Sep
20
2021
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Flippa raises $11M to match online asset and business buyers, sellers

Flippa, an online marketplace to buy and sell online businesses and digital assets, announced its first venture-backed round, an $11 million Series A, as it sees over 600,000 monthly searches from investors looking to connect with business owners.

OneVentures led the round and was joined by existing investors Andrew Walsh (former Hitwise CEO), Flippa co-founders Mark Harbottle and Matt Mickiewicz, 99designs, as well as new investors Catch.com.au founders Gabby and Hezi Leibovich; RetailMeNot.com founders Guy King and Bevan Clarke; and Reactive Media founders Tim O’Neill and Tim Fouhy.

The company, with bases in both Austin and Australia, was started in 2009 and facilitates exits for millions of online business owners, some that operate on e-commerce marketplaces, blogs, SaaS and apps, the newest data integration being for Shopify, Blake Hutchison, CEO of Flippa, told TechCrunch.

He considers Flippa to be “the investment bank for the 99%,” of small businesses, providing an end-to end platform that includes a proprietary valuation product for businesses — processing over 4,000 valuations each month — and a matching algorithm to connect with qualified buyers.

Business owners can sell their companies directly through the platform and have the option to bring in a business broker or advisor. The company also offers due diligence and acquisition financing from Thrasio-owned Yardline Capital and a new service called Flippa Legal.

“Our strategy is verification at the source, i.e. data,” Hutchison said. “Users can currently connect to Stripe, QuickBooks Online, WooCommerce, Google Analytics and Admob for apps, which means they can expose their online business performance with one-click, and buyers can seamlessly assess financial and operational performance.”

Online retail, as a share of total retail sales, grew to 19.6% in 2020, up from 15.8% in 2019, driven largely by the global pandemic as sales shifted online while brick-and-mortar stores closed.

Meanwhile, Amazon has 6 million sellers, and Shopify sellers run over 1 million businesses. This has led to an emergence of e-commerce aggregators, backed by venture capital dollars, that are scooping up successful businesses to grow, finding many through Flippa’s marketplace, Hutchison said.

Flippa has over 3 million registered users and added 300,000 new registered users in the past 12 months. Overall transaction volume grows 100% year over year. Though being bootstrapped for over a decade, the company’s growth and opportunity drove Hutchison to go after venture capital dollars.

“There is a huge movement toward this being recognized as an asset class,” he said. “At the moment, the asset class is undervalued and driving a massive swarm as investors snap up businesses and aggregate them together. We see the future of these aggregators becoming ‘X company for apps’ or ‘X for blogs.’ ”

As such, the new funding will be used to double the company’s headcount to more than 100 people as it builds out its offices globally, as well as establishing outposts in Melbourne, San Francisco and Austin. The company will also invest in marketing and product development to scale its business valuation tool that Hutchison likens to the “Zillow Zestimate,” but for online businesses.

Nigel Dews, operating partner at OneVentures, has been following Flippa since it started. His firm is one of the oldest venture capital firms in Australia and has 30 companies in its portfolio focused on healthcare and technology.

He believes the company will create meaningful change for small businesses. The team combined with Flippa’s ability to connect buyers and sellers puts the company in a strong leadership position to take advantage of the marketplace effect.

“Flippa is an incredible opportunity for us,” he added. “You don’t often get a world-leading business in a brand new category with incredible tailwinds. We also liked that the company is based in Australia, but half of its revenue comes from the U.S.”

Aug
16
2021
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Shopistry bags $2M to provide ‘headless commerce without the headaches’

Canada-based Shopistry wants to turn the concept of headless commerce, well, on its head. On Monday, the e-commerce startup announced $2 million in seed funding to continue developing its toolkit of products, integrations, services and managed infrastructure for brands to scale online.

Jaafer Haidar and Tariq Zabian started Shopistry in 2019. Haidar’s background is as a serial technology founder with exits and ventures in e-commerce and cloud software. He was working as a venture capitalist when he got the idea for Shopistry. Zabian is a former general manager at OLX, an online classified marketplace.

Shopistry enables customers to create personalized commerce experiences accessible to all. Haidar expects headless will become the dominant architecture over the next five years, though he isn’t too keen on calling it “headless.” He much prefers the term “modular.”

