Wendell Brooks has resigned as president of Intel Capital

When Wendell Brooks was promoted to president of Intel Capital, the investment arm of the chip giant, in 2015, he knew he had big shoes to fill. He was taking over from Arvind Sodhani, who had run the investment component for 28 years since its inception. Today, the company confirmed reports that Brooks has resigned that role.

Wendell Brooks has resigned from Intel to pursue other opportunities. We thank Wendell for all his contributions and wish him the best for the future,” a company spokesperson told TechCrunch in a rather bland send off.

Anthony Lin, who has been leading mergers and acquisitions and international investing, will take over on an interim basis. Interestingly, when Brooks was promoted, he too was in charge of mergers and acquisitions. Whether Lin keeps that role remains to be seen.

When I spoke to Brooks in 2015 as he was about to take over from Sodhani, he certainly sounded ready for the task at hand. “I have huge shoes to fill in maintaining that track record,” he said at the time. “I view it as a huge opportunity to grow the focus of organization where we can provide strategic value to portfolio companies.”

In that same interview, Brooks described his investment philosophy, saying he preferred to lead, rather than come on as a secondary investor. “I tend to think the lead investor is able to influence the business thesis, the route to market, the direction, the technology of a startup more than a passive investor,” he said. He added that it also tends to get board seats that can provide additional influence.

Comparing his firm to traditional VC firms, he said they were as good or better in terms of the investing record, and as a strategic investor brought some other advantages as well. “Some of the traditional VCs are focused on a company-building value. We can provide strategic guidance and complement some of the company building over other VCs,” he said.

Over the life of the firm, it has invested $12.9 billion in more than 1,500 companies, with 692 of those exiting via IPO or acquisition. Just this year, under Brooks’ leadership, the company has invested $225 million so far, including 11 new investments and 26 investments in companies already in the portfolio.

Amid pandemic, returning to offices remains an open question for tech leaders

As COVID-19 infections surge in parts of the U.S., many workplaces remain empty or are operating with skeleton crews.

Most agree that the decision to return to the office should involve a combination of business, government and medical officials and scientists who have a deep understanding of COVID-19 and infectious disease in general. The exact timing will depend on many factors, including the government’s willingness to open up, the experts’ view of current conditions, business leadership’s tolerance for risk (or how reasonable it is to run the business remotely), where your business happens to be and the current conditions there.

That doesn’t mean every business that can open will, but if and when they get a green light, they can at least begin bringing some percentage of employees back. But what that could look like is clouded in great uncertainty around commutes, office population density and distancing, the use of elevators, how much you can reasonably deep clean, what it could mean to have a mask on for eight hours a day, and many other factors.

To get a sense of how tech companies are looking at this, we spoke to a number of executives to get their perspective. Most couldn’t see returning to the office beyond a small percentage of employees this year. But to get a more complete picture, we also spoke to a physician specializing in infectious diseases and a government official to get their perspectives on the matter.

Taking it slowly

While there are some guidelines out there to help companies, most of the executives we spoke to found that while they missed in-person interactions, they were happy to take things slow and were more worried about putting staff at risk than being in a hurry to return to normal operations.

Iman Abuzeid, CEO and co-founder at Incredible Health, a startup that helps hospitals find and hire nurses, said her company was half-remote even before COVID-19 hit, but since then, the team is now completely remote. Whenever San Francisco’s mayor gives the go-ahead, she says she will reopen the office, but the company’s 30 employees will have the option to keep working remotely.

She points out that for some employees, working at home has proven very challenging. “I do want to highlight two groups that are pretty important that need to be highlighted in this narrative. First, we have employees with very young kids, and the schools are closed so working at home forever or even for the rest of this year is not really an option, and then the second group is employees who are in smaller apartments, and they’ve got roommates and it’s not comfortable to work at home,” Abuzeid explained.

Those folks will need to go to the office whenever that’s allowed, she said. For Lindsay Grenawalt, chief people officer at Cockroach Labs, an 80-person database startup in NYC, said there has to be a highly compelling reason to bring people back to the office at this point.

