An Ottawa company that helps Amazon and Shopify merchants drive more traffic to their websites is hoping to make inroads on platforms such as Walmart.com and Google Shopping with the help of $1.5 million in new seed funding.
Trellis – which uses artificial intelligence algorithms to help e-commerce merchants get more mileage out of their ad spending – said this week it has closed a funding round led by Dallas-based Sentiero Ventures.
Trellis co-founder and CEO Fahim Sheikh said Sentiero’s executives have a strong grasp of digital marketing, making the firm a natural fit to invest in the Ottawa startup.
“When we pitched to them, they got it right away,” said Sheikh, a Nortel alumnus who launched Trellis in 2019 with fellow tech gurus Denis Leclair and Krishna Vemulapali.
Trellis’s existing angel and institutional investors also contributed to the new raise. The 20-person company plans to use the fresh capital to hire more software developers and beef up its sales and marketing staff.
“We’ve got product-market fit, and it was just time to accelerate the customer acquisition (process),” Sheikh explained.
Incubated out of Invest Ottawa’s pre-accelerator program, Trellis is the brainchild of Vemulapali, who spent years developing software for local e-commerce analytics firm 360pi.
While that technology could tell customers where their products ranked on Amazon’s sales charts, it couldn’t actually help them climb the rankings.
That’s where Trellis comes in.
In an effort to boost sales, Amazon merchants can pay for “sponsored” status, meaning the products will appear at the top of the page when customers enter particular keywords. To earn a sponsored position, merchants bid on words and phrases that are most likely to drive traffic to their products.
Trellis’s algorithms tap into Amazon sales data to figure out which keywords are likely to generate the most clicks and sales for merchants. The software then calculates and submits bids based on those results.
In a bid to gain a foothold on Shopify and other e-commerce platforms, last fall Trellis acquired Ottawa-based Apixibot. The startup specializes in software that tracks online shopping habits, crunching metrics such as which sites customers are coming from, what they’re buying and how much time they spend on a merchant’s site.
Trellis now works with dozens of Amazon and Google Shopping merchants. The firm’s monthly recurring revenues rose 500 per cent in 2021, and Sheikh expects that trajectory to continue as the firm adds more Shopify merchants to the mix and integrates its software into competing e-commerce platforms such as BigCommerce and Magento as well as the online operations of retail giants like Walmart.
'One-stop shop for retail brands'
“Today, any brand that sells on global e-commerce markets like Amazon, Walmart.com, and Google Shopping needs to have an integrated and automated approach to advertising and product placement on those platforms,” Sentiero Ventures general partner Jon Eberly said in a statement.
“Trellis offers a one-stop shop for retail brands that levels the playing field and accelerates their sales.”
Sheikh says another round of hiring should boost the company’s headcount to 30 by the end of 2022.
While he concedes it’s not easy to find top-notch software engineers in today’s red-hot market, Sheikh says Trellis’s experienced leadership team – which also includes Apixibot co-founders Parm Gill and Dominic Plouffe – is a magnet for talent.
“Hiring has become challenging because there’s guys like Shopify that are throwing around big dollars these days,” he said. “Obviously, we can’t afford folks like Shopify can, but we’ve been very lucky because of the leadership talent that we have in the company. A lot of people will join us at lower salaries because they want to work … with the people within the (company).”
The latest seed round boosts Trellis’s total funding haul since its inception to about $2.5 million, but Sheikh says its fundraising is just beginning. The firm is already in talks with potential investors for a series-A round, which the CEO says could be finalized before the year is out.
“We’ve just got to continue to execute,” Sheikh said. “We had a phenomenal 2021. We’ve just got to keep on the same path.”