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We continue to share stories of our portfolio companies, told by their founders, highlighting the challenges and successes that lie behind their startups.
Back in July, Vibranium.VC added a new company to its portfolio by investing in the Intelligent Automation platform HuLoop Automation. For HuLoop, it’s the fifth recent VC investment as the company aims to attract $4M in total in the Seed round.
In this post, we will dive deeper into the HuLoop Automation story told by its CEO Todd P. Michaud, and reveal what sparked the idea of the startup, what strategies the startup is using to ensure its business stays strong and successful, and why working at HuLoop Automation is a lot of fun.
The story behind HuLoop Automation
Most enterprises have a people problem. Their employees, especially individual contributors, are forced to dedicate as much as 30% of their time to highly repetitive, mundane work that could easily be automated. Additionally, in this exceptionally tight labor market, it is harder than ever to acquire the necessary talent to keep up with customer demands.
As a result, today’s organizations are turning to intelligent automation to create a low-cost, highly efficient, and accurate digital workforce that can free up their employees’ time, allowing them to focus on more valuable tasks.
Before HuLoop Automation, most intelligent automation initiatives failed because previous-generation solutions were too complex, time-consuming, and expensive. HuLoop Automation believes that automation must be radically simple, fast, and affordable. Its unified, no-code automation platform democratizes advanced AI-powered capabilities for businesspeople, reducing dependency on technical experts and consultants.
Choosing the field
Some enterprises are unable to achieve their digital transformation goals, despite making massive investments and undergoing arduous projects involving enterprise software platforms.
Most enterprises are only realizing 35% coverage against their functional needs from these platforms. 65% of work is happening in between enterprise software, either manually, via email, instant messaging, or documents like Excels or PDFs.
We aim to help these businesses significantly increase the coverage on their functional needs through intelligent automation without displacing existing software.
Until now, as enterprises have increasingly been pressured to automate their business, they had been limited to first generation Robotic Process Automation vendors or Business Process Management platforms. HuLoop seeks to disrupt this $600B software market with a first-of-its-kind “Unified Automation” platform where we can provide a full arsenal of advanced AI-powered automation capabilities on a single, modern, and affordable platform. Enterprises are looking to harmonize their human workforce with their automated digital workforce, and HuLoop Automation accomplishes this with integrated “human-in-the-loop” capabilities to leverage the cognitive capabilities of human workers while increasing their productivity.
As a fast-growing innovation company, the startup tends to attract people who want to have a role in inventing the future. They have amazing work-ethics, and they know that their contributions can make a huge difference in our customer’s businesses and our own. We believe that if work is fun, it really isn’t work at all, is it? At HuLoop Automation…work is a lot of fun!
The company places significant emphasis on key aspects within its organization and from a customer-facing standpoint. These significant factors revolve around satisfied customers and dedicated individuals. Central to its accelerated growth compared to competitors is our team, which dedicates itself to being a pleasant business partner, thereby fostering commercial friendliness.
The startup is committed to enabling our customers to achieve transformative ROIs, frequently yielding returns as high as $20 for every $1 invested in the platform.
I have always been confident that our start up would make it. I have never doubted that for a minute. Similar to other companies, we go through periods of challenges and successes, yet our positive experiences far outweigh the negative ones. Furthermore, whenever we do encounter a setback, we swiftly extract valuable lessons from it.
Viewpoint spanning five years
While we have strong adversaries, all of whom we respect, we intend on being a highly successful, disruptive force in our market. This means that we have no choice but to attempt to become the undisputed innovation leader in our space. This will translate into HuLoop Automation being a sizable, global software business with hundreds, it not thousands of raving customer fans. We will be a great place to work, and all our associates will feel appreciated and valued. Importantly, our investors and shareholders will be proud of the company we have built too!
In October 2022 Vibranium.VC added a new startup to its portfolio — an Israeli AI-powered optimization and personalization platform PicUp that adds customized interactive digital layers to outbound calls.
For us, every startup is a true hero. We know that raising funds is a difficult task that requires time and effort from the whole team. We want to know more about each project — its story, ups and downs, challenges and valuable lessons learned along the way.
To start us off, here is the story of PicUP, told by its CEO Lior Shacham.
Where it all started
Our journey began many years ago in Israel. When I was 4, I lived in the same apartment complex as my best friend, Ofir Oron, who is now also my co-founder. Our fathers had engineering experience and designed a system that allowed us to talk to each other from our own homes on different floors. All of this was long before the wide-scale adoption of mobile phones and even before the landline arrived in our neigborhood, so it was a pretty fascinating development in our lives. This early experience in communication between us contributed to a later interest in telecom combined with a desire to make the tech behind it better.
