3 ways the pandemic is transforming tech spending

Ever since the pandemic hit the U.S. in full force last March, the B2B tech community keeps asking the same questions: Are businesses spending more on technology? What’s the money getting spent on? Is the sales cycle faster? What trends will likely carry into 2021?

Recently we decided to join forces to answer these questions. We analyzed data from the just-released Q4 2020 Outlook of the Coupa Business Spend Index (BSI), a leading indicator of economic growth, in light of hundreds of conversations we have had with business-tech buyers this year.

A former Battery Ventures portfolio company, Coupa* is a business spend-management company that has cumulatively processed more than $2 trillion in business spending. This perspective gives Coupa unique, real-time insights into tech spending trends across multiple industries.

Tech spending is continuing despite the economic recession — which helps explain why many startups are raising large rounds and even tapping public markets for capital.

Broadly speaking, tech spending is continuing despite the economic recession — which helps explain why many tech startups are raising large financing rounds and even tapping the public markets for capital. Here are our three specific takeaways on current tech spending:

Spending is shifting away from remote collaboration to SaaS and cloud computing

Tech spending ranks among the hottest boardroom topics today. Decisions that used to be confined to the CIO’s organization are now operationally and strategically critical to the CEO. Multiple reasons drive this shift, but the pandemic has forced businesses to operate and engage with customers differently, almost overnight. Boards recognize that companies must change their business models and operations if they don’t want to become obsolete. The question on everyone’s mind is no longer “what are our technology investments?” but rather, “how fast can they happen?”

Spending on WFH/remote collaboration tools has largely run its course in the first wave of adaptation forced by the pandemic. Now we’re seeing a second wave of tech spending, in which enterprises adopt technology to make operations easier and simply keep their doors open.

SaaS solutions are replacing unsustainable manual processes. Consider Rhode Island’s decision to shift from in-person citizen surveying to using SurveyMonkey. Many companies are shifting their vendor payments to digital payments, ditching paper checks entirely. Utility provider PG&E is accelerating its digital transformation roadmap from five years to two years.

The second wave of adaptation has also pushed many companies to embrace the cloud, as this chart makes clear:

Similarly, the difficulty of maintaining a traditional data center during a pandemic has pushed many companies to finally shift to cloud infrastructure under COVID. As they migrate that workload to the cloud, the pie is still expanding. Goldman Sachs and Battery Ventures data suggest $600 billion worth of disruption potential will bleed into 2021 and beyond.

In addition to SaaS and cloud adoption, companies across sectors are spending on technologies to reduce their reliance on humans. For instance, Tyson Foods is investing in and accelerating the adoption of automated technology to process poultry, pork and beef.

All companies are digital product companies now

Mention “digital product company” in the past, and we’d all think of Netflix. But now every company has to reimagine itself as offering digital products in a meaningful way.


Source: Tech Crunch

Zephr raises $8M to help news publishers grow subscription revenue

Zephr has raised $8 million in a new funding round led by Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments (owned by media giant Bertelsmann).

The London-headquarted startup’s customers already include publishers like McClatchy, News Corp Australia, Dennis Publishing and PEI Media. CEO James Henderson told me via email that rather than creating “a monolithic product that tries to do a bit of everything,” Zephr is “focused entirely on the experience and journey for the prospect or customer,” driving an average 150% increase in conversion rates and 25% increase in subscription revenue within the first six months.

Henderson added, “By offering the right product, package or message at the right time to the right person, Zephr improves conversion rates, drastically decreases churn and drives new, stable revenue.”

To do this, Zephr largely relies on the publisher’s first-party data about its readers — Henderson said that this data is “by far the most important and powerful type of data that Zephr both uses and generates.” But it also takes advantage of contextual data, such as “time of day, to location, device or consumption patterns.”

He also noted that Zephr is a no-code tool, allowing non-technical members of the marketing, revenue and product teams to use a drag-and-drop editor to create different customer journeys.

Zephr

Image Credits: Zephr

Asked how the pandemic has affected the startup’s business, Henderson said there were both “positive and negative indicators,” with newsrooms seeing record readership but in some cases also freezing spending.

