Microsoft strikes a humble pose, and hopes to earn a shot at redemption

Upgrade strategy: get Philz coffee. Waaaaaiiiiitttttt. #windows10

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With the launch of Windows 10, Microsoft is telegraphing an attitude one doesn’t often see in companies worth hundreds of billions of dollars: Humility.

The humility is a calculated posture, but I found it sort of touching. You see, humility is necessary in order to set the company up for redemption: Redemption from its years of arrogance as a market dominator and tin-eared monopolist, sure. But more immediately, redemption from its embarrassing failure to capture a significant portion of the mobile market, despite repeated attempts. And redemption from its missteps with Windows 8 and Windows 8.1, which found few fans, even among the Microsoft faithful.

Redemption is exactly what Microsoft needs if it’s going to achieve its most immediate goal: Getting one billion devices running Windows 10 within two years.

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Microsoft strikes a humble pose, and hopes to earn a shot at redemption

Sometimes 40-year-old technology actually is the best tool for the job

In the 1950s, this might have seemed like the inevitable future of technology. It didn't work out that way (fortunately!). Image Credit: James Vaughan/Flickr
In the 1950s, this might have seemed like the inevitable future of technology. It didn’t work out that way (fortunately!).
Image Credit: James Vaughan/Flickr

Technology changes far slower than we usually think it does.

In fact, a pretty-good technology that achieves widespread acceptance has a way of sticking around for years, even decades. Just look at how many people still listen to AM radio, buy CDs at concerts, or drive cars with internal combustion engines and four wheels.

Or, as Twilio co-founder and CEO Jeff Lawson told me in this week’s “What to Think” podcast, look at the way telephone technology has evolved over the past century and a half. Yes, we’ve added some pretty snazzy new features, like cellular data and VoIP calling. But the underlying infrastructure is, in some ways, much the same. Your fancy iPhone still has a touch-pad dialer for connecting you to the telephone network, and that dialer is basically a digital representation of something that has existed since the 1960s.

The persistence of old-but-acceptable technology has some big implications for the future of the Web. After all, the Web is hardly cutting-edge tech. The basic protocol on which the Internet is based, TCP/IP, is over 40 years old. HTTP, the hypertext transfer protocol used to move Web data from server to browser, is about 25 years old. (Yes, both of these protocols have been revised since their early days, but their basic principles are intact.) JavaScript and Adobe Flash, God help us, are both about 20 years old.

So if you’re waiting for a transformative change in how we consume information online, you could be waiting a long time. The Web may be a rickety stack of outdated protocols and standards, but it works, mostly, and it’s free and open to all comers. That, for the past few decades, has proven to be a pretty winning combination.

But will it change as we shift to a mobile-centric era? There are a lot of observers who say that apps are winning out over the mobile Web, and that Web-based standards like HTML5 will become less relevant as we move to proprietary systems for delivering information and communication: Facebook, WhatsApp, Snapchat, WeChat, Vine.

I’m not so sure. I think there are signs that people are becoming frustrated with the limits imposed by these “walled garden” apps. Yes, Facebook’s Instant Articles might be much faster and allow more elegant presentations than a Web page. But how many publishers have actually published on the Facebook platform since its ballyhooed debut two months ago?

Speed of human travel, 1750-1950, with 1950-2000 projected

I was thinking about this while reading a post by Maciej Cegłowski called Web Design: The First 100 Years, in which he talks about how air travel looked in 1965. That decade was an era of exponential growth in air travel: Humans had only been flying airplanes for about sixty years, and the U.S. and Soviet Union were rapidly expanding their space travel capabilities. If you plotted a line of human transportation speed from 1750 to 1950, it would form an exponential curve. In the near future — a 1960s futurist might think — we would soon be flying on huge, comfortable supersonic jets. And shortly after that, we’d be riding on incredibly fast rockets, then nuclear rockets, and perhaps enjoying near-light speed interstellar travel by the early 2000s.

But it didn’t turn out that way. Supersonic jets turned out to be way too expensive and way too damaging to the ozone layer. Ordinary, high-capacity jets like the Boeing 747 turned out to be good enough, and economical enough, that they became the de facto standard. The models Boeing created in the 1970s form the backbone of the company’s lines today, with very slight differences and enhancements that are mostly invisible to non-experts. In fact, Cegłowski writes, some of today’s planes are actually slower than their 1970s predecessors: The Boeing 787 is slower than the 707.

