Zendesk just hired three former Microsoft, Salesforce and Adobe execs

Today, Zendesk announced it had hired three new executives — Elisabeth Zornes, former general manager of global support for Microsoft Office, as Zendesk’s first chief customer officer; former Adobe executive Colleen Berube as chief information officer and former Salesforce executive Shawna Wolverton as senior vice president, product.

The company emphasized that the hirings were about expanding the executive suite and bringing in top people to help the company grow and move into larger enterprise organizations.

From left to right: Shawna Wolverton, Colleen Berube and Elizabeth Zornes

Zornes comes to Zendesk with 20 years of experience at Microsoft working in a variety of roles around Microsoft Office. She says that what attracted her to Zendesk was its focus on the customer.

“When I look at businesses today, no matter what size, what type or what geography, they can agree on one thing: customer experience is the rocket fuel to drive success. Zendesk has positioned itself as a technology company that empowers companies of all kinds to drive a new level of success by focusing on their customer experience, and helping them to be at the forefront of that was a very intriguing opportunity for me,” Zornes told TechCrunch.

New CIO Berube, who comes with two decades of experience, also sees her new job as a chance to have an impact on customer experience and help companies who are trying to transform into digital organizations. “Customer experience is the linchpin for all organizations to succeed in the digital age. My background is broad, having shepherded many different types of companies through digital transformations, and developing and running modern IT organizations,” she said.

Her boss, CEO and co-founder Mikkel Svane sees someone who can help continue to grow the company and develop the product. “We looked specifically for a CIO with a modern mindset who understands the challenges of large organizations trying to keep up with customer expectations today,” Svane told TechCrunch

As for senior VP of product Wolverton, she comes with 15 years of experience including a stint as head of product at Salesforce. She said that coming to Zendesk was about having an impact on a modern SaaS product. “The opportunity to build a modern, public, cloud-native CRM platform with Sunshine was a large part of my decision to join,” she said.

The three leaders have already joined the organization — Wolverton and Berube joined last month and Zornes started just this week.

Ambitious Singapore startup Delegate wants to bring its event booking platform to the US

It’s not often that you hear about a startup from Singapore with ambitions to expand to the U.S, but that’s exactly the goal for event booking service Delegate.

Founded in August 2015, the company aims to be a one-stop shop for booking an event, that covers corporate and professional functions, celebrations like weddings and more personal events such as birthdays or get-togethers.

Beyond the essential step of securing a venue, Delegate’s platform covers a range of different needs that include: food and beverage, photography and videography, flowers and decor, entertainment such as bands, invitation and gifts, event staff, production equipment and transport.

“We saw a huge gap in the market,” co-founders Melissa Lou and Jacqueline Ye, who both worked in the event industry prior to starting Delegate, told TechCrunch in a recent interview. “There was no one resource for finding events and resources.”

The Delegate platform covers venue booking, catering, staffing, entertainment and more.

But, beyond being a booking platform for consumers, Delegate has a smart hook that attracts those on venue and event hosting side. In addition to helping them generate bookings via its sites, Delegate offers a subscription ‘Pro’ product that helps them manage daily operations, generate leads, collect bookings and handle collaborations with others in their supply chain.

There’s also an element of granularity with the consumer side of the business. Delegate has set up options to make the myriads of suppliers, venues and more navigable for less experienced customers. That includes a ‘deals’ section for, well, deals and an inspiration board for the planning process which is itself inspired by Pinterest’s visual approach.

Coming soon, the company hopes to add payment plans to help make it easier to pay for major events, as well as a new offering focused squarely on business users and API integrations for third-party services.

Lou and Ye started the business nearly four years ago with around 100 vendors thanks to their personal and business networks. Today, it claims 1,700 vendors and 70,000 users across Singapore and Hong Kong, its first expansion market.

Delegate co-founders Jacqueline Ye and Melissa Lou (left and right) want to expand their service to the U.S. market.

Already present in two of Asia’s top event locations, where average spend is among the highest for the region. But since those countries are limited in size — Singapore’s population is just shy of six million, Hong Kong’s is around seven million, it makes sense that Delegate is now looking for its next moves. Lou and Ye said they plan to launch the service in “key cities” in Australia and the U.S. to tap what they see as lucrative markets, while Korea and Taiwan are also on the radar closer to home in Asia.

“We see these markets as a good fit for us,” Lou explained. “They have a fair share of corporate events already and, in particular, Australia is a good country because we have a good network there.”

Entering the U.S. might sound implausible to some, but already soft launches of the platform in LA and Austin have drawn interest from over 100 vendors, the Delegate co-founders said. That’s without any major marketing push to either businesses or consumers, and it gives the company optimism. Already the U.S. is a listed location on their service but, for now, there are less than a dozen vendors and there’s no specific location.

