Firefox developer Mozilla is making a rare foray into the world of M&A, with news that it recently acquired California-based productivity startup Pulse.
Terms of the deal have not been disclosed, but the deal amounts to an “acqui-hire”, with Mozilla looking to use the Pulse team on a range of machine learning (ML) projects.
“We are acquiring Pulse for the incredible team they have built,” Mozilla chief product officer Steve Teixeira told londonbusinessblog.com. “As we continue to improve user experiences across our products, ML will be an important part of that.”
Feel the pulse
Founded in Menlo Park in 2019, Pulse in its original guise was a “virtual office” platform called Loop Team, but after the idea was honed for a few years, rotated and renamed last November. Pulse was essentially an automated status update tool that used signals based on pre-configured integrations and preferences set by the user.
For example, users can sync Pulse with their calendar and Slack, and set rules to determine what their status and accompanying emoji should be based on keywords in their calendar event title. If the schedule says “hair appointment” for a specific time from noon to 1 p.m., the person’s Slack status update may show a scissors emoji next to the word “hairstyle.” Or it says “birthday” next to a cake emoji if that’s what’s on their calendar.
But Pulse had countless integrations with business tools that brought similar functionality. For example, users can link Pulse to Zoom so that when they start a video meeting, a phone emoji will automatically appear in their Slack status to let people know they’re unavailable.
Pulse had largely flown under the radar since it rolled out to a small group of users last December, but the company had apparently landed some fairly large customers, including Netflix and 1Password, with monthly premium subscriptions starting at around $3 per user.
The company was one of londonbusinessblog.com’s Battlefield 200 startups at TC Disrupt in October, and londonbusinessblog.com interviewed Pulse co-founder and CEO Raj Singh at the event for a potential future startup profile piece. Singh said at the time that it planned to raise a first round of funding early in the new year, something that clearly won’t happen now. When asked if Pulse was more of a feature that the big tech platforms could just build themselves, rather than a sustainable company in its own right, Singh was adamant that Pulse could thrive as a standalone product. While he acknowledged that companies like Microsoft or Google might want to develop a similar automated status update tool for their own products, they were less motivated to make it work well as an integrated feature that plays ball with various third-party tools.
Pulse was all about passively communicating things with colleagues around the world, regardless of what tools they used or what time zone they were in. This is especially important as remote working becomes the norm, and Pulse was looking for its niche when work culture is rapidly changing.
“A lot of people actually want to update their status, but it’s annoying,” Singh told londonbusinessblog.com in October. “But there are hundreds of signals, and what we realized was that status isn’t just ‘availability,’ it’s actually a way to convey empathy.”
While Pulse had plans to expand beyond Slack to other workplace communication tools, including Microsoft Teams and Google Workspace, the company abruptly decided announced at the end of October that it was closed. In an email distributed to customers at the time, the company attributed this to “market conditions”, noting that it was difficult to raise fresh capital – but it did confirm that it had found a buyer, whose identity was unknown until today. Singh also said in the email that there was a chance the buyer could revive Pulse in some form, but there’s little indication Mozilla has such a plan on its radar.
To the casual observer, Slack was probably the obvious contender to acquire Pulse. For starters, there’s the fact that Pulse had focused exclusively on Slack status updates. But on top of that, Singh had previously founded a smart calendar app called Tempo AI, which he sold to Salesforce in 2015 for an undisclosed sum.
Singh then joined Salesforce to help with the initial transition from Tempo AI technology to Salesforce’s Inbox app. And as we now know, Sales team went to take over Slack in 2020, so with Singh’s connections to Salesforce and his product’s close alignment with Slack, there only seemed to be one possible suitor here.
Sadly, Slack didn’t acquire Pulse – the Mozilla Corporation did. It’s somewhat of a surprise, if only because Mozilla isn’t known for its M&A efforts, though it’s starting to ramp up its investment efforts after launching its first venture capital fund last month. But its only known acquisition to date was in 2017, when it picked up Pocket, a popular read-it-later web-clipping service that Mozilla had already integrated into its Firefox browser two years earlier.
On a side note: Pulse itself had been on a kind of acquisition wave this year, buying rival status update service Holopod back in January, followed by audio-based communication platform Commons in March. Then, in May, news broke that Pulse had acquired team communications startup Lounge.
“Our strategy [with M&A] is pretty simple – we look for opportunities to attract talent and technology that help us improve the experiences for our customers,” Teixeira said. accelerate our development efforts. We set the bar high for any acquisition, but if we find teams and technologies with incredible talent that share our mission and vision for the future of the internet, we are absolutely open to a transaction.”
Coincidentally, Pocket may be an early beneficiary of the Pulse acquisition. While Mozilla eventually plans to deploy the Pulse team on several projects, Teixeira says the early-stage focus will be on using ML to improve personalization in Pocket, which presumably means in the form of content recommendations. .
It’s worth noting that Mozilla has dabbled with ML quite a bit in the past, including experimental projects within Firefox that recommend content to users, as well as tracking prices across numerous online stores. The company is also using ML about various speech and speech projects.
“We see opportunities to use ML in virtually all of our products, including Firefox, as a foundation for improving the experience for all our customers,” said Teixeira.
Mozilla didn’t reveal how much it’s shelling out for the startup, but Pulse had only raised about $4.7 million in pre-seed funding according to Crunchbase dataand given the difficulties of raising new capital, it’s safe to assume that Mozilla didn’t go out of business here.
What Mozilla gets for its money is six people, including Pulse’s three founders, Raj Singh, Jag Srawan, and Rolf Rando, each of whom brings significant engineering, ML, and product execution experience to Mozilla’s ML effort. Singh actually created his previous startup Tempo AI as a project within SRI Internationalthe Stanford research institute responsible for Siri. He returned to SRI as an executive in residence (EIR) after leaving Salesforce, and remained there until founding Pulse (then Loop Team) nearly four years ago.
“In building Pulse, we enabled a variety of machine learning experiences to make distributed teams feel more connected,” Singh noted. “It’s our passion to find ways to use AI and machine learning to simplify tasks for users.”