Salesforce releases myTrailhead, a customizable training platform

Salesforce has been using the notion of trailblazers as a learning metaphor for several years, since it created a platform to teach customers Salesforce skills called Trailhead. Today, the company announced the availability of myTrailhead, a similar platform that enables company to create branded, fully-customizable training materials based on the Trailhead approach.

It’s worth noting that the company originally announced this idea at Dreamforce in November, 2017, and after testing it on 13 pilot customers (including itself) for the last year is making the product generally available today.

While Trailhead is all about teaching Salesforce skills, myTrailhead is about building on that approach to teach whatever other skills a company might find desirable with its own culture, style, branding and methodologies.

It builds on the whole Trailhead theme of blazing a learning trail, providing a gamified approach to self-paced training, where users are quizzed throughout to reinforce the lessons, awarded badges for successfully completing modules and given titles like Ranger for successfully completing a certain number of courses.

By gamifying the approach, Salesforce hopes people will have friendly competition within companies, but it also sees these skills as adding value to an employee’s resume. If a manager is looking for an in-house hire, they can search by skills in myTrailhead and find candidates who match their requirements. Additionally, employees who participate in training can potentially advance their careers with the their enhanced skill sets.

While you can continue to teach Salesforce skills in myTrailhead, it’s really focused on the customization and what companies can add on top of the Salesforce materials to make the platform their own. Salesforce envisions companies using the platform for new employee onboarding, sales enablement or customer service training, but if a company is ambitious, it could use this as a broader training tool.

There is an analytics component in myTrailhead, so management can track when employees complete required training modules, understand how well they are doing as they move through a learning track or recognize when employees have updated their skill sets.

The idea is to build on the Trailhead platform idea to provide companies with a methodology for creating a digital approach learning, which Salesforce sees as an essential ingredient of becoming a modern company. The product is available immediately.

Fiverr acquires ClearVoice to double down on content marketing

Fiverr is acquiring ClearVoice, a company that helps customers like Intuit and Carfax find professionals to write promotional content.

The two companies seem like a natural fit, since they both operate marketplaces for freelancers. Fiverr covers a much broader swath of freelance work, but CEO Micha Kaufman (pictured above) said the marketplace’s professional writing category grew 220 percent between the fourth quarters of 2017 and 2018, and he predicted that the need for content marketing will only increase.

“The types of channels that brands and companies need to be involved in and engaging in conversation with their audience are just growing,” Kaufman said. “I think any brand today that wants to be relevant needs to create a lot of engaging, interesting, creative content in their space, and I think that that creates a high demand for good content writers.”

Kaufman also noted that this is Fiverr’s third acquisition in two years, and he said he’s a “big believer … in the consolidation of vertical businesses into horizontal businesses such as ours — the fact that we cover over 200 categories gives us a tremendous amount of power to serve customers across many different types of needs.”

So what does the acquisition bring to the table that Fiverr wasn’t offering already? Kaufman said the ClearVoice team has “a lot of know how, both in technology side and the actual content side,” which will allow Fiverr to “cater to customers of all sizes and all needs.”

ClearVoice editorial calendar

ClearVoice editorial calendar

More specifically, he said most of Fiverr’s content marketing customers are small businesses, while ClearVoice is able to work with large enterprises, especially with its collaboration and workflow tools that allow those enterprises to create content at “high velocity.”

Founded in 2014 by Jay Swansson and Joe Griffin (who still serve as co-CEOs), ClearVoice has raised a total of $3.1 million in funding from investors including PC Ventures, Desert Angels, Peak Ventures and Service Provider Capital, according to Crunchbase.

Fiverr is not disclosing the financial terms of the acquisition. The company says ClearVoice will continue to operate as an independent subsidiary.

“We are thrilled to be joining a company that is changing how people and companies work together in the modern era,” Swansson said in a statement. “This new chapter is a chance for us to use Fiverr’s depth and knowledge to globally scale our business and advance our mission of creating a platform that allows for worldwide creative collaboration.”

Donde Search picks up $6 million to help fashion retailers with visual search

Donde Search has just closed a $6 million Series A investment led by Matrix Partners, with participation from previous investors such as senior leaders from AliExpress, Google and Waze.

