Newly public CrowdStrike wants to become the Salesforce of cybersecurity

Like many good ideas, CrowdStrike, a seller of subscription-based software that protects companies from breaches, began as a few notes scribbled on a napkin in a hotel lobby.

The idea was to leverage new technology to create an endpoint protection platform powered by artificial intelligence that would blow incumbent solutions out of the water. McAfee, Palo Alto Networks and Symantec, long-time leaders in the space, had been too slow to embrace new technologies and companies were suffering, the CrowdStrike founding team surmised.

Co-founders George Kurtz and Dmitri Alperovitch, a pair of former McAfee executives, weren’t strangers to legacy cybersecurity tools. McAfee had for years been a dominant player in endpoint protection and antivirus. At least, until the emergence of cloud computing.

Since 2012, CrowdStrike’s Falcon Endpoint Protection platform has been pushing those incumbents into a new era of endpoint protection. By helping enterprises across the globe battle increasingly complex attack scenarios more efficiently, CrowdStrike, as well as other fast-growing cybersecurity upstarts, has redefined company security standards much like Salesforce redefined how companies communicate with customers.

“I think we had the foresight that [CrowdStrike] was going to be a foundational element for security,” CrowdStrike chief executive officer George Kurtz told TechCrunch this morning. The full conversation can be read further below.

CrowdStrike co-founder and CEO George Kurtz.

Do VC associates matter, women’s fertility, online auto marketplaces, and Salesforce + Tableau

Editor’s Note: New feedback buttons

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Fundraising 101: Do VC associates matter?

There are hundreds of associates working at VC firms traipsing through meetups and coffee meetings trying to find the best new startups. If you are looking to fundraise though — and fundraise quickly — how do you approach these nebulous non-check-writers?

This week, I wrote a guide based on my experience as a VC associate at two firms. The answer is that yes, they can matter, and it usually is quickly apparent how valuable they can be.

Associates can be helpful, they can and should be nice, and they have a useful role to play in the venture landscape. But let’s be clear: they can’t write checks, and checks is what you are looking for. They can be useful mechanisms to get the right meetings with the right partners at exactly the moment you are ready to fundraise. You probably shouldn’t piss them off by being an asshole to them, but at the end of the day, they are not the decision-maker. And if you learn anything about sales, it is that you want to pitch the person that holds the purse strings.

 

What top VCs look for in women’s fertility startups

Women’s fertility is a major area of investment for VC firms these days, and several prominent investors are doing deep dives into the space. Our healthtech writer Sarah Buhr interviewed several VCs about what they’re seeing in the space and why fertility is suddenly in the limelight:

As Alzheimer’s costs soar, startups like Neurotrack raise cash to diagnose and treat the disease

As studies show that early diagnosis and preventative therapies can help prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s, startups that are working to diagnose the disease earlier are gaining more attention and funding.

That’s a boon to companies like Neurotrack, which closed on $21 million in new financing led by the company’s previous investor, Khosla Ventures, with participation from new investors Dai-ichi Life and SOMPO Holdings.

Last year, the Japanese life insurance company, Dai-ichi Life partnered with Neurotrack to roll out a cognitive assessment tool to the company’s customers in Japan.

And earlier this year, the Japanese health insurer, SOMPO conducted a 16-week pilot with Neurotrack, where more than 550 of SOMPO’s employees took Neurotrack’s test and followed the Memory Health Program for four months. Neurotrack and SOMPO are now working to deepen and extend their partnership.

“As the global crisis around Alzheimer’s continues to grow, the private sector is joining government and nonprofits to address the problem in their markets. In Japan, for example, traditional insurance companies are developing novel solutions that incorporate Neurotrack’s products to advance better memory health among its population,” said Elli Kaplan, Neurotrack Co-founder and CEO. “These partnerships are innovative models that we hope to replicate in other markets, enabling traditional insurance companies to create new markets while helping to address the Alzheimer’s crisis. And now they’re also investing in our company so these companies have two ways of doing well by doing good.”

