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Customer experience startup Clootrack raises $4M, helps brands see through their customers’ eyes

By Christine Hall

Getting inside the mind of customers is a challenge as behaviors and demands shift, but Clootrack believes it has cracked the code in helping brands figure out how to do that.

It announced $4 million in Series A funding, led by Inventus Capital India, and included existing investors Unicorn India Ventures, IAN Fund and Salamander Excubator Angel Fund, as well as individual investment from Jiffy.ai CEO Babu Sivadasan. In total, the company raised $4.6 million, co-founder Shameel Abdulla told TechCrunch.

Clootrack is a real-time customer experience analytics platform that helps brands understand why customers stay or churn. Shameel Abdulla and Subbakrishna Rao, who both come from IT backgrounds, founded the company in 2017 after meeting years prior at Jiffstore, Abdulla’s second company that was acquired in 2015.

Clootrack team. Image Credits: Clootrack

Business-to-consumer and consumer brands often use customer satisfaction metrics like Net Promoter Score to understand the customer experience, but Abdulla said current methods don’t provide the “why” of those experiences and are slow, expensive and error-prone.

“The number of channels has increased, which means customers are talking to you, expressing their feedback and what they think in multiple places,” he added. “Word of mouth has gone digital, and you basically have to master the art of selling online.”

Clootrack turns the customer experience data from all of those first-party and third-party touchpoints — website feedback, chat bots, etc. — into granular, qualitative insights that give brands a look at drivers of the experience in hours rather than months so that they can stay on top of fast-moving trends.

Abdulla points to data that show a customer’s biggest driver of brand switch is the experience they receive. And, that if brands can reduce churns by 5%, they could be looking at an increase in profits of between 25% and 95%.

Most of the new funding will go to product development so that all data aggregations are gathered from all possible touchpoints. His ultimate goal is to be “the single platform for B2C firms.”

The company is currently working with over 150 customers in the areas of retail, direct-to-consumer, banking, automotive, travel and mobile app-based services. It is growing nine times year over year in revenue. It is mainly operating in India, but Clootrack is also onboarding companies in the U.S. and Europe.

Parag Dhol, managing director of Inventus, said he has known Abdulla for over five years. He had looked at one of Abdulla’s companies for investment, but had decided against it due to his firm being a Series A investor.

Dhol said market research needs an overhaul in India, where this type of technology is lagging behind the U.S.

“Clootrack has a very complementary team with Shameel being a complete CEO in terms of being a sales guy and serial entrepreneur who has learned his lessons, and Subbu, who is good at technology,” he added. “As CMOs realize the value in their unstructured data inside of their own database of the customer reviews and move to real-time feedback, these guys could make a serious dent in the space.”

 

Explosion snags $6M on $120M valuation to expand machine learning platform

By Ron Miller

Explosion, a company that has combined an open source machine learning library with a set of commercial developer tools, announced a $6 million Series A today on a $120 million valuation. The round was led by SignalFire, and the company reported that today’s investment represents 5% of its value.

Oana Olteanu from SignalFire will be joining the board under the terms of the deal, which includes warrants of $12 million in additional investment at the same price.

“Fundamentally, Explosion is a software company and we build developer tools for AI and machine learning and natural language processing. So our goal is to make developers more productive and more focused on their natural language processing, so basically understanding large volumes of text, and training machine learning models to help with that and automate some processes,” company co-founder and CEO Ines Montani told me.

The company started in 2016 when Montani met her co-founder, Matthew Honnibal in Berlin where he was working on the spaCy open source machine learning library. Since then, that open source project has been downloaded over 40 million times.

In 2017, they added Prodigy, a commercial product for generating data for the machine learning model. “Machine learning is code plus data, so to really get the most out of the technologies you almost always want to train your models and build custom systems because what’s really most valuable are problems that are super specific to you and your business and what you’re trying to find out, and so we saw that the area of creating training data, training these machine learning models, was something that people didn’t pay very much attention to at all,” she said.

The next step is a product called Prodigy Teams, which is a big reason the company is taking on this investment. “Prodigy Teams  is [a hosted service that] adds user management and collaboration features to Prodigy, and you can run it in the cloud without compromising on what people love most about Prodigy, which is the data privacy, so no data ever needs to get seen by our servers,” she said. They do this by letting the data sit on the customer’s private cluster in a private cloud, and then use Prodigy Team’s management features in the public cloud service.

Today, they have 500 customers using Prodigy including Microsoft and Bayer in addition to the huge community of millions of open source users. They’ve built all this with just 17 people, even as they continue to slowly add employees, expecting to reach 20 by the end of the year.

She believes if you’re thinking too much about diversity in your hiring process, you probably have a problem already. “If you go into hiring and you’re thinking like, oh, how can I make sure that the way I’m hiring is diverse, I think that already shows that there’s maybe a problem,” she said.

“If you have a company, and it’s 50 dudes in their 20s, it’s not surprising that you might have problems attracting people who are not white dudes in their 20s. But in our case, our strategy is to hire good people and good people are often very diverse people, and again if you play by the [startup] playbook, you could be limited in a lot of other ways.”

She said that they have never seen themselves as a traditional startup following some conventional playbook. “We didn’t raise any investment money [until now]. We grew the team organically, and we focused on being profitable and independent [before we got outside investment],” she said.

But more than the money, Montani says that they needed to find an investor that would understand and support the open source side of the business, even while they got capital to expand all parts of the company. “Open source is a community of users, customers and employees. They are real people, and [they are not] pawns in [some] startup game, and it’s not a game. It’s real, and these are real people,” she said.

“They deserve more than just my eyeballs and grand promises. […] And so it’s very important that even if we’re selling a small stake in our company for some capital [to build our next] product [that open source remains at] the core of our company and that’s something we don’t want to compromise on,” Montani said.

All the reasons why you should launch a credit or debit card

By Ryan Lawler

Over the previous two or three years we’ve seen an explosion of new debit and credit card products come to market from consumer and B2B fintech startups, as well as companies that we might not traditionally think of as players in the financial services industry.

On the consumer side, that means companies like Venmo or PayPal offering debit cards as a new way for users to spend funds in their accounts. In the B2B space, the availability of corporate card issuing by startups like Brex and Ramp has ushered in new expense and spend management options. And then there is the growth of branded credit and debit cards among brands and sports teams.

But if your company somehow hasn’t yet found its way to launch a debit or credit card, we have good news: It’s easier than ever to do so and there’s actual money to be made. Just know that if you do, you’ve got plenty of competition and that actual customer usage will probably depend on how sticky your service is and how valuable the rewards are that you offer to your most active users.

To learn more about launching a card product, TechCrunch spoke with executives from Marqeta, Expensify, Synctera and Cardless about the pros and cons of launching a card product. So without further ado, here are all the reasons you should think about doing so, and one big reason why you might not want to.

Because it’s (relatively) easy

Probably the biggest reason we’ve seen so many new fintech and non-fintech companies rush to offer debit and credit cards to customers is simply that it’s easier than ever for them to do so. The launch and success of businesses like Marqeta has made card issuance by API developer friendly, which lowered the barrier to entry significantly over the last half-decade.

“The reason why this is happening is because the ‘fintech 1.0 infrastructure’ has succeeded,” Salman Syed, Marqeta’s SVP and GM of North America, said. “When you’ve got companies like [ours] out there, it’s just gotten a lot easier to be able to put a card product out.”

While noting that there have been good options for card issuance and payment processing for at least the last five or six years, Expensify Chief Operating Officer Anu Muralidharan said that a proliferation of technical resources for other pieces of fintech infrastructure has made the process of greenlighting a card offering much easier over the years.

Dear Sophie: How can I present a strong O-1A or EB-1A application?

By Annie Siebert
Sophie Alcorn Contributor
Sophie Alcorn is the founder of Alcorn Immigration Law in Silicon Valley and 2019 Global Law Experts Awards’ “Law Firm of the Year in California for Entrepreneur Immigration Services.” She connects people with the businesses and opportunities that expand their lives.

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie,

A few years ago, I moved my startup’s headquarters to New York from Estonia on an E-2 investor visa.

I’ve taken on a few investors since then, but if I take on more, I run the risk of no longer qualifying for an E-2 because my equity is diluting. I’m considering either having my startup sponsor me for an O-1A visa or self-petitioning an EB-1A green card.

Any advice or insights on how to present a strong case for an O-1A or EB-1A? Thanks!

— Savvy Startup Founder

Dear Savvy,

Congrats on your success so far! Yes, we have many best practices to pass along for filing for an O-1A extraordinary ability visa or an EB-1A extraordinary ability green card.

