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Workday ventures into early-stage startup investments

BACK ROW (l-r): Tony Gauda, CEO of ThinAir; TJ Nahigian, CEO of Jobr; David Clarke, senior vice president of Technology Development, Workday

FRONT ROW (l-r): Adeyemi Ajao, vice president of Technology Product Strategy, Workday; Dan Beck, senior vice president of Product Marketing and Technology Strategy, Workday; Sofia Pessanha, CMO and co-founder of Unbabel; Theo Vassilakis, CEO of MetanautixBACK ROW (l-r): Tony Gauda, CEO of ThinAir; TJ Nahigian, CEO of Jobr; David Clarke, senior vice president of Technology Development, Workday

FRONT ROW (l-r): Adeyemi Ajao, vice president of Technology Product Strategy, Workday; Dan Beck, senior vice president of Product Marketing and Technology Strategy, Workday; Sofia Pessanha, CMO and co-founder of Unbabel; Theo Vassilakis, CEO of Metanautix
BACK ROW (l-r): Tony Gauda, CEO of ThinAir; TJ Nahigian, CEO of Jobr; David Clarke, senior vice president of Technology Development, Workday FRONT ROW (l-r): Adeyemi Ajao, vice president of Technology Product Strategy, Workday; Dan Beck, senior vice president of Product Marketing and Technology Strategy, Workday; Sofia Pessanha, CMO and co-founder of Unbabel; Theo Vassilakis, CEO of Metanautix

It’s pretty obvious that predictive analytics and machine learning will be central to future business software. So Workday is starting an investment fund to give early-stage innovators both some operating cash and some advice. In exchange, the cloud software company will get a peek into developments that could affect its own products, predominantly focused on human resources and financial operations management.

“This is about learning and staying current with new innovation around data,” said Dan Beck, Workday’s senior vice president of product marketing and technology. “In the next decade, the winners will be deeply grounded in data science and machine learning.”

The idea for Workday Ventures bubbled up organically, after executives noticed a pattern in inbound inquiries from early-stage companies looking to collaborate with Workday. Now, the company is actively seeking investment opportunities with the idea of closing approximately one dozen this year, said Adeyemi Ajao, vice president of technology product strategy at Workday.

A team of five senior executives evaluates each potential investment. Over the past three months, they have considered more than 100 companies, he said.

“We really have no target size … but they are not large enough [for us] to have financial control,” Ajao said. “We can operate very fast and get back to companies within days.”

So far, Workday has disclosed four investments (with a fifth one about to close), Ajao said. The companies are:

  • Jobr, a “mobile job discovery service” used by the likes of Microsoft and Facebook that matches passive candidates with new postings
  • Metanautix, a big data search company started by a former Google engineer
  • ThinAir, a “machine-driven” approach to protecting sensitive data
  • Unbabel, a platform combining human crowdsourcing and artificial intelligence in a web translation service

Workday isn’t disclosing the total value of its fund, at least not at this time. Initially, each portfolio company will be assigned a senior Workday executive, who will manage the relationship.

“To have the opportunity to sit down with Workday’s top data scientists and receive ongoing counsel from them about how we can maximize the platform’s data processing capabilities has been invaluable,” said Jobr CEO T.J. Nahigian, in a statement. “As we go forward, Workday will be a key partner in helping Jobr scale its platform and successfully address the enterprise market.”

Workday CEO Aneel Bhusri has been associated with venture capital firm Greylock since 1999. He’s still an advisory partner there, but there’s currently no official relationship between Greylock and Workday’s new fund, the Workday executives said.

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