Donde first launched in 2014 as a consumer-facing app that helped users search and discover apparel items based on visual characteristics rather than text-based searches. In early 2018, the company pivoted to the enterprise space, helping retailers power suggestions and related items on their websites.

Here’s how it works:

Retailers partnered with Donde hand over their product catalog and run it through the Donde algorithm, which identifies all the visual features associated with each product. Retailers can then add a widget to their site to let users search based on those features (like sleeve length or type, color or material).

As users interact with the products, the website adapts to that behavior to offer personalized product recommendations and related items.

Moreover, Donde offers an analytics dashboard that not only provides insights on the customer’s own website, but a look into trends being featured on competing e-commerce websites to understand the industry in general.

Donde was founded by Liat Zakay, who previously served as a software engineer and R&D team manager in the Israeli intelligence unit 8200. Using her technical expertise, she built Donde to solve her own problem of not having the time or energy to go through the tedious process of online shopping.

Zakay told TechCrunch that Donde is focused on apparel for now, but that the technology can be applied to almost any vertical.

“One of the interesting pieces about Donde is that it’s language agnostic,” said Zakay. “You don’t need to know what it’s called and it doesn’t matter what language you speak, you can still find what you want based on visual features. Which makes us extremely relevant to global retailers.”

The new funding, which will be used to expand the product and the team, came shortly after the announcement of Donde’s partnership with Forever 21. The fast-fashion retailer tested out the Donde platform on its mobile app and, after a month, saw a 20 percent increase in average purchase value and higher conversions. Forever 21 has now expanded the program, putting Donde on the web, as well.

Donde said it is working on pilot programs with several other retailers across the U.S. and Europe.

Fast fashion, in particular, represents a big opportunity for Donde. Because product turnover is so fast, retailers rarely have reliable data around a certain SKU, with the website being run on outdated data from last “season.”

This latest round brings Donde’s total funding to $9.5 million, with backing from UpWest, Afterdox and Golden Seeds.

Donde Search picks up $6 million to help fashion retailers with visual search

Donde Search has just closed a $6 million Series A investment led by Matrix Partners, with participation from previous investors such as senior leaders from AliExpress, Google and Waze.

Donde first launched in 2014 as a consumer-facing app that helped users search and discover apparel items based on visual characteristics rather than text-based searches. In early 2018, the company pivoted to the enterprise space, helping retailers power suggestions and related items on their websites.

Here’s how it works:

Retailers partnered with Donde hand over their product catalog and run it through the Donde algorithm, which identifies all the visual features associated with each product. Retailers can then add a widget to their site to let users search based on those features (like sleeve length or type, color or material).

As users interact with the products, the website adapts to that behavior to offer personalized product recommendations and related items.

Moreover, Donde offers an analytics dashboard that not only provides insights on the customer’s own website, but a look into trends being featured on competing e-commerce websites to understand the industry in general.

Donde was founded by Liat Zakay, who previously served as a software engineer and R&D team manager in the Israeli intelligence unit 8200. Using her technical expertise, she built Donde to solve her own problem of not having the time or energy to go through the tedious process of online shopping.

Zakay told TechCrunch that Donde is focused on apparel for now, but that the technology can be applied to almost any vertical.

“One of the interesting pieces about Donde is that it’s language agnostic,” said Zakay. “You don’t need to know what it’s called and it doesn’t matter what language you speak, you can still find what you want based on visual features. Which makes us extremely relevant to global retailers.”

The new funding, which will be used to expand the product and the team, came shortly after the announcement of Donde’s partnership with Forever 21. The fast-fashion retailer tested out the Donde platform on its mobile app and, after a month, saw a 20 percent increase in average purchase value and higher conversions. Forever 21 has now expanded the program, putting Donde on the web, as well.

Donde said it is working on pilot programs with several other retailers across the U.S. and Europe.

Fast fashion, in particular, represents a big opportunity for Donde. Because product turnover is so fast, retailers rarely have reliable data around a certain SKU, with the website being run on outdated data from last “season.”

This latest round brings Donde’s total funding to $9.5 million, with backing from UpWest, Afterdox and Golden Seeds.

