How do you select the right tech stack?

Having a great idea isn’t enough when you’re starting a startup. You have to execute well on that idea by making the right decisions at the right time. In particular, you have to pick the right tech stack for your product. Without a good technical foundation, you can end up accumulating a lot of technical debt.

So to help founders understand what a good tech stack should look like, we invited two experts on this topic, Preeti Somal, the EVP of Engineering at HashiCorp, and Jill Wetzler, the VP of Engineering at Pilot, to TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 to discuss everything from evaluating vendors to making sure you can rely on an open-source product.

Making sure your team can ship quickly

Some development environments are more familiar than others. For instance, if you choose to work with a popular framework, it’ll be easier to find engineers to join your team, and the learning curve will be easier for your existing developers.

Your tech stack isn’t limited to the language your team is using. Choosing a good CI/CD (Continuous integration and continuous delivery) framework can help you release updates more frequently. Using test suites is also a key element of a good development pipeline.

“I looked at how we were thinking about developer productivity and our environment. What are the things that can help our team move really fast and ship really fast? Because I think that is the name of the game when you’re talking about a startup. It just comes down to how you can get your code out the door as quickly as possible,” Wetzler said.

Wetzler knows what she’s talking about on this front as she experienced the opposite of that in a previous job when she was working for Twitter. “Twitter was making some decisions that I think were based on some people’s personal preferences at the time. We started to fork our own versions of git and our build system as well. It just became a mess that had to be untangled over a number of years. And so you really do pay for those decisions down the line,” she said.

The ability to reuse your code across different platforms can also help you manage multiple projects more easily. That can be important if you’re in charge of the roadmap and you want to have some visibility when you’re planning the next quarter.

“We had done a really good job of making some investments in our back-end productivity. But when it came to front end, we were really missing a lot of the key infrastructure pieces that helped us build a front end really quickly,” Wetzler said. She worked on fixing that when she joined Pilot.

As Apple messes with attribution, what does growth marketing look like in 2021?

It’s said that you should measure what you value, and for founders, nothing is more valuable than growth. Growth provides revenues, venture capital, prestige and scale — ultimately driving the success of every business. Yet, measuring growth is complex and challenging — and it’s only getting tougher. Changes to attribution in iOS 14 and further refinements in iOS 15, plus other privacy-preserving initiatives in the industry, have forced growth marketers to rethink how they define their growth analytics engines.

On the Extra Crunch stage at TechCrunch Disrupt 2021, we convened a distinguished panel of growth experts: Jenifer Ho, vice president of marketing at Elation Health; Shoji Ueki, head of marketing and analytics at Point; and Nik Sharma, the owner of Sharma Brands, a notable DTC growth marketing consultancy and investment shop.

We talked about the crisis around attribution and how startups should define their models, how to acquire the first customers in a business and when growth marketing should really start, and finally, how companies should select the right metrics for their business.

The fundamentals of growth marketing: Building the attribution model

Our conversation started with a deep dive into the world of attribution, which is a hot topic for growth marketers these days. Attribution is all about connecting marketing spend on channels like Facebook and Google to actual purchase actions made by a customer. If you display an Instagram ad for shovels, and that user then buys a shovel two days later, attribution models are designed to capture that activity.

Purchasing decisions can be quite involved for businesses and consumers, which is why defining attribution is so important for a startup’s success. When it comes to how to model it, Ueki emphasized one word to describe all aspects of attribution: Simplicity.

I think one of the main things I’ve learned from experiences with attribution is that it’s really important to start basic and simple and then try to evolve from there. I’ve definitely been in companies where we’ve made that mistake before.

The example I like to give is, if you think about attribution, it’s a vehicle. It’s really enticing to try to build that Ferrari of attribution systems, but a lot of times when you’re just starting out, all you really need is a skateboard, right? It’s something that’s simple, and it gets the job done.

One example from a few years ago at SeatGeek: We tried to build a media-mix model before we had something much more basic in place. We invested a lot of time and effort into that with our data science team, but after all of that, it was actually never used and never adopted.

At the end of the day, the ultimate goal of attribution is to measure incrementality, or how much incremental revenue is being generated by your marketing efforts. A complex media-mix model or multitouch attribution model is intended to do that, but it’s hard to do it right. For us, we had built one that actually didn’t serve that need of measuring your incrementality as much as possible. (Timestamp: 2:48)

Ocular Solution brings video chat to the customer journey

“The pandemic made it visible that there was a missing piece in the customer journey: video chat,” says Fernando Moya, CEO of early-stage Chilean startup Ocular Solution.