Even as cloud infrastructure growth slows, revenue rises over $30B for quarter

The cloud market is coming into its own during the pandemic as the novel coronavirus forced many companies to accelerate plans to move to the cloud, even while the market was beginning to mature on its own.

This week, the big three cloud infrastructure vendors — Amazon, Microsoft and Google — all reported their earnings, and while the numbers showed that growth was beginning to slow down, revenue continued to increase at an impressive rate, surpassing $30 billion for a quarter for the first time, according to Synergy Research Group numbers.

Cisco acquires Modcam to make Meraki smart camera portfolio even smarter

As the Internet of Things proliferates, security cameras are getting smarter. Today, these devices have machine learning capability that helps the camera automatically identify what it’s looking at — for instance, an animal or a human intruder? Today, Cisco announced that it has acquired Swedish startup Modcam and is making it part of its Meraki smart camera portfolio with the goal of incorporating Modcam computer vision technology into its portfolio.

The companies did not reveal the purchase price, but Cisco tells us that the acquisition has closed.

In a blog post announcing the deal, Cisco Meraki’s Chris Stori says Modcam is going to up Meraki’s machine learning game, while giving it some key engineering talent, as well.

“In acquiring Modcam, Cisco is investing in a team of highly talented engineers who bring a wealth of expertise in machine learning, computer vision and cloud-managed cameras. Modcam has developed a solution that enables cameras to become even smarter,” he wrote.

What he means is that today, while Meraki has smart cameras that include motion detection and machine learning capabilities, this is limited to single camera operation. What Modcam brings is the added ability to gather information and apply machine learning across multiple cameras, greatly enhancing the camera’s capabilities.

“With Modcam’s technology, this micro-level information can be stitched together, enabling multiple cameras to provide a macro-level view of the real world,” Stori wrote. In practice, as an example, that could provide a more complete view of space availability for facilities management teams, an especially important scenario as businesses try to find safer ways to open during the pandemic. The other scenario Modcam was selling was giving a more complete picture of what was happening on the factory floor.

All of Modcams employees, which Cisco described only as “a small team,” have joined Cisco, and the Modcam technology will be folded into the Meraki product line, and will no longer be offered as a standalone product, a Cisco spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Modcam was founded in 2013 and has raised $7.6 million, according to Crunchbase data. Cisco acquired Meraki back in 2012 for $1.2 billion.

New Relic is changing its pricing model to encourage broader monitoring

In the monitoring world, typically when you spin up a new instance, you pay a fee to monitor it. If you are particularly active in any given month, that can result in a hefty bill at the end of the month. That leads to limiting what you choose to monitor to control costs. New Relic wants to change that, and today it announced that it’s moving to a model where customers pay by the user instead with a smaller less costly data component.

The company is also simplifying its product set with the goal of encouraging customers to instrument everything instead of deciding what to monitor and what to leave out to control cost. “What we’re announcing is a completely reimagined platform. We’re simplifying our products from 11 to three, and we eliminate those barriers to standardizing on a single source of truth,” New Relic founder and CEO Lew Cirne told TechCrunch.

The way the company can afford to make this switch is by exposing the underlying telemetry database that it created to run its own products. By taking advantage of this database to track all of your APM, tracing and metric data all in one place, Cirne says they can control costs much better and pass those savings onto customers, whose bills should be much smaller based on a this new pricing model, he said.

“Prior to this, there has not been any technology that’s good at gathering all of those data types into a single database, what we would call a telemetry database. And we actually created one ourselves and it’s the backbone of all of our products. [Up until now], we haven’t really exposed it to our customers, so that they can put all their data into it,” he said.

New Relic Telemetry Data. Image: New Relic

The company is distilling the product set into three main categories. The first is the Telemetry Data Platform, which offers a single way to gather any events, logs or traces, whether from their agents or someone else’s or even open source monitoring tools like Prometheus.

