

Pivotal Cloud Foundry was always the company’s main product, but it also offered additional consulting services on top of that. Despite improving its execution since going public, Pivotal still lost $31.7 million in its last financial quarter as its stock price traded at just over half of the IPO price. Indeed, the $15 per share VMware is offering is identical to Pivotal’s IPO price.

An acquisition by VMware would bring Pivotal’s journey full circle, though this is surely not the journey the Pivotal team expected. VMware is a Cloud Foundry Foundation platinum member, together with Pivotal, DellEMC, IBM, SAP and Suse, so I wouldn’t expect any major changes in VMware’s support of the overall open-source ecosystem behind Pivotal’s core platform.

It remains to be seen whether the acquisition will indeed happen, though. In a press release, VMware acknowledged the discussion between the two companies but noted that “there can be no assurance that any such agreement regarding the potential transaction will occur, and VMware does not intend to communicate further on this matter unless and until a definitive agreement is reached.” That’s the kind of sentence lawyers like to write. I would be quite surprised if this deal didn’t happen, though.

Buying Pivotal would also make sense in the grand scheme of VMware’s recent acquisitions. Earlier this year, the company acquired Bitnami, and last year it acquired Heptio, the startup founded by two of the three co-founders of the Kubernetes project, which now forms the basis of many new enterprise cloud deployments and, most recently, Pivotal Cloud Foundry.

Every TC Sessions: Enterprise 2019 ticket includes a free pass to Disrupt SF

By Emma Comeau

Shout out to all the savvy enterprise software startuppers. Here’s a quick, two-part money-saving reminder. Part one: TC Sessions: Enterprise 2019 is right around the corner on September 5, and you have only two days left to buy an early-bird ticket and save yourself $100. Part two: for every Session ticket you buy, you get one free Expo-only pass to TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2019.

Save money and increase your ROI by completing one simple task: buy your early-bird ticket today.

About 1,000 members of enterprise software’s powerhouse community will join us for a full day dedicated to exploring the current and future state of enterprise software. It’s certainly tech’s 800-pound gorilla — a $500 billion industry. Some of the biggest names and brightest minds will be on hand to discuss critical issues all players face — from early-stage startups to multinational conglomerates.

The day’s agenda features panel discussions, main-stage talks, break-out sessions and speaker Q&As on hot topics including intelligent marketing automation, the cloud, data security, AI and quantum computing, just to name a few. You’ll hear from people like SAP CEO Bill McDermott; Aaron Levie, Box co-founder; Jim Clarke, director of Quantum Hardware at Intel and many, many more.

Customer experience is always a hot topic, so be sure to catch this main-stage panel discussion with Amit Ahuja (Adobe), Julie Larson-Green (Qualtrics) and Peter Reinhardt (Segment):

The Trials and Tribulations of Experience Management: As companies gather more data about their customers and employees, it should theoretically improve their experience, but myriad challenges face companies as they try to pull together information from a variety of vendors across disparate systems, both in the cloud and on prem. How do you pull together a coherent picture of your customers, while respecting their privacy and overcoming the technical challenges?

TC Sessions: Enterprise 2019 takes place in San Francisco on September 5. Take advantage of this two-part money-saving opportunity. Buy your early-bird ticket by August 16 at 11:59 p.m. (PT) to save $100. And score a free Expo-only pass to TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2019 for every ticket you buy. We can’t wait to see you in September!

Interested in sponsoring TC Sessions: Enterprise? Fill out this form and a member of our sales team will contact you.

Telegram introduces a feature to prevent users from texting too often in a group

By Manish Singh

Telegram, a popular instant messaging app, has introduced a new feature to give group admins on the app better control over how members engage, the latest in a series of interesting features it has rolled out in recent months to expand its appeal.

The feature, dubbed Slow Mode, allows a group administrator to dictate how often a member could send a message in the group. If implemented by a group, members who have sent a text will have to wait between 30 seconds to as long as an hour before they can say something again in that group.

telegram slow mode groups

The messaging platform, which had more than 200 million monthly active users as of early 2018, said the new feature was aimed at making conversations in groups “more orderly” and raising the “value of each individual message.” It suggested admins to “keep [the feature] on permanently, or toggle as necessary to throttle rush hour traffic.”

As tech platforms including WhatsApp grapple with containing the spread of misinformation on their messaging services, the new addition from Telegram, which has largely remained immune to any similar controversies, illustrates how proactively it works on adding features to control the flow of information on its platform.

In comparison, WhatsApp has enforced limits on how often a user could forward a text message and is using machine learning techniques to weed out fraudulent users during the sign up procedure itself.

Shivnath Thukral, Director of Public Policy for Facebook in India and South Asia, said at a conference this month that virality of content has dropped by 25% to 30% on WhatsApp since the messaging platform introduced limits on forwards.

