MailChimp’s Ben Chestnut on bootstrapping a startup to $700M in revenue

The well-known tech startup routine of coming up with an idea, raising money from VCs in increasing rounds as valuations continue to rise, and then eventually going public or getting acquired has been around for as long as the myth of Silicon Valley itself. But the evolution of MailChimp — a notable, bootstrapped outlier out of Atlanta, Georgia, that provides email and other marketing services to small businesses — tells a very different story of tech startup success.

As the company closes in on $700 million in annual revenues for 2019, it has no intention of letting up, or selling out: No outside funding, no plans for an IPO, and no to all the companies that have tried to acquire it. As it has grown, it has been profitable from day one.

This week, the company is unveiling what is probably its biggest product update since first starting to sell email marketing services 20 years ago: It’s launching a new marketing platform that features social media management, ad retargeting, AI-based business intelligence, domain sales, web development templates and more.

I took the opportunity to speak with its co-founder and CEO, Ben Chestnut — who started Mailchimp as a side project with two friends, Mark Armstrong and Dan Kurzius, in the trough of the first dot-com bust — on Mailchimp’s origins and plans for what comes next. The startup’s story is a firm example of how there is definitely more than one route to success in tech.


Ingrid Lunden: You’re launching a new marketing platform today, but I want to walk back a little first. This isn’t your first move away from email. We discovered back in March that you quietly acquired a Canadian e-commerce startup, LemonStand, just as you were parting ways with Shopify.

Ben Chestnut: We wanted to have a tool to help small business marketers do their initial selling. The focus is not multiple products. Just one. We’re not interested in setting up full-blown e-commerce carts. This is about helping companies sell one product in an Instagram ad with a buy button, and we felt that the people at LemonStand could help us with that.

Index Ventures, Stripe back bookkeeping service Pilot with $40M

Five years after Dropbox acquired their startup Zulip, Waseem Daher, Jeff Arnold and Jessica McKellar have gained traction for their third business together: Pilot.

Pilot helps startups and small businesses manage their back office. Chief executive officer Daher admits it may seem a little boring, but the market opportunity is undeniably huge. To tackle the market, Pilot is today announcing a $40 million Series B led by Index Ventures with participation from Stripe, the online payment processing system.

The round values Pilot, which has raised about $60 million to date, at $355 million.

“It’s a massive industry that has sucked in the past,” Daher told TechCrunch. “People want a really high-quality solution to the bookkeeping problem. The market really wants this to exist and we’ve assembled a world-class team that’s capable of knocking this out of the park.”

San Francisco-based Pilot launched in 2017, more than a decade after the three founders met in MIT’s student computing group. It’s not surprising they’ve garnered attention from venture capitalists, given that their first two companies resulted in notable acquisitions.

Pilot has taken on a massively overlooked but strategic segment — bookkeeping,” Index’s Mark Goldberg told TechCrunch via email. “While dry on the surface, the opportunity is enormous given that an estimated $60 billion is spent on bookkeeping and accounting in the U.S. alone. It’s a service industry that can finally be automated with technology and this is the perfect team to take this on — third-time founders with a perfect combo of financial acumen and engineering.”

The trio of founders’ first project, Linux upgrade software called Ksplice, sold to Oracle in 2011. Their next business, Zulip, exited to Dropbox before it even had the chance to publicly launch.

It was actually upon building Ksplice that Daher and team realized their dire need for tech-enabled bookkeeping solutions.

“We built something internally like this as a byproduct of just running [Ksplice],” Daher explained. “When Oracle was acquiring our company, we met with their finance people and we described this system to them and they were blown away.”

It took a few years for the team to refocus their efforts on streamlining back-office processes for startups, opting to build business chat software in Zulip first.

Pilot’s software integrates with other financial services products to bring the bookkeeping process into the 21st century. Its platform, for example, works seamlessly on top of QuickBooks so customers aren’t wasting precious time updating and managing the accounting application.

“It’s better than the slow, painful process of doing it yourself and it’s better than hiring a third-party bookkeeper,” Daher said. “If you care at all about having the work be high-quality, you have to have software do it. People aren’t good at these mechanical, repetitive, formula-driven tasks.”

Currently, Pilot handles bookkeeping for more than $100 million per month in financial transactions but hopes to use the infusion of venture funding to accelerate customer adoption. The company also plans to launch a tax prep offering that they say will make the tax prep experience “easy and seamless.”