According to Moya, COVID-19 made it obvious that live chat and chatbots were not enough, as people were still hoping to interact face-to-face with customer agents — just like they do offline.

This is what Ocular Solution, which participated in Startup Alley at TechCrunch Disrupt, is hoping to solve in the digital world, with a platform that helps clients add a video chat element to their site and integrate it with their existing tools, from HubSpot to Pipedrive.

Video chat can come in handy for customer support, but also for onboarding and sales. The latter is especially true if the service is a good fit for consultative selling, in which the end user is hoping to get questions answered before proceeding.

This desire to talk to a real person explains why Moya sees video chat as an efficient way to reduce cart abandonment rate — a major issue for e-commerce. Aggregating data from 44 studies, UX research institute Baymard estimated the average documented online shopping cart abandonment rate at near 70%.

There are many reasons for site visitors not to turn into customers, but Ocular found out that offering video chat can help boost conversions. The startup’s customers boast an average service-related net promoter score of 8, Moya told TechCrunch, with conversion rates starting at 15% and peaking at 250% during Chile’s e-commerce promotion event CyberDay.

Ocular launched in Chile, where Moya had previously co-founded another company, Wingsoft, which Ocular spun out of. But the startup is already looking beyond borders: It plans to keep its team remote, albeit with small hybrid hubs; and it already has clients in other Latin American countries.

Latin America’s e-commerce hasn’t reached the same penetration levels than in North America and Western Europe, but sales are increasing at a faster pace than in other regions. These new online consumers are arguably more likely to look for an experience that is more similar to in-person shopping. “The quantity of people requiring video assistance is growing very fast,” Moya said.

Customer satisfaction and sales aside, Ocular is also hoping to help its clients improve their internal processes. As a result, it provides companies with data to help them track key metrics related to customer service, while helping attendants do their job. “We train your agents so that they deliver the best service experience and can get the most out of the tools,” its site explains.

“We believe that agents play a key role in the use of our technology; they humanize this new customer service channel,” Moya said. “Therefore, our efforts are focused on generating tools that allow them to improve day by day, that motivate them and generate profits as the result of them performing well, within an entertaining and challenging environment.”

Moya expects more people to want to become video chat attendants and predicts an upcoming “uberization” of this segment. This could help answer growing demand for these services: “Use cases for video support are varied, and new ways of applying it are appearing every day.”

Peter Beck says Rocket Lab actively prepared for interplanetary missions ‘from day one’

Rocket Lab long ago graduated from underdog launch provider to industry heavyweight (with funding to match). Now the company is planning to go to the moon, Mars and Venus in the next decade. But it may come as a surprise that the company planned to go beyond Earth’s orbit from the very beginning, as founder Peter Beck explained at TechCrunch Disrupt 2021. In fact, it was in plain sight the whole time.

Beck explained with a touching anecdote that his own ambition to explore and learn from space goes back to his youth. “You know, the earliest childhood memory I have is standing outside in the bottom of the South Island, a little town in New Zealand called Invercargill, on a cold winter’s night looking at a crystal clear sky with my father,” he recalled. “He was pointing out to me that all the stars in the sky have planets on them, and perhaps on one of those planets, that could be somebody looking back and asking the same questions that I was asking.

“That really was the point in time where I decided that space was the thing that I was going to do. That memory stuck with me, you know, forever. I always felt that, if I could have the opportunity to go out into those stars and explore and perhaps ask or answer, one of the biggest questions in mankind’s history — ‘Are we the only life in the universe or not?’ — I would take that chance.”

Of course, many of us as children had aspirations to become astronauts and intrepid space explorers, but he put in the work, and has been “tremendously fortunate,” as well, he noted.

But more to the point, he said that the plan to go from low-lift rides to orbit to designing spacecraft and interplanetary missions has been part of the company all along.

Qikfox is on a mission to democratize the internet

Qikfox isn’t your average browser. Not only has it been built to protect consumers from the proliferation of online scams, but it’s also on a mission to democratize content publishing and bring it to the masses. 

Qikfox, which has already raised seed capital from longtime venture investor Tim Draper and is exhibiting at TechCrunch’s Startup Alley this week, first started life as a browser extension. It has since morphed into a full-fledged premium browser that comes complete with its own search engine, built-in antivirus and the “world’s first” browser-based decentralized identity system.

