Sep
09
2021
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Nuula raises $120M to build out a financial services ‘super app’ aimed at SMBs

A Canadian startup called Nuula that is aiming to build a super app to provide a range of financial services to small and medium businesses has closed $120 million of funding, money that it will use to fuel the launch of its app and first product, a line of credit for its users.

The money is coming in the form of $20 million in equity from Edison Partners, and a $100 million credit facility from funds managed by the Credit Group of Ares Management Corporation.

The Nuula app has been in a limited beta since June of this year. The plan is to open it up to general availability soon, while also gradually bringing in more services, some built directly by Nuula itself but many others following an embedded finance strategy: business banking, for example, will be a service provided by a third party and integrated closely into the Nuula app to be launched early in 2022. Alongside that, the startup will also be making liberal use of APIs to bring in other white-label services, such as B2B and customer-focused payment services, starting first in the U.S. and then expanding to Canada and the U.K. before expanding further into countries across Europe.

Current products include cash flow forecasting, personal and business credit score monitoring, and customer sentiment tracking; and monitoring of other critical metrics including financial, payments and e-commerce data are all on the roadmap.

“We’re building tools to work in a complementary fashion in the app,” CEO Mark Ruddock said in an interview. “Today, businesses can project if they are likely to run out of money, and monitor their credit scores. We keep an eye on customers and what they are saying in real time. We think it’s necessary to surface for SMBs the metrics that they might have needed to get from multiple apps, all in one place.”

Nuula was originally a side-project at BFS, a company that focused on small business lending, where the company started to look at the idea of how to better leverage data to build out a wider set of services addressing the same segment of the market. BFS grew to be a substantial business in its own right (and it had raised its own money to that end, to the tune of $184 million from Edison and Honeywell). Over time, it became apparent to management that the data aspect, and this concept of a super app, would be key to how to grow the business, and so it pivoted and rebranded earlier this year, launching the beta of the app after that.

Nuula’s ambitions fall within a bigger trend in the market. Small and medium enterprises have shaped up to be a huge business opportunity in the world of fintech in the last several years. Long ignored in favor of building solutions either for the giant consumer market, or the lucrative large enterprise sector, SMBs have proven that they want and are willing to invest in better and newer technology to run their businesses, and that’s leading to a rush of startups and bigger tech companies bringing services to the market to cater to that.

Super apps are also a big area of interest in the world of fintech, although up to now a lot of what we’ve heard about in that area has been aimed at consumers — just the kind of innovation rut that Nuula is trying to get moving.

“Despite the growth in services addressing the SMB sector, overall it still lacks innovation compared to consumer or enterprise services,” Ruddock said. “We thought there was some opportunity to bring new thinking to the space. We see this as the app that SMBs will want to use everyday, because we’ll provide useful tools, insights and capital to power their businesses.”

Nuula’s priority to build the data services that connect all of this together is very much in keeping with how a lot of neobanks are also developing services and investing in what they see as their unique selling point. The theory goes like this: banking services are, at the end of the day, the same everywhere you go, and therefore commoditized, and so the more unique value-added for companies will come from innovating with more interesting algorithms and other data-based insights and analytics to give more power to their users to make the best use of what they have at their disposal.

It will not be alone in addressing that market. Others building fintech for SMBs include Selina, ANNA, Amex’s Kabbage (an early mover in using big data to help loan money to SMBs and build other financial services for them), Novo, Atom Bank, Xepelin and Liberis, biggies like Stripe, Square and PayPal, and many others.

The credit product that Nuula has built so far is a taster of how it hopes to be a useful tool for SMBs, not just another place to get money or manage it. It’s not a direct loaning service, but rather something that is closely linked to monitoring a customers’ incomings and outgoings and only prompts a credit line (which directly links into the users’ account, wherever it is) when it appears that it might be needed.

“Innovations in financial technology have largely democratized who can become the next big player in small business finance,” added Gary Golding, General Partner, Edison Partners. “By combining critical financial performance tools and insights into a single interface, Nuula represents a new class of financial services technology for small business, and we are excited by the potential of the firm.”