“It’s a modular system, we call it ‘headless without the headaches,’ where you grab the framework to manage APIs,” Haidar told TechCrunch. “After a company goes live, they can spend 50% of their budget just to keep the lights on. They use marketplaces like Shopify to do the tech, and we are doing the same thing, but providing way more optionality. We are not a monolithic system.”

Currently, the company offers five products:

  • Shopistry Console: Brands turn on their optimal stack and change anytime without re-platforming. There is support for multiple e-commerce administrative tools like Shopify or Square, payment providers, analytics and marketing capabilities.
  • Shopistry Cloud is a managed infrastructure spearheading performance, data management and orchestration across services.
  • Shopistry Storefront and Mobile to manage web storefronts and mobile apps.
  • Shopistry CMS, a data-driven, headless customer management system to create once and publish across channels.
  • Shopistry Services, an offering to brands that need design and engineering help.

Investors in the seed round include Shoptalk founder Jonathan Weiner, Hatch Labs’ Amar Varma, Garage Capital, Mantella Venture Partners and Raiven Capital.

“At MVP we love companies that can simplify complexity to bring the proven innovations of large, technically sophisticated retailers to the masses of small to midsize retailers trying to compete with them,” said Duncan Hill, co-founder and general partner at Mantella Venture Partners, in a written statement. “Shopistry has the team and tech to be a major player in this next phase of the e-commerce evolution. This was easy to get excited about.”

Shopistry is already working with retailers like Honed and Oura Ring to manage their e-commerce presences without the cost, complexity or need for a big technology team.

Prior to going after the seed funding, Haidar and Zabian spent two years working with high growth brands to build out its infrastructure. Haidar intends to use the new capital to future that development as well as bring on sales and marketing staff.

Haidar was not able to provide growth metrics just yet. He did say the company was growing its customer base and expects to be able to share that growth next year. He is planning to add more flexibility and integrations to the back end of Shopistry’s platform and add support for other platforms.

“We are focusing next on the go-to-market perspective while we gear up for our big launch coming in the fourth quarter,” he added. “There is also a big component to ‘after the sale,’ and we want to create some amazing experiences and focus on back office operations. We want to be the easiest way to control and manage data while maintaining a storefront.”

 

Aug
11
2021
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E-commerce-as-a-service platform Cart.com picks up $98M to give brands scaling tools

Cart.com, a Houston-based company providing end-to-end e-commerce services, brought in its third funding round this year, this time a $98 million Series B round to bring its total funding to $143 million.

Oak HC/FT led the new round of funding and was joined by PayPal Ventures, Clearco, G9 Ventures, Mercury Fund, Valedor Partners and Arsenal Growth. Strategic investors in the Series B include Heyday CEO Sebastian Rymarz and Casper CEO Philip Krim. This new round follows a $25 million Series A round, led by Mercury and Arsenal in July, and a $20 million seed round from Bearing Ventures.

Cart.com CEO Omair Tariq, who was previously an executive at Home Depot and COO of Blinds.com, co-founded the company in September 2020 with Jim Jacobson, former CEO of RTIC Outdoors.

Tariq told TechCrunch that the company provides software, services and infrastructure to businesses so they can scale online. Cart.com is taking the best parts of selling direct-to-consumer on marketplaces like Amazon and Shopify to create value for brands. Tariq said he is pioneering the term “e-commerce-as-a-service” to bring together under one platform a suite of business tools like storefront software, marketing, fulfillment, payments and customer service.

“We see the power of having an interconnected platform,” Tariq said. “There also needs to be a hybrid between selling direct-to-consumer and on Amazon and Shopify for companies that don’t have the money to pay for a percentage of their sales and receive no access to customers or data, and needing 20 different plug-ins that are not connected.”

Cart.com went after the new funding after seeing validation of its idea: brands coming to them wanting more products and services, which led to acquisitions. The company has acquired seven companies so far, including — AmeriCommerce, Spacecraft Brands and, more recently, DuMont Project and Sauceda Industries. Tariq is planning for another three or four by the end of the year.

In addition, it received inbound interest from strategic investors, like Oak and PayPal, which Tariq said was going to enable the company “to be more successful faster.”

Allen Miller, principal at Oak HC/FT, said after spending time with Tariq to understand his vision about Cart.com’s software, payments and services, he felt that the company was doing something that didn’t exist in today’s commerce infrastructure.

He said that Cart.com is well positioned to help companies, like those with $1 million in sales, stay focused on growing the business while Cart.com stitches together all of the tools for them to operate in the background.

