By its nature, sales is one of the most social faces of a business, so it's no surprise that there are tools being built for sales teams that are tapping into some of the most interesting dynamics of the world of social networking, and that the startups that are doing this most successfully are making a killing.
In the latest example, a startup out of Canada called Introhive -- which has built an AI engine that ingests huge amounts of data from across disparate applications to help companies (and specifically anyone in their organization that is selling to someone) to build better "relationship graphs" for target organizations -- is announcing $100 million in funding.
Growth equity firm PSG is leading the round, with The Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), Evergreen Capital and Mavan Capital Partners also participating.
The company is not disclosing valuation but CEO and co-founder Jody Glidden tells me the company is doing well. It has raised about $150 million to date and is doubling revenues every year for the last several with a platform used by large enterprises -- PwC, Colliers International, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, Plante Moran and Clark Nexsen are a few of them. Typical deployments range between 10,000 and 100,000 seats -- it's not just people with "sales" in their job titles using Introhive -- and customer retention is currently at 95%.
The idea for Introhive came as many do to enterprise startup founders: they identify something that doesn't quite work as they want it to, and then start a new company to try to fix it. In the case of Glidden, he and Stewart Walchli were at RIM (the old parent of BlackBerry), which had acquired a previous startup of theirs called Chalk Media.
Although they had just joined a much bigger company (it was 2008, and BlackBerry was still far from being completely killed off by Google and Apple) Glidden said he was surprised to see how hard it was to tap its vast troves of information to find prospective sales leads.
"We realized there were a whole lot of problems with sales people at RIM not able to hit their revenue numbers," he recalled, and so they started asking themselves some questions. "Are they bringing in right lead data? Are they able to be as intelligent as they can be?" It took some years -- four, exactly -- and perhaps the rise of Facebook and its focus on the "social graph," for them to land on how to articulate the problem. They needed to "unlock relationship graph in CRM," Glidden said.
And Introhive was the company that they formed in 2012 to address that. The company not only provides a way to better leverage CRM-related data to find the best targets for particular products or services, but it also provides analytics to the team to measure how people are doing, and over time also helps predict "winnability".
But that was not immediate: It took several years to build out its AI platform, Glidden said, with a lot of trial and error to ensure that the data that Introhive ingested was structured correctly to match up with other information to yield productive information.
"We ran into big problems in the first years because there were so many potential systems to tap into, homegrown or otherwise, for certain info. We effectively spent a lot of time building our own version of MuleSoft to fix that," he said with a laugh. "But since it's also something we use for our customers we ended up employing hundreds of engineers to build this underpinning layer to understand it all."
As a result, it took between four and five years for Introhive to make its own first sale, and in the process the whole company almost went under, he recalled. "It took a long time to get that engine running because if you are automating data that is wrong 35% of the time, you won't keep your customers."
The machine is more well-oiled today, of course, and is on a roll to bring in more functions to work off the data trove that it has built.
There is something about the service that reminds me a bit of LinkedIn or ZoomInfo -- which you may use in your own work, or come across when Googling someone online for some reason (hey -- I'm not asking why here) -- for providing some kind of data base/org chart of people connected to a business. But to be very clear, the data that Introhive builds for a customer stays with that customer, and doesn't go anywhere else.
Glidden says that there are no plans to build any kind of "freemium" version of the service, or one that anyone can tap as a SaaS, but rather to remain focused on helping larger enterprises make better sense of their data and how it can better inform the wider concept of sales.
That in itself raises an interesting point about Introhive and business in general. When you consider a company like PwC, there are likely many people who specifically might hold a job title with the word "sales" in it, but just as many whose jobs are predicated on closing deals, consultants and partners for example, who do not, but might just as easily benefit from having better visibility of a "relationship graph" of people connected to buying products at a business they are working with, or want to work with. Sales is more than just about salespeople for many organizations.
And for that reason, you can guess that one interesting aspect of Introhive is if it might evolve these tools over time to tackle other parts of an organization and how it works. Similar to the social graphs of social media, which map out how people can be connected to one another, relationship graphs in the workplace potentially resonate well beyond signing a deal, too. Business intelligence and marketing automation are already in the mix for the company.
“Introhive is on the forefront of helping grow sales and customers through its visionary, AI-powered revenue acceleration platform built for companies of all sizes and complexity. It seamlessly improves business operations across multiple departments by helping teams reduce time on manual inputs and giving them advanced insights on where they can generate more revenue, build more relationships and easily identify what great sales reps are doing that average reps aren’t,” said PSG managing director, Rick Essex. “The team’s acumen and highly capital-efficient model has set the company on a clear path for growth, and we’re proud to partner with them on this journey.”