Knoll: How can office furniture go digital?

A. shot of Knoll HQ in East Greenville

Tom Paine

I was wondering how Digital Transformation could be applied to office furniture. Particularly as the market was thrown in to turmoil by the pandemic and the resulting turn to virtual or hybrid offices?

Knoll Industries, founded in New York in 1936, is headquartered now in East Greenville, Montgomery County, PA. In late April, Knoll agreed to merge with the larger (Zeeland, Michigan-based) Herman Miller for $1.8 billion in cash & stock. Knoll, known for its distinctive designs going back to the late co-founder Florence Marguerite Knoll Bassett (who passed away in 2019), will see its Chairman and CEO Andrew Cogan step down when the transaction closes, while Herman Miller CEO Andi Owen will be president and CEO of the combined company.

Knoll slashed 7% of its 3500 member workforce as Covid-19 took hold in April 2020.

In February of this year, Knoll brought on Facebook veteran Esohe Omoruyi as Executive Vice President of Consumer & Digital Commerce.

And Diginomica’s Stuart Lauchlan writes about how Herman Miller has re-designed its end-to-end e-commerce experience around a variety of Salesforce’s cloud offerings.

MediaMath looks at strategic alternatives; Safeguard Scientifics still owns 13.3%

Tom Paine

The Wall Street Journal ran a story yesterday that said New York-based online ad-buying marketplace MediaMath is exploring strategic options amid an uptick in its market. MediaMath is one of the few independent DSPs (Demand-Side Platforms) left.

MediaMath was one of Safeguard Scientific’s largest portfolio holdings (and still is). Safeguard invested $15.6 million in MediaMath between 2009 and 2010 and accumulated a 22% stake. When the decision to begin gradually divesting its portfolio was made in 2018, Safeguard completed in July 2018 the sale of 39.1% of its 22% ownership position in MediaMath back to MediaMath for $45.0 million in cash. The repurchase represents the equivalent of an implied cash-on-cash return of 4.5x on Safeguard’s 39.1% ownership position. It reflected a total valuation for MediaMath of $523 million.

MediaMath had the right to repurchase an additional 10.9% of Safeguard’s ownership position on or before the 180 day anniversary of the initial repurchase for $12.5 million in cash. However, that date has long passed and Safeguard still owns a 13.3% stake as of the end of its first quarter 2021.

I couldn’t find a current valuation estimate for MediaMath, but my guess is its next valuation will be significantly higher than the $523 million at which Safeguard sold in 2018. But that’s only a supposition, and MediaMath faced significant risk during the pandemic so I don’t think you can criticize Safeguard much for taking the money when it did. And Safeguard may still receive a good gain when the remaining 13.3% is sold.

 

What it took to buy GreenPhire; Vaccines = Cash; A worthy career;

Tom Paine

Refreshing

Senior Executives of and investors in Moderna and Pfizer partner BioNtech have done well from the success of their vaccines. CNN Business counts nine new billionaires from among those two companies plus Chinese pharma CanSino Biologics. Both  Moderna (MRNA) CEO Stéphane Bancel and Ugur Sahin, the CEO of BioNTech (BNTX),  are now worth several billion.

But no word on how Katalin Kariko, whose work at Penn led the way to the mRNA vaccines that both Moderna and BioNTech produced, was compensated. She is an adjunct at Penn and a Senior VP at BioNTech . At least a Nobel would help, as well as tenure at Penn maybe?

Does she own any of the IP? Again, not clear.

Also, yesterday Modena and Thermo Fisher Scientific announced an agreement for scaling production of the Moderna vaccine in a Thermo plant in Greenville NC. Thermo Fisher said in March that it would work with Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) and BioNtech SE (22UAy.DE) to produce their COVID-19 vaccine in Italy.

I recognized the name Keith Krach, briefly former U.S. Under Secretary of State under Trump, while watching a TV interview last night, but couldn’t remember from where. Then l realized it was from a twitter connection, but still wasn’t clear as to who he was.

Looking it up, in addition to his government work, Krach was:

Chairman, CEO & President of DocuSign

Chairman of Board of Trustees, Purdue University

Co-founder, Chairman & CEO Ariba (acquired by SAP)

First entrepreneur-in- residence Benchmark. Capital

Founding Member/COO Rasna Corp – sold to PTC

Fanuc- Co-founder of joint venture with GM

Youngest VP ever at GM

Impressive. Many of these assignments were transformational. Plus, he started out working on the shop floor of his father’s factory, probably the best way to learn.

What’s next?

PE Hub reported that PE firm Thoma Bravo recently agreed to acquire King of Prussia-based GreenPhire for approximately $1.1 billion.

The company is said to be looking at about $75 million in revenue for 2021, with an end – of-year run rate of approximate $100 million. Growth is expected to continue in the 30-35% range, and further M&A is part of the plan. 2021 operating profits are expected to be in the high $20 million range. Those are very good margins for this type of business.

