In part two of this episode of TechopiaLive, OBJ publisher Michael Curran spoke to the CEO of Knak, a company that specializes in codeless emails and landing pages for enterprise marketers. CEO Pierce Ujjainwalla discussed Knak’s $25-million US venture capital raise, how the company will spend that money, and what it expects to achieve in 2022.
This is an edited transcript of the second part of the two-part interview with Ujjainwalla.
OBJ: Your company has landed an amazing venture capital round, a Series A. Tell us about how much money was raised.
PU: We raised $25 million US from Insight Partners in our Series A, it was our first ever round of fundraising. So we've bootstrapped the company over the past five years, and we felt that we were ready to take the next step. There are some huge growth opportunities ahead of us and we wanted to build out the team a lot quicker than we would have been able to had we continued bootstrapping. So exciting times for sure.
OBJ: There's often a backstory, particularly when it comes to a Series A round that you're raising, as you said, for the first time, is there a bit of a narrative as to how you raised that money?
PU: Michael Potter from Rewind is somebody that I definitely like to keep in touch with and in speaking to some other founders as well, it sounded like it's a good time in the venture capital markets and that aligned with our company's timing in terms of when we really wanted to hit the gas pedal. So we spoke with over 30 firms, had a lot of great conversations and lots of amazing partners out there. We ended up getting six term sheets and decided that Insight Partners would be the best partner for us in terms of bringing a lot of the resources that we need as we look to scale the company.
OBJ: When you say it's a good time to raise money, I suspect you're talking maybe about valuations and availability, but can you expand on that a little bit?
PU: In reading and talking with other founders, I think that it's a very competitive market for venture capital right now. There are some new players in the market that are requiring the traditional VCs to be a bit more aggressive than they used to be. I think what that results in is more founder-friendly terms, as well as valuations that weren't necessarily seen before.
OBJ: For someone who might be watching that hasn't raised any venture capital before, what would you say to them?
PU: One of the biggest things for me was I knew that this would be a big endeavour, but I don't think I fully realized that it will essentially occupy your life for about a quarter. So I think it's important for other people who might be thinking of doing this to make sure that they have a team and employees that can continue to run the business. Whoever you end up getting as your investor is going to be interested in how the business is doing at the current stage. And so making sure that you can have that business continuity is really important.
OBJ: We've been talking about the $25 million US funds raised and gone through a little bit of that story. Where are you planning on investing all that money?
PU: We want to really grow out our teams. We want to continue to invest in our product, in our customer success teams, as well as the sales and marketing teams.
OBJ: As you look forward to 2022, what business barriers or challenges do you think you'll face in the upcoming year?
PU: This is really maybe the most competitive time ever to hire talent. There's a shortage in the market, we're competing with American companies that we never really have had to before, after COVID. So as an employer, we strive to get the best people and that's why we're investing in making sure we have some of the best benefits packages around and also getting creative with what we're offering employees. Things like having free candy or a foosball table used to be really compelling to people. Now it's more about flexibility and working on a mission that aligns with people's personal goals and objectives.
OBJ: Of course you've made reference to the fact that we're coming out of COVID-19 here, Pierce, and many companies are embracing a hybrid workforce. Is that a positive thing or a negative thing when it comes to that recruitment challenge?
PU: Flexibility is something that employees are looking for more than ever before. We have an office here in Ottawa and some of our employees love coming to the office every day of the week, while others love working from home. For employers now, it's about understanding that different people have different preferences and being flexible to those. We love Zoom, we were actually a remote company before it was cool to be a remote company. And we also really recognize the value of meeting in person and collaborating and having those whiteboarding sessions and building those relationships with your co-workers. That can be very hard to do exclusively over Zoom. And so, at Knak, we really try to balance that virtual component and being remote to find the best people and also having a home base and a place for people to encourage those in-person interactions.
OBJ: Knak was a recipient of Best Places to Work. So that’s internal validation that it's a great workforce and a good employer. Pierce, if you were to look towards the end of 2022 and look backward, what will you have achieved? I heard you want to double the size of your workforce, but what else might you achieve in 2022?
PU: We have an incredible list of customers at this point, but I still think we're just scratching the surface of what's possible out there. So our goal over the next year is to continue to build the team with really great talent, people who are great additions to our culture, and to improve our product and really make marketers’ lives easier and allow them to really use that creativity. If we talk again in a year, I hope that we've been able to do that for a lot more marketers out there and that we've got a bigger team that's embracing our culture and adding to it and I think we're still at the very beginning of our journey.