When Ofir and I reconnected years later, we wanted to transfrom our love for “communication” into something bigger. So we started by addressing the main problem: that little green call button with limitless untapped potential has seen very little change since the invention of the modern phone. We knew that phone call technology could do much more, so we decided to resolve what we saw as a truly global issue.
From then on we set out on a mission — to create an advanced, interactive phone call experience for everyone that continues evolving even today.
Every startup is nothing without a team that shares values and goals. We belive that the formula for success is a combination of talent and motivation. It is important for us that our people are “all-in”, dedicated and committed to the project. But in today’s world, it doesn’t mean they have to be in the same office, or in any way similar to each other. Our original team consists of Israeli employees, but as we grow, we are hiring people from all over the world. They bring wisdom, knowledge, connections and additional skills.
From the very beginning, it was clear to us that we had identified a significant pain point for organizations and their customers. At the same time, developing the technology that would provide a solution is not always easy — we encountered many challenges along the way.
Back in Israel, it was hard to find a leading global client that would help us prove our case.
Fortunately, Vodafone trusted us. While working with them, we managed to justify that our product provides a breakthrough when it comes to contacting customers. We scaled our technology to dozens of millions of devices.
Technology scaling still continues to present challenges. For example, we realized at a certain stage that we had to develop a much wider and more comprehensive platform to connect our technology to various clients, call centers, environments and end-user devices. Bumps are always there, but they are part of the journey. With every hurdle you overcome, you gain another competitive advantage.
Getting huge telecom companies and financial institutions to integrate a small tech startup into their consumer apps, and deploy updates to dozens of millions of devices isn’t difficult…it’s almost impossible! We had to overcome every existing technological, security, privacy, and usability barrier, as well as to convince them to go forward with implementation, or otherwise run the risk of being left behind.
A few VCs turned us down along the way, but we learned later they actually contributed to our success.
Their feedback allowed us to improve and focus on the right business direction. It can be frustrating to get a “no”, especially when you hear it over and over again, but it certainly makes you stronger and more resilient.
Entering the US market
Given that we are based in Israel, and most of our initial activity was in Europe, it was not easy to enter the US market. The distance and the time difference are occasionally tough to manage, on top of different phone call regulations and messaging platform diversity. However, the “pain” we solve and the values we bring to the table are the same, and the first results of our platform in the US are already very positive, so we’re confident the US will soon become a huge market for us.
We’re building a platform that can serve almost every company worldwide. I believe that in 5 years, digital calls from businesses that combine voice with visual layers and virtual enhancements will become the standard for modern conversations. And I see PicUP as the team driving that change.
Lifelong learning is a very valuable part of the human experience — be it discovering more about yourself or gaining new skills and knowledge. Today, we want to focus on academic education, which plays an important role in instilling learning habits. Join us for a dive deep into the story of one awesome startup that makes the admission processes for study abroad globally accessible and hassle-free.
Last year Vibranium.VC invested in iSchoolConnect — an online platform for international students. Its B2B solution — iSchool360 — is designed to support academic institutions at every step of the way and enable them to make better admissions and engagement decisions while saving time and money.
Today we’re chatting with Ashish Fernando, founder & CEO of iSchoolConnect, about the challenges that the startup faced along the way, the decision to go into the education field, and the impact of the pandemic on the business.
How it all started
I began my career as a software developer at Thomson Reuters, working on the company’s flagship investment research solution, Thomson One.
In 2013 I received a full scholarship to the Bentley University MBA program. However, the search for the right B school was no easy feat. I had difficulties finding timely and proper guidance. Simultaneously, I noticed that institutions struggled to wrap their heads around ways to effectively deploy technology to support students.
Democratizing access to higher education is instrumental to keeping up the promise of equal opportunity. Universities are vehicles of social mobility, and restricted access to institutions impedes our progress toward a more egalitarian world.
This need for more timely and adequate guidance during my higher education search, combined with the desire to transform the sector by way of AI technology, propelled me to launch iSchoolConnect.
When we realized our idea might have wings, we went to my YouTube channel (which, at that point, already had about 10k subscribers) to test it out. It took us about 6 months to get from that stage to a real startup. We put together a small team, built the initial MVP using basic code, launched it to our existing student community, and grew from there.
Online vs offline education
While the pandemic took a severe toll on much of the economy, the EdTech sector actually witnessed tremendous growth. Our niche here is timeless since the prospect of an international education always attracts students from across the globe.