We might be at a similar inflection point with Internet technologies today. In the past twenty years, we’ve seen enormous changes in the way people access and create information. The wide dispersion of Internet access has brought the world’s knowledge to every corner of the Earth; the shift to mobile devices has put that knowledge literally into the hands of everyone who can afford a cellphone and a monthly contract. Social networks make it easier than ever to connect with like-minded people around the world, and digital maps are shining a clear light into every corner of the Earth, simplifying navigation and enabling armchair travel to the most interesting, remote locations.

So you might think that the Web is advancing at the same, exponential rate that it has for the past 20 years. You’d be wrong: The Web is advancing only slowly, and in some ways, it’s getting worse.

Nilay Patel, writing this week in The Verge, pointed this out: The mobile Web sucks, the mobile browsers we use today are, in fact, slower and less capable than desktop browsers of five years ago. Our mobile browsers are more like 787s than Concordes.

Is the answer to app-ify everything, throw out the 20-to-40-year-old technology stack powering the mobile Web, and start over with something much faster, whizzier, and more modern?

I think not, for the simple reason that the mobile stack, flawed as it is, is the best platform we’ve got that isn’t totally controlled by Facebook, Google, or Apple. What we need, as Patel argues, are better browsers for our smartphones. We need, as Cegłowski argues, more widespread access and some decent fonts.

What we need is to stop thinking of the Web as a platform for transformative, exponential innovation. That kind of innovation is still happening in other spheres — like transportation and health care — but not in the Web. Stop expecting media companies, or encyclopedias, to behave like startups. Keep the open standards open, get a few billion more people onto the Web, and see what they come up with.

I bet that will lead to far more profound transformations than any new chat app or publishing platform could.


This story originally appeared on VentureBeat.

Sometimes 40-year-old technology actually is the best tool for the job

How Twilio is building a software platform to refresh a 150-year-old technology (podcast)

VB_WhatToThink_Innovation_1200w400

This episode of the What to Think podcast is sponsored by Pivotal Tracker.

In this week’s podcast, we kick off an occasional series of interviews with platform builders: the founders and inventors who are creating software platforms upon which others are able to build things. We’re calling this series “Innovation Engines.”

Our guest this week is Jeff Lawson, the founder and CEO of Twilio.

Twilio’s mission, as Lawson explains it, is to create developer tools that allow app makers to include communications features — phone, video calling, text messages — in their apps.

“We’ve wrapped the whole planet in this [communications] technology, yet how we actually interact with that technology has changed very little,” Lawson told us. “The phone app on an iPhone is still basically just a 12-button dialer. … It’s a flat-screen representation of a 150-year-old network.”

By providing tools for developers to integrate phone calls into their apps, Twilio is aiming to surpass that limitation. Instead of pushing you over to the phone dialer, an app might connect you with a customer service representative in real time, from within the app — without having to re-enter your customer number or confirm your name — and it’s Twilio’s tools that make that possible.

These tools have attracted a large and enthusiastic following to Twilio. Over 700,000 developers now use the platform.

In our conversation, Lawson talks about how the telecommunications world and the software world are converging, and why devoting time and thought to its API and its documentation has been critical to Twilio’s success as a platform.

Note: Twilio has reportedly recently raised a $100 million round of funding, valuing it at more than $1 billion. However, Lawson and Twilio did not confirm this funding during our conversation.

Plus, we tell you what to think about these interesting stories from VentureBeat:

You can listen to the podcast in the player below.


Or, click here to get the MP3 of this episode of What to Think.

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The What to Think Innovation Engine podcast is brought to you by Pivotal Tracker, the Agile tool that’s been organizing software teams since 2006. Tracker’s simple drag-and-drop interface and structured workflow have allowed developers, product managers, and designers alike to build and manage better software, one story at a time. Is your team ready to get on track? Go to http://ift.tt/vJlT3G to sign up for your 30-day free trial and start delivering better software now.

How Twilio is building a software platform to refresh a 150-year-old technology (podcast)

You won’t believe how honest this CEO is about blowing $185M

Quirky founder Ben Kaufman onstage with Fortune editor Alan Murray.

Quirky might seem like one of the more extreme examples of Silicon Valley excess in recent years, but its recent pivot — and the way its CEO handled it — is a rare example of honesty and transparency.

The startup’s premise was inspired, if a little idealistic: Take inventors’ half-baked ideas, help them turn those ideas into legitimate products, then sell those products in stores, sharing profits with the inventors.

