Fellow Insights Inc., an Ottawa meeting management software provider that owes much of its early success to Shopify Inc. , has raised US$24-million in a venture capital financing led by San Francisco’s Craft Ventures.
Fellow makes a software tool aimed at making meetings – from one-on-ones to town halls – more productive by enabling quick generation of checklist items, follow-up actions and notes. It suggests topics, monitors progress on action items over time and syncs with calendars, e-mail and workplace communication platform Slack.
The startup has more than 800 corporate customers – triple the number of a year ago – and should surpass 1,000 by year’s end, chief executive Aydin Mirzaee told The Globe and Mail. Revenues, now in the millions of dollars annually, are on track to quadruple this year over 2020, he added. Customers include publicly traded tech companies Shopify, VerticalScope Inc., HubSpot Inc., Lemonade Inc. and Warby Parker Inc. Past investors Inovia Capital, Felicis Ventures and Garage Ventures also participated in the financing, along with Formentera Capital and Silicon Valley Bank.
The initial idea for Fellow stemmed from a suggestion by a friend of Mr. Mirzaee’s, Shopify CEO Tobi Lutke. Mr. Mirzaee had left SurveyMonkey in 2016, two years after selling his second startup to the online survey company for more than US$50-million. He was looking to start another company with previous co-founders Amin Mirzaee, the chief product officer and his younger brother, and their friend Sam Cormier Iijima, the chief technology officer.
Mr. Lutke suggested the trio build a feedback tool that integrated with Slack and agreed to let Shopify be its first guinea pig customer. He then tweeted about Fellow’s launch in October, 2018, which prompted several tech companies to sign up.
“We definitely benefited greatly by having them as the first customer,” Mr. Mirzaee said. “It was a large launching ground and a very special place for us. A lot of people want to do what Shopify does, so it gets mentioned often in sales calls. It’s a prime reference.”
Shopify president Harley Finkelstein said in a text message that “a large percentage of managers at Shopify use Fellow with their teams” for meetings, adding that it was effective at integrating with other workplace tools, including online calendars and video communication apps. “It just works,” Mr. Finkelstein said. “Fellow is tackling one of the biggest problems for knowledge workers, which is meetings. So much time is spent on [meetings], and they need to be run effectively – that’s where Fellow shines.”
Fellow’s growth has accelerated during the pandemic as more people use their computers and handheld devices for virtual and hybrid meetings, Mr. Mirzaee said. While the company offers a free version for early customers and as many as 10 people at a company, about 20 per cent to 25 per cent of users pay, he said.
Startups that build productivity tools often “don’t have that benefit of knowing how enterprise customers would use them,” Craft partner Lainy Painter said. “Having that relationship [with Shopify] early on is super beneficial to the product roadmap” and for helping Fellow learn how to scale within a large customer. The company has the momentum to “scale up quickly. It has product market fit, happy users and users that are emphatic in spreading the word and bringing more people on the platform.”
Sameer Lalji, the chief product officer with VerticalScope, said he was skeptical about Fellow at first after joining the Toronto digital media company, where the tool is widely used, in the spring of 2020. “At first I thought, ‘Oh God, another tool to … enter my information into that would add more overhead than it’s worth.’” But once he started using it, the “experience completely turned around.” He now uses it regularly in meetings and says it has helped him save time and be better organized. He has also recommended it to other companies. “Once you’re in it, it’s very addictive.”
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