AWS launches WorkLink to make accessing mobile intranet sites and web apps easier

If your company uses a VPN and/or a mobile device management service to give you access to its intranet and internal web apps, then you know how annoying those are. AWS today launched a new product, Amazon WorkLink,  that promises to make this process significantly easier.

WorkLink is a fully managed service that, for $5 per month and user, allows IT admins to give employees one-click access to internal sites, no matter whether they run on AWS or not.

After installing WorkLink on their phones, employees can then simply use their favorite browser to surf to an internal website (other solutions often force users to use a sub-par proprietary browser). WorkLink the goes to work, securely requests that site and — and that’s the smart part here — a secure WorkLink container converts the site into an interactive vector graphic and sends it back to the phone. Nothing is stored or cached on the phone and AWS says WorkLink knows nothing about personal device activity either. That also means when a device is lost or stolen, there’s no need to try to wipe it remotely because there’s simply no company data on it.

IT can either use a VPN to connect from an AWS Virtual Private Cloud to on-premise servers or use AWS Direct Connect to bypass a VPN solution. The service works with all SAML 2.0 identity providers (which is the majority of identity services used in the enterprise, including the likes of Okta and Ping Identity) and as a fully managed service, it handles scaling and updates in the background.

“When talking with customers, all of them expressed frustration that their workers don’t have an easy and secure way to access internal content, which means that their employees either waste time or don’t bother trying to access content that would make them more productive,” says Peter Hill, Vice President of Productivity Applications at AWS, in today’s announcement. “With Amazon WorkLink, we’re enabling greater workplace productivity for those outside the corporate firewall in a way that IT administrators and security teams are happy with and employees are willing to use.”

WorkLink will work with both Android and iOS, but for the time being, only the iOS app (iOS 12+) is available. For now, it also only works with Safar, with Chrome support coming in the next few weeks. The service is also only available in Europe and North America for now, with additional regions coming later this year.

For the time being, AWS’s cloud archrivals Google and Microsoft don’t offer any services that are quite comparable with WorkLink. Google offers its Cloud Identity-Aware Proxy as a VPN alternative and as part of its BeyondCorp program, though that has a very different focus, while Microsoft offers a number of more traditional mobile device management solutions.

Salesforce keeps rolling with another banner year in 2018

The good times kept on rolling this year for Salesforce with all of the requisite ingredients of a highly successful cloud company — the steady revenue growth, the expanding product set and the splashy acquisitions. The company also opened the doors of its shiny new headquarters, Salesforce Tower in San Francisco, a testament to its sheer economic power in the city.

Salesforce, which set a revenue goal of $10 billion a few years ago is already on its way to $20 billion. Yet Salesforce is also proof you can be ruthlessly good at what you do, while trying to do the right thing as an organization.

Make no mistake, Marc Benioff and Keith Block, the company’s co-CEOs, want to make obscene amounts of money, going so far as to tell a group of analysts earlier this year that their goal by 2034 is to be a $60 billion company. Salesforce just wants to do it with a hint of compassion as it rakes in those big bucks and keeps well-heeled competitors like Microsoft, Oracle and SAP at bay.

A look at the numbers

In the end, a publicly traded company like Salesforce is going to be judged by how much money it makes, and Salesforce it turns out is pretty good at this, as it showed once again this year. The company grew every quarter by over 24 percent YoY and ended up the year with $12.53 billion in revenue. Based on its last quarter of $3.39 billion, the company finished the year on a $13.56 billion run rate.

This compares with $9.92 billion in total revenue for 2017 with a closing run rate of $10.72 billion.

Even with this steady growth trajectory, it might be some time before it hits the $5 billion-a-quarter mark and checks off the $20 billion goal. Keep in mind that it took the company three years to get from $1.51 billion in Q12016 to $3.1 billion in Q12019.

As for the stock market, it has been highly volatile this year, but Salesforce is still up. Starting the year at $102.41, it was sitting at $124.06 as of publication, after peaking on October 1 at $159.86. The market has been on a wild ride since then and cloud stocks have taken a big hit, warranted or not. On one particularly bad day last month, Salesforce had its worst day since 2016 losing 8.7 percent in value,

Spending big

When you make a lot of money you can afford to spend generously, and the company invested some of those big bucks when it bought Mulesoft for $6.5 billion in March, making it the most expensive acquisition it has ever made. With Mulesoft, the company had a missing link between data sitting on-prem in private data centers and Salesforce data in the cloud.

