On-demand trucking app Convoy raises $185M at $1B valuation

CapitalG, the growth equity arm of Alphabet, has led the $185 million round in Convoy, its first investment in the Seattle-based, tech-enabled trucking network.

The round brings Convoy’s total raised to $265 million and values the company at $1 billion. New investors T. Rowe Price and Lone Pine Capital participated in the financing alongside existing investors.

Convoy has long been backed by Greylock Partners, which led the startup’s Series A in 2015. Y Combinator is also a backer. In an unusual move last year, Y Combinator led a $62 million round in Convoy in what was the first time the accelerator deployed capital from its continuity fund into a late-stage company that was not a YC graduate.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, Dropbox CEO Drew Houston, Bezos Expeditions and former Starbucks president Howard Behar are also Convoy investors.

Founded by a pair of former Amazonians, Dan Lewis and Grant Goodale, Convoy is trying to transform the $800 billion trucking industry, which is no easy feat. Dubbed the ‘Uber for trucks,’ Convoy’s app connects truckers with people who need freight moved. With the new funding, it’ll expand nationwide and move beyond just freight matching.

“Trucks run empty 40% of the time, and they often sit idle due to inefficient scheduling,” Convoy CEO Dan Lewis said in a statement. “This is a drag on the economy, the environment, and the bottom lines of shippers and carriers alike.”

According to GeekWire, Convoy is working on a new suite of tools to help truckers combine tasks so they waste less time. And it’s working to provide shippers access to tracking and pricing data through its platform.

As part of the deal, CapitalG partner David Lawee will join Convoy’s board of directors.

Einstein Voice gives Salesforce users gift of gab

Salespeople usually spend their days talking. They are on the phone and in meetings, but when it comes to updating Salesforce, they are back at the keyboard again typing notes and milestones, or searching for metrics about their performance. Today, Salesforce decided to change that by introducing Einstein Voice, a bit of AI magic that allows salespeople to talk to the program instead of typing.

In a world where Amazon Alexa and Siri make talking to our devices more commonplace in our non-work lives, it makes sense that companies are trying to bring that same kind of interaction to work.

In this case, you can conversationally enter information about a meeting, get daily briefings about key information on your day’s meetings (particularly nice for salespeople who spend their day in the car) and interact with Salesforce data dashboards by asking questions instead of typing queries.

All of these tools are designed to make life easier for busy salespeople. Most hate doing the administrative part of their jobs because if they are entering information, even if it will benefit them having a record in the long run, they are not doing their primary job, which is selling stuff.

For the meetings notes part, instead of typing on a smartphone, which can be a challenge anyway, you simply touch Meeting Debrief in the Einstein Voice mobile tool and start talking to enter your notes. The tool interprets what you’re saying. As with most transcription services, this is probably not perfect and will require some correcting, but should get you most of the way there.

It can also pick out key data like dates and deal amounts and let you set action items to follow up on.

Gif: Salesforce

Brent Leary, who is the founder and principal analyst at CRM Essentials says this is a natural progression for Salesforce as people get more comfortable using voice interfaces. “I think this will make voice-first devices and assistants as important pieces to the CRM puzzle from both a customer experience and an employee productivity perspective,” he told TechCrunch.

It’s worth pointing out that Tact.AI has been doing this for some time on top of Salesforce giving this type of voice interaction for Salesforce users. It’s likely ahead of Salesforce at this point, but Leary believes having Salesforce enter the voice arena will probably benefit the startup more than hurt it.

“The Salesforce tide will lift all boats, and companies like Tact will see their profile increased significantly because while Salesforce is the leader in the category, it’s share of the market is still less than 20% of the market,” he pointed out.

Einstein is Salesforce’s catch-all brand for its artificial intelligence layer. In this case it’s using natural language processing, voice recognition technology and other artificial intelligence pieces to interpret the person’s voice and transcribe what they are saying or understand their request better.

Typically, Salesforce starts with a small set of functionality and the builds on that over time. That’s very likely what they are doing here, coming out with a product announcement in time for Dreamforce, their massive customer conference next week,

Detroit’s StockX raises $44M from GV and Battery to expand marketplace internationally

StockX started as a marketplace for reselling sneakers but has since grown to be much more, bringing its transparent and anonymous marketplace to more verticals. Today the company is announcing a $44 million Series B that will help fuel international and domestic growth while letting the company expand to even more product categories and perhaps opening StockX stores.

The idea driving StockX is simple: Provide a marketplace with fair pricing and ensure the merchandise is authentic. The result scales to nearly day-trading in consumer goods in the same vein as oil futures. In some cases, the seller never touches the product. Sneakers and other in-demand products are priced and sold at rates set by the market rather than the seller. If a particular sneaker is in demand, the price increases.