“We are excited to be working with Nuula as they build a unique financial services resource for small businesses and entrepreneurs,” said Jeffrey Kramer, Partner and Head of ABS in the Alternative Credit strategy of the Ares Credit Group, in a statement. “The evolution of financial technology continues to open opportunities for innovation and the emergence of new industry participants. We look forward to seeing Nuula’s experienced team of technologists, data scientists and financial service veterans bring a new generation of small business financial services solutions to market.”

Aug
24
2021
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Ramp and Brex draw diverging market plans with M&A strategies

Earlier today, spend management startup Ramp said it has raised a $300 million Series C that valued it $3.9 billion. It also said it was acquiring Buyer, a “negotiation-as-a-service” platform that it believes will help customers save money on purchases and SaaS products.

The round and deal were announced just a week after competitor Brex shared news of its own acquisition — the $50 million purchase of Israeli fintech startup Weav. That deal was made after Brex’s founders invested in Weav, which offers a “universal API for commerce platforms”.

From a high level, all of the recent deal-making in corporate cards and spend management shows that it’s not enough to just help companies track what employees are expensing these days. As the market matures and feature sets begin to converge, the players are seeking to differentiate themselves from the competition.

But the point of interest here is these deals can tell us where both companies think they can provide and extract the most value from the market.

These differences come atop another layer of divergence between the two companies: While Brex has instituted a paid software tier of its service, Ramp has not.

Earning more by spending less

Let’s start with Ramp. Launched in 2019, the company is a relative newcomer in the spend management category. But by all accounts, it’s producing some impressive growth numbers. As our colleague Mary Ann Azevedo wrote this morning:

Since the beginning of 2021, the company says it has seen its number of cardholders on its platform increase by 5x, with more than 2,000 businesses currently using Ramp as their “primary spend management solution.” The transaction volume on its corporate cards has tripled since April, when its last raise was announced. And, impressively, Ramp has seen its transaction volume increase year over year by 1,000%, according to CEO and co-founder Eric Glyman.

Ramp’s focus has always been on helping its customers save money: It touts a 1.5% cashback reward for all purchases made through its cards, and says its dashboard helps businesses identify duplicitous subscriptions and license redundancies. Ramp also alerts customers when they can save money on annual vs. monthly subscriptions, which it says has led many customers to do away with established T&E platforms like Concur or Expensify.

All told, the company claims that the average customer saves 3.3% per year on expenses after switching to its platform — and all that is before it brings Buyer into the fold.

Aug
11
2021
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Former Snap employees raise $9M for Trust, emerging from beta to level marketing playing field

Trust wants to give smaller businesses the same advantages that large enterprises have when marketing on digital and social media platforms. It came out of beta with $9 million in seed funding from Lerer Hippeau, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Upfront Ventures and Upper90.

The Los Angeles-based company was started in 2019 by a group of five Snap alums working in various roles within Snap’s revenue product strategy business. They were building tools for businesses to fund success with digital marketing, but kept hearing from customers about the advantage big advertisers had over smaller ones — the ability to receive good payment terms, credit lines, as well as data and advice.

Aiming to flip the script on that, the group created Trust, which is a card and business community to help digital businesses navigate the ever-changing pricing models to market online, receive the same incentives larger advertisers get and make the best decision of where their marketing dollars will reach the furthest.

Trust dashboard

Trust does this in a few ways: Its card, built in partnership with Stripe, enables businesses to increase their buying power by up to 20 times and have 45 days to make payments on their marketing investments, CEO James Borow told TechCrunch. Then as part of its community, companies share knowledge of marketing buys and data insights typically reserved for larger advertisers. Users even receive news via their dashboard around their specific marketing strategy, he added.

“The ad platforms are walled gardens, and most people don’t know what is going on inside, so our customers work together to see what is going on,” Borow said.

The growth of e-commerce is pushing more digital marketing investments, providing opportunity for Trust to be a huge business, Borow said. E-commerce sales in the U.S. grew by 39% in the first quarter, while digital advertising spend is forecasted to increase 25% this year to $191 billion. Meanwhile, Google, Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter all recently reported rapid growth in their year-over-year advertising revenues, Borow said.

The new funding will go toward increasing the company’s headcount.

“We have active customers on the platform, so we wanted to ramp up hiring as soon as we went into general release,” he added. “We are leaving beta with 25 businesses and a few hundred on our waitlist.”