Beyond early outreach, the company has raised funds for expansion. Last month, Delegate announced a $1 million pre-Series A round from an undisclosed family office (with apparent links to the event industry) and angel investors who founded Zopim, the Singapore-based startup that sold to Zendesk for around $30 million in 2014.

That network and Saas expertise is likely to help with those ambitious global expansion plans, although Lou and Ye said they aren’t planning to raise their Series A just yet. They say they plan to stretch their runway and keep their costs lean, a practice the founders say they have stuck to since bootstrapping without outside funding for the first year of the business. It’s unlikely bet for most startups in Southeast Asia, but if Delegate can gain even just a small foothold in the U.S, it would be a massive validation of its business model and niche, and no doubt precipitate that larger Series A round.

Brex has partnered with WeWork, AWS and more for its new rewards program

Brex, the corporate card built for startups, unveiled its new rewards program today.

The billion-dollar company, which announced its $125 million Series C three weeks ago, has partnered with Amazon Web Services, WeWork, Instacart, Google Ads, SendGrid, Salesforce Essentials, Twilio, Zendesk, Caviar, HubSpot, Orrick, Snap, Clerky and DoorDash to give entrepreneurs the ability to accrue and spend points on services and products they use regularly.

Brex is lead by a pair of 22-year-old serial entrepreneurs who are well aware of the costs associated with building a startup. They’ve been carefully crafting Brex’s list of partners over the last year and say their cardholders will earn roughly 20 percent more rewards on Brex than from any competitor program.

“We didn’t want it to be something that everyone else was doing so we thought, what’s different about startups compared to traditional small businesses?” Brex co-founder and chief executive officer Henrique Dubugras told TechCrunch. “The biggest difference is where they spend money. Most credit card reward systems are designed for personal spend but startups spend a lot more on business.”

Companies that use Brex exclusively will receive 7x points on rideshare, 3x on restaurants, 3x on travel, 2x on recurring software and 1x on all other expenses with no cap on points earned. Brex carriers still using other corporate cards will receive just 1x points on all expenses.

Most corporate cards offer similar benefits for travel and restaurant expenses, but Brex is in a league of its own with the rideshare benefits its offering and especially with the recurring software (SalesForce, HubSpot, etc.) benefits.

San Francisco-based Brex has raised about $200 million to date from investors including Greenoaks Capital, DST Global and IVP.  At the time of its fundraise, the company told TechCrunch it planned to use its latest capital infusion to build out its rewards program, hire engineers and figure out how to grow the business’s client base beyond only tech startups.

“This is going to allow us to compete even more with Amex, Chase and the big banks,” Dubugras said.

Google.org, BlackRock and others commit $2.2 million to Fast Forward’s nonprofit tech accelerator

 As impact investing gains traction in the market, a new accelerator for tech nonprofits called Fast Forward has raised $2.2 million in philanthropic funding from the nonprofit arms of some of the world’s largest companies and financial services firms. BlackRock, Google.org, Comcast NBCUniversal, and AT&T joined Zendesk, Twilio.org, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, the Nasiri and Rita… Read More

Segment adds third-party sources like Zendesk and Stripe to help companies truly understand customer experience


Segment is an increasingly popular customer data aggregator that makes it easy for engineers to track funnel events, test new analytics partners, and combine data collected from websites, mobile apps, and servers. In a marketing technology universe littered with customer data tools, this can be really useful. At VB Insight, I studied the marketing analytics landscape and counted 700+ tools marketers use to house customer data and generate marketing insights. I didn’t collect all of them, and Segment doesn’t integrate with nearly all of them. Even still, in the classic “build vs. buy” dialectic — which was alive and well at VentureBeat’s own Mobile Summit this past week — Segment has historically offered the compelling alternative of “try.”

The new release, called Sources, is potentially much more powerful than that.

While web and mobile app data can be a massive undertaking unto itself, what about the droves of data collected in email campaigns, customer support channels, or payment systems? After all, customers don’t just use websites and mobile apps. They open emails, have conversations with salespeople, chat with customer support, and pay for stuff. These data sources typically live in their own silo — and in large, oftentimes fragmented companies, they are managed by their own engineering team with their own release and update cycles and data analysts.

In this model, tons of data gets left behind. And even in digitally mature companies thoroughly invested in customer analytics, they still have a hard time combining data sources with third-party systems — like contact center or payment information — and making it mean something.