Neurodegenerative disorders are becoming a more serious issue for the island nation — and the rest of the world. In fact, over the weekend the G20 first raised the possibility that aging populations could be a global risk.

“Most of the G20 nations already experience or will experience ageing,” Bank of Japan governor Haruhiko Kuroda, told reporters from Agence France Presse. “We need to discuss problems that arise with societal aging and how to deal with them.”

In the U.S., the estimated cost of caring for Americans with Alzheimer’s and other dementias was an estimated $277 billion in 2018, according to a study cited by WebMD. Roughly $186 billion of those costs are borne by Medicare and Medicaid with another $60 billion in payments coming out-of-pocket. That number could top $1.1 trillion by 2050, according to the same report.

Neurotrack uses cognitive assessments that follow eye movements using the camera on a computer or mobile phone to create a baseline for cognitive functions. The company then uses a combination of brain training and diet, exercise, and sleep adjustments to try and improve cognitive function and health.

Its technology is one of several different approaches startups are taking to try and provide early diagnoses and potential preventative measures against the disease.

MyndYou is another company tackling neurodegenerative diagnostics uses an app to monitor movement among its users. The company assesses that data to determine whether there may be any issues related to cognitive function.  It recently partnered with the Japanese company Mizuho to test its efficacy among Japan’s aging population.

MyndYou partners with Mizuho to expand senior care services assessing cognitive degeneration

Then there’s Altoida, another startup which launched recently to tackle the cognitive assessment market. It uses augmented reality and a series of memory tests to assess brain function and attempt to detect neurodegeneration.

Neurotrack’s technology, based on research from Emory University, has managed to attract more than just Japanese corporations. Previous investors like Sozo Ventures, Rethink Impact, AME Cloud Partners, and Salesforce founder Marc Benioff have also thrown cash behind the company.

To date, the company has raised more than $50 million including $6.8 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health and National Institute of Aging.

The company said its new investment will be used to develop new partnerships in additional global markets and continue research and development.

“One can now feel empowered to test for potential memory decline, given that Neurotrack’s Memory Health Program can help stave off cognitive decline. This fully integrated platform enables users to assess the state of their memory, reduce future risk for decline, and monitor progress in order to take better control of one’s memory health. We combine these tools with deep analytics to further target and personalize, creating a very powerful precision medicine solution,” said Kaplan. “Just as when you go on a diet, you use a scale to provide evidence that you’re losing weight. Neurotrack now has the equivalent of both a scale to measure and the Memory Health Program for cognitive health. This is a game-changer for dementia risk.”

Japan has national efforts targeting a reduction in the onset of dementia in 6% of people in their 70s by 2025 (the country has the world’s largest population of the elderly with over 20% of the country over the age of 65). Roughly 13 million people are expected to develop Alzheimer’s in Japan by 2025.

Using augmented reality, Altoida is identifying the likely onset of neurodegenerative diseases

Part of the company’s success in fundraising comes from the results of a preliminary study that showed improved cognitive functions for people diagnosed with some decline in cognitive function after a year of using Neurotrack’s Memory Health Program. The company claims it has the the first fully integrated, clinically-validated platform that can assess a person’s cognition through its cognitive assessment — which can predict conversion from healthy to mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or MCI to Alzheimer’s disease within 3 years at 89% accuracy, and within 6 years at 100% accuracy.

While that kind of assessment is good, Alzheimer’s symptoms can begin to appear as early as 25 years before the onset of the disease. So there’s still work to be done.

“Neurotrack has built an incredible integrative platform that is transforming our battle with Alzheimer’s,” said Jenny Abramson, Founder & Managing Partner of Rethink Impact. “Elli’s two decades of experience in the private sector and in government are helping her scale this solution to the millions of people suffering from cognitive decline around the world. We couldn’t be more excited to continue to support Neurotrack, given both the financial opportunity and the impact they are already having on this critical disease.”

With Tableau and Mulesoft, Salesforce gains full view of enterprise data

Back in the 2010 timeframe, it was common to say that content was king, but after watching Google buy Looker for $2.6 billion last week and Salesforce nab Tableau for $15.7 billion this morning, it’s clear that data has ascended to the throne in a business context.

