IPOs are the beginning, not the end

Earlier this month at TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco, we sat down with Box’s Aaron Levie and PagerDuty’s Jennifer Tejada to discuss their respective companies’ paths to an IPO, the general IPO landscape and the pros and cons of going public. With a lot of recent IPOs faltering and increased pressure on startup valuations, now is as good a time as ever to think about the role IPOs play in a company’s lifespan.

“I think it’s really important to think of the IPOs, the beginning, not the end,” said Tejada. “We all live in Silicon Valley and that can be a little bit of an echo chamber and you talk about exits all the time. The IPO is an entrance, right? It is part of the beginning of a long journey for a durable company that you want to build a legacy around. And so, it is a moment — it’s the start of you really sharing a narrative backed by financial data to help people understand your current business, the potential for your business, the market that you’re in, etc. And I think we tend to talk about it like it’s the be-all end-all.”

That’s something Levie definitely agrees with. “I think we have too much of a fixation on the IPO moment versus just building durable business models and how do they end up translating into valuations. The valuation that you get at an IPO is due to variety factors.”

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SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 02: (L-R) PagerDuty CEO & Chairperson Jennifer Tejada, Box Co-Founder/Chairman & CEO Aaron Levie, and TechCrunch Writer Frederic Lardinois speak onstage during TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco 2019 at Moscone Convention Center on October 02, 2019 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

It’s no secret that Box and PagerDuty had very different experiences as they got ready to go public. Box announced its S-1 only a few days before a major market crash back in 2014. PagerDuty, on the other hand, went public earlier this year, with solid financials and very little drama.

Tejada, in many ways, attributed that to the work she and her team did to get the company ready for this moment. “I get asked a lot by CEOs that are thinking about getting ready to go public, ‘you know, what was your playbook? How do you do this?’ And I think instead of thinking about what’s the playbook, you need to be intellectually honest about what your business looks like,” she said. In her view, CEOs need to focus on the leading indicators for their business — the ones they want the market to understand. But she also noted that the market needs to understand a company’s potential in the long run.

“You want to make sure that the market understands where you think the business can go and gets excited about it, but that they don’t over-rotate in their expectations, because dealing with really high expectations creates a lot of downstream difficulty.”

Atlassian acquires Code Barrel, makers of Automation for Jira

Atlassian today announced that it has acquired Code Barrel, the makers of Automation for Jira, a low-code tool for easily automating many aspects of Jira that’s also one of the most popular add-ons for Jira Software and Jira Service Desk in Atlassian’s marketplace. The two companies did not disclose the price of the acquisition.

Sydney-based Code Barrel was founded by two of the first engineers who built Jira at Atlassian, Nick Menere and Andreas Knecht. With this acquisition, they are returning to Atlassian after four years in startup land.

“For me and Andreas, it’s almost like coming home,” said Menere, who joined the Jira team in 2005 when there were only a handful of developers working on the product. “It’s the place where we pretty much learned how to develop software and how to develop product. For us, this was the only company we would ever go back to.”

As the name implies, Automation for Jira makes it easy to automate recurring tasks in Atlassian’s issue and project tracking service. “Increasingly, [our customers] are having to spend a lot of time on the mundane,” Noah Wasmer, the VP of Product for Tech Teams at Atlassian, told me. “What we’re seeing is that with Jira as the backbone, they are interacting with a lot of systems, are duplicating work, are manually entering work into different systems. And so what we’re finding is that they’re spending an inordinate amount of time doing things that aren’t actually helping them build and create those next-generation things that help change our world.”

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If you want to reduce this kind of duplication of work, then automation is the obvious thing to look at. And with more than 6,000 companies that found Code Barrel’s solution in Atlassian’s marketplace, plus the founders’ obvious connection to the company, Automation for Jira must have been an obvious candidate for an acquisition.

Wasmer also stressed that the fact that they built a no-code tool will allow anybody who uses Jira to create scripts without having to be a programmer. Automation for Jira allows users to set up time-based rules or those that run based on triggers inside of Jira. It also features third-party integrations with SMS, Slack and Microsoft Teams, among others.

For the time being, Automation for Jira will remain in the Atlassian Marketplace and will continue to sell at the same price of $5/user/month for teams with up to 10 users and $2.5/user/month for teams between 11 and 100 users, with prices going down from there for larger enterprises. Surely, Atlassian will start integrating some of the tool’s features into Jira, but for the time being the company doesn’t have anything to announce on that front.

