Google Firebase adds in-app messaging, JIRA integration, new reports and more

Firebase is now Google’s default platform for app developers, and over the course of the last four years since it was acquired, the service has greatly expanded its feature set and integrations with Google services. Today, it’s rolling out yet another batch of updates that bring new features, deeper integrations and a few design updates to the service.

The highlight of this release is the launch of in-app messaging, which will allow developers to send targeted and contextual messages to users as they use the app. Developers can customize the look and feel of these in-app notifications, which are rolling out today, but what’s maybe even more important is that this feature is integrated with Firebase Predictions and Google Analytics for Firebase so that developers can not just react to current behavior but also Firebase’s predictions of how likely a user is to spend some additional money or stop using the app.

Developers who use Atlassian’s JIRA will also be happy to hear that Firebase is launching an integration with this tool. Firebase users can now create JIRA issues based on crash reports in Firebase. This integration will roll out in the next few weeks.

Another new integration is a deeper connection to Crashlytics, which Google acquired from Twitter in 2017 (together with Fabric). Firebase will now let you export this data to BigQuery to analyze it — and then visualize it in Google’s Data Studio. And once it’s in BigQuery, it’s your data, so you’re not dependent on Firebase’s retention and deletion defaults.

Talking about reports, Firebase Cloud Messaging is getting a new reporting dashboard and the Firebase Console’s Project Overview page has received a full design overhaul that’ll allow you to see the health and status of your apps on a single page. The Latest Release section now also features live data. These features will start rolling out today and should become available to everybody in the next few weeks.

Firebase Hosting, the service’s web content hosting service, is also getting a small update and now allows you to host multiple websites within one project. And when you push an update, Firebase Hosting now only uploads the files that have changed between releases, which should speed up that process quite a bit.

Atlassian’s HipChat and Stride to be discontinued, with Slack buying up the IP

HipChat, the workplace chat app that held the throne before Slack was Slack, is being discontinued. Also being discontinued is Atlassian’s own would-be HipChat replacement, Stride.

News of the discontinuation comes first not from Atlassian, but instead from a somewhat surprising source: Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield. In a series of tweets, Butterfield says that Slack is purchasing the IP to “better support those users who choose to migrate” to its platform.

Butterfield also notes that Atlassian will be making a “small but symbolically important investment” — likely a good move, given that rumors of a Slack IPO have been swirling (though Butterfield says it won’t happen this year). Getting a pre-IPO investment into Slack might end up paying off for Atlassian better than trying to continue competing.

Atlassian VP of Product Management, Joff Redfern, confirmed the news in a blog post, calling it the “best way forward” for its existing customers. It’s about as real of an example of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” as you can get; even Atlassian’s own employees will be moved over to using Slack.

According to an FAQ about the change, Stride and HipChat’s last day will be February 15th, 2019 — or a bit shy of seven months from the date of the announcement. So if you’re a customer on either one of those platforms, you’ve got time to figure things out.

It doesn’t sound like any of Atlassian’s other products will be affected here; Bitbucket, Jira, etc. will carry on, with only the company’s real-time communications platforms being shuttered.

Story developing…

InVision mobile app updates include studio features and desktop to mobile mirroring

InVision, the software a service challenger to Adobe’s design dominance, has just released a new version of its mobile app for iOS and is beta-testing new features for Android users as it tries to bring additional functionality to designers on-the-go.

The new app tools feature “studio mirroring” for reviews of new designs directly on mobile devices, so that designers can see design changes to applications made on the desktop display on mobile in real time.

The mirroring feature works by scanning a QR code on a mobile device which lets users view design changes and test user experiences immediately.

The company is also bringing its Freehand support — which allows for collaborative commenting on design prototypes to tablets so teams can comment on the fly, the company said.

The tools will give InVision another arrow in its quiver as it tries to take on other design platforms (notably the 100 pound gorilla known as Adobe) and are a useful addition to a service that’s trying to woo the notoriously fickle design community with an entire toolkit.

