The COVID-19 crisis has caused some startups to put the brakes on growth. But, for Circle In, the new working environment has seen the business launch a new product, take on its first international clients, and secure new investor funding to boot.
Founded in 2017 by Kate Pollard and Jodi Geddes, Circle In is a platform designed to help employers support the working parents in their businesses.
The product provides resources and online coaching, and offers a space for sharing experiences, while also offering support for managers.
So, when COVID-19 hit, and parents found themselves working from home while caring for and homeschooling their kids, the co-founders knew they were in a position to lend a helping hand.
In mid-April, the startup released its COVID-19 Parent Portal product and work-from-home hub, offering remote learning tools and resources, webinars, advice and access to mental health and self-care content.
The team developed the product in six days. And Geddes says clients can have it up and running for their workforce, complete with their own branding, with a 24-hour turnaround.
Circle In also launched a monthly subscription option for the product, making it more accessible to businesses of all sizes, and allowing businesses to implement a short-term solution.
Within the first week, the team onboarded five large companies, including the likes of Officeworks and Universal Music.
Since then, the startup has also signed a large client based in the UK, and it’s working with a large US company.
While the business has worked with companies that have offices outside of Australia, these clients represent its first real foray into the international market.
“It’s been a huge six to eight weeks,” Geddes tells SmartCompany.
“We knew from the minute it started that this would present a huge opportunity,” she says.
“With COVID-19, we know that now working parents and managers need more support than ever before.”
The founders were responding to what they were hearing in the market, but also to what customers were saying they needed, she explains.
“There’s no doubt that this crisis has really fast-tracked the remote economy, and that’s really the core of our proposition,” she adds.
“We knew pretty quickly that flexibility was now fast-tracked by 10 years.”
Cash boost to boot
Since COVID-19 hit, Circle In has also closed an investment round. Although Geddes doesn’t disclose the value of the raise, she does reveal it was led by existing investor Our Innovation Fund, and also includes “a number of new strategic investors”.
For many of the startups that have secured funding during the COVID-19 crisis, a raise had been on the cards already. But, for Circle In, that wasn’t the case, Geddes says.
The startup was seeing an increase in customer demand, and the founders were very aware of the potential opportunity in front of them.
“To be successful, we needed to have a really strong runway,” she explains.
And, she adds, many of the strategic investors approached the startup, not the other way around.
“They totally believe in what we’re doing, the opportunity that is ahead, and the success that we’ve been able to demonstrate to date.”
It’s been up and running for just over two years, and Circle In has almost 30 companies on the books. During that time, the startup has never lost a customer, Geddes says.
“We have 0% churn.
“We have a set of really strong metrics, confidence in our product, and the global opportunity, given COVID-19,” she explains.
“That attracted serious investors and made the process quite easy for us.”
While Circle In was clearly a business well placed to cater to the unprecedented demands of the coronavirus outbreak, it was also nimble enough to meet the challenge.
Geddes says that ability came partly from having an engaged and adaptable workforce itself — in particular, she notes the founders used part of their funding round last year to bring a tech team in-house.
That decision was “critical” to the startup’s quick reaction, Geddes says.
“That enabled us to really respond to what our clients needed,” she explains.
“For us to have an idea, build a product and get it to market in six days, is unheard of,” she adds.
“It also proved to us the power of having an incredible team, and when you come together with one common goal, what you can achieve pretty quickly.”
Once the COVID-19 pandemic passes, it’s expected to leave a lasting effect on the way we live our lives, and on many industries.
And it will “absolutely” change the way we approach flexible work and working parents, Geddes says.
“Progressive businesses are investing in their people right now, not seeing them at a cost,” she explains.
“It’s times like this that are going to really set a business up with a strong culture and an engaged staff.”
The crisis has “changed everything overnight”, the founder says, and will create a new way of working for everyone.
Businesses and HR departments are looking for ways to create “that caring culture and that engaged community”, she explains.
“Working flexibly has been fast-tracked,” she says.
“For companies to keep up, they have to support their employees, in particular working parents differently, and look at new ways to really engage their workforce.”