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The realities of entrepreneurship and the unique challenges low-income families face 

Thank you Jimmy for spending some time with Salesforce Ventures. I’m excited to dive into how you built Propel, the unique challenges low-income families face, and your advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. We have a lot to cover, so let’s get started! 

Enki: To kick us off, what inspired you to create Propel? 

Jimmy:  At the time, I had just left my role at Facebook to do a fellowship at Robin Hood Foundation’s Blue Ridge Labs. There, I started Propel on what I thought was the typical entrepreneurial path, but have since learned from my peers that my approach was unlike that of many others. I knew low-income families were the demographic I wanted to serve. From there, I sought out the customer pain-points and a business model that would scale. Typically, entrepreneurs will start with the business model or business opportunity and then back into defining the demographic they are trying to solve. 

During my summer at Blue Ridge Labs, I learned about the safety net that exists for low-income families and particularly, the SNAP program, more commonly known as food stamps. Forty million Americans use this program, reaching over a hundred billion dollars in transaction volumes yearly. But with all this transaction volume, the most common way to check balances on an EBT card, the debit card used to distribute SNAP benefits, is to call a 1-800 number. I wanted to build a modern way to help people better leverage the safety net available to them. 

Enki: For those not familiar, can you share a bit more about what Propel is doing today?

Jimmy: Out of the prototype at Blue Ridge Labs, we built The Providers App, a free smartphone app that helps low-income families make it through each month. Initially, the app started as a way for individuals to easily check their EBT balance and transaction history. We’ve also partnered with external providers to help users save money on their home, internet, and cell service. Through the app, our users can find ways to earn additional income, focused on the needs and opportunities of low-income families, such as on-demand work, part-time or full-time work, seasonal jobs, and even further training opportunities. 

We have also expanded our product suite and now offer the Providers card, a debit card and checking account, built from the ground up to meet the needs of low-income families. The Providers card enables users to get their government direct deposits or cash benefits including tax refunds, social security, disability income, and unemployment benefits.The Providers card offers users a modern, first-class checking account with all the bells and whistles one would expect from a popular consumer neo-bank and enables users to feel financially prepared every month.

Enki: One key aspect of Propel that we, as impact investors, are particularly keen on is the fact that you are building technology for low-income Americans. We know this demographic pays more in fees and penalties than others. Knowing this, how do you ensure you are a trusted and equal partner for those you are serving, rather than adding on to these metrics?

Jimmy: It’s something I have spent a lot of time reflecting on. Other products are typically serving  low-income families through channels or B2B partnerships. At Propel, we go directly to the consumer and own the relationship with the family. On average, our users earn $12K a year, and leveraging the safety net is critical to their well-being, and as such, they have a specific set of financial needs that differ from those of middle-class families. Building trust with our users is the baseline for Propel. These families are distrustful of financial services, often for good reasons. Low-income families are continuously taken advantage of by having exorbitant fees levied on them, predatory lenders, or check cashers. We’ve built trust by making good on what we have promised, day in and out. We’ll maintain that trust by consistently serving our users’ best interests. To this effect, we ensure advertisements on our app only help put dollars into our users’ pockets and we screen out anything predatory. We also run checks to confirm our debit card is structured in a way that it’s aligned with financial health. While these seem like mundane operating choices, this is what ultimately builds trust in the long term. 

Enki: We are living in a challenging macroeconomic environment, one that is undeniably impacting low-income families. What key challenges do your customers uniquely face?

Jimmy: First, I want to highlight a near term impact to low-income families that has not gotten nearly enough media attention, the end of the Emergency Allotments for SNAP program, started during the pandemic, that will end across the country in February and March 2023. Five million of our six million users will be affected by the end of this program, which will lower the amount distributed for SNAP benefits by tens of billions of dollars per year and ultimately lead to further food insecurity and lost purchasing power. We’ve written an in-depth report on these impacts to continue educating our users and our partners about the impacts they will face. We’ve also published a report on our website to help inform our readers about the financial status of low-income families. 

While economic shocks are hard to avoid, we do have a publicly funded safety net in this country, to help bridge the gaps when needed. The problem is that the technology used to power the safety programs has fallen behind dramatically. Our role at Propel is to strengthen the technology of safety net programs so individuals can receive the benefits they qualify for, with as little effort and as little shame as possible, to obtain the maximum impacts possible.

