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Salesforce is buying data visualization company Tableau for $15.7B in all-stock deal

On the heels of Google buying analytics startup Looker last week for $2.6 billion, Salesforce today announced a huge piece of news in a bid to step up its own work in data visualization and (more generally) tools to help enterprises make sense of the sea of data that they use and amass: Salesforce is buying Tableau for $15.7 billion in an all-stock deal.

The latter is publicly traded and this deal will involve shares of Tableau Class A and Class B common stock getting exchanged for 1.103 shares of Salesforce common stock, the company said, and so the $15.7 billion figure is the enterprise value of the transaction, based on the average price of Salesforce’s shares as of June 7, 2019.

This is a huge jump on Tableau’s last market cap: it was valued at $10.79 billion at close of trading Friday, according to figures on Google Finance. (Also: trading has halted on its stock in light of this news.)

The two boards have already approved the deal, Salesforce notes. The two companies’ management teams will be hosting a conference call at 8am Eastern and I’ll listen in to that as well to get more details.

This is a huge deal for Salesforce as it continues to diversify beyond CRM software and into deeper layers of analytics.

The company reportedly worked hard to — but ultimately missed out on — buying LinkedIn (which Microsoft picked up instead), and while there isn’t a whole lot in common between LinkedIn and Tableau, this deal will also help Salesforce extend its engagement (and data intelligence) for the customers that Salesforce already has — something that LinkedIn would have also helped it to do.

This also looks like a move designed to help bulk up against Google’s move to buy Looker, announced last week, although I’d argue that analytics is a big enough area that all major tech companies that are courting enterprises are getting their ducks in a row in terms of squaring up to stronger strategies (and products) in this area. It’s unclear whether (and if) the two deals were made in response to each other, although it seems that Salesforce has been eyeing up Tableau for years.

“We are bringing together the world’s #1 CRM with the #1 analytics platform. Tableau helps people see and understand data, and Salesforce helps people engage and understand customers. It’s truly the best of both worlds for our customers–bringing together two critical platforms that every customer needs to understand their world,” said Marc Benioff, chairman and co-CEO, Salesforce, in a statement. “I’m thrilled to welcome Adam and his team to Salesforce.”

Tableau has about 86,000 business customers, including Charles Schwab, Verizon (which owns TC), Schneider Electric, Southwest and Netflix. Salesforce said Tableau will operate independently and under its own brand post-acquisition. It will also remain headquartered in Seattle, Wash., headed by CEO Adam Selipsky along with others on the current leadership team.

Indeed, later during the call, Benioff let it drop that Seattle would become Salesforce’s official second headquarters with the closing of this deal.

That’s not to say, though, that the two will not be working together.

On the contrary, Salesforce is already talking up the possibilities of expanding what the company is already doing with its Einstein platform (launched back in 2016, Einstein is the home of all of Salesforce’s AI-based initiatives); and with “Customer 360,” which is the company’s product and take on omnichannel sales and marketing. The latter is an obvious and complementary product home, given that one huge aspect of Tableau’s service is to provide “big picture” insights.

“Joining forces with Salesforce will enhance our ability to help people everywhere see and understand data,” said Selipsky. “As part of the world’s #1 CRM company, Tableau’s intuitive and powerful analytics will enable millions more people to discover actionable insights across their entire organizations. I’m delighted that our companies share very similar cultures and a relentless focus on customer success. I look forward to working together in support of our customers and communities.”

“Salesforce’s incredible success has always been based on anticipating the needs of our customers and providing them the solutions they need to grow their businesses,” said Keith Block, co-CEO, Salesforce. “Data is the foundation of every digital transformation, and the addition of Tableau will accelerate our ability to deliver customer success by enabling a truly unified and powerful view across all of a customer’s data.”

Stocks had their best trading day in a while on Tuesday as investors took a break from selling to assess the actual effects of the trade war with China.

Both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 gained back some of their losses with the DJIA climbing 207.06 points to close at 25,532.05 and the S&P hitting 2,834.41, up 0.8%. The Nasdaq Composite Index wrapped its trading day at 7,734.49.

