Is Slack overpriced now that the market knows Salesforce might buy it?

The Exchange is technically off today, but we’re here anyway because there’s neat stuff in the world of startups and money to talk about. So, let’s yammer this morning about Slack’s new valuation and what the market is telling us about what the venerable SaaS company is really worth.


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Recall that on Wednesday, news broke that Salesforce is considering buying Slack, a move that has potential merit and some question marks.

The merits could include bringing Slack’s startup mindshare to Salesforce, and bringing Salesforce’s enterprise reach to Slack. In terms of questions, precisely how Slack fits into Salesforce’s CRM-and-platform play isn’t clear; Salesforce’s own Slack-ish competitor, Chatter, hasn’t taken control of its market in the more than decade since its release (here’s TechCrunch covering its launch back in 2009), making the possible home of Slack inside Salesforce slightly suspect.

Still, Slack investors cheered the concept of Salesforce paying up for their company, while investors in the latter company knocked nearly $20 off its share price, perhaps worried about the very thing that Slack’s owners were stoked to consider.

So, price. What’s Slack worth? This is a question that’s fun in both academic terms, and also for understanding the current dynamics in the software M&A market — what do you have to pay to take a large chess piece off the software market’s board?

Let’s take a look at what we can learn from Slack’s pre-news price, and its current, changed valuation.

What’s it worth?

Here’s a chart of Slack’s value before, and after the Salesforce news, just to give you a taste of how big an impact the reporting had:

Slack’s stock climbs on possible Salesforce acquisition

News that Salesforce is interested in buying Slack, the popular workplace chat company, sent shares of the smaller firm sharply higher today.

Slack shares are up just under 25% at the moment, according to Yahoo Finance data. Slack is worth $36.95 per share as of the time of writing, valuing it at around $20.8 billion. The well-known former unicorn has been worth as little as $15.10 per share inside the last year, and worth as much as $40.07.

Inversely, shares of Salesforce are trading lower on the news, falling around 3.5% as of the time of writing; investors in the San Francisco-based SaaS pioneer were either unimpressed at the combination idea, or perhaps worried about the price that would be required to bring the 2019 IPO into their fold.

Why Salesforce, a massive software company with a strong position in the CRM market, and aspirations of becoming an even larger platform player, would want to buy Slack is not immediately clear.

There are possible synergies between the two companies, including the possibility of cross-selling the two companies products’ into each others customer basis, possible unlocking growth for both parties; Slack has wide marketshare inside of fast-growing startups, for example, while Salesforce’s products roost inside a host of megacorps.

TechCrunch has reached out to Salesforce, Slack, and Slack’s CEO for comment on the deal’s possibility. We’re not expecting much back, but we’ll update this post with whatever we get.

While Salesforce bought Quip for $750 million in 2016, which gave it a kind of document sharing and collaboration, other than that, Salesforce Chatter has been the only social tool in the company’s arsenal. Buying Slack would give the CRM giant solid enterprise chat footing and likely a lot of synergy among customers and tooling.

But Slack has always been more than a mere chat client. It enables companies to embed workflows, and this would fit well in the Salesforce family of products, which spans sales, service, marketing and more. It would allow companies to work both inside and outside the Salesforce ecosystem, building smooth and integrated workflows. While it can theoretically do that now, if the two were combined, you can be sure the integrations would be much tighter.

Slack has come under withering fire from Microsoft in recent quarters, as the Redmond-based software giant poured resources into its competing Teams service. Teams challenges Slack’s chat tooling, and Zoom’s video features, and has seen huge customer growth in recent quarters.

Finding Slack a corporate home amongst the larger tech players could ensure that Microsoft doesn’t grind it under the bulk of its enterprise software sales leviathan. And Salesforce, a sometimes Microsoft ally, would not mind adding the faster-growing slack to its own expanding software incomes.

The question at this juncture comes down to price. Slack investors won’t want to sell for less than a good premium on the pre-pop per-share price now feels rather dated.

