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Protocol | Enterprise

MessageBird has a missive for Twilio: We're coming for you

A $600 million purchase of SparkPost to bolster the company's U.S. presence means stiffer competition for email services.

​MessageBird CEO Robert Vis is getting acquisitive.

MessageBird CEO Robert Vis is getting acquisitive.

Photo: MessageBird

MessageBird is spending $600 million to acquire email delivery provider SparkPost, a move that gives the largely international company a bigger foothold in the U.S. and intensifies its rivalry with Twilio.

To pay for the deal, MessageBird, which PitchBook values at $3 billion, went back to investors and raised an additional $800 million in series C funding, per CEO Robert Vis, bringing the total amount for the round to $1 billion. The deal comes just a few months after SparkPost itself nabbed $180 million in investment from LLR Partners, NewSpring Capital and PNC Bank.

"We reached a point where we all thought this would make a ton of sense. And then we didn't have the money," Vis told Protocol. "Our customers had already been asking when we were going to come with a better email offering … [but] it's hard to build a really strong email company without living and breathing it."

Similar to Twilio, MessageBird has established itself as a leading provider of tools for businesses to communicate with customers. While Twilio has a large domestic presence, Vis says MessageBird is the leader outside the U.S. That comes with advantages, like understanding the laws in certain jurisdictions. In India, for example, companies are restricted from sending messages to customers past a certain time each day, according to Vis.

But despite doing international work for clients like Uber and Facebook, MessageBird needed to capture more U.S. business. By buying SparkPost, the company ramps up its user base to 25,000 business customers, adding well-known names like Disney, Adobe and J.P. Morgan. While that is clearly a shot at Twilio, Vis said the deal has nothing to do with the competitive landscape.

"We're the leader in the international markets," said Vis. "In the U.S., completely different story. This isn't a move against Twilio or any of other competitors. This is a very clear market move from us into the U.S."

On paper, MessageBird is behind — at least, compared to Twilio — in offering robust email communication tools, given the prevalence of the medium and its ubiquitous use among companies to interact with customers. While Vis says MessageBird has been eyeing the space, it was constrained by a lack of suitable acquisition targets, particularly after Twilio bought SendGrid in 2018 for $2 billion.

It's the latest in a string of acquisitions for MessageBird. It recently bought videoconference provider 24sessions, data platform vendor Hull and API dealer Pusher, which together totaled a much lower price tag of $100 million. Now SparkPost, which it was still able to nab for a bargain compared to what Twilio paid for SendGrid, helps plug a major gap for MessageBird. It now has the means to reach customers across multiple channels, including text, email, video and live chat.

The deal also gives MessageBird powerful analytics, according to Vis, a service that SparkPost actually licenses out to competitors. (Vis declined to say if SparkPost licenses the software to SendGrid.)

"This is something we have wanted to do for a while," said Vis. "The importance of email is getting into the inbox. And that is something that SparkPost can do better than competitors."

Protocol | China

China’s edtech crackdown isn’t what you think. Here’s why.

It's part of an attempt to fix education inequality and address a looming demographic crisis.

In the past decade, China's private tutoring market has expanded rapidly as it's been digitized and bolstered by capital.

Photo: Getty Images

Beijing's strike against the private tutoring and ed tech industry has rattled the market and led observers to try to answer one big question: What is Beijing trying to achieve?

Sweeping policy guidelines issued by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party on July 24 and the State Council now mandate that existing private tutoring companies register as nonprofit organizations. Extracurricular tutoring companies will be banned from going public. Online tutoring agencies will be subject to regulatory approval.

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Shen Lu

Shen Lu is a reporter with Protocol | China. She has spent six years covering China from inside and outside its borders. Previously, she was a fellow at Asia Society's ChinaFile and a Beijing-based producer for CNN. Her writing has appeared in Foreign Policy, The New York Times and POLITICO, among other publications. Shen Lu is a founding member of Chinese Storytellers, a community serving and elevating Chinese professionals in the global media industry.