“As firms prepare for a ‘post-pandemic’ world, we are beginning to see our markets seize the opportunity of all these new potential subscribers and invest in subscription models — and in Zephr.” he said. “In publishing and news media, the old model of dominant advertising revenue is on the way out and we are well-placed to capitalize on that interest.”

The new funding also includes financing from Silicon Valley Bank UK Branch and brings Zephr’s total funding to $11 million. Previous investors include Knight Capital and Nauta Capital.

According to the company’s funding announcement, this money will go toward further product development (with a focus on increased personalization), as well as expansion across the United States, Europe and Asia.

“The recent weakness in the advertising market increased pressure for media companies to diversify revenue streams and aim to introduce or optimize subscription models,” said BDMI Managing Director Urs Cete in a statement. “We recognise Zephr’s excellent technology that empowers publishers to galvanise the online subscription opportunity and create customer journeys that are truly unique.”


Source: Tech Crunch

Revel pulls electric mopeds after failing to make a dent in Austin’s car culture

Shared electric moped startup Revel said Friday that it will shut down its service in Austin later this month.

The startup’s CEO and co-founder Frank Reig didn’t place the entire blame on the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused ridership to fall across shared micromobility services as well as public transit, for the company’s decision. Instead, Reig cited the combination of Austin’s “deep-rooted” car culture, which has only become further engrained during COVID. The service will shut down in Austin on December 18.

“When Revel came to Austin we knew there would be challenges,” Reig wrote in the statement that was posted on Twitter. “In addition to having a less dense urban core than our other markets, the city’s deep-rooted car culture has proven difficult to penetrate, especially during COVID.”

The company did not respond to a request for comment. TechCrunch will update the article if the company responds.

Revel, founded in March 2018 by Frank Reig and Paul Suhey, started with a pilot program in Brooklyn and later expanded to Queens, the Bronx and sections of Manhattan. It has been on a fast-paced growth track thanks to the $27.6 million in capital raised in October 2019 in a Series A round led by Ibex Investors. The equity round included newcomer Toyota AI Ventures and further investments from Blue Collective, Launch Capital and Maniv Mobility.

Revel expanded to Austin, Miami and Washington, D.C in its first 18 months of operation. In January, the company launched in Oakland and received a permit in July to operate in San Francisco.

Revel has had a challenging year, and not just because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The company voluntarily shut down operations in New York on July 28 after several of its users died in crashes. The company restarted its 3,000-strong fleet of mopeds in four boroughs after the city of New York approved its relaunch plan, which included several new features in its app aimed at increasing safety. Revel added training videos, tests and a helmet selfie feature that requires photographic evidence the user is wearing a helmet, as well as a community reporting tool.


Source: Tech Crunch

PrimaHealth Credit offers a buy-now, pay-later lending service for elective procedures

The Newport Beach, Calif.-based healthcare lending service PrimaHealth Credit  is now pitching point-of-sale lending services for elective medical procedures.

Taking the kinds of financial lending services that have been popularized by companies like Klarna and Affirm, PrimaHealth Credit is bringing them into elective surgical space for things like cataract surgery, orthodontic work, dental care, or LASIK.

“For many dental, orthodontics, LASIK, and cataract surgery patients, our BNPL product is a ‘last resort’ – the difference between getting the treatment they need, or not,” said Brendon Kensel, founder and CEO of PrimaHealth Credit, in a statement.

The company expects that patients will pay somewhere between 25% and 50% of the cost of their treatment up front with repayment durations for the loans ranging between two and four months.

Rates for the loans will range from 19.99% to 24.99% APR with average loan sizes coming in at around $1,800 across dental, orthodontics, and LASIK, according to the company.

“Until now, when providers couldn’t approve patients for an existing payment plan, they’d either forego providing them care or take them on anyway, exposing themselves to significant liability as they struggle with adequately assessing creditworthiness and properly servicing and collecting loans,” Kensel said.

The program not only handles loan origination for healthcare practices, but handles the back-office tasks for payment and servicing.