As we wrote in May when the company launched its app store:

While collaboration is the bread and butter of InVision’s business, and the only revenue stream for the company, CEO and founder Clark Valberg feels that it isn’t enough to be complementary to the current design tool ecosystem. Which is why InVision launched Studio in late 2017, hoping to take on Adobe and Sketch head-on with its own design tool.

Studio differentiates itself by focusing on the designer’s real-life workflow, which often involves mocking up designs in one app, pulling assets from another, working on animations and transitions in another, and then stitching the whole thing together to share for collaboration across InVision Cloud. Studio aims to bring all those various services into a single product, and a critical piece of that mission is building out an app store and asset store with the services too sticky for InVision to rebuild from Scratch, such as Slack or Atlassian .

After twenty years of Salesforce, what Marc Benioff got right and wrong about the cloud

As we enter the 20th year of Salesforce, there’s an interesting opportunity to reflect back on the change that Marc Benioff created with the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model for enterprise software with his launch of Salesforce.com.

This model has been validated by the annual revenue stream of SaaS companies, which is fast approaching $100 billion by most estimates, and it will likely continue to transform many slower-moving industries for years to come.

However, for the cornerstone market in IT — large enterprise-software deals — SaaS represents less than 25 percent of total revenue, according to most market estimates. This split is even evident in the most recent high profile “SaaS” acquisition of GitHub by Microsoft, with over 50 percent of GitHub’s revenue coming from the sale of their on-prem offering, GitHub Enterprise.  

Data privacy and security is also becoming a major issue, with Benioff himself even pushing for a U.S. privacy law on par with GDPR in the European Union. While consumer data is often the focus of such discussions, it’s worth remembering that SaaS providers store and process an incredible amount of personal data on behalf of their customers, and the content of that data goes well beyond email addresses for sales leads.

It’s time to reconsider the SaaS model in a modern context, integrating developments of the last nearly two decades so that enterprise software can reach its full potential. More specifically, we need to consider the impact of IaaS and “cloud-native computing” on enterprise software, and how they’re blurring the lines between SaaS and on-premises applications. As the world around enterprise software shifts and the tools for building it advance, do we really need such stark distinctions about what can run where?

Source: Getty Images/KTSDESIGN/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

The original cloud software thesis

In his book, Behind the Cloud, Benioff lays out four primary reasons for the introduction of the cloud-based SaaS model:

  1. Realigning vendor success with customer success by creating a subscription-based pricing model that grows with each customer’s usage (providing the opportunity to “land and expand”). Previously, software licenses often cost millions of dollars and were paid upfront, each year after which the customer was obligated to pay an additional 20 percent for support fees. This traditional pricing structure created significant financial barriers to adoption and made procurement painful and elongated.
  2. Putting software in the browser to kill the client-server enterprise software delivery experience. Benioff recognized that consumers were increasingly comfortable using websites to accomplish complex tasks. By utilizing the browser, Salesforce avoided the complex local client installation and allowed its software to be accessed anywhere, anytime and on any device.
  3. Sharing the cost of expensive compute resources across multiple customers by leveraging a multi-tenant architecture. This ensured that no individual customer needed to invest in expensive computing hardware required to run a given monolithic application. For context, in 1999 a gigabyte of RAM cost about $1,000 and a TB of disk storage was $30,000. Benioff cited a typical enterprise hardware purchase of $385,000 in order to run Siebel’s CRM product that might serve 200 end-users.
  4. Democratizing the availability of software by removing the installation, maintenance and upgrade challenges. Drawing from his background at Oracle, he cited experiences where it took 6-18 months to complete the installation process. Additionally, upgrades were notorious for their complexity and caused significant downtime for customers. Managing enterprise applications was a very manual process, generally with each IT org becoming the ops team executing a physical run-book for each application they purchased.

