Gravy raises $4.5M for its service that helps subscription businesses recover failed payments

Gravy, a startup helping subscription-based businesses recover failed payments, has raised $ 4.5 million in Series A funding for its specialized combination of technology and a human workspace that works to reacquire customers lost to what’s known as “involuntary churn.” That means the customer didn’t choose to end their subscription, but — for any one of hundreds of possible reasons — their credit card payment failed.

Typically, subscription-powered businesses attempt to correct this issue with technology — like sending automated emails, for example. Gravy, however, has developed a different solution that pairs its U.S.-based retention specialists with technology that alerts them to the failed payments. It then sells this whole system as a package to clients who use Gravy as an extension of their own workforce.

The new funding round — Gravy’s first institutional money — was led by Birmingham-based Arlington Family Partners, one of the few family offices in the southeast. It’s also one with a personal connection to Gravy co-founders, CEO Casey Graham and Chief of Staff, Renee Weber, as it managed their earnings from a prior acquisition.

Gravy, in fact, actually got its start at that earlier business, The Rocket Company, a coaching and resource provider for churches, which exited to a private equity group, Ministry Brands.

“We spent two years fixing [the problem of failed payments] in the last company and created a tech-enabled solution where we leveraged actual human beings to win back failed payments for subscriptions. And by doing that, we got a 5x offer higher than the initial offer because we fixed the failed payment problem,” Graham notes.

He first assumed other subscription businesses were doing the same, but later discovered that many were not. Instead, they tended to use automated means to address the problem, which would only recoup about 15% to 20% of the failed payments.

These tech-only solutions don’t work as well because customers often dismiss automated emails from companies, Graham says. However, customers do respond to personal outreach — but that’s something many new and fast-growing businesses can’t afford as they’re investing more heavily in growth and scale.

Gravy offers them a middle ground between automation and hiring in-house. Companies contract with Gravy on a subscription basis by paying a flat fee, tiered based upon transaction volume. This fee ranges from $ 997 on the low end to $ 8,000 on the high end. Gravy then integrates with the client’s own payment products and processor, their subscription manager and any other solutions they may use for managing subscriptions — like Stripe, Braintree, Recurly, Keap (Infusionsoft) and others. It even sets up a Gravy channel on the company’s Slack in order to better communicate with company staff.

The end result is that Gravy’s team feels like a part of the business itself, not some contract workforce.

Once established, Gravy’s team will use email and text, per the client’s preferences, to personally reach out to customers with failed payments to try to get their card information updated. Because it’s operating closely with the client, the specialists can also offer things like “stay bonuses” and other deals that could help bring back a customer who may not have otherwise bothered to return. During COVID, for example, Gravy also offered additional options, like the ability for the customer to skip several months along with other more personalized options to meet the customer’s specific needs.

“When we’re onboarding [a client], we create an empathetic script of three different responses, or opportunities for us to negotiate with the customer to win that customer back,” Graham explains. This works because of the human component — people know when they’re talking to a real person and not an automated script, he says.

Image Credits: Gravy

Since its founding in 2017, Gravy has scaled to over 300 clients, whose businesses may be as small as $ 200,000-$ 250,000 in revenue up to $ 100 million in annual revenue from subscriptions. These clients either operate in the B2B space — like B2B content subscriptions or tech education and certification, for example — or in the B2C space. In particular, Gravy is leveraged by a number of “box” subscription services (which offer to ship a box of products to a customer’s home) and B2C education and online courses.

To date, Gravy has processed over 6 million failed payments and has won back $ 175 million in failed payment subscriptions. The company is now on a mission to return $ 1 billion in failed payments by 2023. Gravy is also expected to pass $ 1 million in MRR this year, Graham says.

Notably, Gravy’s retention specialists aren’t “gig workers” or contractors — they’re full-time employees with benefits. And they can be employed from anywhere, which Graham says is a competitive advantage.

Though technically an Atlanta-area startup, Graham and Weber live 50 miles north of downtown Atlanta.

“I live on a farm, and we were told we were at a disadvantage because we weren’t in the middle of the Atlanta tech scene,” Graham says. “But the reality is, it became a huge advantage for us because our strategy has been to recruit the best people in small towns across the United States. Besides, he adds, “Slack is our headquarters.”