“The motivation behind the product was that internet browsers are not taking ownership of what they are serving the consumers,” Tarun Gaur, founder and CEO of Qikfox told TechCrunch. “They are hosting a buffet of 4 billion web pages, and the internet was not conceived for this deluge of content.

“Other internet browsers are focused on either the developer or primarily on privacy. However, you cannot solve privacy if you don’t first solve safety and security.”

The idea for Qikfox came after Gaur’s tech-savvy mother fell victim to an online scam after clicking on a fake advertisement hosted on Google. To ensure the growing boomer population doesn’t follow suit, Qikfox employs 78 different signals that are able to ascertain if online businesses are legitimate. 

“Our browser is able to identify these websites and blocks you from accessing them,” Gaur says. “It’s almost impossible for a consumer to get scammed.”

This, combined with its built-in antivirus system that not only scans and protects the browser but also the users’ entire system, makes Qikfox the safest browser on the market, according to Gaur. “Benchmarks show that we completely beat our competitors hands-down on privacy and security,” he claims.

Gaur, who previously founded Tringapps, a mobile and cloud-first turnkey software consulting company, doesn’t want to stop there. He’s also developing an advanced feature that will flag counterfeit products on e-commerce websites such as Amazon, and even plans to turn Qikfox into a full-fledged operating system.

However, his ultimate mission is to make the web more participatory and democratic through the use of zero-code content publishing and universally discoverable handles. 

“There have been many attempts to build a decentralized internet but these have all failed. Not because the technology isn’t there, but because nobody knew how to control spam,” Gaur said. “So we built a very disruptive IPFS (InterPlanetary File System) kind of technology that goes far beyond what IPFS and decentralized internet technologies do today. It completely eliminates the need for domain name systems.”

Gaur, in a bid to reduce the entry barrier for non-tech consumers to participate in the digital economy, has developed Smart Stacks, a zero-code content publishing platform that makes content universally discoverable. “We want to create a decentralized replacement for whatever Google is doing today with the cloud,” Gaur added.

Qikfox, which costs $180 per year, is currently available on an invite-only basis in North America, has so far amassed more than 4,000 subscriptions. Gaur plans to bring the browser to the U.K. and Europe in the next 90 days.

What Canva CEO Melanie Perkins looks for in a potential acquisition

Design software startup Canva has been making news of late. The company just raised $200 million at a $40 billion valuation, and co-founders Melanie Perkins and Cliff Obrecht gave the vast majority of their equity (around $13 billion) to charity through the Canva Foundation.

We sat down with Perkins at TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 to talk about how she has approached fundraising, what she’s looking for in a potential acquisition, how she’s managed to grow Canva’s free and paid user base at a rapid clip, and what it actually means to be a “mission-driven company.”

The conversation kicked off with Perkins charitable donation. She clarified that her and Obrecht’s $13 billion-ish give-back was the vast majority of their equity in the company, around 30%. This is a relatively big chunk of equity for growth-stage founders who have raised so many rounds, but Perkins explained how the company has tackled fundraising with a focus on preserving equity.

With early-stage startups, it was very common that you had to raise a 20% to 25% round. We’ve had a very different approach. We’ve raised in the early stages. We couldn’t really be that selective about investors. But investors were very selective about who actually believed in our vision. So it worked out well. But in the time since, we’ve done many rounds. Now, we do a much smaller round at the next value inflection point.

We know, or we hope, that Canva is going to continue to grow rapidly in the right direction. So the valuation today is obviously going to be much smaller than the valuation over the years to come. Rather than taking like a 15% to 25% hit in one single round, which means that you can only do a few rounds over the course of a company’s lifetime, we’ve done much smaller incremental rounds. This has meant that, because we knew that we were wanting to build a big company, we didn’t overcapitalize or overdilute in the early stages. And so we’ve done many, many rounds, that are much smaller amounts, comparative to the size of the round.

Microsoft now more focused on ‘killing Zoom’ than Slack, says Stewart Butterfield

At TechCrunch Disrupt 2021, Slack founder and CEO Stewart Butterfield and Salesforce COO Bret Taylor discussed their $28 billion merger, announced last December, which the Department of Justice signed off on this summer but shareholders still seem to be second-guessing. At least, they aren’t convinced of the value that Slack brings to Salesforce if one uses as a barometer the performance of Salesforce’s shares — they’re valued roughly where they were a year ago.