Tech stocks like Cisco Systems and Microsoft both rose to lead the way for a sector that could be hit hard by any prolonged trade war between the U.S. and China. Even Apple was up 1.6% on the day after taking a bit of a pummeling as both the U.S. and China announced new rounds of tariffs and import duties.

While some investors are calling the rally more of a dead cat bounce than something that markets can sustain, other investors point out that the fundamentals behind U.S. investing haven’t changed, even as costs are set to rise.

Indeed, economists cited by The New York Times think the tariffs’ gross domestic product in the U.S. will only decline by 0.3 percentage points at most over the long term.

Still, that assessment doesn’t take into account the impact on consumer wallets and consumer confidence should a prolonged trade war and rising prices force everyday Americans to rethink their spending habits.

Even the modest gains from today’s trading don’t recoup all of the losses the markets have suffered since the new round of tit for tat tariffs began when the U.S. walked away from negotiations and imposed new duties on goods.

Keith McCarty couldn’t stay out of the booming weed business for long.

The co-founder and former chief executive officer of the well-funded marijuana delivery startup Eaze has launched WAYV, a B2B cannabis logistics and compliance platform that delivers inventory to cannabis retailers. Today, the company is announcing its first round of funding, a $5 million seed round led by David Sacks at Craft Ventures. The round represents the former PayPal executive’s first investment in the cannabis technology sector.

Other investors in the round declined to be named.

McCarty and Sacks previously worked together at Yammer, a private social networking tool used by businesses created by Sacks in 2008. The company sold to Microsoft in 2012 for $1.2 billion, giving McCarty and several others enough cash to experiment. For McCarty, that meant exploring the hazy and uncharted territory that was marijuana delivery.

McCarty, however, mysteriously left Eaze right as the company gained significant traction. Neither the company nor McCarty ever explained the shake-up; McCarty was quickly replaced by another former Yammer employee, Jim Patterson, the founder and former CEO of Zinc. In a conversation with TechCrunch, McCarty didn’t clarify the nature of his exit.

He did say that the idea for WAYV came from observing the difficulties of cannabis supply chain logistics during his time at Eaze .

Headquartered in Los Angeles, WAYV connects licensed cannabis companies to licensed brands and provides next-day delivery of cannabis products — it’s essentially Eaze for the cannabis enterprise not the average cannabis consumer. The startup was founded last year and has so far delivered to retailers in California only.

As a second-time cannabis founder, McCarty said building WAYV has been a lot different than launching Eaze, which was one of the first big-name marijuana tech companies.

“Back in 2014, [Eaze was] one of the first to raise venture capital, it was kind of unheard of,” McCarty told TechCrunch. “Now, the majority of Americans favor legalization. For medical, it’s 90 percent and for adult recreational, it’s more than 60 percent. As we Americans continue to favor legalization and that stigma is removed, not just medical but also adult use, it’s going to draw attention and also investment.”

Venture capital investment in cannabis startups has continued to climb, most notably after the state of California voted to legalize recreational marijuana use in 2016. According to Crunchbase, $700 million has been funneled into the space since 2014.

“The industry is moving at such a fast cadence, it’s really exciting to be a part of,” McCarty added.

Forget Watson, the Red Hat acquisition may be the thing that saves IBM

With its latest $34 billion acquisition of Red Hat, IBM may have found something more elementary than “Watson” to save its flagging business.

Though the acquisition of Red Hat  is by no means a guaranteed victory for the Armonk, N.Y.-based computing company that has had more downs than ups over the five years, it seems to be a better bet for “Big Blue” than an artificial intelligence program that was always more hype than reality.

IBM to buy Red Hat for $34B in cash and debt, taking a bigger leap into hybrid cloud

Indeed, commentators are already noting that this may be a case where IBM finally hangs up the Watson hat and returns to the enterprise software and services business that has always been its core competency (albeit one that has been weighted far more heavily on consulting services — to the detriment of the company’s business).

Watson, the business division focused on artificial intelligence whose public claims were always more marketing than actually market-driven, has not performed as well as IBM had hoped and investors were losing their patience.

Critics — including analysts at the investment bank Jefferies (as early as one year ago) — were skeptical of Watson’s ability to deliver IBM from its business woes.