INNOVATION KEEPS CLARK-BASED GEP ON TOP OF SUPPLY-CHAIN SOFTWARE SECTOR, CEO SUBHASH MAKHIJA SAYS

Subhash Makhija, CEO of GEP Worldwide | Courtesy GEP


May 20, 2021 Esther Surden, Founder & Publisher, NJTechWeekly


The supply chain. It was the reason why you couldn’t get toilet paper during the early days of the pandemic. And it’s the reason why you’re having trouble getting a semiconductor-filled automobile today. The COVID crisis shone a spotlight on the supply chain, and the companies that make highly rated supply-chain software are now gaining the recognition they deserve.

In New Jersey, one of those supply-chain and procurement software companies is GEP Worldwide, founded by four partners some 22 years ago in the basement of CEO Subhash Makhija’s home, in Westfield. The partners were formerly top consultants at Accenture. GEP, which has kept a relatively low profile until now, has about 600 employees in New Jersey, and some 4,500 worldwide.

Prior to this year, “we had to convince people that they needed to do something about their supply chain problem,” Makhija told us. When COVID-19 hit, that wasn’t the case anymore.

“Basically, the whole digitization and automation on the supply chain which took place in the last year usually would take three, four or five years. We saw a massive amount of demand. We actually grew 32 percent last year, which is in line with what we have been growing for the last five to seven years.”

Innovating and Changing the Algorithms
Suddenly, supply chains, which used to be an operational topic, have become a board-level topic in most big companies, Makhija said. He noted that “for the last 12 to15 months, the old algorithms, which we built and other software vendors built for demand planning, which were really based on historical data, all fell through.” This was a once-in-a-century event, and most supply chain software wasn’t built to handle it.

GEP however, picked up the ball and continued to innovate, he said, realizing that historical data would no longer cut it. “What happened 15 months ago is irrelevant,” he noted. The company began innovating and building real-time planning software using 12-week pandemic data, as well as real-time data that looks at what’s happening around the world in logistics and how the weather is affecting shipments. “We revised our algorithms for our software, which we believe now is much more accurate and allows us to connect demand with the supply.”

The company is using experts in machine learning and artificial intelligence to create software that lets customers get visibility into the entire supply chain, he said.

The innovations have allowed GEP to serve its Fortune 500 customers in the healthcare; finance; manufacturing; consumer products; retail; automotive; and chemical, and oil and gas sectors. “It’s been an honor for us to play a cutting-edge role” in helping them keep their supply chains moving, Makhija stated. “We are still very low key. We are not the kind of company you read about in the front pages of the Wall Street Journal, even when we’re making a big impact with big banks and big financial, oil-and-gas and other companies.”

GEP is organized along the lines of industry verticals. It has some of the biggest names in consumer product companies, such as Kellogg’s, General Mills and Unilever. “On the healthcare side, we have lots of good customers in New Jersey; for example, Bristol Myers Squibb is a very big customer of ours. So is Johnson & Johnson. In the retail sector, customers like Macy’s use our software. Chemical, oil and gas is a big, big sector for us.” GEP customers also include Chevron, ExxonMobil and Dupont. Financial services is another big sector for GEP across the river, he said; and customers include Citibank, Bank of America and Prudential.

Putting the Fun Back in Growing the Company
Makhija discussed how his company has changed over the past year due to COVID. When employees went home, the company was nervous about its ability to continue to be productive, but those fears didn’t last. The company software was able to keep up with the new internal demands, and there was an increased external demand for its products.

“What is different is we used to go to the office and have a very strong culture and get together and, you know, enjoy that work. The office was closed, but now we are slowly opening up. The get-togethers were over Zoom calls and team calls, and it took some of the fun part of growing the firm out of it,” Makhija said. “The fun has taken a back seat in the last year. … Our employees are working very hard. They’re tired, they’re exhausted and we need more inspiration. So, we are really looking forward to our offices opening back up,” as people get vaccinated.

NJTechWeekly.com asked about GEP’s ability to find talent in New Jersey. Historically, the company has been able to find good talent here, but “since the beginning of the year, the demand for engineers has picked up quite a bit, so we see attrition going up, we see salaries going up. We see that it’s a little bit more difficult to find people since the beginning of the year.” GEP has about 80 positions open right now, Makhija stated.

The company has taken advantage of the State of New Jersey’s Research and Development Tax Credit. “GEP is constantly investing in innovation and R&D. So, the state gives us some help there, which is very, very useful.” Makhija told us that he’s very satisfied with what the state has to offer his company. New Jersey is his home, he said, and he plans to stay here.

Esther Surden is Founder & Publisher of NJTechWeekly. This article is republished here with her permission.

Turntable.fm returns to life

Tom Paine

Turntable.fm, a popular if short-lived social music site once backed by First Round Capital and later Union Square Capital that shut down in 2013, has sprung to life again with $7.5 million in new funding led by  Andreessen Horowitz, as announced by original founder  Billy Chasen.

The original Turntable.fm enabled users to become virtual DJs, putting together tracks of recordings that competed against others for popularity. The cost of licensing music was too much for it.

The one returning investor I spotted was Chris Sacca -though original cofounder Seth Goldstein also invested..