The company raised over $185 million over the course of its six-year life. But the most successful inventions it has turned out are frankly underwhelming. The “Pivot Power Strip,” which allows its plugs to rotate so it’s easier to plug in several bulky “wall wart” adapters, and the “Bandit,” a line of rubber bands with little hooks attached, like mini-bungee cords. In other words, useful stuff, but hardly high tech.

So, in classic Silicon Valley fashion, the company is pivoting to something new. Founder and chief executive Ben Kaufman described that new path with unusual candor and humor earlier this week at Fortune Brainstorm Tech, an elite conference in Aspen, Colorado that I was fortunate to attend.

Kaufman was funny, blunt, self-deprecating, and pulled no punches. In short, he stood out in the crowd: You rarely, if ever, see entrepreneurs acting humble or self-deprecating onstage in Silicon Valley events.

At this point, Quirky has burned through almost all of its $185 million. Asked when the company runs out of money, Kaufman quipped, “Weeks ago.”

“I hope we raise more money,” he said — though he was silent on who the company would raise it from, or whether the company’s previous investors would pour more capital into the company. (Probably not.)

So Kaufman is counting on a two-pronged strategy to bring Quirky back from the brink. He seemed well aware that it was a long shot, but it’s also clear he hasn’t given up on the company at all.

The first part of Quirky’s new strategy is predicated on forming partnerships with big manufacturers, like GE, who can bring Quirky’s products to the market.

Kaufman acknowledged that selling products in “big box” retailers wasn’t generating enough profit to keep the company afloat. Yes, he said, the products’ sales generated a small margin for the company — they were profitable, strictly speaking. But add in Quirky’s quite substantial overhead expenses, and the company was losing money.

Plus, he said, the brand worked fine for things like power strips and power-cord management gadgets, but it didn’t work so well for more expensive products, like the connected air conditioner Quirky made together with GE.

“People don’t want a ‘quirky’ air conditioner, they want a good one,” Kaufman said, to laughter from the audience.

The partnership with GE makes Quirky into an ideas shop — an invention factory — for the bigger company, which has deeper pockets and more manufacturing resources, not to mention better relationships with those retailers who are so critical to the consumer products category.

The second part of the new strategy, Kaufman said, is Wink, Quirky’s platform for connected home devices. With many companies now betting that the Internet of Things (IoT) is about to take off, what’s needed is a common communications standard to help devices talk to one another and communicate with the Internet. Wink provides that, through a single app that you can run on your phone or a wall-mounted tablet.

Products that work with Wink include GE’s connected “smart” LED light bulbs, Schlage smart locks, the Nest thermostat, and more. Kaufman says more than 300,000 homes already have Wink-compatible devices inside them, which is a substantial base, and that Wink will do $25 million in revenue in its first year.

“On a clean sheet of paper, that would be an incredibly huge startup,” Kaufman said. “The problem is that its attachment to Quirky has plagued it.”

Quirky certainly lived up to its name over the years. Kaufman chuckled over an $80 “connected egg tray” that he was very excited about: When you were running low on eggs, it could notify you and order more from the grocery delivery service, I suppose.

“Obviously it didn’t sell that well,” Kaufman acknowledged. But, he said, it was meant more as a demonstration of what could be done with a connected home, rather than a moneymaking product in its own right.

In the end, I’m not certain whether Kaufman’s onstage appearance in front of a bunch of high-powered investors and executives did his company more harm or good. He certainly didn’t duck from the responsibility of having failed, and having lost a lot of investors’ money.

But if anything will save Quirky, it will be that transparency. Kaufman said that he told the community about Quirky’s new direction back in February, and that while they weren’t excited about it, most of the community members were understanding and supportive. The company is still getting thousands of new product ideas submitted every week, and that’s due in large part to the fact, he says, that people still trust Quirky.

“We have to be authentic because all we have is the community’s trust in us,” Kaufman said. “The reason people trust us is because we’ve never hidden anything, from our community or from our partners.”

In a year when everyone talks about “transparency” but few actually practice it, that’s an admirable stance. I wish Quirky — and Ben Kaufman — the best of luck.

Originally published on VentureBeat

You won’t believe how honest this CEO is about blowing $185M

3 takeaways from 3 big tech outages: NYSE, United, and WSJ

Press here to panic.


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What a day! Yesterday morning, the New York Stock Exchange went offline, United Airlines grounded its entire fleet, and the Wall Street Journal website went offline.

