At enterprises of a certain size, keeping track of data including apps, employees, and projects becomes increasingly challenging. According to McKinsey, employees spend 1.8 hours every day — 9.3 hours per week, on average — searching for and gathering information. The veracity of metrics like these has been challenged over the years. But it’s reasonable to say that knowledge workers in particular devote a sizeable chunk of their workdays to sifting through data, whether to find basic contact info or domain-specific files.
The emergence in recent years of AI algorithms that can parse natural language has fueled the rise of platforms that can shrink that chunk. At least, that’s the assertion of Arvind Jain, a former Google engineer and Rubrik co-founder, whose startup, Glean, employs AI to power a unified search experience across all apps used at a company.
Arvind, a former Google engineer, began work on Glean at Rubrik, the cloud data management company. In Rubrik’s annual employee pulse survey, Arvind observed that one of the biggest productivity challenges was workers not being able to find the information they needed — whether a specific document or subject-matter expert.
“Engineers were spending too much time outside code; account managers couldn’t find the latest research or presentation needed to close deals; new employees took too long to ramp,” Arvind told TechCrunch in an email interview. “This growing problem was not only destroying productivity, but also sapping energy and detracting from the employee experience.”
Other companies were experiencing the same issues, as it turned out — exacerbated by their embrace of the cloud and distributed work setups. Sensing an opportunity, Arvind managed to convince former engineering lead Piyush Prahladka, ex-Facebook and -Microsoft engineer T.R. Vishwanath, and Tony Gentilcore, previously at AT&T and Google, to build the prototype for Glean.
Fast forward to 2022, and Glean has over 70 customers including Okta, Confluent, Samsara, Grammarly, and Outreach. Reflecting growth since its 2019 founding, Glean today closed a $100 million Series C round led by Sequoia with participation from Lightspeed, General Catalyst, Kleiner Perkins and the Slack Fund at a $1 billion valuation post-money.
On the one hand, Glean’s technology isn’t incredibly novel. Services like Microsoft’s SharePoint Syntex, Amazon Kendra, and Google Cloud Search tap natural language processing technology to understand not only document minutia but the searches employees across an organization might perform, like “How do I invest in our company’s 401k?” They fall under the banner of “cognitive search,” a product category encompassing search tools that implement AI to ingest, understand, organize, and query data from multiple sources.
But Arvind claims that Glean is simpler to set up and use than the competition, including smaller outfits like Coveo, Elastic, Lucidworks, and Mindbreeze.
“[Glean] takes less than two hours for initial setup, and doesn’t require any engineering talent or manual fine-tuning for implementation,” Arvind said. “And Glean has seamless workflow integration, whether you’re using Glean in the web app, new tab page, sidebar search, native search, or Slack commands.”
Arvind notes that one of the major problems in enterprise search is the diversity of data sources, like knowledge bases, tickets, chat messages, and pull requests. To address this, Glean uses AI systems to predict for every query the relative importance of content across these sources, training separate systems on customer data to learn company-specific jargon, concepts, entities, and acronyms. To deliver personalized results, as well as proactively recommend documents, Glean accounts for variables like a person’s role, work patterns, job function, and specific projects and responsibilities in its indexing.
“Glean’s biggest competitor is the status quo: employees continuing to deal with the complexity of finding the information and people they need at work. In a typical sales process, potential customers often require Glean to first start with a pilot to demonstrate how much value implementing Glean can provide,” Arvind said. “Glean uses the user’s information to personalize the search experience for the user along several dimensions — for example, for the same query an engineer may see very different results than a sales executive. Glean also uses the user’s activity, such as clicks on search results, to improve the search relevance.”
Because Glean acts like a layer on top of all other apps a company uses, it can double as a work portal from where managers can create and share “shortlinks” to resources (e.g., “go/benefits” instead of a long URL). Management can also share news, handbooks, expense policies, KPI dashboards, and company OKRs and expose the company’s people directory, which shows who people are and what projects they’re working on.
In a dashboard, Glean surfaces answers to frequently asked questions and devotes a space to links and descriptions of those links that can be shared with the wider organization. A control panel allows users to run data loss prevention reports on the sources from which Glean draws and check for compliance with GDPR, CCPA, and other privacy regulations.
“Prospective customers are often anxious about providing Glean with access to all of their data, which is why Glean has spent so much time ensuring it respects all privacy controls from the applications that it integrates with, and invested heavily in security certifications and processes from the very beginning … When [a] user deletes a document in the underlying application (Slack, Drive, Office, etc.), the document gets deleted from the Glean system as well,” Arvind said. “Glean customers can choose to have Glean host them or self-host Glean to keep their information within their environment. With Glean’s e-discovery and data loss prevention tools, companies can be confident about what data is available within their organization — and how that information is used.”
No enterprise search tool is without limitations. In a 2021 survey by APQC, which provides benchmarks and best practices for businesses, 19% of workers said that poor search functionality is a key problem in their organizations. But there’s a healthy market for enterprise search solutions regardless. The same survey found that 41% of respondents expect to “significantly” increase investment in search and findability within their organizations in the next 12 to 18 months.
Glean, whose total capital raised stands at $155 million, plans to use the proceeds from the latest round to expand its team, build out a go-to-market plan, and “drive new feature innovation.” Glean has more than 100 employees today and expects to have over 250 by the end of the year.
“Increased value put on employee productivity and happiness has been a boon to Glean’s growth among fast-growing companies that care about employee experience,” Arvind said. “Glean provides value to prospective customers from the first minute they start searching, and Glean is constantly working through product development and customer enablement to ensure customers have the best experience from then on.”