This strategy has allowed Gravy to also employ several military family members, who often have a hard time finding consistent work because they have to move regularly. That leads them to often take gig work instead of full-time jobs.

Image Credits: Gravy

“The gig economy — those companies are not committed to those people. They don’t care about them, or if they work or not. It’s a gig,” Graham says. “Gravy is committed to them on salaries, benefits … that’s something we’re super proud of.” He says Gravy’s salaries start at $ 55,000.

With the new funding, Gravy plans to expand its team of 83 to about 150 by year-end, expand its client acquisition efforts and further invest into its product. Longer term, he believes Gravy could also help businesses with other needs, including voluntary churn, for starters, and even customer service and customer success in the future.

Startups – TechCrunch

Swedish fintech Billhop raises €4M from Element Ventures to help businesses pay invoices by credit card

Billhop

Billhop is a Swedish company which enables businesses and individuals to pay their invoices by credit card. In a recent development, the company has closed a €4M Series A investment round from financial technology VC Element Ventures.

Funding for financing 

According to Billhop, the latest investment will be used for further product development and to strengthen Billhop’s sales, marketing and customer support functions. This is to keep up with the growing demand for working capital financing solutions, now accelerated by the pandemic-driven global economic uncertainty. 

Element Ventures is a London-based venture capital fund investing in B2B financial technology companies. It has backed companies such as Duco, OpenGamma, OpenFin, Fenerego, nCino, Cloud9, Callsign and Axoni.

The origin story

Billhop was founded in 2011 by Erik Malm, Sebastian Andreescu, and Ingemar Sjögren. In an exclusive conversation with Silicon Canals, Andreescu talks about the inception of Billhop, the initial challenges, and future plans. 

“Ingemar and I have known each other for the most part of our lives. Coming from finance and supply chain backgrounds, we were aware that cash flow problems and liquidity needs were common themes within the supply chain. We both met Erik – who has a background as an engineer and software developer – in 2013. Erik had been a CTO trainee at Telenor when he came into payments by working on the WyWallet project, which was an attempt by the largest telecom companies in the Nordics to create an e-wallet solution where customers could pay, for example, bus fares, and be charged on their phone bill,” says Andreescu

“Collectively, we started looking into why it wasn’t possible to pay suppliers with credit cards if you were an SME and we quickly realised that card acceptance within the B2B space was less than 20% worldwide. This is how Billhop was first born.”

According to Andreescu, since this solution was new and unique in Europe, creating the necessary awareness around it was a crucial initial challenge that the team had to overcome. “The first thing we knew we needed to tackle was educating the market and making people aware that we existed. Our solution was a new take on working capital that was pretty unique in Europe, so we had to break new ground when it came from everything to educating the market to infrastructure setup and putting partnerships in place.”

Modus Operandi

Billhop is the payment platform that enables businesses, enterprises and individuals to pay any invoice by credit card, regardless of whether the supplier accepts card payments. It is a Swedish Payment Institution licensed by the Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority (Finansinspektionen) with headquarters in Stockholm. It provides payment services on a cross-border basis under the Payment Services Directive.

“We created a payment platform where we connected the card infrastructure with the banking payout infrastructure, allowing businesses to pay all their suppliers irrespective of whether the suppliers accepted business cards or not. Simply put, we charge a card and transform it into a bank-to-bank payout – the cardholder gets all the benefits associated with using a card as a payment method and the recipient doesn’t need to change a thing in regards to how they get paid,” Andreescu explains. 

The company claims that it manages the entire payment process without onboarding the end recipient of the invoice payment. “With most credit card issuers offering an interest-free payment period exceeding 30 days, Billhop’s clients are able to extend their payment terms without straining supplier relationships. Suppliers are paid on time and the client’s cash balance is preserved until their credit card statement is due,” the company mentions in a press release. 

Growth & Revenue 

 According to the company, Billhop is currently being utilised by more than 50,000 European companies, including a growing number of Fortune 500 companies. Since the introduction of Billhop’s corporate offering in January 2019, transactions have accelerated by 500 per cent to-date, while the total transactions processed via Billhop, across all of its customer segments, exceeded €270M in 2020. 