Nadia Zaidi, an associate attorney at Alcorn Immigration Law and an expert in immigration law services for startups and creatives, and I recently did a podcast reviewing what to keep in mind when filing for an O-1A visa, EB-1A green card or EB-2 NIW (National Interest Waiver) green card. Take a listen! I would also recommend you consult an experienced immigration attorney who can help you determine the best approach based on your timing and goals.

Keep in mind that if you pursue an O-1A visa, you will need to show that your startup and you have an employer-employee relationship, or you will need an agent to file on your behalf. If demonstrating an employer-employee relationship, that usually involves showing that your startup’s board of directors oversees your work and can fire you.

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)

You might also want to consider filing for International Entrepreneur Parole (IEP). My firm has filed several IEP petitions on behalf of clients. Based on our experience, it takes less time to prepare an IEP petition than an O-1A petition because it’s not as document-intensive. Moreover, if you’re married and you’re granted IEP status, your spouse will be eligible to apply for a work permit. The spouse of an O-1A visa holder is not eligible for a work permit.

Getting back to answering your question, here are some best practices for filing for either an O-1A or an EB-1A:

Field of expertise

Spend some time homing in on your area of expertise. Because both the O-1A and EB-1A are for individuals of extraordinary ability or accomplishments who are at the top of their field, the more narrowly defined your field of expertise is, the easier it will be to demonstrate that you are at the top of it. For example, instead of listing tech entrepreneurship as your area of expertise, narrow it to something like entrepreneurship focused on developing machine learning software for the healthcare industry. Work with an experienced immigration attorney to craft your field for the petition.

Qualification criteria

Familiarize yourself with the qualification criteria for the O-1A and EB-1A, which are similar, and determine which of your skills and achievements best meet the criteria. As a startup founder, the critical and essential role you play at your startup should be easy to demonstrate. Remember, this is not the time to be humble.

Under your leadership, how much funding has your startup raised? Have you received any significant awards? What is your startup’s annual recurring revenue, and how many jobs have you created in the U.S.? Were you invited to judge a pitch competition, speak on a panel or mentor others based on your background, experience or skill set? Were you invited to become a member of an exclusive organization that has a rigorous selection process? Are you a thought leader in your field?

You will need to gather recommendation letters — more on those in a moment — and documentary evidence to demonstrate your achievements, such as a scan or photo of an award, email correspondences, copies or screenshots of articles written either about you or by you, or screenshots of a conference agenda or presentation on YouTube that generated a significant number of views. You should know that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) does not consider awards or prizes given out at the university level to be significant accomplishments. Some investments through competitions can qualify as awards, and some investments might not.

Recommendation letters

We typically recommend obtaining five to eight letters from experts in your field who can discuss your abilities and accomplishments and the significance of their impact on your field or beyond. Typically, the more details and examples provided in the recommendation letter — discussed in easy-to-understand terms — the more compelling the letter. You should keep in mind that the immigration official who is evaluating your case will likely not be an expert in your field.

It’s often valuable to submit letters from a variety of individuals, such as those who have worked directly with you and those who only know of you based on your work within your field, academic and professional experts, and individuals from both inside and outside the United States.

Make sure to ask prospective recommenders if they’re willing to submit a letter to USCIS on your behalf. While most recommenders are time-constrained individuals who prefer that you write a draft letter that they can edit, some recommenders prefer to write their own letters, which is good to know from the get-go. Make sure that those individuals who are doing so are willing to edit and make changes to any drafts, such as eliminating jargon or adding more detail.

The process of finalizing recommendation letters and getting them signed along with gathering documentary evidence for a case usually takes longer than most people anticipate. That said, get started!

All the best in the next phase of growing your startup!

Sophie


Have a question for Sophie? Ask it here. We reserve the right to edit your submission for clarity and/or space.

The information provided in “Dear Sophie” is general information and not legal advice. For more information on the limitations of “Dear Sophie,” please view our full disclaimer. You can contact Sophie directly at Alcorn Immigration Law.

Sophie’s podcast, Immigration Law for Tech Startups, is available on all major platforms. If you’d like to be a guest, she’s accepting applications!

So … What If Aliens’ Quantum Computers Explain Dark Energy?

By Stephon Alexander
A wild thought experiment by Jaron Lanier and physicist Stephon Alexander concerning gravitons, virtual reality, and Incan khipu.

Making a splash in the marketing world

By Miranda Halpern

“There are three common blunders that most SaaS marketers make time and again when it comes to clarity and high-converting content,” says Konrad Sanders, founder and CEO of The Creative Copywriter, “1. Not differentiating from competitors. 2. Not humanizing ‘tech talk.’ 3. Not tuning their messaging to prospects’ stage of awareness at the appropriate stage of the funnel.”

In an oversaturated market, how can you differentiate yourself? This week in marketing, Sanders took the time to answer that, break down B2B SaaS marketing, and tell us how marketers can do it right. Anna Heim, Extra Crunch daily reporter, interviewed Robert Katai, a Romanian marketing expert, as part of our TechCrunch Experts series. If there’s a growth marketer that you think we should know about, fill out our survey and tell us why!

Marketer: One Net Inc.
Recommended by: The Good Ride
Testimonial: “Exceptional SEO expertise. My e-comm startup relies 100% on SEO traffic and three years ago we were delisted from Google because we didn’t understand about duple content. One Net fixed our site and optimized it for Google, which allowed us to get back into the SERPs. Bottom line is: They saved our business.”

Marketer: Natalia Bandach, Hypertry
Recommended by: Jean-Noel Saunier, Growth Hacking Course
Testimonial: “Natalia is someone with an out-of-the-box approach to growth drivers and experimentation, full of creative solutions and many ideas that she quickly tests through experimentation. Rather than focusing on one area, she tries to verify what makes the most sense to a business and designs experiments that are crucial not only short but also long term. She is an ethical growth manager, likes to know that the business brings real value and is ready to pivot in every direction, [which] she does fast, however, with a focus on the team’s well-being, professional growth and always avoiding burnout.”

Help TechCrunch find the best growth marketers for startups.

Provide a recommendation in this quick survey and we’ll share the results with everybody.

Marketer: Avi Grondin, Variance Marketing
Recommended by: Adam Czach, Explorator Labs
Testimonial: “They have a hands-on approach and worked with my team to not only drive results, but educate us on how we can grow our company further.”

Marketer: Nate Dame, Profound Strategy
Recommended by: Amanda Valle, Adobe
Testimonial: “They offered a robust content research, management and writing platform, which is enabling us to manage, produce and collaborate around our content better.”

Marketer: Oren Greenberg, Kurve
Recommended by: Michael Lorenzos
Testimonial: “He’s the most well-versed growth marketer I’ve met with a wide range of expertise and an uncanny ability to zoom in and out for business context and tactical implementation.”

(Extra Crunch) Are B2B SaaS marketers getting it wrong?: Konrad Sanders, a content strategist in addition to being the founder and CEO at The Creative Copywriter, wrote about SaaS marketing for Extra Crunch. He dove into what SaaS marketers are getting wrong, how to stand out in the crowded industry and the importance of how to approach each section of your funnel. Sanders says, “By creating content for every stage of the funnel, you’ll address your prospects’ concerns at the appropriate point in the buyer journey and increase the chances that when they do come to make a purchase, it’s with you.”

Romanian marketing expert Robert Katai explains how to get the most out of your content: This week, Anna profiled Robert Katai. Katai told her all about Romania’s startup scene and his views on repurposing content. When speaking about using content for carousels on Instagram and LinkedIn, he says, “The first slide should grab attention — it can be a question. The second slide can be a link to the interview so that even if people don’t click it, it will be on their minds. Then you can have slides with insights.” Read the full interview to find out what the third slide should be!

Tell us who your favorite startup growth marketing expert to work with is by filling out our survey.

Romanian marketing expert Robert Katai explains how to get the most out of your content

By Anna Heim

There’s a lot of advice out there on how to grab people’s attention, but there’s one aspect of marketing that Robert Katai thinks isn’t talked about as often: maintaining their attention. The solution, he says, is a combination of content strategy and positioning.

Based in Romania, Katai is known for his podcasts and speeches covering the gamut of content marketing. A product manager at online graphic design platform Creatopy, he also works with clients as a freelance content strategist, and it is in this capacity that he was recommended to TechCrunch via our growth marketer survey. (If you have growth marketers to recommend, please fill out the survey!)

Katai was recommended by multiple Romanian clients and contacts who vouched for his content strategy prowess, so we were curious to know more. Who is he? And is his advice applicable beyond borders?

The short answer is yes. In a freewheeling interview, Katai spoke about how content marketing should integrate with users’ daily lives, and how content can be repurposed across multiple formats. He also shared some insights on the booming Romanian startup ecosystem.

