Zendesk acquires Smooch, doubles down on support via messaging apps like WhatsApp

Source: Tech News – Enterprise

One of the bigger developments in customer services has been the impact of social media — both as a place to vent frustration or praise (mostly frustration), and — especially over messaging apps — as a place for businesses to connect with their users.

Now, customer support specialist Zendesk has made an acquisition so that it can make a bigger move into how it works within social media platforms, and specifically messaging apps: it has acquired Smooch, a startup that describes itself as an “omnichannel messaging platform,” which companies’ customer care teams can use to interact with people over messaging platforms like WhatsApp, WeChat, Line and Messenger, as well as SMS and email.

Smooch was in fact one of the first partners for the WhatsApp Business API, alongside VoiceSageNexmoInfobip, Twilio, MessageBird and others are already advertising their services in this area.

It had also been a longtime partner of Zendesk’s, powering the company’s own WhatsApp Business integration and other features. The two already have some customers in common, including Uber. Other Smooch customers include Four Seasons, SXSW, Betterment, Clarabridge, Harry’s, LVMH, Delivery Hero and BarkBox.

Terms of the deal are not being disclosed, but Zendesk SVP <span class=”il”>Shawna Wolverton said in an interview that that the startup’s entire team of 48, led by co-founder and CEO Warren Levitan, are being offered positions with Zendesk. Smooch is based out of Montreal, Canada — so this represents an expansion for Zendesk into building an office in Canada.

Its backers included iNovia, TA Associates and Real Ventures, who collectively had backed it with less than $10 million (when you leave in inflated hills surrounding Silicon Valley, numbers magically decline). As Zendesk is publicly traded, we may get more of a picture of the price in future quarterly reports. This is the company’s fifth acquisition to date.

The deal underscores the big impact that messaging apps are making in customer service. While phone and internet are massive points of contact, messaging apps is one of the most-requested features Zendesk’s customers are asking for, “because they want to be where their customers are,” with WhatsApp — now at 1.5 billion users — currently at the top of the pile, Wolverton said. (More than half of Zendesk’s revenues are from outside the US, which speaks to why WhatsApp — which is bigger outside the US than it is in it — is a popular request.)

That’s partly a by-product of how popular messaging apps are full-stop, with more than 75 percent of all smartphone users having at least one messaging app in use on their devices.

“We live in a messaging-centric world, and customers expect the convenience and interactivity of messaging to be part of their experiences,” said Mikkel Svane, Zendesk founder, CEO and chairman, in a statement. “As long-time partners with Smooch, we know first hand how much they have advanced the conversational experience to bring together all forms of messaging and create a continuous conversation between customers and businesses.”

 

While the two companies were already working together, the acquisition will mean a closer integration.

That will be in multiple areas. Last year, Zendesk launched a new CRM play called Sunshine, going head to head with the likes of Salesforce in helping businesses better organise and make use of customer data. Smooch will build on that strategy to bring in data to Sunshine from messaging apps and the interactions that take place on them. Also last year, Zendesk launched an omnichannel play, a platform called The Suite, which it says “has become one of our most successful products ever,” with a 400 percent rise in its customers taking an omnichannel approach. Smooch already forms a key part of that, and it will be even more tightly so.

On the outbound side, for now, there will be two areas where Smooch will be used, Wolverton said. First will be on the basic level of giving Zendesk users the ability to see and create messaging app discussions within a dashboard where they are able to monitor and handle all customer relationship contacts: a conversation that was inititated now on, say, Twitter, can be easily moved into WhatsApp or whatever more direct channel someone wants to use.

Second, Wolverton said that customer care workers can use Smooch to send on “micro apps” to users to handle routine service enquiries, for example sending them links to make or change seat assignments on a flight.

Over time, the plan will be to bring in more automated options into the experience, which opens the door for using more AI and potentially bots down the line.


Zendesk acquires Smooch, doubles down on support via messaging apps like WhatsApp

Wagestream closes $51M Series A to plug the payday gap without putting workers in debt

Source: Tech News – Enterprise

Getting your work wages on a monthly (not weekly nor biweekly) basis has become a more widespread trend as the price of running payrolls has gone up, and organizations’ cashflow has gone down. That 30-day shift may be a boost to employers, but not employees, who may need access to those wages more immediately and find it a challenge to stretch out their income month to month.

Now, a startup based out of London has raised a large round of funding for service that’s aiming to plug that gap. Wagestream — which works with employers to let employees draw down a percentage of their income in the month for a small, flat fee — today said that it has closed a Series A round of £40 million ($51 million).