Work management platform Asana launches new automation tools

Work management platform Asana today announced the launch of a new feature that will take the work out of some of the most mundane and repetitive tasks on its platform. Asana Automation, as the new feature is called, allows users to create their own “if this then that” rules, but also features a new voice transcription service, as well as an OCR tool and new smart templates that integrate some of the service’s machine learning smarts.

“Earlier this year we launched Workload, empowering teams to be more agile when planning, monitoring and managing their efforts,” said Asana head of product said Alex Hood. “Now with Automation, we’re introducing the ability to automate your routine tasks so you can spend more energy on your craft and leave the repetitive busywork to Asana.”

Automation Rule and integration

The rule builder comes with over 70 pre-build and preset rules at launch, but users can obviously build their own rules as well. Asana customers can use the service to automatically route tasks to a specific team member, for example. Like with the rest of the new features the company announced today, the idea here is to automate many of the processes that keep teams busy all day, doing “work about work.”

The new OCR and transcription services, which are now available in Asana’s iPhone app, are pretty self-explanatory. They make it easier to capture what was said in a meeting or written on a whiteboard, which users can then assign to a given task in Asana.

Smart project templates, too, take some of the grunt work out of using Asana. “Now when using a template, such as an event plan or campaign launch, a complete workback schedule can be instantly layered on,” the company explains. “When a conflict arises between task deadlines, Asana will automatically correct, enabling teams to spend less time setting up projects and workflows, and more time getting work done.”

Zoho launches Catalyst, a new developer platform with a focus on microservices

Zoho may be one of the most underrated tech companies. The 23-year-old company, which at this point offers more than 45 products, has never taken outside funding and has no ambition to go public, yet it’s highly profitable and runs its own data centers around the world. And today, it’s launching Catalyst, a cloud-based developer platform with a focus on microservices that it hopes can challenge those of many of its larger competitors.

The company already offered a low-code tool for building business apps. But Catalyst is different. Zoho isn’t following in the footsteps of Google or Amazon here and offering a relatively unopinionated platform for running virtual machines and containers. Indeed, it does nothing of the sort. The company is 100% betting on serverless as the next major technology for building enterprise apps and the whole platform has been tuned for this purpose.

Catalyst Zia AI

“Historically, when you look at cloud computing, when you look at any public clouds, they pretty much range from virtualizing your servers and renting our virtual servers all the way up the stack,” Raju Vegesna, Zoho’s chief evangelist, said when I asked him about this decision to bet on serverless. “But when you look at it from a developer’s point of view, you still have to deal with a lot of baggage. You still have to figure out the operating system, you still have to figure out the database. And then you have to scale and manage the updates. All of that has to be done at the application infrastructure level.” In recent years, though, said Vegesna, the focus has shifted to the app logic side, with databases and file servers being abstracted away. And that’s the trend Zoho is hoping to capitalize on with Catalyst.

What Catalyst does do is give advanced developers a platform to build, run and manage event-driven microservice-based applications that can, among other things, also tap into many of the tools that Zoho built for running its own applications, like a grammar checker for Zoho Writer, document previews for Zoho Drive or access to its Zia AI tools for OCR, sentiment analysis and predictions. The platform gives developers tools to orchestrate the various microservices, which obviously means it’ll make it easy to scale applications as needed, too. It integrates with existing CI/CD pipelines and IDEs.

Catalyst Functions

Catalyst also complies with the SOC Type II and ISO 27001 certifications, as well as GDPR. It also offers developers the ability to access data from Zoho’s own applications, as well as third-party tools, all backed by Zoho’s Unified Data Model, a relational datastore for server-side and client deployment.

“The infrastructure that we built over the last several years is now being exposed,” said Vegesna. He also stressed that Zoho is launching the complete platform in one go (though it will obviously add to it over time). “We are bringing everything together so that you can develop a mobile or web app from a single interface,” he said. “We are not just throwing 50 different disparate services out there.” At the same time, though, the company is also opting for a very deliberate approach here with its focus on serverless. That, Vegesna believes, will allow Zoho Catalyst to compete with its larger competitors.

It’s also worth noting that Zoho knows that it’s playing the long-game here, something it is familiar with, given that it launched its first product, Zoho Writer, back in 2005 before Google had launched its productivity suite.

Catalyst Homepage

 

SAP’s Bill McDermott on stepping down as CEO

SAP’s CEO Bill McDermott today announced that he wouldn’t seek to renew his contract for the next year and step down immediately after nine years at the helm of the German enterprise giant.

Shortly after the announcement, I talked to McDermott, as well as SAP’s new co-CEOs Jennifer Morgan and Christian Klein. During the call, McDermott stressed that his decision to step down was very much a personal one, and that while he’s not ready to retire just yet, he simply believes that now is the right time for him to pass on the reins of the company.