“Our goal as a company is to remove barriers to patient acceptance and help people who have the means but not necessarily the credit score to get the quality care that everyone deserves,” Kensel said.

Using the PrimaHealth Credit mobile app, patients can receive instant credit decisions and choose the payment plan that works best for them. The company said the service is currently available in Arizona, California, Florida, Oklahoma, and Texas and will be expanded to all 50 states by 2021.

 


Source: Tech Crunch

Why Slack and Salesforce execs think they’re better together

When Salesforce bought Slack earlier this week for $27.7 billion, it was in some ways the end of a startup fairytale. Slack was the living embodiment of the Silicon Valley startup success fantasy. It started as a pivot from a game company, of all things. It raised $1.4 billion, went from zero to a $7 billion valuation to IPO, checking off every box on the startup founder’s wish list.

Then quite suddenly this week, Slack was part of Salesforce, plucked off the market for an enormous sum of money.

While we might not ever know the back (Slack) room maneuvering that went on to make the deal a reality, it is interesting to note that Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield told me in an interview this week that he was not actually trying to sell the company when he approached Salesforce president and COO Bret Taylor earlier this year. Instead, he wanted to buy something from them.

“I actually talked to Bret in the early days of the pandemic to see if they wanted to sell us Quip because I thought it would be good for us, and I didn’t really know what their plans were [for it]. He said he’d get back to me, and then got back to me six months later or so,” Butterfield said.

At that point, the conversation flipped and the companies began a series of discussions that eventually led to Salesforce acquiring Slack.

Big money, big expectations

From the Salesforce perspective, Taylor says that the Slack deal was worth the money because it really allows his company to bring together all the pieces of their platform, one that has expanded over the years from pure CRM to include marketing, customer service, data visualization, workflow and more. Taylor also said that having Slack gives Salesforce a missing communication layer on top of its other products, something especially important when interactions with customers, partners or fellow employees have become mostly digital.

“When we say we really want Slack to be this next generation interface for Customer 360, what we mean is we’re pulling together all these systems. How do you rally your teams around these systems in this digital work-anywhere world that we’re in right now where these teams are distributed and collaboration is more important than ever,” Taylor said.

Butterfield sees a natural connection between what people do in the course of their work, what machines do behind the scenes in these systems of record and engagement and how Slack can help bridge the gap between humans and machines.

He says that by putting Slack in the middle of business processes, you can begin to eliminate friction that occurs in complex enterprise software like Salesforce. Instead of moving stuff through email, clicking a link, opening a browser, signing in and then finally accessing the tool you want, the approval could be built into a single Slack message.

“If you have hundreds of those kinds of actions a day, there’s a real opportunity to increase the velocity, and that has an impact, and not just in the minutes saved by the person doing the approval, but the speed of how the whole business operates,” Butterfield said.

Competing with Microsoft

While neither executive said the deal was about competing with Microsoft, it was likely an underlying reason that the companies decided to join forces. They may prove better together than they are separately, and both have complicated histories with Microsoft.

Slack has had an ongoing battle with Microsoft and its Teams product for years. It filed suit against the company last summer in the EU over what it called unfairly bundling of Teams for free with Office 365. In an interview last year with The Wall Street Journal, Butterfield said that he believes Microsoft sees his company as an existential threat. Hyperbole aside, there is tension and competition between the two enterprise software companies.

Salesforce and Microsoft also have a long history, from lawsuits in the early days to making friends and working together when it makes sense after Satya Nadella took over in 2014, while still competing hard in the market. It’s hard not to see the deal in that context.

In a recent interview with TechCrunch, Battery Ventures general partner Neeraj Agrawal said the deal was at least partially about catching Microsoft.

“To get to a market cap of $1 trillion, Salesforce now has to take MSFT head on. Until now, the company has mostly been able to stay in its own swim lane in terms of products,” Agrawal told TechCrunch.

As for Butterfield, while he saw the obvious competition, he denied the deal was about putting his company in a better position to compete with his rival.