Enki: Well said, and it will be a critical time to help bolster the demographic you are working with. When we think about macroeconomic shocks, we often tell individuals that this is the best time to become an entrepreneur. What is your take on this sentiment?

Jimmy: There are harder and easier times to start a company from both a capital and talent perspective. However, many of the most successful founders I have met did not let macro factors influence their drive. If you are an incredibly motivated founder, you will succeed – whether you start your company in a good market, a bad market, or anything in-between. Being an entrepreneur is hard in any market, and which is why you need to be incredibly passionate about what you are building. This passion is what will drive the success of your company.  

I would also be remiss to not share some realities of being an entrepreneur. When I started Propel, I was single and did not have a lot of personal burn. It was a phase of my life where I could take on the risk of not having health insurance or a paycheck. I was lucky I could take the financial risk, but it’s worth acknowledging that few people can take this risk.

Enki: What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs as they are starting to contemplate what types of companies they want to build?

Jimmy:  There is a natural tendency, in consumer software especially, to solve the problems you know best and invest in the areas you personally understand. This is only natural, and we are all human, but going too far in this direction creates biases and leads people to miss major business opportunities.

I welcome aspiring entrepreneurs to think about demographics that are not like themselves, and understand the vast business opportunity that lies in front of them. There are many challenges that software could solve, but few individuals with the lived experiences and means to build these companies. I say, spend a day in the shoes of a low-income individual who trusts you and who you trust. Write down your observations of the ways their experiences are suboptimal. 

This also goes for investors, we need more investors to see the significant fundamental business advantages impact driven companies have, like great employee retention and hiring, operating in spaces that others are not, support from the public sector, and media opportunities.

Thank you Jimmy for your great insights. We’re honored to support Propel through the Impact Fund!

How Oyster HR Drives Success by Leading With Impact 

What happens when two business leaders motivated by providing opportunities for others, come together to create a company? An industry-leading technology business, centering impact is born.

Oyster is a global employment platform that allows it easy for companies to hire, pay, and take care of a globally distributed team. Their goal is to empower and enable companies that are particularly excited by the benefits and implications of diversifying their teams across borders and embracing remote work. Their overarching mission is to create opportunities for historically under-reached populations to engage in the knowledge jobs of the future.

Oyster tackles the core issues that companies have in overcoming the compliance and regulatory barriers when hiring outside their local country. Additionally, given the focus on being a human-centric company, Oyster is able to design and integrate solutions into the platform that make the employment experience easy and approachable.

The idea for Oyster was born from its two co-founder’s unique lived experiences. Tony Jamous, co-founder and CEO of Oyster, was an immigrant and refugee who left Lebanon in his teens to move to France, fleeing the bombs of Beirut. He did so with a clear understanding of the unfairness that comes with the roulette wheel of where you are born and how it can impact opportunities in your future. Fueled by these early experiences, Tony grew to have great success as CEO of Nexmo, later acquired by Vonage. At Nexmo, Tony met Jack Mardack, Oyster’s future co-founder. Jack had been a long-time student of the evolution of work and spent his career straddling both the corporate and public service sectors. Having been on the board of San Francisco CASA for six years and an advisor to dozens of nonprofits across the Bay Area, he gained a deep understanding of the challenges nonprofits face in tackling the world’s biggest problems. These insights drove him to learn more about alternative business and funding models and the impact of software and technology on the transformation of work and employment.

Tony and Jack’s rich backgrounds led the team to join in their next entrepreneurial journey, building Oyster. And their mission driven approach is also resonating with customers.

“When organizations are human-first, like Oyster, it makes a difference in everything—the way the software is built, the experience of how it feels, the way in which they do business. At Chili Piper, we’re a fellow people-centric company, so when choosing Oyster, we felt like, ‘Oh, you’re our people.’ There’s a level of trust there, and it was a really strong foundation for our continued working relationship.”

— Tyler Parson, VP of People at Chili Piper

One clear differentiator for the Impact Fund has been the focus and thoughtfulness Oyster has placed on embedding impact into their core operations and products. Very quickly, the company was able to confirm its impact by seeing the flows of capital going to countries in the emerging world. Using the UN’s Human Development Index to benchmark between emerging and developed countries, they were able to identify where opportunities and financial flows were expanding, largely driven by Oyster’s platform. Incredible metrics appeared; while only 25% of first hires were employed in the developing world, by the third hire, this grew to 75%. Oyster can see the change they drive through their customer’s new hiring practices.