The funding is coming in the form of equity and debt, with Balderton and Northzone leading on the equity side, which makes up £15 million of the raise, and savings bank Shawbrook investing £25 million on the debt side to finance employee draw-downs. Other investors in the round include QED, the Rowntree Foundation, the London Co-investment Fund (LCIF) and Village Global, a social venture firm backed by Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, among others.

The company is not disclosing its valuation but this brings the total raised to just under £45 million and “the valuation is definitely higher now”, according to CEO and co-founder Peter Briffett.

The list of investors is proving to be a useful one for Wagestream as it grows. I asked if Bezos’ company Amazon was working with Wagestream. Briffett confirmed it is not a customer currently, “but we are talking to them.” It does, however, have a number of other customers already signed up, including pest removal service Rentokil PLC, Camden Town Brewery, the Slug & Lettuce pub chain and Carluccio’s chain of eateries, along with the NHS and Hackney Council — covering some 120,000 workers in all.

Amazon is an indicative example of one of the big opportunities for the company, which today is active in the UK but aiming to expand across Europe and the rest of the world.

While it is one of the biggest employers in the tech world, where it might typically pay out six-figure salaries in senior management, operational and technical roles, it’s also building out its business by being one of the biggest employers also of hourly workers in its warehouses, wider logistics operations and similar areas. It’s employees like these who might be considered the first wave of employees that Wagestream is initially targeting, some of whom may be earning just enough or slightly more than enough to get by (at best), and face being victims of what Briffett referred to as the “payday poverty cycle.”

Getting paid monthly today accounts for some 85 percent of all paychecks in the UK today, and the proportion is similar in Europe and also getting increasingly common in the US, Briffett — who has also worked at Microsoft, LivingSocial (when it was still backed by Amazon, and where he started the UK operation and ran it as the CEO for years), and YPlan (acquired by Time Out) — said in an interview. You might ask: why don’t the workers just budget better? But it doesn’t always work out that way, especially the longer the gap is between paychecks, and if you, for example, have an unexpected expense to cover.

Because of that ubiquity, and the acuteness of the problem (if you’ve ever earned just about enough, or been a child in a family whose parents did, you may understand the predicament quite well ), Wagestream is not the first time that we’ve seen a financial services startup emerge to target that demographic.

Some other attempts have been scandalously disastrous, however: recall “Payday Loan” provider Wonga, backed by an illustrious set of investors but ultimately accused of, and hit hard by regulators and the public for, preying on people who were in need of funds with loans that were not transparent enough in their terms and led the borrowers into deep debt.

Wonga itself paid a big price for its practices, and the company is now bankrupt (and apparently still unable to replay creditors, as of the last report in March).

It was the disaster of Wonga — and an article in the WSJ about alternatives to payday loans — that Briffett said got him thinking about the possibilities and building Wagestream. (Ironic note: if you use PitchBook as I do, Wonga is listed among Wagestream’s backers, which Briffett assures me is an error.)

Wagestream positions itself as a “social impact” startup for targeting a very real problem that impacts financial inclusion for a proportion of the population, and it says this represents one of the highest rounds ever for a startup in the UK aimed at social impact.

“We fell in love with the strong product-market fit of Wagestream. We very rarely hear such universal positive feedback from all who have tried a product,” said Rob Moffat, a partner at Balderton, in a statement. “Companies used to take an active role in supporting the financial health of their users but this has slowly been eroded, to the extent where employees paid at the end of the month are effectively subsidising their employer for 29 days a month. Wagestream starts to restore the right balance.”

Wagestream operates by striking deals with employers to offer its services to its workers, who download an app and link up Wagestream with their salary and banking details. Businesses are able to set limits for what percentage of their wages employees can draw down each month, and how often the service can be used. Typically the limit is around 40 percent of a monthly wage, Briffett said.

Employees then can get the money instantly by paying a fee of £1.75 per withdrawal. “We are funding all of the withdrawals up front,” Briffett said. “We are the first company to marry workforce management and financial data.”

Down the road, the plan will be to expand to Europe as well as to the US, where there are already some other services that are trying to tackle the same problem, such as Instant Financial and DailyPay. There are also a number of areas the company could move into, such as working with companies that employ contract workers, and providing additional financial services to workers already using the app to draw down funds.

More expansion, Briffett said, will inevitably also mean more funding particularly on the debt side.

For now, the emergence of Wavestream is an encouraging sign of how VCs are not just interested in tapping their coffers to bet on tech companies that they think will be hits. They also want to hunt for those whose returns may well be strong, but ultimately are made stronger by the longer-term effect they might have on the wider landscape of consumers, how they interface with fintech, and continue their own progress in the world.