As we wrote at the time:

Jefferies pulls from an audit of a partnership between IBM Watson and MD Anderson as a case study for IBM’s broader problems scaling Watson. MD Anderson cut its ties with IBM after wasting $60 million on a Watson project that was ultimately deemed, “not ready for human investigational or clinical use.”

The MD Anderson nightmare doesn’t stand on its own. I regularly hear from startup founders in the AI space that their own financial services and biotech clients have had similar experiences working with IBM.

The narrative isn’t the product of any single malfunction, but rather the result of overhyped marketing, deficiencies in operating with deep learning and GPUs and intensive data preparation demands.

Jefferies gives IBM Watson a Wall Street reality check

That’s not the only trouble IBM has had with Watson’s healthcare results. Earlier this year, the online medical journal Stat reported that Watson was giving clinicians recommendations for cancer treatments that were “unsafe and incorrect” — based on the training data it had received from the company’s own engineers and doctors at Sloan-Kettering who were working with the technology.

All of these woes were reflected in the company’s latest earnings call where it reported falling revenues primarily from the Cognitive Solutions business, which includes Watson’s artificial intelligence and supercomputing services. Though IBM chief financial officer pointed to “mid-to-high” single digit growth from Watson’s health business in the quarter, transaction processing software business fell by 8% and the company’s suite of hosted software services is basically an afterthought for business gravitating to Microsoft, Alphabet, and Amazon for cloud services.

To be sure, Watson is only one of the segments that IBM had been hoping to tap for its future growth; and while it was a huge investment area for the company, the company always had its eyes partly fixed on the cloud computing environment as it looked for areas of growth.

It’s this area of cloud computing where IBM hopes that Red Hat can help it gain ground.

“The acquisition of Red Hat is a game-changer. It changes everything about the cloud market,” said Ginni Rometty, IBM Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, in a statement announcing the acquisition. “IBM will become the world’s number-one hybrid cloud provider, offering companies the only open cloud solution that will unlock the full value of the cloud for their businesses.”

The acquisition also puts an incredible amount of marketing power behind Red Hat’s various open source services business — giving all of those IBM project managers and consultants new projects to pitch and maybe juicing open source software adoption a bit more aggressively in the enterprise.

As Red Hat chief executive Jim Whitehurst told TheStreet in September, “The big secular driver of Linux is that big data workloads run on Linux. AI workloads run on Linux. DevOps and those platforms, almost exclusively Linux,” he said. “So much of the net new workloads that are being built have an affinity for Linux.”

Building a great startup requires more than genius and a great invention

Many entrepreneurs assume that an invention carries intrinsic value, but that assumption is a fallacy.

Here, the examples of the 19th and 20th century inventors Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla are instructive. Even as aspiring entrepreneurs and inventors lionize Edison for his myriad inventions and business acumen, they conveniently fail to recognize Tesla, despite having far greater contributions to how we generate, move and harness power. Edison is the exception, with the legendary penniless Tesla as the norm.

Universities are the epicenter of pure innovation research. But the reality is that academic research is supported by tax dollars. The zero-sum game of attracting government funding is mastered by selling two concepts: Technical merit, and broader impact toward benefiting society as a whole. These concepts are usually at odds with building a company, which succeeds only by generating and maintaining competitive advantage through barriers to entry.

In rare cases, the transition from intellectual merit to barrier to entry is successful. In most cases, the technology, though cool, doesn’t give a fledgling company the competitive advantage it needs to exist among incumbents and inevitable copycats. Academics, having emphasized technical merit and broader impact to attract support for their research, often fail to solve for competitive advantage, thereby creating great technology in search of a business application.

Of course there are exceptions: Time and time again, whether it’s driven by hype or perceived existential threat, big incumbents will be quick to buy companies purely for technology. Cruise/GM (autonomous cars), DeepMind/Google (AI) and Nervana/Intel (AI chips). But as we move from 0-1 to 1-N in a given field, success is determined by winning talent over winning technology. Technology becomes less interesting; the onus is on the startup to build a real business.

If a startup chooses to take venture capital, it not only needs to build a real business, but one that will be valued in the billions. The question becomes how a startup can create a durable, attractive business, with a transient, short-lived technological advantage.