Editor’s note: The interview below has been edited for length and clarity.

TC: How do you help your clients as a freelancer?

Robert Katai: One of the two things I’m doing is that I’m helping clients with creating their content strategy based on their objective. You can get web traffic, but you can also create a message and build the brand. You don’t have to start at the beginning; You can rebuild the brand later.

For instance, I’m working with a Romanian outsourcing company that started in 1993. They pioneered this industry in our city of Cluj-Napoca, but lately they started to realize that they should be more attractive from a sales as well as from an employee perspective. So I worked with them to perform an internal audit to see why employees love the company, why they leave, why they stay and what they want from the company.

Robert Katai

Image Credits: Robert Katai.

From there, I got to the idea that they needed to reshape their brand to not just have people notice them but to also maintain their attention. And here comes the content: I started an ambassador program, because there are people outside of the company who love it.

I also recommended they create an internal print magazine. It’s a very well-designed magazine that their 200 to 300 employees can take home and read. It’s not just about the job; it’s also about their hobbies, things to do in the city and some thought leadership articles that can inspire them to have a better life.

What’s the second way you are helping clients?

Apart from content strategy, I’m working with clients on their positioning for their audience, community and market, but also sometimes in terms of employer branding. Content can be a bridge between the two ways I am helping clients, because I’m using a lot of content marketing here and not focusing only on performance or growth marketing hacks. I’m helping them understand that if they want to establish a memorable, long-lasting brand in the market, they have to make content marketing part of their life.

If they want to reposition themselves in the industry, they need to say: Okay, these are the kinds of content we have to create for our goals; who will amplify the content, who will connect with us, and who will consume the content. Today, content creation is free — everybody can do it. The hard part is how you distribute and amplify that. And here’s how I can help the startups: Make a big piece of content and repurpose it in several small pieces; get it in front of people so that the brand is on their minds.


Have you worked with a talented individual or agency who helped you find and keep more users?

Respond to our survey and help other startups find top growth marketers they can work with!


How can brands achieve that top-of-mind status?

We all know that there are four kinds of content: Text, video, pictures and audio. These four formats never die. The platform can change, but the format will stay the same. A video can be an Instagram Reel, a documentary or something else, but it’s a video. The same goes for a photo. So the content strategy I’m working with is how brands can use that content ecosystem.

When I work with my clients — and also with Creatopy where I’m a product marketer — I recommend them to use content to build their brand and be visible to their users every day in their feeds. Every morning, when their customers are waking up and checking their phones, they don’t open a newspaper. They will open Twitter, Instagram or Facebook, and maybe then when they get out of the bathroom and make coffee, they will open YouTube and connect with Alexa.

I really believe that brands should create content that can just be in the mind of the user. Snackable content, Reels, TikTok … It doesn’t matter what we call it.

You also talked about repurposing content. Can you explain that?

Let’s take the interview you’ve done with Peep Laja. You could have recorded it as a video. And he covered several topics, so you could have several short videos — 30 seconds, three minutes, whatever. You can publish them daily on your site or social media channels with a comment that says, “Here’s the link to the full article.” But remember that on LinkedIn, that link will need to go into the comments section, not the post itself.

You can also have a longer video that you can publish on social media or on Wistia, asking people to give their email — so now you also have subscribers.

Then the second type of content you can create is audio. You already have it from the recording. You don’t have to publish the full 45-minute conversation, but you can have a five-minute audio clip, and again link to the articles.

Now we have video and audio, but what if you also designed quotes with his headshot and messaging? If it’s part of a series, you should also give it a name.

And it’s not just motivational; it’s educational, too, so you should take these quotes and create carousels for Instagram and LinkedIn. The first slide should grab attention — it can be a question. The second slide can be a link to the interview so that even if people don’t click it, it will be on their minds. Then you can have slides with insights.

The last slide will always be a call to action: Asking people to share, comment or save it for later — it’s the new currency on Instagram! And once you have your Instagram carousel, you create a PDF and publish it on LinkedIn.

So now you have five formats of content from one piece of content.

Wow, how much do we owe you?! Just kidding, we actually do some of that for the Equity podcast, for instance. Now, what other advice do you have for startups?

I’m a big advocate of documenting the process. Just imagine if Mark Zuckerberg had done that and you could read how he launched Facebook and so on. Noah Kagan is doing that right now. I think startup founders should do it, not just from the PR and marketing perspective, but for their audience. Even if your audience is not paying for your product right now, they are staying with you and giving your brand an essence in the industry.

Just think about what Salesforce is doing right now: They launched Salesforce+, which is like Netflix for B2B. It’s to get the attention of professionals and also maintain it, and I believe this is the currency of the big companies today: People’s attention.

Do you work with any startups in Romania? And do you have any impressions to share on the Romanian startup ecosystem?

Yes, I help a few Romanian startups with their content marketing and positioning. Sometimes other startups email me with questions, so I help them, too, but I don’t charge for email advice. I work with the ones that are looking for a long-term or project-based collaboration.

Startup founders here in Romania are curious, and very courageous to experiment even if it won’t necessarily work. And Romanian startups are very smart. For instance, Planable is doing a great job with content, social media and positioning. We also have social media analytics company Socialinsider, which this year launched virtual events, and TypingDNA, which wants to get rid of needing to log in with passwords and was founded by a former colleague.

I also found that the founders here work harder than their teams and don’t just leave others do the work — at least the ones I have met. We have several startup events in Romania: How to Web, and Techsylvania here in Transylvania.

I don’t like this name, but people say that Cluj-Napoca is the “Silicon Valley of Romania.” Lots of startups have been launched here, but the city that is getting more and more traction is Oradea, where the bet on education is paying off.

(If you are a tech startup founder or investor in Cluj or Oradea, fill in TechCrunch’s European Cities Survey 2021.)

Are B2B SaaS marketers getting it wrong?

By Ram Iyer
Konrad Sanders Contributor
Konrad Sanders is founder, CEO, and content strategist at The Creative Copywriter, a tech-specialist copywriting and content agency.

Which terms come to mind when you think about SaaS?

“Solutions,” “cutting-edge,” “scalable” and “innovative” are just a sample of the overused jargon lurking around every corner of the techverse, with SaaS marketers the world over seemingly singing from the same hymn book.

Sadly for them, new research has proven that such jargon-heavy copy — along with unclear features and benefits — is deterring customers and cutting down conversions. Around 57% of users want to see improvements in the clarity and navigation of websites, suggesting that techspeak and unnecessarily complex UX are turning customers away at the door, according to The SaaS Engine.

That’s not to say SaaS marketers aren’t trying: Seventy percent of those surveyed have been making big adjustments to their websites, and 33% have updated their content. So how and why are they missing the mark?

They say there’s no bigger slave to fashion than someone determined to avoid it, and SaaS marketing is no different. To truly stand out, you need to do thorough competitor analysis.

There are three common blunders that most SaaS marketers make time and again when it comes to clarity and high-converting content:

  1. Not differentiating from competitors.
  2. Not humanizing “tech talk.”
  3. Not tuning their messaging to prospects’ stage of awareness at the appropriate stage of the funnel.

We’re going to unpack what the research suggests and the steps you can take to avoid these common pitfalls.

Blending into the competition

It’s a jungle out there. But while camouflage might be key to surviving in the wild, in the crowded SaaS marketplace, it’s all about standing out. Let’s be honest: How many SaaS homepages have you visited that look the same? How many times have you read about “innovative tech-driven solutions that will revolutionize your workflow”?

The research has found that of those using SaaS at work, 76% are now on more platforms or using existing ones more intensively than last year. And as always, with increased demand comes a boom in competition, so it’s never been more important to stand out. Rather than imitating the same old phrases and copy your competitors are using, it’s time to reach your audience with originality, empathy and striking clarity.

But how do you do that?

Using AI to reboot brand-client relationships

By Ram Iyer
Michael Gorman Contributor
Michael Gorman is SVP of Product, Business Development and Marketing at ShareThis, a data company focused on mapping comprehensive global consumer interest insights.

Marketing automation has usually focused on driving sales, mainly using past purchase or late funnel behavior (e.g., paid search) as a predictor of an imminent purchase. While effective at boosting sales numbers, this widely implemented strategy can result in a disservice to brands and industries that adopt it, as it promotes the perpetual devaluation of goods or services. Narrowing a brand’s focus only to aspects linked to conversions risks stripping the customer experience of key components that lay the groundwork for long-term success.

We live in a world rich with data, and insights are growing more vibrant every day. With this in mind, companies and advertisers can strategically weave together all the data they collect during the customer experience. This enables them to understand every inference available during customer interactions and learn what benefits the customer most at a given time.

