All posts in “Software”

Spiff pitches a way to automate sales commissions calculations

Spiff, a Salt Lake City-based company pitching a new service for calculating sales commissions for salespeople around the world, has raised $6 million in funding to sell its own product to the millions of Willie Lohman’s looking for an end to needless paperwork.

Spiff’s management team kicked in $500,000 for the new round, which also included commitments from Peak Ventures, Kickstart Seed Fund, Peterson Partners and Pipeline Capital.

“Amazing as it may seem, there isn’t an effective, modern SaaS solution for managing incentive compensation,” said Jeron Paul, Spiff’s founder and chief executive. “Most companies use Excel or decades-old tech that’s really just professional services masquerading as software.”

Spiff’s own data indicates that 90% of businesses rely on spreadsheets alone to calculate commissions and it can take up to one month for sales representatives to learn about their commissions after they’ve closed deals.

Spiff already processes $4 million in calculations every month through thousands of deals working with software as a service vendors like Podium, Weave, Bitglass, Workato, Sendoso, HireVue and Lucid.

Paul has had a long career starting and selling businesses before he launched Spiff in 2018. The serial entrepreneur previously sold Capshare to a subsidiary of Morgan Stanley; launched and sold Scalar Analytics; and Boardlink, which was bought by ThomsonReuters, according to the company.

Spiff projects that the market for sales commissions in the U.S. is roughly $800 billion, with the incentive compensation market numbering in the trillions of dollars. It’s a big, niche, problem for customers that the company thinks its solution can address.

MediaLab acquires messaging app Kik, expanding its app portfolio

Popular messaging app Kik is, indeed, “here to stay” following an acquisition by the Los Angeles-based multimedia holding company, MediaLab.

It echoes the same message from Kik’s chief executive Tim Livingston last week when he rebuffed earlier reports that the company would shut down amid an ongoing battle with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Livingston had tweeted that Kik had signed a letter-of-intent with a “great company,” but that it was “not a done deal.”

Now we know the the company: MediaLab. In a post on Kik’s blog on Friday the MediaLab said that it has “finalized an agreement” to acquire Kik Messenger.

Kik is one of those amazing places that brings us back to those early aspirations,” the blog post read. “Whether it be a passion for an obscure manga or your favorite football team, Kik has shown an incredible ability to provide a platform for new friendships to be forged through your mobile phone.”

MediaLab is a holding company that owns several other mobile properties, including anonymous social network Whisper and mixtape app DatPiff. In acquiring Kik, the holding company is expanding its mobile app portfolio.

MediaLab said it has “some ideas” for developing Kik going forwards, including making the app faster and reducing the amount of unwanted messages and spam bots. The company said it will introduce ads “over the coming weeks” in order to “cover our expenses” of running the platform.

Buying the Kik messaging platform adds another social media weapon to the arsenal for MediaLab and its chief executive, Michael Heyward .

Heyward was an early star of the budding Los Angeles startup community with the launch of the anonymous messaging service, Whisper nearly 8 years ago. At the time, the company was one of a clutch of anonymous apps — including Secret and YikYak — that raised tens of millions of dollars to offer online iterations of the confessional journal, the burn book, and the bathroom wall (respectively).

In 2017, TechCrunch reported that Whisper underwent significant layoffs to stave off collapse and put the company on a path to profitability.

At the time Whisper had roughly 20 million monthly active users across its app and website, which the company was looking to monetize through programmatic advertising, rather than brand-sponsored campaigns that had provided some of the company’s revenue in the past. Through widgets, the company had an additional 10 million viewers of its content per-month using various widgets and a reach of around 250 million through Facebook and other social networks on which it published posts.

People familiar with the company said at the time that it was seeing gross revenues of roughly $1 million and was going to hit $12.5 million in revenue for that calendar year. By 2018 that revenue was expected to top $30 million, according to sources at the time.

The flagship Whisper app let people post short bits of anonymous text and images that other folks could like or comment about. Heyward intended it to be a way for people to share more personal and intimate details —  to be a social network for confessions and support rather than harassment.

The idea caught on with investors and Whisper managed to raise $61 million from investors including Sequoia, Lightspeed Venture Partners, and Shasta Ventures . Whisper’s last round was a $36 million Series C back in 2014.

Fast forward to 2018 when Secret had been shut down for three years while YikYak also went bust — selling off its engineering team to Square for around $1 million. Whisper, meanwhile, seemingly set up MediaLab as a holding company for its app and additional assets that Heyward would look to roll up. The company filed registration documents in California in June 2018.

According to the filings, Susan Stone, a partner with the investment firm Sierra Wasatch Capital, is listed as a director for the company.

Heyward did not respond to a request for comment.

Zack Whittaker contributed reporting for this article. 

Google takes AMP to the OpenJS Foundation

AMP, Google’s somewhat controversial project for speeding up the mobile web, has always been open-source, but it also always felt like a Google project first. Today, however, Google announced that the AMP framework will join the OpenJS Foundation, the Linux Foundation-based group that launched last year after the merger of the Node.js and JS foundations. The OpenJS Foundation is currently the home of projects like jQuery, class=”crunchbase-link” href=”https://crunchbase.com/organization/node” target=”_blank” data-type=”organization” data-entity=”node”>Node .js and webpack, and AMP will join the Foundation’s incubation program.

Large companies like Google tend to donate open-source projects to foundations once they become stable — and that’s definitely the case with the four-year-old AMP project, which developers have now used to create billions of pages on more than 30 million domains, according to Google. Late last year, Google introduced a Technical Steering Committee to help oversee the development of AMP and it was this committee that also agreed to bring the project to the OpenJS Foundation.