The second product is called Full-stack Observability. This includes all of their previous products, which were sold separately such as APM, mobility, infrastructure and logging. Finally they are offering an intelligence layer called New Relic AI.

Cirne says by simplifying the product set and changing the way they bill, it will save customers money through the efficiencies they have uncovered. In practice he says, pricing will consist of a combination of users and data, but he believes their approach will result in much lower bills and more cost certainty for customers.

“It’ll vary by customer so this is just a rough estimate but imagine that the typical New Relic bill under this model will be a 70% per user charge and 30% data charge, roughly, but so if that’s the case, and if you look at our competitors, 100% of the bill is data,” he said.

The new approach is available starting today. Companies can try it with 100 GB single user account.

Hearsay, maker of compliant tools for financial services, deepens ties with Salesforce

Financial services companies like banks and insurance tend to be heavily regulated. As such they require a special level of security and auditability. Hearsay, which makes compliant communications tools for these types of companies, announced a new partnership with Salesforce today, enabling smooth integration with Salesforce CRM and marketing automation tools.

The company also announced that Salesforce would be taking a minority stake in Hearsay, although company co-founder and CEO Clara Shih, did not provide any details on that part of the announcement.

Shih says the company created the social selling category when it launched 10 years ago. Today, it provides a set of tools like email, messaging and websites along with a governance layer to help financial services companies interact with customers in a compliant way. Their customers are primarily in banking, insurance, wealth management and mortgages.

She said that they realized if they could find a way to share the data they were collecting with the Hearsay toolset with CRM and marketing automation software in an automated way, it would make greater use of this information than it could on its own. To that end, they have created a set of APIs to enable that with some built-in connectors. The first one will be to connect Hearsay to Salesforce with plans to add other vendors in the future.

“It’s about being able to connect [data from Hearsay] with the CRM system of record, and then analyzing it across thousands, if not tens of thousands of advisors or bankers in a single company, to uncover best practices. You could then use that information like GPS driving directions that help every advisor behave in the moment and reach out in the moment like the very best advisor would,” Shih explained.

In practice, this means sharing the information with the customer data platform (CDP), the CRM and marketing automation tooling to deliver more intelligent targeting based on a richer body of information. So the advisor can use information gleaned from everything he or she knows about the client across the set of tools to deliver more meaningful personal message instead of a targeted ad or an email blast. As Shih points out, the ad might even make sense, but could be tone deaf depending on the circumstances.

“What we focus on is this human-client experience, and that can only be delivered in the last mile because it’s only with the advisor that many clients will confide in these very important life events and life decisions, and then conversely, it’s only in the last mile that the trusted advisor can deliver relationship advice,” she said.

She says what they are trying to do by combining streams of data about the customer is build loyalty in a way that pure technology solutions just aren’t capable of doing. As she says, nobody says they are switching banks because it has the best chat bot.

Hearsay was founded in 2009 and has raised $51 million, as well as whatever other money Salesforce will be adding to the mix with today’s investment. Other investors include Sequoia and NEA Associates. Its last raise was way back in 2013, a $30 million Series C.

SAP decision to spin out Qualtrics 20 months after spending $8B surprises industry watchers

When SAP announced it was spinning out Qualtrics on Sunday, a company it bought less than two years ago for an eye-popping $8 billion, it was enough to make your head spin. At the time, then CEO Bill McDermott saw it as a way to bridge the company’s core operational with customer data, while acquiring a cloud company that could help generate recurring revenue for the ERP giant, and maybe give it a dose of innovation along the way.

But Sunday night the company announced it was spinning out the acquisition, giving its $8 billion baby independence, and essentially handing the company back to founder Ryan Smith, who will become the largest individual shareholder when this all over.

It’s not every day you see founders pull in a windfall like $8 billion, get sucked into the belly of the large corporate beast and come out the other side just 20 months later with the cash, independence and CEO as the largest individual stockholder.