“It’s our first foray into Pilot’s larger mission, which is taking care of running your companies entire back office so you can focus on your business,” Daher said.

As for whether the team will sell to another big acquirer, it’s unlikely.

“The opportunity for Pilot is so large and so substantive, I think it would be a mistake for this to be anything other than a large and enduring public company,” Daher said. “This is the company that we’re going to do this with.”

On balance, the cloud has been a huge boon to startups

Today’s startups have a distinct advantage when it comes to launching a company because of the public cloud. You don’t have to build infrastructure or worry about what happens when you scale too quickly. The cloud vendors take care of all that for you.

But last month when Pinterest announced its IPO, the company’s cloud spend raised eyebrows. You see, the company is spending $750 million a year on cloud services, more specifically to AWS. When your business is primarily focused on photos and video, and needs to scale at a regular basis, that bill is going to be high.

That price tag prompted Erica Joy, a Microsoft engineer to publish this Tweet and start a little internal debate here at TechCrunch. Startups, after all, have a dog in this fight, and it’s worth exploring if the cloud is helping feed the startup ecosystem, or sending your bills soaring as they have with Pinterest.

For starters, it’s worth pointing out that Ms. Joy works for Microsoft, which just happens to be a primary competitor of Amazon’s in the cloud business. Regardless of her personal feelings on the matter, I’m sure Microsoft would be more than happy to take over that $750 million bill from Amazon. It’s a nice chunk of business, but all that aside, do startups benefit from having access to cloud vendors?

How to handle dark data compliance risk at your company

Slack and other consumer-grade productivity tools have been taking off in workplaces large and small — and data governance hasn’t caught up.

Whether it’s litigation, compliance with regulations like GDPR, or concerns about data breaches, legal teams need to account for new types of employee communication. And that’s hard when work is happening across the latest messaging apps and SaaS products, which make data searchability and accessibility more complex.

Here’s a quick look at the problem, followed by our suggestions for best practices at your company.

Problems

The increasing frequency of reported data breaches and expanding jurisdiction of new privacy laws are prompting conversations about dark data and risks at companies of all sizes, even small startups. Data risk discussions necessarily include the risk of a data breach, as well as preservation of data. Just two weeks ago it was reported that Jared Kushner used WhatsApp for official communications and screenshots of those messages for preservation, which commentators say complies with recordkeeping laws but raises questions about potential admissibility as evidence.

Former Dropbox exec Dennis Woodside joins Impossible Foods as its first President

Former Google and Dropbox executive Dennis Woodside has joined the meat replacement developer Impossible Foods as the company’s first President.

Woodside, who previously shepherded Dropbox through its initial public offering, is a longtime technology executive who is making his first foray into the food business.

The 25-year tech industry veteran most recently served as the chief operating officer of Dropbox, and previously was the chief executive of Motorola Mobility after that company’s acquisition by Google.

“I love what Impossible Foods is doing: using science and technology to deliver delicious and nutritious foods that people love, in an environmentally sustainable way,” Woodside said. “I’m equally thrilled to focus on providing the award-winning Impossible Burger and future products to millions of consumers, restaurants and retailers.”

According to a statement, Woodside will be responsible for the company’s operations, manufacturing, supply chain, sales, marketing, human resources and other functions.

The company currently has a staff of 350 divided between its Redwood City, Calif. and Oakland manufacturing plant.

Impossible Foods now slings its burger in restaurants across the United States, Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore and is expecting to launch a grocery store product later this year.

GM Cruise snags Dropbox HR head to hire at least 1,000 engineers by end of year

GM Cruise plans to hire hundreds of employees over the next nine months, doubling its engineering staff, TechCrunch has learned. It’s an aggressive move by the autonomous vehicle technology company to double its size as it pushes to deploy a robotaxi service by the end of the year. Arden Hoffman, who helped scale Dropbox, will leave the file-sharing and storage company to head up human resources at Cruise.

The GM subsidiary, which has more than 1,000 employees, is expanding its office space in San Francisco to accommodate the growth. GM Cruise will keep its headquarters at 1201 Bryant Street in San Francisco. The company will also take over Dropbox headquarters at 333 Brannan Street some time this year, a move that will triple Cruise’s office space in San Francisco.