For Oyster, understanding these impact metrics was critical to its success as a platform. The link between impact and business growth places Oyster into a new class of companies. It leans on its ability to drive diversity, lower inequalities, and drive more financial growth in emerging countries, all while simultaneously generating revenue growth through a scalable business model. In 2022, to document their learnings and provide guidance for other companies looking to pair growth with impact, Oyster published their first impact report.

Oyster took their impact review a step further in 2022 and conducted an analysis with 60 Decibels to learn from their users the impact Oyster had. The results were outstanding, with a few highlights including:

  • 64% of individuals reported Oyster increased their ability to support their family.
  • 60% of individuals reported improved quality of life.
  • 3 out of 5 individuals reported an increase in job access from different parts of the world.
  • 64% of individuals noted that Oyster was key in securing a remote job.

These results  also resonate with Oyster’s customers. Over 38% of their closed customers note that Oyster’s commitment to impact was a core factor in their buying decision.

Both the Salesforce Ventures Impact Fund and Slack Fund are proud to be investors and supporters of Oyster.  We see Oyster as a model for building a successful company that drives financial growth and is committed to positively impacting the world through expanding hiring opportunities. We encourage aspiring entrepreneurs and current founders to read more advice from Jack on how to build an impact-centered company.

Welcome, WeaveGrid!

The Opportunity

A decade ago, decarbonizing the transportation sector was a daunting task, but the landscape has drastically changed, and today the electric vehicle (EV) era has officially arrived. Estimates suggest that over 25% of all cars on the road will be EVs by 2030, and auto manufacturers have committed $200B in investments towards transitioning their new fleets to be at least 50% electric over the next eight years. The rise in EV production is driven both by booming consumer demand in recent years and policy and regulation at the federal and state level. The Inflation Reduction Act (”IRA“) is monumental legislation that provides increased and lasting incentives for consumers across income levels to choose EVs over fuel combustion vehicles. It also increases incentives for automakers to produce more EVs and further invest in their deep supply chains. We also see states like California passing regulation mandating that all new car sales must be fully electric by 2035. While the new opportunity for automakers is exciting, they are increasingly mindful of ensuring their consumers have the best possible experience. One pain point unique to EVs for consumers is their well-documented “range anxiety” and worry about when to optimally charge their EVs. 

With the accelerating transition to EVs also comes a critical problem for utilities: how to manage the power grid to support the increased load demand from charging EVs. To address this challenge, utilities will need to make significant upgrades in grid infrastructure and invest in software solutions to complement their capital expenditures.    

The Solution

WeaveGrid directly solves the problems facing utilities, automakers, and consumers with the rise in EVs. Their product connects EVs to the grid in an autonomous way, leveraging the best rates for charging while mitigating overload risks to the grid. From the utilities’ perspective, WeaveGrid enables them to understand how EVs are operating on the grid (when they are charging, when they are in motion, etc.), manage the load so that EVs do not overwhelm electricity capacity, and dictate when cars should be charging, all while ensuring that the car owners are meeting their own charge requirements to operate their vehicles. Optimizing the grid also has a significant impact on how clean the energy sources to the grid are and allows utilities to minimize the need to turn on peaker plants, which emit disproportionately high levels of pollutants and are also the most expensive sources of energy. For resource-constrained utilities, WeaveGrid provides measurable ROI, significantly reducing the costs of managing EVs on the grid by 70% annually.  

For automakers who have committed billions in capital to electrifying their vehicle offerings, WeaveGrid helps ensure the electric grid can serve the millions of new EV drivers entering the scene. Automakers are taking a hands-on approach to helping first-time EV drivers understand the charging experience. By improving the driver experience around home charging and building WeaveGrid into their increasingly sophisticated tech stacks, automakers are also delivering ROI in software-defined vehicles as part of their ambitions to diversify revenues into software and services. 

For consumers, WeaveGrid provides a seamless experience for EV owners to charge their vehicles in the most optimal way, regardless of where they are. With 80% of charging happening at home, WeaveGrid’s solution provides utility cost transparency and savings recommendations to help consumers validate the switch to electric. The WeaveGrid solution is cost-effective and reduces range anxiety for drivers. WeaveGrid’s platform is also incredibly easy for consumers to use; the platform prompts the owner to set their personal charging requirements and goals, and then enables WeaveGrid to manage the right time to charge at the lowest possible prices. This seamless integration between the vehicle and the grid signifies a first-of-its-kind relationship between the EV owner, their vehicle, and the grid. 