These arguments also happen to be, more or less, that same ones made by infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) providers such as Amazon Web Services during their early days in the mid-late ‘00s. However, IaaS adds value at a layer deeper than SaaS, providing the raw building blocks rather than the end product. The result of their success in renting cloud computing, storage and network capacity has been many more SaaS applications than ever would have been possible if everybody had to follow the model Salesforce did several years earlier.

Suddenly able to access computing resources by the hour—and free from large upfront capital investments or having to manage complex customer installations—startups forsook software for SaaS in the name of economics, simplicity and much faster user growth.

Source: Getty Images

It’s a different IT world in 2018

Fast-forward to today, and in some ways it’s clear just how prescient Benioff was in pushing the world toward SaaS. Of the four reasons laid out above, Benioff nailed the first two:

  • Subscription is the right pricing model: The subscription pricing model for software has proven to be the most effective way to create customer and vendor success. Years ago already, stalwart products like Microsoft Office and the Adobe Suite  successfully made the switch from the upfront model to thriving subscription businesses. Today, subscription pricing is the norm for many flavors of software and services.
  • Better user experience matters: Software accessed through the browser or thin, native mobile apps (leveraging the same APIs and delivered seamlessly through app stores) have long since become ubiquitous. The consumerization of IT was a real trend, and it has driven the habits from our personal lives into our business lives.

In other areas, however, things today look very different than they did back in 1999. In particular, Benioff’s other two primary reasons for embracing SaaS no longer seem so compelling. Ironically, IaaS economies of scale (especially once Google and Microsoft began competing with AWS in earnest) and software-development practices developed inside those “web scale” companies played major roles in spurring these changes:

  • Computing is now cheap: The cost of compute and storage have been driven down so dramatically that there are limited cost savings in shared resources. Today, a gigabyte of RAM is about $5 and a terabyte of disk storage is about $30 if you buy them directly. Cloud providers give away resources to small users and charge only pennies per hour for standard-sized instances. By comparison, at the same time that Salesforce was founded, Google was running on its first data center—with combined total compute and RAM comparable to that of a single iPhone X. That is not a joke.
  • Installing software is now much easier: The process of installing and upgrading modern software has become automated with the emergence of continuous integration and deployment (CI/CD) and configuration-management tools. With the rapid adoption of containers and microservices, cloud-native infrastructure has become the de facto standard for local development and is becoming the standard for far more reliable, resilient and scalable cloud deployment. Enterprise software packed as a set of Docker containers orchestrated by Kubernetes or Docker Swarm, for example, can be installed pretty much anywhere and be live in minutes.

Sourlce: Getty Images/ERHUI1979

What Benioff didn’t foresee

Several other factors have also emerged in the last few years that beg the question of whether the traditional definition of SaaS can really be the only one going forward. Here, too, there’s irony in the fact that many of the forces pushing software back toward self-hosting and management can be traced directly to the success of SaaS itself, and cloud computing in general:

  1. Cloud computing can now be “private”: Virtual private clouds (VPCs) in the IaaS world allow enterprises to maintain root control of the OS, while outsourcing the physical management of machines to providers like Google, DigitalOcean, Microsoft, Packet or AWS. This allows enterprises (like Capital One) to relinquish hardware management and the headache it often entails, but retain control over networks, software and data. It is also far easier for enterprises to get the necessary assurance for the security posture of Amazon, Microsoft and Google than it is to get the same level of assurance for each of the tens of thousands of possible SaaS vendors in the world.
  2. Regulations can penalize centralized services: One of the underappreciated consequences of Edward Snowden’s leaks, as well as an awakening to the sometimes questionable data-privacy practices of companies like Facebook, is an uptick in governments and enterprises trying to protect themselves and their citizens from prying eyes. Using applications hosted in another country or managed by a third party exposes enterprises to a litany of legal issues. The European Union’s GDPR law, for example, exposes SaaS companies to more potential liability with each piece of EU-citizen data they store, and puts enterprises on the hook for how their SaaS providers manage data.
  3. Data breach exposure is higher than ever: A corollary to the point above is the increased exposure to cybercrime that companies face as they build out their SaaS footprints. All it takes is one employee at a SaaS provider clicking on the wrong link or installing the wrong Chrome extension to expose that provider’s customers’ data to criminals. If the average large enterprise uses 1,000+ SaaS applications and each of those vendors averages 250 employees, that’s an additional 250,000 possible points of entry for an attacker.
  4. Applications are much more portable: The SaaS revolution has resulted in software vendors developing their applications to be cloud-first, but they’re now building those applications using technologies (such as containers) that can help replicate the deployment of those applications onto any infrastructure. This shift to what’s called cloud-native computing means that the same complex applications you can sign up to use in a multi-tenant cloud environment can also be deployed into a private data center or VPC much easier than previously possible. Companies like BigID, StackRox, Dashbase and others are taking a private cloud-native instance first approach to their application offerings. Meanwhile SaaS stalwarts like Atlassian, Box, Github and many others are transitioning over to Kubernetes driven, cloud-native architectures that provide this optionality in the future.  
  5. The script got flipped on CIOs: Individuals and small teams within large companies now drive software adoption by selecting the tools (e.g., GitHub, Slack, HipChat, Dropbox), often SaaS, that best meet their needs. Once they learn what’s being used and how it’s working, CIOs are faced with the decision to either restrict network access to shadow IT or pursue an enterprise license—or the nearest thing to one—for those services. This trend has been so impactful that it spawned an entirely new category called cloud access security brokers—another vendor that needs to be paid, an additional layer of complexity, and another avenue for potential problems. Managing local versions of these applications brings control back to the CIO and CISO.

Source: Getty Images/MIKIEKWOODS

The future of software is location agnostic

As the pace of technological disruption picks up, the previous generation of SaaS companies is facing a future similar to the legacy software providers they once displaced. From mainframes up through cloud-native (and even serverless) computing, the goal for CIOs has always been to strike the right balance between cost, capabilities, control and flexibility. Cloud-native computing, which encompasses a wide variety of IT facets and often emphasizes open source software, is poised to deliver on these benefits in a manner that can adapt to new trends as they emerge.

The problem for many of today’s largest SaaS vendors is that they were founded and scaled out during the pre-cloud-native era, meaning they’re burdened by some serious technical and cultural debt. If they fail to make the necessary transition, they’ll be disrupted by a new generation of SaaS companies (and possibly traditional software vendors) that are agnostic toward where their applications are deployed and who applies the pre-built automation that simplifies management. This next generation of vendors will more control in the hands of end customers (who crave control), while maintaining what vendors have come to love about cloud-native development and cloud-based resources.

So, yes, Marc Benioff and Salesforce were absolutely right to champion the “No Software” movement over the past two decades, because the model of enterprise software they targeted needed to be destroyed. In the process, however, Salesforce helped spur a cloud computing movement that would eventually rewrite the rules on enterprise IT and, now, SaaS itself.

US startups off to a strong M&A run in 2018

With Microsoft’s $7.5 billion acquisition of GitHub this week, we can now decisively declare a trend: 2018 is shaping up as a darn good year for U.S. venture-backed M&A.

So far this year, acquirers have spent just over $20 billion in disclosed-price purchases of U.S. VC-funded companies, according to Crunchbase data. That’s about 80 percent of the 2017 full-year total, which is pretty impressive, considering we’re barely five months into 2018.

If one included unreported purchase prices, the totals would be quite a bit higher. Fewer than 20 percent of acquisitions in our data set came with reported prices.1 Undisclosed prices are mostly for smaller deals, but not always. We put together a list of a dozen undisclosed price M&A transactions this year involving companies snapped up by large-cap acquirers after raising more than $20 million in venture funding.

The big deals

The deals that everyone talks about, however, are the ones with the big and disclosed price tags. And we’ve seen quite a few of those lately.