“It’s a unique offering to merchants that has a high value proposition,” Miller said. “The vision and drive that Omair and Jim have, along with an inspiring mission they want to achieve — to be brand-centric and help the next generation of merchants. These guys also have a good playbook on finding companies and teams to acquire, as well as handling the post M&A to have everyone on one platform.”

The new financing will enable Cart.com to further invest in technology development and to increase headcount by at least 15 times, with plans to go from fewer than two dozen employees to more than 300 team members by the end of the year. The company has nearly 70 jobs posted on its website for positions in engineering, technology, digital marketing and e-commerce. Tariq also expects half of the funds to go toward more acquisitions.

Cart.com currently serves over 2,000 e-commerce brands, including GNC, Haymaker Coffee and KeHE, and processes more than $700 million in gross merchandise value per year. The company saw revenue increase 400% since the platform’s launch in November.

In addition, the company has nine fulfillment centers across the country, and is increasing its access to reach 80% of the U.S. population with two-day shipping, Tariq added.

“We are giving the power back to brands by giving them what they need to operate e-commerce,” he said. “There are still a few pieces to fill in so brands have a unified experience, but with us, they can add fulfilment, marketing or customer conversion tools with the click of a couple of buttons.”

 

Aug
10
2021
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Upscribe, raising $4M, wants to drive subscription-first DTC brand growth

Upscribe founder and CEO Dileepan Siva watched the retail industry make a massive shift to subscription e-commerce for physical products over the past decade, and decided to get in it himself in 2019.

The Los Angeles-based company, developing subscription software for direct-to-consumer e-commerce merchants, is Siva’s fourth startup experience and first time as founder. He closed a $4 million seed round to go after two macro trends he is seeing: buying physical products, like consumer-packaged goods, on a recurring basis, and new industries offering subscriptions, like car and fashion companies.

Merchants use Upscribe’s technology to drive subscriber growth, reduce churn and enable their customers to personalize a subscription experience, like skipping shipments, swapping out products and changing the order frequency. Brands can also feature products for upsell purposes throughout the subscriber lifecycle, from checkout to post-purchase.

Upscribe also offers APIs for merchants to integrate tools like Klaviyo, Segment and Shopify — a new subscription offering for checkouts.

Uncork Capital led the seed round and was joined by Leaders Fund, The House Fund, Roach Capitals’ Fahd Ananta and Shippo CEO Laura Behrens Wu.

“As the market for D2C subscriptions booms, there is a need for subscription-first brands to grow and scale their businesses,” said Jeff Clavier, founder and managing partner of Uncork Capital, in a written statement. “We have spent a long time in the e-commerce space, working with D2C brands and companies who are solving common industry pain points, and Upscribe’s merchant-centric approach raised the bar for subscription services, addressing the friction in customer experiences and enabling merchants to engage subscribers and scale recurring revenue growth.”

Siva bootstrapped the company, but decided to go after venture capital dollars when Upscribe wanted to create a more merchant-centric approach, which required scaling with a bigger team. The “real gems are in the data layer and how to make the experience exceptional,” he added.

The company is growing 43% quarter over quarter and is close to profitable, with much of its business stemming from referrals, Siva said. It is already working with customers like Athletic Greens, Four Sigmatic and True Botanicals and across multiple verticals, including food and beverage, health and wellness, beauty and cosmetics and home care.

The new funding will be used to “capture the next wave of brands that are going to grow,” he added. Siva cites the growth will come as the DTC subscription market is forecasted to reach $478 billion by 2025, and 75% of those brands are expected to offer subscriptions in the next two years. As such, the majority of the funding will be used to bring on more employees, especially in the product, customer success and go-to-market functions.

Though there is competition in the space, many of those are focused on processing transactions, while Siva said Upscribe’s approach is customer relationships. The cost of acquiring new customers is going up, and subscription services will be the key to converting one-time buyers into loyal customers.

“It is really about customer relationships and the ongoing engagement between merchants and subscribers,” he added. “We are in a different world now. The first wave could play the Facebook game, advertising on social media with super low acquisition and scale. That is no longer the case anymore.”