Mulesoft helps customers build access to data wherever it lives via APIs. That includes legacy data sitting in ancient data repositories. As Salesforce turns its eyes toward artificial intelligence and machine learning, it requires oodles of data and Mulesoft was worth opening up the wallet to provide the company with that kind of access to a variety of enterprise data.

Salesforce 2018 acquisitions. Chart: Crunchbase.

But Mulesoft wasn’t the only thing Salesforce bought this year. It made five acquisitions in all. The other significant one came in July when it scooped up Dataorama for a cool $800 million, giving it a market intelligence platform.

What could be on board for 2019? If Salesforce sticks to its recent pattern of spending big one year, then regrouping the next, 2019 could be a slower one for acquisitions. Consider that it bought just one company last year after buying a dozen in 2016.

One other way to keep revenue rolling in comes from high-profile partnerships. In the past, Salesforce has partnered with Microsoft and Google, and this year it announced that it was teaming up with Apple. Salesforce also announced another high-profile arrangement with AWS to share data between the two platforms more easily. The hope with these types of cross pollination is that the companies can both increase their business. For Salesforce, that means using these partnerships as a platform to move the revenue needle faster.

Compassionate capitalism

Even while his company has made big bucks, Benioff has been preaching compassionate capitalism using Twitter and the media as his soap box.

He went on record throughout this year supporting Prop C, a referendum question designed to help battle San Francisco’s massive homeless problem by taxing companies with greater than $50 million in revenue — companies like Salesforce. Benioff was a vocal proponent of the idea, and it won. He did not find kindred spirits among some of his fellow San Francisco tech CEOs, openly debating Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on Twitter.

Speaking about Prop C in an interview with Kara Swisher of Recode in November, Benioff talked in lofty terms about why he believed in the measure even though it would cost his company money.

“You’ve got to really be mindful and think about what it is that you want your company to be for and what you’re doing with your business and here at Salesforce, that’s very important to us,” he told Swisher in the interview.

He also talked about how employees at other tech companies were driving their CEOs to change their tune around social issues, including supporting Prop C, but Benioff had to deal with his own internal insurrection this year when 650 employees signed a petition asking him to rethink Salesforce’s contract with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in light of the current administration’s border policies. Benioff defended the contract, stating that that Salesforce tools were being used internally at CBP for staff recruiting and communication and not to enforce border policy.

Regardless, Salesforce has never lost its focus on meeting lofty revenue goals, and as we approach the new year, there is no reason to think that will change. The company will continue to look for new ways to expand markets and keep their revenue moving ever closer to that $20 billion goal, even as it continues to meld its unique form of compassion and capitalism.

GE’s digital future looking murkier with move to spin off Industrial IoT biz

When I visited the GE Global Research Center in Niskayuna, New York in April 2017, I thought I saw a company that was working hard to avoid disruption, but perhaps the leafy campus, the labs and experimental projects hid much larger problems inside the company. Yesterday GE announced that it is spinning out its Industrial IoT business and selling most of its stake in ServiceMax, the company it bought in 2016 for $915 million.

For one thing, Jeff Immelt, the CEO who was leading that modernization charge, stepped down six months after my visit and was replaced by John Flannery, who was himself replaced just a year into his tenure by C. Lawrence Culp, Jr. It didn’t seem to matter who was in charge, nobody could stop the bleeding stock price, which has fallen this year from a high of $18.76 in January to $7.20 this morning before the markets opened (and had already lost another .15 a share as we went to publication).

It hasn’t been a great year for GE stock. Chart: Yahoo Finance

Immelt at least recognized that the company needed to shift to a data-centered Industrial Internet of Things future where sensors fed data that provided ways to understand the health of a machine or how to drive the most efficient use from it. This was centered around the company’s Predix platform where developers could build applications using that data. The company purchased ServiceMax in 2016 to extend that idea and feed service providers the data they needed to anticipate when service was needed even before the customer was aware of it.