After a year and a half of living and working through a pandemic, it's no surprise that employees are sending out stress signals at record rates. According to a 2021 study by Indeed, 52% of employees today say they feel burnt out. Over half of employees report working longer hours, and a quarter say they're unable to unplug from work.

The continued swell of reported burnout is a concerning trend for employers everywhere. Not only does it harm mental health and well-being, but it can also impact absenteeism, employee retention and — between the drain on morale and high turnover — your company culture.

Crisis management is one thing, but how do you permanently lower the temperature so your teams can recover sustainably? Companies around the world are now taking larger steps to curb burnout, with industry leaders like LinkedIn, Hootsuite and Bumble shutting down their offices for a full week to allow all employees extra time off. The CEO of Okta, worried about burnout, asked all employees to email him their vacation plans in 2021.

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Stella Garber
Stella Garber is Trello's Head of Marketing. Stella has led Marketing at Trello for the last seven years from early stage startup all the way through its acquisition by Atlassian in 2017 and beyond. Stella was an early champion of remote work, having led remote teams for the last decade plus.

It’s soul-destroying and it uses DRM, therefore Peloton is tech

"I mean, the pedals go around if you turn off all the tech, but Peloton isn't selling a pedaling product."

Is this tech? Or is it just a bike with a screen?

Image: Peloton and Protocol

One of the breakout hits from the pandemic, besides Taylor Swift's "Folklore," has been Peloton. With upwards of 5.4 million members as of March and nearly $1.3 billion in revenue that quarter, a lot of people are turning in their gym memberships for a bike or a treadmill and a slick-looking app.

But here at Protocol, it's that slick-looking app, plus all the tech that goes into it, that matters. And that's where things got really heated during our chat this week. Is Peloton tech? Or is it just a bike with a giant tablet on it? Can all bikes be tech with a little elbow grease?

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Karyne Levy

Karyne Levy ( @karynelevy) is the West Coast editor at Protocol. Before joining Protocol, Karyne was a senior producer at Scribd, helping to create the original content program. Prior to that she was an assigning editor at NerdWallet, a senior tech editor at Business Insider, and the assistant managing editor at CNET, where she also hosted Rumor Has It for CNET TV. She lives outside San Francisco with her wife, son and lots of pets.

Protocol | Workplace

In Silicon Valley, it’s February 2020 all over again

"We'll reopen when it's right, but right now the world is changing too much."

Tech companies are handling the delta variant in differing ways.

Photo: alvarez/Getty Images

It's still 2021, right? Because frankly, it's starting to feel like March 2020 all over again.

Google, Apple, Uber and Lyft have now all told employees they won't have to come back to the office before October as COVID-19 case counts continue to tick back up. Facebook, Google and Uber are now requiring workers to get vaccinated before coming to the office, and Twitter — also requiring vaccines — went so far as to shut down its reopened offices on Wednesday, and put future office reopenings on hold.

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Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.
Protocol | China

Livestreaming ecommerce next battleground for China’s nationalists

Vendors for Nike and even Chinese brands were harassed for not donating enough to Henan.

Nationalists were trolling in the comment sections of livestream sessions selling products by Li-Ning, Adidas and other brands.

Collage: Weibo, Bilibili

The No. 1 rule of sales: Don't praise your competitor's product. Rule No. 2: When you are put to a loyalty test by nationalist trolls, forget the first rule.

While China continues to respond to the catastrophic flooding that has killed 99 and displaced 1.4 million people in the central province of Henan, a large group of trolls was busy doing something else: harassing ordinary sportswear sellers on China's livestream ecommerce platforms. Why? Because they determined that the brands being sold had donated too little, or too late, to the people impacted by floods.

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Zeyi Yang
Zeyi Yang is a reporter with Protocol | China. Previously, he worked as a reporting fellow for the digital magazine Rest of World, covering the intersection of technology and culture in China and neighboring countries. He has also contributed to the South China Morning Post, Nikkei Asia, Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications. In his spare time, Zeyi co-founded a Mandarin podcast that tells LGBTQ stories in China. He has been playing Pokemon for 14 years and has a weird favorite pick.
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