 

Mar
22
2021
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No-code business intelligence service y42 raises $2.9M seed round

Berlin-based y42 (formerly known as Datos Intelligence), a data warehouse-centric business intelligence service that promises to give businesses access to an enterprise-level data stack that’s as simple to use as a spreadsheet, today announced that it has raised a $2.9 million seed funding round led by La Famiglia VC. Additional investors include the co-founders of Foodspring, Personio and Petlab.

The service, which was founded in 2020, integrates with more than 100 data sources, covering all the standard B2B SaaS tools, from Airtable to Shopify and Zendesk, as well as database services like Google’s BigQuery. Users can then transform and visualize this data, orchestrate their data pipelines and trigger automated workflows based on this data (think sending Slack notifications when revenue drops or emailing customers based on your own custom criteria).

Like similar startups, y42 extends the idea data warehouse, which was traditionally used for analytics, and helps businesses operationalize this data. At the core of the service is a lot of open source and the company, for example, contributes to GitLabs’ Meltano platform for building data pipelines.

y42 founder and CEO Hung Dang

y42 founder and CEO Hung Dang. Image Credits: y42

“We’re taking the best of breed open-source software. What we really want to accomplish is to create a tool that is so easy to understand and that enables everyone to work with their data effectively,” Y42 founder and CEO Hung Dang told me. “We’re extremely UX obsessed and I would describe us as a no-code/low-code BI tool — but with the power of an enterprise-level data stack and the simplicity of Google Sheets.”

Before y42, Vietnam-born Dang co-founded a major events company that operated in more than 10 countries and made millions in revenue (but with very thin margins), all while finishing up his studies with a focus on business analytics. And that in turn led him to also found a second company that focused on B2B data analytics.

Image Credits: y42

Even while building his events company, he noted, he was always very product- and data-driven. “I was implementing data pipelines to collect customer feedback and merge it with operational data — and it was really a big pain at that time,” he said. “I was using tools like Tableau and Alteryx, and it was really hard to glue them together — and they were quite expensive. So out of that frustration, I decided to develop an internal tool that was actually quite usable and in 2016, I decided to turn it into an actual company. ”

He then sold this company to a major publicly listed German company. An NDA prevents him from talking about the details of this transaction, but maybe you can draw some conclusions from the fact that he spent time at Eventim before founding y42.

Given his background, it’s maybe no surprise that y42’s focus is on making life easier for data engineers and, at the same time, putting the power of these platforms in the hands of business analysts. Dang noted that y42 typically provides some consulting work when it onboards new clients, but that’s mostly to give them a head start. Given the no-code/low-code nature of the product, most analysts are able to get started pretty quickly — and for more complex queries, customers can opt to drop down from the graphical interface to y42’s low-code level and write queries in the service’s SQL dialect.

The service itself runs on Google Cloud and the 25-people team manages about 50,000 jobs per day for its clients. The company’s customers include the likes of LifeMD, Petlab and Everdrop.

Until raising this round, Dang self-funded the company and had also raised some money from angel investors. But La Famiglia felt like the right fit for y42, especially due to its focus on connecting startups with more traditional enterprise companies.

“When we first saw the product demo, it struck us how on top of analytical excellence, a lot of product development has gone into the y42 platform,” said Judith Dada, general partner at LaFamiglia VC. “More and more work with data today means that data silos within organizations multiply, resulting in chaos or incorrect data. y42 is a powerful single source of truth for data experts and non-data experts alike. As former data scientists and analysts, we wish that we had y42 capabilities back then.”

Dang tells me he could have raised more but decided that he didn’t want to dilute the team’s stake too much at this point. “It’s a small round, but this round forces us to set up the right structure. For the Series A, which we plan to be towards the end of this year, we’re talking about a dimension which is 10x,” he told me.

Dec
17
2020
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Spryker raises $130M at a $500M+ valuation to provide B2Bs with agile e-commerce tools

Businesses today feel, more than ever, the imperative to have flexible e-commerce strategies in place, able to connect with would-be customers wherever they might be. That market driver has now led to a significant growth round for a startup that is helping the larger of these businesses, including those targeting the B2B market, build out their digital sales operations with more agile, responsive e-commerce solutions.

Spryker, which provides a full suite of e-commerce tools for businesses — starting with a platform to bring a company’s inventory online, through to tools to analyse and measure how that inventory is selling and where, and then adding voice commerce, subscriptions, click & collect, IoT commerce and other new features and channels to improve the mix — has closed a round of $130 million.