Apple, Microsoft and other tech stocks roar as the Presidential election narrows to several states

On the back of sizable gains posted yesterday, tech stocks are once again rising sharply in pre-market trading today. Futures concerning the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite index are indicating a 3.4% gain this morning, far above a 1.7% gain that the broader S&P 500 index is currently anticipating.

The market capitalization of some of the world’s most valuable companies have added tens of billions of dollars in value this morning, with Apple rising 3.9% in pre-market trading, and Microsoft gaining an even-richer 4.4%.

Smaller key players in the tech market are also rising, with Salesforce gaining 2.9% ahead of the bell, and Twilio adding 3.3% to its own value.

The price of heavily-traded assets have whipsawed during the last 24 hours, with yield on American government debt falling last night — indicating that investors were bullish on the economy as a whole — before rising again when it became clear that no so-called Blue Wave was forming. The prospect of a divided Congress could stifle future economic stimulus, the possibility of which has been a key narrative driver for market trading in recent months.

Precisely why tech stocks are racing higher this morning is not entirely clear. One obvious possibility is that investors are returning to their summer trade, when they bid shares of software-heavy companies higher in hopes of parking their wealth in the firms with the best chance of posting regular growth during a period of intense economic uncertainty.

If a divided Congress means a drag on more stimulus, why not return to the play that worked before?

For tech, and tech-enabled companies hoping to go public before the year ends, or in early 2021, the rally is welcome news. But, as with everything in this election, things could still change.

Salesforce Ventures launches $100M Impact Fund to invest in cloud startups with social mission

When Salesforce Ventures launched the first $50 million Impact Fund in 2017, it wanted to invest not only in promising cloud businesses, but startups with a socially positive mission. Today, the company launched the second Impact Fund, this time doubling its initial investment with a new $100 million fund

The latest fund is also designed to help bring more investment into areas that the company feels needs to be emphasized as a corporate citizen beyond pure business goals including education and reskilling, climate action, diversity, equity and inclusion, and providing tech for nonprofits and foundations.

Suzanne DiBianca, Chief Impact Officer and EVP of Corporate Relations at Salesforce says the money is being put to work on some of the world’s most pressing social issues. “Now more than ever, we believe business can be a powerful platform for change. We must leverage technology and invest in innovative ideas to drive the long-term health and wellness of all citizens, enable equal access to education and fuel impactful climate action,” DiBianca said in a statement.

Brent Leary, founder and principal analyst at CRM Essentials says that this investment is consistent with their commitment to social issues. “This fits right in with Salesforce’s efforts on making business a force for change. They talk it, they walk it, and they invest in it,” Leary told TechCrunch.

Claudine Emeott, Director of Impact Investing, in a Q&A on the company website, said that as with the first fund, the company is looking for cloud companies with some ties to Salesforce that address these core social components and can have a positive impact on the world. While there is a social aspect to each company, it still follows a particular investment thesis related to cloud computing. Her goal is to have a portfolio of cloud startups by next year that are addressing the set of social needs the firm has laid out.

“I hope that [by next year] we have made numerous investments in companies that are addressing today’s concurrent crises, and I hope that we can point to their measurable impact on those crises. I hope that we can point to exciting new integrations between our portfolio companies and Salesforce to tackle these challenges together,” Emeott said.

Paul Greenberg, president of the 56 Group and author of CRM at the Speed of Light, says that while he doesn’t always agree with Salesforce on every matter, he admires their social bent. “As an analyst, I might battle with them on some of their products, the things they do in the market and their messaging, but as a human being, I applaud them for their deep commitment to the common good,” he said.

Salesforce has always had a social component to its corporate goals including its 1-1-1 philanthropy model. While Salesforce isn’t always completely consistent as with its contract with ICE, it does put money and personnel toward helping in the communities where it operates, encouraging volunteerism and charitable giving from the top down and modeled across the organization.