While SAP will own a majority of the stock, much like Dell owns a majority of VMware, the company will operate independently and have its own board. It can acquire other firms and make decisions separately from SAP.

We spoke to a few industry analysts to find out what they think about all this, and while the reasoning behind the move involves a lot of complex pieces, it could be as simple as the deal was done under the previous CEO, and the new one was ready to move on from it.

Bold step

It’s certainly unusual for a company like SAP to spend this kind of money, and then turn around so quickly and spin it off. In fact, Brent Leary, principal analyst at CRM Essentials, says that this was a move he didn’t see coming, and it could be related to that fat purchase price. “To me it could mean that SAP didn’t see the synergies of the acquisition panning out as they had envisioned and are looking to recoup some of their investment,” Leary told TechCrunch.

Holger Mueller, an analyst with Constellation Research agreed with Leary’s assessment, but doesn’t think that means the deal failed. “SAP doesn’t lose anything in regards to their […] data and experience vision, as they still retain [controlling interest in Qualtrics] . It also opens the opportunity for Qualtrics to partner with other ERP vendors [and broaden its overall market],” he said.

Jeanne Bliss, founder and president at CustomerBLISS, a company that helps clients deliver better customer experiences sees this as a positive step forward for Qualtrics. “This spin off enables Qualtrics to focus on its core business and prove its ability to provide essential technology executives are searching for to enable speed of decision making, innovation and customization,” she said.

Show me the money

Patrick Moorhead, founder and principal analyst at Moor Insight & Strategy sees the two companies moving towards a VMware/Dell model where SAP removes the direct link between them, which could then make them more attractive to a broader range of customers than perhaps they would have been as part of the SAP family. “The big play here is all financial. With tech stocks up so high, SAP isn’t seeing the value in its stock. I am expecting a VMware kind of alignment with a strategic collaboration agreement,” he said.

Ultimately though, he says the the move reflects a cultural failure on the part of SAP. It simply couldn’t find a way to co-exist with a younger, more nimble company like Qualtrics. “I believe SAP spinning out Qualtrics is a sign that its close connection to create symbiotic value has failed. The original charter was to bring it in to modernize SAP but apparently the “not invented here” attitudes kicked in and doomed integration,” Moorhead said.

That symbiotic connection would have involved McDermott’s vision of combining operational and customer data, but Leary also suggested that since the deal happened under previous the CEO, that perhaps new CEO Christian Klein wants to start with a clean slate and this simply wasn’t his deal.

Qualtrics for the win

In the end, Qualtrics got all that money, gets to IPO after all, and returns to being an independent company selling to a larger potential customer base. All of the analysts we spoke to agreed the news is a win for Qualtrics itself.

Leary says the motivation for the original deal was to give SAP a company that could sell beyond its existing customer base. “It seems like that was the impetus for the acquisition, and the fact that SAP is spinning it off as an IPO 20 months after acquiring Qualtrics gives me the impression that things didn’t come together as expected,” he said.

Mueller also sees nothing but postivies Qualtrics. “It’s a win […] for Qualtrics, which can now deliver what they wanted [from the start], and it’s a win for customers as Qualtrics can run as fast as they want,” he said.

Regardless, the company moves on, and the Qualtrics IPO moves forward, and it’s almost as though Qualtrics gets a do-over with $8 billion in its pocket for its trouble.

When choosing a tech stack, look before you leap

When it comes to choosing a tech stack, the decisions you make today could have a cascading impact for years. On one hand you want to be cool and modern, but on the other, you want to build with technology you know — and sometimes getting to market is more important than riding the latest technology wave.

The problem is that your decisions can have consequences that result in technical debt, the concept that as you make one decision, you have to pay a debt of sorts to fix underlying structural problems in the code as the result of those decisions you made early on.

Before you start freaking out, it’s something that happens to every company and is really impossible to avoid — so you make your choices and get your product out the door.