It plans to use the funding to expand its own technology tools, as well as grow internationally. The company makes revenues in the mid-eight figures (so, around $50 million annually) and some 10% of its revenues currently come from the U.S. The plan will be to grow that business as part of its wider expansion, tackling a market for e-commerce software that is estimated to be worth some $7 billion annually.

The Series C was led by TCV — the storied investor that has backed giants like Facebook, Airbnb, Netflix, Spotify and Splunk, as well as interesting, up-and-coming e-commerce “plumbing” startups like Spryker, Relex and more. Previous backers One Peak and Project A Ventures also participated.

We understand that this latest funding values Berlin -based Spryker at more than $500 million.

Spryker today has around 150 customers, global businesses that run the gamut from recognised fashion brands through to companies that, as Boris Lokschin, who co-founded the company with Alexander Graf (the two share the title of co-CEOs) put it, are “hidden champions, leaders and brands you have never heard about doing things like selling silicone isolations for windows.” The roster includes Metro, Aldi Süd, Toyota and many others.

The plan will be to continue to support and grow its wider business building e-commerce tools for all kinds of larger companies, but in particular Spryker plans to use this tranche of funding to double down specifically on the B2B opportunity, building more agile e-commerce storefronts and in some cases also developing marketplaces around that.

One might assume that in the world of e-commerce, consumer-facing companies need to be the most dynamic and responsive, not least because they are facing a mass market and all the whims and competitive forces that might drive users to abandon shopping carts, look for better deals elsewhere or simply get distracted by the latest notification of a TikTok video or direct message.

For consumer-facing businesses, making sure they have the latest adtech, marketing tech and tools to improve discovery and conversion is a must.

It turns out that business-facing businesses are no less immune to their own set of customer distractions and challenges — particularly in the current market, buffeted as it is by the global health pandemic and its economic reverberations. They, too, could benefit from testing out new channels and techniques to attract customers, help them with discovery and more.

“We’ve discovered that the model for success for B2B businesses online is not about different people, and not about money. They just don’t have the tooling,” said Graf. “Those that have proven to be more successful are those that are able to move faster, to test out everything that comes to mind.”

Spryker positions itself as the company to help larger businesses do this, much in the way that smaller merchants have adopted solutions from the likes of Shopify .

In some ways, it almost feels like the case of Walmart versus Amazon playing itself out across multiple verticals, and now in the world of B2B.

“One of our biggest DIY customers [which would have previously served a mainly trade-only clientele] had to build a marketplace because of restrictions in their brick and mortar assortment, and in how it could be accessed,” Lokschin said. “You might ask yourself, who really needs more selection? But there are new providers like Mano Mano and Amazon, both offering millions of products. Older companies then have to become marketplaces themselves to remain competitive.”

It seems that even Spryker itself is not immune from that marketplace trend: Part of the funding will be to develop a technology AppStore, where it can itself offer third-party tools to companies to complement what it provides in terms of e-commerce tools.

“We integrate with hundreds of tech providers, including 30-40 payment providers, all of the essential logistics networks,” Lokschin said.

Spryker is part of that category of e-commerce businesses known as “headless” providers — by which they mean those using the tools do so by way of API-based architecture and other easy-to-integrate modules delivered through a “PaaS” (clould-based Platform as a Service) model.

It is not alone in that category: There have been a number of others playing on the same concept to emerge both in Europe and the U.S. They include Commerce Layer in Italy; another startup out of Germany called Commercetools; and Shogun in the U.S.

Spryker’s argument is that by being a newer company (founded in 2018) it has a more up-to-date stack that puts it ahead of older startups and more incumbent players like SAP and Oracle.

That is part of what attracted TCV and others in this round, which was closed earlier than Spryker had even planned to raise (it was aiming for Q2 of next year) but came on good terms.

“The commerce infrastructure market has been a high priority for TCV over the years. It is a large market that is growing rapidly on the back of e-commerce growth,” said Muz Ashraf, a principal at TCV, to TechCrunch. “We have invested across other areas of the commerce stack, including payments (Mollie, Klarna), underlying infrastructure (Redis Labs) as well as systems of engagement (ExactTarget, Sitecore). Traditional offline vendors are increasingly rethinking their digital commerce strategy, more so given what we are living through, and that further acts as a market accelerant.

“Having tracked Spryker for a while now, we think their solution meets the needs of enterprises who are increasingly looking for modern solutions that allow them to live in a best-of-breed world, future-proofing their commerce offerings and allowing them to provide innovative experiences to their consumers.”