Telegram isn’t marketing the “Slow Mode” as a way to tackle the spread of false information, though. Instead, it says the feature would give users more “peace of mind.” Indeed, unlike WhatsApp, which allows up to 256 users to be part of a group, up to a whopping 200,000 users can join a Telegram group.

this new Telegram groups feature is so interesting pic.twitter.com/763mHGmZ0u

— freia lobo (@freialobo) August 10, 2019

On a similar tone, Telegram has also added an option that will enable users to send a message without invoking a sound notification at the recipient’s end. “Simply hold the Send button to have any message or media delivered without sound,” the app maker said. “Your recipient will get a notification as usual, but their phone won’t make a sound – even if they forgot to enable the Do Not Disturb mode.”

Telegram has also introduced a range of other small features such as the ability for group owners to add custom titles for admins. Videos on the app now display thumbnail previews when a user scrubs through them, making it easier to them to find the right moment. Like YouTube, users on Telegram too can now share a video that jumps directly at a certain timestamp. Users can also animate their emojis now — if they are into that sort of thing.

In June, Telegram introduced a number of location-flavored features to allow users to quickly exchange contact details without needing to type in digits.

Last chance for early-bird tickets to TC Sessions: Enterprise 2019

By Emma Comeau

It’s down to the wire folks. Today’s the last day you can save $100 on your ticket to TC Sessions: Enterprise 2019, which takes place on September 5 at the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco. The deadline expires in mere hours — at 11:59 p.m. (PT). Get the best possible price and buy your early-bird ticket right now.

We expect more than 1,000 attendees representing the enterprise software community’s best and brightest. We’re talking founders of companies in every stage and CIOs and systems architects from some of the biggest multinationals. And, of course, managing partners from the most influential venture and corporate investment firms.

Take a look at just some of the companies joining us for TC Sessions: Enterprise: Bain & Company, Box, Dell Technologies Capital, Google, Oracle, SAP and SoftBank. Let the networking begin!

You can expect a full day of main-stage interviews and panel discussions, plus break-out sessions and speaker Q&As. TechCrunch editors will dig into the big issues enterprise software companies face today along with emerging trends and technologies.

Data, for example, is a mighty hot topic, and you’ll hear a lot more about it during a session entitled, Innovation Break: Data – Who Owns It?: Enterprises have historically competed by being closed entities, keeping a closed architecture and innovating internally. When applying this closed approach to the hottest new commodity, data, it simply does not work anymore. But as enterprises, startups and public institutions open themselves up, how open is too open? Hear from leaders who explore data ownership and the questions that need to be answered before the data floodgates are opened. Sponsored by SAP .

If investment is on your mind, don’t miss the Investor Q&A. Some of greatest investors in enterprise will be on hand to answer your burning questions. Want to know more? Check out the full agenda.

Maximize your last day of early-bird buying power and take advantage of the group discount. Buy four or more tickets at once and save 20%. Here’s a bonus. Every ticket you buy to TC Sessions: Enterprise includes a free Expo Only pass to TechCrunch Disrupt SF on October 2-4.

It’s now o’clock startuppers. Your opportunity to save $100 on tickets to TC Sessions: Enterprise ends tonight at precisely 11:59 p.m. (PT). Buy your early-bird tickets now and join us in September!

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Enterprise? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Learn how enterprise startups win big deals at TechCrunch’s Enterprise show on Sept. 5

By Frederic Lardinois

Big companies today may want to look and feel like startups, but when it comes to the way they approach buying new enterprise solutions, especially from new entrants. But from the standpoint of a true startup, closing deals with just a few big customers is critical to success. At our much anticipated inaugural TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise event in San Francisco on September 5, Okta’s Monty Gray, SAP’s DJ Paoni, VMware’s Sanjay Poonen, and Sapphire Venture’s Shruti Tournatory will discuss ways for startups to adapt their strategies to gain more enterprise customers (p.s. early-bird tickets end in 48 hours – book yours here).

This session is sponsored by SAP, the lead sponsor for the event.

Monty Gray is Okta’s Senior Vice President and head of Corporate Development. In this role, he is responsible for driving the company’s growth initiatives, including mergers and acquisitions. That role gives him a unique vantage point of the enterprise startup ecosystem, all from the perspective of an organization that went through the process of learning how to sell to enterprises itself. Prior to joining Okta, Gray served as the Senior Vice President of Corporate Development at SAP.

Sanjay Poonen joined VMware in August 2013, and is responsible for worldwide sales, services, alliances, marketing and communications. Prior to SAP, Poonen held executive roles at Symantec, VERITAS and Informatica, and he began his career as a software engineer at Microsoft, followed by Apple.