At this week’s TechCrunch Early Stage conference, HappyFunCorp CEO and co-founder Ben Schippers and CTO Jon Evans spoke about choosing the optimal tech stack. The pair have built custom software for companies like Amazon, Samsung, WeWork and AMC, so they know a thing or two about the subject.

What to consider before choosing

Image Credits: HappyFunCorp

Evans says startups must weigh several key factors when choosing a tech stack, but development speed tops the list. “The single most key thing about your tech stack is speed,” he said. “The right stack will give you the most speed, compared to the alternatives.”

But early choices have other implications. “In the medium- to long-run, you have to be conscious about running up what we call technical debt, which is really the side effects of a spaghetti nest of bad code that is tightly coupled and leads to negative side effects all over the place,” he said.

IObeya raises $17M to digitize management planning processes like Agile

As we move deeper into the pandemic, companies are looking for ways to digitize processes that previously required in-person meetings with manual approaches. Investors appear to be rewarding companies that can achieve this. IObeya, a French company that helps digitize management planning processes like lean and agile, announced a $17 million Series A today.

Red River West led the round with help from Atlantic Bridge Capital and Fortino Capital Partners. It has now raised a total of $20 million, according to the company.

Tim McCracken, who heads up the company’s U.S. operations, says the name comes from the Japanese word for the large room where companies did all their planning. Many companies gather a group of people in a conference room and line the walls with sticky notes and white boards with their plans for the coming weeks and months.

Even before the pandemic struck, it wasn’t the most effective way to record this valuable business content, and iObeya has developed a service to put it in the digital realm. “And so one of the things that they did with those obeya rooms was they had lots of different visual management boards with Post-it notes and with different types of indicators that they would use to manage their business. And so what iObeya does is digitize that type of visual management, so that you can access it from multiple locations and share it amongst teams and basically eliminate the need for doing it on paper and on walls,” McCracken explained.

This involves digitizing four main areas that include lean management, factory floor management, agile programming and, finally, what they call the digital workplace, which includes design thinking, virtual whiteboarding and brainstorming. All of these approaches have lots of planning associated with them and could benefit from being moved online.

Image Credits: iObeya

They are approaching 100 employees, with the majority in France right now, with a small office in the U.S. (in Seattle), but they will be using this money to expand with plans to add 50 more people. He says the company has always looked at diversity when it comes to its hiring practices.

“We want to try to attract, not only experienced salespeople, as well as the support organization around them, but also really do as much outreach in the local community to see how we can ensure that our workforce reflects the community,” he said.

As the company had to shut down offices due to COVID-19, McCracken says their own software helped them make that transition more smoothly. “We actually use our own software to manage business so we had very little disruption to our actual work. At the same time, the volume of work increased probably four to five fold, simply because of increased demand for the software. So we had to manage not only moving from working in an office to work at home, but also the increased workload,” he said.

The company was founded near Paris in 2011. They plan to use the money to expand operations in the U.S. and build awareness of the company through greater sales and marketing spend.

In the cloud era, building on platforms you don’t own is normal

When Salesforce launched Force.com in 2007, it was the culmination of years of work to bring together a way to customize Salesforce and eventually to build applications on top of the platform. By using a set of Salesforce services, companies could take advantage of work that SFDC had already done, speeding up building time and reducing time to market. Today, the successor of Force.com is called Salesforce Platform.

But going that route didn’t come without some risk, because back in 2007 building atop a Platform as a Service (PaaS) wasn’t a common way of developing software. Even by 2012 when nCino launched its banking software solutions on Force.com, it likely raised some eyebrows by using a cloud platform as the backbone of its fintech offering.

Even though it probably took resolve, the approach worked, as evidenced this week when nCino went public — a debut that was met with a strong investor response. And nCino is notably not the first time that a company built atop Salesforce’s PaaS has gone public; nCino’s own IPO follows Veeva’s 2013 debut.

But astute observers for the Salesforce ecosystem will note that other successful companies have been built on the Salesforce cloud. As you will see, many successful companies have benefited from building on top of Salesforce.