To say that today’s news came as a surprise is a bit of an understatement, but it seems like it’s something McDermott has been thinking about for a while. But after talking to McDermott, Morgan and Klein, I can’t help but think that the actual decision came rather recently.

I last spoke to McDermott about a month ago, during a fireside chat at our TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise event. At the time, I didn’t come away with the impression that this was a CEO on his way out (though McDermott reminded me that if he had already made up his decision a month ago, he probably wouldn’t have given it away anyway).

Keeping an Enterprise Behemoth on Course with Bill McDermott SAPDSC00240

“I’m not afraid to make decisions. That’s one of the things I’m known for,” he told me when I asked him about how the process unfolded. “This one, I did a lot of deep soul searching. I really did think about it very heavily — and I know that it’s the right time and that’s why I’m so happy. When you can make decisions from a position of strength, you’re always happy.”

He also noted that he has been with SAP for 17 years, with almost 10 years as CEO, and that he recently spent some time talking to fellow high-level CEOs.

“The consensus was 10 years is about the right amount of time for a CEO because you’ve accomplished a lot of things if you did the job well, but you certainly didn’t stay too long. And if you did really well, you had a fantastic success plan,” he said.

In “the recent past,” McDermott met with SAP chairman and co-founder Hasso Plattner to explain to him that he wouldn’t renew his contract. According to McDermott, both of them agreed that the company is currently at “maximum strength” and that this would be the best time to put the succession plan into action.

SAP's new co-CEO Jennifer Morgan.

SAP co-CEO Jennifer Morgan.

“With the continuity of Jennifer and Christian obviously already serving on the board and doing an unbelievable job, we said let’s control our destiny. I’m not going to renew, and these are the two best people for the job without question. Then they’ll get a chance to go to Capital Markets Day [in November]. Set that next phase of our growth story. Kick off the New Year — and do so with a clean slate and a clean run to the finish line.

“Very rarely do CEOs get the joy of handing over a company at maximum strength. And today is a great day for SAP. It’s a great day for me personally and Hasso Plattner, the chairman and [co-]founder of SAP. And also — and most importantly — a great day for Jennifer Morgan and Christian Klein.”

Don’t expect for McDermott to just fade into the background, though, now that he is leaving SAP. If you’ve ever met or seen McDermott speak, you know that he’s unlikely to simply retire. “I’m busy. I’m passionate and I’m just getting warmed up,” he said.

As for the new leadership, Morgan and Klein noted that they hadn’t had a lot of time to think about the strategy going forward. Both previously held executive positions in the company and served on SAP’s board together for the last few years. For now, it seems, they are planning on continuing on a similar path as McDermott.

“We’re excited about creating a renewed focus on the engineering DNA of SAP, combining the amazing strength and heritage of SAP — and many of the folks who have built the products that so many customers around the world run today — with a new DNA that’s come in from many of the cloud acquisitions that we’ve made,” Morgan said, noting that both she and Klein spent a lot of time over the last few months bringing their teams together in new ways. “So I think for us, that tapestry of talent and that real sense of urgency and support of our customers and innovation is top of mind for us.”

SAP co-CEO Christian Klein

SAP co-CEO Christian Klein

Klein also stressed that he believes SAP’s current strategy is the right one. “We had unbelievable deals again in Q3 where we actually combined our latest innovations — where we combined Qualtrics with SuccessFactors with S/4 [Hana] to drive unbelievable business value for our customers. This is the way to go. The business case is there. I see a huge shift now towards S/4, and the core and business case is there, supporting new business models, driving automation, steering the company in real time. All of these assets are now coming together with our great cloud assets, so for me, the strategy works.”

Having co-CEOs can be a recipe for conflict, but McDermott started out as co-CEO with Plattner, so the company does have some experience there. Morgan and Klein noted that they worked together on the SAP board before and know each other quite well.

What’s next for the new CEOs? “There has to be a huge focus on Q4,” Klein said. “And then, of course, we will continue like we did in the past. I’ve known Jen now for quite a while — there was a lot of trust there in the past and I’m really now excited to really move forward together with her and driving huge business outcomes for our customers. And let’s not forget our employees. Our employee morale is at an all-time high. And we know how important that is to our employees. We definitely want that to continue.”

It’s hard to imagine SAP with McDermott, but we’ve clearly not seen the last of him yet. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw him pop up as the CEO of another company soon.

Below is my interview with McDermott from TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise.

Bill McDermott steps down as SAP’s CEO

SAP today announced that Bill McDermott, its CEO for the last nine years, is stepping down immediately. The company says he decided not to renew his contract. SAP Executive Board members Jennifer Morgan and Christian Klein have been appointed co-CEOs.