“Now in our fourth year, AMP is excited for the next step on our journey,” said Malte Ubl, Member of the AMP Project Technical Steering Committee, in today’s announcement. “We’ve been considering the best home for AMP for some time. We decided on the OpenJS Foundation because we feel it’s the best place for us to help us to cater to our diverse group of constituencies. This step builds on previous moves we’ve made toward open governance and helps us focus on transparency and openness.”

Google also notes that the OpenJS Foundation’s goal of promoting JavaScript and related technologies is a good fit for AMP’s mission of providing “a user-first format for web content.” The company also notes that the Foundation allows projects to maintain their identities and technical focus and stresses that AMP’s governance model was already influenced by the JS Foundation and Node.js Foundation.

Google is currently a top-level platinum member of the OpenJS Foundation and will continue to support the project and employ a number of engineers that will work on AMP full-time.

Actor and HitRecord founder Joseph Gordon-Levitt says we should all get off YouTube

The multi-hyphenate actor-director-entrepreneur, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (best known for roles in “3rd Rock from the Sun,” “Inception,” “Snowden” and “10 Things I Hate About You,”) came to TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2019 this morning to talk about his startup, the collaborative media platform HitRecord.

Specifically, he addressed how HitRecord differs from other platforms for creators. In doing so, he also called out the YouTube business model as problematic and something we should all get away from. 

The comments around YouTube followed a discussion of some of the criticism HitRecord’s platform has faced — namely, that it doesn’t offer high enough payouts or a way for creatives to make a living.

Since 2010, it has only paid out some $3 million dollars to its creators.

Gordon-Levitt said that HitRecord doesn’t emphasize that you’ll gain entry into the creative industry by using its platform, nor does it market itself as something you can turn into a full-time job, like YouTube often promises.

In fact, he found the YouTube model an issue for the industry and society as a whole.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt speaks with Jordan Crook at TechCrunch Disrupt 2019 on October 2, 2019.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt speaks with Jordan Crook at TechCrunch Disrupt 2019 on October 2, 2019

He said that making art shouldn’t be about the money or external validation — such as likes and subscribers.

“What I have experienced in my life is actually what brings me a lot of joy and happiness about the creative process is not the red carpets. It’s not the box office. It’s not those kinds of external validators. It’s the ‘doing it,’ it’s when I get to actually do the art, and especially do it with other people,” explained Gordon-Levitt.

Of course, he has the comfort of his own Hollywood success to fall back on, when new creators entering the industry don’t.

Asked what he thought of YouTube’s model as well as Instagram’s, Gordon-Levitt had some harsh words.

“Do you think that YouTube and Instagram are a net positive or negative for humans’ creativity?” asked TechCrunch editor Jordan Crook.

He responded quickly that they were a net negative.

“There’s tons of incredible stuff, beautiful communities form all kinds of creative human expression. It’s not to say that it’s all bad, but I do think that in general the basic business model of: we’re going to offer a quote-unquote ‘free service’ in exchange for the right to conduct mass surveillance, and then apply these incredibly expensive sophisticated machine learning algorithms to this massive data set to optimize for — not the benefit of the users, not what’s going to make the users more creative or more informed or more compassionate or anything — but optimize instead for the agenda of these third-party advertisers; I think that’s a basic business model that we all as the world should get off entirely,” he said. “We shouldn’t be monetizing software, or businesses that way.”

The audience at TechCrunch Disrupt cheered.

As an alternative to these services, Gordon-Levitt promoted the Netflix model as something that works.

There’s a direct billing relationship with the customer, he said, and the data collected is designed to give you more of want you like to watch.

Similarly, HitRecord aims to use data for better purposes.

“I’m all for using data to accomplish a goal that the user has signed up for,” Gordon-Levitt said. “It’s when the user is being subjected to these algorithms not in their interest, but in the interest of some third-party behind the curtain, that’s I think where you get into danger.”

Why is Dropbox reinventing itself?

A chat with Dropbox VP of Product Adam Nash and CTO Quentin Clark

According to Dropbox CEO Drew Houston, 80% of the product’s users rely on it, at least partially, for work.

It makes sense, then, that the company is refocusing to try and cement its spot in the workplace; to shed its image as “just” a file storage company (in a time when just about every big company has its own cloud storage offering) and evolve into something more immutably core to daily operations.

Earlier this week, Dropbox announced that the “new Dropbox” would be rolling out to all users. It takes the simple, shared folders that Dropbox is known for and turns them into what the company calls “Spaces” — little mini collaboration hubs for your team, complete with comment streams, AI for highlighting files you might need mid-meeting, and integrations into things like Slack, Trello and G Suite. With an overhauled interface that brings much of Dropbox’s functionality out of the OS and into its own dedicated app, it’s by far the biggest user-facing change the product has seen since launching 12 years ago.

Shortly after the announcement, I sat down with Dropbox VP of Product Adam Nash and CTO Quentin Clark . We chatted about why the company is changing things up, why they’re building this on top of the existing Dropbox product, and the things they know they just can’t change.

You can find these interviews below, edited for brevity and clarity.

Greg Kumparak: Can you explain the new focus a bit?

Adam Nash: Sure! I think you know this already, but I run products and growth, so I’m gonna have a bit of a product bias to this whole thing. But Dropbox… one of its differentiating characteristics is really that when we built this utility, this “magic folder”, it kind of went everywhere.