SAP’s DJ Paoni has been working in the enterprise technology industry for over two decades. As president of SAP North America, DJ Paoni is responsible for the strategy, day-to-day operations, and overall customer success in the United States and Canada.

These three industry executives will be joined on stage by Sapphire Venture’s Shruti Tournatory, who will provide the venture capitalist’s perspective. She joined Sapphire Ventures in 2014 and leads the firm’s CXO platform, a network of Fortune CIOs, CTOs, and digital executives. She got her start in the industry as an analyst for IDC, before joining SAP and leading product for its business travel solution.

Grab your early-bird tickets today before we sell out. Early-bird sales end after this Friday, so book yours now and save $100 on tickets before prices increase. If you’re an early-stage enterprise startup you can grab a startup demo table for just $2K here. Each table comes with 4 tickets and a great location for you to showcase your company to investors and new customers.

Zendesk puts Smooch acquisition to work with WhatsApp integration

By Ron Miller

Zendesk has always been all about customer service. Last spring it purchased Smooch to move more deeply into messaging app integration. Today, the company announced it was integrating WhatsApp, the popular messaging tool, into the Zendesk customer service toolkit.

Smooch was an early participant in the WhatsApp Business API program. What that does in practice says Warren Levitan, who came over as part of the Smooch deal, is provide a direct WhatsApp phone number for businesses using Zendesk . Given how many people, especially in Asia and Latin America, use WhatsApp as a primary channel for communication, this is a big deal.

“The WhatsApp Business API Connector is now fully integrated into Zendesk support. It will allow any Zendesk support customer to be up and running with a new WhatsApp number quicker than ever before, allowing them to connect to the 1.5 billion WhatsApp users worldwide, communicating with them on their channel of choice,” Levitan explained.

Levitan says the entire WhatsApp interaction experience is now fully integrated into the same Zendesk interface that customer service reps are used to using. WhatsApp simply becomes another channel for them.

“They can access WhatsApp conversations from within the same workspace and agent desktop, where they handle all of their other conversations. From an agent perspective, there are no new tools, no new workflows, no new reporting. And that’s what really allows them to get up and running quickly,” he said.

Customers may click or touch a button to dial the WhatsApp number, or they may use a QR code, which is a popular way of accessing WhatsApp customer service. As an example, Levitan says Four Seasons hotels prints a QR code on room key cards, and if customers want to access customer service, they can simply scan the code and the number dials automatically.

Zendesk has been able to get 1000 businesses up and running as part of the early access program, but now it really wants to scale that and allow many more businesses to participate. Up until now, Facebook has taken a controlled approach to on-boarding, having to approve each brand’s number before allowing it on the platform. Zendesk has been working to streamline that.

“We’ve worked tightly with Facebook (the owner of WhatsApp), so that we can have an integrated brand approval and on-boarding/activation to get their number lit up. We can now launch customers at scale, and have them up and running in days, whereas before it was more typically a multi-week process,” Levitan said.

For now, when the person connects to customer service via WhatsApp, it’s only via text messaging, There is no voice connection, and no plans for any for the time being, according to Levitan. Zendesk-WhatsApp integration is available starting today worldwide.

72 hours left on early-bird pricing to TC Sessions: Enterprise 2019

By Emma Comeau

Synchronize your Fitbits, people. You have 72 hours left to get your fiscal fitness on. Three days to save $100 on tickets to TC Sessions: Enterprise 2019 in San Francisco on September 5. Buy your early-bird ticket by August 9 at 11:59 p.m. (PT) and then go back to counting your steps.

We say with confidence that no tech category’s more competitive than enterprise software. The gigantic, $500 billion market generates a constant flow of multibillion-dollar acquisitions every year. And it takes a special kind of fierce early-stage enterprise startup to jump in, invent new services and shake up old-school incumbents.

More than 1,000 attendees will be in the house to explore this rich, complex topic, TechCrunch-style. Our editors will interview top titans in the enterprise world — like SAP CEO, Bill McDermott; Atlassian co-founder, Scott Farquhar; and Jocelyn Goldfein, managing director at Zetta Venture Partners. They’ll also tap rising founders of upstart startups.

The enterprise just can’t get enough of AI, but large companies face a huge challenge: packaging all that data in machine learning models — a necessary element for using AI to automate processes. That’s why we’re especially excited that Bindu Reddy, co-founder and CEO at RealityEngines, will join us onstage.

Her company aims to create research-driven cloud services to reduce some of the inherent complexity of working with AI tools. Reddy, along with investor Jocelyn Goldfein, a managing director at Zetta Venture Partners, and others will talk about the growing role of AI in the enterprise.

