What is working in the office going to look like in a post-COVID-19 world?
That’s something one startup hopes to help companies figure out.
Saltmine, which has developed a web-based workplace design platform, has raised $ 20 million in a Series A funding round.
Existing backers Jungle Ventures and Xplorer Capital led the financing, which also included participation from JLL Spark, the strategic investment arm of commercial real estate brokerage JLL.
Notably, JLL is not only investing in Saltmine, but is also partnering with the San Francisco-based startup to sell its service directly to its clients — opening up a whole new revenue stream for the four-year-old company.
Saltmine claims its cloud-based technology does for corporate real estate heads what Salesforce did for CROs in digitizing and streamlining the office design process. It saw an 80% spike in ARR (annual recurring revenue) last year while doubling the number of companies it works with, according to CEO and founder Shagufta Anurag. Its more than 35 customers include PG&E, Snowflake, Fidelity and Workday, among others. Its mission, put simply, is to help companies “create the best possible workplaces for their employees.”
Saltmine claims to have a 95% customer retention rate and in 2020 saw 350% year over year growth in monthly active users of its SaaS platform. So far, the square footage of all the office real estate properties designed and analyzed by customers on Saltmine totals 50 million square feet across 1,500 projects.
Saltmine says it offers companies tools to do things like establish social distancing measures in the office. Its platform, the company says, houses all workplace data — including strategy, design, pricing and portfolio analytics — in one place. It combines and analyzes floor plans with project requirements with real-time behavioral data (aggregated through a combination of utilization sensors and employee feedback) to identify companies’ design needs. Besides aiming to improve the workplace design process, Saltmine claims to be able to help companies “optimize their real estate portfolios.”
The pandemic has dramatically increased the need for a digital transformation of how workplaces are designed and reimagined, according to Anurag.
“Given the need for social distancing capabilities and a greater emphasis on work-life balance in many office settings, few workers expect a complete ‘return to normal,’ ” she said. “There is now enormous pressure on corporate heads of real estate to adapt and modify their workplaces.”
Once companies identify their new needs, Saltmine uses “immersive” digital 3D renderings to help them visualize the necessary changes to their real estate properties.
“I saw the same pain points and unmet needs in office real estate that I did in the residential market,” she said. “Real estate is the second-largest cost for companies and has a direct impact on their largest cost — their people.”
Looking ahead, Saltmine plans to use its new capital to (naturally) do some hiring and continue to acquire customers — in particular, seeking to expand its portfolio of Global 2000 companies.
Saltmine has about 125 employees in five offices across Asia, Europe and North America. It expects to have 170 employees by year’s end and to be profitable by the end of fiscal year 2021.
The company’s initial focus has been in North America, but it is now beginning to expand into APAC and Australia.
JLL Technologies’ co-CEO Yishai Lerner said JLL Spark was drawn to Saltmine’s approach of making data and analytics accessible in one place.
“Having a single source of truth for data also facilitates collaboration across teams, which is important, for example, in workspace planning,” he told TechCrunch. “This reduces inefficiencies and improves workflows in today’s fragmented design, build and fit-out market.”
JLL Spark invests in companies that it believes can benefit from its distribution and network — hence the firm’s agreement to sell Saltmine’s software directly to its customers.
“As JLL tenants and clients continue to embrace the future of work, they are seeking technology solutions that keep their buildings running efficiently and effectively,” Lerner said. “Saltmine’s platform checks all of the boxes by streamlining stakeholder collaboration, increasing transparency and simplifying data management.”
A company is only as strong as the people working there. Normally, hiring the right people with the right skills is an arduous process. COVID-19 made it even more of a challenge. How do you find and hire the right salespeople for your SaaS company, when you can’t even shake hands?
The good news is: your SaaS company can emerge stronger from this crisis, brought on by the pandemic. Paul French sees a rapidly changing hiring process, as well as a demand for new skills. As a managing director for Intrinsic Executive Search, he offers his expert views on hiring people in the SaaS-world. Naturally, this all starts with the job interview. Since it likely takes place behind computer screens these days, a different approach is needed.