McDermott, who started his business career as a deli owner in Amityville, Long Island and recently spoke at our TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise event, joined SAP in 2002 as the head of SAP North America. He became co-CEO, together with SAP co-founder Hasso Plattner, in 2008 and the company’s sole CEO in 2014. Under his guidance, SAP’s annual revenue and stock price continued to increase.

It’s unclear why McDermott decided to step down at this point, but after today’s earnings report, activist investor Elliott Management disclosed a $1.35 billion stake in SAP and supported the move, according to a statement it gave to Reuters, but when asked for a comment, an Elliott spokesperson told us that it didn’t have any “immediate comment.”

It’s also worth noting that the company saw a number of defections among its executive ranks in recent months, with both SAP SuccessFactors COO Brigette McInnis-Day and Robert Enslin, the president of its cloud business and a board member, leaving the company for Google Cloud.

Keeping an Enterprise Behemoth on Course with Bill McDermott SAPDSC00248

“SAP would not be what it is today without Bill McDermott,” said Plattner in today’s announcement. “Bill made invaluable contributions to this company and he was a main driver of SAP’s transition to the cloud, which will fuel our growth for many years to come. We thank him for everything he has done for SAP. We also congratulate Jennifer and Christian for this opportunity to build on the strong foundation we have for the future of SAP. Bill and I made the decision over a year ago to expand Jennifer and Christian’s roles as part of a long-term process to develop them as our next generation of leaders. We are confident in their vision and capabilities as we take SAP to its next phase of growth and innovation.”

McDermott’s biggest bet in recent years came with the acquisition of Qualtrics for $8 billion. At our event last month, McDermott compared this acquisition to Apple’s acquisition of Next and Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram. “Qualtrics is to SAP what those M&A moves were to those wonderful companies,” he said. Under his leadership, SAP also acquired corporate expense and travel management company Concur for $8.3 billion and SuccessFactors for $3.4 billion.

“Now is the moment for everyone to begin an exciting new chapter, and I am confident that Jennifer and Christian will do an outstanding job,” McDermott said in today’s announcement. “I look forward to supporting them as they finish 2019 and lay the foundation for 2020 and beyond. To every customer, partner, shareholder and colleague who invested their trust in SAP, I can only relay my heartfelt gratitude and enduring respect.”

Updating…

Suse’s OpenStack Cloud dissipates

Suse, the newly independent open-source company behind the eponymous Linux distribution and an increasingly large set of managed enterprise services, today announced a bit of a new strategy as it looks to stay on top of the changing trends in the enterprise developer space. Over the course of the last few years, Suse put a strong emphasis on the OpenStack platform, an open-source project that essentially allows big enterprises to build something in their own data centers akin to the core services of a public cloud like AWS or Azure. With this new strategy, Suse is transitioning away from OpenStack . It’s ceasing both production of new versions of its OpenStack Cloud and sales of its existing OpenStack product.

“As Suse embarks on the next stage of our growth and evolution as the world’s largest independent open source company, we will grow the business by aligning our strategy to meet the current and future needs of our enterprise customers as they move to increasingly dynamic hybrid and multi-cloud application landscapes and DevOps processes,” the company said in a statement. “We are ideally positioned to execute on this strategy and help our customers embrace the full spectrum of computing environments, from edge to core to cloud.”

What Suse will focus on going forward are its Cloud Application Platform (which is based on the open-source Cloud Foundry platform) and Kubernetes-based container platform.

Chances are, Suse wouldn’t shut down its OpenStack services if it saw growing sales in this segment. But while the hype around OpenStack died down in recent years, it’s still among the world’s most active open-source projects and runs the production environments of some of the world’s largest companies, including some very large telcos. It took a while for the project to position itself in a space where all of the mindshare went to containers — and especially Kubernetes — for the last few years. At the same time, though, containers are also opening up new opportunities for OpenStack, as you still need some way to manage those containers and the rest of your infrastructure.

The OpenStack Foundation, the umbrella organization that helps guide the project, remains upbeat.

“The market for OpenStack distributions is settling on a core group of highly supported, well-adopted players, just as has happened with Linux and other large-scale, open-source projects,” said OpenStack Foundation COO Mark Collier in a statement. “All companies adjust strategic priorities from time to time, and for those distro providers that continue to focus on providing open-source infrastructure products for containers, VMs and bare metal in private cloud, OpenStack is the market’s leading choice.”

