Aug
20
2021
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Greycroft leads $3.5M into Breef, an online marketplace for ad agencies

Breef raised $3.5 million in funding to continue developing what it boasts as “the world’s first online marketplace” for transactions between brands and agencies.

Greycroft led the round and was joined by Rackhouse Ventures, The House Fund, John and Helen McBain, Lance Armstrong and 640 Oxford Ventures. Including the new round, the New York and Colorado-based company has brought in total funding of $4.5 million since its inception in 2019 by husband-and-wife co-founders George Raptis and Emily Bibb.

Bibb’s background is in digital marketing and brand building at companies like PopSugar, VSCO and S’well, while Raptis was on the founding team at fintech company Credible.com.

Both said they experienced challenges in finding agencies, which traditionally involved asking for referrals and then making a bunch of calls. There were also times when their companies would be in high demand for talent, but didn’t necessarily need a full-time employee to achieve the goal or project milestone.

While the concept of outsourcing is not new, Breef’s differentiator is its ability to manage complex projects: a traditional individual freelance project is less than $1,000 and takes a week or less. Instead, the company is working with team-based projects that average $25,000 with a length of engagement of about six months, Raptis said.

Breef’s platform is democratizing how brands and boutique agencies connect with each other in the process of planning, scoping, pitching and paying for projects, Raptis told TechCrunch.

“At the core, we are taking the agency online,” Bibb added. “We are building a platform to streamline a complicated process for outsourcing high-value work and allow users to find, pay for and work with agencies in days rather than months.”

Brands can draft their own brief to articulate what they need, and Breef will connect them to a short list of agencies that match those requirements. Rather than a one- or two-month search, the company is able to bring that down to five days.

Bibb and Raptis decided to seek venture capital after experiencing demand — millions of dollars in projects are being created on the platform each month — and some tailwinds from the shift to remote work. They saw many brands that may have originally utilized in-house teams or agencies of record turn to distributed or smaller teams.

Due to the nature of agency work being expensive, Breef is processing large amounts of money over the internet, and the founders want to continue developing the technology and hiring talent so that it is a secure and trustworthy system.

It also launched its buy now, pay later project funding service, Breef(pay), to streamline payments to agencies and reduce cash flow challenges. Users can construct their own payment terms, mix up the way they are paid and utilize a credit line or defer payments to control external spend.

To date, Breef has more than 5,000 vetted boutique agencies in 20 countries on its platform and is able to save its users an average of 32% in product costs compared with a traditional agency model. It boasts a customer list that includes Spotify, Brex, Shutterstock, Bluestone Lane and Kinrgy.

Kevin Novak, founder of Rackhouse Ventures, said he met Raptis through the Australian tech community. He recently launched his first fund targeting startups in novel applications of data.

“When they were talking to me about what they wanted to do, I got intrigued,” Novak said. “I like finding marketplaces where the idea is well understood by the people involved. Looking at the matching problem, Emily and George have found a unique way to find ad agencies that hasn’t existed before.”

 

Nov
02
2020
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Leena AI nabs $8M Series A as it expands from chatbots to HR service platform

When we covered Leena AI as a member of the Y Combinator Summer 2018 cohort, the young startup was firmly focused on building HR chatbots, but in the intervening years it has expanded the vision to a broader HR policy platform. Today, the company announced an $8 million Series A led by Greycroft with help from several individual industry investors.

Company CEO and co-founder Adit Jain says that in 2018 the company was concentrating on building an intelligent virtual assistant for HR-related questions. It allowed employees to ask the bot questions like how many vacation days they have left or what holidays they have off this year.

Over the last couple of years since leaving Y Combinator, the company has moved into broader HR service delivery. “So I’m talking about having an intelligent case management, knowledge management and document management system, which is backing the virtual assistant as well,” Jain explained.

He says that users should think of it as an entire system where the chatbot is the user interface for employees to interact with the HR information on the back end. For example, he says that the knowledge management component is where the chatbots find the answers to questions, and as employees interact with the chatbot, it grows more intelligent based on the feedback from them.

The document management piece enables HR to write or import HR policies and the case management system comes into play when the situation is too complex for the chatbot to handle and it has to be escalated to a human HR representative.

When we spoke to Jain in September 2018 at the time of his startup’s $2 million seed round, he had 16 customers and hoped to have 50 in the next 12-18 months. Today the company has 100 enterprise customers with 300,000 employees using the platform worldwide.

In fact, the pandemic has fueled business with more than half of those customers coming on board this year. He says this is because companies are looking for ways to digitize processes like HR as employees are working from home more.

“This is a trend that’s going to continue as organizations have realized the value of doing things with more and more digital applications taking care of your processes […] especially mundane, repeatable tasks being handed over to technology more and more,” Jain said.