“Arden has made a huge impact on Dropbox over the last four years. She helped build and scale our team and culture to the over 2300 person company we are today, and we‘ll miss her leadership, determination, and sense of humor. While we’re sorry to see her go, we’re excited for her and wish her all the best in this new opportunity to grow the team at Cruise,” a Dropbox spokesperson said in an emailed statement. 

Prior to joining Dropbox, Hoffman was human resources director at Google for three years.

The planned expansion and hiring of Hoffman follows a recent executive reshuffling. GM president Dan Ammann left the automaker in December and became CEO of Cruise. Ammann had been president of GM since 2014, and he was a central figure in the automaker’s 2016 acquisition of Cruise and its integration with GM.

Kyle Vogt,  a Cruise co-founder who was CEO and also unofficially handled the chief technology officer position, is now president and CTO.

Cruise has grown from a small startup with 40 employees to more than 1,000 today at its San Francisco headquarters. It has expanded to Seattle, as well, in pursuit of talent. Cruise announced plans in November to open an office in Seattle and staff it with up to 200 engineers. And with the recent investments by SoftBank and Honda, which has pushed Cruise’s valuation to $14.6 billion, it has the runway to double its staff.

The hunt for qualified people with backgrounds in software engineering, robotics and AI has heated up as companies race to develop and deploy autonomous vehicles. There are more than 60 companies that have permits from the California Department of Motor Vehicles to test autonomous vehicles in the state.

Competition over talent has led to generous, even outrageous, compensation packages and poaching of people with specific skills.

Cruise’s announcement puts more pressure on that ever-tightening pool of talent. Cruise has something that many other autonomous vehicle technology companies don’t — ready amounts of capital. In May, Cruise received a $2.25 billion investment by SoftBank’s vision fund. Honda also committed $2.75 billion as part of an exclusive agreement with GM and Cruise to develop and produce a new kind of autonomous vehicle.

As part of that agreement, Honda will invest $2 billion into the effort over the next 12 years. Honda also is making an immediate and direct equity investment of $750 million into Cruise.

Cruise will likely pursue a dual path of traditional recruitment and acquisitions to hit that 1,000-engineer mark. It’s a strategy Cruise is already pursuing. Last year, Cruise acquired Zippy.ai, which develops robots for last-mile grocery and package delivery, for an undisclosed amount of money. The deal was more of an acqui-hire and did not include any of Zippy’s product or intellectual property. Instead, it seems Cruise was more interested in the skill sets of the co-founders, Gabe Sibley, Alex Flint and Chris Broaddus, and their team.

In 2017, Cruise also acquired Strobe,  a LiDAR sensor maker. At the time, Cruise said Strobe would help it reduce by nearly 100 percent the cost of LiDAR on a per-vehicle basis.

Patreon’s future and potential exits

Through the Extra Crunch EC-1 on Patreon, I dove into Patreon’s founding story, product roadmap, business model and metrics, underlying thesis, and competitive threats. The six-year-old company last valued around $450 million and likely to soon hit $1 billion is the leading platform for artists to run membership businesses for their superfans.

As a conclusion to my report, I have three core takeaways and some predictions on the possibility of an IPO or acquisition in the company’s future.

The future is bright for creators

First, the future is promising for independent content creators who are building engaged, passionate fanbases.

There is a surge of interest from the biggest social media platforms in creating more features to help them directly monetize their fans — with each trying to one-up the others. There are also a growing number of independent solutions for creators to use as well (Patreon and Memberful, Substack, Pico, etc.).

We live in an economy where a soaring number of people are self-employed, and the rise of more monetization tools for creators to earn a stable income will open the door to more people turning their creative talents into a part-time or full-time business pursuit.

Membership is a niche market and it’s unclear how big the opportunity is

Patreon’s play is to own a niche category of SMB who it recognizes has particular needs and provide them with the comprehensive suite of tools and services they need to manage their businesses. A large portion of creators’ incomes will need to go to Patreon for it to someday earn billions of dollars in annual revenue.

The market for content creators to build membership businesses appears to be growing, however, membership will be only one piece of the fan-to-creator monetization wave. The number of creators who are a fit for the membership business model and could generate $1,000-500,000 per month through Patreon (its target customer profile) is likely measured in the tens of thousands or low hundreds of thousands right now, rather than in the millions.