May
14
2020
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Why we’re doubling down on cloud investments right now

Years from now, people will look back on the COVID-19 pandemic as a watershed moment for society and the global economy.

Wearing a mask might be as common as owning a phone; telework, telemedicine and online education will be more of a norm than a backup plan; and for the global economy, the cloud will have transformed the underlying infrastructure of businesses and entire industries.

COVID-19 is a turning point for the cloud and cloud company founders. For its computing power and as a delivery model of software, the cloud has been embraced as a solution to many challenges that businesses face during today’s economic downturn and recovery. Not only is the cloud industry more resilient than other industries, but the cloud model offers businesses a promising future in the age of social distancing and beyond.

We believe that once founders find shelter in the cloud, they’ll never go back.

Cloud’s resiliency amid historic volatility

Over the past decade, there’s been a massive market shift from on-premises to cloud, as 94% of enterprises use at least one cloud service today. 2020 was already a milestone year for the cloud industry, as aggregate SaaS and IaaS run-rate revenue each crossed $100 billion, and the BVP Nasdaq Emerging Cloud Index (^EMCLOUD) market cap crossed $1 trillion in early February. Yet in a matter of days, as the COVID-19 pandemic spread, fear tore through financial markets.

In early March, public markets experienced the steepest crash in history with volatility we haven’t seen since the Great Recession. The cloud index market cap dropped to ~$750 million and cloud multiples returned close to their historical averages of ~7x while the VIX volatility index spiked to the mid-80s. Both at global highs in February 2020, the ^EMCLOUD and the S&P 500 traded off by roughly 35% by mid-March. Over the next two months, though, the ^EMCLOUD recouped those losses, charging to a new all-time high on May 7.

The cloud index has continued its rise since then, and as of the close on May 11 has a market cap above $1.2 trillion and has returned to the lofty 12x forward run rate revenue multiples from 2019. Similar to Adobe in 2012, we expect many enterprises to transition over to the cloud model, and the index will continue to expand. As we predicted in this year’s State of the Cloud 2020, by 2025 we expect the cloud to penetrate 50% of enterprise software.

Dec
05
2019
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Design may be the next entrepreneurial gold rush

Ten years ago, the vast majority of designers were working in Adobe Photoshop, a powerful tool with fine-tuned controls for almost every kind of image manipulation one could imagine. But it was a tool built for an analog world focused on photos, flyers and print magazines; there were no collaborative features, and much more importantly for designers, there were no other options.

Since then, a handful of major players have stepped up to dominate the market alongside the behemoth, including InVision, Sketch, Figma and Canva.

And with the shift in the way designers fit into organizations and the way design fits into business overall, the design ecosystem is following the same path blazed by enterprise SaaS companies in recent years. Undoubtedly, investors are ready to place their bets in design.

But the question still remains over whether the design industry will follow in the footprints of the sales stack — with Salesforce reigning as king and hundreds of much smaller startup subjects serving at its pleasure — or if it will go the way of the marketing stack, where a lively ecosystem of smaller niche players exist under the umbrella of a handful of major, general-use players.

“Deca-billion-dollar SaaS categories aren’t born everyday,” said InVision CEO Clark Valberg . “From my perspective, the majority of investors are still trying to understand the ontology of the space, while remaining sufficiently aware of its current and future economic impact so as to eagerly secure their foothold. The space is new and important enough to create gold-rush momentum, but evolving at a speed to produce the illusion of micro-categorization, which, in many cases, will ultimately fail to pass the test of time and avoid inevitable consolidation.”

I spoke to several notable players in the design space — Sketch CEO Pieter Omvlee, InVision CEO Clark Valberg, Figma CEO Dylan Field, Adobe Product Director Mark Webster, InVision VP and former VP of Design at Twitter Mike Davidson, Sequoia General Partner Andrew Reed and FirstMark Capital General Partner Amish Jani — and asked them what the fierce competition means for the future of the ecosystem.

But let’s first back up.

Past

Sketch launched in 2010, offering the first viable alternative to Photoshop. Made for design and not photo-editing with a specific focus on UI and UX design, Sketch arrived just as the app craze was picking up serious steam.