As the business has grown this year, the company has expanded from 30 to 75 employees and he hopes to double that number in the next year. As he does, he has discussed with his lead investor how to build a diverse and inclusive culture at Leena AI .

One thing he is trying to do is raise some money from a diverse group of investors, approximately $400,000, and his hope is that these diverse investors can help him build solid diversity programs as he adds employees to his growing company.

That the startup hasn’t only grown during these turbulent times, but thrived, shows that companies are looking to modernize every part of the enterprise technology stack, and that includes HR.

Oct
28
2020
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Kandji hauls in $21M Series A as Apple device management flourishes during pandemic

Kandji, a mobile device management (MDM) startup, launched last October. That means it was trying to build the early-stage company just as the pandemic hit earlier this year. But a company that helps manage devices remotely has been in demand in this environment, and today it announced a $21 million Series A.

Greycroft led the round, with participation from new investors Okta Ventures and B Capital Group, and existing investor First Round Capital. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $28.4 million, according to the company.

What Kandji is building is a sophisticated zero-touch device management solution to help larger companies manage their fleet of Apple devices, including keeping them in compliance with a particular set of rules. As CEO and co-founder Adam Pettit told TechCrunch at the time of his seed investment last year:

We’re the only product that has almost 200 of these one-click policy frameworks we call parameters. So an organization can go in and browse by compliance framework, or we have pre-built templates for companies that don’t necessarily have a specific compliance mandate in mind.

Monty Gray, SVP of corporate development at Okta, says Okta Ventures is investing because it sees this approach as a valuable extension of the company’s mission.

“Kandji’s device management streamlines the most common and complex tasks for Apple IT administrators and enables distributed workforces to get up and running quickly and securely,” he said in a statement.

It seems to be working. Since the company’s launch last year it reports it has gained hundreds of new paying customers and grown from 10 employees at launch to 40 today. Pettit says that he has plans to triple that number in the next 12 months. As he builds the company, he says finding and hiring a diverse pool of candidates is an important goal.

“There are ways to extend out into different candidate pools so that you’re not just looking at the same old candidates that you normally would. There are certain ways to reduce bias in the hiring process. So again, I think we look at this as absolutely critical, and we’re excited to build a really diverse company over the next several years,” he said.

Kandji - Zero Touch Deployment

Image Credits: Kandji

He notes that the investment will not only enable him to build the employee base, but also expand the product too, and in the past year, it has already taken it from basic MDM into compliance, and there are new features coming as they continue to grow the product.

“If someone saw our product a year ago, it’s a very different product today, and it’s allowed us to move up market into the enterprise, which has been very exciting for us,” he said.

Apr
15
2020
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Frame AI raises $6.3M Series A to help understand customers across channels

Frame AI, a New York City startup that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to help companies understand their customers better across multiple channels, announced a $6.3 million Series A investment today.

G20 Ventures and Greycroft led the round together. Bill Wiberg, co-founder and partner at G20, will join Frame’s board under the terms of the deal. The total raised with an earlier seed round is over $10 million, according to the company.

“Frame is basically an early warning system and continuous monitoring tool for your customer voice,” Frame CEO and co-founder George Davis told TechCrunch . What that means, in practice, is the tool plugs into help desk software, call center tooling, CRM systems and anywhere else in a company that communicates with a customer.

“We then use natural language understanding to pull out emerging themes and basically aggregate them to account and segment levels so that customer experience leaders can prioritize taking actions to improve their relationships,” Davis explained.

He believes that customer experience leaders are being asked to do more and more in terms of talking to customers on ever more channels and digesting that into useful information for the rest of their company to be responsive to customer needs, and he says that there isn’t a lot of tooling to help with this particular part of the customer experience problem.

“We don’t think they have the right tools to do either the listening in the first place or the analysis. We’re trying to make it possible for them to hear their customers everywhere they’re already talking to them, and then act on that information,” he said.

He says they work alongside customer data platforms (CDPs) like Segment, Salesforce Customer 360 and Adobe Real-time CDP. “We can take the customer voice information from all of these unstructured sources, all these natural language sources and turn it into moments that can be contributed back to one of these structured data platforms.”

Davis certainly recognizes that his company is getting this money in the middle of a health and economic crisis, and he hopes that a tool like his that can help take the pulse of the customer across multiple channels can help companies succeed at a time when a data-driven approach to customer experience is more important than ever.

He says that by continuing to hire through this and building his company, he can contribute to restarting the economic engine, even if in some small way.

“It’s a bleak time, but I have a lot of confidence in New York and in the country, in the customer experience community and in the world’s ability to bounce back strong from this. I think it’s actually created a lot of solidarity that we’re all going to find a lot of new opportunities, and we’re going to just keep building Frame as fast as we can.”

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