Enterprise

Salesforce Ventures is done being a corporate VC — unless it helps win deals

Alex Kayyal, the new managing partner of Salesforce's venture arm, wants his operation to be known as one of the best enterprise software investors, period.

​Alex Kayyal

Alex Kayyal is now SVP and managing partner of Salesforce Ventures.

Photo: Salesforce Ventures

Alex Kayyal wants to shake the perception that Salesforce Ventures is one of the best corporate venture capital firms out there. Instead, as the new managing partner overseeing its investments, Kayyal wants Salesforce Ventures to be known as one of the best enterprise software investors out there — no "corporate" qualifier needed.

"In many ways, we've kind of stopped thinking of ourselves as [corporate venture capital], and I think that's a big change for us. As I looked at a lot of the companies that we're investing in today, it's remarkable how our remit has grown and our aperture for what kinds of companies we're excited about backing has really expanded tremendously," said Kayyal, who took over as Salesforce's lead after its longtime lead Matt Garratt left in June to join Palo Alto-based venture firm CRV.

Kayyal spent the last six years building out Salesforce Ventures' global presence, starting with Europe and then expanding to overseeing Asia-Pacific and Latin America. His next role will be running the whole thing as the new head of Salesforce Ventures investments, which also includes its impact fund and the newly included Slack Fund.

He's taking the reins at a busy time in the venture capital market. Call it what you will; corporate venture capital set records in the first half of the year. Funding rounds that included CVC backing globally reached $79 billion in the first six months, more than all of 2020 combined, according to CB Insights. Salesforce Ventures was the second most active investor in the first half after Alphabet's investing arm, GV. It surpassed GV, though, when it came to unicorn investments with 18 deals in the first half, including companies like coaching platform BetterUp and African payments company Flutterwave.

International investments will remain a focus under Kayyal, despite the fact that he's relocating from London to the Bay Area to oversee a team of around 40 people.

"A lot of people responded to the pandemic and started backing companies everywhere, and we've been doing it for six, seven, eight years now," Kayyal said. It's invested in companies in 26 countries, and over half the deals it did last year were in international markets, like Hopin, the London-based online events service in which it's grown its stake.

"The distinction of where they're being built is going away," he said, pointing to companies like developer security startup Snyk that started in Tel Aviv and London and is headquartered in Boston.

Kayyal's ambitions aside, the firm's Salesforce ties are still helping it win deals in what's a crazy market for startup investing. With deal valuations and money flowing into venture-backed companies at an all-time high, firms face more competition than ever and good founders tend to have their choice of backers, he said. It's now rare that a single fund takes a whole deal. Instead many deals are being done with a syndicate of investors all bringing different things to the table. "What we're seeing is this incredible momentum, but capital becomes a commodity," he said. "Our focus here is how do we create an unfair advantage."

That's where being a (corporate) venture capital investor gives Salesforce Ventures a leg up. It can dangle its connections to Salesforce and its customers as part of the investment package, and unlike a traditional fund, Kayyal can draw from the corporate balance sheet to continue to double down on its bets. The fund amassed a $2.17 billion gain on investments in 2020, and now it's hoping to do more.

"Our capital deployment has increased a lot; our number of companies has increased a lot," he said. "That's a reflection of the opportunity, but certainly it's also a reflection of our aspiration and what we want to do."

Fintech

Kraken CEO defends his ‘back to dictatorship’ crackdown

Jesse Powell says the crypto exchange’s cultural revolution was necessary.

"Some people feel they should be able to be whatever they want to be in the workplace. But there's a line," Powell told Protocol.

Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Kraken CEO Jesse Powell found himself under fire last month for provocative remarks he made that kicked off a contentious workplace battle and shined a light on the crypto exchange’s distinctive corporate culture.

A New York Times report based on leaked Slack messages and employee interviews accused Powell of making insensitive comments on gender and race, sparking heated conversations within Kraken. Powell responded forcefully, laying out new ground rules and principles in an attempt to define the way he wanted the company to operate — sharply at odds in some aspects with the tech industry’s standard practices.