To get a sense of the revenue math here, Patreon will generate about $35 million this year from the 5,000-6,000 creators who fit its target customer profile; if you believe this market is expanding at a fast clip, capturing 10% of the revenue (Patreon’s current commission) from 20,000 such creators could bring in $140 million. And that’s without factoring in the potential success of Patreon implementing premium pricing options, which is a high priority. If Patreon can increase its commission from 10% to 15%, it would need around 47,500 creators in the $1,000-$500,000/month range (9.5x its current number) to reach $500 million in revenue from them.

There is a compelling opportunity for a company to provide the dominant business hub for creators, with tools to manage their fan (i.e. customer) relationships across platforms and to manage back-office logistics. At a certain point it taps out though.

That’s one of the reasons why Patreon’s vision includes extending into areas like business loans and healthcare. For companies targeting small and medium businesses like Shopify, Salesforce and Dropbox, there is so much more growth tied to their core products that there is no need for them to consider such unrelated offerings as business loans. Patreon has to both expand its market share and also expand the services it offers to those customers if it wants to reach massive scale.

Patreon faces serious competition but is evolving in the right direction

Patreon is the leading contender in this market, and there’s a role for an independent player even if Facebook, YouTube, and other distribution platforms push directly competing functionality. Patreon will need to make three important changes to compete effectively: more aggressively segment its customers, make the consumer-facing side of its platform more customizable by creators, and build out more lightweight talent management services.

What’s next for Patreon?

Having raised over $100 million in funding over the last six years, what is the path to a liquidity event for investors and employees? 

In a worst case scenario, it is unlikely the company would go out of business even if it fell into disarray because it would be strategic for several large companies to takeover at a discount. Patreon may be on the path to IPO (as CEO Jack Conte hopes), but I find it more likely that the company gets acquired sometime in the next couple years.

Path to IPO?

If a public offering is in Patreon’s future, it’s several years out. It now defines itself as a SaaS company and has a plan to earn a higher blended commission on the sales of its customers through premium pricing options. It is a frequently misunderstood company, however, and needs to prove that a big market exists for mid-tail creators building membership businesses. 

According to a summary by Spark Capital’s Alex Clayton, SaaS companies who went public in 2018 typically:

    • had $100-200 million in revenue over the prior twelve months,
    • were 14 years old,
    • had an average year-over-year revenue growth rate of ~40%,
    • earned 90% of revenue from subscriptions,
    • had a median gross margin of 73%,
    • ranged from roughly 500 to 2500 employees,
    • had a raised a median of $300 million in VC funding,
    • and IPO’d with a median market cap of $2 billion

Public market companies to benchmark it against will be Shopify (as SaaS infrastructure for small businesses selling to, and managing payments from, consumers) and Zuora (Patreon can be viewed as a media-specific SMB alternative to Zuora’s “Subscription Relationship Management” system). Compared to Shopify, whose market of SMB e-commerce businesses globally is easily understood to be enormous, Patreon would face more skepticism from public investors about the market size of mid-tail content creators.

Patreon’s gross margins can’t be much more than 50% given that almost half of revenue is going toward payment processing. Patreon mirrors Shopify’s topline revenue growth in the run up to its 2015 IPO: Shopify reported $23.7 million for 2012, $50.3 million for 2013, $105 million for 2014 and I estimate Patreon brought in $15 million for 2017, $30 million for 2018, and will hit $55 million for 2019. Most of Shopify’s revenue came from subscriptions, however, with only 37% coming from the “merchant solutions” services where Shopify had to pay out payment processing fees. Patreon’s revenue net of payment processing fees is closer to $7.5 million for 2017, $15 million for 2018, and $27 million (predicted) for 2019.

There’s a lot of capital chasing late-stage startups right now. How long that remains the case is unknown, but Patreon can likely raise the funding to operate unprofitably a few more years — getting topline revenue closer to $150-200 million, proving creators will adopt premium pricing, and showcasing its ability to compete with Facebook and YouTube in a growing market. In that case, it could become a strong IPO candidate.

The acquisition route

The other scenario, of course, is that a larger company buys Patreon. In particular, one of the large social media platforms building directly competitive features may decide it is easier to buy their expansion into membership than build it from scratch. Patreon is the dominant platform without any noteworthy direct competitor among independent companies, so acquiring it would immediately put the parent company in a market-leading position. Competing social platforms wouldn’t have another large Patreon-like startup to acquire in response.

There are three companies that jump out as both the most likely acquirers. Each of these M&A scenarios would be mutually beneficial: advancing Patreon’s mission and providing strategic value to the parent. The first two companies are probably obvious, but the last one may be less known to TechCrunch readers.

