Mar
12
2021
--

Assembled, an operating system for support teams, raises $16.6M

From the point of view of a consumer, customer service sometimes feels like a monolith, but behind the scenes it can be a very fragmented business, with dozens of companies providing various different tools to help agents do their jobs.

Today, a startup founded by three Stripe alums that has set out to build a platform that helps organizations manage that spaghetti of customer service IT, and use it more efficiently, is announcing a round of funding to continue growing its business.

Assembled, which has built a platform that it describes as the “operating system” for support teams, has raised $16.6 million, a Series A that it plans to use to continue expanding its team and platform, and to bring on more customers.

The round is being led by Emergence Capital, the VC that specializes in enterprise startups, backing other communications-centric companies in its time like Salesforce, Zoom, Yammer, ServiceMax, SalesLoft and Lithium. Stripe, Basis Set Ventures and Felicis Ventures also participated. Stripe has a strong connection to Assembled. It is a customer. It led Assembled’s $3.1 million seed round a year ago.

And, it was the company where the three co-founders met and built the earliest version of the product it offers today. CEO Brian Sze was one of the first employees, overseeing business operations, where he built the customer support platform that inspired him to eventually leave to found Assembled. His two co-founders, brothers Ryan and John Wang, were engineers at the payments and financial services behemoth.

Assembled’s current platform is priced in tiers starting at $15 per agent per month. Integrating with Salesforce, Zendesk, Intercom, Kustomer, Gladly and other services by way of API integrations, it provides not just a way to manage and view customer support data from different sources in one place, but alongside that it provides tools focused on the support teams themselves. This includes tools to manage and roster teams, analyze team performance, and forecast demand depending on different factors in order to be better prepared.

As with all other aspects of how organizations work, customer service and people management are being digitally transformed. Typically, Sze said that many companies still use spreadsheets to manage and plan customer support rosters. That is now gradually shifting into what he describes as “support ops” where a strategic person is tasked not just with handling what is happening with incoming customer support right now, but also needs to figure out what will happen in the next year, and the tools that might help cope with that. “That is our emergent buyer,” Sze said.

“The sheer number of channels being supported is much bigger, when you consider email, messaging, phone lines, social media and more,” said Sze, adding that the pandemic had a particularly strong effect on Assembled’s business. It saw a big bump in especially in Q3 of last year, when its customer base doubled. “I think it came down to support being one of the most critical teams at the organization.”

Assembled today has a number of tech companies, and tech-first consumer companies as customers, including Stripe, GoFundMe, challenger bank Monzo, Google-owned Looker, D2C clothing brand Everlane and Harrys. It has grown customers five-fold in the last year, said Sze, while revenues have grown 300% (absolute numbers for both were not disclosed).

The concept of an “operating system” for customer support makes a lot of sense when you think about how the role has evolved over the years.

In the decades before the internet and digital interactions became the norm, support either focused on in-person visits, or phone-based interactions where you might find yourself calling toll-free numbers, sitting on hold for a long time, maybe being shuffled from one person to another depending on the nature of your issue.

Over time, those systems picked up some automated responses and companies started getting better systems in place to triage those calls. Then, as marketing became “marketing tech” and sales took on a software life of its own, those customer support people started to pick up more responsibilities, not just listening to customers but turning around and offering to sell them things, too, or take stock of customer satisfaction and overall sentiment. Then more channels for connecting came with the internet. Then came more efficient tools, cloud-based services, mobile services, and more to handle all of the above, and so on.

All of these iterations often came with different pieces of software, and while some companies have set out to build one-stop shops to take everything on, Assembled takes a Slack-like approach, making it easy to bring in data and manage different tools from one place, providing a place to bring them all together to help them work more harmoniously. At the same time, it provides a way to manage the teams of people who are there to work with those pieces of software. This is because, when it comes to customer support, it’s always as much about the teams running it as it is the software they are using (hence: “assmebled”).

The company’s approach has been especially relevant in the last year. Not only have teams — including customer service teams — been forced to work remotely, but they have generally seen a surge of traffic from customers who are going online for all of their services, and using digital tools when they need to get in touch with organizations. Still, the opportunity for Assembled is that by and large, there are still a large proportion of businesses that are still playing catch up here.

“Today’s customer support teams operate in a dynamic, increasingly remote environment vastly different from that of a decade ago,” said Jake Saper, Emergence General Partner, in a statement. “But it’s shocking to learn how many support teams are still operating out of spreadsheets. At Emergence, we believe that Support Ops will become a critical complement to support teams, much like DevOps has become for developers. Having initially built their product to manage Stripe’s support function, we believe the Assembled team is the world’s best to build the core operating platform for Support Ops.”

Valuation is not being disclosed.


Early Stage is the premier ‘how-to’ event for startup entrepreneurs and investors. You’ll hear first-hand how some of the most successful founders and VCs build their businesses, raise money and manage their portfolios. We’ll cover every aspect of company-building: Fundraising, recruiting, sales, product market fit, PR, marketing and brand building. Each session also has audience participation built-in – there’s ample time included for audience questions and discussion. Use code “TCARTICLE at checkout to get 20 percent off tickets right here.