Segment’s new offering is interesting because it’s drawing from rather than sending to cloud providers like Salesforce, Zendesk, Stripe, SendGrid, Mandrill, and Twilio, pulling information into a single database with just a few clicks. I usually scoff at the “5 mins to install, no engineering time required” vendor speak — but in Segment’s case, it’s actually true.
More importantly, with all of this actual customer data in one place, companies can finally understand the complete customer experience and explore how touchpoints across communication channels affect revenue, engagement, retention, and churn. It allows engineering and marketing teams to stop focusing so much on data collection and start thinking about the customers behind the data. I like to use the analogy of water at a well. Are your highly paid data analysts best used pumping a cistern or gathering water? Or would be they be more effective with an effective infrastructure in place, building cool irrigation apps with that water system to make your products grow? With sources, Segment customers can truly focus on growth initiatives. For instance, they can see which pages in an app prompt the most support tickets, or whether customers opting in via text are more engaged than those in email, or even how support tickets can drive purchases.

Trunk Club, Instacart, Mapbox, Udacity, 99Designs, and Angie’s List are some of the launch customers using Sources and spending less time gathering water. Combining data this way puts typically near-impossible tasks, like quantifying the value of customer support — or understanding the effects of email and text message campaigns over time — very reachable, if not downright testable.

I also caught up with Segment CEO Peter Reinhardt to learn a little more about what the release means for high-performing teams and what’s possible with all of this disparate third party data living in one place. Perhaps, most importantly, are the types of sources available on the product now and on the way. Reinhardt said, in an email, “We have 8 sources to start (Salesforce, Stripe, Zendesk, SendGrid, Mandrill, Intercom, Hubspot, and Twilio) with 2 more currently in beta (Mailchimp, SalesforceIQ). We’re planning to significantly increase the sources catalog in the coming months. The new categories we’ll start with include advertising (Google Adwords, Facebook Ads) and databases (MongoDB, Postgres).”

Segment has also seen significant growth over the past year. Reinhardt told me, “Sources builds on our considerable momentum over the last year, which includes the launch of new products like Warehouses, a Series B led by Thrive Capital, and an increase in headcount from 30 to 80.”

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Zendesk’s Pathfinder helps customer service reps see what you’re searching for


Zendesk has launched a new app to help a company’s service agents better respond to support tickets. Called Pathfinder, it arms them with insights, data, and context about the customer’s “journey” on the site so agents can provide relevant information to solve problems faster.

“When you look at how customer expectations are changing, the customers expect that businesses will have the right context,” Steven Yan, Zendesk’s director of product management, told VentureBeat. “Pathfinder is the first step in a longer-step process for business to manage data-driven decisions.”

pathfinder_appIn its current form, Pathfinder is a guide displayed in any Zendesk instance. For each support ticket, an agent can see which of the help pages a customer has viewed. The app is optimized for support tickets and also tracks browsing history among pages that Zendesk hosts — which means that if you scan through other parts of a company’s website, Pathfinder will be blind to that movement.

Pathfinder displays user activity within a 30-minute window before and after a ticket is filed. While it displays the search information, Pathfinder doesn’t have an algorithm to provide suggested answers to the customer’s query. The response rests with the service agent.

Yan sees several benefits to this feature, which had been beta-tested in the past couple of months. The first is that it can lead to faster resolution times, especially when service agents don’t need to prod a customer for more information. The agent will know exactly what the customer has searched for and can then best address those concerns.

Additionally, the insights that companies receive could be useful in making their self-service help section better by understanding what specific language and words people are using when researching specific content. It’ll also expose any areas that need covering, as well as pages that need to be improved: “What articles do I have now that’s not serving the customer’s needs?”

There are long-term plans to bring Pathfinder to areas beyond the the Zendesk environment, particularly around the company’s Embeddables product that it launched in 2014. Yan thinks that there are plenty of opportunities ahead for this feature, especially if companies want to use activity to trigger different actions in a targeted fashion based on user behavior. Feedback that Zendesk received include a desire to be able to report on activity in the aggregate across all activities that customers use in order to improve the self-service model.

Only those companies using Zendesk’s enterprise plan or productivity pack add-on will be able to use Pathfinder. It’s available through the Zendesk Apps Marketplace.

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Freshdesk launches in-app real-time messaging service to ride m-commerce wave

Image (1) customer-support.jpg for post 258078

Freshdesk, which offers customer support software, is today launching Hotline.io, an in-app, real-time messaging service.

In an interview, Freshdesk president Dilawar Syed said he hopes Hotline.io will make Freshdesk the most robust in-app messaging support service on the market for mid-size to large companies.

As an example of the need he hopes to fill, he cited the limitations of the customer service support app for Uber, which is one of the fastest-growing global apps offering on-demand service. If you push the customer support button on Uber’s app, he noted, it provides a list of support topics in static text. By contrast, Freshdesk can transform these static texts into synchronous messaging via multiple channels (see image below) so that a customer can chat with an agent on any number of issues, from requesting a refund to getting a status update on a ride.