A year later, InVision landed in the mix. Rather than focus on the tools designers used, it concentrated on the evolution of design within organizations. With designers consolidating from many specialties to overarching positions like product and user experience designers, and with the screen becoming a primary point of contact between every company and its customers, InVision filled the gap of collaboration with its focus on prototypes.

If designs could look and feel like the real thing — without the resources spent by engineering — to allow executives, product leads and others to weigh in, the time it takes to bring a product to market could be cut significantly, and InVision capitalized on this new efficiency.

In 2012, came Canva, a product that focused primarily on non-designers and folks who need to ‘design’ without all the bells and whistles professionals use. The thesis: no matter which department you work in, you still need design, whether it’s for an internal meeting, an external sales deck, or simply a side project you’re working on in your personal time. Canva, like many tech firms these days, has taken its top-of-funnel approach to the enterprise, giving businesses an opportunity to unify non-designers within the org for their various decks and materials.

In 2016, the industry felt two more big shifts. In the first, Adobe woke up, realized it still had to compete and launched Adobe XD, which allowed designers to collaborate amongst themselves and within the organization, not unlike InVision, complete with prototyping capabilities. The second shift was the introduction of a little company called Figma.

Where Sketch innovated on price, focus and usability, and where InVision helped evolve design’s position within an organization, Figma changed the game with straight-up technology. If Github is Google Drive, Figma is Google Docs. Not only does Figma allow organizations to store and share design files, it actually allows multiple designers to work in the same file at one time. Oh, and it’s all on the web.

In 2018, InVision started to move up stream with the launch of Studio, a design tool meant to take on the likes of Adobe and Sketch and, yes, Figma.

Present

When it comes to design tools in 2019, we have an embarrassment of riches, but the success of these players can’t be fully credited to the products themselves.

A shift in the way businesses think about digital presence has been underway since the early 2000s. In the not-too-distant past, not every company had a website and many that did offered a very basic site without much utility.

In short, designers were needed and valued at digital-first businesses and consumer-facing companies moving toward e-commerce, but very early-stage digital products, or incumbents in traditional industries had a free pass to focus on issues other than design. Remember the original MySpace? Here’s what Amazon looked like when it launched.

In the not-too-distant past, the aesthetic bar for internet design was very, very low. That’s no longer the case.

Nov
20
2019
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Reimagine inside sales to ramp up B2B customer acquisition

Slack makes customer acquisition look easy.

The day we acquired our first Highspot customer, it was raining hard in Seattle. I was on my way to a startup event when I answered my cell phone and our prospect said, “We’re going with Highspot.” Relief, then excitement, hit me harder than the downpour outside. It was a milestone moment – one that came after a long journey of establishing product-market fit, developing a sustainable competitive advantage, and iterating repeatedly based on prospect feedback. In other words, it was anything but easy.

User-first products are driving rapid company growth in an era where individuals discover, adopt, and share software they like throughout their organizations. This is great if you’re a Slack, Shopify, or Dropbox, but what if your company doesn’t fit that profile?

Product-led growth is a strategy that works for the right technologies, but it’s not the end-all, be-all for B2B customer acquisition. For sophisticated enterprise software platforms designed to drive company-wide value, such as Marketo, ServiceNow and Workday, that value is realized when the product is adopted en masse by one or more large segments.

If you’re selling broad account value, rather than individual user or team value, acquisition boils down to two things: elevating account based-selling and revolutionizing the inside sales model. Done correctly, you lay a foundation capable of doubling revenue growth year-over-year, 95 percent company-wide retention, and more than 100 percent growth in new customer logos annually. Here are the steps you can take to build a model that realizes on-par results.

Work the account, not the deal

Account-based selling is not a new concept, but the availability of data today changes the game. Advanced analytics enable teams to develop comprehensive and personalized approaches that meet modern customers’ heightened expectations. And when 77 percent of business buyers feel that technology has significantly changed how companies should interact with them, you have no choice but to deliver.

Despite the multitude of products created to help sellers be more productive and personal, billions of cookie-cutter emails are still flooding the inboxes of a few decision makers. The market is loud. Competition is cut throat. It’s no wonder 40 percent of sales reps say getting a response from a prospect is more difficult than ever before. Even pioneers of sales engagement are recognizing the need for evolution – yesterday’s one-size-fits-all approach to outreach only widens the gap between today’s sellers and buyers.