That’s just the tip of the Enterprise iceberg. More than 20 interviews, panel discussions, Q&As and breakout sessions will cover a wide range of technologies, including intelligent marketing automation, the cloud, Kubernetes and even quantum and blockchain. Peruse the agenda to see what else we have in store for you.

Early-bird pricing for TC Sessions: Enterprise 2019 ends in just 72 hours. Buy your ticket by August 9 at 11:59 p.m. (PT) and you’ll save $100. But wait, there’s more — for every ticket you buy, we’ll register you for a free Expo-only pass to TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2019. Now that’s fiscal fitness.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Enterprise? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Twilio launches SendGrid Ads and new cross-channel messaging API

By Frederic Lardinois

At its annual Signal developer conference, Twilio today announced a couple of new features for developers on its core messaging platform and users of its recently acquired SendGrid email service. The new Twilio tools now allow developers to create multi-channel messaging tools and to get real-time streams of conversations in order to run them through transcription services, a translation tool or other machine learning models.

The company’s $3 billion acquisition of SendGrid closed less than half a year ago, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that Twilio would use its biggest event of the year to showcase the service to its developer community.

It’s a bit of an odd one, though. See, SendGrid already announced the beta of SendGrid Ads back in November 2018. As best as I can tell, Twilio SendGrid Ads, which is now launching in beta, is the same product, but a Twilio representative tells me that the ads product is now more deeply integrated into SendGrid Marketing Campaigns, and also got a bit of a redesign. A form of this integration already existed in the previous version, though.

The general idea here is to allow SendGrid users to run multichannel display ad campaigns on Facebook, Instagram and Google from their SendGrid accounts. The advantage of this, the company argues, is that marketers will be able to use data from their email campaigns and website data to then retarget users on other channels. Similarly, they can use lead ads on Facebook to get potential customers to sign up for their SendGrid mailing list.

SendGrid Ads will cost $50 per month, plus the cost of the ads. SendGrid will also take its own cut of 5% of any media cost over $500.

Screen Shot 2018 11 13 at 8.52.55 AM 960x656

The new developer tools are pretty straightforward. Twilio Conversations, now in public beta, is a new API that allows developers to create solutions that integrate various messaging channels like SMS, WhatsApp and other chat tools.

“Over the last two decades, we’ve watched businesses evolve their communications with customers from the phone call, to website chat, to native mobile apps,” said Chee Chew, chief product officer at Twilio. “Leading companies have figured out that the next evolution of great customer experience is through messaging. Twilio Conversations empowers businesses to build personal, long-lived connections with their customers on the channels they prefer.”

Twilio Media Streams does exactly what it promises to do. Previously, you could get a recording to a call. Now, you can tap into the real-time call to analyze that stream in real time. That’s useful for all kinds of AI tools that aim to help call center agents, for example. This service is now also in public beta and will cost $0.004 per minute, in addition to the rest of the fees associated with the call.

Facebook to admit ownership of Instagram, WhatsApp in barely visible small-print

By Natasha Lomas

For the first time in more than half a decade, Facebook wants to inform you that it owns Instagram, the hyper-popular rival social networking app it acquired for a $1BN steal back in 2012.

Ditto messaging platform WhatsApp — which Mark Zuckerberg splurged $19BN on a couple of years later to keep feeding eyeballs into his growth engine.

Facebook is adding its own brand name alongside the other two — in the following format: ‘Instagram from Facebook’; ‘WhatsApp from Facebook.’

The cheap perfume style rebranding was first reported by The Information which cites three people familiar with the matter who told it employees for the two apps were recently notified internally of the plan to rebrand.

“The move to add Facebook’s name to the apps has been met with surprise and confusion internally, reflecting the autonomy that the units have operated under,” it said. Although it also reported that CEO Mark Zuckerberg has also been frustrated that Facebook doesn’t get more credit for the growth of Instagram and WhatsApp.

So it sounds like Facebook may be hoping for a little reverse osmosis brand-washing — aka leveraging the popularity of its cleaner social apps to detoxify the scandal-hit mothership.

Not that Facebook is saying anything like that publicly, of course.

In a statement to The Information confirming the rebranding it explained it thus: “We want to be clearer about the products and services that are part of Facebook.”

The rebranding also comes at a time when Facebook is facing at least two antitrust investigations on its home turf — where calls for Facebook and other big tech giants to be broken up are now a regular feature of the campaign trail…

We can only surmise the legal advice Facebook must be receiving vis-a-vis what it should do to try to close down break up arguments that could deprive it of its pair of golden growth geese.

Arguments such as the fact most Instagram (and WhatsApp) users don’t even know they’re using a Facebook-owned app. Hence, as things stand, it would be pretty difficult for Facebook’s lawyers to successfully argue Instagram and WhatsApp users would be harmed if the apps were cut free by a break-up order.