Why we’re backing WeaveGrid

WeaveGrid is the first investment that the Salesforce Ventures Impact Fund has led, owing to our strong conviction that WeaveGrid is a category-leading company building the future of climate technology. In the time that we spent getting to know the market, the business, and the team, we reinforced our thesis that WeaveGrid is uniquely positioned to execute on sectoral tailwinds to capture a very large market opportunity and meaningfully decarbonize the transportation and energy sectors. 

Co-Founders Apoorv Bhargava (CEO) and John Taggart (CTO) both bring highly relevant experience to a business that operates at the intersection of utilities and automakers. Apoorv has spent his entire career working in the energy sector, deploying utility grid management programs at both NRG and Opower. John brings deep technical auto experience and is a leading expert in EVs and their impact on the grid from his time working in Tesla’s Office of the CTO and on the Special Projects team at Nissan leading product innovation. Together, they have the combined skill set to build a sophisticated technology stack that sits at the intersection of two rapidly transforming industries. 

And the proof points are compelling: WeaveGrid operates in thirteen states and serves leading U.S. utilities, including Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), Exelon Utilities, and Xcel Energy. WeaveGrid’s PG&E launch is especially significant; among all US utilities, PG&E hosts the most EVs on its grid, with one in six EVs in the U.S. registered in their service area. WeaveGrid has also partnered with many of the key automakers. As WeaveGrid’s utility and auto network continue to grow, more and more U.S. customers will have access to their product to optimize charging.

What’s ahead?

As automakers accelerate EV production, and as grid management continues to be a critical pain point for utilities, both industries need agile solutions to help mitigate costs and enable the shift to electrification. WeaveGrid is at an exciting moment to be the leading software company enabling this transition.

With almost 25% of all GHG emissions in the U.S. coming from transportation, shifting to electric vehicles is imperative to meeting our country’s goal of reducing overall emissions by 50% by 2030. We see WeaveGrid as a critical piece of this puzzle with its innovative software solution for both utilities and automakers. 

Please join us in welcoming WeaveGrid to Salesforce Ventures!


Metrics Matter: Three Ways to Leverage Impact Metrics to Drive Business Value

There has arguably never been a more important moment for businesses to be a force for good, and financial firms and investors are taking note. In 2019, a study found nearly 80% of global investors focus more on sustainability now than they did five years before; and a review of more than 2,000 studies showed a strong correlation between the performance of environmental, social, and governance funds and positive investment returns.

Since 2017, the Salesforce Ventures Impact Fund has been investing in innovative companies that drive positive, measurable social and environmental impact with financial return. We invest in the most disruptive startups delivering solutions across education and reskilling, climate action, diversity, equity and inclusion, and enabling tech for nonprofits and foundations.

Social impact is no longer a “nice to have” — it’s central to business. The global COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating the pivot for companies, from only thinking about their shareholders to mandating for all its stakeholders — including communities and the planet. Operating “business as usual” has become a risk.

We spoke with some of our portfolio companies to peel back the curtain on how to leverage impact data and transparently disclose impact metrics, in a way that builds on their standard business and KPI metrics. Whether companies have no idea where to begin, are just beginning to track impact metrics, or are seasoned pros looking to reiterate on strategy — the unique examples below are a great place for companies to start.

1. Center your operational strategy around your impact.

“Impact is our business. Impact is our value proposition.”

Benjamin Levine, Head of Data Science at exists to crush student debt for America’s 45 million borrowers through its platform that empowers users to better manage and accelerate the pay down of their student debt through a holistic and programmatic approach, based on each user’s individual finhealth context. They leverage their impact metrics around the company, from the sales team pitching their product, to their leadership speaking to investors before the next funding round.

For example, a fintech start-up’s users who leverage save an average of $260 per month, while members from one of the largest financial wellness platforms globally are saving their users $491 a month. On an individual level, the impact is equally staggering. A single mom of three will save $115,000 over the life of her loan, after exploring and acting upon her student debt management options via the platform.

During a time of mass unemployment and daunting financial distress, their impact metrics are central to their operations and a key component in successfully recruiting more members.

2. Leverage third-party auditors to substantiate real-life impact.

“We used independently-run randomized control trials to verify our theory of change, to understand if our intervention was really making a difference.”