As Immelt put it in a 2014 quote on Twitter:

That entire approach had substance. In fact, if you look at what Salesforce announced earlier this month around service and the Internet of Things, you will see a similar strategy. As Salesforce’s SVP and GM for Salesforce Field Service Lightning Paolo Bergamo described in a blog post, “Drawing on IoT signals surfaced in the Service Cloud console, agents can gauge whether device failure is imminent, quickly determine the source of the problem (often before the customer is even aware a problem exists) and dispatch the right mobile worker with the right skill set.”

Photo: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

The ServiceMax acquisition and the Predix Platform were central to this, and while the idea was sound, Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research says that the execution was poor and the company needed to change. “The vision for GE Digital made sense as they crafted a digital industrial strategy, yet the execution inside GE was not the best. As GE spins out many of its units, this move is designed to free up the unit to deliver its services beyond GE and into the larger ecosystem,” Wang told TechCrunch.

Current CEO Culp sees the spin-out as a way to breathe new life into the business “As an independently operated company, our digital business will be best positioned to advance our strategy to focus on our core verticals to deliver greater value for our customers and generate new value for shareholders,” Culp explained in a statement.

Maybe so, but it seems it should be at the center of what the company is doing, not a spin-off — and with only a 10 percent stake left in ServiceMax, the service business component all but goes away. Bill Ruh, GE Digital CEO, the man who was charged with implementing the mission (and apparently failed) has decided to leave the company with this announcement. In fact, the new Industrial IoT company will operate as a wholly owned GE subsidiary with its own financials and board of directors, separate from the main company.

With this move though, GE is clearly moving the Industrial IoT out of the core business as it continues to struggle to find a combination that brings its stock price back to life. While the Industrial Internet of Things idea may have been poorly executed, selling and spinning off the pieces that need to be part of the digital future seem like a short-sighted way to achieve the company’s longer term goals.

Upflow turbocharges your invoices

Meet Upflow a French startup that wants to help you deal with your outstanding invoices — the company first started at eFounders. If you’re running a small business, chances are you’re either wasting a ton of time or a ton of money on accounts receivable.

Most companies currently manage invoices using Excel spreadsheets, outdated banking interfaces and unnecessary conversations. Every time somebody signs a deal, they generate an invoice and file it in a spreadsheet somewhere.

Some companies will pay a few days later. But let’s be honest. Too many companies wait 30 days, 40 days or even more before even thinking about paying past due invoices. You end up sending emails, calling your clients and wasting a ton of time just collecting money. You might even feel bad about asking for money even though you already signed a deal.

In France, most companies use bank transfers to pay invoices. But business banking APIs are not there yet. It means that you have to log in to a slow banking website every day to check if somebody paid you. You can then tick a box in an Excel spreadsheet.

If everything I described resonates with you, Upflow wants to manage your invoices for you. It doesn’t replace your bank account, it doesn’t generate invoices for you. It integrates seamlessly with your existing workflow.

After signing up, you can send invoices to your client and cc Upflow in your email thread. Upflow then uses optical character recognition and automatically detects relevant data — the customer name, the amount, the due date, etc.

You can view all your outstanding invoices in Upflow’s interface to see where you stand. The service gives you a list of actionable tasks to get your money. For instance, Upflow tells you if you have overdue payments and tells you to contact your client again.

You can set up different rules depending on your clients. For instance, if you have many small clients, you can automate some of those messages. But if you only work with a handful of clients, you want to make sure that somebody has manually reviewed each message before Upflow sends them.

By default, you write your emails in Upflow so that your other team members can see what happened. You can browse invoices by client to see if somebody has multiple unpaid invoices. Upflow lets you assign actions to a particular team member if they’re more familiar with this specific client.

But all of this is just one part of the product. Upflow also generates banking information with the help of Treezor. This way, you can put your Upflow banking information on your invoices.

When a customer pays you, Upflow automatically matches invoices with incoming payments. This feature alone lets you save a ton of time. The startup transfers money back to your company’s bank account every day.