This investment fund, while looking at the investments through a distinctly Salesforce lens, is designed to fund startups to help solve intractable social problems, while using its extensive financial resources for the betterment of the world.

Scratchpad announces $3.6M seed to put work space on top of Salesforce

One thing that annoys sales people is entering data into a CRM like Salesforce because it’s time spent not selling. Part of the problem is Salesforce is a database and as such is not necessarily designed for speed. Scratchpad wants to simplify that process by creating a workspace on top of the CRM to accelerate the administrative side of the job.

Today, the company announced a $3.6 million seed round led by Accel with participation from Shrug Capital and Sound Ventures, the firm run by Ashton Kutcher and Guy Oseary, as well as several individual investors. The round, which closed at the end of last year, hadn’t been previously announced.

Last year, company co-founder and CEO Pouyan Salehi had just stepped down from his previous company PersistIQ, a sales enablement startup that came out of Y Combinator in 2014. He and his co-founder Cyrus Karbassiyoon began researching a new company, and the idea for Scratchpad came to them when they simply sat down and watched how salespeople were working. They noted that they were using a hodgepodge of tools like taking notes in Evernote or Google Docs, tracking their pipeline in Excel or Google Sheets and tracking tasks with paper lists or sticky notes.

They recognized that these tools were disconnected from Salesforce and required hours of manual work copying and pasting this data. That’s when they saw there was an opportunity here to build a tool to track all of this information in one place and connect it to Salesforce to automate a lot of this grunt work.

“It eventually evolved into this idea that we’re calling “The Workspace” because everyone has Salesforce, but they are working with all of these other tools that then they just have to literally spend hours — and we saw some reps block off four hour chunks on their calendar — just to copy and paste from their documents, spreadsheets or notes into Salesforce for their pipeline reviews. And that’s how the idea for Scratchpad came to be,” Salehi told TechCrunch.

Today, a salesperson can install Scratchpad as a Chrome plug-in, connect to Salesforce with their log-in credentials and create a two-way connection between the tools. Scratchpad pulls all of their pipeline data into the WorkSpace. They can cycle through the various fields to enter information quickly, enter notes and track tasks (which can be pulled from email and calendar) all in one place.

What’s more, because all of this information is linked to Salesforce, anything you enter in Scratchpad updates the corresponding fields and sections in Salesforce automatically. And any new opportunities that start in Salesforce update in Scratchpad.

The company has been operating for about a year and has 1000s of users, although many are currently using the free tier. It has 7 employees with plans to hire more over the next year. As he builds his second company, Salehi says he and his co-founder are building on a foundation of diversity and inclusion.

“By nature, we are very diverse in many different perspectives that you can look at including gender, age, location and backgrounds,” he said. He adds that building a diverse and inclusive workforce is important to the company.

“And so even in our hiring process, we incorporated certain elements just to make sure that we’re not introducing bias in any sort of way, or at least recognizing that the natural bias and thoughts we might have. We look at things like doing blind looks at resumes and it’s something that we take very, very seriously,” he said.

While the company is built on top of Salesforce today, he says it could expand to include other databases or sources of information where the product could also work. For now though, he sees an opportunity to build another company in the sales arena to help reduce the amount of work associated with updating the CRM database.

Tech must radically rethink how it treats independent contractors

Despite a surging stock market and many major tech players having record quarters, we’re still seeing layoffs throughout tech and the rest of corporate America. Salesforce recorded a huge quarter, passing $5 billion in revenue, only to lay off around 1000 people. LinkedIn is laying off 960 people one day after reporting a 10% increase in revenue.

These layoffs may seem like a contraction in size for these huge enterprises, but it’s actually the beginning of something I call The Great Unbundling of Corporate America. They still need to grow, they still need to innovate, they still need to get work done and they’re not simply canceling projects and giving up on contracts.