Wagestream closes M Series A to plug the payday gap without putting workers in debt

Tealium, a big data platform for structuring disparate customer information, raises $55M at $600M+ valuation

Source: Tech News – Enterprise

The average enterprise today uses about 90 different software packages, with between 30-40 of them touching customers directly or indirectly. The data that comes out of those systems can prove to be very useful — to help other systems and employees work more intelligently, to help companies make better business decisions — but only if it’s put in order: now, a startup called Tealium, which has built a system precisely to do just that and works with the likes of Facebook and IBM to help manage their customer data, has raised a big round of funding to continue building out the services it provides.

Today, it is announcing a $55 million round of funding — a Series F led by Silver Lake Waterman, the firm’s late-stage capital growth fund; with ABN AMRO, Bain Capital, Declaration Partners, Georgian Partners, Industry Ventures, Parkwood, and Presidio Ventures also participating.

Jeff Lunsford, Tealium’s CEO, said that the company is not disclosing valuation, but he did say that it was “substantially” higher than when the company was last priced three years ago. That valuation was $305 million in 2016, according to PitchBook — a figure Lunsford didn’t dispute when I spoke with him about it, and a source close to the company says it is “more than double” this last valuation, putting this at over $600 million.

He added that the company is close to profitability and is projected to make $100 million in revenues this year, and that this is being considered the company’s “final round” — presumably a sign that it will either no longer need external funding and that if it does, the next step might be either getting acquired or going public.

This brings the total raised by Tealium to $160 million.

The company’s rise over the last eight years has dovetailed with the rapid growth of big data. The movement of services to digital platforms has resulted in a sea of information. Much of that largely sits untapped, but those who are able to bring it to order can reap the rewards by gaining better insights into their organizations.

Tealium had its beginnings in amassing and ordering tags from internet traffic to help optimise marketing and so on — a business where it competes with the likes of Google and Adobe.

Over time, it has expanded and capitalised to a much wider set of data sources that range well beyond web and commerce, and one use of the funding will be to continue expanding those data sources, and also how they are used, with an emphasis on using more AI, Lunsford said.

“There are new areas that touch customers like smart home and smart office hardware, and each requires a step up in integration for a company like us,” he said. “Then once you have it all centralised you could feed machine learning algorithms to have tighter predictions.”

That vast potential is one reason for the investor interest.

“Tealium enables enterprises to solve the customer data fragmentation problem by integrating and enriching data across sources,in real-time to create audiences while providing data governance and fidelity” said Shawn O’Neill, Managing Director, of Silver Lake Waterman, in a statement. “Jeff and his team have built a great platform and we are excited to support the company’s continued growth and investment in innovation.”

The rapid growth of digital services has already seen the company getting a big boost in terms of the data that is passing through its cloud-based platform: it has had a 300 percent year-over-year increase in visitor profiles created, with current tech customers including the likes of Facebook, IBM, Visa and others from across a variety of sectors, such as healthcare, finance and more.

“You’d be surprised how many big tech companies use Tealium,” Lunsford said. “Even they have a limited amount of bandwidth when it comes to developing their internal platforms.”

People like to say that “data is the new oil”, but these days that expression has taken on perhaps an unintended meaning: just like the overconsumption of oil and fossil fuels in general is viewed as detrimental to the long-term health of our planet, the overconsumption of data has also become a very problematic spectre in our very pervasive world of tech.

Governments — the European Union being one notable example — are taking up the challenge of that latter issue with new regulations, specifically GDPR. Interestingly, Lunsford says this has been a good thing rather than a bad thing for his company, as it gives a much clearer directive to companies about what they can use, and how it can be used.

“They want to follow the law,” he said of their clients, “and we give them the data freedom and control to do that.” It’s not the only company tackling the business opportunity of being a big-data repository at a time when data misuse is being scrutinised more than ever: InCountry, which launched weeks ago, is also banking on this gap in the market.

I’d argue that this could potentially be one more reason why Tealium is keen on expanding to areas like IoT and other sources of customer information: just like the sea, the pool of data that’s there for the tapping is nearly limitless.


Tealium, a big data platform for structuring disparate customer information, raises M at 0M+ valuation

In travel tech, 4 rivals merge in Europe to form Altido for property management of Airbnb-style homes

Source: Tech News – Enterprise

The growth of Airbnb and other big travel startups has given a fillip to the wider travel industry, and today several smaller startups in the short-term property sector are announcing that they have merged to tackle the opportunity with more scale.