The pandemic drove a significant increase in our active users — from 200k to over 2M. Today, many traditional industries, including banking and travel, have developed concurrent, digital enterprises based on the self-service principle.
We believe that the international education search, too, will one day be fully online, DIY and democratized.
The team is key
To hire the right talent, it’s essential to ensure the prospective candidate is in sync with the company’s culture. This will allow the employee to move the mission forward by virtue of sharing the same values.
Our world is quickly moving toward a culture of diversity and inclusion. At iSchoolConnect, we understand that representation matters. This is particularly important for us since it matches our mission of making international higher education more accessible.
iSchoolConnect’s commitment to diversity and inclusion extends to all areas of our business. We make a conscious effort to attract employees from different groups for a workforce that shows diversity across levels and functions.
During the pandemic
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent deep recession sent the world reeling into fear of unknown dimensions.
Our fears were no different, and we will probably never forget what they felt like. International students were among the first groups of people stranded or otherwise impacted by the crisis. And for us, it meant financial repercussions.
To deal with the situation, our team went into overdrive to increase our user base by a whopping 400 percent.
We say fear is an excellent catalyst for rapid startup growth, but you can’t let it get the upper hand: many entrepreneurs can become paranoid and fixated on failure. Often, we need to learn to let go and tackling our fears can be a way of doing just that.
Why the US market?
When it comes to the internationalization of higher education, traditional knowledge-based Western economies have dominated for decades, setting the standard for the industry as a whole.
The United States continues to be the most popular study abroad destination among the anglophone nations. Thanks to the number of degree-granting institutions — 4,500 in the US compared to, say, not even 100 in Australia — it will always be a dominant force in the overseas study abroad market.
Moreover, the paying potential of the US market surpasses that of other countries. Customer value combined with revenue potential was an easy equation to crack while deciding on our key markets.
Finances are one of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of a student’s ability to study abroad. With that in mind, in 2020 iSchoolConnect launched its most extensive philanthropic campaign, the iSchoolConnect Scholarship, which is worth over $150,000.
Through our scholarship campaign, we support deserving students who have excellent academic track records but lack the financial resources to fund the pursuit of international education.
5-year ahead envision
Every company dreams big, and we are no exception. We are relentlessly working to be the solution to everything students need on the path to study abroad.
Our goal is to become the Booking.com for international education.
We want to build a one-stop shop that enables students to breeze through all the different stages of their journey, from planning to admissions, to fee payment, to accommodation, and anything else you could possibly think of.
We continue to tell stories of our portfolio companies and their journey to success, which often involves challenges and requires time, team support, and unwavering belief in the project. Today, we would like to shed light on IVM Markets, a B2B SaaS platform that joined our portfolio in September 2022.
We had the opportunity to chat with Volodymyr Gubsky, Co-Founder and CEO of IVM Markets, to learn more about the story behind this startup that is revolutionizing the distribution of equity structured products by offering a personalized approach to investment content design.
How it all started
Structured products have the potential to be the ultimate personalized investment vehicle, as they offer the opportunity to create tailor-made solutions for each individual investor. However, large financial institutions often prioritize mass production of standardized structured products. To address this challenge, my co-founder and I developed a B2B SaaS platform that empowers the buy-side — brokers, wealth managers, advisors, and insurance firms — to generate innovative investment ideas for their retail and high-net-worth clients.
Our platform provides buy-side professionals with the tools to explore a wide range of investment possibilities, enabling them to identify the best options that meet their clients’ unique needs. By facilitating the testing of hundreds of improbable variations in a matter of seconds, our solution encourages the discovery of novel strategies that generate alpha. As a result, buy-side firms can confidently approach large financial institutions with these bespoke investment ideas, pushing for the issuance of tailored structured products that truly serve their clients’ interests.
Starting a business is full of ups and downs, but it’s a great learning experience.
Key parts of the journey include finding the right product focus, turning ideas into real-world use cases, and figuring out what clients really want. It’s important to listen to our clients, since they know best what they need. Also, finding a balance between a solid backend system and a user-friendly frontend is key. Even if our backend is top-notch, the client’s experience matters most. Time management is crucial for startups, as we can’t meet everyone’s needs right away. So, we focus on clients who can benefit from about 75% of what we offer now. This helps us build a strong client base while we keep improving our product, with plans to reach more clients as we grow.
Relocation to the USA
We recently transitioned our operations from the UK to the USA, a process that took approximately six months to complete.
