It all started with an insult.
An Apple store customer in Australia complained that a store employee had “questioned my intelligence” by insisting he use Apple Pay for a transaction.
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That customer was fed up with the pushiness and walked out.
I, however, wanted to help him. I wanted to see if this behavior was widespread. So I walked into a couple of Apple stores to learn whether its salespeople really are incentivized to push certain products or services.
None would admit to any sort of commission payments.
I did, though, receive word from former Apple store employees who said, in essence, that these salespeople may not appreciate everything that’s really going on.
These former employees revealed a little more of the innards of store operations and how certain products or services might, indeed, get special attention.
A former senior store employee told me: “The frontline retail Apple employees aren’t paid on commission or receive a bonus. From a paycheck-to-paycheck perspective, there’s no real incentive to push product A vs product B.”
However, he said, each store’s Leadership Team is under pressure and incentivized: “The direction or pressure for employees to sell a certain product comes from the retail leadership team. This means the Store Leader, Senior Leaders, and the Product Zone [Sales Manager] Leader.”
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He explained: “The Store Leader receives a breakdown of metrics and goals in the form of a Market Report from their Market Leader [regional manager]. Retail leadership teams do, in fact, receive a performance bonus based on quarterly sales results, a fact which is never explicitly revealed to the frontline teams.”
Ah, so it’s a case of slightly more subtle tactics? It seems that, sometimes for possibly idiosyncratic reasons, a store might sell far more, say, third-party accessories than many other stores. On the other hand, it might lag in iPhone sales.
Subtle psychological pressure is then applied, he said, in order to redress the balance. It’s all about “directing customers to the product that’s lagging,” without actually pushing that product.
How does this “direction” of customers work? “Consultative selling,” said one former sales manager.
He explained: “After an interaction had concluded, I would frequently check in with the Specialist and ask them, ‘What 3 things have you learned about your customer today?’. The Specialists who learned and remembered their customers’ names, and knew what they did for work, did very well. Apple began really pushing their in-store business services around 2014-15. This could lead to 5- or even 6- figure sales if you are able to close a local small or medium-sized business. Even better, if you knew the customers’ hobbies, you were likely to be by far the more successful salesperson.”
As for leadership bonuses they aren’t, said my sources, dependent on what specific percentage of sales go through Apple Pay or how many customers buy AppleCare. Which doesn’t mean that AppleCare and Accessory attach rates aren’t closely monitored and, yes, pushed. There’s a lot of profit in the little things.
The Power of The Crowd
So why might the insulted customer have been pressured to use Apple Pay? Well, it may well have something to do with the crowded nature of Apple stores, apparently.
Said one former manager: “The push for Apple Pay comes from the familiar dilemma of being in a crowded Apple Store and not having any idea how to get cashed out for that lightning cable in your hand. At a senior level, Apple leadership has decided, based mostly on customer satisfaction metrics, that customers appreciate the ability to pay for something themselves. I think they thought there’s a certain cool factor there like Amazon’s cashierless stores.”
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Apple following the taste-free pirates at Amazon? Can this be? Still, about the alleged pushiness. This is where the fun comes in.
“This [Apple Pay push] led to ‘fun challenges’ laid out by store leadership to challenge people on the sales floor to get a certain amount of Apple Pay transactions done,” a former manager told me. “You can imagine that if this is done skillfully you can engage a customer, get them to download the Apple Store app — a valuable touchpoint for future transactions and services — and have them feel involved in the process.”
And if it isn’t done right?
Another former Store Leader explained: “We were all pushed to push Apple Pay in every transaction. These measurements were brought up in employee reviews and promotions. They were usually focused around the behavior observations. If you blew the behavior out of the water, you increased your chances of being favored.”
That wasn’t the experience of other Store Leaders. One told me: “I have promoted or given raises to a lot of sales staff over the years, and not a single time has that [Apple Pay] ever even been a part of the conversation between myself and my peers in determining a promotion.”
Pressure Pushing Down On Me.
Perhaps some Store Leaders react to pressure better than others. In any case, I was told, some salespeople are simply better than others.
A former Store Leader told me: “Employees with high Apple Pay transaction completions are also usually the top performing in sales for all other products, as well as having the highest customer satisfaction scores. Is this because Apple Pay is the hardest sell of them all? I’ll leave that to you and your readers.”
It could be, then, that Apple’s just like every other corporation, with varying employee performance and some employees vying to be favored by their superiors. And there you were thinking everything at Apple was magical and revolutionary.
Naturally, I asked Apple for its view on how it incentivizes store staff. The company declined to comment.
I sense Apple is very keen to make clear it would never incentivize staff by offering a certain percentage to a certain salesperson for selling a certain product.