As we approach the half-year mark, nothing comes close to topping the GitHub deal, which ranks as one of the biggest acquisitions of a private, U.S. venture-backed company ever. The last deal to top it was Facebook’s $19 billion purchase of WhatsApp in 2014, according to Crunchbase.

Of course, GitHub is a unique story with an astounding growth trajectory. Its platform for code development, most popular among programmers, has drawn 28 million users. For context, that’s more than the entire population of Australia.

Still, let’s not forget about the other big deals announced in 2018. We list the top six below:

Flatiron Health, a provider of software used by cancer care providers and researchers, ranks as the second-biggest VC-backed acquisition of 2018. Its purchaser, Roche, was an existing stakeholder who apparently liked what it saw enough to buy up all remaining shares.

Next up is job and employer review site Glassdoor, a company familiar to many of those who’ve looked for a new post or handled hiring in the past decade. The 11-year-old company found a fan in Tokyo-based Recruit Holdings, a provider of recruitment and human resources services that also owns leading job site Indeed.com.

Meanwhile, Impact Biomedicines, a cancer therapy developer that sold to Celgene for $1.1 billion, could end up delivering an even larger exit. The acquisition deal includes potential milestone payments approaching nearly $6 billion.

Deal counts look flat

Not all metrics are trending up, however. While acquirers are doing bigger deals, they don’t appear to be buying a larger number of startups.

Crunchbase shows 216 startups in our data set that sold this year. That’s roughly on par with the pace of dealmaking in the year-ago period, which had 222 M&A exits using similar parameters. (For all of 2017, there were 508 startup acquisitions that met our parameters.2)

Below, we look at M&A counts for the past five calendar years:

Looking at prior years for comparison, the takeaway seems to be that M&A deal counts for 2018 look just fine, but we’re not seeing a big spike.

What’s changed?

The more notable shift from 2017 seems to be buyers’ bigger appetite for unicorn-scale deals. Last year, we saw just one acquisition of a software company for more than a billion dollars — Cisco’s $3.7 billion purchase of AppDynamics — and that was only after the performance management software provider filed to go public. The only other billion-plus deal was PetSmart’s $3.4 billion acquisition of pet food delivery service Chewy, which previously raised early venture funding and later private equity backing.

There are plenty of reasons why acquirers could be spending more freely this year. Some that come to mind: Stock indexes are chugging along, and U.S. legislators have slashed corporate tax rates. U.S. companies with large cash hordes held overseas, like Apple and Microsoft, also received new financial incentives to repatriate that money.

That’s not to say companies are doing acquisitions for these reasons. There’s no obligation to spend repatriated cash in any particular way. Many prefer share buybacks or sitting on piles of money. Nonetheless, the combination of these two things — more money and less uncertainty around tax reform — are certainly not a bad thing for M&A.

High public valuations, particularly for tech, also help. Microsoft shares, for instance, have risen by more than 44 percent in the past year. That means that it took about a third fewer shares to buy GitHub this month than it would have a year ago. (Of course, GitHub’s valuation probably rose as well, but we’ll ignore that for now.)

Paying retail

Overall, this is not looking like an M&A market for bargain hunters.

Large-cap acquirers seem willing to pay retail price for startups they like, given the competitive environment. After all, the IPO window is wide open. Plus, fast-growing unicorns have the option of staying private and raising money from SoftBank or a panoply of other highly capitalized investors.

Meanwhile, acquirers themselves are competing for desirable startups. Microsoft’s winning bid for GitHub reportedly followed overtures by Google, Atlassian and a host of other would-be buyers.

But even in the most buoyant climate, one rule of acquiring remains true: It’s hard to turn down $7.5 billion.

  1. The data set included companies that have raised $1 million or more in venture or seed funding, with their most recent round closing within the past five years.
  2. For the prior year comparisons, including the chart, the data set consisted of companies acquired in a specified year that raised $1 million or more in venture or seed funding, with their most recent round closing no more than five years before the middle of that year.