But focusing exclusively on data collected from customers, brands risk falling subject to the law of diminishing returns. Even companies with meaningful consumer interactions or rich service offerings struggle to gain impactful contextual insights. Only by harnessing a broader dataset can we understand how people become customers in the first place, what makes them more or less likely to purchase again and how developments in society impact the growth or struggle a brand will experience.

Here’s a look at how we can achieve a more complete picture of current and future customers.

A critical component in re-imagining customer experience as a relationship is recognizing that brands often don’t focus enough on consumers’ wider needs and concerns.

Leverage AI to unlock new perspectives

Over the past several years, almost every industry has capitalized on the opportunity data-driven marketing presents, inching closer to the “holy grail” of real-time, direct and personalized engagements. Yet, the evolving toolset encouraged brands to focus on end-of-the-funnel initiatives, jeopardizing what really impacts a business’ longevity: relationships.

While past purchase or late-funnel behavior data does provide value and is useful in identifying habit changes or actual needs, it is relatively surface level and doesn’t offer insight into consumers’ future behavior or what led them to a specific purchase in the first place.

By incorporating AI, brands can successfully engage with their audiences in a more holistic, helpful and genuine way. Technologies to discern not just the content of language (e.g., the keywords) but its meaning as well, open up possibilities to better infer consumer interest and intentions. In turn, brands can tune consumer interactions to generate satisfaction and delight, and ultimately accrue stronger insights for future use.

Dear Sophie: Can I still get a green card through marriage if I’m divorcing?

By Annie Siebert
Sophie Alcorn Contributor
Sophie Alcorn is the founder of Alcorn Immigration Law in Silicon Valley and 2019 Global Law Experts Awards’ “Law Firm of the Year in California for Entrepreneur Immigration Services.” She connects people with the businesses and opportunities that expand their lives.

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie,

I received a conditional green card after my wife and I got married in 2019. Recently, we have made the difficult decision to end our marriage. I want to continue living and working in the United States.

Is it still possible for me to complete my green card based on my marriage through the I-751 process or do I need to do something else, like ask my employer to sponsor me for a work visa?

— Better to Have Loved and Lost

Dear Better,

I’m sorry to hear your marriage didn’t work out. Rest assured, you can still proceed with getting a full-fledged green card even though you and your wife are divorcing. Listen to my recent podcast with Anita Koumriqian, my law partner, in which we discuss the removal of conditions on permanent residence for people who got two-year green cards through marriage.

As you know, since you were married for less than two years when you applied for your green card through marriage, you were issued a conditional green card that is only valid for two years rather than a 10-year green card. The purpose of the I-751 is to show that the couple entered into a genuine, good faith marriage. Usually, couples must file an I-751 petition together. However, an individual may file a petition without a spouse if any of the following apply:

  • If the marriage ended through annulment or divorce.
  • If the U.S. citizen spouse died.
  • If the conditional resident (and/or children) was battered or subjected to extreme cruelty.

If your divorce is not yet finalized and you don’t have a family law attorney yet, I do recommend that you work with a family law attorney, who is necessary to help streamline the process. I also recommend consulting an immigration attorney as soon as possible to prepare the I-751 filing since it can get tricky for an individual in divorce proceedings. Both need to work together and in parallel to ensure that everything goes smoothly for you with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)

When to file to remove conditions on permanent residence

The I-751 should be filed within the 90-day period before your conditional green card is set to expire. I recommend filing as soon as you can within that window. Keep in mind that, if you file your I-751 petition too early, it may be returned to you. And if you file it after your conditional green card expires, you not only face having to leave the U.S., but USCIS could also deny your petition if you fail to provide a compelling reason. If you are in this situation, definitely let your immigration attorney know.

Growth roundup: Mail privacy protection and growth marketing beyond the tactics

By Miranda Halpern

“Email impacts marketing strategy and enables better overall business success. It’s the lifeblood of an effective multichannel campaign,” says Melissa Sargeant, CMO at Litmus. “However, Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection — announced earlier this summer with its iOS 15 update — attempts to eliminate metrics and data associated with email.”

This week in marketing, Sargeant dives into the changes that Apple is making through the new privacy protection in iOS 15 and how these updates affect marketers. Sergeant leaves no stones unturned, covering the impact on consumers and how marketers can prepare for this. Anna Heim, Extra Crunch daily reporter, interviewed some team members at Ascendant, a London-based agency, about the methods they use when working with startups, no matter what stage they’re in.

Ascendant was recommended to us through our Experts Survey. If there’s a growth marketer that you’ve enjoyed working with, we’d love to hear about them. Please fill out our survey.

Marketer: Jack Abramowitz
Recommended by: Frida Leibowitz, Debbie
Testimonial: “Jack is personable, sharp and overall a super helpful guy. He genuinely wanted to help and started adding value before we even formalized our relationship. Whether it’s making useful intros, or getting into the nitty-gritty details of campaign strategies, he rolls up his sleeves and gets right in the trenches together with the team. He’s really treated our project as his own.”

Marketer: Nate Dame, Profound Strategy
Recommended by: Diana Tamblyn, Danaher
Testimonial: “[I] did a fairly extensive search for a content partner. [I] was impressed with their expertise, their references (I spoke to three), and their growth forecasting.”

Marketer: Kyle Lacy
Recommended by: Natalie Beaulieu, Seismic
Testimonial: “Kyle is a marketing master of none, and successfully built a brand that is fun, engaging and lively out of the otherwise dull ‘sales readiness’ and ‘corporate LMS’ industries. When’s the last time a B2B brand had a llama for a mascot and sent golden llamas to its customers? He leads a team of writers, creatives, performance marketers and more as one cohesive team, fueling Lessonly’s growth through to its acquisition by Seismic. Can’t wait to see what he does at Seismic!”

(Extra Crunch) Apple is changing Mail Privacy Protection and email marketers must prepare: Melissa Sargeant wrote a guest column about email privacy changes and what it means for marketers. Sargeant says, “Litmus data collected from over a billion email opens worldwide found Apple Mail held a 48.6% total share across iPhones, Macs and iPads in June 2021. Though down slightly from April (51.1%), the data still suggests Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection will significantly impact email marketers, entire marketing teams and especially consumers.” Sergeant also covers how marketers can prepare for these changes.

For British agency Ascendant, growth marketing is much more than a set of tactics: Anna Heim spoke with Ascendant, a British growth agency, about their experience working with startups. Gus Ferguson, co-founder of Ascendant tells us, “We also know that probably one of the biggest barriers to growth is marketers being dependent on developers, which are such a rare resource. We address that by implementing marketing frameworks at a basic level of the business whereby marketers are able to at least control basic marketing operations directly.”

Is there a startup growth marketing expert that you want us to know about? Let us know by filling out our survey.

Insight Partners leads $30M round into Metabase, developing enterprise business intelligence tools

By Christine Hall

Open-source business intelligence company Metabase announced Thursday a $30 million Series B round led by Insight Partners.

Existing investors Expa and NEA joined in on the round, which gives the San Francisco-based company a total of $42.5 million in funding since it was founded in 2015. Metabase previously raised $8 million in Series A funding back in 2019, led by NEA.

Metabase was developed within venture studio Expa and spun out as an easy way for people to interact with data sets, co-founder and CEO Sameer Al-Sakran told TechCrunch.

“When someone wants access to data, they may not know what to measure or how to use it, all they know is they have the data,” Al-Sakran said. “We provide a self-service access layer where they can ask a question, Metabase scans the data and they can use the results to build models, create a dashboard and even slice the data in ways they choose without having an analyst build out the database.”

He notes that not much has changed in the business intelligence realm since Tableau came out more than 15 years ago, and that computers can do more for the end user, particularly to understand what the user is going to do. Increasingly, open source is the way software and information wants to be consumed, especially for the person that just wants to pull the data themselves, he added.

George Mathew, managing director of Insight Partners, believes we are seeing the third generation of business intelligence tools emerging following centralized enterprise architectures like SAP, then self-service tools like Tableau and Looker and now companies like Metabase that can get users to discovery and insights quickly.

“The third generation is here and they are leading the charge to insights and value,” Mathew added. “In addition, the world has moved to the cloud, and BI tools need to move there, too. This generation of open source is a better and greater example of all three of those.”

To date, Metabase has been downloaded 98 million times and used by more than 30,000 companies across 200 countries. The company pursued another round of funding after building out a commercial offering, Metabase Enterprise, that is doing well, Al-Sakran said.

