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“A polarising investment opportunity”: How Melbourne startup Socialsuite bagged $1.85 million and a few extra clients along the way

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien /

Socialsuite

Socialsuite chief executive Brad Garrie (left) with founders Clara Ong and Damian Hajda. Source: Supplied.

Social-impact measurement startup Socialsuite has secured $1.85 million in Series A funding, less than a year after it took home the top gong at the Salesforce World Tour pitch competition.

Founded in 2015 by Damian Hajda and Clara Ong, Socialsuite is a Software-as-a-Service platform helping businesses record and demonstrate their social and environmental impact

In March last year, the startup scored $US100,000 ($128,000) in prize money when it won the pitching competition.

Since then, the Socialsuite leadership team has been focused on closing the round, which is led by AddVenture, and also includes investment from Salesforce Ventures.

“The pitch competition win really opened up a lot of doors in terms of getting meetings with VCs,” Hajda tells StartupSmart.

“It’s helped us build a lot of credibility, too,” he says.

Socialsuite has had “a real strong run” of new clients coming on board towards the end of 2018, he adds.

Now, the startup is moving into its next growth phase. Socialsuite chief executive Brad Gurrie tells StartupSmart the latest funding will be used to help meet “natural demand coming out of international markets”.

Currently, there are about 40 organisations using or trialling the platform, including medium-to-large not-for-profits, national government organisations and corporate clients, spanning Australia, the UK, South America and North America.

“In particular, the North America and European markets are looking for technology to measure their impact,” Gurrie says.

A polarising investment

For Sociasuite, it was important to find investors who believed in the vision and the ethos of the startup, rather than those “looking for a quick profit”, Hajda says.

Any raise is a journey he says, and Socialsuite proved to be “quite a polarising investment opportunity”, he says.

“To find a VC fund that really believed in us, we had to knock on a few doors.”

It was important for Hajda to find an investor that would be willing to support the startup along the way “when things get tough”, he says.

“We have a really great mix of funds to do that,” he says.

Equally, Gurrie adds the process involved talking to a lot of influential people in the impact space. Even if they didn’t end up investing, they “introduced us to potential customers”, he says.

“It actually shook out a lot of deals for us,” he adds.

The funding is pegged for reaching more overseas customers, Gurrie says, however, it will also be used for continued product development.

“There’s been a lot of research, and we’re at a stage where we’re continuing to refine our product,” he says.

Socialsuite has been working closely with its customers to try to understand what they want, and need, from the technology, he says. The aim is to keep the product as simple as user-friendly as possible, even as the business scales.

It’s a collaborative approach, Hajda adds.

“Socialsuite is very much a pioneer in the space, we’re breaking new frontiers,” he says.

“It’s not as if there’s not a playbook we can refer back to.”

More than a phase

According to Hajda, there’s a “massive, massive opportunity” in the social-impact market.

“We’ve got the absolute right product at the right time the world is waking up to this impact revolution,” he says.

Organisations are coming under more and more pressure to incorporate social factors into their day-to-day processes. And it’s not just coming from customers.

“If organisations aren’t seen to be having a positive impact in the community … they’re going to struggle to retain and attract top talent,” Hajda says.

It will affect them operationally, he adds.

“They’re going to struggle to find investors … they’re also going to struggle with consumers,” he says.

“These are things that scare boards and drive action,” he adds.

And considering social impact is more than just business ‘buzz’.

“We’ve been believers that organisations are going to need to be responsible not just to their shareholders, but to employees, suppliers, the community, the environment,” Hajda says.

“This is a true paradigm shift in the way the world is going to operate.”

According to Gurrie, while some companies have historically tried to track their impact, they’ve typically been doing it manually.

Now, the sector is maturing. There’s governance in place around social impact, and “a requirement to implement technology solutions”, he says.

“They’re looking to automate that to make sure the information they’re presenting to various stakeholders is accurate and timely.”

Just keep going

When it comes to running, and funding, a startup, Hajda’s advice is to the point.

“Keep going,” he says.

“These things have ups and downs, they get tough, but if you really believe the vision, it’s persistence that gets you there,” he adds.

Equally, he recommends getting the best people on board, whether they’re staff members, investors or even a new chief executive.

“Once you find the right people, and they get behind you, things start happening really fast,” he says.

And, one thing Gurrie has to add is that cashflow is still king.

“Sales solve all your problems,” he says.

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Stephanie Palmer-Derrien

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien is the editor at StartupSmart. You can contact her at [email protected].

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