“I don’t think that was really an important part of the rationale, at least for me,” he said, adding “the competition with Microsoft is overblown. The challenge for us was the narrative. They’re just good PR or something that I couldn’t figure out,” he said.

While Butterfield cited a list of large clients in enterprise tech, insurance and banking, the narrative has always been that Slack was favored by developer teams, which is where it initially gained traction. Whatever the reality, with Salesforce, Slack is definitely in a better position to compete with any and all comers in the enterprise communications space, and while it will be part of Salesforce, the two companies also have to figure out how to maintain some separation.

Keeping Slack independent

Taylor certainly recognizes that Slack’s current customers are watching closely to see how they handle the acquisition, and his company will have to walk a fine line between respecting the brand and product independence on one hand, while finding ways to create and build upon existing hooks into Salesforce to allow the CRM giant to take full advantage of its substantial investment.

It won’t be easy to do, but you can see a similar level of independence in some of Salesforce’s recent big-money purchases like MuleSoft, the company it bought in 2018 for $6.5 billion, and Tableau, the company it bought last year for more than $15 billion. As Butterfield points out, those two companies have clearly maintained their brand identity and independence, and he sees them as role models for Slack.

“So there’s a layer of independence that’s like that [for Mulesoft and Tableau] because it’s not going to help anyone call us Chat Cloud or something like that. They paid a lot of money for us, so they want us to do more of what we were already doing,” he said.

Taylor, whose opinion matters greatly here, certainly sees it in similar terms.

“We want to make sure we have a real integrated value proposition, a real integrated platform for developers, but also maintain Slack’s technology independence, technology agnostic platform and its brand,” he said.

Better together

As for the companies coming together, both men see a lot of potential here to merge Slack communications with Salesforce’s enterprise software prowess to make something better, and Taylor sees Slack helping link the two with workflows and automations.

“When you think about automation, it’s event driven, these long-running processes, automations. If you look at what people are doing with the Slack platform, it’s essentially incorporating workflows and bots and all these things. The combination of the Salesforce platform where I think we have the best automation intelligence capabilities with the Slack platform is incredible,” Taylor said.

The challenge these two men now face as they move forward with this acquisition, and all of the expectations inherent in a deal this large, is making it work. Salesforce has a lot of experience with large acquisitions, and they have handled some well, and some not so well. It’s going to be imperative for both companies that they get this right. It’s now up to Taylor and Butterfield to make sure that happens.

 


Source: Tech Crunch

Developers can now enroll in Apple’s “Small Business Program” for reduced App Store fees

Just a few weeks back, we learned that Apple would be launching an “App Store Small Business Program” that would reduce its fees from 30% to 15% for developers earning less than $1M per year from the App Store.

That program is starting to roll out now, with Apple opening up the enrollment process just this morning.

Apple outlines the program here, with a few things standing out:

  • It’s open to both new developers and existing developers who made less than $1M this year across all of their apps combined.
  • Once a developer surpasses $1M for the year, the rate goes back up to the standard rate.
  • Once the program kicks in after December 31st, participating developers won’t be able to transfer apps to/from other accounts — presumably so that people don’t go “Oh, this app is making too much money. Quick, switch it to another account!”. “If you initiate an app transfer after December 31, 2020, or accept a transfer of an app that was initiated after December 31, 2020,” Apple writes, “you will no longer be eligible to participate in program.”
  • If you oversee multiple developer accounts, Apple wants you to identify them.

Apple says that if you enroll by December 18th, reduced fees should be active by January 1st of 2021. Existing developers can still enroll after that cutoff, but things get a bit more complicated, with reduced fees generally kicking in midway through the next fiscal calendar month.

 


Source: Tech Crunch

Stripe announces embedded business banking service Stripe Treasury

Fintech startup Stripe has announced an ambitious new product today called Stripe Treasury. The company is partnering with banks to offer a banking-as-a-service API. In other words, Stripe clients will be able to provide bank accounts to their customers — the service is invite-only for now.

This is part of a bigger trend called embedded finance. Essentially, instead of separating banking services from other services that you use, embedded finance products provide financial services as close as possible to the end customer in the services that they already use.