All three outages were related to technical glitches of one sort or another. And on top of that, the Chinese stock market tanked. That wasn’t a technical fault, but it didn’t stop people from lumping it together with the other three big news events of the day, adding in some horrendous commutes in New York and San Francisco and saying the sky is falling.

Or, maybe, don’t panic: These are all unrelated events, and coincidences happen.

Then again, maybe we should panic: These are symptoms of how badly software sucks, and it’s only going to get worse.

It’s tempting to join the chorus of extremist headlines, but I think it’s more productive to try to draw some useful lessons from the day.

First of all, the three technical outages were not related to hacks or cyberterrorism or any other malicious activity. The head of Homeland Security spoke with both United and the NYSE, and attested that the glitches were “not the result of any nefarious actor.” United blamed its hourlong outage on a “network connectivity error.” The WSJ similarly denied being hacked.

That said, cyberattacks do happen. Already in 2015 we’ve seen a few gigantic, disturbing hacks: The State Department was breached and lost control of millions of personnel records, including Social Security numbers; and Anthem Blue Cross got hacked and lost control of tens of millions of customer records. That’s following a horrendous 2014, in which Sony Pictures and JP Morgan got embarrassingly hacked, among many others. If you really want to scare yourself, check out Paul Sparrow’s Hackmageddon site, which collects timelines of all reported cyberattacks, month by month.

Lesson 1: You need to invest more in security. If the prospect of a technical glitch taking you offline for an hour or a day scares your CEO, just imagine how she’ll flip out if hackers abscond with millions of accounts, and the story gets written up in the WSJ — or VentureBeat.

Second, yesterday’s technical problems had no lasting effects. Although the NYSE is one of the world’s biggest stock exchanges, it only handles about 20 percent of the U.S. stock market. While it was down, other exchanges, like the NASDAQ, remained online. As a result, the nearly four-hour outage had almost no effect on the stock market.

United’s system crash caused a lot of grumbling among its customers, but the outage didn’t last very long and most of those customers probably reached their final destinations with only slight delays. The brand damage would have been much less if United didn’t already have a reputation among many people for indifferent customer service.

As for the WSJ, its outage came at a bad time. I can tell you from personal experience that journalists start tearing their hair out if their own site has technical problems at the same time they’re trying to cover a big news story. I can only imagine the yelling that was happening in the Journal‘s newsroom as the team discovered their site was borked at exactly the moment they were trying to cover United and NYSE. Fortunately the company quickly put up an alternate homepage, and got things rolling again in less than an hour. Today, things are back to normal on the site, and I’m sure the WSJ’s traffic suffered only a temporary dip yesterday.

Lesson 2: Big outages are survivable — if you’re prepared. Put in a disaster recovery plan and keep it up to date.

Third, don’t believe everything you read in the press. (Yes, I realize the irony of a journalist saying this.) But know that you may have to deal with the press and the public, even if their perceptions are wildly off base. Consider yesterday’s outages as a case study of what happens during an outage. Headline writers get excited, Twitter blows up, and suddenly you’re dealing with angry hashtags and aggressive inquiries from financial and business reporters.

Lesson 3: Make sure your disaster planning includes communicating with your customers (and the press) as quickly and openly as possible. Be on Twitter. Be on Facebook. Respond as quickly and as humanely as you can to angry customers and confused journalists, and you may be able to contain the damage.

The bottom line: Don’t panic. Don’t read too much into three big outages happening in a single day.

But do take these outages as a serious warning to take care of technical debt, invest in security, and make sure you have backup servers ready in case something really goes sideways.

Originally published on VentureBeat

3 takeaways from 3 big tech outages: NYSE, United, and WSJ

Wattpad hooks up with Cosmopolitan.com for hot, steamy content partnership

Cosmopolitan's Bedroom Blog is steamy stuff.

When Carter kissed me, it wasn’t for a brief moment. It was a kiss that carried us from one hot moment against the painting, my hands dipping underneath his pajama pants and sliding around, gripping his hard ass. It was a kiss where he growled my name and wrapped his hands around my waist, picking me up and carrying me to the wooden farm table, setting me on its surface, his hands busy as they yanked my shirtdress out from underneath my butt and pulled the thin fabric up and over my head.

OK, so Carter didn’t kiss me. That’s an excerpt from a post by “Chloe,” the author of Cosmopolitan.com’s “Bedroom Blog.” Hot, right?