That simply wouldn’t be consistent with the way the brand presents itself as customer-focused above all else.
It surely wouldn’t be surprising, however, that at least some sort of bonuses are paid to at least some staff for exceeding broader performance goals.
Ultimately, Apple’s stores have been one of the most powerful pillars of the company’s success. The fact that you can go to your local mall, stroke the products and even get a gadget fixed is, to the ordinary human, a truly valuable feature.
Moreover, I’ve generally found Apple store staff all over the country to be engaging, efficient and remarkably honest.
Yet as Apple’s business veers toward greater profit coming from the services side — and with its head of HR now in charge of the stores — could a little more pressure be applied to all store staff in order to send those services numbers even higher?
It had better be subtle pressure.
Cymulate snaps up $70M to help cybersecurity teams stress test their networks with attack simulations – TechCrunch
The cost of cybercrime has been growing at an alarming rate of 15% per year, projected to reach $10.5 trillion by 2025. To cope with the challenges that this poses, organizations are turning to a growing range of AI-powered tools to supplement their existing security software and the work of their security teams. Today, a startup called Cymulate — which has built a platform to help those teams automatically and continuously stress test their networks against potential attacks with simulations, and provide guidance on how to improve their systems to ward off real attacks — is announcing a significant round of growth funding after seeing strong demand for its tools.
The startup — founded in Tel Aviv, with a second base in New York — has raised $70 million, a Series D that it will be using to continue expanding globally and investing in expanding its technology (both organically and potentially through acquisitions).
Today, Cymulate’s platform covers both on-premise and cloud networks, providing breach and attack simulations for endpoints, email and web gateways and more; automated “red teaming”; and a “purple teaming” facility to create and launch different security breach scenarios for organizations that lack the resources to dedicate people to a live red team — in all, a “holistic” solution for companies looking to make sure they are getting the most out of the network security architecture that they already have in place, in the worlds of Eyal Wachsman, Cymulate’s CEO.
“We are providing our customers with a different approach for how to do cybersecurity and get insights [on] all the products already implemented in a network,” he said in an interview. The resulting platform has found particular traction in the current market climate. Although companies continue to invest in their security architecture, security teams are also feeling the market squeeze, which is impacting IT budgets, and sometimes headcount in an industry that was already facing a shortage of expertise. (Cymulate cites figures from the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology that estimate a shortfall of 2.72 million security professionals in the workforce globally.)
The idea with Cymulate is that it’s built something that helps organizations get the most out of what they already have. “And at the end, we provide our customers the ability to prioritize where they need to invest, in terms of closing gaps in their environment,” Wachsman said.
The round is being led by One Peak, with Susquehanna Growth Equity (SGE), Vertex Ventures Israel, Vertex Growth and strategic backer Dell Technologies Capital also participating. (All five also backed Cymulate in its $45 million Series C last year.) Relatively speaking, this is a big round for Cymulate, doubling its total raised to $141 million, and while the startup is not disclosing its valuation, I understand from sources that it is around the $500 million mark.
Wachsman noted that the funding is coming on the heels of a big year for the startup (the irony being that the constantly escalating issue of cybersecurity and growing threat landscape spells good news for companies built to combat that). Revenues have doubled, although it’s not disclosing any numbers today, and the company is now at over 200 employees and works with some 500 paying customers across the enterprise and mid-market, including NTT, Telit, and Euronext, up from 300 customers a year ago.
Wachsman, who co-founded the company with Avihai Ben-Yossef and Eyal Gruner, said he first thought of the idea of building a platform to continuously test an organization’s threat posture in 2016, after years of working in cybersecurity consulting for other companies. He found that no matter how much effort his customers and outside consultants put into architecting security solutions annually or semi-annually, those gains were potentially lost each time a malicious hacker made an unexpected move.
“If the bad guys decided to penetrate the organization, they could, so we needed to find a different approach,” he said. He looked to AI and machine learning for the solution, a complement to everything already in the organization, to build “a machine that allows you to test your security controls and security posture, continuously and on demand, and to get the results immediately… one step before the hackers.”
Last year, Wachsman described Cymulate’s approach to me as “the largest cybersecurity consulting firm without consultants,” but in reality the company does have its own large in-house team of cybersecurity researchers, white-hat hackers who are trying to find new holes — new bugs, zero days and other vulnerabilities — to develop the intelligence that powers Cymulate’s platform.
These insights are then combined with other assets, for example the MITRE ATT&CK framework, a knowledge base of threats, tactics and techniques used by a number of other cybersecurity services, including others building continuous validation services that compete with Cymulate. (Competitors include the likes of FireEye, Palo Alto Networks, Randori, AttackIQ and many more.)