But now — with the clumsy ‘from Facebook’ construction — Facebook can at least try to make a case that users are in a knowing relationship with Facebook in which they willingly, even if not lovingly, place their eyeballs in Zuckerberg’s bucket.

In which case Facebook is not telling you the Instagram user that it owns Instagram for your benefit. Not even slightly.

Note, for example, the use of the comparative adjective “clearer” in Facebook’s statement to explain its intent for the rebranding — rather than a simple statement: ‘we want to be clear’.

It’s definitely not saying it’s going to individually broadcast its ownership of Instagram and WhatsApp to each and every user on those networks. More like it’s going to try to creep the Facebook brand in. Which is far more in corporate character.

At the time of writing a five day old update of of Instagram’s iOS app already features the new construction — although it looks far more dark pattern than splashy rebrand, with just the faintest whisker of grey text at the base of the screen to disclose that you’re about to be sucked into the Facebook empire (vs a giant big blue ‘Create new account’ button winking to be tapped up top… )

Here’s the landing screen — with the new branding. Blink and you’ll miss it…

image2

So not full disclosure then. More like just an easily overlooked dab of the legal stuff — to try to manage antitrust risk vs the risk of Facebook brand toxicity poisoning the (cleaner) wells of Instagram and WhatsApp.

There are signs the company is experimenting in some extremely dilute cross-brand-washing too.

The iOS app description for Instagram includes the new branding — tagged to an ad style slogan that gushes: “Bringing you closer to the people and things you love.”  But, frankly, who reads app descriptions?

image1

Up until pretty recently, both Instagram and WhatsApp had a degree of independence from their rapacious corporate parent — granted brand and operational independence under the original acquisition terms and leadership of their original founders.

Not any more, though. Instagram’s founders cleared out last year. While WhatsApp’s jumped ship between 2017 and 2018.

Zuckerberg lieutenants and/or long time Facebookers are now running both app businesses. The takeover is complete.

Facebook is also busy working on entangling the backends of its three networks — under a claimed ‘pivot to privacy‘ which it announced earlier this year.

This also appears intended to try to put regulators off by making breaking up Facebook much harder than it would be if you could just split it along existing app lines. Theories of user harm potentially get more complicated if you can demonstrate cross-platform chatter.

The accompanying 3,000+ word screed from Zuckerberg introduced the singular notion of “the Facebook network”; aka one pool for users to splash in, three differently colored slides to funnel you in there.

“In a few years, I expect future versions of Messenger and WhatsApp to become the main ways people communicate on the Facebook network,” he wrote. “If this evolution is successful, interacting with your friends and family across the Facebook network will become a fundamentally more private experience.”

The ‘from Facebook’ rebranding thus looks like just a little light covering fire for the really grand dodge Facebook is hoping to pull off as the break-up bullet speeds down the pipe: Aka Entangling its core businesses at the infrastructure level.

From three networks to one massive Facebook-owned user data pool. 

One network to rule them all, one network to find them,
One network to bring them all, and in the regulatory darkness bind them

Save with group discounts and bring your team to TechCrunch’s first-ever Enterprise event Sept. 5 in SF

By Emma Comeau

Get ready to dive into the fiercely competitive waters of enterprise software. Join more than 1,000 attendees for TC Sessions Enterprise 2019 on September 5 to navigate this rapidly evolving category with the industry’s brightest minds, biggest names and exciting startups.

Our $249 early-bird ticket price remains in play, which saves you $100. But one is the loneliest number, so why not take advantage of our group discount, buy in bulk and bring your whole team? Save an extra 20% when you buy four or more tickets at once.

We’ve packed this day-long conference with an outstanding lineup of presentations, interviews, panel discussions, demos, breakout sessions and, of course, networking. Check out the agenda, which includes both industry titans and boundary-pushing startups eager to disrupt the status quo.

We’ll add more surprises along the way, but these sessions provide a taste of what to expect — and why you’ll need your posse to absorb as much intel as possible.

Talking Developer Tools
Scott Farquhar (Atlassian)

With tools like Jira, Bitbucket and Confluence, few companies influence how developers work as much as Atlassian. The company’s co-founder and co-CEO Scott Farquhar will join us to talk about growing his company, how it is bringing its tools to enterprises and what the future of software development in and for the enterprise will look like.

Keeping the Enterprise Secure
Martin Casado (Andreessen Horowitz), Wendy Nather (Duo Security), Emily Heath (United Airlines)

Enterprises face a litany of threats from both inside and outside the firewall. Now more than ever, companies — especially startups — have to put security first. From preventing data from leaking to keeping bad actors out of your network, enterprises have it tough. How can you secure the enterprise without slowing growth? We’ll discuss the role of a modern CSO and how to move fast — without breaking things.