StockX is among the fastest growing startups in Detroit and Michigan and currently employs 300 in Detroit and 50 in Tempe, Arizona. Founded in 2016 by CEO Josh Luber, COO Greg Schwartz and Dan Gilbert, founder and chairman of Quick Loans, the company has scaled to see more than $2 million in daily transactions and 800,000 users have sold or purchased items on StockX. Today, at an event in Detroit, Luber told the audience that the company is approaching a billion dollar run-rate.

The company has never been capital contrasted and CEO and co-founder Josh Luber told TechCrunch that the company never thought they would have to turn to institutional financing. That’s the comfort of having a billionaire like Gilbert as a co-founder; Luber said Gilbert was always happy to fund StockX.

“We didn’t need money,” Luber told TechCrunch the day before this announcement, adding. “It was really about having external people that that we thought added truly different values than we had around the table.”

Right now the company’s main marketplace centers around sneakers but StockX is built around a platform that works for most ecommerce. It’s a $5 billion market worldwide. Last year the company also launched marketplaces for streetwear, handbags and watches — all verticals with a strong demand in the secondary market.

Scaling the service requires more bodies. Since everything sold on StockX is authenticated — in person — it takes more hands to authenticate more items. With that comes more customer service employees and as the company grows, StockX will need more engineers.

The company is already growing fast but Luber seems ready to double down. In March StockX had 130 people. Today, it’s at 415. He thinks. He confesses it could be a slightly more.

“We have about 50 engineers today and I would quadruple that tomorrow if I could,” he said. “We have about 50 customer service people today. I think it would be safe to double that tomorrow just because the business is growing so fast and we obviously hope it continues to grow as we scale.”

If StockX is going to scale, it needs more employees to ensure the company’s core ethos does not soften. The new round of funding will go far in bringing in the people Luber is seeking including additional members of the C-suite. StockX is running without a CTO, CMO, or CFO — pretty much the entire leadership suite, Luber admits.

It seems this is part of the reasoning behind the funding. The company was not seeking funding but, as Luber tells it, as the company gained attention, investors increasing reached out requesting meetings. Of the meetings they took, there were two firms that meshed with Luber’s vision of growing a marketplace.

The new round of funding comes from GV and Battery Ventures including several high-profile investors including DJ Steve Aoki; model and entrepreneur, Karlie Kloss; streetwear designer Don C; Salesforce founder chairman and co-CEO, Marc Benioff; Bob Mylod, founder and managing partner of Annox Capital; Shana Fisher, managing partner at Third Kind Venture Capital; and Jonathon Triest, managing partner of Ludlow Ventures — only Mylod and Triest are based in the Detroit area.

StockX says it intends to use the funding to expand internationally. Right now StockX only advertises in the US and only supports purchases in U.S. dollars. Going forward it intends to open up local versions of StockX to better support key markets with support for local currency, language and marketing. The company could also open location operations to make shipping and receiving easier and faster.

“In some of these countries, we have, a pretty decent customer base where people are tendered on a VPN,” Luber said. “There are pictures of people that walk around China with a StockX tag hanging off their shoe.”

Fifteen percent of StockX sales currently come from international buyers.

Of the four product categories StockX current sells, sneakers and streetwear make up the bulk of the sales. Before expanding to different verticals, Luber tells me there’s a lot of room for growth in each of the current categories but expanding means more employees.

For instance, each streetwear brand is essentially a sub-vertical, he says, adding that if the company launches a new brand StockX has to assemble a staff around it with brand expertise to build the catalog and product authentication process.

StockX is not ready to announce what other type of products it might sell. Street art seems like one they’re exploring.

Despite the growth, Luber remains committed to Detroit. He said the company will always be headquartered in Detroit and was proud to point to the fact that StockX was the second largest tenant in Dan Gilbert’s marquee Detroit building, One Campus Martius. The company also operates a 30,000 square foot facility in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood.

StockX could come to other cities though, Luber says. The company is talking about what a StockX “in-real-life” experience would look like: It could be retail, a brand experience, accepting products to be sold or additional operation centers. The company is exploring all the obvious candidates including LA, NYC, San Francisco and Portland.

Salesforce research: Yep, consumers are worried about their data

Recent headlines at TechCrunch and elsewhere have been filled with news about data breaches, data misuse and other data-related scandals. But has that actually affected how consumers think about their personal data?

A new report from Salesforce Reserach sheds some light on this question. In a survey of 6,723 individuals globally, Salesforce found that 59 percent of of respondents believe their personal information is vulnerable to security breach, while 54 percent believe that the companies with that data don’t have their best interests in mind.

Respondents also said that these feelings will affect their choices as consumers — for example, 86 percent said that if they trust a company, they’re more likely to share their experiences, and that number goes up to 91 percent among millennials and Gen Zers.

