StayTuned Digital helps video creators publish and measure everywhere

If you’re a video creator in 2019, you’re probably thinking about a long list of publishing destinations: YouTube, of course, but also Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and more.

StayTuned Digital is a new startup trying to help video creators and publishers push their content to multiple platforms. The company, which bills itself as “content’s best friend,” is officially unveiling its product today and announcing that it’s raised $2.5 million in funding.

StayTuned was founded by CEO Serge Kassardjian (previously the global head of media app business development for Google Play) and Randy Jimenez (previously CTO at SinglePlatform). Kassardjian told me he saw the need for a product like this during his time at Google, when he would talk to content creators becoming “overwhelmed” by the fragmentation across all the different devices and platforms available to them.

“What’s happened is every single one of the platforms is releasing new formats, new ways to optimize, it’s constantly changing every couple of months,” Kassardjian said.

So with StayTuned, publishers shouldn’t have to worry about all that. Kassardjian said the product does three big things: optimizes the video so it looks good and can perform well on each platform, pushes the video to each platform and then measures the results, which feeds back into the optimization.

Kassardjian acknowledged that getting into the media business, even as a technology provider, might seem like a bad idea right now, but he said, “There’s a misconception that what’s happening in the world is that media and content is dead, but there’s more media and content than ever before.”

Nor does Kassardjian believe that publishers can stop relying on Facebook and other platforms. Sure, they may want to drive more traffic to their own properties or launch their own subscription services, but unless they’re Netflix-sized, they can’t ignore the big platforms entirely.

“We provide ubiquity to where the audience is,” he said.

And when he talks about video publishers, he isn’t just thinking about traditional media companies (although he’s looking to work with them too). He also said StayTuned could work with newer digital companies, e-commerce retailers and other brands that are creating content — and eventually, small businesses.

As for the funding, it was led by Bowery Capital, with participation from CourtsideVC, Quaker Health, Social Leverage, Liquid 2 Ventures, The Fund, Hive Ventures, Grape Arbor and a number of angel investors. StayTuned is also part of the current GCT Startup-in-Residence program.

Zendesk just hired three former Microsoft, Salesforce and Adobe execs

Today, Zendesk announced it has hired three new executives — Elisabeth Zornes, former general manager of global support for Microsoft Office, as Zendesk’s first chief customer officer; former Adobe executive Colleen Berube as chief information officer and former Salesforce executive Shawna Wolverton as senior vice president, product.

The company emphasized that the hirings were about expanding the executive suite and bringing in top people to help the company grow and move into larger enterprise organizations.

From left to right: Shawna Wolverton, Colleen Berube and Elizabeth Zornes

Zornes comes to Zendesk with 20 years of experience at Microsoft working in a variety of roles around Microsoft Office. She says that what attracted her to Zendesk was its focus on the customer.

“When I look at businesses today, no matter what size, what type or what geography, they can agree on one thing: customer experience is the rocket fuel to drive success. Zendesk has positioned itself as a technology company that empowers companies of all kinds to drive a new level of success by focusing on their customer experience, and helping them to be at the forefront of that was a very intriguing opportunity for me,” Zornes told TechCrunch.

New CIO Berube, who comes with two decades of experience, also sees her new job as a chance to have an impact on customer experience and help companies that are trying to transform into digital organizations. “Customer experience is the linchpin for all organizations to succeed in the digital age. My background is broad, having shepherded many different types of companies through digital transformations, and developing and running modern IT organizations,” she said.

Her boss, CEO and co-founder Mikkel Svane, sees someone who can help continue to grow the company and develop the product. “We looked specifically for a CIO with a modern mindset who understands the challenges of large organizations trying to keep up with customer expectations today,” Svane told TechCrunch.

As for senior VP of product Wolverton, she comes with 15 years of experience, including a stint as head of product at Salesforce. She said that coming to Zendesk was about having an impact on a modern SaaS product. “The opportunity to build a modern, public, cloud-native CRM platform with Sunshine was a large part of my decision to join,” she said.

The three leaders have already joined the organization — Wolverton and Berube joined last month and Zornes started just this week.

Why your startup may not be as great as everyone says

One of the very first things we ask Israeli entrepreneurs who are hoping to break into the U.S. market is to tell us how their product or service is being received by their target market. What is the feedback? Are potential customers hungry for what the team is selling?

Validation, both of the broader vision and the early product itself, has to be a key focus for any aspiring entrepreneur. Testing your product and getting specific feedback is the only way to know if the company is on the right track or wasting its time chasing down the wrong path. However, even for seasoned founders who understand how vital market validation is to the success of their company, it can be all too easy to get distracted chasing the wrong kind of validation.

Not all validation is created equal. It is crucial that founders differentiate between meaningful validation and vanity “wins” that do little more than make you feel good. Fake validation is everywhere. Here are some common traps founders need to beware of.

Not all customers are born equal

Founders need to be careful about soliciting customers that are either too small or too big for their entry point into the market, or not even in the actual market segment they are targeting. If your early customers are different from those you eventually hope to acquire, then the things they ask for and feedback they provide will skew your short-term goals and put your business on the wrong path.

The best companies and founders are the ones that aren’t afraid to go out and get real, tangible feedback from potential customers.

This is especially common when targeting companies outside the U.S., where startups build long lists of customers in their home market that may or may not have the same set of needs as U.S.-based customers. But by the time these startups are “ready” to expand beyond their home country, they have a hard time selling investors and foreign customers on a product that has only been validated by unfamiliar brands in a small domestic market. Many times, these early customers do not have exposure to competing products in the larger U.S. market, or they have a different set of problems they are aiming to solve altogether, which sends misleading signals to the startup.