Now steamy scenes like that will be appearing in Wattpad thanks to a content partnership the Toronto-based startup is announcing with Cosmopolitan.com.

Wattpad is a content-creation and content-sharing app now used by more than 40 million people per month, about 16 million of whom are teenagers, according to chief executive Allen Lau.

Cosmopolitan.com is, of course, the website for Cosmopolitan magazine, itself a reliable source of practical sex and beauty tips since the transformative leadership of Helen Gurley Brown from 1965 to 1997.

With this partnership, the two companies will be swapping content in both directions. Articles from Cosmo — including the Bedroom Blog’s posts — will appear within Wattpad’s reading interface. And Wattpad authors will have the opportunity for stories they write within the app to be republished on Cosmopolitan.com, potentially bringing them a much wider (and more glamorous) audience. All they have to do is tag their stories #CosmoReads for the chance to be selected for republication.

This isn’t the first brand partnership for Wattpad. It has also done promotions with Mondelez, Unilever, and Paramount Pictures, among others, where Wattpad writers’ work can, if selected, be featured in branding campaigns.

There is a little bit of a disconnect between the audiences in this partnership, however. Wattpad is heavily used by teens, while Cosmo — well, I don’t know who actually reads Cosmo any more, but its site reaches 35 million people monthly, and its stories are clearly written for grownups.

Wattpad is awesome: It transformed my 14-year-old daughter from a reader of crappy One Direction fanfic to a vocal critic of said fanfic, and, lately, to a writer of her own romance novels. Along the way she has written and shared tens of thousands of words, receiving tons of constructive criticism from other readers and writers, and vastly improving her own writing. It’s a story that Lau says is pretty common: Parents often tell him that their children’s grades improved after they became Wattpad fans. That makes sense: The best way to become a better writer is to write, a lot — and ideally for an audience that will give you constructive feedback.

But it might trouble some of those parents to learn that, along with the One Direction fanfic, their children are now reading about Chloe’s hookups with her building superintendent.

On the other hand, maybe that’s not so different from the fanfic at the end of the day.

Originally published on VentureBeat » Dylan Tweney: http://ift.tt/1UEAT23

Wattpad hooks up with Cosmopolitan.com for hot, steamy content partnership

Blocking ads can cut network traffic 25% to 40%, study shows

A highway traffic jam.

For advertisers, ad-blocking software is an annoyance. For IT administrators, it might just be the key to reducing network congestion.

A recent study (.pdf) by Simon Fraser University in British Columbia has found that installing ad-blocking software reduces ordinary Web-browsing bandwidth usage by 25 percent. The reduction is even more dramatic for streaming video: blocking the ads cuts bandwidth by 40 percent.

The researchers behind the study used Adblock Plus, an ad-blocking extension that’s widely available for free. Significantly, Adblock Plus recently introduced a mass-install option for IT admins, letting them deploy the Chrome extension across all of the computers under their purview, without disturbing the people using those computers.

The Simon Fraser study had a fairly small, almost simplistic methodology: Six computers were set up on a single network, with three running Adblock Plus and three without it. Network analysis tools measured the bandwidth used by each computer as volunteer students browsed through a defined set of websites, spending 5-10 minutes on each one, simulating student research as well as ordinary browsing behavior.

When the tests were done, the researchers tallied the download totals for each set of computers and compared those with adblocking software against those without it.

Adblock Plus helped pay for the study, providing $8,500 to offset server and networking equipment costs. The research was self-published by the university.

A study by Simon Fraser University, supported by Adblock Plus, shows that Adblock Plus reduces network usage.

 

Originally published on VentureBeat

Blocking ads can cut network traffic 25% to 40%, study shows

Email is broken, it needs to die, and we’ll be sorry when it’s gone

i-want-your-email


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Everyone hates email. It wastes our time, too much of it is spam, it’s a to-do list that strangers can write on, it’s ugly, it’s slow, it’s unreliable. And did I mention the spam?

Perhaps the worst thing about email is the way it makes us unlikeable. I’m a reasonably nice person, as anyone who has met me face to face can probably tell you. But when I start sending emails, watch out. What I think is a perfectly ordinary, level headed email often comes across to other people as demanding or insensitive. (To say nothing of my autoreplies — those drive my coworkers up the wall.)