Mar
11
2020
--

Assembled raises $3.1M led by Stripe to build ‘the operating system for support teams’

CRM software accounts for one-quarter of all enterprise IT spend. But ironically, while a lot of money is spent on platforms like Salesforce or SAP to manage incoming calls and outgoing marketing and sales activity, not a lot of attention is given to the issue of how to help the teams using all that software work better.

What are the peak times for calls? What are the most common questions? Which staff are best skilled at what kinds of questions? And who is actually working at any given time? These are just some of the issues, but in many cases, there isn’t much in the way of tools used to help with these at all — organisations often just hack a spreadsheet platform like Google Sheets or a calendar app to get by, or do nothing at all.

Today, a startup called Assembled is coming out of stealth mode to address that gap in the market, with a platform that’s built specifically to address the kinds of questions and issues that customer support teams encounter and — answered well — can help them work much better.

Out of the gate, Assembled is announcing $3.1 million in seed funding led by Stripe — where the founding team previously worked — with participation also from Basis Set Ventures, Signalfire and several angel investors (who are also mostly former Stripe employees).

Assembled’s longer-term ambition is to build tools for what co-founder Ryan Wang describes as “the logistics of customer support.”

“We want to become the operating system for support teams,” he said. Most immediately, the company’s focus will be on agent performance. “Teams want to learn about their top performers and how they spend their time, and offer data to empower their decision-making.”

Stripe — the payments and related services provider that is now valued at $35 billion — has developed a sizable operation funding startups adjacent to its own interests in cultivating relationships with startups and other smaller businesses. You could consider it a strategic investor in Assembled: alongside Grammarly, Gofundme, Hopper and Harry’s, Stripe is one of Assembled’s marquee customers.

Wang, an ex-Stripe engineer who co-founded Assembled with his brother John and Assembled’s CEO Brian Sze (both also ex-Stripe), said in an interview that the idea for the startup came directly out of the pair’s experiences as early employees at Stripe.

The approach at the startup in its early days was very grass-roots: employees would get together outside the office to go through support tickets as a way of identifying trends and to talk through them to figure out what might need fixing, how to handle issues in the future and so on.

It was probably a great way for the team to really stay in touch with what customers needed and wanted. But eventually this approach presented a problem: How do you scale this kind of process? To a tech person, the solution would be obvious: build a platform that can help you do this.

“Within the landscape of CRM, we could see that tech hadn’t really been applied to the business of supporting customer support,” Wang said. “That is why we left. We’d understood that it was a broad problem.”

A tool to help improve workforce management for customer support teams is a no-brainer for a company already trying to address these issues through its own home-baked solutions. Wang noted that one of its current customers had built out such an extensive map of data on Google Sheets trying to address customer support workforce management that “they broke Google Sheets. It was just too big.”

Indeed, Bob van Winden, Stripe’s head of operations, noted: “Millions of businesses rely on Stripe every day. To support them, we obsess over every detail of delivering fast, reliable customer service, including free 24×7 phone and chat support. This led us to Assembled, which our global support teams are using to stay coordinated and focused on helping Stripe’s users thrive.”

Less obvious is the use case when a company has never identified these issues, or sees them but haven’t made efforts to try to solve them because it seems too difficult. (The classic issues here are that Assembled is “too clever by half,” or “too ahead of its time.”) That presents both an open market for Assembled, but also a greenfield challenge.

One route to customers has been to integrate with more established CRM packages. Currently Assembled integrates with Salesforce, Kustomer and Zendesk, so that it can source data from these to provide more insights to users.

Another is to provide a set of tools that speak to the wider trend for analytics and data-based insights that can be used to improve how a company works. Indeed, just as Kustomer has disrupted the idea of a CRM being focused on a narrow funnel of inbound requests, Assembled also is rethinking how to parse data to figure out what a customer support person should be doing and when. 

The startup provides a way to forecast inbound support query volumes, and to map that into staffing plans that cover multiple channels like chat, email, phone and social media. The staffing plan, in turn, also acts as a scheduling tool to set up group and single calendars for individuals.

A team’s activity, meanwhile, is tracked through a set of metrics the whole team can see and use to calibrate their work better.

Going forward, you can imagine Assembled expanding in a couple of different directions. One might be to offer workforce management to more teams beyond customer support, but that also have to work out how to manage inbound requests and turn them into more efficient work plans. Another might be to continue expanding the kinds of tools it might provide to customer support teams to continue complementing basic CRMs, in particular as customer support comes to mean different things, depending on who the “customer” actually is.

“We see the term ‘customer support’ evolving,” Wang said. “The big struggle is what the encompassing term should be instead. Generally, our view is that we want to transform and elevate what customer support means. It’s not just about call centers, but any drivers of customer experience related to your products.”

Powered by WordPress | Theme: Aeros 2.0 by TheBuckmaker.com