The findings seem similar to (if more general than research from Pew showing that Americans have become more cautious and and critical in how they use Facebook.

salesforce research chart

At the same time, it sounds like people do want some degree of personalization in their marketing — the same personalization that requires data. Eighty-four percent of respondents said they want to be treated “like a person, not a number,” and 54 percent said current marketing messages aren’t as relevant as they’d like.

Salesforce says that while this might seem like a paradox, personalization and trust are not mutually exclusive. To illustrate this, it notes that 86 percent of respondents said they’re more likely to trust a company with their personal information if it explains how that information leads to a better customer experience, and 68 percent said they’re more likely to trust companies with that info if they’ll use it to fully personalize the customer experience.

“With technologies like AI driving more personalized customer experiences, customer trust needs to be grounded in a deeper understanding of the technologies’ value,” the report says. “Among millennials and Gen Zers, 91% are more likely to trust companies with their persona information if they explain how its use will deliver a better experience — suggesting that strict security and privacy protocols alone may not be enough.”

You can read the full research brief here.

DFINITY raises $102M from a16z and Polychain for a decentralised ‘Internet Computer’ to rival AWS

Since blockchain technology appeared, there has been a persistent problem in its development: how to make it scale to billions of users. Bitcoin was famously never really designed for this, and today other platforms like Ethereum are also struggling. If you could crack this problem, the thinking goes, you’d end up with the hottest property in blockchain right now.

That, a very healthy dose of ambition, and a bench of strong computer science talent are some of the big reasons why investors are gathering around DFINITY, a startup based out of Zug, Switzerland and Palo Alto that is also a foundation, and has a very lofty goal to build what it calls the “Internet Computer”: a blockchain-based, decentralised and non-proprietary network to run the next generation of mega-applications. DFINITY aims to launch an initial version of its public network — which it has also dubbed “Cloud 3.0” — towards the end of the year.

Today, DFINITY is announcing that it has raised $102 million in funding, in a round jointly led by Andreessen Horowitz (via its crypto fund a16z crypto) and Polychain Capital. Both were previous investors in a $61 million round DFINITY announced earlier this year — which has been a blockbuster for blockchain, with at least $1.3 billion being invested into the technology in the first half of 2018 alone. DFINITY has now raised just over $195 million to date since being founded in 2015.

Other investors in this latest round include SV Angel, Aspect Ventures, Village Global, Multicoin Capital, Scalar Capital, and Amino Capital, as well as DFINITY community members.

DFINITY’s approach to the scalability problem is to resolve the dilemma between full decentralization (where every miner runs every instruction of every computation) versus delegating the mechanics to nodes or super nodes (so therefore more centralisation). DFINITY says it has tested its network to the point where it can finalize software computations in under 5 seconds, which is extremely fast. Bitcoin by contrasts takes 3600 seconds, and Ethereum 600 seconds.

DFINITY conducted an airdrop in May of 35 million Swiss Francs worth of tokens to DFINITY community members to help them become early users. Now DFINITY has followed the newer approach of raising a private sale for its token, without going to a public sale.

You can also watch a test demo of the network here:

While a lot of blockchain projects are tied up with currency (an area that DFINITY has also developed, as you can see), what’s notable about what this startup is doing is that its wider focus is on building a platform that could be used across a significantly wider set of applications.

The Internet Computer, as described by founder and chief scientist Dominic Williams, “is a public infrastructure that aims to host the world’s next generation of software and services.” The belief is that by making it open source and non-proprietary, it’s significantly more secure and less costly to maintain. DFINITY claims that R&D on such an architecture is 90 percent lower.

“We are excited to back DFINITY’s Internet Computer and their vision to host the world’s next generation of software and services on a public network,” said Chris Dixon, Partner at a16z crypto. “The Internet Computer is on track to become a critical piece of the future technology stack. This is groundbreaking and a real testament to Dominic and the incredible team at DFINITY.”

In addition to Williams, that team is impressive indeed.

It includes Timo Hanke as head of engineering, who is a former mathematics and cryptography professor who created AsicBoost to increase the efficiency of Bitcoin mining; Mahnush Movahedi, who joined as a senior researcher from Yale where he’s worked on “scalable and fault-tolerant distributed algorithms for consensus and secure multi-party computation, secret sharing, and interactive communication over noisy channels”; ex-Googler Ben Lynn, who is the “L” from BLS cryptography, used in Threshold Relay to “generate randomness and achieve security, speed and scale in public networks”; and Adreas Rossberg, another ex-Googler who had co-designed the WebAssembly virtual machine, which is also used at DFINITY.