The UK’s BnbBuddy and The London Residents Club, along with both Hintown from Italy and RentExperience from Portugal — all companies that help manage properties that are listed on platforms like Airbnb — have combined to form a new startup called Altido.

Going into the merger, all four were profitable, having all been boostrapped from day one. But Michael Allen, the MD of the BnbBuddy, said that now the combined entity is using its scale and raising outside funding to grow the business. Altido is looking to raise a Series A in the tens of millions of dollars. It is not disclosing its valuation currently although the fact that it already has an international presence and profitability have helped it in this area, Allen said.

The combined company will have about 1,700 properties under management in 21 European destinations, which it will be using as the anchor for an aggressive push both on existing markets as well as other parts of Europe and beyond. There is a long way to go: as a point of comparison, when Guesty — which provides services to manage rentals of private homes on Airbnb and other services — announced $35 million in funding in March, the number of properties managed on its platform had reached 100,000 across 70 countries.

Other competitors will include the platforms themselves where these properties are getting listed: as Airbnb inches to an IPO, it’s adding ever more services and features to its platform to diversify its revenue streams and also bring in more revenues per customer. (As we’ve said before, that could also make Altido and others like it acquisition targets.)

The growth of Altido’s individual businesses up to now has been on the back of the massive growth surge we’ve seen around platforms — marketplaces, to be more precise — that help people easily list and rent out travel accommodation in private homes as an alternative to hotels; and would-be visitors to find, book and pay for these in an efficient and reliable way, alongside a wider growth of self-catering accommodations that exist as alternative to traditional hotels.

The wider market for “homesharing”, as the first of these categories is sometimes called, has become massive — with Airbnb, the outsized startup leading the charge, now valued at $35 billion — and it now accounts for some 20 percent of the supply of rooms globally by Altido’s estimate.

Some property owners are happy to play host and run and manage their own listings on these platforms — which include the likes of Airbnb, Homeaway and VRBO, and many others — but a big part of the scaling of these services has come by way of third-party management companies that handle different aspects of those listings, from cleaning before and after guests and stocking kitchens and bathrooms with consumables; to managing the relationship with the visitors; to managing the listings themselves.

Altido provides an end-to-end service for those who do not want to play host, alongside a business where it also helps maintain and manage service apartments and aparthotels and guesthouses.

Today the companies that make up Altido rely on third-party platforms to disseminate all those listings, but longer-term, the plan will be to build out more services to offer listings directly as well, alongside more technology to help hosts and other management companies optimise pricing and details around the properties themselves to make them more attractive.

“We see tech as a big enabler,” Goncalo Ribeiro, the founder of RentExperience, said in an interview. He said that his company already has proprietary algorithms that it uses to help calculate property risk factors, which it already uses and will roll out across the whole of the merged company, and the different operations have already been building technology to help onboard properties more efficiently. Areas that it hopes to address include “regulation risk, potential growth rates, historic market data, marketing calculations and more. Any decision we take we want to be proven by data.”


In travel tech, 4 rivals merge in Europe to form Altido for property management of Airbnb-style homes

LinkedIn integrates and updates jobs and hiring platforms, hits 20M job postings

Source: Tech News – Enterprise

LinkedIn, the social networking platform for the working world that’s now owned by Microsoft, has leveraged its role as a repository for people’s work profiles into making itself a job hunting and recruitment powerhouse.

The company today has amassed more than 20 million job listings — up from a mere 300,000  five years ago — and sees its 600 million users collectively apply to jobs 25 million times per week. That activity also translates to big business: paid subscriptions specifically aimed at recruiters, paid tiers for average users who want to have more access to contacting people for jobs, job ads and more all contribute to LinkedIn’s bottom line, a business that is projected to hit $6.4 billion in revenues for 2019, growing 27 percent in the last quarter.

Now, LinkedIn is stepping up a gear in the operation. After a two-year effort, LinkedIn is today announcing that it has finally integrated its jobs and hiring efforts and announcing a raft of new features for both.

On the jobs front, they include instant job alerts, a redesign of the Jobs home page, and more salary insights available to all users (including free users), with skills assessments coming soon.

On the recruitment front, LinkedIn Jobs, Recruiter, and Pipeline Builder are all coming together to create a more seamless way to manage how you post ads, source candidates and other leads and ultimately  interact with them in the process of hiring them.

“This will mean higher quality candiates, better jobs and a better fit,” VP of product John Jersin said in an interview. When asked why it took so long to integrate these tools — and why the process didn’t happen five years ago, for example, he answered that it was more of a consequence of how expectations have evolved as tech has evolved to question some of the silos that are incumbent to how we do business.

