Local businesses that offer online meeting and collaboration platforms have seen strong growth since the onset of the pandemic, when in-person activities moved abruptly online.
But even though the pandemic now appears to be receding, these companies — and local tech investors — still see plenty of opportunity in the collaborative platform market.
“It’s just one that has exploded over the last two years. I think we’re early in the growth of this market,” said Blake Koriath, chief financial officer of Indianapolis-based venture capital studio High Alpha.
“It’s a space we’re investing a lot of money in,” Koriath said.
Between the studio itself and its associated venture capital fund, High Alpha Capital, High Alpha is associated with four companies in the online meeting/collaboration space: Filo, Docket, Boardable and a company that has no yet been launched publicly and which Koriath declined to name. This company offers a platform that facilitates online personal coaching sessions.
The reasoning behind the optimism: Online gatherings are here to stay, but after two years of Zoom, people are looking for something more than standard video conferencing sites can offer.
“There is no doubt that there has been a change in their mindset. They realize that it is no longer a “nice to have”. It really is something that is needed. It’s necessary,” said Brandon Fischer, a serial tech entrepreneur and founder of Carmel-based Alleo, which offers a collaborative meeting platform. “Video calls are fine, but we need something more that can really help us do our jobs.”
Fischer launched Alleo in 2019, and the company operated in stealth mode until its public launch last month. The company has about twenty employees, including a dozen full-time employees and others who work part-time. Its platform allows participants to have video meetings, but also to do things like give presentations and share documents that group members can collaboratively edit online.
“It represents a new way of working on this virtual visual canvas, where we can really come together and get the job done,” Fischer said of the platform.
Alleo’s first customer was the US Department of Defense. He also counts several Fortune 100 companies among his clients, including a telecommunications company, a large consulting firm and major retail brand manufacturers. The company became profitable after 18 months, Fischer said.
Currently, Alleo focuses on companies large enough to have 50 or more users. Within 12 months, Fischer plans to allow individual users to also access the platform, which generates revenue through a subscription model.
Indianapolis-based OnBoard is another example of a company that sees a bright future for online meeting and collaboration platforms.
“There’s a lot – a lot – of opportunity,” said Rob Kunzler, chief marketing officer at Indianapolis-based OnBoard. The company is owned by Indianapolis-based Passageways Inc., which was founded in 2003. The OnBoard platform, which offers tools for boards to meet and manage documents online, was launched in 2011.
OnBoard, which has 300 employees, has seen year-over-year revenue growth of more than 45% in recent years. The company reached two important milestones last year. In July, he landed a $100 million investment from Baltimore-based JMI Equity, one of the biggest investments secured by an Indiana-based tech company in 2021 and a signal investors are seeing in the concept. of OnBoard promises. Then, in August, OnBoard acquired eScribe Software Ltd., a Canadian software company based in suburban Toronto.
The pandemic leads to customers
Not only has the pandemic created more demand for online meetings, OnBoard made a pandemic-related business decision that also helped drive growth.
In April 2020, OnBoard decided to offer its product free of charge to boards of directors to help them weather the disruption caused by the pandemic. The free offer lasted until the end of 2020, when these customers were given the opportunity to convert to paying customers at a discount from OnBoard’s usual fees.
More than 650 counsel signed up for the free tier, and Kunzler said a “high percentage” of them became paying clients. This represented a significant increase in the number of customers for OnBoard – the company now has over 3,000 customers, some of which were added as part of the eScribe deal.
And once a board has signed up as a customer, Kunzler said, OnBoard has a chance to pick up additional customers. Indeed, corporate, civic, or nonprofit board members often sit on the boards of multiple organizations. If a board has a good experience using OnBoard, its members can recommend its use to other boards on which they sit.
David Kerr, one of three managing directors at Indianapolis-based venture capital firm Allos Ventures, said there are still plenty of opportunities for online platform companies. He pointed to Skype, a video conferencing provider established in 2003, but it wasn’t until the pandemic hit that video conferencing really took off and Zoom (itself founded in 2011) became a mainstream platform.
Kerr said the next wave of online collaboration platforms likely won’t be dominated by a few players because there are so many potential niches to fill. “Different industries have different needs and different use cases that they might find useful,” he said.
Many local businesses say they view platforms like Zoom as partners rather than competitors. Their platforms often integrate with Zoom or other established video conferencing services, adding functionality on top of basic video chat.
In fact, Zoom launched its own investment fund, the Zoom Apps Fund, last April to help support startups that fit into what it calls the “Zoom ecosystem.”
Koriath said two High Alpha companies, Filo and Docket, have received investment from Zoom.
One of the challenges of operating in the online meeting and collaboration space is helping customers understand how your product is different from what’s already available.
“It’s a startup’s challenge…to bring a new idea to market,” said Scott McCorkle, tech veteran, former president of ExactTarget and former CEO of Salesforce Marketing Cloud.
McCorkle’s latest venture is MetaCX, an Indianapolis-based startup that launched in December 2018. The company currently has 15 employees and 30 paying customers, up from 20 just a few weeks ago.
MetaCX is a high-level product that needs a bit of explaining, but it’s essentially a third-party platform to help companies build and manage their vendor relationships to set expectations and resolve issues. problems.
A hospital system, for example, that strives to improve health outcomes for its patients could use MetaCX to share those goals with the pharmaceutical companies, medical equipment suppliers, insurers, and others with whom it does business. Then, the various partners could work with the hospital system to develop plans to achieve these goals.
Although MetaCX is not a meeting platform in the same sense as other companies, it enables online collaboration and innovation, the importance of which became clearer once the pandemic hit, said said McCorkle.
“A company cannot do it alone, within its own four walls. You always need business relationships to innovate.
Indianapolis-based Filo also said educating customers was a challenge. The company provides a platform for collaborative gatherings such as training sessions, workshops and product launches.
“If what you’re looking for is a sit-and-watch platform, we’re not for you,” said Filo co-founder and CEO Matt Compton.
One of Filo’s challenges, Compton said, is helping potential customers determine their needs and whether Filo is the best fit for them. “We have a lot of these conversations every week,” he said.
Part of the problem, Compton said, is that the industry has yet to develop the right language for people to communicate what they mean when talking about an event online. For example, two companies might say they need an online event platform for an online product launch. In a company, the launch may involve a company executive giving a presentation. Another company might want its employees to be able to ask questions about the new product or break into small groups to practice their sales pitches.
While a basic Zoom meeting could accommodate the first scenario, Compton said, only a platform like Filo can really handle the second. “People interacting with each other is a very complex thing.”
Filo currently has 15 employees, and Compton said the company’s annual recurring revenue — a key metric among software-as-a-service companies — has increased 50% over the past six months.
Looking ahead, Compton said he expects growth to accelerate once the pandemic is over.
The uncertainty of the pandemic has caused some groups to delay longer-term decisions, he believes, which in some cases means companies are sticking with Zoom or other video conferencing platforms for now.
When that uncertainty dissipates, he predicted, customers will be more comfortable thinking longer term and will be more receptive to signing with Filo. And some groups that might abandon online meetings in favor of in-person events might come to realize the benefits of online gatherings, which can come together faster and more cheaply than in-person events.
“Once people have a bit more clarity about how they are operating as a business post-pandemic, I think there will be a big surge in demand,” Compton said. “I can’t wait until we’re on the other side. We believe in the long-term view of this, not just the benefits of the pandemic. »•