While Internet networks and the largest players online today are proprietary entities with their own commercial and strategic agendas, the vision behind DFINITY is that it can be used to run “autonomous software” that will run in a more independent way. These will exist as running open source software that updates itself using inbuilt governance that can provide hard guarantees to users in the form of “smart contracts” (computing and other transactions that can be made without third parties). These can cover how data might be used, or provide guarantees to startups wishing to build functionality without the precarious worry of a platform access getting revoked. You can read more about the technology in its white paper.

DFINITY has not disclosed its valuation with this round.

Japan’s Freee raises $60M to grow its cloud accounting business

Japan-based accounting software company Freee, one of the country’s most-prominent startups, has raised a $60 million Series E funding round as it bids to expand its services into other areas of management for its customers.

Freee was founded six years ago — we wrote about the startup when it raised a Series A in 2013 — which makes it one of the ‘oldest’ startups in Japan, while this round is also a large one for the country, too. Japan’s startup ecosystem has a culture that encourages founders to take their companies’ public earlier than in most parts of the world, to mitigate some risk, but there are signs of alternative approaches that include this round and of course the recent IPO of Mercari, which went public this summer and raised over $1 billion.

“Japan is a country that respects precedent a lot,” Freee founder and CEO Daisuke Sasaki told TechCrunch in an interview. “Having present cases will change [the culture] a lot, we are staying private and investing in growth. The ecosystem isn’t changing [yet] but [startups, founders and VCs] now have more options.”

Free was one of the first Japanese startups to raise from overseas investors, a move that helped get Japanese VCs interested in enterprise and Saas, and this time around it has pulled in capital from a bunch of big names: Chat app company Line, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG) — Japan’s largest bank — consumer credit firm Life Card and “several [unnamed] international institutional investors.”

DCM and Infinity Investments are among the startup’s earliest backers.

Today, Freee offers cloud-based accounting and HR software and it claims to have over one million business accounts. It has over 5,000 certified accountant advisors — who help it reach new customers and also use it for their own work — and the company said that over 3,500 apps and services, including mainly financial products, are integration with its software.

Going forward, Sasaki — who is a former Googler — said Freee will use this new capital to build out an API ecosystem to enable more integrations — some of its practical ones right now include Slack and Salesforce — while it is planning a major collaboration with Line to allow Line business customers to integrate their use of the app with Free, while it is exploring how it can collaborate around Line Pay.

Freee founder and CEO Daisuke Sasaki

Freee is also focused on expanding the scope of its services to branch out into products that help with more general management and operational tasks.

“We want to focus not only on back office but also to add value to customers to make their businesses better through dashboards, reporting and insight. Customers who use the [existing business] reports grow faster. Our vision is to give much better insight and business advice through AI [and] to do that we need more data, not just back office but front line too,” Sasaki said.

Finally, the startup is exploring ways it can enable banks and financial organizations to work more closely with its customer base. Already customers can share data within Freee to banks for assessment for loans and other credit products, and the company is exploring the potential to introduce a marketplace that would give its customers a place to scout out financial products at more preferential rates.

“Initially we focused on small business but now our biggest customers have a couple of hundred employees so we are going upmarket,” Sasaki told TechCrunch.

One area Freee won’t be moving into is overseas markets. Yet at least. Sasaki explained that the company wants to build out that vision of an expanded ecosystem of connected services and more in-depth business tools before branching out into new countries.

SmartHR, a younger rival to free which specializes in HR as the name suggests, raised $13.3 million earlier this year to push on into areas such as payroll and more. That could begin to pose a threat to Freee, particularly since SmartHR a developer platform to hose third-party applications and services.

SessionM customer loyalty data aggregator snags $23.8 M investment

SessionM announced a $23.8 million Series E investment led by Salesforce Ventures. A bushel of existing investors including Causeway Media Partners, CRV, General Atlantic, Highland Capital and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers also contributed to the round. The company has now raised over $97 million.

At its core, SessionM aggregates loyalty data for brands to help them understand their customer better, says company co-founder and CEO Lars Albright. “We are a customer data and engagement platform that helps companies build more loyal and profitable relationships with their consumers,” he explained.

Essentially that means, they are pulling data from a variety of sources and helping brands offer customers more targeted incentives, offers and product recommendations “We give [our users] a holistic view of that customer and what motivates them,” he said.

Screenshot: SessionM (cropped)

To achieve this, SessionM takes advantage of machine learning to analyze the data stream and integrates with partner platforms like Salesforce, Adobe and others. This certainly fits in with Adobe’s goal to build a customer service experience system of record and Salesforce’s acquisition of Mulesoft in March to integrate data from across an organization, all in the interest of better understanding the customer.

When it comes to using data like this, especially with the advent of GDPR in the EU in May, Albright recognizes that companies need to be more careful with data, and that it has really enhanced the sensitivity around stewardship for all data-driven businesses like his.