We have been hearing about Big Data for years, but we’ve probably reached a point in 2019 where the data onslaught is really having an impact on business. If you can find the key data nuggets in the big data pile, it can clearly be a competitive advantage, and companies like Google and Salesforce are pulling out their checkbooks to make sure they are in a position to help you out.

While Google, as a cloud infrastructure vendor, is trying to help companies on its platform and across the cloud understand and visualize all that data, Salesforce as a SaaS vendor might have a different reason — one that might surprise you — given that Salesforce was born in the cloud. But perhaps it recognizes something fundamental. If it truly wants to own the enterprise, it has to have a hybrid story, and with Mulesoft and Tableau, that’s precisely what it has — and why it was willing to spend around $23 billion to get it.

Making connections

Certainly, Salesforce chairman Marc Benioff has no trouble seeing the connections between his two big purchases over the last year. He sees the combination of Mulesoft connecting to the data sources and Tableau providing a way to visualize as a “beautiful thing.”

Economic development organizations: good or bad for entrepreneurial activity?

In developing VC markets such as the Midwest, some may think that funding from the government or economic development organizations are a godsend for local entrepreneurs. Startups are often looking for all the help they can get, and a boost in funds or an attractive set of economic incentives can be perceived as the fuel they need to take the next step in their growth journey.

While this type of funding can be helpful, a startup should ensure that funding from these sources is not a double-edged sword. The biggest positive, of course, is the money, which can help startups with product development, hiring, marketing, sales and more. But there can also be certain restrictions or limitations that are not fully understood initially—these restrictions could hinder growth at an inopportune time later on.

The inevitable question, then, is should startups consider partnering with the government or various economic development groups as they look to get off the ground? Let’s take a closer look.

What Local Economic Development Organizations Have to Offer

Today, particularly in the Midwest, it’s common for state and local governments to offer startups incentives such as tax exemptions or grants in an effort to keep local businesses around and also attract companies from other regions.

So how do these incentives work? When it comes to tax credits or exemptions, local governments are sometimes willing to provide these incentives if a startup can demonstrate how paying lower taxes will benefit the wider community.

The 10 benefits and policies any modern workplace should have

Want to attract (and retain) top talent, making your company’s workforce more competitive and cutting down on turnover costs to boot? The simplest way to do so starts with the benefits and policies you offer to employees.

We already know that benefits play a major hand in how candidates evaluate a job offer. One recent survey conducted by Fairygodboss, the largest career community for women, in partnership with Extend Fertility, found that 87% of professional women say a benefits package is important or very important to them when interviewing at a company. Respondents stated that the presence (or absence) of certain benefits would impact their likelihood to stay at an employer, too.

So, which specific benefits and policies are the ones that will set your company apart as a modern, desirable workplace? We spoke to experts — from CEOs to heads of HR — to find out exactly what the benefits package of today’s most relevant employers looks like.

1. Summer Fridays

Giving employees a few extra hours to jumpstart their weekend through “Summer Fridays” can lead to a whole spate of positive benefits, including improved morale, focus and engagement at work, according to Brian Kropp, Group Vice-President of HR at Gartner . “Most companies have told us that with this benefit in place, they’ve found employees work harder earlier in the week because they know they have to complete their work before Friday,” Kropp said.

2. Pay transparency

Via Getty Image / abstractdesignlabs

The days of salary and bonus conversations happening only behind closed doors are long gone. Thanks to whisper networks and a growing belief in salary sharing, for many companies, this information is available with or without their consent. Companies who want to appear modern (as well as do the right thing) should embrace this trend through official pay transparency policies.

“Companies that don’t want to appear outdated have written pay, incentive and bonus plans for all employees at all levels so that how pay is calculated is not a mystery,” Sarah Morgan, Senior HR Director of SafeStreets USA, said.

“The compensation is equitable across gender and races so everyone is paid fairly based on the position, experience, skills and responsibilities. Such companies are also open about their pay policies and share general information about how much people are earning at every level. This may be shared as ranges or as specific amounts.”