Other companies have been working on embedded business banking products, such as Wise. Stripe could take advantage of its existing user base to convince them to use Stripe Treasury for new banking products.

For example, Shopify will use Stripe Treasury for Shopify Balance. If a Shopify merchant wants to hold money, pay bills and spend money from their Shopify account, they can open a bank account in Shopify Balance directly. This way, they can skip the traditional bank account. Behind the scenes, Stripe Treasury powers that feature.

And yet, Stripe doesn’t want to become a bank. As usual, the company is focused on infrastructure and payments. It partners with banks, such as Evolve Bank and Goldman Sachs in the U.S. Eventually, Stripe also plans to launch Stripe Treasury in other countries thanks to partnerships with Citibank and Barclays.

Stripe turns everything into API calls. An API is a programming interface that lets you interact with third-party services using simple instructions. For instance, a developer can take advantage of Stripe Treasury to open bank accounts directly from their service by triggering Stripe’s API.

Similarly, you can move money or pay bills using API calls. Combined with Stripe Issuing, you can also issue a virtual or physical card and connect it to a bank account. Slowly, Stripe is building products that cover a bigger chunk of the payment chain.


Source: Tech Crunch

Two key UK military non-profits join forces to boost veteran training in cyber and tech

Advancements in the tech and the cyber threat landscape are creating vast job opportunities. The global cyber security market is projected to reach £210 billion by 2026. But in the UK, out of 952,000 working aged (16-64) UK military veterans and 15,000 service leavers a year, only 4% of them are working in tech and cyber. This is 20% lower than the non-veteran population. The cost to the UK economy of underemployed or unemployed veterans has been estimated at £1.5 billion over 5 years. This means all this talent – talent which has literally been trained to adapt to fast-moving situations like the one the world finds itself in now – is going to waste, just when the era of massive digitization of business and society is upon us.

So it’s significant that the UK’s RFEA, the Forces Employment charity, is launching a new partnership with TechVets, the non-profit set up to build a bridge for veterans into cyber security and the technology sector.

With the RFEA’s support, TechVets will create extensive new free upskilling and job opportunities for ‘tech-curious’ service leavers and veterans, through its offering of networking, mentoring, signposting and training services, via its new TechVets Academy.

The initiative is timely. It’s estimated that over 173,000 UK military veterans are at risk due to the economic impact of COVID and the ending of the government’s furlough scheme in March 2021.

Since its launch in 2018, TechVets has grown to a community of over 6,000 members and several ‘chapters’ around the UK.

TechVets uses a blend of open-source resources, partner training, and community support, to empower those new to cyber/tech to choose the pathway that is best for them. And it’s all free to veterans and service leavers.

TechVets Programme Director, James Murphy (pictured), is an Army Veteran of 19 years. He joined the 1st Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment in 2000, before transferring to the Intelligence Corps in 2013 after sustaining life-long injuries in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

In a statement, he said: “Anyone who has held a role in the Forces comes armed with an understanding of the sensitivities of working in security. Ex-Services also possess an innate ability to learn new skills and are natural problem solvers, who can work quickly and fit into a team with ease. Ex-military personnel are also the kind of people who thrive in pressurized, or time-sensitive, situations. These soft skills are incredible assets in the security and technology industries, which can be used to fill the current skills shortage in this area.”

RFEA’s Chief Executive Officer, Alistair Halliday, added: “The TechVets Programme is a fantastic new addition to RFEA’s services that will, no doubt, encourage talented veterans to consider tech and security-based roles that may have otherwise overlooked. It will also help veterans to upskill digitally to help them get into wider roles too.”

TechVets member Gareth Paterson, joined the Army in 1994. He started out as a Tank crewman and then transferred to the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers as an instructor in 2001. He left in 2018, having completed operational tours of Northern Ireland, Former Yugoslavia and Afghanistan. He says his life has been changed by TechVets: “I left the Army as I was at the end of my 24-year career… I did not have a clue what career to move into, then I was introduced to offensive cybersecurity and penetration testing. I joined TechVets and it gave me my first insight into the tools and techniques of penetration testing. After that, I was hooked! The support of everyone at TechVets, and its community, has helped me to gain confidence and push harder. I was able to gain qualifications in penetration testing which improved my job prospects in the sector. By November 2018 I started working as a cybersecurity consultant.”