Most investors understand this stark reality. Unfortunately, while dabbling in technologies which appeared like magic to them during the cleantech boom, many investors were lured back into the innovation fallacy, believing that pure technological advancement would equal value creation. Many of them re-learned this lesson the hard way. As frontier technologies are attracting broader attention, I believe many are falling back into the innovation trap.

Investing in frontier technology is (and isn’t) cleantech all over again

So what should aspiring frontier inventors solve for as they seek to invest capital to translate pure discovery to building billion-dollar companies? How can the technology be cast into an unfair advantage that will yield big margins and growth that underpin billion-dollar businesses?

Talent productivity: In this age of automation, human talent is scarce, and there is incredible value attributed to retaining and maximizing human creativity. Leading companies seek to gain an advantage by attracting the very best talent. If your technology can help you make more scarce talent more productive, or help your customers become more productive, then you are creating an unfair advantage internally, while establishing yourself as the de facto product for your customers.

Great companies such as Tesla and Google have built tools for their own scarce talent, and build products their customers, in their own ways, can’t do without. Microsoft mastered this with its Office products in the 1990s through innovation and acquisition, Autodesk with its creativity tools, and Amazon with its AWS Suite. Supercharging talent yields one of the most valuable sources of competitive advantage: switchover cost.  When teams are empowered with tools they love, they will loathe the notion of migrating to shiny new objects, and stick to what helps them achieve their maximum potential.

Marketing and distribution efficiency: Companies are worth the markets they serve. They are valued for their audience and reach. Even if their products in of themselves don’t unlock the entire value of the market they serve, they will be valued for their potential to, at some point in the future, be able to sell to the customers that have been tee’d up with their brands. AOL leveraged cheap CD-ROMs and the postal system to get families online, and on email.

Dollar Shave Club leveraged social media and an otherwise abandoned demographic to lock down a sales channel that was ultimately valued at a billion dollars. The inventions in these examples were in how efficiently these companies built and accessed markets, which ultimately made them incredibly valuable.

Network effects: Its power has ultimately led to its abuse in startup fundraising pitches. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram generate their network effects through internet and Mobile. Most marketplace companies need to undergo the arduous, expensive process of attracting vendors and customers. Uber identified macro trends (e.g. urban living) and leveraged technology (GPS in cheap smartphones) to yield massive growth in building up supply (drivers) and demand (riders).

Our portfolio company Zoox will benefit from every car benefiting from edge cases every vehicle encounters: akin to the driving population immediately learning from special situations any individual driver encounters. Startups should think about how their inventions can enable network effects where none existed, so that they are able to achieve massive scale and barriers by the time competitors inevitably get access to the same technology.

Offering an end-to-end solution: There isn’t intrinsic value in a piece of technology; it’s offering a complete solution that delivers on an unmet need deep-pocketed customers are begging for. Does your invention, when coupled to a few other products, yield a solution that’s worth far more than the sum of its parts? For example, are you selling a chip, along with design environments, sample neural network frameworks and data sets, that will empower your customers to deliver magical products? Or, in contrast, does it make more sense to offer standard chips, licensing software or tag data?

If the answer is to offer components of the solution, then prepare to enter a commodity, margin-eroding, race-to-the-bottom business. The former, “vertical” approach is characteristic of more nascent technologies, such as operating robots-taxis, quantum computing and launching small payloads into space. As the technology matures and becomes more modular, vendors can sell standard components into standard supply chains, but face the pressure of commoditization.

A simple example is personal computers, where Intel and Microsoft attracted outsized margins while other vendors of disk drives, motherboards, printers and memory faced crushing downward pricing pressure. As technology matures, the earlier vertical players must differentiate with their brands, reach to customers and differentiated product, while leveraging what’s likely going to be an endless number of vendors providing technology into their supply chains.

A magical new technology does not go far beyond the resumes of the founding team.

What gets me excited is how the team will leverage the innovation, and attract more amazing people to establish a dominant position in a market that doesn’t yet exist. Is this team and technology the kernel of a virtuous cycle that will punch above its weight to attract more money, more talent and be recognized for more than it’s product?

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