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.

Every day, millions of us press the “order” button on our favorite coffee store's mobile application: Our chosen brew will be on the counter when we arrive. It’s a personalized, seamless experience that we have all come to expect. What we don’t know is what’s happening behind the scenes. The mobile application is sourcing data from a database that stores information about each customer and what their favorite coffee drinks are. It is also leveraging event-streaming data in real time to ensure the ingredients for your personal coffee are in supply at your local store.

Applications like this power our daily lives, and if they can’t access massive amounts of data stored in a database as well as stream data “in motion” instantaneously, you — and millions of customers — won’t have these in-the-moment experiences.

Keep Reading Show less
Jennifer Goforth Gregory
Jennifer Goforth Gregory has worked in the B2B technology industry for over 20 years. As a freelance writer she writes for top technology brands, including IBM, HPE, Adobe, AT&T, Verizon, Epson, Oracle, Intel and Square. She specializes in a wide range of technology, such as AI, IoT, cloud, cybersecurity, and CX. Jennifer also wrote a bestselling book The Freelance Content Marketing Writer to help other writers launch a high earning freelance business.
Enterprise

GitHub’s CEO wants to go passwordless by 2025

Thomas Dohmke sat down with Protocol to talk about what the open-source code hosting site is doing to address security vulnerabilities, including an aim to go passwordless by 2025.

GitHub CEO Thomas Dohmke spoke to Protocol about its plan to go passwordless.

Photo: Vaughn Ridley/Sportsfile for Collision via Getty Images

GitHub CEO Thomas Dohmke wants to get rid of passwords.

Open-source software has been plagued with cybersecurity issues for years, and GitHub and other companies in the space have been taking steps to bolster security. Dohmke knows, however, that to get to the root of the industrywide problem will take more than just corporate action: It will ultimately require a sea change and cultural shift in how developers work.

Keep Reading Show less
Michelle Ma

Michelle Ma (@himichellema) is a reporter at Protocol, where she writes about management, leadership and workplace issues in tech. Previously, she was a news editor of live journalism and special coverage for The Wall Street Journal. Prior to that, she worked as a staff writer at Wirecutter. She can be reached at mma@protocol.com.

Enterprise

Why foundation models in AI need to be released responsibly

Foundation models like GPT-3 and DALL-E are changing AI forever. We urgently need to develop community norms that guarantee research access and help guide the future of AI responsibly.

Releasing new foundation models doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition.

Illustration: sorbetto/DigitalVision Vectors

Percy Liang is director of the Center for Research on Foundation Models, a faculty affiliate at the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered AI and an associate professor of Computer Science at Stanford University.

Humans are not very good at forecasting the future, especially when it comes to technology.

Keep Reading Show less
Percy Liang
Percy Liang is Director of the Center for Research on Foundation Models, a Faculty Affiliate at the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered AI, and an Associate Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University.
Climate

The West’s drought could bring about a data center reckoning

When it comes to water use, data centers are the tech industry’s secret water hogs — and they could soon come under increased scrutiny.

Lake Mead, North America's largest artificial reservoir, has dropped to about 1,052 feet above sea level, the lowest it's been since being filled in 1937.

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

The West is parched, and getting more so by the day. Lake Mead — the country’s largest reservoir — is nearing “dead pool” levels, meaning it may soon be too low to flow downstream. The entirety of the Four Corners plus California is mired in megadrought.

Amid this desiccation, hundreds of the country’s data centers use vast amounts of water to hum along. Dozens cluster around major metro centers, including those with mandatory or voluntary water restrictions in place to curtail residential and agricultural use.

Keep Reading Show less
Lisa Martine Jenkins

Lisa Martine Jenkins is a senior reporter at Protocol covering climate. Lisa previously wrote for Morning Consult, Chemical Watch and the Associated Press. Lisa is currently based in Brooklyn, and is originally from the Bay Area. Find her on Twitter ( @l_m_j_) or reach out via email (ljenkins@protocol.com).

Latest Stories
Bulletins