The job interview at a distance
One of the most disrupted aspects of hiring during COVID is the job interview. Instead of getting together, shake hands and look each other in the eye, you’re more likely to stay home and fire up Zoom. “If two years ago you told me that we would be hiring leadership roles without a physical interview, I’d not have believed you,” says French. But in 2020 this is commonplace. “The need to ensure exceptional candidate interview experience is as critical as ever. But how do you ensure a great experience when your contact is largely virtual?”
According to French, each digital interview needs to be valuable in the eyes of the candidate. French: “You need to really understand the candidate’s key drivers more than ever and bring out your best employees and company stalwarts to make a great case as to why your company is the place to be.” Not only the candidate has te be on his or her best, but you also want your company to present its best side as well. “Some of your people are brilliant on video, some less so. So it makes sense that when you have a panel interview, that you use your best talent accordingly.”
‘Are they great storytellers?’
“Think about how you make each candidate interaction a memorable experience. Have you got your pitch deck working perfectly, can you articulate your proposition perfectly? Ask yourself, as you move candidates through the process; are they compelling? Are they great presenters and storytellers? Get them to present to you. It’s a great way to measure sentiment and commitment.”
However, if the opportunity is there to meet a candidate safely, French would take it. “Some just can’t make that final critical decision to join a company unless they actually press some flesh and I fully respect that. People do join companies, but they also join leaders. Often candidates will have two options. If they are level pegging, will the company that can meet face to face at the end of the process make the hire?”
Referencing through a robust virtual interview process
A solid interviewing technique is always critical of course but honing your interview skills for a digital interview is vital, says French: “You should never underestimate the importance of referencing. Perhaps even more so in these times when we may be hiring people digitally. We might need even more data and viewpoints to make the right decision.”
“Ensuring candidate confidentiality and adherence to GDPR when referencing has not changed. But it makes sense if possible, to take references as early as possible in the process if you can without prejudicing candidate confidentiality. Sometimes a quick and easy way around this is to look for your mutual references and ask outright who the candidate might suggest as a good reference source, now or later in the process.” Another question that French on occasion likes to ask is ‘who would you least like me to have a reference call with and why?’ French: “Clearly, you are unlikely to take that reference, but the very question itself can lead to interesting insights.”
No watercooler? No problem
Hiring someone is one thing. But according to French, the biggest challenge might occur when the new hire joins your SaaS-firm, where remote working is the new normal. “It’s hard enough when joining a new company in normal times,” says French. “But without the face to face time at the water cooler, lunch, after work beverages and socialising, a completely new challenge faces SaaS leaders.”
To combat that, French advises regular Zoom-gatherings and a buddy-system for new starters. If it is possible to create COVID-free bubbles for starters, meeting in-person could prove valuable. To drive innovation and creativity, the creation of online clubs, offering awards, organising an online kick-off and encouraging to take extracurricular activity are all ideas that you can consider, says French. “Open and regular feedback sessions, appraisals and 360-degree feedback loops are more important than ever in the new covid economy. As is humility and care.”
The reality of the COVID economy
“Your people are going to be continuing to spend a lot more time by themselves, so resilience is key,” concludes French. He urges leaders to keep close tabs on their people. “When someone says they are okay, are they really okay? Leaders have a duty of care, to look out for warning signs and try to be as supportive as possible. Everyone is different.”
“The profile of candidates that clients of Intrinsic Search are asking for is changing. We get more requests for resilient, modern sellers that are adept with sales and marketing technology and who can perform well when selling on video. Insights-based selling overtook traditional sales methodology based on extensive questioning.”
French says that this shift in working practices offers opportunities for companies who have people with the right skills on board: “In the covid economy, work methods have changed, perhaps forever. Whenever there is a serious disruption, there are going to be winners and losers. Make sure you have the right team to end up a winner.”
Image: Girts Ragelis / Shutterstock.com