Although the relocation was relatively standardized, it was essential for us to engage the services of highly competent legal and tax advisors to ensure a smooth and efficient transition.
Given the numerous complexities and moving parts involved in an international relocation, partnering with the right experts was crucial to successfully navigating this significant milestone for our business.
Here we are after hundred pitches
We have presented our pitch to investors over a hundred times, which has been an invaluable learning experience. Throughout this process, we discovered the importance of targeting investors who align with our business, both in terms of relevance and stage of development.
As a B2B SaaS startup in the finance sector, we found that our most meaningful connections were with seed-stage investors who shared our focus and industry expertise.
Partnering with investors who truly understand our niche has proven to be incredibly beneficial for our growth and progress, providing us with invaluable guidance and support as we continue to evolve our product and reach new milestones.
A team with the right DNA is the core of a startup
Our startup’s core is our awesome team of almost 20 people. We work in the B2B SaaS and finance world, which means we need specialized skills to tackle the huge structured products market that’s growing fast but still not fully digitized. We’re all about personalized investing and finding the best strategies for our clients instead of just sticking to old-school methods. We’ve got a diverse group of skilled folks based in places like US, UK, Colombia, India, and France. We’re always on the lookout for new talent who share our vision and can make a real difference in our mission, so our hiring never really stops.
5 year prespective
IVM serves as the driving force behind designing personalized investment ideas and identifying the most optimal products or baskets that align with clients’ perspectives. Our platform complements multi-issuer platforms, offering valuable synergies for both parties. IVM can be utilized prior to the auctioning of products to optimize investment selection, and our ongoing collaborations with various multi-issuer platforms aim to integrate IVM functionality directly into their trading front-ends, as well as enabling IVM clients to easily transfer trades to their preferred MIP after completing the optimization process. Furthermore, IVM is uniquely positioned to work with lifecycle providers, given that the $7 trillion worth of outstanding structured product bonds must be accounted for in lifecycle booking systems. As these investments reach maturity or early redemption events, IVM empowers investors to seamlessly generate “roll and re-investment” ideas, streamlining the process and maximizing investment opportunities.
Tips for founders who are scaling their business and entering new markets
- Encourage diverse perspectives by dedicating 80% of your brainstorming efforts to discussions with individuals outside your organization, while allocating 20% to internal team members.
- Avoid developing use cases solely based on your own assumptions. Instead, actively listen to your clients’ needs and challenges.
- Explore and leverage the potential of social media. Find a way to make it work for your business.
The wins of Vibranium.VC portfolio companies always mean a lot to us — especially when it’s a huge milestone for an early-stage startup. We invested in Otis AI back in August of this year, and today we are celebrating its founder Miguel Guerrero making it to the Forbes 30 Under 30 North America list.
We chatted with Miguel about the achievement and its contribution to the startup’s development, as well as about future goals and ambitions.
What does it mean to you personally to be included in Forbes 30 Under 30 list?
Being recognized by Forbes is a great honor. I started out on the entrepreneurial journey when I was 14 years old by building the world’s largest Minecraft server with over 5M users. I later co-founded TABu, a mobile payment processing app that was integrated into over 60% of the POS market share. This is how I was introduced to the world of products that help small businesses and empower them with the tools they need to succeed. I am humbled to be included on the list along with such talented and accomplished young entrepreneurs who share a drive to build and create value– and I attribute our success to my amazing team at Otis.
How will this contribute to your startup development?
I hope that the Forbes feature will help increase awareness of how Otis is the best solution out there for startups and small businesses who want to grow. Our customers have a secret weapon to help them scale up, regardless of competitor size or market dynamics. We want to welcome more clients to join the ranks of successful businesses using Otis to reach their goals.
What defines a successful founder in your opinion?
I think it comes down to two main qualities. The first one is resilience coupled with the ability to take calculated risks to grow their startups. The second one is the desire to prioritize the development of the team as a whole to collectively strive toward hitting the target on business goals.
A leader and a boss — what is the difference?
A boss delegates tasks and makes decisions without considering the needs or input of others. A leader, on the other hand, unites the team by way of a single collaborative vision, all while empowering the people behind the project to improve on that vision, contribute to strategic planning and drive outcomes.
A leader also takes the time to understand the perspectives and needs of their team members. By showing empathy, a leader helps to build trust and strengthen connections within the team to work together more effectively toward the collective mission.
Speaking of your personal goals, do you prefer setting long-term or short-term planning?