Keeping an Enterprise Behemoth on Course
Bill McDermott (SAP)

With over $166 billion in market cap, Germany-based SAP is one of the most valuable tech companies in the world today. Bill McDermott took the leadership in 2014, becoming the first American to hold this position. Since then, he has quickly grown the company, in part thanks to a number of $1 billion-plus acquisitions. We’ll talk to him about his approach to these acquisitions, his strategy for growing the company in a quickly changing market and the state of enterprise software in general.

The Quantum Enterprise
Jim Clarke (Intel), Jay Gambetta (IBM
and Krysta Svore (Microsoft)
4:20 PM – 4:45 PM

While we’re still a few years away from having quantum computers that will fulfill the full promise of this technology, many companies are already starting to experiment with what’s available today. We’ll talk about what startups and enterprises should know about quantum computing today to prepare for tomorrow.

TC Sessions Enterprise 2019 takes place on September 5. You can’t be everywhere at once, so bring your team, cover more ground and increase your ROI. Get your group discount tickets and save.

The Exit: The acquisition charting Salesforce’s future

By Lucas Matney

Before Tableau was the $15.7 billion key to Salesforce’s problems, it was a couple of founders arguing with a couple of venture capitalists over lunch about why its Series A valuation should be higher than $12 million pre-money.

Salesforce has generally been one to signify corporate strategy shifts through their acquisitions, so you can understand why the entire tech industry took notice when the cloud CRM giant announced its priciest acquisition ever last month.

The deal to acquire the Seattle-based data visualization powerhouse Tableau was substantial enough that Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff publicly announced it was turning Seattle into its second HQ. Tableau’s acquisition doesn’t just mean big things for Salesforce. With the deal taking place just days after Google announced it was paying $2.6 billion for Looker, the acquisition showcases just how intense the cloud wars are getting for the enterprise tech companies out to win it all.

The Exit is a new series at TechCrunch. It’s an exit interview of sorts with a VC who was in the right place at the right time but made the right call on an investment that paid off. [Have feedback? Shoot me an email at lucas@techcrunch.com]

Scott Sandell, a general partner at NEA (New Enterprise Associates) who has now been at the firm for 25 years, was one of those investors arguing with two of Tableau’s co-founders, Chris Stolte and Christian Chabot. Desperate to close the 2004 deal over their lunch meeting, he went on to agree to the Tableau founders’ demands of a higher $20 million valuation, though Sandell tells me it still feels like he got a pretty good deal.

NEA went on to invest further in subsequent rounds and went on to hold over 38% of the company at the time of its IPO in 2013 according to public financial docs.

I had a long chat with Sandell, who also invested in Salesforce, about the importance of the Tableau deal, his rise from associate to general partner at NEA, who he sees as the biggest challenger to Salesforce, and why he thinks scooter companies are “the worst business in the known universe.”

The interview has been edited for length and clarity. 


Lucas Matney: You’ve been at this investing thing for quite a while, but taking a trip down memory lane, how did you get into VC in the first place? 

Scott Sandell: The way I got into venture capital is a little bit of a circuitous route. I had an opportunity to get into venture capital coming out of Stanford Business School in 1992, but it wasn’t quite the right fit. And so I had an interest, but I didn’t have the right opportunity.

Y Combinator-backed Vahan is helping low-skilled workers in India find jobs on WhatsApp

By Manish Singh

The emergence of online hyperlocal services and e-commerce firms in India has led to the creation of about 200,000 jobs for blue-collar workers who deliver items to customers, according to industry estimates.

But it is also the kind of job that continues to see a high attrition rate. This means that companies like Zomato, Swiggy, Dunzo, Amazon India, and Flipkart have to replace a significant portion of their delivery workforce every three to four months.

“A small portion of these workers either switch jobs to go to a different delivery company, or they take up a different job,” said Madhav Krishna. “And a large chunk of them end up going back to their villages to work on their farms.”

“There is a cyclical migration phenomenon in India wherein a very large population migrates from villages to cities looking for a job. They work in cities for a few months and then return to their hometowns in time for the next crop harvesting season,” he said.

The attrition rate is so high that it has become a major challenge for companies to keep hiring new people, Krishna said. Additionally, with e-commerce and on-demand delivery space projected to grow four to five times in India by 2025, efficient supply acquisition is a major requirement for growth.

whatsapp vahan

Three years ago, Krishna, who obtained his Masters in machine learning from Columbia University before moving to Bangalore, founded Vahan, a startup that is attempting to help these companies find potential blue-collar workers at scale.

Vahan operates a WhatsApp Business account where it informs potential candidates of the available jobs in the industry. Interested candidates are presented with a series of qualifying questions, screened, and are authenticated by Vahan.