He also notes that analyst firm 451 Research believes there is a combined Kubernetes and OpenStack market of about $11 billion, with $7.7 billion of that focused on OpenStack. “As the overall open-source cloud market continues its march toward eight figures in revenue and beyond — most of it concentrated in OpenStack products and services — it’s clear that the natural consolidation of distros is having no impact on adoption,” Collier argues.

For Suse, though, this marks the end of its OpenStack products. As of now, though, the company remains a top-level Platinum sponsor of the OpenStack Foundation and Suse’s Alan Clark remains on the Foundation’s board. Suse is involved in some of the other projects under the OpenStack brand, so the company will likely remain a sponsor, but it’s probably a fair guess that it won’t continue to do so at the highest level.

Google makes moving music and videos between speakers and screens easier

Google today announced a small but nifty feature for the Google Assistant and its smart home devices that makes it easier for you to take your music and videos with you as you wander about the different rooms in your home.

‘Stream transfer’ as Google prosaically calls it, allows you to simply ask the Assistant to move your music to a different speaker, or — if you have the right speaker group set up — to all speakers and TVs in your home. All you have to say is “Hey Google, move the music to the bedroom speaker,” for example. In addition to your voice, you can also use the Google Home app or the touchscreen on your Google Nest Home Hub.

This will work with any source that can play to your Chromecast-enabled speakers and displays.

It’s all pretty straightforward — to the point where I’m surprised it took so long for Google to enable a feature like this. But maybe it just needed to have enough devices in peoples’ homes to make it worthwhile. “Now that millions of users have multiple TVs, smart speakers and smart displays (some in every room!) we wanted to make it easy for people to control their media as they moved from room to room,” Google itself explains in today’s announcement.

Opera’s desktop browser gets built-in tracking protection

Browser maker Opera today announced the launch of version 68 of its flagship desktop browser. The marquee feature of the launch is the addition of a tracker blocker that will make it harder for advertisers and others to track you while you browse the web — and which has the additional benefit of speeding up your browsing session. Indeed, Opera argues that turning on both the tracking protection and the built-in ad blocker can speed up page loads by up to 23 percent.

The new tracking protection feature is off by default (as is the existing ad blocker). The tracking feature uses the EasyPrivacy Tracking Protection List, which has been around for quite a few years now.

“We consider the tracker blocker to be a browser feature which can be kept on at all times, “writes Opera PC product manager Joanna Czajka. “Our browser, however, also has plenty of extended privacy features which come in handy when someone feels the need to increase the privacy of their browsing even further.”

In addition to the new tracking protection, which is increasingly becoming standard among browser vendors (and which is surely putting some additional pressure on Google and its Chrome browser), Opera is also introducing a new screenshotting feature with this update. That’s not an unusual feature, but it’s a pretty full-featured implementation, with the ability to blur parts of a page and draw on the screenshots.

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Microsoft launches the ARM-based Surface Pro X

At its annual Surface hardware event, Microsoft today announced the long-rumored ARM-based Surface, the first time Microsoft itself has launched a device with an ARM-based processor inside. The 13-inch device will use Microsoft’s own custom SQ1 chip, based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon and an AI accelerator, making it the first Surface with an integrated AI engine. Microsoft and Qualcomm also worked on building custom-designed GPU cores for the Pro X, which will run Microsoft’s version of Windows 10 for ARM.

We’ll update the post once Microsoft announces prices for the Pro X.

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Microsoft started its flirtation with ARM-based devices a few years ago and that work culminated in the launch of a number of ARM-powered devices from HP, Asus and others, promising all-day battery life, the ability to still run almost every Windows application, and performance comparable to a lower-end Intel chip. To do this, Microsoft is using a binary translator that converts X86 instructions into ARM64 as necessary, while still compiling almost all of the native Windows 10 libraries for the ARM architecture.

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Like Microsoft’s other new Surface devices, the 13-inch ARM-based Pro X will feature USB-C ports. The screen features a 1400:1 contrast ratio and a 2880×1920 resolution and can be extended to a 4k screen. At its thinnest point, the Pro x is 5.3mm thin and weighs 1.68 pounds. There’s also a removable hard-drive, a first for the Surface line.

Together with Qualcomm, Microsoft designed its own custom processor for this, the SQ1. Microsoft stressed the work the team did on building an AI engine into the chipset.

Microsoft also launched a new, slimmer Surface pen for the Pro X, which will feature its own storage space on the new Type Cover for the device.

It’s no secret that ARM itself has worked hard to bring its chip designed to laptops, desktops and servers. With every new generation of its design, the company talks about how it wants to get more of its chips into these machines, especially now that their performance is often more than adequate for many use cases. With this Microsoft partnership, it’s definitely getting a bit closer to this.

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