Talking about the revenue model of the fintech, Andreescu says, “Billhop operates through a buyer-funded model, where the user pays a transaction fee where the typical card acceptance costs are included. In terms of revenue streams, we charge an ad valorem fee (%) on each transaction. There are no fixed fees, administrative fees or other fees incurred when using Billhop.”

The Swedish fintech has recently doubled its team – with emphasis on commercial and tech. It currently has 22 FTEs – having grown from 11 FTEs during the last 6 months.

Andreescu says that Europe is still the company’s main focus in the mid term. “We are already offering the service to corporates across +20 markets in Europe and to SMEs across 5 markets. We will continue to cement our footprint on these markets as well as expand our SME offering to a handful of new markets in Europe over the next 12-16 months.”

Billhop was recently named among the fastest-growing companies in Sweden with a growth of 768 per cent during the last three years as well as Sweden’s ‘most disruptive company’, by Deloitte.

Startups – Silicon Canals

[REQUEST] Looking for founders of online fashion businesses to interview

Hi there!

I have recently joined a startup accelerator in Asia and as part of the incubation process, we are required to validate our ideas with potential customers. My co-founder and I are looking to build a solution that makes it easier to start an online fashion brand or business by tackling issues such as funding, logistics and customer acquisition. Besides from the traditional methods of approaching customers I thought I would give this sub a go. So if there are any online fashion brand founders that are willing to spend 20-30 minutes on a zoom call with us please let me know. It would be a very casual talk, mainly asking you about the biggest challenges you face in launching and growing a fashion brand online.

Thank you!

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Startups – Rapid Growth and Innovation is in Our Very Nature!

Best Multi-Line Phone System for Small Businesses

Do you want a small business phone system that lets you talk from anywhere? Need to jump on a conference call? Have work from home/remote employees that need phone access?

A multi-line phone system lets you stay connected with everyone in your company. These days, you need more flexibility, and your ancient desk phone won’t cut it. Why settle when you can do better?

Get the best multi-line phone system for your small business and watch how much it improves your employee efficiency and communication.

Top 7 Best Multi-Line Phone Systems for Small Businesses

  1. RCA 4-Line Small Business System—Best for Small Business Expansion
  2. Panasonic KX-TG958 Multi-Line Corded & Cordless Desk Phones—Best for Consistent Service
  3. Grandstream GXV3370—Best for Video Calling
  4. Mitel 5330e IP Phone—Best for Sales and Customer Service
  5. AT&T 2-Line Corded Telephone—Best for Working from Home
  6. Fanvil X7—Best for Intuitive Interface
  7. Yealink SIP-W52P—Best for Cordless Correspondence

#1 RCA 4-Line Small Business System—Best for Small Business Expansion

  • 16 speed dial buttons
  • Intercom & two-line conferencing
  • Hearing aid compatible
  • Starts at $ 139.99

Purchase Today

The RCA 4-Line Small Business System is a guaranteed upgrade from your last phone. It lets you build a complete office communication system fast.

With a comprehensive list of essential features plus a few extras, it makes doing business easier and more accessible. You get features you’ve come to expect, like its cordless accessory handset, base speakerphone, voicemail waiting indicator, and caller ID. But the system goes above the minimum.

The caller ID has space for up to 99 names and numbers. And with 16 programmable speed dial settings, you can contact anyone with the touch of a button. The LCD display is easy to read, so you can see who’s on the line at a glance.

The RCA 4-Line system comes with intercom and two-line conferencing, so you can keep everyone on the same page. Though you don’t have a wireless headset option, you can connect one with a jack for hands-free capability.

The hearing aid compatible system means that your hearing-impaired employees can use the phone with ease. The system doesn’t come with some of the most high-tech features, like a digital receptionist, but if you want a comprehensive option without getting too fancy, it’s here. You can get this system starting at $ 139.99.