Cymulate’s work comes in the form of network maps that detail a company’s threat profile, with technical recommendations for remediation and mitigations, as well as an executive summary that can be presented to financial teams and management who might be auditing security spend. It also has built tools for running security checks when integrating any services or IT with third parties, for instance in the event of an M&A process or when working in a supply chain.
Today the company focuses on network security, which is big enough in itself but also leaves the door open for Cymulate to acquire companies in other areas like application security — or to build that for itself. “This is something on our roadmap,” said Wachsman.
If potential M&A leads to more fundraising for Cymulate, it helps that the startup is in one of the handful of categories that are going to continue to see a lot of attention from investors.
“Cybersecurity is clearly an area that we think will benefit from the current macroeconomic environment, versus maybe some of the more capital-intensive businesses like consumer internet or food delivery,” said David Klein, a managing partner at One Peak. Within that, he added, “The best companies [are those] that are mission critical for their customers… Those will continue to attract very good multiples.”
Open-source password manager Bitwarden raises $100M – TechCrunch
Bitwarden, an open-source password manager for enterprises and consumers, has raised $100 million in a round of funding led by PSG, with participation form Battery Ventures.
Founded initially back in 2015, Santa Barbara, California-based Bitwarden operates in a space that includes well-known incumbents including 1Password, which recently hit a $6.8 billion valuation off the back of a $620 million fundraise, and Lastpass, which was recently spun out as an independent company again two years after landing in the hands of private equity firms.
In a nutshell, Bitwarden and its ilk make it easier for people to generate secure passwords automatically, and store all their unique passwords and sensitive information such as credit card data in a secure digital vault, saving them from reusing the same insecure password across all their online accounts.
Bitwarden’s big differentiator, of course, lies in the fact that it’s built atop an open-source codebase, which for super security-conscious individuals and businesses is a good thing — they can fully inspect the inner-workings of the platform. Moreover, people can contribute back to the codebase and expedite development of new features.
On top of a basic free service, Bitwarden ships a bunch of paid-for premium features and services, including advanced enterprise features like single sign-on (SSO) integrations and identity management.
It’s worth noting that today’s “minority growth investment” represents Bitwarden’s first substantial external funding in its seven year history, though we’re told that it did raise a small undisclosed series A round back in 2019. Its latest cash injection is indicative of how the world has changed in the intervening years. The rise of remote work, with people increasingly meshing personal and work accounts on the same devices, means the same password is used across different services. And such poor password and credential hygiene puts businesses at great risk.
Additionally, growing competition and investments in the management space means that Bitwarden can’t rest on its laurels — it needs to expand, and that is what its funds will be used for. Indeed, Bitwarden has confirmed plans to extend its offering into several aligned security and privacy verticals, including secrets management — something that 1Password expanded into last year via its SecretHub acquisition.
“The timing of the investment is ideal, as we expand into opportunities in developer secrets, passwordless technologies, and authentication,” Bitwarden CEO Michael Crandell noted in a press release. “Most importantly, we aim to continue to serve all Bitwarden users for the long haul.”
downgrade the ‘middle-men’ resellers – TechCrunch
As well as the traditional carbon offset resellers and exchanges such as Climate Partner or Climate Impact X the tech space has also produced a few, including Patch (US-based, raised $26.5M) and Lune (UK-based, raised $4M).
Now, Ceezer, a B2B marketplace for carbon credits, has closed a €4.2M round, led by Carbon Removal Partners with participation of impact-VC Norrsken VC and with existing investor Picus Capital.
Ceezer ’s pitch is that companies have to deal with a lot of complexity when considering how they address carbon removal and reduction associated with their businesses. Whie they can buy offsetting credits, the market remains pretty ‘wild-west’, and has multiple competing standards running in parallel. For instance, the price range of $5 to $500 per ton is clearly all over the place, and sometimes carbon offset resellers make buyers pay high prices for low-quality carbon credits, pulling in extra revenues from a very opaque market.
The startup’s offering is for corporates to integrate both carbon removal and avoidance credits in one package. It does this by mining the offsetting market for lots of data points, enabling carbon offset sellers to reach buyers without having to use these middle-men resellers.
The startup claims that sellers no longer waste time and money on bespoke contracts with corporates but instead use Ceezer’s legal framework for all transactions. Simultaneously, buyers can access credits at a primary market level, maximizing the effect of the dollars they spend on carbon offsets.
Ceezer says it now has over 50 corporate customers and has 200,000 tons of carbon credits to sell across a variety of categories. and will use the funds to expand its impact and sourcing team, the idea being to make carbon removal technologies more accessible to corporate buyers, plus widen the product offering for credit sellers and buyers.
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