Just as COVID-19 has accelerated the move to remote work, our current crisis has accelerated the trend toward hiring independent contractors. Back in 2019 a New York Times report found that Google had a shadow workforce of 121,000 temporary workers and contractors, overshadowing their 102,000 full-timers. ZipRecruiter reported in 2018 that tech, along with its record employment growth, was showing an increasing share of listings for independent contractors.

A study from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that between 6.9% and 9.6% of all workers are now independent contractors, and according to Upwork, that may be as high as 35%. Mark my words — companies are using this time as an opportunity to swing the pendulum toward independent contractors and trimming the fat, justifying it with a vague gesture toward “an unprecedented time.”

That’s why, in my opinion, you’re seeing the NASDAQ hitting record highs despite everyone’s turmoil — depressingly, investors can see that large companies are tightening up and cleaning up waste, while finding an affordable workforce at will. As they have unbundled themselves from our physical offices, large enterprises are going to unbundle themselves from having to have a set number of employees.

When Square allowed its entire workforce to work remotely permanently. It wasn’t just because they wanted them to feel more creative and productive, but was likely a move away from having quite as much expensive, needless office space.

Similarly, if there is work that a full-time employee does that could be done by a flexible, independent contractor, why not make that change too? And it’ll be a lot easier to make without as many people at the office.

The argument I’m making is not anti-contractor, though.

I can’t think of any point in history where it’s been better to create a freelance business — the startup costs are significantly lower, and as companies move toward remote work, you can theoretically take business nationally (or internationally) like never before. Companies’ moves toward replacing W-2 workers with contractors is an opportunity for people to create their own miniature freelance empires, unbundling themselves from corporate America’s required hours, and potentially creating a way to weather future storms by taking away any single company’s leverage on their income.

The rush to remote work is also likely to push more workers into the freelance economy too. By having to create a remote office, with a remote presence in meetings and having to manage and organize our days, the average worker has all but adjusted to the life of a freelancer.

Where some might have gone to an office and had things simply happen to them, the remote world requires an attention to your calendar and active outreach to colleagues that, well, models how one might run a freelance business. Those with core skillsets that can be marketed and sold to multiple clients should be thinking about whether being a wage slave is necessary anymore, and with good reason.

That said — corporate America, and especially tech, has to treat this essential workforce with a great deal more empathy and respect than they have thus far.

Uber and Lyft were ordered to treat drivers as employees in part due to the fact that they never treated their contractors like parts of the company. Other than the obvious lack of benefits (paid time off, health insurance, etc.), Uber, like many large enterprises, treats contractors as disposable rather than flexible, despite them being the literal driving force of the company. When Uber went public, they gave a nominal bonus for drivers that had completed 2500 to 40,000 trips, with a chance to buy up to $10,000 of stock — at the IPO price. These drivers, that had been the very reason that many people became millionaires and billionaires when Uber went public, were given the chance to maybe make money, if they sold the stock quickly enough.

It’s an abject lesson on how to not build loyalty with independent contractors. It’s also a lesson on what the next big company that wants to build themselves off the back of the 1099’er should do.

What I’m suggesting is a radical rethinking of freelance contracting. I want you to see independent contractors as a different kind of worker, not as a way of skirting getting a full-time employee. A freelancer, by definition, is someone that you don’t monopolize, and someone that you should actively give agency and, indeed, part of the network you’re building. One of the issues of corporate America’s approach to freelance work is an us-versus-them approach to employment — you’re either part of us or you’re simply a thing we pick up and put down. What I’m suggesting is treating your freelancers as an essential part of your strategy, and compensating them as such. Freelancers should own equity and should have skin in the game — they may be working with you on a number of projects and take literal ownership of vast successes throughout your history.

Contracted work has only become mercenary through the treatment of the freelance worker. Where tech has succeeded in creating hundreds of thousands of independent contractor positions, it also has to lead the way in reimagining how we may treat them and reward them for their work. And corporate America needs to take a step beyond simply seeing them as a cheaper, easier way to do business. They’re so much more.