The new Turntable.fm’s business model was not spelled out (at least publicly) yet.

Malone hints at possibility of future Comcast-WarnerMedia tie up

Tom Paine

Cable king John Malone said “there’s no question” that Brian Roberts, CEO of Comcast, NBCUniversal’s parent company, wanted to acquire WarnerMedia.

Speaking on Comcast NBCU’s CNBC, Malone made it clear that he has recently spoken with Roberts regarding the proposed AT&T / Warner Media / Discovery transaction.

“If the regulatory environment permitted, down the road, all kinds of relationships could be contemplated between this enterprise that we’re creating and Brian’s enterprise. I think there are many opportunities for this Discovery-[WarnerMedia] enterprise to work with NBCUniversal to develop successful businesses.”

Malone is the controlling shareholder in Discovey, a position he’s committed to unwinding as part of the proposed deal.

Malone also has recently agreed to sell his controlling Class B shares of Qurate Retail (owner of [West Chester-based] QVC and HSN) to longtime lieutenant Greg Maffei for $400 million.

These two moves together lead to speculation that the 80 year-old Malone may be beginning to liquidate his media holdings. In a statement on the AT&T / WarnerMedia / Discovery deal, Malone said ” I believe we are creating real value for shareholders and a legacy investment for my grandkids.”

For Comcast, the consensus among many is that its got to get bigger in the media business or get out.

Stream TV bankruptcy filing thrown out

Tom Paine

Philly-based Stream TV spent over a decade trying to establish a market for its no glasses required 3DTV technology.

On February 24 of this year, Stream TV filed a petition for relief under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code in the Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware (Case 21-10433)

Stream TV  defaulted on debts last year that included more than $50 million owed to secured creditors and $16 million to trade creditors.

Stream had raised about $160 million over the years from investors and has counted legendary telecommunications executive Leo Hindery Jr. among its directors.

On May 17, federal bankruptcy judge Karen Owens tossed out Stream TV Networks Inc.’s case, making it more difficult for the company to recover its technology for displaying three-dimensional images on flat screens. The bankruptcy filing was seen by the judge only as a bad-faith attempt by Stream to reclaim its intellectual property.

Stream TV’s unsecured creditors reach an agreement with its secured creditors that helped lead to the decision to dismissal.

Mathu Rajan, CEO of Stream TV, is also a cofounder of Trevose-based Zero Water.

There is a long, circuitous history behind this case, some of which is summarized in this 2020 case, Stream TV Networks, Inc. v. SeeCubic, Inc.

SeeCubic acquired Stream TV in 2020.

Stream TV shouldn’t be confused with a cable-based product of the same name.

People News: R “Ray” Wang; Chris Coons; Fabiola Cineas

Tom Paine

R “Ray” Wang, Founder, Chairman, & Principal Analyst of Constellation Research and generally considered the leading Silicon Valley-based enterprise software analyst, the son of Tawainese immigrants from Allentown, has a new book coming out in July: Everybody Wants to Rule the World: Surviving and Thriving in a World of Digital Giants. It aims to help readers “understand the power of Data-Driven Digital Networks and how they have driven the most successful companies of our time”.

Wang sees each industry sector becoming “a winner-takes-all bloodbath with a widening and accelerating gap between winners and losers”. The business world is evolving towards what Wang calls “Digital Duopolies”, in which each. major sector is ultimately dominated by two digital giants. Wang suggests how you can prepare to survive in this new world.




Delaware Senator Chris Coons, a Biden protege (Politico called him the “Biden Whisperer”), has more of a business background than one might realize. His divorced mother married Robert W. Gore, the late President of W. L. Gore and Associates (Gore-Tex & other products), who died this past September. One publication ranked Gore along with a sister as the wealthiest person in Delaware, with a net worth near $1 billion..

Coons, who received both divinity and law degrees from Yale, spent eight years as in-house counsel for W. L. Gore. 

Coons became US Senator in 2010, succeeding Ted Kaufman, a temporary replacement after Biden assumed the Vice Presidency in 2009..

A 2011 article in the Inquirer states that Coons had never been formally adopted by Gore and wasn’t expected to inherit from the estate, though he had accumulated $2 million in Gore stock possibly from his time working at Gore.



Former @PhillyMag writer Fabiola Cineas earned some positive feedback from LeBron James, for her portrayal of the shooting of Columbus teen Ma’Khia Bryant in Vox, her current journalistic home.

Gopuff buys Fancy, enters UK market

Tom Paine

As was first disclosed as a possibility by TechCrunch back in February, Gopuff announced today that it has completed the acquisition of UK-based Gopuff look-alike Fancy.

Launched late last year, Fancy is a graduate of Silicon Valley accelerator Y Combinator. Operating in six cities, Fancy has a business model similar to Gopuff’s in that it operates its own microfulfillment centers with company-owned inventory. .

“Acquiring Fancy is an important first step as we accelerate expansion in the UK and Europe and quickly accelerate our investment in the international market,” aid Daniel Folkman, Gopuff SVP of Business in a statement.