Wendy Gonzalez, CEO at Sama

No one said measuring impact would be easy, and AI training data company Sama knows this first-hand. Sama provides job training that teaches workers the skills needed for digital work, grounded in the belief that dignified, digital, living-wage work is more efficient at reducing poverty and empowering women compared to aid/donations.

They partnered with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Innovations for Poverty Action to complete a comprehensive randomized controlled trial (RCT) — often referred to as the “gold standard” in research — to evaluate their breadth of impact (i.e., how many people were hired) and depth of impact (i.e., how much wages increased). The RCT study validated Sama’s theory of change and found that after Sama intervention, workers receiving both training and a job referral see almost 40% higher earnings and 10 percentage points lower unemployment than the control group. They were also able to identify gaps, refine their strategies, and take these findings to their investors, stakeholders, and communities.

For companies debating whether to run their own trials, Sama recommends first conducting a thorough review of your business to understand the ways in which you do or do not create positive social and environmental impact. For companies that are just starting their social impact journey, you may find that you have been creating a positive social impact all along.

3. Enable and empower team members to make the most of your impact data.

“Lived experience is a key data set at SameSkyHealth, and we make sure everyone on our team can access these critical insights to scale our impact.”

Dr. Vik Bakhru, COO/CFO at SameSky Health.

Translating and navigating the U.S. healthcare system — even for native English speakers — can be a daunting task. The consequences are very real, with a disproportionate number of people waiting too long before seeking medical care, if they engage at all. SameSky Health creates value by connecting healthcare providers and insurers with patients in a way that centers their culture and meets their language needs.

The SameSky Health approach to engagement utilizes public data, client data, SameSky Health’s cultural expertise data, and impact data from previous campaigns — totaling 2+ million data points across 30+ languages and cultures. The data tracked from campaigns include the number of appointments made, patient/member feelings (positive or negative toward client), patient self-reported care, and opt-outs. The data tracked for community insights include broadband access, reduced lunch program enrollment, Federal Poverty Line stats, transportation access/vehicle ownership, cultural prominence in the community, languages spoken, food/pharmacy/clinic dessert, crime rates, dominant cultural attitudes toward healthcare, type of phone number on file (landline vs mobile), cultural attitudes towards diet, exercise, gender and family roles, and more.

Making this data available company-wide allows all SameSky Health teams to leverage the latest stats and facts to drive more impact for the patients they serve. Patient Operations, the frontline outreach team, uses it to measure campaign results. Client Relations shares performance dashboards with their clients. Sales shares outcomes to develop sales leads. Marketing utilizes data to support thought leadership and update investors. Executive Leadership uses data to support points with policy experts and other thought leaders. When the data is readily accessible, teams are empowered to iterate and improve upon their strategies to scale their impact.

We’re extremely fortunate to work with companies at the tip of the spear, driving impact in communities and also leading in collecting and analyzing their social impact. As investors who are keen on staying up to date on our portfolio’s metrics, we built a Salesforce solution to structure, collect, and visualize our portfolio’s impact. We believe in using technology to drive transparency and invite others to provide feedback and join us on the journey. Check out the Salesforce Ventures Impact Fund’s metrics in Salesforce’s FY21 Stakeholder Impact Report that we just launched last week.


Olugbenga ‘GB’ Agboola, Founder & CEO of Flutterwave, on his Quest to Unite Africa through Payments

While many apps tap into Game Theory and Gamification to boost engagement, African payments company Flutterwave was built on an altogether different principle: Chaos Theory — or, more specifically, The Butterfly Effect.

Introduced in a 1972 paper by meteorologist and mathematician Edward Lorenz, the Butterfly Effect is the idea that a small, unpredictable variable such as a butterfly flapping its wings, could impact a complex system and set off a major event such as a tornado in Texas. GB tapped into this theory when he and his co-founders started Flutterwave, a mobile app that lets people pay bills, send and request money, and track funds.

GB imagined that one day the payment infrastructure that he and his team built in Lagos, Nigeria, could make a significant positive impact on the economies and people of Africa by making it easy for its under-banked population to trade with people and companies nearby and across international borders. The vision: If you are a fabric seller in Lagos you will someday be able to use Flutterwave to collect a payment from a customer in Austin, Texas — and vice versa — in real-time. “Payments have been a barrier to African trade,” says GB. “We wanted to connect Africa to the digital economy and provide access to new prosperity.”