Securing customers is obviously crucial to any startup’s success, and can be helpful in shaping how a startup markets itself in the early days. Yet founders must be able to properly contextualize the pedigree of those customers, and always keep the long-term vision front and center. The product isn’t truly validated until you have the right type of customers validating your product.

Corporate guidance?

Large corporations are constantly looking for the next cutting-edge technology that will propel their next phase of growth. This is why countries like Israel, with its deep talent pool in AI, IoT, cybersecurity, etc., have become hotbeds for corporate innovation labs.

At first glance, this is a great thing for Israeli entrepreneurs because it gives them exposure and access to the biggest companies in the world. But proximity and feedback from these groups isn’t everything. Many of these innovation labs accept local startups into their program, which can obviously be exciting for those founders, especially at the early stage. The corporate will then aim to work on a pilot program with the startup to test their product, which could be beneficial for the startup. However, gaining just this one customer doesn’t always guarantee future success, nor does it truly validate the product.

Getting a pilot with a larger corporate can be a great opportunity, but diligent founders must also continue to pursue other pilots. First, pilot programs do not always translate to becoming real customers and founders need to avoid placing all their eggs in one basket. Second, the feedback founders receive from just one large customer may not be representative of the entire customer segment. Simply being in the innovation hub is often not enough by itself to signal long-term success.

All your startup friends say your product is cool

This one may seem obvious, but it remains just as pervasive as ever. It’s easy for first-time founders to drink their own Kool-Aid and get overly hung up on any positive feedback that’s heaped upon them or their product. An overwhelming number of new startups are created in heavily concentrated markets like Silicon Valley, which can make it difficult to find unbiased feedback outside the echo chamber.

It’s not only nice to be told your product is awesome, but it can become downright addicting.

This is especially true for startups that are just beginning to validate their product offering, or a specific piece of their technology. Afraid of approaching someone who “won’t get it,” we see founders chasing the feedback they want to hear, often from peer entrepreneurs, who will be excited by a piece of technology but obviously won’t be the ones who end up buying and using it as real customers.

By self-soliciting feedback from the wrong people, founders make the mistake of focusing on the wrong aspects of the product instead of taking it directly to potential customers in the market who will specifically tell you what they do and don’t like.

You just raised $10 million. That has to mean something, right?

Even raising a sizable round from VCs can be a form of fake momentum. Much has been written on the topic, but it’s easier than ever for some entrepreneurs in specific domains to raise significant capital these days. There are more seed funds out there than ever before. Valuations and deal sizes at the seed and Series A stages continue to climb. What this truly means is that bets on the success or failure of a startup are being made earlier in the life cycle of the company.

Just because a VC chooses to invest in a company does not mean that startup has reached the promised land. VCs are not your customers, and while capital they provide is a critical means to further the development of the business, it does not replace getting real validation from and selling to the target market.

Winning!

Founders often misunderstand or overestimate the tangible impact that awards and PR recognition will have on their businesses. We see this all the time when entrepreneurs come bragging about some competition they won, or a top 10 list they were included in. Don’t get me wrong, awards are nice to have and they can help with attracting talent and hiring into your startup. However, founders need to realize that the value is capped, does not serve as real validation and is typically meaningless to investors and potential customers alike in their evaluation of the startup.

There are several potential traps on the journey to validation, and it can be easy to fall victim if entrepreneurs take their eyes off the prize. It’s not only nice to be told your product is awesome, but it can become downright addicting. The best companies and founders are the ones that aren’t afraid to go out to market and get real, tangible feedback from potential customers. If you’re not doing that, you’re simply making yourself more susceptible to fake validation that can derail your vision.

Peltarion raises $20M for its AI platform

Peltarion, a Swedish startup founded by former execs from companies like Spotify, Skype, King, TrueCaller and Google, today announced that it has raised a $20 million Series A funding round led by Euclidean Capital, the family office for hedge fund billionaire James Simons. Previous investors FAM and EQT Ventures also participated, and this round brings the company’s total funding to $35 million.

There is obviously no dearth of AI platforms these days. Peltarion focus on what it calls “operational AI.” The service offers an end-to-end platform that lets you do everything from pre-processing your data to building models and putting them into production. All of this runs in the cloud and developers get access to a graphical user interface for building and testing their models. All of this, the company stresses, ensures that Peltarion’s users don’t have to deal with any of the low-level hardware or software and can instead focus on building their models.

“The speed at which AI systems can be built and deployed on the operational platform is orders of magnitude faster compared to the industry standard tools such as TensorFlow and require far fewer people and decreases the level of technical expertise needed,” Luka Crnkovic-Friis, of Peltarion’s CEO and co-founder, tells me. “All this results in more organizations being able to operationalize AI and focusing on solving problems and creating change.”

In a world where businesses have a plethora of choices, though, why use Peltarion over more established players? “Almost all of our clients are worried about lock-in to any single cloud provider,” Crnkovic-Friis said. “They tend to be fine using storage and compute as they are relatively similar across all the providers and moving to another cloud provider is possible. Equally, they are very wary of the higher-level services that AWS, GCP, Azure, and others provide as it means a complete lock-in.”

Peltarion, of course, argues that its platform doesn’t lock in its users and that other platforms take far more AI expertise to produce commercially viable AI services. The company rightly notes that, outside of the tech giants, most companies still struggle with how to use AI at scale. “They are stuck on the starting blocks, held back by two primary barriers to progress: immature patchwork technology and skills shortage,” said Crnkovic-Friis.

The company will use the new funding to expand its development team and its teams working with its community and partners. It’ll also use the new funding for growth initiatives in the U.S. and other markets.