“Synchronous messaging is at the heart of Hotline.io,” Syed said.

Freshdesk hotline.ioThe Hotline.io service comes to market as messaging continues to rise in popularity, with customers increasingly relying on chat apps like WhatsApp and Messenger. These customers are also turning toward mobile retail and other on-demand services — and they’re expecting rapid resolution to their customer support queries. Importantly, they want to get this support via messaging.

Freshdesk faces several customer support competitors, like Zendesk (which currently powers Uber’s support), Desk.com, Salesforce, and Zoho Support. And on the mobile marketing automation side, there are players like Kahuna, Appboy, and more. But those messaging services don’t have integration with the support that Freshdesk offers, Syed said.

The Hotline product was made possible after Freshdesk last year acquired a company called Konotor and merged it with Freshdesk’s own MobiHelp offering. In addition to real-time support, Hotline.io lets businesses engage in automated marketing activities. For example, it allows them to target segments of customers with in-app announcements, status updates, promotions, and other targeted messaging.

Freshdesk cited restaurant food delivery service Zomato as one of its customers. The company said early adopter companies like Zomato have seen a 45 percent reduction in first-response time, and a 40 percent reduction in resolution time.

San Bruno, California-based Freshdesk launched six years ago and says that it has 50,000 global customers, including 3M, Honda, Hugo Boss, and University of Pennsylvania.




Wise.io launches automated support replies for Salesforce and Zendesk

Wise.io's Auto Response feature in Salesforce.

Wise.io, a startup that brings machine learning smarts to cloud software, is announcing today the launch of a new feature called Auto Response. The idea is to make customer support teams more efficient — by generating and sending automated replies to customers’ inquiries.

Auto Response integrates with service desk applications like Zendesk and Salesforce’s Service Cloud. After training on customer support tickets and agents’ replies to them, the system can come up with what it thinks will be good responses to new tickets. If the system isn’t very confident that it knows what answer to give, it will offer recommended responses for agents to build on.

The feature calls to mind Smart Reply, an interesting piece of the Inbox by Gmail email client Google introduced in November that offers up quick replies for people to select while on the go.

Jeff Erhardt, Wise.io’s chief executive, isn’t particularly interested in using Smart Reply for his personal email, because he likes to make sure his voice comes through in his emails. And the volume is low enough that this doesn’t take up too much time. But he recognizes that the idea behind Smart Reply could certainly play a positive role for some people.

“If it was a requirement for me to reply to every single email that I receive, I would absolutely love and think very much about Auto Reply,” Erhardt told VentureBeat in an interview.

Suddenly the idea of a simple response makes a whole lot of sense in that context. No wonder service desk software company Freshdesk bought Frilp last year. Automation could very well come in handy when it comes to answering many people’s questions.

Beyond customer service, machine learning is being incorporated into other types of enterprise software, too. Following its acquisition of Upshot, human capital management software company Workday is working on ways to predict retention risk by looking at what people say about their jobs — something that isn’t always easy for companies to do well when they’re looking at employees one by one. And in customer relationship management, Salesforce acquired RelateIQ and has been integrating the startup’s technology in order to automate the process of data entry.

This isn’t the first feature that Wise.io has introduced to bring machine learning to existing software. It can already recommend template responses for tickets and route customer service inquiries to the right agents.

Auto Response gets smarter as time goes by. That is, within a month or even a few days the system will detect emerging types of tickets and the responses that agents give to them. It all comes down to the number of tickets coming in, because that’s an index for the frequency of certain patterns in interactions.

But it takes just a day or two for Auto Response to start working. The system trains on historical tickets and then poof, it’s ready to answer questions, said Erhardt, formerly chief operating officer of Revolution Analytics, a company commercializing the R programming language that was acquired by Microsoft last year.

The feature is getting rolled out to all Wise.io customers. The cost is determined based on — you guessed it — the number of tickets a customer receives each month.

Wise.io started in 2012 and is based in Berkeley, California. The startup announced a $2.5 million funding round in March 2014. The startup has several dozen customers, including Invaluable, Republic Wireless, and Thumbtack.

One customer that has been using Auto Response leading up to today’s release, Product Madness, has found it to be useful so far.

“In addition to auto-responding to low-level tickets, Wise.io helped us improve response times across the board because its software also suggests answers to tickets based on their predictive models,” Product Madness vice president of marketing Francesca Noli wrote in an email. “The agent simply edits the best answer and replies, therefore cutting response times. This feature has also positively impacted training for new agents.”

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