Even without staffing shortages, local merchants have difficulty answering calls while all hands are busy, and Goodcall wants to alleviate some of that burden from America’s 30 million small businesses.
Goodcall’s free cloud-based conversational platform leverages artificial intelligence to manage incoming phone calls and boost customer service for businesses of all sizes. Former Google executive Bob Summers left Google back in January, where he was working on Area 120 — an internal incubator program for experimental projects — to start Goodcall after recognizing the call problem, noting that in fact 60% of the calls that come into merchants go unanswered.
“It’s frustrating for you and for the person calling,” Summers told TechCrunch. “Every missed call is a lost opportunity.”
Goodcall announced its launch Wednesday with $4 million in seed funding led by strategic investors Neo, Foothill Ventures, Merus Capital, Xoogler Ventures, Verissimo Ventures and VSC Ventures, as well as angel investors including Harry Hurst, founder and co-CEO of Pipe.com, and Zillow co-founder Spencer Rascoff.
Goodcall mobile agent. Image Credits: Goodcall
Restaurants, shops and merchants can set up on Goodcall in a matter of minutes and even establish a local phone number to free up an owner’s mobile number from becoming the business’ main line. The service is initially deployed in English and the company has plans to operate in Spanish, French and Hindi by 2022.
Merchants can choose from six different assistant voices and monitor the call logs and what the calls were about. Goodcall can also capture consumer sentiment, Summers said.
The company offers three options, including its freemium service for solopreneurs and business owners, which includes up to 500 minutes per month of Goodcall services for a single phone line. Up to five additional locations and five staff members costs $19 per month for the Pro level, or the Premium level provides unlimited locations and staff for $49 per month.
During the company’s beta period, Goodcall was processing several thousands of calls per month. The new funding will be used to continue to offer the free service, hire engineers and continue product development.
In addition to the funding round, Goodcall is unveiling a partnership with Yelp to tap into its database of local businesses so that those owners and managers can easily deploy Goodcall. Yelp data shows that more than 500,000 businesses opened during the pandemic. The company pulls in from Yelp a merchant’s open hours, location, if they offer Wi-Fi and even their COVID policy.
“We are partnering with Yelp, which has the best data on small businesses, and other large distribution channels to get our product to market,” Summers said. “We are bringing technology into an industry that hasn’t innovated since the 1980s and democratizing conversational AI for small businesses that are the main driver of job creation, and we want to help them grow.”
Index Ventures has closed a trio of new funds: a $900 million early-stage fund, a $2 billion growth-stage fund and a previously announced $200 million seed-stage fund. The close gives Index $3 billion in new capital, its largest tranche yet, to deploy into emerging startups and existing portfolio companies, which include the likes of Plaid, Deliveroo and Revolut, which was just valued at $33 billion.
Index’s new capital comes a little over a year since it closed its last funds, which were a duet of $1.2 billion for growth-stage investments and $800 million for early-stage investments. It also is announced while venture dollars more broadly seem to be growing at an unprecedented rate — In recent weeks, Accel announced that it has closed $3 billion across three funds, too, and Andreessen Horowitz landed a $2.2 billion fund dedicated entirely to crypto startups.
The influx of money means that check sizes and valuations are growing across the entire ecosystem. Index, for example, said that it has grown its Series A check size from $10 million to $15 million, while it increased its growth check from $35 million to $50 million. Its check size in the United States is about 20% higher compared to its check size in Europe, meaning that the former represents between 55% to 60% of the firm’s total investing dollars.
While Index’s check size is growing slightly bigger to keep up with competition, partner Mark Goldberg said that the firm is staying disciplined so it doesn’t fall prey to FOMO rounds or buzzy valuations.
“There have been situations where two years ago, I would have engaged,” in a competition for a late-stage round, he said. “And now I say that we probably are not going to compete … because at the heart of the matter, I think capital is a commodity.” The partner didn’t point to Accel’s $3 billion close, but instead noted how “Tiger Global and other crossover funds” have created a new capital product, which means that Index’s ability to compete must look different than just offering a ton of money.