3. Inclusion initiatives

VCs bet $12M on Troops, a Slackbot for sales teams

Slack wants to be the new operating system for teams, something it has made clear on more than one occasion, including in its recent S-1 filing. To accomplish that goal, it put together an in-house $80 million venture fund in 2015 to invest in third-party developers building on top of its platform.

Weeks ahead of its direct listing on The New York Stock Exchange, it continues to put that money to work.

Troops is the latest to land additional capital from the enterprise giant. The New York-based startup helps sales teams communicate with a customer relationship management tool plugged directly into Slack. In short, it automates routine sales management activities and creates visibility into important deals through integrations with employee emails and Salesforce.

Troops founder and chief executive officer Dan Reich, who previously co-founded TULA Skincare, told TechCrunch he opted to build a Slackbot rather than create an independent platform because Slack is a rocket ship and he wanted a seat on board: “When you think about where Slack will go in the future, it’s obvious to us that companies all over the world will be using it,” he said.

Troops has raised $12 million in Series B funding in a round led by Aspect Ventures, with participation from the Slack Fund, First Round Capital, Felicis Ventures, Susa Ventures, Chicago Ventures, Hone Capital, InVision founder Clark Valberg and others. The round brings Troops’ total raised to $22 million.

Launched in 2015 by New York tech veterans Reich, Scott Britton and Greg Ratner, the trio weren’t initially sure of Slack’s growth trajectory. It wasn’t until Slack confirmed its intent to support the developer ecosystem with a suite of developer tools and a fund that the team focused its efforts on building a Slackbot.

“People sometimes thought of us, at least in the early days, as a little bit crazy,” Reich said. “But now Slack is the fastest-growing SaaS company ever.”

“We think the biggest opportunity in the [enterprise SaaS] category is going to be tools oriented around the customer-facing employee (CRM), and that’s where we are innovating,” he added.

Troops’ tools are helpful for any customer-facing team, Reich explains. Envoy, WeWork, HubSpot and a few hundred others are monthly paying subscribers of the tool, using it to interact with their CRM in a messaging interface and to receive notifications when a deal has closed. Troops integrates with Salesforce, so employees can use it to search records, schedule automatic reports and celebrate company wins.

Slack, in partnership with a number of venture capital funds, including Accel, Kleiner Perkins and Index, has also deployed capital to a number of other startups, like Lattice, Drafted and Loom.

With Slack’s direct listing afoot, the Troops team is counting on the imminent and long-term growth of the company’s platform.

“We think it’s still early days,” Reich said. “In the future, we see every company using something like Troops to manage their day-to-day.”

How we scaled our startup by being remote first

Startups are often associated with the benefits and toys provided in their offices. Foosball tables! Free food! Dog friendly! But what if the future of startups was less about physical office space and more about remote-first work environments? What if, in fact, the most compelling aspect of a startup work environment is that the employees don’t have to go to one?

A remote-first company model has been Seeq’s strategy since our founding in 2013. We have raised $35 million and grown to more than 100 employees around the globe. Remote-first is clearly working for us and may be the best model for other software companies as well.

So, who is Seeq and what’s been the key to making the remote-first model work for us?  And why did we do it in the first place?

Seeq is a remote-first startup – i.e. it was founded with the intention of not having a physical headquarters or offices, and still operates that way – that is developing an advanced analytics application that enables process engineers and subject matter experts in oil & gas, pharmaceuticals, utilities, and other process manufacturing industries to investigate and publish insights from the massive amounts of sensor data they generate and store.

To succeed, we needed to build a team quickly with two skill sets: 1) software development expertise, including machine learning, AI, data visualization, open source, agile development processes, cloud, etc. and 2) deep domain expertise in the industries we target.

Which means there is no one location where we can hire all the employees we need: Silicon Valley for software, Houston for oil & gas, New Jersey for fine chemicals, Seattle for cloud expertise, water utilities across the country, and so forth. But being remote-first has made recruiting and hiring these high-demand roles easier much easier than if we were collocated.