GB is well-suited to such an ambitious challenge. Since he was born and raised in Nigeria, he has firsthand experience with the financial infrastructure of his birth country, as well as neighboring nations. A successful entrepreneur who founded two previous companies, he’s also a software engineer with an MBA and a Master’s degree in Information Technology Security and Behavioral engineering. Earlier in his career, he worked on fintech solutions at several tech companies and financial institutions such as PayPal and Standard Bank.

Just five years after its founding, Flutterwave’s impact on Africa’s fragmented financial and technological ecosystem is becoming clear: The company is now Africa’s largest payment platform by coverage. Flutterwave is knitting together the vast continent’s nations via an API that connects multiple niche payment methods onto one platform. Flutterwave processes 150 kinds of currency and is used in 34 of Africa’s 54 nations, including Ghana, South Africa and Uganda. More than 25,000 entrepreneurs use the Flutterwave store to sell their wares, and the company processes payments for more than 300,000 merchants.

The company’s addressable market is astonishing. The African population is expected to double, to 2.5 billion, by 2050. So far they have few banking or lending options; less than 5% of the African population has a credit card. Prior to Flutterwave, digital payments in many African countries were fragmented and difficult to navigate. Businesses found it difficult to integrate multiple card schemes to receive money from customers. And the only way to pay someone in another country was to use a wire transfer, which is expensive, slow, and not optimized for small payments.

Flutterwave allows people to send and receive money to each other in real-time via Barter; pay with a credit card equivalent using Virtual Card; sell goods over the internet with its Store and Invoices products; and pay bills using Checkout.

Flutterwave is also creating new markets and opportunities for multinational corporations who want to tap into Africa’s young, fast-growing, mobile customer base. Because of Flutterwave’s newly-introduced payment options, Microsoft, Netflix, and Uber have been able to expand into countries such as Nigeria.

“The goal was, ‘How do we do something that makes it easy for a business to scale using an advanced payments infrastructure?’ That was the driving force,” says GB. “In the future — for small business, international finance, large multinational business, and the African continent — all the barriers will be broken down.”

Trust and security were critical considerations for the product team, says GB. “When you have money in your bank account, you care about the fraud that can happen with your money.” So Flutterwave requires two-factor authentication for each transaction — another first for a payment app in Africa and has built a proactive support strategy to ensure that its merchants’ payments systems do not break.

As the company continues to march toward its goal of connecting the African people and economy to the world, it will need to contend with the myriad laws and regulations of other countries. Earlier this year, Flutterwave hired its first executive in charge of regulations and government affairs. The company has prioritized building trust with regulators, banks, customers, partners, and the public, through robust compliance architecture and security processes that support verification, security, and compliance.

“The world is becoming more and more of a global village,” says GB of his mission. “Any service that people like to use in San Francisco will be used in Lagos. When payments can exchange hands quickly, borders become less and less important.”

The proliferation of digital banking worldwide has been a critical development for financial inclusion of those historically excluded from traditional banking services. At Salesforce Ventures, we target fintech solutions that promote equal opportunity and economic empowerment for women and underrepresented groups. If that sounds like your business, we hope you will reach out.


Guild Education: Getting a Degree in “Resilience”

As we continue to work our way through the pandemic and its impact on the economy, many experts say they are expecting a “K-shaped” recovery — one that will allow professional workers and the wealthy to excel, yet cause those in already dire straits to continue to fare worse.

COVID-19 is accelerating automation and compounding the advantages of the strongest companies. It’s even more important than ever we find ways to unlock opportunity and economic mobility for low and middle-income Americans. Inaction really isn’t an option — it risks leaving people behind permanently,” says Rachel Carlson, CEO of Denver-based Guild Education.

Carlson and her company are doing something about it. Guild works with Fortune 1000 companies to incorporate education and education benefits into their corporate strategy helping with problems such as retention, upskilling and training. Guild offers a software platform to help companies such as Walmart, Lowe’s and Taco Bell support their employees’ efforts to improve their skills and education, while empowering workers to take control of their careers and reach for new opportunities. Guild was named #46 on the Forbes 2020 Cloud 100 this year (up from #86 on the 2019 list), and #23 on the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing private companies.

Guild’s model is particularly well-suited for the times. The COVID-19 crisis and its record unemployment arrived at a time in history when 88 million working adults are in need of reskilling or upskilling in order to compete in the future of work, 64 million of whom do not have a postsecondary degree.