I think Microsoft believes that in order to kill Slack, they’re going to have to kill Zoom first.

Taylor, perhaps naturally, sounded unconcerned, suggesting that major acquisitions can take time to digest. “When we do acquisitions, just by the way we finance them, it often takes us a handful of quarters for our shareholders to really understand the strategic rationale [and] see that we can execute on the integration.”

To Taylor’s point, Salesforce has only in the last month begun to weave Salesforce features into Slack, whose newest feature, Clips, allows users to record themselves or their screens to send as videos to their colleagues. Users can also “do speech-to-text and create a transcript of these videos that are indexed for search so they’re findable later,” said Butterfield, explaining, as did Taylor, that Slack remains very much focused on asynchronous communications.

How Calendly is building a platform by turning scheduling into a center-stage event

The tools you use most often are the ones you think about the least. Calendly, an app that helps people plan, schedule and follow up on meetings, may be a perfect example of that.

Today, some 10 million people send Calendly links to millions of others to sort out meeting slots. But perhaps because its purpose is to get people from one step to the next in their day, and from using one piece of software to the next, Calendly tends not to get much attention.

That was the case, at least, until last year. The COVID-19 pandemic sent many of us home to work, and as commutes were cut out and people couldn’t meet at work, we suddenly found ourselves in a meeting frenzy. Calendly came into its own, and investors took notice.

“We are seeing strong usage in spite of the changes in how people work for the simple fact that human connection and collaboration are ultimately what drives a business forward.”

Created out of founder Tope Awotona’s need for a tool to organize his life better, Calendly by nature kept a low profile even as it grew. But the combination of pandemic-fueled growth and major funding effectively changed that overnight. Earlier this year, we explored how the Atlanta-based company came virtually out of nowhere to raise $350 million at a $3 billion valuation.

That’s a heavy load to lay on a founder and a startup, and it was the starting point of our fireside chat at TechCrunch Disrupt 2021. If the product works well, how do you take it to the next level — and frankly, why should you?

“The question I had at the time [of that funding round] was, will the company take it as a distraction and become enamored with the publicity that comes with that? Or will we stay focused and continue to work really hard for our customers and partners and ourselves?” Awotona said. “Nine months later, it’s very clear that we’ve done the latter. Our culture and values have more or less remained the same.”

The company continues to stay focused on the “prosumers” who fueled its growth. These are individuals who gravitated to Calendly not because their company mandated it, but because they may have been sent a link for a meeting by someone else, become impressed with the UX, and started using it themselves — the classic kind of virality that has spurred a lot of technology to ubiquity.

Alongside that focus on prosumers, Calendly is also doubling down to build tools to address groups of users — starting from teams and going all the way up to large organizations.

Twitter’s Rinki Sethi on why CISOs win when security is a shared responsibility

Starting a new job can be stressful at the best of times. During lockdown, it can be a real challenge.

Rinki Sethi joined Twitter as its chief information officer a year ago during the peak of the pandemic. Like most companies, Twitter had closed its offices, requiring its thousands of employees — and new hires — to work from home. For someone who thrives in the office, Sethi said going in as a new, entirely remote employee came with its own complexities.

“When you’re leading a security organization, one of the biggest things is trust, and one of the things you have to lean in on is building trust with the people that are driving security — your own team,” Sethi said during a wide-ranging virtual fireside interview at TechCrunch Disrupt 2021. Building those working relationships over video calls is much tougher, she said. “I’m used to doing that in person.”

Sethi is no stranger to cybersecurity and has previously held senior cybersecurity positions at IBM, Intuit, Palo Alto Networks, and most recently served as Rubrik’s CISO. Now as Twitter’s CISO, she oversees efforts to protect Twitter’s information and technology assets — entirely remotely for the time being. While that comes with its own challenges, there have also been upsides.

The pandemic didn’t just change how companies respond to cyber threats, it changed how we work. Remote work has broken down barriers to the global talent pool, once restricted by who could relocate to be near the office. We’re talking more about mental health in the workplace, and there’s a greater focus than ever on the people that keep companies running.

These factors don’t just make for a stronger workforce, they make for a more secure workforce. “There’s some ‘people-aspect’ to everything,” said Sethi. “Making sure your employees are feeling good; that they’re able to do their best work; that they’re mentally in a good space. I think that’s one of the most important things that tools, technology, applications and monitoring are not going to be able to solve for.”