Much of this process, which takes merely minutes, is automated via an AI-driven chatbot, and Vahan (Hindi for “vehicle”) directs the shortlisted candidates to its clients for a walk-in interview and on-boarding. Its clients today include food delivery firms such as Zomato and Swiggy, hyperlocal concierge service Dunzo, and logistics company Lalamove.

“There are three things that need to come together: What do people want? What are their capabilities? And the third is, what is available in the market?” Krishna said. “It’s really a matching problem that we’re trying to solve. We are using data and machine learning to solve a complex matching problem.”

Y Combinator (YC) recently selected Vahan to participate in its Summer 2019 batch. In a statement, Adora Cheung, a partner at YC, said, “High mobile penetration coupled with massive growth in data consumption has made it possible for companies such as Vahan to reach millions of Indian via digital channels.”

“Vahan is addressing a space that is severely underserved and is poised for disruption via tech. Their use of WhatsApp is a great fit for reaching the blue-collar audience and their traction proves it. We are excited to back them and see them grow!”

Vahan makes revenue from taking a cut each time its suggested candidates become part of the corporate client’s workforce. For one of the aforementioned clients, the referral cut is about 7.5%, two sources at that company said. The amount also varies based on how long those candidates stick to the platform, they added.

In the last year, Vahan has amassed over a million users and has helped over 20,000 people secure a job. Each day, around 5,000 users check Vahan to look for a job. “This is all through zero-marketing spend. Job seekers are finding us through their friends,” Krishna said.

Vahan

Vahan team

This is why Vahan operates on WhatsApp, too. “Most of the people we’re trying to help, they are not active on any online recruitment platform. WhatsApp is one of the few apps they use heavily,” Krishna said. “We send over 50,000 messages a day on WhatsApp and 95% of them get read. In fact, 15% get read in under 10 seconds”, he added.

WhatsApp, with more than 400 million users in India, has become a daily habit for much of the internet-connected population of the country. In recent years, many companies have built their businesses on top of the platform to use it as an effective distribution channel for their businesses.

For instance, Meesho, a social commerce app, helps millions of people in the country buy and sell products on WhatsApp. It recently received an investment from Facebook, the first of its kind by the social juggernaut in the country. Dunzo, which has been backed by Google, and Sharechat, which counts Twitter as one its investors, also started on Facebook’s instant messaging app.

As for Vahan, it plans to soon offer skiling courses to its users as they navigate more job opportunities in the future. It is also working with many companies for deeper system-level integrations.

As it sees the platform receive traction, Vahan also wants to expand its offering beyond delivery jobs.

WhatsApp reaches 400 million users in India, its biggest market

By Manish Singh

WhatsApp has amassed more than 400 million users in India, the instant messaging app confirmed today, reaffirming its gigantic reach in its biggest market.

Amitabh Kant, CEO of highly influential local think-tank NITI Aayog, revealed the new stat at a press conference held by WhatsApp in New Delhi on Thursday. A WhatsApp spokesperson confirmed that the platform indeed had more than 400 million monthly active users in the country.

The remarkable revelation comes more than two years after WhatsApp said it had hit 200 million users in India. WhatsApp — or Facebook — did not share any India-specific users count in the period in between.

The public disclosure today should help Facebook reaffirm its dominance in India, where it appears to be used by nearly every smartphone user. According to research firm Counterpoint, India has about 450 million smartphone users. (Some other research firms peg the number to be lower.)

It’s worth pointing out that WhatsApp also supports KaiOS — a mobile operating system for feature phones. Millions of KaiOS-powered JioPhone handsets have shipped in India. Additionally, there are about 500 million internet users, according to several industry estimates.

As WhatsApp becomes ubiquitous in the nation, the service is increasingly mutating to serve additional needs. Businesses such as social-commerce app Meesho have been built on top of WhatsApp. Facebook backed Meesho recently in what was its first investment of this kind in an Indian startup. Then, of course, WhatsApp has also come under hot water for its role in the spread of false information in the nation.

As ByteDance and others aggressively expand their businesses in India, Facebook’s perceived dominance in the country has come under attack in recent months. ByteDance’s TikTok, which has amassed 120 million users in India, has been heralded by many as the top competitor of Facebook.

A WhatsApp spokesperson also told TechCrunch that India remains WhatsApp’s biggest market. In 2017, Facebook said its marquee service had about 250 million users in India — a figure it has not updated in the years since.

WhatsApp, which has about 1.5 billion monthly active users worldwide, does not really have any major competitor in India. The closest to a competitor it has in the country is Messenger, another platform owned by Facebook, and Hike, which millions of users check everyday. Times Internet — an internet conglomerate in India that runs several news outlets, entertainment services and more — claims to reach 450 million users in the country each month.