Source: Tech Crunch

Twitter finally shuts down its abandoned prototype app twttr

Twitter is shutting down its experimental app twttr, which the company had used publicly prototype new features back in 2019. The app was first introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2019, then launched to testers that March. Its primary focus had been on trying out new designs for threaded conversations, including things like how to branch replies, apply labels and color-code responses, among other things. Some of those tests eventually turned into Twitter features and the twttr app was no longer being used.

The idea to design in public was an interesting experiment by Twitter.

Most companies roll out internal beta tests, followed by smaller-scale A/B tests to a percentage of their public user base to get feedback about new ideas. But with twttr, the company actually invited its users to be a part of the much earlier stage development process.

The concept for twttr had been spearheaded by Twitter’s then Director of Product Management, Sara Beykpour (then Sara Haider — she and Twitter Product Lead Kayvon Beykpour have since married). But Sara announced last year she would be stepping into a new role at the company and Twitter’s new product director in charge of conversations would be Suzanne Xie, who had joined by way of Twitter’s acquisition of Lightwell.

Work on twttr appeared to stop around the time Xie stepped in, as no other significant updates were released to twttr’s TestFlight user base. And Xie left Twitter this fall for Stripe.

Now, it seems that maintaining the largely unused app no longer makes sense for the company.

Twitter announced its plans to formally shut down twttr today, saying it was turning off the app in order to work on new tests related to the conversation taking place on Twitter itself. The shutdown appears to be immediate. Though the app may still function for those who have it installed, when the TestFlight build expires in 26 days, that may no longer be the case.

It’s not likely that twttr had many dedicated users at this point, especially as the app lacked Twitter’s newer features like Topics and Fleets, for example, and was no longer offering new experiments to test.


Source: Tech Crunch

Boost ROI with intent data and personalized multichannel marketing campaigns

Coronavirus is causing large and small businesses to drastically cut marketing budgets. In Forrester’s self-described “most optimistic scenario,” the analysts project a 28% drop in U.S. marketing spend by the end of 2021. Even Google is cutting its marketing budget in half. As marketers move forward, Forrester predicts marketing automation platforms will grow despite an overall decline in marketing technology investment.

Automation platforms help marketers scale their communications. However, scaling communications is not a substitute for intimacy, which all humans crave. Because of the pandemic, it is harder than ever to get attention, let alone make a connection. More mass email blasts from your marketing automation platform are not going to get you the connections with prospects you crave. So how should marketers proceed? Direct mail captures 100% of your audience’s attention. It provides a sensory experience for your prospects and customers, and that helps establish an emotional connection.

Winning marketers are strategically merging automation and digital data with the more intimate channel of direct mail. We call this tactile marketing automation (TMA).

TMA is the integration of direct mail or personalized swag with a marketing automation platform. With TMA, a marketer doesn’t have to think about creating direct mail campaigns outside of digital campaigns. Rather, direct mail experiences are already fully integrated into the pre-built customer journey.

TMA uses intent data to inform content, messaging and the timing of direct mail touchpoints that maximize relevancy and scalability. Multichannel campaigns including direct mail report an ROI 18 percentage points higher than those without direct mail. Plus, 84% of marketers state direct mail improves multichannel campaign performance.

Read on to see how you can merge digital communications and direct mail to deliver remarkable experiences that spark a connection.

Incorporate intent data

Personalization is a key ingredient of a remarkable experience. Many marketers automate processes by introducing marketing software and then call it personalization. But, oftentimes it’s just quicker batching and blasting. Brands can’t just change the first name on a piece of content and call it “personalized.” Real personalization is necessary and vital for real results. Our consumers expect more. The best way to introduce real personalization within a marketing mix is to use intent data and trigger-driven campaigns.


Source: Tech Crunch