Long-term goals define the overall vision, while short-term goals break that vision down into achievable steps and provide a sense of progress along the way. Ticking a box on a to-do list can definitely be a feel-good moment. I find that setting both types of goals keeps us motivated and focused on the things that create the most value for the business.
When it comes to learning something new — are you always ready?
As a founder, I learn something new every day. Founders should always be looking for opportunities to learn more and be open to other ideas and perspectives. I am never afraid to change my mind in light of new compelling information.
What made you want to become an entrepreneur?
When you are a founder, you are the gatekeeper of your own success. You are responsible for all of your outcomes, good or bad. This was important to me from an early age: young people, unfortunately, are often overlooked because of a presumed lack of ability. Over time I gained a non-traditional range of impactful business experiences. On top of that, I genuinely enjoy strategy work and harnessing strategic advantages to achieve great outcomes.
What advice would you give founders that are just starting out as team leaders?
I’d say the key to success here is to very clearly communicate the vision and ensure everyone on the team is aligned on mission-to-metrics from the get-go. It’s important for everyone to fully understand what they’re doing and how that impacts progress toward our collective goals. If you nail this, you have the spirit and unity that is the cornerstone to making it in a cut-throat startup environment.
You unlocked a Forbes achievement this year, what’s in the plans for next year?
While I am honored to be recognized by Forbes, I like to think that we are only getting started. We are always striving to improve and innovate to help small businesses grow — all I can say now is to stay tuned!
Do you ever experience problems with your internet connection? Sometimes, when you check, you might find that you can’t connect to networks. If this sounds familiar, then this story will make you reconsider how the telecom market should operate. It’s a story about a company called MotionRay, which is part of VibraniumVC’s portfolio. They are already transforming the way businesses connect to the internet.
The main issue that MotionRay solves is how to provide the user with uninterrupted access to the Internet anywhere in the world, says Anton Shmakov, co-founder of the project. Anton, an ex-employee of Google and LinkedIn, and telecom market professional Alexander Pestryaev came up with his startup with in 2019 and pivoted to its current product at the beginning of 2021.
Let’s go back a few years
The core team had an extensive experience in telecommunications and Radio transmissions. Their first product was in first-mile connectivity for wearable wireless cameras in extremely challenging environments (like an arena with 50k+ attendees). Company solved the problem by changing WiFi protocol and parallelization of multiple link to deliver the most robust signal possible. Motion were forced to consider other applications of the core tech and ideas by COVID as our first product was designed for live events and COVID shut down all live events. We chose Telecoms as we saw an opportunity to introduce our original idea (parallelization of connectivity) in an innovative and disruptive way to a gigantic market.
Problem and solution
The problem is that clients in the telecom market always depend on one communication provider. It doesn’t matter if it’s wired or wireless. The user can still access the infrastructure of only one specific provider — with all the pros and cons that come with that. And if the channel isn’t large enough, or there are areas the signal doesn’t reach, the user invariably has to suffer in silence.
An estimated 37% of the world’s population — or 2.9 billion people — have still never used the Internet.
What MotionRay decided is that if one communication provider has problems e.g. bandwidth, interruptions, instability, it’s necessary to give the client access to another. The startup technology allows you to connect simultaneously to all available communication sources available from your location. “We aggregate all available channels: wireless, wired, satellites, your neighbor’s Wi-Fi. If it allows the network to connect, we can use it,” explains Shmakov.
Currently, some 42 million Americans have no access to broadband, according to Broadband Now, a data technology company.
The team’s main product is LTE: MotionRay aggregates three LTE channels into one, which is comparable in reliability to fiber optics. If one channel drops once a day, then three will fail once every four years.
Now MotionRay is selling a subscription to businesses e.g broadcast studios, bus operators, restaurants, and hospitality for uninterrupted Internet in several markets, the main one being the US. The product includes a router that the team developed and software that allows you to combine different channels of communication. On top of that, all devices come equipped with the necessary SIM cards, so the customers don’t need to communicate with operators. The service also has a proactive support team who monitor all devices in real-time. If the mobile operator starts to get patchy, support jumps in before the user notices.
MotionRay also has a web platform where customers can see all of their connected devices at the same time.
Scaling in US market
MotionRay’s slogan is “the best possible connectivity for the best possible price”. The team wants to improve the quality of communication radically — and the cost, too. In the US, the price per gigabyte can be reduced by 100 times. The only reason this doesn’t happen is the efficiency of the telecom infrastructure and the conjecture of the markets.
If MotionRay succeeds in achieving its goal, the startup will change the lives of millions of people by making access to the Internet open, universal, and fair.