“We’ve been at the forefront of adopting the right product requirements and features that allow our clients and businesses to give their consumers the necessary control to be sure we’re complying with all the GDPR regulations,” he explained.

The company was not discussing valuation or revenue. Their most recent round prior to today’s announcement, was a Series D in 2016 for $35 million also led by Salesforce Ventures.

SessionM, which was founded in 2011, has around 200 employees with headquarters in downtown Boston. Customers include Coca-Cola, L’Oreal and Barney’s.

Tall Poppy aims to make online harassment protection an employee benefit

For the nearly 20 percent of Americans who experience severe online harassment, there’s a new company launching in the latest batch of Y Combinator called Tall Poppy that’s giving them the tools to fight back.

Co-founded by Leigh Honeywell and Logan Dean, Tall Poppy grew out of the work that Honeywell, a security specialist, had been doing to hunt down trolls in online communities since at least 2008.

That was the year that Honeywell first went after a particularly noxious specimen who spent his time sending death threats to women in various Linux communities. Honeywell cooperated with law enforcement to try and track down the troll and eventually pushed the commenter into hiding after he was visited by investigators.

That early success led Honeywell to assume a not-so-secret identity as a security expert by day for companies like Microsoft, Salesforce, and Slack, and a defender against online harassment when she wasn’t at work.

“It was an accidental thing that I got into this work,” says Honeywell. “It’s sort of an occupational hazard of being an internet feminist.”

Honeywell started working one-on-one with victims of online harassment that would be referred to her directly.

“As people were coming forward with #metoo… I was working with a number of high profile folks to essentially batten down the hatches,” says Honeywell. “It’s been satisfying work helping people get back a sense of safety when they feel like they have lost it.”

As those referrals began to climb (eventually numbering in the low hundreds of cases), Honeywell began to think about ways to systematize her approach so it could reach the widest number of people possible.

“The reason we’re doing it that way is to help scale up,” says Honeywell. “As with everything in computer security it’s an arms race… As you learn to combat abuse the abusive people adopt technologies and learn new tactics and ways to get around it.”

Primarily, Tall Poppy will provide an educational toolkit to help people lock down their own presence and do incident response properly, says Honeywell. The company will work with customers to gain an understanding of how to protect themselves, but also to be aware of the laws in each state that they can use to protect themselves and punish their attackers.

The scope of the problem

Based on research conducted by the Pew Foundation, there are millions of people in the U.S. alone, who could benefit from the type of service that Tall Poppy aims to provide.

According to a 2017 study, “nearly one-in-five Americans (18%) have been subjected to particularly severe forms of harassment online, such as physical threats, harassment over a sustained period, sexual harassment or stalking.”

The women and minorities that bear the brunt of these assaults (and, let’s be clear, it is primarily women and minorities who bear the brunt of these assaults), face very real consequences from these virtual assaults.

Take the case of the New York principal who lost her job when an ex-boyfriend sent stolen photographs of her to the New York Post and her boss. In a powerful piece for Jezebel she wrote about the consequences of her harassment.

As a result, city investigators escorted me out of my school pending an investigation. The subsequent investigation quickly showed that I was set up by my abuser. Still, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration demoted me from principal to teacher, slashed my pay in half, and sent me to a rubber room, the DOE’s notorious reassignment centers where hundreds of unwanted employees languish until they are fired or forgotten.

In 2016, I took a yearlong medical leave from the DOE to treat extreme post-traumatic stress and anxiety. Since the leave was almost entirely unpaid, I took loans against my pension to get by. I ran out of money in early 2017 and reported back to the department, where I was quickly sent to an administrative trial. There the city tried to terminate me. I was charged with eight counts of misconduct despite the conclusion by all parties that my ex-partner uploaded the photos to the computer and that there was no evidence to back up his salacious story. I was accused of bringing “widespread negative publicity, ridicule and notoriety” to the school system, as well as “failing to safeguard a Department of Education computer” from my abusive ex.

Her story isn’t unique. Victims of online harassment regularly face serious consequences from online harassment.

According to a  2013 Science Daily study, cyber stalking victims routinely need to take time off from work, or change or quit their job or school. And the stalking costs the victims $1200 on average to even attempt to address the harassment, the study said.

“It’s this widespread problem and the platforms have in many ways have dropped the ball on this,” Honeywell says.

Tall Poppy’s co-founders

Creating Tall Poppy

As Honeywell heard more and more stories of online intimidation and assault, she started laying the groundwork for the service that would eventually become Tall Poppy. Through a mutual friend she reached out to Dean, a talented coder who had been working at Ticketfly before its Eventbrite acquisition and was looking for a new opportunity.

That was in early 2015. But, afraid that striking out on her own would affect her citizenship status (Honeywell is Canadian), she and Dean waited before making the move to finally start the company.