It’s not just me — I’ve seen people get enraged at each other over a seemingly innocuous intra-office email thread that suddenly escalates like an international border incident. But when those people get together face to face, the anger and the tension dissipate in minutes. The problem in these situations is clear: It’s the way email enforces a kind of formality, combined with lack of nuance. The combination can be toxic.

No wonder people are fleeing to messaging apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, Kik, and beyond. And on the enterprise side, no wonder Slack’s business is booming: If you can get your internal company communications off email and onto a fun platform that encourages productivity, shareability, and searchability — while supporting GIFs and emoji — it’s a win for everyone.

Yes, there’s no doubt about it: Email is an unholy hack, a broken mess, an ever-growing floating island of garbage and dead fish swirling around in some forgotten part of the ocean. It needs to die, and the sooner the better.

And yet.

Let’s just imagine a future without email — maybe just a few years hence, when these messaging apps are widespread enough that you could legitimately say “I’m deleting my email account” and not be seen as strange or experimental. And, more importantly, when you could do that and still be confident that the right people could reach you, whether that’s by Twitter DM or Facebook or Slack.

First of all, none of the messaging apps have anywhere near the market penetration and reach of email, which reaches 2.5 billion people today, according to the Radicati Group. So you’ll probably need to keep a few messaging apps: Facebook Messenger for your friends using that, Snapchat for your other group of friends, Slack for work, and so on.

Second, these messaging apps all have their own ways of doing things, so each one has its own rules and its own interface. Lest you think that’s a small problem, just look at how often people mistakenly send private direct messages to all their Twitter followers. Even the CFO of Twitter made that mistake, and who can blame him? It’s ridiculously easy to do this. So you need to use extra caution with Twitter, WhatsApp, Snapchat, and whichever apps you’re using, to ensure that you are using each one the right way, and not committing some horribly embarrassing (or business-threatening) mistake.

Third, they’re not interoperable. Each messaging app has its own separate platform, its own notifications on my mobile devices, its own list of my friends. You can’t send a message from Messenger to your friend on KakaoTalk, and you never will be able to. There’s no incentive for these companies to open up their message platforms to all comers.

Fourth, these platforms often lack fundamental features that are actually quite useful. Slack, for instance, still doesn’t have threaded messages. If you don’t reply to someone’s post super quick, you might as well forget about it, because someone else is going to start another conversation and then no one will know what you’re replying to. (I know there is a workaround, but it’s kludgey.) Or how about filters and folders? It’s often quite useful to filter messages from a certain person — your boss, for example — into a special high-priority folder, where you can give it special attention, or save it along with all the other messages that person sent.

Fifth: Spam. You may not have noticed it, but if you’re a Gmail user, outright spam is getting rarer and rarer in your inbox, thanks to ever-more sophisticated spam filtering. Google has spent more than a decade honing its spam algorithms, and the result works pretty darn well. Twitter, by contrast: If you missed the old days of X10 camera spam and offers for green card lawyers, just turn on the setting that lets anyone send you a DM even if you’re not following them. Google’s spam mechanism has the equivalent of a Ph.D., while Twitter’s is still in kindergarten.

Finally, there’s one more angle to consider: Email, from a marketer’s point of view, actually works, with an ROI of 38 to 1, according to one estimate (.pdf). There’s a reason that Twitter and Slack, despite being their own messaging platforms, still send daily emails to people. For many Internet users, email is still the way they’d prefer to be contacted, and companies are happy to oblige, because engagement levels are so much higher than in other media.

And email marketing companies are thriving — Campaign Monitor, to name one example, raised $250 million last year.

Now, you could argue that this is exactly the problem: Too much email marketing is making email useful only for marketing. But I think the reason email marketing works so effectively is because, at the end of the day, people are still very attached to their inboxes.

We may complain about email. We may suffer from crappy email clients and all-company email threads that never end. Our inboxes may never get close to zero.

But if the current crop of messaging apps really did succeed in killing off email, I think we would all start to miss it pretty soon.

Originally published on VentureBeat » Dylan Tweney: http://ift.tt/1T93smx

Email is broken, it needs to die, and we’ll be sorry when it’s gone

Fast-growing data analytics company Looker hires former Box exec Jen Grant (Q&A)

Jen Grant is the new CMO of Looker.

Jen Grant has joined Looker as its chief marketing officer. She was formerly a vice president of marketing at Box and a CMO at Elasticsearch.