“We designed these systems in a way that worked well, but no one foresaw what we needed,” he said. “Advancements in AI have driven the strategy, and integrating all this means we can all learn better from each other.”

The new features that LinkedIn is bringing to jobseekers are responses to how our communications have evolved with the rise of the smartphone. It notes that jobseekers who respond to ads faster are more likely  to get the job, so now when a job gets posted that meet your search criteria, you can get a ping within minutes of the posting. Meanwhile, the redesign of the Jobs homepage is more mobile friendly, with added search features that take into account how you navigate on handheld devices.

The skill assessments, meanwhile, seems to me to be a direct response to the many new innovations we’ve seen among e-learning and recruitment startups, where companies like Coursera and Triplebyte are offering more tools to people to figure out where the best fit might be for their skills in the working world. LinkedIn notes that these can both be used by individuals to verify their skills — tackling a perennial problem with people putting empty claims on their resumes — and also recruiters to source people for jobs.

Important steps for the company, but there remain a lot of opportunities for smaller and newer upstarts to take bites out of LinkedIn’s business in areas where it is still being slow to develop.

For example, we’ve seen the emergence of interesting, more targeted recruitment startups that focus on, say, recruiting with racial diversity in mind (as in the case of Handshake) or focusing on, say, women returning to work after having children (as in the case of the Mom Project). While LinkedIn has made some baby steps (no pun intended) in this area, there is still a ways to go, opening the door to others to come in.

“This is a challenging and multifaceted problem,” admitted Jersin, “but LinkedIn is committed to trying to solve it.” He said the company has quietly started to work on ways of picking up more information that “could be more useful” in addressing questions like these. “One thing that is important is a sense of trust,” he noted as one of the challenges that needs to be tackled online. “I think we are very lucky to be one of the few companies out there that can say that we would use this information responsibly, in the interests of jobseeker.”


LinkedIn integrates and updates jobs and hiring platforms, hits 20M job postings

Facebook’s Workplace, now at 30,000 orgs, adds Chat desktop apps and group video chat

Source: Tech News – Enterprise
 It’s been once year since Workplace, Facebook’s social network designed specifically for businesses and other organizations, came out of beta to take on the likes of Slack, Atlassian, Microsoft and others in the world of enterprise collaboration. Now, with 30,000 organizations using Workplace across some 1 million groups (more than double the figures Facebook published April)… Read MoreFacebook’s Workplace, now at 30,000 orgs, adds Chat desktop apps and group video chat

LogMeIn acquires chatbot and AI startup Nanorep for up to $50M

Source: Tech News – Enterprise
 LogMeIn, the company that provides authentication and other connectivity solutions for those who connect remotely to networks and services, has made another acquisition to expand the products it offers to customers, specifically in its new Bold360 CRM platform, launched in June. The company has picked up Nanorep, a startup out of Israel that develops chatbots and other AI-based tools to… Read MoreLogMeIn acquires chatbot and AI startup Nanorep for up to M

Mapillary raises $8M to take on Google’s Street View with crowdsourced photos

Source: Tech News – Enterprise
Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 14.08.03 A startup out of Sweden called Mapillary is using crowdsourced photos to create an open and more intelligent version of Google’s Street View, and today it announced a Series A round of funding from an impressive list of backers to help make that ambition a reality. The $8 million from Atomico, Sequoia, LDV Capital, and PlayFair will be used to expand operations outside of its home… Read MoreMapillary raises M to take on Google’s Street View with crowdsourced photos

PayPal Commerce Matches Stripe With PayPal’s Own Native Shopping Toolkit For Apps

Source: Tech News – Enterprise
email_buy_buttons PayPal’s first acquisition after it separated from eBay in 2015 was of a young startup called Modest, which had built a platform for small businesses to integrate buy buttons across third-party apps. Now, PayPal is taking the wraps off a new product that will integrate Modest’s technology. PayPal Commerce — as the new service is called — launches today in closed… Read MorePayPal Commerce Matches Stripe With PayPal’s Own Native Shopping Toolkit For Apps

BBVA Shuts In-House Venture Arm, Pours $250M Into New Fintech VC Propel Venture Partners

Source: Tech News – Enterprise
rocket chalkboard BBVA — the Spanish banking giant that acquired Simple in the U.S. and last year made a $67 million investment in still-stealth mobile-only bank Atom in the UK — is changing up how it plans to invest in fintech startups in the future.
The company is shutting down its in-house venture arm, BBVA Ventures; and it is taking BBVA Ventures’ portfolio, the $100 million fund it had… Read MoreBBVA Shuts In-House Venture Arm, Pours 0M Into New Fintech VC Propel Venture Partners