Salesforce announces 12,000 new jobs in the next year just weeks after laying off 1,000

In a case of bizarre timing, Salesforce announced it was laying off 1,000 employees at the end of last month just a day after announcing a monster quarter with over $5 billion in revenue, putting the company on a $20 billion revenue run rate for the first time. The juxtaposition was hard to miss.

Earlier today, Salesforce CEO and co-founder Marc Benioff announced in a tweet that the company would be hiring 4,000 new employees in the next six months, and 12,000 in the next year. While it seems like a mixed message, it’s probably more about reallocating resources to areas where they are needed more.

While Salesforce wouldn’t comment further on the hirings, the company has obviously been doing well in spite of the pandemic, which has had an impact on customers. In the prior quarter, the company forecasted that it would have slower revenue growth due to giving some customers facing hard times with economic downturn time to pay their bills.

That’s why it was surprising when the CRM giant announced its earnings in August and that it had done so well in spite of all that. While the company was laying off those 1,000 people, it did indicate it would give those employees 60 days to find other positions in the company. With these new jobs, assuming they are positions the laid-off employees are qualified for, they could have a variety of positions from which to choose.

The company had 54,000 employees when it announced the layoffs, which accounted for 1.9% of the workforce. If it ends up adding the 12,000 news jobs in the next year, that would put the company at approximately 65,000 employees by this time next year.

Snowflake’s IPO could value it as high as $24B, Salesforce and Berkshire to invest

On the heels of new filings from both Sumo Logic and JFrog, Snowflake, a venture-backed unicorn looking to go public on the strength of its data-focused cloud service, set an initial price range for its IPO.

The $75 to $85 per-share IPO price target values the firm at between $20.9 billion and $23.7 billion, huge sums for the private company. Its IPO could raise more than $2.7 billion for the startup.

Snowflake was last valued at around $12.5 billion when it raised a Series G worth $479 million earlier this year.

Built into those valuation projections are two private placements of stock in Snowflake, $250 million apiece from both Salesforce, the well-known CRM player, and Berkshire Hathaway, better known for its investment returns in the 80s and 90s, Cherry Coke and Charlie Munger’s humor.

Jokes aside, the inclusion of Salesforce in the IPO is notable, but not a shock, but Berkshire taking part in the public market debut of Snowflake, a company with historic losses that are nigh-tyrannical, is.

Here’s the S-1/A text on the setup:

Immediately subsequent to the closing of this offering, and subject to certain conditions of closing as described in the section titled “Concurrent Private Placements,” each of Salesforce Ventures LLC and Berkshire Hathaway Inc. will purchase $250 million of our Class A common stock from us in a private placement at a price per share equal to the initial public offering price. Based on an assumed initial public offering price of $80.00 per share, which is the midpoint of the price range set forth on the cover page of this prospectus, each of Salesforce Ventures LLC and Berkshire Hathaway Inc. would purchase 3,125,000 shares of our Class A common stock. […]

In addition, Berkshire Hathaway Inc. has agreed to purchase 4,042,043 shares of our Class A common stock from one of our stockholders in a secondary transaction at a price per share equal to the initial public offering price that will close immediately subsequent to the closing of this offering.

That second paragraph makes it clear that Berkshire is actually looking to snooker even more shares into its corner, for a total purchase price that might scale to more than $500 million.

What is so attractive about Snowflake? TechCrunch wrote a bit about that when the company filed, but the short gist is that it has epic growth, improving gross margins and dramatically curtailed losses. The package adds up to one valuable IPO, and something durable enough to tempt Buffett.

Regardless, what could be the most highly valued IPO of the year — Airbnb depending — here in America just got a lot more exciting.

Jeff Lawson on API startups, picking a market and getting dissed by VCs

Last week TechCrunch sat down virtually with Jeff Lawson, the CEO and co-founder of Twilio as part of our long-running Extra Crunch Live series. As I expected, the chat was a good use of time.