What ultimately convinced them was the election of Donald Trump.

“After the election I had a heart-to-heart with myself… And I decided that I could move back to Canada, but I wanted to stay and fight,” Honeywell says.

Initially, Honeywell took on a year-long fellowship with the American Civil Liberties Union to pick up on work around privacy and security that had been handled by Chris Soghoian who had left to take a position with Senator Ron Wyden’s office.

But the idea for Tall Poppy remained, and once Honeywell received her green card, she was “chomping at the bit to start this company.”

A few months in the company already has businesses that have signed up for the services and tools it provides to help companies protect their employees.

Some platforms have taken small steps against online harassment. Facebook, for instance, launched an initiative to get people to upload their nude pictures  so that the social network can monitor when similar images are distributed online and contact a user to see if the distribution is consensual.

Meanwhile, Twitter has made a series of changes to its algorithm to combat online abuse.

“People were shocked and horrified that people were trying this,” Honeywell says. “[But] what is the way [harassers] can do the most damage? Sharing them to Facebook is one of the ways where they can do the most damage. It was a worthwhile experiment.”

To underscore how pervasive a problem online harassment is, out of the four companies where the company is doing business or could do business in the first month and a half there is already an issue that the company is addressing. 

“It is an important problem to work on,” says Honeywell. “My recurring realization is that the cavalry is not coming.”

After twenty years of Salesforce, what Marc Benioff got right and wrong about the cloud

As we enter the 20th year of Salesforce, there’s an interesting opportunity to reflect back on the change that Marc Benioff created with the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model for enterprise software with his launch of Salesforce.com.

This model has been validated by the annual revenue stream of SaaS companies, which is fast approaching $100 billion by most estimates, and it will likely continue to transform many slower-moving industries for years to come.

However, for the cornerstone market in IT — large enterprise-software deals — SaaS represents less than 25 percent of total revenue, according to most market estimates. This split is even evident in the most recent high profile “SaaS” acquisition of GitHub by Microsoft, with over 50 percent of GitHub’s revenue coming from the sale of their on-prem offering, GitHub Enterprise.  

Data privacy and security is also becoming a major issue, with Benioff himself even pushing for a U.S. privacy law on par with GDPR in the European Union. While consumer data is often the focus of such discussions, it’s worth remembering that SaaS providers store and process an incredible amount of personal data on behalf of their customers, and the content of that data goes well beyond email addresses for sales leads.

It’s time to reconsider the SaaS model in a modern context, integrating developments of the last nearly two decades so that enterprise software can reach its full potential. More specifically, we need to consider the impact of IaaS and “cloud-native computing” on enterprise software, and how they’re blurring the lines between SaaS and on-premises applications. As the world around enterprise software shifts and the tools for building it advance, do we really need such stark distinctions about what can run where?

Source: Getty Images/KTSDESIGN/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

The original cloud software thesis

In his book, Behind the Cloud, Benioff lays out four primary reasons for the introduction of the cloud-based SaaS model:

  1. Realigning vendor success with customer success by creating a subscription-based pricing model that grows with each customer’s usage (providing the opportunity to “land and expand”). Previously, software licenses often cost millions of dollars and were paid upfront, each year after which the customer was obligated to pay an additional 20 percent for support fees. This traditional pricing structure created significant financial barriers to adoption and made procurement painful and elongated.
  2. Putting software in the browser to kill the client-server enterprise software delivery experience. Benioff recognized that consumers were increasingly comfortable using websites to accomplish complex tasks. By utilizing the browser, Salesforce avoided the complex local client installation and allowed its software to be accessed anywhere, anytime and on any device.
  3. Sharing the cost of expensive compute resources across multiple customers by leveraging a multi-tenant architecture. This ensured that no individual customer needed to invest in expensive computing hardware required to run a given monolithic application. For context, in 1999 a gigabyte of RAM cost about $1,000 and a TB of disk storage was $30,000. Benioff cited a typical enterprise hardware purchase of $385,000 in order to run Siebel’s CRM product that might serve 200 end-users.
  4. Democratizing the availability of software by removing the installation, maintenance and upgrade challenges. Drawing from his background at Oracle, he cited experiences where it took 6-18 months to complete the installation process. Additionally, upgrades were notorious for their complexity and caused significant downtime for customers. Managing enterprise applications was a very manual process, generally with each IT org becoming the ops team executing a physical run-book for each application they purchased.

These arguments also happen to be, more or less, that same ones made by infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) providers such as Amazon Web Services during their early days in the mid-late ‘00s. However, IaaS adds value at a layer deeper than SaaS, providing the raw building blocks rather than the end product. The result of their success in renting cloud computing, storage and network capacity has been many more SaaS applications than ever would have been possible if everybody had to follow the model Salesforce did several years earlier.