Facebook

I highlighted Facebook as the top competitive threat to Patreon. This is also why it’s a natural acquirer. Patreon would bring fan relationship management to the Facebook ecosystem and particularly the company’s Creator App with CRM and analytics specifically fit for creators’ needs. It would also bring a stable of 130,000 creators of all types to make Facebook the primary infrastructure through which they engage their core fans.

Facebook is prioritizing human relationships more and clickbait content less. A natural replacement for the flood of news articles and viral videos is deeper engagement with the creators that Facebook users care the most about.

Since the annual churn rate of Patreon creators who earn $500 per month or more is under 1%, the ~9,200 creators who fit that category would likely stick around as Patreon’s infrastructure integrates with Facebook’s; the vast majority probably already have Facebook pages and possibly use the Creator App.

Facebook’s data on who fans are, what they like, and who their friends are is unrivalled. The insights Facebook could provide Patreon’s creators on their fans could help them substantially grow their number of patrons and build stronger relationships with them.

Like all major social media platforms, Facebook has partnership teams vying to get major celebrities to use its products. Patreon could lock the mid-tail of smaller (but still established) creators into its ecosystem, which means more consumer engagement, more time well spent, and more revenue through both ads and fan-to-creator transactions. Owning and integrating Patreon could have a much bigger financial benefit than solely revenue from the core Patreon product.

As a Facebook subsidiary, Patreon would stick more closely to being a software solution; it wouldn’t develop as robust of a creator support staff and the vision that it may expand to offer business loans and health insurance to creators would almost surely be cut. Facebook would also probably discontinue supporting the roughly 23% of Patreon creators who make not-safe-for-work (NSFW) content.

Given Patreon’s mission to help creators get paid, it may make a bigger impact as part of Facebook nonetheless. Facebook’s ecosystem of apps is where creators and their fans already are. Tens of thousands of creators could start using Patreon’s CRM infrastructure overnight and activating fan memberships to earn stable income.

A Facebook-Patreon deal could happen at any point. I think a deal could just as likely happen in a few months as in a few years. The key will be Facebook’s business strategy: does it want to build serious infrastructure for creators? And does it believe paywalled access to some content and groups fits the future of Facebook? The company is experimenting with both of those right now, but doesn’t appear to be committed as of yet.

YouTube

The other most likely acquirer is Google-owned YouTube. Patreon was birthed by a YouTuber to support himself and fellow creators after their AdSense income dropped substantially. YouTube is becoming a direct competitor through YouTube Memberships and merchandise integrations.

If Patreon shows initial success in getting creators to adopt premium pricing tiers and YouTube sees a strong response to the membership functionality it has rolled out, it’s hard to imagine YouTube not making a play to acquire Patreon and make membership a priority in product development. This would create a whole new market for it to dominate, making money by selling business features to creators and encouraging fan-to-creator payments to happen through its platform.

In the meantime, it seems that YouTube is still searching for an answer to whether membership fits within its scope. It previously removed the ability for creators to paywall some videos and it could view fan-to-creator monetization efforts as a distraction from its dominance as an advertising platform and its growing strength in streaming TV online (through the popular $40/month YouTube TV subscription).

YouTube is also a less compelling acquirer than Facebook because the majority of Patreon’s creators don’t have a place on YouTube since they don’t produce video content (as least as their primary content type). Unless YouTube expands its platform to support podcasts and still images as well, it would be paying a premium to acquire the subset of Patreon creators that it wants. Moreover, as much as a quarter of those may be creators of NSFW content that YouTube prohibits.

YouTube is the potential Patreon acquirer people immediately point to, but it’s not as tight of a fit as Facebook would be…or as Endeavor would be.

Endeavor

The third scenario is that a major company in the entertainment and talent representation sphere sees acquiring Patreon as a strategic play to expand into a whole new category of talent representation with a technology-first approach.  There is only one contender here: Endeavor, the $6.3 billion holding company led by Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell that is backed by Silver Lake, Softbank, Fidelity, and Singapore’s GIC and has been on an acquisition spree.

This pairing shows promise. Facebook and YouTube are the most likely companies to acquire Patreon, but Endeavor may be the company best fit to acquire it.