Looker's graph illustrates growth in usage of its platform.Looker may not be one of the big names in data analytics, yet, but the company has impressive growth. Its revenue has grown fivefold in the past year, the company told VentureBeat, although it didn’t share specific numbers. That’s up from 400 percent annual growth just three and a half months ago. It has also seen an impressive-looking surge in the usage of its platform, as shown in the graph to the right (note, however, that the Y axis is unlabeled, so the magnitude of that growth is unclear). Customers include Yahoo!, Warby Parker, Gilt, and Sony; in the last quarter the company has signed on Autodesk, Birchbox, Harvard Business Review, and Relay Networks.

Looker provides a connection layer between data sources and the employees who need to make charts, reports, and graphs from that data. In most cases those are data scientists or data analysts, but the company is increasingly targeting marketing professionals who are not data experts. In that, it competes with an array of data-analysis and business-intelligence (BI) companies, including Good Data, Domo, Microstrategy, IBM Cognos, and visualization tools Tableau and Qlik.

The Santa Cruz, California-based company now numbers 140 employees. It announced a $30 million round in March of this year, led by Meritech Capital Partners, and has raised $48 million to date.

Grant spent five years at Box and took the company to its first pre-IPO stage. (The IPO was then delayed, but the company finally went public in January of this year.) She left Box in October, 2013, and spent a year at Elasticsearch, helping the enterprise search company rebrand itself and build a marketing team.

We spoke with her last week in an exclusive interview about her new position, what’s next for Looker’s marketing, what it was like to work at Box, how the landscape for enterprise tech has changed in the past few years, and the ways B2B tech marketing is evolving.

VentureBeat: Tell me what convinced you to join Looker.

Jen Grant: What tipped the scales for me was the enthusiasm of their customers. Usually people are very excited in video testimonials and so on. But I spent a week meeting customers face to face, and they are just super enthusiastic. It’s not just, “Hey, it’s a really good product.” It’s, “Oh my God, I love this product. This solved an immense problem for us. We want to tell everyone about it.”

VentureBeat: That’s an enviable place to be for a marketing person.

Grant: Exactly. On the flip side, even though we have these very excited customers and the growth rate and the website and all these things going super well, not that many people know about Looker. For me, that’s perfect. I can bring a lot of value to this product, to these happy customers, just by getting the word out that there is this solution to a problem that many people are struggling with.

VentureBeat: Were you already Santa Cruz-based, or are you moving there to be with the company?

Grant: I am moving to Santa Cruz, yes. It’ll be fun.

It is nice to be a little bit outside of the Valley. When you take one little step outside, it gets you to realize, there’s this whole world of people — in many different states and countries — that don’t necessarily use all the same words we use in Silicon Valley. They’re not talking in acronyms or jargon we use. It’s important, when you focus on making your customers happy, to actually understand your customers. That one little step outside of Silicon Valley helps with that.

VentureBeat: This raises a question. The people who are actually using Looker are a much smaller, more defined audience. They’re data scientists and developers, not the marketing manager or the product manager, right?

Grant: We actually address both.

Part of our product is for data analysts, the data team that has huge databases of any different size, whether it’s MySQL or Redshift or whatever database they might have. They can work with Looker to help enable all of the people in the organization to do it themselves, to have an interface where they can ask any question of their data that they might want to ask.

The reason that’s important is because most of the legacy BI solutions – I’ve been through this experience myself – require that the data team are the only ones who can get the analysis out of the BI pool. People like me have to wait in line. “Can you please get me a report that shows me answers on how my market funnel is doing?” A little while later you get your report and you realize that, oh, what you really want to ask now is this other question. Now you have to go back and wait in line for the next time they have somebody to help me.

Looker allows the data team, instead of spending all this time answering questions for the business team, to give them Looker, and then Looker is the interface all these business people can use. What if I want to know this by week or by year? What if I averaged it between these two different user types? They have the ability to explore the data themselves. There are uses for both business teams and data teams.

VentureBeat: Who’s making the decision to buy Looker, then?

Grant: It depends. Typically what we see is, the data team see the value of Looker so clearly. We’ve had a number of conversations where we show a demo, and before we can even walk out of the room, the head data analyst, whatever their title might be, will say, “When can we start? We should be doing this now. This is critical for my business and will help solve this problem where we’re knee deep in a line of requests.” Typically that’s where we get the most enthusiasm.

But on the flip side, there’s still an opportunity for us to talk to business people, especially in marketing. With many customers, once they get the system out to all the people in their business, there’s an eye-opening experience. I was never able to explore the data like this, I really understand how my business works so much better than I did before, I didn’t even know this was possible.

