As executives at CBS Interactive, Fouad ElNaggar, Peter Yared, and Charles Christolini were all too familiar with one of the biggest IT problems that big companies face: millions of dollars get invested into software for companies to work better, but getting people in the company to engage with that software regularly was nigh on impossible.
Yared calls this “the dirty secret of enterprise software.”
“At CBS we bought a lot of software, including Salesforce, Oracle, Omniture and more,” he says. “Yes, it was functional but barely anyone would use it. If they needed something they would just email someone,” a time and resource strain that could only partly be solved by yet more software. “Okta helped with logins but otherwise that software was largely hidden.”
So, the three of them — who were respectively Chief Strategy Officer, CTO/CIO, and VP Architecture — left CBSi earlier this year with an idea of how to solve that problem. The product of that inspiration, Sapho, is today announcing $3 million in funding as it leads up to a public launch.
While Sapho the app is still in stealth mode, Yared (who is CTO, with ELNaggar CEO and Christolini VP of engineering), has described the concept behind how it works to me, and provided me with a picture of how it looks in action.
The basic premise is this: using software APIs and an individual’s specific software access and login credentials, Sapho provides a running stream of updates from a company’s enterprise apps that are relevant to each person.
The platform, Yared says, is built to bring in just about anything, including more legacy software that may not have been built on web APIs.
(Yared himself spent years at Sun Microsystems and says the whole app was built on Java in part to make it backward compatible with older stuff.)
Sapho has some intelligence, and a healthy dose of consumerization built into it.
Each app in Sapho’s stream appears as a dynamic “card” (a la Twitter). In other words, you can view information just as it appears in your stream, or you can click on it to go through to the actual application.
Then, if a user sees updates from an application that is really not needed, he/she swipes left (a la Tinder) to dismiss it, but at the same time people can flag and resurface cards for colleagues, and even start conversations around them.
Sapho learns what you are interested in most and subsequently serves up more relevant content in your stream.
Yared says to think of this as “Google Now” for enterprise software users.
Sapho — named after the juice that Mentats drank to turbo charge their mental activity in the sci-fi classic Dune, the idea here being that the app magically boosts your own data processing abilities at work — doesn’t see that it has any direct competitors in the enterprise IT space at the moment.
But that doesn’t mean smart people are not trying to solve this problem in other ways. Enterprise software companies are finally mobilising and creating apps of their own to make services easier to interact with. (One notable example I’ve found in my working life is Concur.)
Still even some of the biggest hits in enterprise IT today are stumbling here. “Workday recent added 250 features to its new app,” Yared notes to me. “It’s hard for these guys to distil down to the core use case.”
There are also companies that are targeting specific verticals to make their enterprise software and databases more useful.
Weave, for example, is working with legacy and updated software in the CRM space specifically used by dentists’ offices to build smart phone systems; Clari is trying to make sales less admin-intensive and more proactively clever by applying big data principles to extract relevant information. As companies like these grow, you can imagine that concepts like Sapho’s could well be within their sights, too.
But for now, however, what Sapho is doing seems like a much-needed aggregation tool that will resonate with those who buy and implement IT software, as well as those who are ultimately asked to use it.
The fact that the idea was conceived in situ, while the three were still trying to solve the same problem at CBS, was one of the things that attracted VCs to Sapho.
“It is rare for us to see C-level executives of the caliber of Fouad and Peter implement a very successful recasting of an enterprise architecture, and then launch a startup that solves similar problems for the rest of the market,” said Jeff Clavier, Managing Partner at SoftTech VC.
Along with Clavier and SoftTech, other investors in this round included Raymond Tonsing from Caffeinated Capital (early investor in Docker, Optimizely, and Appurify); Bloomberg Beta, Redpoint Ventures founder Brad Jones, and Andy Rankin.
There are already several large enterprises testing Sapho and coming close commercial deals, although the startup is not likely to announce actual customers until it formally launches. That’s expected to happen later this year.