The new funding round enables the company to build out a sales team and continue with product development on both Metabase Enterprise and Metabase Cloud. Due to Metabase often being someone’s first business intelligence tool, he is also doubling down on resources to help educate customers on how to ask questions and learn from their data.

“Open source has changed from floppy disks to projects on the cloud, and we think end users have the right to see what they are running,” Al-Sakran said. “We are continuing to create new features and improve performance and overall experience in efforts to create the BI system of the future.

 

Medical supply marketplace startup bttn. sews up additional $5M seed

By Christine Hall

Coming off a $1.5 million seed round in June, bttn. announced Thursday that it secured another $5 million extension, led by FUSE, to the round to give it a $26.5 million post-money valuation.

The Seattle-based company was founded in March 2021 by JT Garwood and Jack Miller after seeing the challenges medical organizations had during the global pandemic to not only find supplies, but also get fair prices for them.

“We went into this building on the pain points customers had dealing with a system that is so archaic and outdated — most were still faxing in order forms and keeping closets full of supplies, but not knowing what was there,” Garwood, CEO, told TechCrunch.

Bttn. is going after the U.S. wholesale medical supply market, which is predicted to be valued at $243.3 billion by the end of 2021, according to IBISWorld. The company created a business-to-business e-commerce platform with a variety of high-quality medical supplies, saving customers an average of between 20% and 40%, while providing a better ordering and shipping experience, Garwood said.

It now boasts more than 300 customers, including individual practices and surgical centers, and multiple government contracts. It is also currently the preferred supplier for over 17 healthcare associations across the country, Garwood said. In addition to expanding into dental supplies, bttn. is also attracting customers like senior living facilities and home and hospice care.

Garwood intends to use the funds to expand bttn.’s technology, sales and operations teams, and increase its partnerships. The company is also adding new features like a portal to track shipments more easily, better order automation and improve the ability to control when supplies will get to them.

Bttn. is also analyzing more of the data coming in from its marketplace to recognize where the trends are coming from, including hospitalization rates, to share with customers. For example, if hospitals are overcrowded, supply shortages will follow, Garwood said.

“The medical supply industry was built on inequity, and we have a sense of duty to build a product that enables a better future for our customers,” he added. “We can proactively let customers know that spikes are expected, provide them with correct information and give that power back to the consumers and healthcare providers in ways they never had before.”

Whereas bttn.’s first seed round was “about pouring gas on the fire,” partnering with FUSE this time around was an easy decision for Garwood, who said the firm is bringing new assets to the table.

Brendan Wales, general partner at FUSE, said via email that his firm backs promising entrepreneurs building businesses in the Pacific Northwest and discovered bttn. before they announced any funding.

He said there is massive consumerization of healthcare, most evident on the patient side for years, but now becoming so on the provider side. Medical office employees are looking for the same type of customer experience they get from online businesses they frequently shop at, and bttn. “has a relentless drive to provide the same type of experiences and interactions to health providers.”

“We fell in love with the idea of providing a transparent and delightful customer experience to health providers, something that has been sorely lacking,” Wales added. “That, tied in with a young and ambitious team, made it so that our entire partnership worked tirelessly to partner with them.”

 

Dear Sophie: Tips on EB-1A and EB-2 NIW?

By Annie Siebert
Sophie Alcorn Contributor
Sophie Alcorn is the founder of Alcorn Immigration Law in Silicon Valley and 2019 Global Law Experts Awards’ “Law Firm of the Year in California for Entrepreneur Immigration Services.” She connects people with the businesses and opportunities that expand their lives.

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie,

I’m on an H-1B living and working in the U.S. I want to apply for a green card on my own. I’m concerned about only relying on my current employer and I want to be able to easily change jobs or create a startup. I’ve been looking at the EB-1A and EB-2 NIW.

I’m not sure if I would qualify for an EB-1A, but since I was born in India, I face a much longer wait for an EB-2 NIW. Any tips on how to proceed?

— Inventive from India

Dear Inventive,

Thanks for your question. Take a listen to my podcast episode in which I discuss the latest tech immigration news and delve into the benefits and requirements of the EB-1A green card for individuals of extraordinary ability and the EB-2 NIW (National Interest Waiver) green card, which as you know are the main employment-based green cards for which individuals can self-sponsor.

I recommend you consult an experienced immigration attorney who can evaluate your abilities and accomplishments and assess your prospects for each green card. After an initial consultation with new clients, we’re able to provide a lot more detail to folks on their specific options since these are such individualized pathways.

There are some groups of people who might need every advantage. Those can include folks born in India or China, who might face long green card backlogs. Another such group includes people whose skills and accomplishments might be borderline for an EB-1A green card for extraordinary ability. In some cases — if eligible and to have every opportunity for green card security and to mitigate wait times as much as possible — our clients choose to file both the EB-1A and EB-2 NIW in parallel.

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)

The EB-1A is the highest priority green card and the standard for qualifying is much higher than for the EB-2 NIW. And that means an EB-1A is typically quicker to get, which is particularly the case now: According to the August 2021 Visa Bulletin, there is no wait for an EB-1A green card regardless of country of birth, while only individuals who were born in India and have a priority date of June 1, 2011 or earlier can proceed with their EB-2 NIW petition.

Please remember that the Visa Bulletin fluctuates and changes every month. Also, the EB-1A is currently eligible for premium processing on the I-140. Although there is talk to add this option to the EB-2 NIW one day, premium processing is not available for EB-2 NIW I-140s yet.

Growth roundup: Storytelling for startups, early-stage influencers, retail media spend

By Miranda Halpern

“I like to think of successful brand-building as creating a company that customers would be upset to separate from their identity,” growth marketing expert Julian Shapiro told us earlier this week. “For example, they’d cease to be the man with Slack stickers all over his laptop. Or the woman who no longer wears Nike shoes every day. And that bugs them.”

Shapiro comes from a technical background, as a repeat startup founder and open-source web developer. But these days, as the co-founder of growth education company Demand Curve and startup growth agency Bell Curve, he advocates telling your story by speaking from the heart. We interviewed him earlier this week to hear more about how he sees marketing in 2021.

Elsewhere on TechCrunch and Extra Crunch this week, we published guest columns about using influencers in early-stage brands, the global retail media spending trend and talked to Growth Folks, a growth marketing organization in India.

But first, here are a couple of the most recent recommendations from founders in our startup growth marketer survey. (If there’s a growth marketer that you’ve enjoyed working with, please tell us here.)

Marketer: Bili Sule, alGROWithm
Recommended by: Femi Aiki, Foodlocker
Testimonial: “Bili has a proven track record of driving growth, as the former vice president of Growth Marketing at Jumia Nigeria and as a senior growth consultant for Founders Factory Africa. She’s able to cut through the jargon/vanity metrics and has found a way to consistently and reliably engineer growth for us. What’s unique about Bili’s approach is that her strategy moves beyond just marketing. She is data driven and takes an iterative experimental approach to unlocking growth across various business pillars, from marketing to product and operations.”

Marketer: Jack Abramowitz
Recommended by: Marwen Refaat, GameFi

Testimonial: “Jack is incredibly talented at both growth hacking as well as building an automated growth engine. He has been tremendously helpful to our team.”

Building a growth community in India with Ayush Srivastava of Growth Folks: India is producing a huge, well-funded new generation of startups and increasing sophistication in growth marketing is one reason why. “Companies have started realizing the true importance of having a fully functional growth team and they have started acknowledging their one metric that matters as well,” Srivastava told us in a recent interview. “The growth marketers have also started setting up a lot of experiments and have taken a data-driven approach to solving a problem. Now, I see many startups going out of the box and putting in efforts to find new ways of acquisition. They haven’t restricted them to acquiring users via the traditional ways and that’s why you see so many ideas going viral so easily.”

(Extra Crunch) Early-stage brands should also unlock the power of influencers: Jonathan Martinez, an experienced growth marketer, breaks down influencer marketing. Martinez notes, “When reaching out to influencers, it’s a sheer numbers game in capturing their attention and pitching your brand, but there are myriad ways to increase response conversion.”

(Extra Crunch) What’s driving the global surge in retail media spending? Cynthia Luo, head of marketing at Epsilo, discusses what modern marketing is in 2021. Luo also talks about how businesses have had to adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic. Luo says, “As e-commerce turns into a dream marketing channel, reaping the benefits of retail marketing is only possible if the marketplace equips brands with the right tools and data sets.”

The art of startup storytelling with Julian Shapiro: Eric Eldon, Extra Crunch managing editor, spoke with Julian Shapiro, about how companies communicate with the public. Shapiro offered insights from his experience as an angel investor, “I’m interested in businesses with product-led growth, brand affinity moats and who get harder to compete with the larger they get.”