That list will soon grow. In addition to the funding round, Trust announced a strategic partnership with social shopping e-commerce platform Verishop. The company’s 3,500 merchants will receive priority access to the Trust card and community, Borow said.

Andrea Hippeau, partner at Lerer Hippeau, said she knew Borow from being an investor in his previous advertising company Shift, which was acquired by Brand Networks in 2015.

When Borow contacted Lerer about Trust, Hippeau said this was the kind of offering that would be applicable to the firm’s portfolio, which has many direct-to-consumer brands, and knew marketing was a huge pain point for them.

“Digital marketing is important to all brands, but it is also a black box that you put marketing dollars into, but don’t know what you get,” she said. “We hear this across our portfolio — they spend a lot of money on ad platforms, yet are treated like mom-and-pop companies in terms of credit. When in reality Casper is outspending other companies by five times. Trust understands how important marketing dollars are and gives them terms that are financially better.”

 

Jul
23
2021
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Paystand banks $50M to make B2B payments cashless and with no fees

It’s pretty easy for individuals to send money back and forth, and there are lots of cash apps from which to choose. On the commercial side, however, one business trying to send $100,000 the same way is not as easy.

Paystand wants to change that. The Scotts Valley, California-based company is using cloud technology and the Ethereum blockchain as the engine for its Paystand Bank Network that enables business-to-business payments with zero fees.

The company raised $50 million Series C funding led by NewView Capital, with participation from SoftBank’s SB Opportunity Fund and King River Capital. This brings the company’s total funding to $85 million, Paystand co-founder and CEO Jeremy Almond told TechCrunch.

During the 2008 economic downturn, Almond’s family lost their home. He decided to go back to graduate school and did his thesis on how commercial banking could be better and how digital transformation would be the answer. Gleaning his company vision from the enterprise side, Almond said what Venmo does for consumers, Paystand does for commercial transactions between mid-market and enterprise customers.

“Revenue is the lifeblood of a business, and money has become software, yet everything is in the cloud except for revenue,” he added.

He estimates that almost half of enterprise payments still involve a paper check, while fintech bets heavily on cards that come with 2% to 3% transaction fees, which Almond said is untenable when a business is routinely sending $100,000 invoices. Paystand is charging a flat monthly rate rather than a fee per transaction.

Paystand’s platform. Image Credits: Paystand

On the consumer side, companies like Square and Stripe were among the first wave of companies predominantly focused on accounts payable and then building business process software on top of an existing infrastructure.

Paystand’s view of the world is that the accounts receivables side is harder and why there aren’t many competitors. This is why Paystand is surfing the next wave of fintech, driven by blockchain and decentralized finance, to transform the $125 trillion B2B payment industry by offering an autonomous, cashless and feeless payment network that will be an alternative to cards, Almond said.

Customers using Paystand over a three-year period are able to yield average benefits like 50% savings on the cost of receivables and $850,000 savings on transaction fees. The company is seeing a 200% increase in monthly network payment value and customers grew two-fold in the past year.

The company said it will use the new funding to continue to grow the business by investing in open infrastructure. Specifically, Almond would like to reboot digital finance, starting with B2B payments, and reimagine the entire CFO stack.

“I’ve wanted something like this to exist for 20 years,” Almond said. “Sometimes it is the unsexy areas that can have the biggest impacts.”

As part of the investment, Jazmin Medina, principal at NewView Capital, will join Paystand’s board. She told TechCrunch that while the venture firm is a generalist, it is rooted in fintech and fintech infrastructure.

She also agrees with Almond that the B2B payments space is lagging in terms of innovation and has “strong conviction” in what Almond is doing to help mid-market companies proactively manage their cash needs.

“There is a wide blue ocean of the payment industry, and all of these companies have to be entirely digital to stay competitive,” Medina added. “There is a glaring hole if your revenue is holding you back because you are not digital. That is why the time is now.”

 

Jun
10
2021
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Payments giant Stripe launches Stripe Tax to integrate sales tax calculations for 30+ countries

On the heels of acquiring sales tax specialist TaxJar in April, today Stripe is making another big move in the area of tax. The $95 billion payments behemoth is launching a new product called Stripe Tax, which will provide automatic, updated sales tax calculations (covering sales tax, VAT and GST) and related accounting services to Stripe payments customers initially in some 30 countries and across the U.S.

