Aussie startup Assigner raises $8.7 million after successful US expansion, helped along by one trick for managing a distributed workforce


Assigner co-founder Sean McCreanor (bottom right) and the Denver office team. Source: supplied.

Cloud-based software-as-a-service platform Assignar has raised $US6.2 million ($8.69 million), from Aussie and US investors, after successfully taking its product to the States.

The round was led by US venture capital firm Tola Capital, and also included repeat investment from Australian VC Our Innovation Fund.

It follows Assigner’s $3 million Series A, completed in July last year, which was about “building out the Australian business … and getting some of those foundational pieces for a US expansion”, co-founder Sean McCreanor tells StartupSmart.

Founded in 2014 by McCreanor and co-founder Marko Tomic, Assignar provides a platform to help construction contractors improve both safety and efficiency, through end-to-end management of the workforce, assets and compliance.

Although he doesn’t reveal specific figures, McCreanor says the startup is seeing revenue double “consistently” year-on-year.

While the founders are “super pumped” to have Our Innovation Fund on board again, they were also looking for an investor in the US that could support the overseas expansion, McCreanor says.

Tola Capital had been considering the construction space for a while, he says, and principal and chief operating officer of the firm Stacy Giard has family connections in the industry.

“They could help me with hiring decisions and product marketing, sales and product strategies … it was a really good fit,” he adds.

Stateside story

In January this year, McCreanor relocated to Denver, Colorado, with his family, to oversee the running of the US business.

The move was always on the cards, he says. Even before the Series A raise, he “felt it would be important for me to be here to be successful”, he adds.

“It shows your prospective customers that you’re committed to the market.”

However, the startup also took heed from others before it, ensuring it had a “really solid business in Australia” first.

The expansion follows significant work on getting the right product and a suitable strategy in place.

McCreanor points to other Aussie startups Culture Amp and Campaign Monitor which have “had success abroad but have built an awesome business in Australia”.

“That’s the approach we tried to take,” he says.

“I was mindful not to take my eye off our Australian business until I thought it could be self-sufficient,” he adds.

Unfamiliar territory

Although McCreanor maintains it was the right time to expand to the US, there were still challenges to manage, he says.

The team did a lot of work on making sure the product-market fit was right, and what they had built for Australian customers would translate.

“That’s something you need to focus on really early … don’t come across here and try to figure it out when you’re already in the country,” he says.

Despite their best efforts, McCreanor says Assigner got it 80% to 90% right.

“It’s not perfect, but software is ever-evolving,” he says.

And if you start with some of the product-market fit on point, “it’s a lot easier to bridge that gap”.

There have also been personal challenges.

“It’s hard to find really good people to help support your vision,” McCreanor says.

Once they had a team in place, they had to figure out a way to manage a distributed workforce, with co-founders and co-workers across different continents and time zones.

Assigner now has about 40 employees across the Sydney, Denver and Czech Republic locations.

“And we’re hiring like crazy,” McCreaner says.

But from a leadership perspective, he says, “nothing is better than face-to-face collaboration”.

A big part of the startup’s culture relates to getting team members to engage face-to-face “frequently and regularly”, he says.

“We made it a point for our team members to fly in from Colorado to Sydney, to go and work alongside their fellow team members.”

This may sound like an expensive way of doing things, but it’s an investment in the team and the company culture, McCreaner says.

There’s considerably less value to be gleaned from a two-hour meeting a few times a week than from five days working side-by-side, he adds.

“You just unlock so much value, there’s a lot of tribal knowledge that you gain,” he says.

“That’s something that’s lost in a video call.”

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