Image via Seeq Corporation

Job postings on remote-specific web sites like FlexJobs, Remote.co and Remote OK typically draw hundreds of applicants in a matter of days. This enables Seeq to hire great employees who might not call Seattle, Houston or Silicon Valley home – and is particularly attractive to employees with location-dependent spouses or employees who simply want to work where they want to live.

But a remote-first strategy and hiring quality employees for the skills you need is not enough: succeeding as a remote-first company requires a plan and execution around the “3 C’s of remote-first”.

The three requirements to remote-first success are the three C’s: communication, commitment and culture.

Salesforce’s first blockchain plunge will involve development tools

Last year, Salesforce chairman Marc Benioff mentioned, perhaps for the first time, his interest in the blockchain. It was not known at the time if he was seriously interested, or if Salesforce would indeed offer a way to use the blockchain on the Salesforce platform. Today, a little more than a year later, the company announced its first blockchain product, and it’s one aimed squarely at developers.

Salesforce’s MO with new tech is always to start slowly and branch out after it gets a feel for customer requirements. Today’s announcement follows a similar path. The company is announcing a low-code blockchain development tool on the Lightning platform. It’s important to note that this is only available to select design partners for now, and won’t become generally available until sometime next year.

About the time Benioff was making his first public statements about blockchain, the company began looking at how it could incorporate blockchain into Salesforce and use it to take advantage of gaps in the CRM platform, or if it even made sense to. As Adam Caplan, SVP of emerging technology at Salesforce put it, “Was this technology just looking for a problem to solve, or could it really drive big business impact?”

After talking to 100 customers over the last year, Salesforce realized there was something there and felt like they could help companies, especially those working with partners outside the organization. The blockchain could provide a way for these companies to collaborate in a trusted environment.

Caplan said many of the customers he spoke to had begun experimenting with the idea of working in trusted environments with immutable records and other distributed ledger concepts, but most were stuck in Proof of Concept stages and were looking for a way to streamline the application development process.

Bret Taylor, who is president and chief product officer at Salesforce, says the company has been focusing on how the decentralized nature of the blockchain can really open up new business models that might not have been possible on the Salesforce platform in the past.

“We love the idea of extending the CRM with this capability because it really does enable multiple parties to work together in a trusted way and create business models around ecosystems, rather just direct customer relationships,” Taylor explained.

Taylor says the company went for developers as initial entree into blockchain to help customers get going with it in a fairly quick way by abstracting away a lot of the complexity associated with developing blockchain applications.

Brent Leary, who owns the CRM consultancy CRM Essentials, sees a lot of potential with the new blockchain tools, even though he cautions it’s still very early. “The concept of leveraging blockchain technology to allow companies to [combine] decentralized data with CRM data can be potentially big. And even though it won’t be available for awhile, Salesforce has the resources and mindshare to bring their large customer base, and enterprise customers with huge scale to blockchain and speed up the adoption process,” Leary told TechCrunch.

The new product will consist of three components: Blockchain Builder to help developers build blockchain applications; Blockchain Connect to integrate blockchain actions directly with applications on the Salesforce platform; and Blockchain Engage to invite parties to the blockchain application, regardless of whether they are part of the Salesforce ecosystem or not.

“We think that having the Salesforce gravity being around the customer and customer experience, and making blockchain really accessible to a broad range of developers will help enable a lot of our customers to start experimenting with these new business models and new approaches to build ecosystem around their products and experiences,” Taylor said.

Business author Julian Guthrie on the biggest difference between ‘alpha’ men and women

If you’ve been out and about in Silicon Valley in the last month or so, chances are you’ve heard of “Alpha Girls,” a new book written by longtime journalist Julian Guthrie about four investors who’ve made a big impact on the world of startup investing. The book recognizes the four — Theresia Gouw, MJ Elmore, Sonja Hoel Perkins, and Magdalena Yesil — because they are interesting individuals, each with very different upbringings and skill sets and areas of expertise, but also because they succeeded in the venture industry during a time when they were almost always the only woman in the room, or at the conference, or in the middle of a team-building event.