(Extra Crunch) Growth tactics that will jump-start your customer base: Jenny Wang, principal investor at Neo, gives insights on the challenges startups now face to launch their customer base and provides some tactics to help them do so. In this article, Wang discusses what the playbook was like five years ago and says, “ … it’s never been harder to corral eyeballs and hit a breakout adoption trajectory.”

Salesforce State of Marketing: Salesforce published a marketing report that uses data from a double-blind survey they conducted. The survey has five main chapters, “Marketers Embrace Change with Optimism,” “As Customers Go Digital, Marketing Steps Up,” “Collaboration Drives the Market-from-Anywhere Era,” “Marketing Is Spelled D-A-T-A” and “Metrics and KPIs Continue to Evolve.” When looking at digital channels, they mentioned that, “Even those digital channels that may have been classified as emerging in recent years are seeing mass adoption. Mobile messaging, for instance, is used by 69% of marketers, and nearly two-thirds of organizations use audio media like podcasts and streaming ads.” The report lists out the five “Most Valuable Marketing Metrics/KPIs” and looks ahead at “Digital Marketing Tactics.”

Is there a startup growth marketing expert that you want us to know about? Let us know by filling out our survey.

Building a growth community in India with Ayush Srivastava of Growth Folks

By Miranda Halpern

Indian startups of all sizes are raising record amounts of investment funding this year and getting public exits, as we’ve been covering in recent months. To hear more about the growth behind the numbers we caught up with Ayush Srivastava, a cofounder of growth marketing group Growth Folks (and a growth marketer at Zynga by day).

The organization, which describes itself as “India’s largest community of growth enthusiasts,” began as in-person events for growth marketers across major cities, but made the jump to online networking during the pandemic. From there it began an online speaker series for its 1300-some members, introduced more community networking groups and virtual events, and one-on-one mentoring.

In the interview below, part of our ongoing series profiling growth marketers around the world, he says India’s startup scene has quickly gotten more sophisticated about growth in recent years. Companies are centering high-quality user growth as a shared team goal, not as a side job, and are thinking more creatively about where and how to find users. “I am amazed at how the startups are focusing on tier 2-3 cities here in India. With the pace with which internet access has grown… they are making sure they are solving the problem faced by rural Indians as well. [I] just love the fact that proper solutions are being built in the right manner for the concerned pain point.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You describe Growth Folks as “India’s largest community of growth enthusiasts,” with more than 1,300 members. What does “growth enthusiast” mean to you, and how does that term define you?

The terms ‘growth’ and ‘growth marketing’ have picked up a lot in the last five years in the Indian startup ecosystem. All of a sudden there are more than a million heads who are interested to be a part of this circle or are already a part of this community. This had a positive impact as more and more people started to look at their growth problems and not only just promoting their business. For us, growth enthusiasts are everyone and anyone who is even a percent excited about how to grow a particular brand/service.

How did the focus and efforts of Growth Folks change during the pandemic for community engagement?

In the pre-COVID era, Growth Folks was heavily functional in the offline space. We used to manage and engage the community online but most of the efforts went in and success used to come from the offline activities that we used to organize. From December 2018 through the end of 2019, we organized more than 80+ offline events in nine cities of India. These events were previously panel discussions, industry talks or seminars followed by networking sessions…

[H]owever, once COVID came into the picture, our operations shifted completely online and I must say the shift was quite smooth but exciting for me.
We started hosting bi-weekly online webinars with industry leaders and tried giving our community folks (and new attendees) a look and feel of the physical event in the form of this virtual gathering so that they feel connected.

Ever since lockdown began, we have done over 25+ events and have had speakers from companies like SEMRush, Baremetrics, Zynga, Indigo Airlines, Adjust, Myntra and many more. Not only this, we started a lot of interesting threads on our Facebook group to get people to engage more. Within the same period, we launched our website to give people an idea about all our services.

We made sure that we are having dedicated networking sessions after the webinars for people to interact with each other. In October 2020, we re-launched the online version of “Brunch Sessions” that we used to have in the pre-COVID times. These brunch sessions helped the fellow community people to come together on a single day and interact and chill with each other virtually. We started producing more online content knowing the fact that this could be a way to have a value add and it worked.

Help TechCrunch find the best growth marketers for startups.

Provide a recommendation in this quick survey and we’ll share the results with everybody.

Growth Folks is multifaceted, offering traditional growth marketing services as well as hosting a “growth hackathon” and community activities. What can a startup expect when working with Growth Folks? How is it different from existing services?

We have been virtually able to connect with so many people and we continue to do so… [W]e started something which is called “growth huddle”. It is a highly curated one-on-one mentorship session with a few of the best talents out there in the growth space. You can book your session and we will take you through the entire process to make sure that the session is right on point and you learn what you want, not what we want.

All of the mentors who were onboarded vary from experience level to expertise and provide the right set of guidance needed for individuals and startups to grow further. We also partnered with startups and companies for various online events to promote them and make sure that the right voice reaches out to the right set of people who matter to them – the Growth Folks. We have collaborated with companies like Adjust, Microsoft, Rocketium, Canva and many more and we have been able to make people learn the right things.

What are startups doing better now than ever before? In India? Around the world?

Companies have started realizing the true importance of having a fully functional growth team and they have started acknowledging their one metric that matters as well. The growth marketers have also started setting up a lot of experiments and have taken a data-driven approach to solving a problem. Now, I see many startups going out of the box and putting in efforts to find new ways of acquisition. They haven’t restricted them to acquiring users via the traditional ways and that’s why you see so many ideas going viral so easily. And all in different ways…

I see so many founders not restricting themselves to hiring just a growth marketer for leading all growth initiatives. Rather, they have spent time understanding the importance of it and have ended up building a full force growth team of marketers, PMs, tech people, designers etc. I feel that is the best way to look at any growth problem statement.

I am amazed at how the startups are focusing on tier 2-3 cities here in India. With the pace with which internet access has grown… they are making sure they are solving the problem faced by rural Indians as well. [I] just love the fact that proper solutions are being built in the right manner for the concerned pain point.

Lastly, companies have started considering the importance of the entire customer experience more seriously than ever before. This is helping brands to grow via communities easily and create a strong brand presence.

Pokémon GO influencers threaten a boycott after Niantic removes COVID safety measures

By Amanda Silberling

The creators of Pokémon GO, Niantic developed one of the first mainstream augmented reality games, boasting 166 million users and over a billion dollars in revenue last year. Taking inspiration from the main series Pokémon games, Pokémon GO uses in-game incentives to encourage users to explore their surroundings, team up with other users to fight legendary beasts, and travel to places they’ve never been before.

Before the pandemic, this posed an accessibility issue — when certain tasks could only be completed by walking a certain distance, for example, it alienated users with physical conditions and disabilities that prevent them from easily taking a walk around the neighborhood. Plus, for players in wheelchairs, it might be impossible to access certain PokéStops and Gyms. It’s necessary to interact with these real-world landmarks to play the game to its fullest.

When much of the world entered lockdown March 2020, Pokémon Go doubled the size of the radius that players can be within to interact with a PokéStop or Gym, widening the radius from 40 meters to 80 meters. So, you could now be further away from a landmark but still reap its rewards. This made it easier for users to play from home, or play outside while social distancing — but it also made the game much more accessible. Plus, for a game that still gets a bad rep for causing traffic accidents, the increased radius helped pedestrian players access landmarks without brazenly jay-walking across the street (to be fair, it’s on users to make smart decisions while gaming in augmented reality — but, Niantic has responsibility here too). And for businesses that happened to be located in a prime location for raid battles, which require players to gather in-person within a Gym’s radius to defeat rare monsters, this meant that Pokémon players could maintain a respectful distance from store fronts while playing the game (later in the pandemic, it became possible to join raid battles remotely — this feature will remain in the game, probably because it proved profitable).

These pandemic incentives were always framed as temporary bonuses, but players embraced the changes — in 2020, Pokémon GO had its highest-earning year yet. Now, the increased landmark radius has been removed “as a test” in the U.S. and New Zealand.

“As we return to the outside world again, these changes are aimed at restoring the focus of Pokémon GO on movement and exploration in the real world,” the company wrote in a blog post. “These changes will be introduced slowly and carefully to make it more exciting to explore the world around you.”

One new incentive gives users 10x XP for visiting a new PokéStop for the first time (or, in real-world terms, visiting a new place). But as the Delta variant spreads in the U.S., players find these changes to be frustrating and misguided. Why roll back features that made the game more accessible while also netting the company more money?

The removal of double distance is nothing short of a slap in the face towards the #PokemonGO Community.