Upflow co-founder and CEO Alexandre Louisy drew me the following chart when we met. It’s probably easier to understand after reading my explanations:

In other words, Upflow has created a brick that sits between your company’s back office and your customers. Eventually, you could imagine more services built on top of this brick as Upflow is learning many things on your company.

According to Louisy, small and medium companies really need this kind of product — and not necessarily tech companies. Those companies don’t have a lot of money on their bank accounts, don’t have a big staff and need to save as much time as possible.

Now let’s see if it’s easy to sell a software-as-a-service solution to a family business that has been around for decades.

Dropbox expands Paper into planning tool with timelines

Dropbox has been building out Paper, its document-driven collaboration tool since it was first announced in 2015, slowly but surely layering on more functionality. Today, it added a timeline feature, pushing beyond collaboration into a light-weight project planning tool.

Dropbox has been hearing that customers really need a way to plan with Paper that was lacking. “That pain—the pain of coordinating all those moving pieces—is one we’re taking on today with our new timelines feature in Dropbox Paper,” the company wrote in a blog post announcing the new feature.

As you would expect with such a tool, it enables you to build a timeline with milestones, but being built into Paper, you can assign team members to each milestone and add notes with additional information including links to related documents.

You can also embed a To-do lists for the person assigned to a task right in the timeline to help them complete the given task, giving a single point of access for all the people assigned to a project

Gif: Dropbox

“Features like to-dos, @mentions, and due dates give team members easy ways to coordinate projects with each other. Timelines take these capabilities one step further, letting any team member create a clean visual representation of what’s happening when—and who’s responsible,” Dropbox wrote in the blog post announcement.

Dropbox has recognized it cannot live as simply a content storage tool. It needs to expand beyond that into collaboration and coordination around that content, and that’s what Dropbox Paper has been about. By adding timelines, the company is looking to expand that capability even further.

Alan Lepofsky, who covers the “future of work” for Constellation Research sees Paper as part of the changing face of collaboration tools. “I refer to the new breed of content creation tools as digital canvases. These apps simplify the user experience of integrating content from multiple sources. They are evolving the word-processor paradigm,” Lepofsky told TechCrunch.

It’s probably not going to replace a project manager’s full-blown planning tools any time soon, but it at least the potential to be a useful adjunct for the Paper arsenal to allow customers to continue to find ways to extract value from the content they store in Dropbox.

Daily Crunch: Tesla is profitable again

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here:

1. Tesla earns its first profit in two years

Tesla reported a profit in the third quarter, reversing seven consecutive quarters of losses. This is only the third time in the company’s history that it has achieved this milestone.

The turnaround was driven by sales of the Model 3. The company said customers are trading up their relatively cheaper vehicles to buy a Model 3, even though there is not yet a leasing option and the starting price was $49,000.

2. Trump has two ‘secure’ iPhones, but the Chinese are still listening

A new report by The New York Times puts a spotlight on the president’s array of devices and how he uses them. However, both Trump and a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry have denied the story.

(BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

3. Red Dead Redemption 2 sets the bar high for the next generation of open world games

Tomorrow, Red Dead Redemption 2 goes live after months of breathless speculation. And according to Devin Coldewey and Jordan Crook, it’s as good as you’ve been hoping.

4. Facebook is building Lasso, a video music app to steal TikTok’s teens

Facebook is building a standalone product where users can record and share videos of themselves lip syncing or dancing to popular songs, according to information from current and former employees.

5. One-year-old Ribbon raises $225m to remove the biggest stress of home buying

The startup wants to replace the incredible stress of securing a mortgage during the home-buying process with a Ribbon Offer: If a buyer can’t secure a mortgage in time for close, Ribbon will pay for the house itself and give the buyer extra time to get financing.

6. Twitter beats Wall St Q3 estimates with $758M in revenue

Twitter reported a 29 percent increase in ad revenue to $650 million, and the company says total ad engagements increased 50 percent year over year. However, user growth didn’t quite match expectations.

7. Confirmed: ShopRunner acquires Spring, raises $40M

ShopRunner is announcing its first infusion of venture funding under CEO Sam Yagan, plus an acquisition of the shopping app Spring. Sources also say it’s readying a major overhaul of its mobile app.