Why? Lawson was early on the idea that software companies could deliver their features not through a web app, but through an API . Back when Twilio was getting started, the world was still uncertain on the future of cloud. But Twilio was already skating past that puck toward a more distant target.

And his company has been largely proven right in its view of the future. While cloud software is now the de facto position for startups and legacy providers alike, API-powered startups are having one hell of a year according to founders and investors.

The growing wave of API -delivered software is not looking set to slow down, with Lawson telling TechCrunch during our chat that “the world is getting broken down into APIs,” as “every part of the stack of business that a developer might need to build is eventually turning into APIs that developers can use.”

So, expect more startups to ask you to snag an API key instead of signing up for a 12-month commitment. That said, don’t get too excited, yet, as Lawson was also clear during our chat that “not everything that can be broken down into an API will end up being a huge business.”

As Salesforce helped set the stage for SaaS startups in year’s past, Twilio’s $40 billion market cap today could prove a similar North Star for API startups.

A big thanks to the Extra Crunch crew for showing up and helping us ask some fun questions. I’ve snagged some favorite quotes below and embedded the YouTube clip of the whole chat. Let’s go!

Salesforce beefing up field service offering with AI

Salesforce has been adding artificial intelligence to all parts of its platform for several years now. It calls the underlying artificial intelligence layer on the Salesforce platform Einstein. Today the company announced some enhancements to its field service offering that take advantage of this capability.

Eric Jacobson, VP of product management at Salesforce says that when COVID hit, it pretty much stopped field service in its tracks during April, but like many other parts of business, it began to pick up again later in the quarter, and people still needed to have their appliances maintained.

“Even though we’re sheltering in place, the physical world still has physical needs. Hospitals still have to maintain their equipment. Employees still need to have equipment replaced or repaired while working at home, and people still need their washing machine [or other appliances] repaired,” Jacobson said.

Today’s announcements are designed in some ways for a COVID world where efficiency is more critical than ever. That means the field service tech needs to be prepared ahead of time on all of the details of the nature of the repair. He or she has to have the right parts and customers need to know when their technician will be there.

While it’s possible to do much of that in a manual fashion, adding a dose of AI helps streamline and scale that process. For starters, the company announced Dynamic Priority. Certainly humans are capable of prioritizing a list of repairs, but by letting the machine set priority based on factors like service agreement type or how critical the repair is, it can organize calls much faster, leaving dispatchers to handle other tasks.

Even before the day starts, technicians receive their schedule and using machine learning, can determine what parts they are most likely to need in the truck for the day’s repairs. Based on the nature of the repair and the particular make and model of machine, the Einstein Recommendation Builder can help predict the parts that will be needed to minimize the number of required trips, something that is important at all times, but especially during a pandemic.

“It’s always been an inconvenience and annoyance to have somebody come back for a follow up appointment. But now it’s not just an annoyance, it’s actually a safety consideration for you and for the technician because it’s increased exposure,” Jacobson explained

Salesforce also wants to give the customer the same capability, they are used to getting in a ride share app, where you can track the progress of the driver to your destination. Appointment Assistant, a new app gives customers this ability, so they know when to expect the repair person to arrive.

Finally, Salesforce has teamed with ServiceMax to offer a new capability to get the big picture view of an asset with the goal of ensuring uptime, particularly important in settings like hospitals or manufacturing. “We’ve partnered with a long-time Salesforce partner ServiceMax to create a brand new offering that takes industry best practice and builds it right in. Asset 360 builds on top of Salesforce field service and delivers those specific capabilities around asset performance insight, viewing and managing up time and managing warranty processes to really ensure availability,” he said.

As with all Salesforce announcements, the availability of these capabilities will vary as each in various forms of development. “Dynamic Priority will be generally available in October 2020. Einstein Recommendation Builder will be in beta in October 2020. Asset 360 will be generally available in November 2020. Appointment Assistant will be in closed pilot in US in October 2020,” according to information provided by the company.