Endeavor is an ecosystem of companies — with the world’s top talent agency WME-IMG at the center — that can each integrate with each other in different ways to collectively become a driving force in global entertainment, sports and fashion. Among the 25+ companies it has bought are sports leagues like the UFC (for $4 billion) and the video streaming infrastructure startup NeuLion (for $250 million). In September, it launched a division, Endeavor Audio, to develop, finance and market podcasts.

Endeavor wants to leverage its talent and evolve its revenue model toward scalable businesses. In 2015, Emanuel said revenue was 60% from representation and 40% from “the ownership of assets” but quickly shifting; last year Variety noted the revenue split as 50/50.

In alignment with Patreon, Endeavor is a big company centered on guiding the business activities of all types of artists and helping them build out (and maximize) new revenue streams. When you hear Emanuel and Whitesell, they reiterate the same talking points that Patreon CEO Jack Conte does: artists are now multifaceted, and not stuck to one activity. They are building their own businesses and don’t want to be beholden to distribution platforms. Patreon could thrive under Endeavor given their alignment of values and mission. Endeavor would want Patreon to grow in line with Conte’s vision, without fearing that it would cannibalize ad revenue (a concern Facebook and YouTube would both have).

In a June interview, Whitesell noted that Endeavor’s M&A is targeted at companies that either expand their existing businesses or ones where they can uniquely leverage their existing businesses to grow much faster than they otherwise could. Patreon fits both conditions.

Patreon would be the scalable asset that plugs the mid-tail of creators into the Endeavor ecosystem. Whereas WME-IMG is high-touch relationship management with a little bit of tech, Patreon is a tech company with a layer of talent relationship management. Patreon can serve tens of thousands of money-making creators at scale. Endeavor can bring its talent expertise to help Patreon provide better service to creators; Patreon would bring technology expertise to help Endeavor’s traditional talent representation businesses better analyze clients’ fanbases and build direct fan-to-creator revenue streams for clients.

If there’s opportunity to eventually expand the membership business model among the top tiers of creators using Patreon.com or Memberful (which Conte hinted at in our interviews), Endeavor could facilitate the initial experiments with major VIPs. If memberships are shown to make more money for top artists, that means more money in the pockets of their agents at WME-IMG and for Endeavor overall, so incentives are aligned.

Endeavor would also rid Patreon of the “starving artist” brand that still accompanies it and could open a lot of doors in for Patreon creators whose careers are gaining momentum. Perhaps other Endeavor companies could access Patreon data to identify specific creators fit for other opportunities.

An Endeavor-Patreon deal would need to occur before Patreon’s valuation gets too high. Endeavor doesn’t have tens of billions in cash sitting on its balance sheet like Google and Facebook do. Endeavor can’t use much debt to buy Patreon either: its leverage ratio is already high, resulting in Moody’s putting its credit rating under review for downgrade in December. Endeavor has repeatedly raised more equity funding though and is likely to do so again; it canceled a $400M investment from the Saudi government at the last minute in October due to political concerns but is likely pitching other investors to take its place.

Patreon has strong revenue growth and the opportunity to retain dominant market share in providing business infrastructure for creators — a market that seems to be growing. Whether it stays independent and can thrive in the public markets sometime or whether it will find more success under the umbrella of a strategic acquirer remains to be seen. Right now the latter path is the more compelling one.

Talkdesk nabs $100M at more than $1B valuation for its smart call centers

Talkdesk, the provider of cloud-based contact center software, has raised $100 million in new funding from Viking Global Investors, a Connecticut-based hedge fund, and existing investor DFJ.

The round values the company at north of $1 billion, Talkdesk co-founder and chief executive officer Tiago Paiva confirmed to TechCrunch, but he declined to disclose the exact figure.

The company, which uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve customer service, targets mid-market and enterprise businesses, counting IBM, Dropbox, Stitch Fix and Farfetch as customers.

“Imagine a company has a million customers and they want to reach out for support, what Talkdesk does is allow the customer to connect with a company in the best way possible,” Paiva told TechCrunch. “If you call into Farfetch, they will be using Talkdesk so they can see what products you’ve bought, what your tastes are, what you’ve complained about before. It gives them the history of everything so they can take care of your problem faster.”

Founded in Portugal in 2011, Talkdesk has offices in San Francisco and Lisbon. With the latest investment, it plans to expand to the U.K., as well as double down on its investment in AI. The company has previously raised about $24 million in equity funding, including a $15 million round in mid-2015. It also was a Startup Battlefield contestant at TechCrunch Disrupt NY in 2012.