At the aforementioned press conference, WhatsApp global chief Will Cathcart said WhatsApp also plans to roll out WhatsApp Pay, its payment service, to all its users toward the end of the year — something TechCrunch reported earlier.

Its arrival in India’s burgeoning payments space could create serious tension for Google Pay, Flipkart’s PhonePe and Paytm. For Facebook, WhatsApp Pay’s success is even more crucial as the company currently has no plans to bring cryptocurrency wallet Calibra to the country, it told TechCrunch on the sidelines of the Libra and Calibra unveil.

In a series of announcements this week, WhatsApp also unveiled a tie-up with NITI Aayog to promote women’s entrepreneurship. “By launching ‘gateway to a billion opportunities’ and our digital skills training program, we hope to shine a light on the amazing work already happening and build the next generation of entrepreneurs and change makers,” said Cathcart.

At a conference in Mumbai on Wednesday, Cathcart announced a partnership with the Indian School of Public Policy — India’s first program in the theory and practice of public policy, product design and management — to bring a series of privacy design workshops to future policy makers. These workshops will explore “the importance and practice of privacy-centric design to help technology make a positive impact on society,” the Facebook-owned platform said.

SAP CEO Bill McDermott will join us at TC Sessions: Enterprise

By Frederic Lardinois

You can’t talk about enterprise software without talking about SAP, the German software giant that now has a market cap of more than $172 billion, making it Europe’s most valuable tech company. To talk about his company and leadership in a rapidly changing environment for enterprise software, SAP CEO Bill McDermott will join us for a fireside chat at our TC Sessions: Enterprise event on September 5 in San Francisco.

McDermott joined the company as the CEO of SAP America in 2002. He then joined the executive board in 2008 and became co-CEO in 2010. Since becoming the first American to head the company in 2014, McDermott has continued to increase the company’s annual revenue and, maybe more importantly, expanded the company’s product range.

Chances are you know SAP mostly for its Hana in-memory database offering and CRM and enterprise resource management systems. Hana is important enough that all of the major cloud suppliers offer virtual machines specifically tuned for it, something they don’t do for any other piece of software. But SAP also offers services around data and networks management, IoT, blockchain and HR. Its more than 300,000 customers span virtually every industry and include government agencies around the globe, and the company itself has offices in virtually every country in the world.

We will talk to McDermott about the trends he’s seeing in the industry, including his company’s open data alliance with Microsoft and Adobe, his plans to double his company’s market cap, the role that open source now plays in enterprise software and how owning a Long Island deli prepared him for his current job. And we won’t forget SAP’s giant $8 billion acquisition of Qualtrics last year, which allows SAP to couple operational data with customer experience — matching what customers do with why they do it — one of the hottest areas in enterprise.

Outside of SAP, McDermott also serves on the board of directors of companies like Under Armour, Dell SecureWorks and ANSYS.e

Early Bird tickets are on sale for just $249 when you book here, but hurry — prices go up by $100 soon! Students, grab your discounted tickets for just $75 here.

SAP’s CEO Bill McDermott will join us at TC Sessions: Enterprise

By Frederic Lardinois

You can’t talk about enterprise software without talking about SAP, class="crunchbase-tooltip-indicator"> the German software giant that now has a market cap of more than $172 billion, making it Europe’s most valuable tech company. To talk about his company and leadership in a rapidly changing environment for enterprise software, SAP CEO Bill McDermott will join us for a fireside chat at our TC Sessions: Enterprise event on September 5 in San Francisco.

McDermott joined the company as the CEO of SAP America in 2002. He then joined the executive board in 2008 and became co-CEO in 2010. Since becoming the first American to head the company in 2014, McDermott has continued to increase the company’s annual revenue and, maybe more importantly, expanded the company’s product range.

Chances are you know SAP mostly for its Hana in-memory database offering and CRM and enterprise resource management systems. Hana is important enough that all of the major cloud suppliers offer virtual machines specifically tuned for it, something they don’t do for any other piece of software. But SAP also offers services around data and networks management, IoT, blockchain and HR. Its more than 300,000 customers span virtually every industry and include government agencies around the globe, and the company itself has offices in virtually every country in the world.

Plus, with the acquisition of Qualtrics, SAP now helps organizations couple operational data with the power of the experience – matching what customers do with why they do it.

We will talk to McDermott about the trends he’s seeing in the industry, including his company’s open data alliance with Microsoft and Adobe, his plans to double his company’s market cap, the role that open source now plays in enterprise software and how owning a Long Island deli prepared him for his current job.

Outside of SAP, McDermott also serves on the board of directors of companies like Under Armour, Dell SecureWorks and ANSYS.e

Early Bird tickets are on sale for just $249 when you book here, but hurry prices go up by $100 soon! Students, grab your discounted tickets for just $75 here.

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