Stripe Tax is a separate service from TaxJar, but the two are not unconnected. As Stripe Tax was being built out of Stripe’s offices in Dublin over the last several months, Stripe’s business lead for EMEA Matt Henderson told me that the team had identified TaxJar as a strong company in the field. That ultimately led to M&A between them.

Sales tax — and specifically a more seamless way to deal with charging and tracking sales tax — is a painful issue for people doing business online.

Digital and physical goods are taxed in over 130 countries, Stripe said, and within that there can be a huge amount of variation and compliance complexity, since codes get updated all the time, too. Mishandled sales tax, meanwhile, can result in pretty hefty fines, sometimes up to 30% interest on past-due amounts.

Unsurprisingly, a sales tax tool has been the most-requested feature from Stripe’s customers, Henderson said, a call that presumably only got louder in the last year, as e-commerce and digital transactions went through the roof with COVID-19.

Arguably, that makes Stripe Tax one of the company’s more significant product launches, not to mention the first since announcing its monster funding round earlier this year.

Previously, Stripe customers would have resorted to using a third-party service (like TaxJar) to work out sales tax. Or, more typically, those Stripe customers would have opted to limit the number of places they sold goods and services, in order to minimize the pain of dealing with multiple, complex and usually quite localized tax codes.

“No one leaps out of bed in the morning excited to deal with taxes,” said John Collison, co-founder and president of Stripe in a statement. “For most businesses, managing tax compliance is a painful distraction. We simplify everything about calculating and collecting sales taxes, VAT, and GST, so our users can focus on building their businesses.”

Stripe said that a survey of its customers found that two-thirds of respondents said the challenge of implementing sales tax actually limited their growth.

TaxJar has built a strong system for handling that, but the company — based out of Massachusetts but with a remote team — is primarily focused on the U.S. market, which has sales tax that is complicated enough (there are 11,000 different tax jurisdictions in the country).

That leaves a lot on the table for building out sales tax tools for the rest of the world: The wider focus of Stripe Tax thus fills a particular geographical gap for the company, regardless of how well TaxJar and Stripe integrate over time.

There is another key difference worth noting between the two.

TaxJar came to Stripe’s attention with an established operation — 23,000 customers at the time of the announcement. Stripe (wisely) bolted that on as a standalone business, which means that new and existing customers that use TaxJar can continue to use it as is. That is to say, at least for now, they do not need to be Stripe payments customers in order to use TaxJar, even if the integration between the two platforms will only improve over time.

Stripe Tax, on the other hand, is being built from the ground up as a product aimed specifically at increasing touchpoints and stickiness with Stripe customers.

Stripe Tax provides real-time tax calculation based on customer location and product sold; transparent itemizing for customers; tax ID management in areas (like Europe) where business customers can provide their code and get a reverse charge on tax if they are under a certain turnover threshold themselves; and reconciliation and reporting across all transactions to make filing and remittance easier.

But there is for now no way to use Stripe Tax outside of Stripe payments.

This could pose some problems for some customers. These days, many of the strongest retailers will take an “omnichannel” approach that might cover selling through marketplaces, selling through websites, selling through social media and more — and not all of those experiences may be powered by Stripe. It will be worth watching whether future iterations of Stripe Tax can account for that.

Stripe’s most significant product launch prior to Stripe Tax — Stripe Treasury last December — underscores how the company is currently very focused on diversifying outside of its basic payments business and opening the platform to much wider, more scaled transactions.

Treasury, which is still in invite-only mode, saw Stripe partner with established banks to provide a business banking service, providing a way for its customers to handle money that they generate from their Stripe-powered businesses.

The full country list where Stripe Tax is launching is Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United States and the United Kingdom.

Updated to correct the number of customers TaxJar has to 23,000.

Apr
21
2021
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4 ways martech will shift in 2021

The tidal wave of growth is upon us — an unprecedented economic boom that will manifest later this year, bringing significant investments, acquisitions and customer growth. But most tech companies and startups are not adequately prepared to capitalize on the opportunity that lies ahead.

Here’s how marketing in tech will shift — and what you need to know to reach more customers and accelerate growth in 2021.