Indeed, well before a light was shone bright on gender disparity in the world of VC, the four were blazing a trail. Elmore signed on with IVP in 1982,  becoming a general partner by age 28. Yesil cofounded the dot com high-flier CyberCash before joining USVP as a partner in 1988. Perkins’s star also rose quickly. By age 29, she was a general partner at Menlo Ventures, staying nearly 22 years before launching her own venture fund. Down the street, Gouw was building a track record at Accel, where she spent 15 years before cofounding her own firm in 2014, Aspect Ventures.

We talked with Guthrie earlier today about the four and how much time she’d spent with them. (“I think they were ready to block my calls and texts,” she laughed.) We wanted to know how these so-called alpha women differ from the many other subjects Guthrie has spent time with across her 20-year reporting career with the San Francisco Chronicle, during which time she also authored books about Larry Ellison and Peter Diamandis. We wondered, too, how long it took her to work on the book (roughly two years, including interviews with the women and the colleagues and their partners and the founders they’ve funded, among others).

But what really piqued our interest was whether, after working on the book, Guthrie viewed the venture industry as any more or less welcoming to women than at the outset of her research. “It is not as bad as it’s portrayed, in my opinion,” Guthrie told us. “There are success stories.”

Still, Guthrie noted that each of these investors had to grapple with much that a man might not, particularly in the early days of their careers but not exclusively. Some of these were mundane but constant considerations, including, “Should you take notes or not? When do you speak up? How do you network? Do you go to these boondoggles when it’s all guys?” Said Guthrie, “Some of these things were shocking to me, coming from my own very gender-neutral experience as a reporter.”

We also wondered if, in talking with the subjects of her book, they’d ever expressed having to emulate their male peers in order to get ahead.

Guthrie said on this front it was “not so much about emulating men but steering the spotlight away from their femininity, so it didn’t become a distraction.” She says Elmore quickly learned that if she wore a dress to a board meeting, for example, it would elicit compliments that weren’t necessarily expected, so she soon cut her hair and began wearing suits. Meanwhile, Perkins and Gouw participated in male-dominated events on the theory that you can’t win if you don’t play the game. For Perkins, this meant skiing alongside former Navy Seals when she was still a relative novice on the slopes. For Gouw, it was getting elbowed in the stomach during a competitive game of flag football.

Were they perhaps not so different after all from their male colleagues, we wondered? Is there one path to the top?Interestingly, Guthrie said that many of the men she has interviewed — including Ellison, Diamandis, Richard Branson and Elon Musk — “were happy to talk about their vulnerabilities, because it kind of rounds them out. It softens them in a nice way.” She observed that women who’ve enjoyed success meanwhile have a “much harder time sharing their mistakes, their regrets, their vulnerabilities,” said Guthrie. Because women are often provided less room for missteps, “I had to tell [the investors] again and again that it was important that we tell the good, bad, and ugly — not because I was seeking scandal but because I wanted these stories to be honest.”

Before we parted ways, we asked Guthrie about women and money, after she volunteered that it’s a “tricky issue for women. If you go after too much, you’re greedy; if you marry someone with money, you’re a gold digger.”

She pointed to a Forbes piece from last summer that called Gouw “America’s richest female venture capitalist.” Gouw apparently felt uneasy about the story and participated in it mostly to draw attention to her work with the advocacy organization she helped cofound, called AllRaise.  But as Gouw told Guthrie, it’s had a somewhat surprising impact. “She was a serious player before, but it kind of gave her street cred” with those who pay attention to Forbes’s Midas List and other forms of score-keeping, said Guthrie.

It’s a good thing, suggests Guthrie, who has been promoting her book to women in numerous industries, including in homebuilding and law and in medicine. “You see the same barriers across them all,” Guthrie said. But
“you’re also seeing these women’s groups and networks becoming more powerful across all these industries, where women are speaking out and creating these sisterhoods.”

Increasingly, they’re agreeing to some self-promotion, too. As Guthrie puts it, “It’s not boasting when it’s based on fact.”

Pictured above, left to right: Theresia Gouw, Sonja Perkins, MJ Elmore, Magdalena Yesil, and Julian Guthrie.