I’ll realistic and say I that I’ll quit GO if changes aren’t being made ASAP.

I REFUSE to cover a game that doesn’t have it’s player base in its best interest.

— REVERSAL – Pokémon GO (@REVERSALxPoGO) August 1, 2021

The Pokémon Go YouTuber, Reversal, who has created sponsored content for Niantic, wrote that he will quit the game if changes aren’t being made ASAP. Other players launched a petition with over 130,000 signatures to keep increased PokéStop and Gym interaction distance. Prominent Pokémon Go content creators like ZoëTwoDots and The Trainer Club have referenced a potential boycott of the game in videos they uploaded today, citing Niantic’s refusal to listen to community concerns after they announced the impending end of pandemic bonuses in June.

“I’m more than down to boycott the game with everyone if we’re vibing that,” ZoëTwoDots, who has also partnered with Niantic, told her 212,000 subscribers. “I know for myself personally, I’m just straight up not spending money in the game going forward until they address it publicly.”

My opinion on the Pokéstop radius hasn't changed. It was a clear quality of life change that was only fully realised because of a (ongoing) pandemic. It has provided accessibility to disabled players, safety to all players, and NEVER affected our enjoyment of exploration. https://t.co/DK1VWkw0ga

— ZoëTwoDots 🎀 (@_ZoeTwoDots) August 1, 2021

As the game celebrates its five year anniversary, the conflict it now faces isn’t about players wishing for the game to be easier. Rather, this represents a failure by Niantic to listen to its user base, prioritize accessibility, and incentivize users to stay home as COVID-19 cases rise again in the U.S.

White-label SaaS shipping startup Outvio closes $3M round led by Change Ventures

By Mike Butcher

Outvio, an Estonian startup that provides a white-label SaaS fulfillment solution for medium-sized and large online retailers in Spain and Estonia, has closed a $3 million early-stage financing round led by Change Ventures. Also participating were TMT Investments (London), Fresco Capital (San Francisco), and Lemonade Stand (Tallinn). Several angels also joined the round including James Berdigans (Printify) and Kristjan Vilosius (Katana MRP). This is the startup’s first institutional round of funding, after bootstrapping since 2018.

Online retailers usually have to use a number of different tools or hire expensive developers to create in-house shipping solutions. Outvio offers online stores of any size a post-purchase shipping experience, which seeks to replicate an Amazon-style experience where customers can also return packages. Among others, itcompetes with ShippyPro, which runs out of Italy and has raised $5 million to date.

Juan Borras, co-founder and CEO of Outvio said: “We can give any online store all the tools needed to offer a superior post-sale customer experience. We can integrate at different points in their fulfilment process, and for large merchants, save them hundreds of thousands in development costs alone.”

He added: “What happens after the purchase is more important than most shops realize. More than 88% of consumers say it is very important for them that retailers proactively communicate every fulfilment and delivery stage. Not doing so, especially if there are problems, often results in losing that client. Our mission is to help online stores streamline everything that happens after the sale, fueling repeat business and brand-loyal customers with the help of a fantastic post-purchase experience.”

Rait Ojasaar, Investment Partner at lead investor Change Ventures commented: “While online retailing has a long way to go, the expectations of consumers are increasing when it comes to delivery time and standards. The same can be said about the online shop operators who increasingly look for more advanced solutions with consumer-like user experience. The Outvio team has understood exactly what the gap in the market is and has done a tremendous job of finding product-market fit with their modern fulfilment SaaS platform.”

Acrew Capital, Jeff Bezos back Colombia-based proptech La Haus’ $100M debt, equity round

By Mary Ann Azevedo

La Haus, which has developed an online real estate marketplace operating in Mexico and Colombia, has secured $100 million in additional funding, including $50 million in equity and $50 million in debt financing.

The new capital was obtained as an extension to the company’s Series B, the first tranche of which closed in January. With the latest infusion, Medellin, Colombia-based La Haus has now secured $135 million total for the round and over $158 million in funding since its 2017 inception.

San Francisco Bay Area venture firms Acrew Capital and Renegade Partners co-led the round, which also included participation from Jeff Bezos’ Bezos Expeditions, Endeavor Catalyst, Moore Strategic Ventures, Marc Benioff’s TIME Ventures, Rappi’s Simon Borrero, Maluma, and Gabriel Gilinski. Existing backers who put money in this round include Greenspring Associates, Kaszek, NFX, Spencer Rascoff’s 75 & Sunny Ventures, Hadi Partovi and NuBank’s David Velez. 

Jerónimo Uribe (CEO), Rodrigo Sánchez-Ríos (president), Tomás Uribe (chief growth officer) and Santiago Garcia (CTO) founded the company after Jerónimo and Tomas met Sánchez-Ríos at Stanford University. Prior to La Haus they started and ran Jaguar Capital, a Colombian real estate development company with over $350 million of completed retail and residential projects. 

The company declined to reveal at what valuation the extension was raised, with Sánchez-Ríos saying only that it was “a significant increase” from January.

The Series B extension follows impressive growth for the startup, which saw the number of transactions conducted on its Mexico portal climb by nearly 10x in the second quarter of 2021 compared to the 2020 second quarter. With over 500 homes selling on its platform (via lahaus.com and lahaus.mx) the company is “the market leader in selling new housing in Spanish-speaking Latam by an order of magnitude,” its execs claim.  La Haus expects to have facilitated more than $1 billion in annualized gross sales by the end of the year. 

The startup was founded with the mission of making it easier for people to buy homes and helping “solve LatAm’s extreme housing inequality.” Its end goal is to accelerate access to new housing by both generating and curating supply and demand and then matching it with its technology, noted Sánchez-Ríos. 

“In the last six months, our chief product officer has built a product that allows this to happen 100% digitally,” he said. “Before it would take a lot of time, people involved and visits. We want to provide people looking for a home a similar experience as to people looking for their next flight at delta.com.”

It has done that by embedding its software to developers’ new projects so that it can bring that digital experience to its users. 

“They are able to view the projects on our sites, we match them and then they can see in real time which units of a particular tower are available, and then select, sign and pay for everything digitally,” Sánchez-Río said.

Image credit: La Haus

The need for new housing in the region and other emerging markets in general is acute, they believe. And the pace of building new homes is slow because small and mid-sized developers – who are responsible for building the majority of new homes in Latin America – are cash constrained. At the same time, mortgages are mostly not affordable for consumers, with banks extending only a fraction of the credit to individuals compared to the U.S., and often at far worse terms. 

What La Haus is planning to do with its new capital – particularly the debt portion – is go beyond selling homes via its marketplace to helping extend financing to both developers and potential buyers.It plans to take the proprietary data it has been able to glean from the thousands of real estate transactions conducted on it platform to extend capital to developers and consumers “more quickly, with much lower risk and at better terms.”

Already, what the startup has accomplished is notable. Being able to purchase a home 100% digitally is not that easy even in the U.S. Pulling that off in Latin America – which has historically trailed behind in digital adoption – is no easy feat. By year’s end, La Haus intends to be in every major metropolitan area in Mexico and Colombia. 

Its ultimate goal is to be able to help new, sustainable homes “to be built faster, alleviating the inequality caused by lack of access to inventory.”

To Acrew Capital’s Lauren Kolodny, La Haus is building a solution specific to the issues of Latin America’s housing market, rather than importing business models – such as iBuying – from the U.S.

“For many people in the United States home equity is their largest asset. In Latin America, however, consumers have been challenged with an impenetrable real estate market stacked against consumers,” she wrote via email. “La Haus is removing barriers to home ownership that stifles millions of people from achieving financial security. Specifically, Latin America has no centralized MLS, very costly interest rates, no transactional transparency, and few online informational tools.”

La Haus, Kolodny added, is breaking down these barriers by consolidating listings online, offering pricing transparency and educating consumers about their financing options.

Acrew first invested in the startup in its $10 million Series A and has been impressed with its growth over time.

“They have a unique focus on new housing — a massive industry worldwide, but especially in emerging markets where new housing is so necessary,” Kolodny said. “The management team…knows real estate in Latin America better than anyone we’ve met.”

For its part, the La Haus team is excited to put its new capital to work. As Sánchez-Río put it, “$50 million goes a lot further in Mexico and Colombia than in the U.S.”

“We are going to be very aggressive in Mexico and Colombia, and plan to go from four to at least 12 markets by the end of the year,” Jeronimo told TechCrunch. “We’re also excited to roll out our financing solution to developers and buyers.”

Draft.dev CEO Karl Hughes on the importance of using experts in developer marketing

By Anna Heim

Developers can be a tough crowd. They typically hate being marketed to and are often short on time, which sets a particularly high bar for any content marketing aimed at them.