“Today’s digital-first customers expect immediate and personalized answers, yet the majority of companies have not yet adopted a flexible, cloud-native platform to enable this level of agility and service,” DFJ partner Josh Stein said in a statement. “We believe that 2019 will be the year that cloud-based contact centers become the rule, not the exception.”

GoodTime raises $5 million to bring artificial intelligence into the interview process

GoodTime, the algorithmically enhanced interview process management platform, has raised $5 million in a new round of funding led by Bullpen Capital.

The company uses natural language processing to link interview candidates with the right interviewers inside an organization. The idea is to make the hiring process run more smoothly for large organizations and give overworked human resources staffers a new organizational tool in their toolbox to build better staffing processes.

To do this Ahryun Moon, Jasper Sone and Peter Lee, the co-founders of GoodTime, have built a tool that uses the calendar as its organizing principle. The idea is that the sooner interviews can be booked with the right people, the better it is for an organization.

Staffing is about more than just setting up an interview, though, so GoodTime also factors in relevant information about both an applicant and an interviewer including data like gender, ethnicity, and relevant university and previous work-history information.

Recruiting coordinators can manage the entire process and make it as frictionless as possible for companies — and in this competitive hiring environment, companies may run the risk of losing out if they can’t pull the trigger on a potential applicant quickly enough.

It’s a problem that GoodTime’s chief executive, Moon, knows all too well. As a former recruiting coordinator at Mulesoft, Airbnb and Dropbox, Moon is well-versed in the problems of recruiting professionals.

She even managed to convince her former employers at Airbnb and Dropbox to adopt the new platform. Those companies have seen their applicants confirm interviews within three hours by using the platform and seen their time-to-hire rates reduced by 40%, according to a statement from the company.

GoodTime, which was seed funded last year with a $2 million investment from Walden Ventures and Big Basin Capital, managed to attract the education and staffing focused investment GSV Accelerate, and Array.vc to its latest round. GoodTime is also a graduate of the Alchemist Accelerator program. 

Based in San Francisco, GoodTime currently has 18 employees on staff and has reached profitability on the strength of its existing customers.

The Freewrite Traveler offers distraction-free writing for the road

If you’ve ever tried to write something long – a thesis, a book, or a manifesto outlining your disappointment in the modern technocracy and your plan to foment violent revolution – you know that distractions can slow you down or even stop the creative process. That’s why the folks at Astrohaus created the Freewrite, a distraction-free typewriter, and it’s always why they are launching the Traveler, a laptop-like word processor that’s designed for writing and nothing else.

The product, which I saw last week, consists of a hearty, full-sized keyboard and an E ink screen. There are multiple “documents” you can open and close and the system autosaves and syncs to services like Dropbox automatically. The laptop costs $279 on Indiegogo and will have a retail price of $599.

The goal of the Freewrite Traveler is to give you a place to write. You pull it out of your bag, open it, and start typing. That’s it. There are no Tweets, Facebook sharing systems, or games. It lasts for four weeks on one charge – a bold claim but not impossible – and there are some improvements to the editing functions including virtual arrow keys that let you move up and down in a document as you write. There are also hotkeys to bring up ancillary information like outlines, research, or notes.

If the Traveler is anything like the original Freewrite then you can expect some truly rugged hardware. I tested an early model and the entire thing was built like a tank or, more correctly, like a Leica. Because it is aimed at the artistic wanderer, the entire thing weighs two pounds and is about as big as the collected stories of Raymond Carver.

Is it for you? Well, if you liked the original Freewrite or even missed the bandwagon when it first launched, you might really enjoy the Traveler. Because it is small and light it could easily become a second writing device for your more creative work that you pull out in times of pensive creativity. It is not a true word processor replacement, however, and it is a “first-thought-best-thought” kind of tool, allowing you to get words down without much fuss. I wouldn’t recommend it for research-intensive writing but you could easily sketch out almost any kind of document on the Traveler and then edit it on a real laptop.

There aren’t many physical tools to support distraction-free writing. Some folks, myself included, have used the infamous AlphaSmart, a crazy old word processor used by students or simply set up laptops without a Wi-Fi connection. The Freewrite Traveler takes all of that to the next level by offering the simplest, clearest, and most distraction-free system available. Given it’s 50% off right now on Indiegogo it might be the right time to take the plunge.