Suddenly able to access computing resources by the hour—and free from large upfront capital investments or having to manage complex customer installations—startups forsook software for SaaS in the name of economics, simplicity and much faster user growth.

Source: Getty Images

It’s a different IT world in 2018

Fast-forward to today, and in some ways it’s clear just how prescient Benioff was in pushing the world toward SaaS. Of the four reasons laid out above, Benioff nailed the first two:

  • Subscription is the right pricing model: The subscription pricing model for software has proven to be the most effective way to create customer and vendor success. Years ago already, stalwart products like Microsoft Office and the Adobe Suite  successfully made the switch from the upfront model to thriving subscription businesses. Today, subscription pricing is the norm for many flavors of software and services.
  • Better user experience matters: Software accessed through the browser or thin, native mobile apps (leveraging the same APIs and delivered seamlessly through app stores) have long since become ubiquitous. The consumerization of IT was a real trend, and it has driven the habits from our personal lives into our business lives.

In other areas, however, things today look very different than they did back in 1999. In particular, Benioff’s other two primary reasons for embracing SaaS no longer seem so compelling. Ironically, IaaS economies of scale (especially once Google and Microsoft began competing with AWS in earnest) and software-development practices developed inside those “web scale” companies played major roles in spurring these changes:

  • Computing is now cheap: The cost of compute and storage have been driven down so dramatically that there are limited cost savings in shared resources. Today, a gigabyte of RAM is about $5 and a terabyte of disk storage is about $30 if you buy them directly. Cloud providers give away resources to small users and charge only pennies per hour for standard-sized instances. By comparison, at the same time that Salesforce was founded, Google was running on its first data center—with combined total compute and RAM comparable to that of a single iPhone X. That is not a joke.
  • Installing software is now much easier: The process of installing and upgrading modern software has become automated with the emergence of continuous integration and deployment (CI/CD) and configuration-management tools. With the rapid adoption of containers and microservices, cloud-native infrastructure has become the de facto standard for local development and is becoming the standard for far more reliable, resilient and scalable cloud deployment. Enterprise software packed as a set of Docker containers orchestrated by Kubernetes or Docker Swarm, for example, can be installed pretty much anywhere and be live in minutes.

Sourlce: Getty Images/ERHUI1979

What Benioff didn’t foresee

Several other factors have also emerged in the last few years that beg the question of whether the traditional definition of SaaS can really be the only one going forward. Here, too, there’s irony in the fact that many of the forces pushing software back toward self-hosting and management can be traced directly to the success of SaaS itself, and cloud computing in general:

  1. Cloud computing can now be “private”: Virtual private clouds (VPCs) in the IaaS world allow enterprises to maintain root control of the OS, while outsourcing the physical management of machines to providers like Google, DigitalOcean, Microsoft, Packet or AWS. This allows enterprises (like Capital One) to relinquish hardware management and the headache it often entails, but retain control over networks, software and data. It is also far easier for enterprises to get the necessary assurance for the security posture of Amazon, Microsoft and Google than it is to get the same level of assurance for each of the tens of thousands of possible SaaS vendors in the world.
  2. Regulations can penalize centralized services: One of the underappreciated consequences of Edward Snowden’s leaks, as well as an awakening to the sometimes questionable data-privacy practices of companies like Facebook, is an uptick in governments and enterprises trying to protect themselves and their citizens from prying eyes. Using applications hosted in another country or managed by a third party exposes enterprises to a litany of legal issues. The European Union’s GDPR law, for example, exposes SaaS companies to more potential liability with each piece of EU-citizen data they store, and puts enterprises on the hook for how their SaaS providers manage data.
  3. Data breach exposure is higher than ever: A corollary to the point above is the increased exposure to cybercrime that companies face as they build out their SaaS footprints. All it takes is one employee at a SaaS provider clicking on the wrong link or installing the wrong Chrome extension to expose that provider’s customers’ data to criminals. If the average large enterprise uses 1,000+ SaaS applications and each of those vendors averages 250 employees, that’s an additional 250,000 possible points of entry for an attacker.
  4. Applications are much more portable: The SaaS revolution has resulted in software vendors developing their applications to be cloud-first, but they’re now building those applications using technologies (such as containers) that can help replicate the deployment of those applications onto any infrastructure. This shift to what’s called cloud-native computing means that the same complex applications you can sign up to use in a multi-tenant cloud environment can also be deployed into a private data center or VPC much easier than previously possible. Companies like BigID, StackRox, Dashbase and others are taking a private cloud-native instance first approach to their application offerings. Meanwhile SaaS stalwarts like Atlassian, Box, Github and many others are transitioning over to Kubernetes driven, cloud-native architectures that provide this optionality in the future.  
  5. The script got flipped on CIOs: Individuals and small teams within large companies now drive software adoption by selecting the tools (e.g., GitHub, Slack, HipChat, Dropbox), often SaaS, that best meet their needs. Once they learn what’s being used and how it’s working, CIOs are faced with the decision to either restrict network access to shadow IT or pursue an enterprise license—or the nearest thing to one—for those services. This trend has been so impactful that it spawned an entirely new category called cloud access security brokers—another vendor that needs to be paid, an additional layer of complexity, and another avenue for potential problems. Managing local versions of these applications brings control back to the CIO and CISO.