#2 Panasonic KX-TG958 Multi-Line Corded & Cordless Desk Phones—Best for Consistent Service

  • Protected against power outages
  • Make calls from your PC
  • Connects with up to 4 smartphones
  • Starts at $ 179.95

Purchase Today

Panasonic is a well-known name in electronics, so you can expect greatness from the KX-TG958 Multi-Line Phone. The most unique part of this system is that it works even when you lose power. It gives you 75 minutes of phone service if the power goes out, so your team can still help customers while you get the power up and running again.

You can also connect the phone to your PC and make calls through Microsoft Outlook. The system connects with up to four smartphones, so you have mobile capability to transfer calls beyond the four handsets it comes with.

This system is ideal for work from home parents. It even comes with a baby monitor, so you can focus on your work and know your child is safe in another room. Voice paging also lets you send announcements to all handsets.

You don’t even need a landline to use this phone system. When your eyes get tired from looking at your computer screen, the phone’s backlit LCD screen and high-visibility number keys mean you won’t have to squint to make or receive a call.

The Panasonic KX-TG958 comes with other useful features like:

  • Two lines
  • 3-way conferencing
  • 22-speed dial settings
  • Text alerts
  • Data port

With DECT 6.0, you have the security you need to prevent others from listening in on your calls. Plus, it has space to block up to 250 numbers, so you won’t have to deal with telemarketers and annoying repeat callers.

Lastly, if you ever wished your phone could do more, it has a key detector to help you find lost items.

This phone system is kind of pricey, but for the features it gives you, it is worth the $ 179.95. That said, if you don’t need those features, you have plenty of cheaper, functional options.

#3 Grandstream GXV3370—Best for Video Calling

  • 7-inch screen for video calls
  • Easy sync with mobile devices
  • 7-way audio & 3-way video
  • Starts at $ 219.99

Purchase Today

If your small business does video conferences or interviews, you have plenty of support with the Grandstream GXV3370. A seven-inch 720p touchscreen supports session-initiated protocol (SIP) on 16 lines and 16 SIP accounts.

With HD voice and phone with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, you have the high-quality sound you need for crystal clear communication. Not to mention, it uses echo cancellation and has double talk performance. The system runs on the Android 7.0 operating system. It also syncs with mobile devices and a headset with Bluetooth.

The TLS and SRTP security encryption protect your calls and accounts from unwanted listeners and keep all your information private. With 7-way audio conferencing and three-way video conferencing capability, you can talk to anyone and everyone at once.

It comes with super advanced telephony technology to support your whole office on one device. The only downside is it’s not as affordable as other systems at $ 219.99.

#4 Mitel 5330e IP Phone—Best for Sales and Customer Service

  • Maximum customization
  • 24 self-labeling keys
  • Large central display
  • Starts at $ 163.75

Purchase Today

The Mitel 5330e IP Phone is a full-feature phone with all the programming and capability your sales reps need to offer customers the best experience. With one-touch web and contact access, hands-free operation, a large graphics display, and embedded gigabit support, it has plenty of ways to make customer service easier.

The phone’s 24 self-labeling keys give your team plenty of space to program and customize the features they need, including speed dial and lines. Twelve fixed-function keys offer access to specific features, including:

  • Contacts
  • Web browsing
  • Navigation
  • Menus
  • Telephony features
  • User settings

You can customize user settings as needed to include everything from hold and call transfer to conference and message options. Three contextual softkeys make it easy for you to find telephony features and functions.

The system encrypts calls so that you can limit who has access to your conversations. It has a wideband audio handset, along with a duplex hands-free speakerphone for when you need to find customer information with them on the line.

The HTML Desktop Toolkit and app development give you all the tech features you need to reduce your team’s burden while helping customers. Plus, the Mitel 5330e IP Phone saves energy by reducing its power consumption. You can find this system for around $ 163.75.

#5 AT&T 2-Line Corded Telephone—Best for Working from Home

  • Powerful yet affordable
  • 18 speed dial buttons
  • Easy data transfer to your PC
  • Starts at $ 79.95

Purchase Today

The AT&T 2-Line Corded Telephone works well if your business has only one or two people. The system has two lines with automatic line selection and three-way conferencing capability.

The ClearSpeak dial-in-base speakerphone means you don’t need a handset and allows more people to join in the conversation. You can also use it with a headset, though unfortunately, it has no cordless option.