Companies must radically change their approach to account-based selling by building trusted relationships over time from the first-touch onward. This requires that your entire sales force – from account development representatives to your head of sales – adds tailored, tangible value at every stage of the journey. Modern buyers don’t want to be sold. They want to be advised. But the majority of companies are still missing the mark, favoring spray-and-pray tactics over personalized guidance.

One reason spamming remains prevalent, despite growing awareness of the need for quality over quantity, is that implementing a tailored approach is hard work. However, companies can make great strides by doing just three things:

  • Invest in personalization: Sales reps have quota, and sales leaders carry revenue targets. The pressure is as real as the numbers. But high velocity outreach tactics simply don’t work consistently. New research from Monetate and WBR Research found that 93% of businesses with advanced personalization strategies increased their revenue last year. And while scaling personalization may sound like an oxymoron, we now have artificial intelligence (AI) technology capable of doing just that. Of course, not all AI is created equal, so take the time to discern AI-powered platforms that deliver real value from the imposters. With a little research, you’ll find sales tools that discard  rinse-and-repeat prospecting methods in favor of intelligent guidance and actionable analytics.

Jun
27
2019
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Fellow raises $6.5M to help make managers better at leading teams and people

Managing people is perhaps the most challenging thing most people will have to learn in the course of their professional lives – especially because there’s no one ‘right’ way to do it. But Ottawa-based startup Fellow is hoping to ease the learning curve for new managers, and improve and reinforce the habits of experienced ones with their new people management platform software.

Fellow has raised $6.5 million in seed funding, from investors including Inovia Capital, Felicis Ventures, Garage Capital and a number of angels. The funding announcement comes alongside the announcement of their first customers, including Shopify (disclosure: I worked at Shopify when Fellow was implemented and was an early tester of this product, which is why I can can actually speak to how it works for users).

The Fellow platform is essentially a way to help team leads interact with their reports, and vice versa. It’s a feedback tool that you can use to collect insight on your team from across the company; it includes meeting supplemental suggestions and templates for one-on-ones, and even provides helpful suggestions like recommending you have a one-on-one when you haven’t in a while; and it all lives in the cloud, with integrations for other key workplace software like Slack that help it integrate with your existing flow.

Fellow co-founder and CEO Aydin Mirzaee and his co-founding team have previous experience building companies: They founded Fluidware, a survey software company, in 2008 and then sold it to SurveyMonkey in 2014. In growing the team to over 100 people, Mirzaee says they realized where there were gaps, both in his leadership team’s knowledge and in available solutions on the market.

“Starting the last company, we were in our early 20s, and like the way that we used to learn different practices was by using software, like if you use the Salesforce, and you know nothing about sales, you’ll learn some things about sales,” Mirzaee told me in an interview. “If you don’t know about marketing, use Marketo, and you’ll learn some things about marketing. And you know, from our perspective, as soon as we started actually having some traction and customers and then hired some people, we just got thrown into it. So it was ‘Okay, now, I guess we’re managers.’ And then eventually we became managers of managers.”

Fellow Team Photo 2019

Mirzaee and his team then wondered why a tool like Salesforce or Marketo didn’t exist for management. “Why is it that when you get promoted to become a manager, there isn’t an equivalent tool to help you with that?” he said.

Concept in hand, Fellow set out to build its software, and what it came up with is a smartly designed, user-friendly platform that is accessible to anyone regardless of technical expertise or experience with management practice and training. I can attest to this first-hand, since I was a first-time manager using Fellow to lead a team during my time at Shopify – part of the beta testing process that helped develop the product into something that’s ready for broader release. I was not alone in my relative lack of management knowledge, Mirzaee said, and that’s part of why they saw a clear need for this product.

“The more we did research, the more we figured out that obviously, managers are really important,” he explained. “70% of customer engagements are due to managers, for instance. And when people leave companies, they tend to leave the manager, not the company. The more we dug into it the more it was clear that there truly was this management problem –  management crisis almost, and that nobody really had built a great tool for managers and their teams like.”

Fellow’s tool is flexible enough to work with specific management methodologies like setting SMART goals or OKRs for team members, and managers can use pre-set templates or build their own for things like setting meeting talking points, or gathering feedback from the colleagues of their reports.

Right now, Fellow is live with a number of clients including Shoify, Vidyard, Tulip, North and more, and it’s adding new clients who sign up on a case-by-case basis, but increasing the pace at which it onboard new customers. Mirzaee explained that it hopes to open sign ups entirely later this year.

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