Coming up with relevant content that developers find interesting takes specific know-how, and this is where Draft.dev comes in. Its Chicago-based founder and CEO Karl Hughes describes the firm as “a superniche content marketing production company, producing technical content for companies that want to reach software engineers.”

Hughes and his agency were recommended multiple times in our growth marketer survey, which we launched to surface experts that startups can work with. (If you have your own recommendation, please fill out the survey!) One of the survey respondents noted that developers are underrated as a target audience: It may be niche, but it is a large one. More importantly, they are an audience a growing number of startups need to reach.

“If you are going to have subject matter experts write, you also need to have good editors to work with them.”

Developer marketing came up in our conversation with strategic marketing firm MKT1, so we called on Hughes to learn more. Our discussion covered a lot of ground, from what he has learned and his ambitions to Draft.dev’s process.

Editor’s note: The interview below has been edited for length and clarity:

What kind of clients does Draft.dev work with?

Karl Hughes: Almost all of our clients are developer tools companies. Mostly Series A- and Series B-funded, so they have got some funding and some knowledge that content marketing works for their audience. What they are trying to do with us is scale production and make sure that what they are writing is going to resonate with developers.

What inspired you to create Draft.dev?

I’ve been a software developer, and then most recently was a CTO at a startup in Chicago, so I knew that there were lots of companies trying to reach developers [ … ] and that a lot of them were doing a poor job of it. So last year I wanted to combine my tech knowledge with writing knowledge, and that’s where Draft.dev came from — and it’s been awesome!

We get to work both with technical and non-technical marketing and developer relations people to help them get more content out. And even though it’s marketing content, it’s super focused on education, because developer marketing is a bit tricky. Developers can be a bit skeptical of marketing, so you have to be nuanced in your approach. You have to be genuinely helpful, so we really try to focus on helpful content that is also a net positive for the client.

What are some mistakes that you see companies making when creating content for developers?

There are a couple of big challenges that Draft.dev is specifically built to solve: Relying too much on your own team to create content when they are busy and have other priorities, and thinking that you can just get your general copywriting agency to cover developer topics. It usually doesn’t work well.

Many companies start off getting their engineers to write content and make the mistake of thinking this will work forever. Let’s say you’re a continuous integration tool and you want to write content that shows developers how your tool works and that it’s a good option. Marketing teams will go to developers and say: “Hey, could you guys write a blog post?” And they’ll usually get a few blog posts here and there, but it’s really hard to build consistent content when these engineers are building the product and have production deadlines to hit.

When you look at companies that have done developer marketing really successfully, like Okta and DigitalOcean, you see that they have dedicated teams to produce this content. There’s a reason for that: It’s almost impossible to get your engineers to write everything that you need to produce high-quality and consistent content over time.

The other big mistake that I see companies making is thinking that a general marketing writer or SEO copywriter can write great content for developers. That is super rare. I mean, I’ve probably met two or three who can do a decent job of making it look like they know enough to speak with some authority. In general, you either want somebody — either at your company or otherwise — who knows the tool.

So for example, if I ask a general SEO copywriter, “Could you write about how to write a SQL query that does X, Y and Z?”, maybe they can hack some other articles together and come up with something, but it’s certainly not going to have the authority that a real software developer has.

This is true in any area where you have to rely on subject matter experts to help you with marketing content, but because my background is in development, I knew that this was a huge problem for companies.

How does Draft.dev address that?

We are definitely not right for every company. But for companies that are looking to scale-up content production and have technical authority behind those pieces, that’s where we come in. Typically, these are companies that know they want to do developer content, but are stretched too thin on their engineering team or they have tried freelancers and have a really hard time managing them and keeping quality consistent. So they come to us to do that.

We solve that problem with a huge pool of software developers who write for us on the side. Right now we have about 50 or 60 active monthly writers who are all software developers; they work full-time jobs and do this at night and on weekends. We bring people who are actually in the field, doing these things every day. They bring that technical expertise to the articles that we create for clients.

The mutually beneficial aspect here is that while we obviously pay these writers, they also get a byline out on the client’s site. We don’t do a lot of ghostwriting, which is a little unique, but is really good for our style of content because you want to show subject matter expertise. It’s preferable when you don’t have your head of marketing listed as the author of every piece of developer content. It’s nice to have a byline by a real software developer.

All of this goes back to what your content strategy is and who you want to reach. This is not blanket advice for everybody, but for companies trying to reach developers who are writing code every day, I think it’s super helpful to have some technical authority from people actually doing this.

How do you make sure your writers have subject matter expertise?

We have a writer vetting and selection process. Once we have vetted the writers who have applied, we also look for the best match for each article. We are looking through their skills and past experience to see who’d be the best fit.

We also recruit specific writers to write about niche topics. Sometimes that means doing cold outreach; sometimes it means going through our networks and figuring out who we know who’s written about Rust before. Things like that can be really tricky and time-consuming for a marketing team to do, but because we are doing this full time for lots of clients, we can spread that work around. It makes a lot of sense, and our clients like that we do this for them.

How to you balance your writers’ technical expertise versus writing skills?

That is tough! But there are some best practices in this field. If you are going to have subject matter experts write, you also need to have good editors to work with them.

There are two sides to how we get high-quality content from software engineers who may be average writers when they start, and are often ESL speakers. The upfront part is that we plan content pretty thoroughly. We go back and forth with the content to make sure we know what we are producing, and we also have technical content planners who make sure that each article has a story, an outline and lot of structure before we give it to a writer.

The writer fills in the technical details and personal experience, and then every piece will go through three rounds of edits to get it up to our standards: a technical review; a developmental edit for things like structure and flow, and a copy edit.

How do you split these tasks?

We’ve refined this process a lot since starting this [in May 2020]. Initially, it was just me and my managing editor Chris [Wolfgang] — she had a lot of experience in editing, so she could do full-stack editing, and I was focused on writing, picking writers, reviewing, etc. That’s how we divided things in the early days, but as we grew, we realized that we wouldn’t find an army of Chrises and Karls.

We had to figure out how to split these jobs into specialities where people can do their best work, and that’s how we managed to scale and keep quality high while growing at the pace we have. We now have five full-time people and we work with over 35 startups of various sizes, so we are still a small business, but it has been growing very quickly.

How do you get new clients?

Our biggest source of new business has been referrals. Clients who work with us love what we do and refer us to other people. We have also ended up working with companies going through accelerator programs like Y Combinator, so when new YC companies ask who does developer content, they hear about us. Besides us there’s probably just a couple of other companies that specialize in this. It’s a very small field so we get mentioned a lot.


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Growth has been so organic at the moment that I haven’t pursued a lot of active outreach strategies, but we are starting to get better at boosting this [organic growth]. One of the first hires I made this year was an account manager who’s helped with maintaining relationships with existing clients and getting things like testimonials, case studies, etc. Another thing is that when people see our content, they ask the company who did it, because companies that are selling developers tools really need a way to produce this kind of content, and there aren’t many providers.

How do you complement your clients’ own content production efforts?

Our two sweet spots are bigger companies that are looking to augment their in-house content team, because they have a hard time keeping developer content going, and really small teams that are building a tool specifically for software developers and need to get going with content production or ramp it up.

A lot of our clients will have something like a community writer program in addition to what we provide. For instance, we work with Strapi, which is an open-source tool that has a big community with community writers writing about how they use Strapi.

But then they use us to augment that content, because they want to be able to set some topics themselves. A lot of times, community contributions are good for whatever your community happens to be working on, but you can’t necessarily ask your community to write about X or Y.

The other challenge here is that with any developer-focused community writing program, you are going to need to spend a lot on editing. A lot of companies underestimate the work it is going to take. That’s where we come in: Instead of hiring all these different people you need and trying to build your own process, you can slot Draft.dev in there for a while. If some day you want to go hire your own team and replace us, that’s great — we’d love you to outgrow us. But ideally, we’d like to stick around and always be part of your developer content efforts.

Do you also do anything related to content distribution, such as writing the tweets that go with the articles?

We just started doing that; it’s our first big add-on service, where for each piece of content we’ll create social media collateral, like a couple of tweets, LinkedIn posts and Reddit submissions with the subreddits they would be most appropriate for. Then the client just has someone on their team copy-paste and schedule it with whatever system they want.

We also send a full promotional checklist they can use to promote the content, because one of the challenges I see with some of the smaller companies we work with is that they sometimes get lost when it comes to getting the content we produce in front of people. If you are not a developer, it’s hard to come up with copy about a technical piece. So by offering that collateral, we’re making it a bit easier. It’s been our first foray into this. We could expand into other things in the future, but that would probably be next year.

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