You can program up to 18 speed dials for quick access to anyone you need to reach, plus it has a chain dialing feature. You also have space for 100 names and numbers in the contact directory. You even have a data port so you can transfer the data from your phone to your computer.

Call recording, screening, and intercept mean that you don’t get any calls you don’t want. Voice prompts and memo recording allow you to direct people where they need to go before you even answer the call. The system does have caller ID and call waiting on its display, but you need a subscription through your phone company to access the feature.

This system also works best for businesses that have someone ready to answer the phone. It only has 12 minutes of message storage on its digital answering system.

Despite its lack of other features, the AT&T 2-Line Corded Phone is hearing aid compatible. It also has a multilingual set up in English, Spanish, and French.

At $ 79.95, this option works well for businesses that need an affordable, basic option for few people. It’s not ideal for companies that want to expand.

#6 Fanvil X7—Best for Intuitive Interface

  • Wide 7-inch touchscreen
  • Easy customization
  • Starts at $ 139

Purchase Today

The Fanvil X7 supports up to 20 lines and makes for easy access to features on its seven-inch touchscreen display. With Bluetooth and Wi-Fi support, you can conduct video calls and take advantage of the most customizable phone on this list.

The Fanvil X7 has 127 DSS on its touchscreen for quick access to functions and information. You can configure it based on your needs with speed dial, call forwarding, broadcasting, and more. You also have plenty of extensions, including a USB connection for charging smartphones and other electronics.

Its Gigabit ports mean you can connect laptops and tablets without extra cables. With three-way conferencing and hotspot capability, you’ll never lose touch with those who need your services. The EHS headset allows you to move hands-free.

Setting it apart from other phone systems, the Fanvil X7 allows you to talk to visitors at your door. You can even unlock the door from your phone.

The downside is that you need to buy a separate webcam if you want to use the video calling feature. You can get this system for as little as $ 139.

#7 Yealink SIP-W52P—Best for Cordless Correspondence

  • Huge wireless headset range
  • Supports up to 5 lines
  • Starts at $ 143

Purchase Today

The Yealink SIP-W52P works well for businesses with teams that often work away from their desks. It gives mobile employees access to the phone whether they work indoors or out in the field. With up to five handsets and corresponding lines, this system has a range of 150 feet indoors and 950 feet outside.

It uses cutting edge VoIP technology, and the company stands by its quality with rigorous product testing. The G.722 bandwidth and HD voice ensure that your calls always come through clearly. With three-way conferencing, you can organize meetings on two other lines at once.

The PoE support gives you flexibility with simple installation and quick deployment. Once you’re all set up, you have everything you need to reach your team anywhere.

Unfortunately, the system has no Bluetooth compatibility, making it a little less functional than other multi-line systems. Its 1.8-inch color display may also be too small for some members of your team to see comfortably.

The system comes at a reasonable price of $ 143 for its features, scalable system, and ease of use.

How to Find the Best Multi-Line Phone System for You

Running a small business means serving both your customers and your team. If your multi-line phone system lacks features your team needs, they can’t do their best work. When you need a multi-line phone system, consider the below factors to get the maximum capability and efficiency for your business.

Manufacturer Reliability

No matter what type of product you’re looking for, you should buy from a reputable manufacturer. Reliability can mean getting the help you need when you need it through company support. Ideally, it also means you get lasting products.

For example, Panasonic is a well-known electronics company. You should be able to expect above-average service and product quality from them. When you’re running a business, getting products from a reliable company can help your business build a good reputation, too.

Futureproof

You want a scalable phone system so that you don’t have to get a new one as soon as your business starts to grow. Unless you plan to stay a one-person operation, you should get a phone that supports at least five lines. Many of the systems on this list support up to 20 lines.

A futureproof phone system might cost a little more. Still, when your business doubles or triples in size later on, you’ll be grateful not to spend more money on a phone system that fits it.

Transfer Features

Transfer features shouldn’t be limited to transferring calls to the office down the hall. Look for mobile transfer features. Many phone systems allow you to transfer to a limited number of mobile phones.