“If you’re just looking for capital, we’re probably not going to be the best product for you,” Goldberg added.
Index Partner Martin Mignot thinks that a “bifurcation is really happening” in the fundraising market, where some founders are able to raise easily, but many continue to struggle if they’re not “at the right sector in the right place at the right time.” Mignot has been spending time looking at Africa as a potential investment area that continues to be underresourced. He hinted that an official initiative focused on Africa startups may be underway.
The firm said it has “several initiatives in place related to diversity including increasing the number of individuals on our investment from underrepresented groups and diversifying our investment funnel” but said that it does not track diversity statistics at a portfolio company level “yet.” Index said that its investment team is composed of 38% of individuals who identify as female and 14% of individuals who come from underrepresented groups, although its unclear whether they have check-writing power.
Index appears to be going through a period of experimentation when it comes to the services offered to portfolio companies. While the firm declined to give too many specifics on upcoming initiatives around diversity or more generally, it did note its growing TikTok presence as part of its strategy.
The Index Ventures TikTok has over 28,000 followers. Its most viewed video is about Costco’s business model, with 4.8 million views followed by an interview clip from Scale AI founder Alexandr Wang, with 315,000 views.
“It’s not something where I think the next deal comes from the TikTok account, but it’s one of those initiatives where … I think it will pay dividends” in helping Index reach a younger audience that isn’t active on tech Twitter or Clubhouse. Index’s TikTok, led by Rex Woodbury, is reminiscent of how some emerging fund managers are approaching creative deal flow.
The firm is also experimenting with incubating startups in-house, which has historically never been a major focus. A tweet suggests that Index is actively recruiting entrepreneurs to join the incubator, which could be divided thematically. Goldberg declined to give more specifics around how incubation programs are structured and what the terms are, saying that the Index Incubator is not an official product yet.
That said, one can only imagine that a firm freshly capitalized with billions of dollars probably has some money to spare — from incubated projects to those growth-stage companies in need of active investors.
While direct-to-consumer growth has exploded in the past year, some brands are finding there’s still plenty of room to forge ahead in building a more direct relationships with their customers.
Sydney-based Okendo has made a splash in this world by building out a popular customer reviews systems for Shopify sellers, but it’s aiming to expand its ambitions and tackle a much bigger problem with its first outside funding — helping brands scale the quality of their first-party data and loosen their reliance on tech advertising kingpins for customer acquisition and engagement.
“Most DTC brands are still very dependent on big tech,” CEO Matthew Goodman tells TechCrunch.
Gathering more customer reviews data directly from consumers has been the first part of the puzzle with its product that helps brands manage and showcase customer ratings, reviews, user-generated media and product questions. Moving forward Okendo is looking to help firms manage more of the web of cross-channel customer data they have, standardizing it and allowing them to give customers a more personalized experience when they shop with them.
“Merchants have goals and want to better understand their customers,” Goodman says. “As soon as a brand reaches a certain level of scale they’re dealing with unwieldy data.”
Goodman says that Apple’s App Tracking Transparency feature and Google’s pledge to end third-party cookie tracking has pushed some brands to get more serious about scaling their own data sets to insulate themselves from any sudden movements.
The company needs more coin in its coffers to take on the challenge, raising their first bout of funding since launching back in 2018. They’ve raised $5.3 million in seed funding led by Index Ventures. 2020 was a big growth year for the startup as e-commerce spending surged and sellers looked more thoughtfully at how they were scaling. The company tripled its ARR during the year and doubled its headcount. The bootstrapped company was profitable at the time of the raise, Goodman says.
Today, the company boasts more than 3,500 DTC brands in the Shopify network as customers, including heavyweights like Netflix, Lego, Skims, Fanjoy and Crunchyroll. The startup is tight-lipped on what their next product launches will look like, but plans to jump into two new areas in the next 12 months, Goodman says.