First and foremost, differentiation is going to be imperative. It’s already hard enough to stand out and get noticed, and it’s about to get much more difficult as new companies emerge and investments and budgets balloon in the latter half of the year. Virtually all major companies are increasing budgets to pre-pandemic levels, but will delay those investments until the second half of the year. This will result in an increased intensity of competition that will drown out any undifferentiated players.

The second half of 2021 will bring incredible growth, the likes of which we haven’t seen in a long time.

Additionally, tech companies need to be mindful not to ignore the most important part of the ecosystem: people. Technology will only take you so far, and it’s not going to be enough to survive the competition. Marketing is about people, including your customers, team, partners, investors and the broader community.

Understanding who your people are and how you can use their help to build a strong foundation and drive exponential growth is essential.

Tactically, the most successful tech companies will embrace video and experimentation in their marketing — two components that will catapult them ahead of the competition.

Ignoring these predictions, backed by empirical evidence, will be detrimental and devastating. Fasten your seatbelts: 2021 is going to be a turbocharged year of growth opportunities for marketing in tech.

Differentiation is crucial

The explosion of tech companies and startups seeking to be the next big thing isn’t over yet. However, many of them are indistinguishable from each other and lack a compelling value proposition. Just one look at the websites of new and existing tech companies will reveal a proliferation of buzzwords and conceptual illustrations, leaving them all looking and sounding alike.

The tech companies that succeed are those that embrace one of the fundamentals of effective marketing — positioning.

In the ’80s, Al Ries and Jack Trout published “Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind” and coined the term, which documented the best-known approach to standing out in a noisy marketplace. As the market heats up, companies will realize the need to sharpen their positioning and dial in their focus to break through the noise.

To get attention and build traction, companies need to establish a position they can own. The mashup method — “Netflix but for coding lessons” — is not real positioning; it’s simply a lazy gimmick.

It is imperative to identify who your ideal customer is and not just who could use your product. Focusing on a segment of the market rather than the whole is, perhaps counterintuitively, the most effective approach to capturing the larger market.

Mar
16
2021
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Noogata raises $12M seed round for its no-code enterprise AI platform

Noogata, a startup that offers a no-code AI solution for enterprises, today announced that it has raised a $12 million seed round led by Team8, with participation from Skylake Capital. The company, which was founded in 2019 and counts Colgate and PepsiCo among its customers, currently focuses on e-commerce, retail and financial services, but it notes that it will use the new funding to power its product development and expand into new industries.

The company’s platform offers a collection of what are essentially pre-built AI building blocks that enterprises can then connect to third-party tools like their data warehouse, Salesforce, Stripe and other data sources. An e-commerce retailer could use this to optimize its pricing, for example, thanks to recommendations from the Noogata platform, while a brick-and-mortar retailer could use it to plan which assortment to allocate to a given location.

Image Credits: Noogata

“We believe data teams are at the epicenter of digital transformation and that to drive impact, they need to be able to unlock the value of data. They need access to relevant, continuous and explainable insights and predictions that are reliable and up-to-date,” said Noogata co-founder and CEO Assaf Egozi. “Noogata unlocks the value of data by providing contextual, business-focused blocks that integrate seamlessly into enterprise data environments to generate actionable insights, predictions and recommendations. This empowers users to go far beyond traditional business intelligence by leveraging AI in their self-serve analytics as well as in their data solutions.”

Image Credits: Noogata

We’ve obviously seen a plethora of startups in this space lately. The proliferation of data — and the advent of data warehousing — means that most businesses now have the fuel to create machine learning-based predictions. What’s often lacking, though, is the talent. There’s still a shortage of data scientists and developers who can build these models from scratch, so it’s no surprise that we’re seeing more startups that are creating no-code/low-code services in this space. The well-funded Abacus.ai, for example, targets about the same market as Noogata.

“Noogata is perfectly positioned to address the significant market need for a best-in-class, no-code data analytics platform to drive decision-making,” writes Team8 managing partner Yuval Shachar. “The innovative platform replaces the need for internal build, which is complex and costly, or the use of out-of-the-box vendor solutions which are limited. The company’s ability to unlock the value of data through AI is a game-changer. Add to that a stellar founding team, and there is no doubt in my mind that Noogata will be enormously successful.”