VentureBeat: Before you went to Box, you did a lot of consumer product work at Google. Why did you decide to shift to enterprise?

Grant: I was working on the consumer side of the apps, but mainly Gmail, because that was our flagship app, obviously. There was a separation between Gmail and the Google apps team. The Google apps team was focusing on business services and we were focused on marketing to consumers.

But eventually it became clear that the best way for us to market to consumers was through the university. Where do you get your email address? It’s usually in college, not some time later. I came on the Google apps team to blend both: How do we get university students using all the Google apps – Gmail, Docs, Calendar, Groups – and then also, how do we get CIOs of the universities that are choosing Google apps or thinking of choosing Google apps on board?

Box was a perfect melding of a very consumer-feeling brand, but a company that was selling to business. To some extent, when I started at Box nobody knew they were selling to businesses. Most of [the customers] were consumer backup. It was a bit of, well, we have to brand this thing as a business tool, but then we also have to do all the typical B2B marketing. There’s all this super interesting analytics around B2B that’s now—All the new tools you can use to create a machine around it.

VentureBeat: It seems notable that Box had a large number of women executives and a high ratio of women in its staff in general early on. Tell me about that culture.

Grant: It was incredibly important to the culture. In retrospect, I might have taken it for granted a bit. But at one point there were four women on the executive team. It was pretty intense.

 From left to right: Box executives Whitney Tidmarsh Bouck, general manager of enterprise; Jen Grant, VP of marketing; Kimber Lockhart, director of engineering; and Karen Appleton, VP business development, in September, 2012.In the early days, Karen Appleton and myself were the first women executives. It helped create a culture that was less of the fraternity that sometimes startups end up being. That made it more inclusive and more diverse. As we started hiring and growing super quickly, we’d already established that people went home to be with their families. We wanted different points of view. We didn’t all need to come from the same school and look the same and think the same.

A diversity of opinions was critically important. We’d really debate things. Sometimes it would look like a heated argument, but in the end we were all getting to a better solution because more ideas were being contributed.

It was a wonderful—I’d call it happenstance, because it wasn’t really by design. It just happened. And then Karen and I both contributed a lot to helping Aaron [Levie] and Dylan [Smith] and the original founders understand what it means to work in a company and how you need to take care of employees and have a nice office that people want to come to, having lunch brought in that gets people together.

VentureBeat: It’s been seven or eight years since you started at Box. How would you say the landscape for enterprise technology has changed in those years?

Grant: On the marketing front, the ability of a marketer to be super data driven is massively different. Back at Google—It’s hard to believe that the idea of marketing automation was sort of like, huh, what’s that, do we need that? What’s this lead scoring thing? Now this is what you need to do when you’re creating a marketing machine.

Certainly on the marketing front, just huge advances in all of the different products and technology you can use to help streamline your marketing. Which is good for everybody. Marketers are more targeted, but it also means people aren’t getting spammed, because marketing is more relevant. We’re targeting emails to what you actually might be interested in, or whatever the medium is that we’re using. To me that’s a notable change.

Overall, when you look at enterprise software, we’re finally at a point where all these things that used to be new are starting to look old again. In the early days of Box, we were working with Salesforce and Netsuite and Success Factors and all of these products that were saying, cloud cloud cloud.

Now we’re at a point where cloud is not really the conversation, which is nice. It’s like, okay, cloud, cool, but what do you actually do? What’s the benefit to me and my organization?

The conversations that a lot of these enterprise vendors are now having with potential buyers are much more about what the software actually does. How does it help your business move forward?

Those companies that are cloud-based, but which are getting old, have to start thinking about how to remain innovative and create products that don’t get disrupted by new ones coming in.

What are the new ones coming in? They’re simpler. We’ve gone from large cloud software that handles a lot of things, and now there’s a lot of these small solutions that are super effective. They don’t solve 10 things. They solve just the one thing.

Take HR for one example. There’s a lot of new HR solutions that are sort of point solutions. But they’re super great. People are adopting them because they’re better than other options. Even if the other options solve 10 more problems, they’ll go with the point solution because it’s cleaner and solves the problem faster.

It’s an interesting wave. We’re back at: What are the new disruptive things?

They’re going after all of the companies we love dearly that started the whole cloud movement. So we’ll see.

Originally published on VentureBeat

Fast-growing data analytics company Looker hires former Box exec Jen Grant (Q&A)