This feature becomes especially useful if you have employees who work from home or out in the field. It also makes for better business flexibility and allows employees to remain available when they’re not physically in the office.

Strong Basics

You’ve probably heard that a solid foundation is more important than fancy features. It’s true. When you get a phone system, you should have features like:

  • High-quality sound and video
  • Voicemail capability
  • Intercom and conference calls
  • Forwarding and transferring
  • Hold and mute
  • Sending voicemail messages to email

You also want enough lines to keep your business running. Plus, good support from the manufacturer makes all the difference when you have a problem. Before you check out your phone system’s extras, verify the quality of the basics.

Summary

Your multi-line phone system can make or break your small business. It can define your service quality and help or harm your reputation when customers want to contact you.

Make sure you have all the basics, and only go for extra features that directly benefit your business. You want something affordable but which has all the capability you need for high-quality service.

Determine your needs before you buy. For a scalable, futureproof option, Panasonic will serve you well. On the other hand, AT&T offers a simple solution for businesses with just one or two people. Small businesses come in all shapes and sizes, so tailor your multi-line phone system to yours.

Quick Sprout

Lang.ai snags $2M to remove technical burden of implementing AI for businesses

Lang.ai, which has developed a no-code platform for businesses, closed on a $ 2 million seed funding round.

The company’s SaaS platform aims to allow business users to structure any free-text data with custom categories built through a drag & drop interface, based on AI-extracted concepts.

Village Global led the financing, which included participation from new and existing backers including Acceleprise, Oceans Ventures, Alumni Ventures Group, 2.12 Angels, GTMFund, and Lorimer Ventures.

Spain-born Jorge Penalva founded Lang.ai in 2018 with the goal of giving any business user the ability “to build enterprise-ready natural language processing models in just minutes.” It was built to give non-engineers a way to automate repetitive tasks in use cases such as customer service and claims processing.

“It can be installed in our cloud or theirs,” Penalva said. 

Lang.ai saw its revenue double from the last quarter of 2020 to the first quarter of 2021 and the seed funding was motivated mainly to continue that momentum.

“We’re getting demand in the form of projects with our larger customers, so we needed the funding to be able to support that demand,” Penalva told TechCrunch.

In his previous role of CEO of Séntisis, Penalva realized that processes driven by free-text data remained a blind spot for many companies. 

“Today, millions of dollars and hours are invested by companies to manually read and process textual information captured from disparate areas of their business,” he said.

His mission with Lang.ai is to “empower businesses to put AI to work for them, without the technical complexities of building and training custom algorithms.” 

Specifically, Penalva said that Lang.ai’s product analyzes a customer’s historical data “in minutes” and suggests AI-extracted concepts to build custom categories through a drag & drop interface. The custom categories are applied in real-time to automate “tedious” tasks such as the manual tagging and routing of support tickets, the processing of insurance claims and the dispatching of field engineers to incoming work order requests.

Put simply, Lang.ai’s goal is to remove the technical burden of implementing AI for a business.

Lang.ai’s community of users (called “Citizen NLP Builders”) consists of mostly non-technical business roles, ranging from customer service operations to marketers, business analysts and UX designers.

Customers include Freshly, Userzoom, Playvox, Spain’s CaixaBank, Yalo Chat and Bancolombia, among others. 

Ben Segal, director of infrastructural efficiency at Freshly, described the platform as “so nimble.”

“Out of the box, it took us two days to make automated tagging 15% more reliable than a previous platform that we had had in production for 2 years, with the added benefit that now all of our teams can tap into and exploit our support data,” Segal said. “The marketing team has built workflows to understand key customer moments. Our data and analytics team is super excited about having all these new tags in Snowflake, and it’s crazy how easy it is to use.”

Penalva is proud of the fact that Lang.ai’s engineering team is primarily based in Spain and that he has been able to grow the 10-person company outside of his native country.

“With very few resources, it took us a little over two years to build an enterprise-grade product and find the right set of early customers and investors who are aligned with our vision,” he said. “I moved to the US from Spain to build a global company and this is just the beginning…Lang has always been powered by immigrant hustle, and it has been core to our values since day 1.”

Startups – TechCrunch