Early Stage is the premier “how-to” event for startup entrepreneurs and investors. You’ll hear firsthand 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% off tickets right here.

Mar
12
2021
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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.

Feb
17
2021
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With software markets getting bigger, will more VCs bet on competing startups?

This morning I covered three funding rounds. One dealt with the no-code/low-code space, another focused on the OKR software market and the last dealt with a company in the consumer investing space. Worth a combined $420 million, the investments made for a contentedly busy morning.

But they also got me thinking about startup niches and competition. Back in the days when inside rounds were bad, SPACs were jokes and crypto a fever dream, there was lots of noise about investors who declined to place competing bets in any particular startup market.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. Read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


This rule of thumb still holds up today, but we need to update it. The general sentiment that investors shouldn’t back competing companies is still on display, as we saw Sequoia walk away from a check it put into Finix after it became clear that the smaller company was too competitive with Stripe, another portfolio company.

But as startups get more broad and stay private longer, the space into which VCs can invest may narrow — especially if they have a big winner that stays private while building both horizontally and vertically (like Stripe, for example).

Does that mean Sequoia can’t invest elsewhere in fintech? No, but it does limit their investing playing field.

Which is dumb as hell. Nothing that Sequoia could invest in today is really going to slow Stripe’s IPO, unless the company decides to not go public for a half-decade. Which would be lunacy, even for today’s live-at-home-with-the-parents startup culture that leans toward staying private over going public.

Feb
10
2021
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Accord launches B2B sales platform with $6M seed

The founders of Accord, an early-stage startup focused on bringing order to B2B sales, are not your typical engineer founders. Instead, the two brothers, Ross and Ryan Rich, worked as sales reps seeing the problems unique to this kind of sale firsthand.

In November 2019, they decided to leave the comfort of their high-paying jobs at Google and Stripe to launch Accord and build what they believe is a missing platform for B2B sales, one that takes into account the needs of both the sales person and the buyer.

Today the company is launching with a $6 million seed round from former employer Stripe and Y Combinator. It should be noted that the founders applied to YC after leaving their jobs and impressed the incubator with their insight and industry experience, even though they didn’t really have a product yet. In fact, they literally drew their original idea on a piece of paper.

Original prototype of Accord sketched on a piece of paper.

The original prototype was just a drawing of their idea. Image Credits: Accord

Recognizing they had the sales skills, but lacked programming chops, they quickly brought in a third partner, Wayne Pan, to bring their idea to life. Today, they have an actual working program with paying customers. They’ve created a kind of online hub for B2B salespeople and buyers to interact.

As co-founder Ross Rich points out, these kinds of sales are very different from the consumer variety, often involving as many as 14 people on average on the buyer side. With so many people involved in the decision-making process, it can become unwieldy pretty quickly.

“We provide within the application shared next steps and milestones to align on and that the buyer can track asynchronously, a resource hub to avoid sorting through those hundreds of emails and threads for a single document or presentation and stakeholder management to make sure the right people are looped in at the right time,” Rich explained.

Accord also integrates with the company CRM like Salesforce to make sure all of that juicy data is being tracked properly in the sales database. At the same time, Rich says the startup wants this platform to be a place for human interaction. Instead of an automated email or text, this provides a place where humans can actually interact with one another, and he believes that human element is important to help reduce the complexity inherent in these kinds of deals.

With $6 million in runway and a stint at Y Combinator under their belts, the founders are ready to make a more concerted go-to-market push. They are currently at nine people, mostly engineers aside from the two sales-focused founders. He figures to be bringing in some new employees this year, but doesn’t really have a sense of how many they will bring on just yet, saying that is something that they will figure out in the coming months.

As they do that, they are already thinking about being inclusive with several women on the engineering team, recognizing if they don’t start diversity early, it will be more difficult later on. “[Hiring a diverse group early] only compounds when you get to nine or 10 people and then when you’re talking to someone and they are wondering, ‘Do I trust this team and is that a culture where I want to work?’ He says if you want to build a diverse and inclusive workplace, you have to start making that investment early.

It’s early days for this team, but they are building a product to help B2B sales teams work more closely and effectively with customers, and with their background and understanding of the space, they seem well-positioned to succeed.

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