Source: Getty Images/MIKIEKWOODS

The future of software is location agnostic

As the pace of technological disruption picks up, the previous generation of SaaS companies is facing a future similar to the legacy software providers they once displaced. From mainframes up through cloud-native (and even serverless) computing, the goal for CIOs has always been to strike the right balance between cost, capabilities, control and flexibility. Cloud-native computing, which encompasses a wide variety of IT facets and often emphasizes open source software, is poised to deliver on these benefits in a manner that can adapt to new trends as they emerge.

The problem for many of today’s largest SaaS vendors is that they were founded and scaled out during the pre-cloud-native era, meaning they’re burdened by some serious technical and cultural debt. If they fail to make the necessary transition, they’ll be disrupted by a new generation of SaaS companies (and possibly traditional software vendors) that are agnostic toward where their applications are deployed and who applies the pre-built automation that simplifies management. This next generation of vendors will more control in the hands of end customers (who crave control), while maintaining what vendors have come to love about cloud-native development and cloud-based resources.

So, yes, Marc Benioff and Salesforce were absolutely right to champion the “No Software” movement over the past two decades, because the model of enterprise software they targeted needed to be destroyed. In the process, however, Salesforce helped spur a cloud computing movement that would eventually rewrite the rules on enterprise IT and, now, SaaS itself.

Salesforce deepens data sharing partnership with Google

Last Fall at Dreamforce, Salesforce announced a deepening friendship with Google . That began to take shape in January with integration between Salesforce CRM data and Google Analytics 360 and Google BigQuery. Today, the two cloud giants announced the next step as the companies will share data between Google Analytics 360 and the Salesforce Marketing Cloud.

This particular data sharing partnership makes even more sense as the companies can share web analytics data with marketing personnel to deliver ever more customized experiences for users (or so the argument goes, right?).

That connection certainly didn’t escape Salesforce’s VP of product marketing, Bobby Jania. “Now, marketers are able to deliver meaningful consumer experiences powered by the world’s number one marketing platform and the most widely adopted web analytics suite,” Jania told TechCrunch.

Brent Leary, owner of the consulting firm CRM Essentials says the partnership is going to be meaningful for marketers. “The tighter integration is a big deal because a large portion of Marketing Cloud customers are Google Analytics/GA 360 customers, and this paves the way to more seamlessly see what activities are driving successful outcomes,” he explained.

The partnership involves four integrations that effectively allow marketers to round-trip data between the two platforms. For starters, consumer insights from both Marketing Cloud and Google Analytics 360, will be brought together into a single analytics dashboard inside Marketing Cloud. Conversely, Market Cloud data will be viewable inside Google Analytics 360 for attribution analysis and also to use the Marketing Cloud information to deliver more customized web experiences. All three of these integrations will be generally available starting today.

A fourth element of the partnership being announced today won’t be available in Beta until the third quarter of this year. “For the first time ever audiences created inside the Google Analytics 360 platform can be activated outside of Google. So in this case, I’m able to create an audience inside of Google Analytics 360 and then I’m able to activate that audience in Marketing Cloud,” Jania explained.

An audience is like a segment, so if you have a group of like-minded individuals in the Google analytics tool, you can simply transfer it to Salesforce Marketing Cloud and send more relevant emails to that group.

This data sharing capability removes a lot of the labor involved in trying to monitor data stored in two places, but of course it also raises questions about data privacy. Jania was careful to point out that the two platforms are not sharing specific information about individual consumers, which could be in violation of the new GDPR data privacy rules that went into effect in Europe at the end of last month.

“What we’re [we’re sharing] is either metadata or aggregated reporting results. Just to be clear there’s no personal identifiable data that is flowing between the systems so everything here is 100% GDPR-compliant,” Jania said.

But Leary says it might not be so simple, especially in light of recent data sharing abuses. “With Facebook having to open up about how they’re sharing consumer data with other organizations, companies like Salesforce and Google will have to be more careful than ever before about how the consumer data they make available to their corporate customers will be used by them. It’s a whole new level of scrutiny that has to be apart of the data sharing equation,” Leary said.

The announcements were made today at the Salesforce Connections conference taking place in Chicago this week.