As we shifted almost overnight to a shelter-in-place society, many workers saw a decrease in need for in-person jobs, such as those in hospitality and retail, and companies of all sizes raced to meet new demands, moving as many processes to the cloud as possible, increasing automation, as well as an even-more intense demand for a tech-savvy workforce. Walmart, for example, extended its tuition benefit in June to all of its employees on the first day of employment, rather than after three months.

“The trend toward automation and digitization was already happening before the pandemic and has been radically accelerated due to impacts from COVID-19,” says Carlson. “A generation of Americans are facing numerous changes due to a rapid evolution of work. In this time of reflection, I think many people will find education is the most secure way to get them where they need to go now, as well as in the future as things continue to change.”

The company has seen a 25% surge in interest from students eager to sign up for classes during the pandemic. In addition to increasing long-term opportunities, Guild helps employees level-up their economic stability in the short-term.

Guild has also seen increased demand from universities eager to make it easier for students to enroll in and pay for online classes. Guild and its partners are working to make higher education more accessible to more people — especially the underserved. Paul Quinn College, a historically Black college, recently signed up with Guild in an effort to provide educational opportunities to working adults, including short-term credential programs and accelerated degrees.

About half of Guild’s students are parents, and Carlson, a professional working mom with young twins, is acutely aware of the delicate balance between economic acceleration and mobility. Because of this, every Guild program is designed to reduce friction and meet employees where they can learn on their own terms, making it possible for parents to accelerate their careers even as they are at home supporting their kids in their “virtual learning” efforts.

“Guild was founded on the belief that companies and employees can work together to prepare each other for a future that demands resilience and in which the best jobs will require advanced training and education,” says Carlson. “We are built to help employers and employees who recognize that lifelong learning is the most important skill of the 21st century. The pandemic has confirmed for us that our mission is as important as ever.”

We couldn’t agree more. We feel privileged to work with Rachel Carlson and the rest of the team at Guild.


Expanding Our Focus on Impact Investing with a New $100M Fund

I’m excited to announce that this morning Salesforce Ventures launched a new $100M Impact Fund to support innovative companies driving positive social change. In 2017, we launched our first $50M Impact Fund and today we’re expanding our commitment.

At Salesforce we’ve been committed to doing good as part of our business model since our founding. Over the last decade, Salesforce Ventures has not only invested and helped accelerate the growth of the most innovative cloud companies and founders globally, but we also lead with these same values — incorporating social responsibility, sustainability and diversity into our investment process.

There has arguably never been a more important moment for businesses to be a force for good.

We are in an unprecedented time as we face multiple intersecting crises — a health crisis, an economic crisis, a climate crisis, and a crisis of racial injustice. With this new fund, we will continue to invest in companies solving the world’s most pressing challenges and contributing towards a more resilient and inclusive economy — one that ensures the long-term wellness of citizens, drives job creation, protects against future shocks coming from climate change, and breaks down systemic barriers across race and gender.

Fueling Companies Driving Positive Social Change

As we reflect on the last few years, we are excited about the growth and impact of our portfolio companies and feel privileged to partner with them. We have invested in some of the most disruptive startups delivering solutions across education and reskilling, climate action, diversity, equity and inclusion, and enabling tech for nonprofits and foundations — including companies like Andela, Angaza, Ellevest, FutureFuel, Measurabl, pymetrics, Urbint, and Ureeka.

Some notable highlights include: Guild Education achieved a $1B valuation; Unite Us was named as the 2020 start-up to watch at the JP Morgan Health Conference; Ellevest launched a membership model to reach more customers and address the gender wealth gap; Flutterwave processed over 100 million transactions across Africa, and both AdmitHub and Samasource published compelling impact evidence from randomized control trials.

Continued Investment in Social Good

Impact investing is experiencing significant growth as businesses and investors increasingly aim to make real-world change and build a better future for all stakeholders. The Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) estimates the market size at $715 billion, up more than 40 percent from last year. Based on a recent survey of nearly 300 impact investing organizations, the GIIN highlights the increasing depth and sophistication of the industry, as well as impact investors’ unique ability to tackle the world’s concurrent crises.

We are thrilled to watch the growth of the field, as a number of corporates, including influential companies like Citi and Amazon, have launched new impact funds in the last three years.

Partners in Success

Salesforce Ventures is the only strategic investor that is exclusively focused on backing enterprise cloud startups. With more than 400 investments globally, we have unique insight on how to build a successful SaaS business.

Importantly, our close relationship with Salesforce allows us to provide our portfolio with differentiated access to one of the fastest-growing enterprise software companies in the world, offering value beyond just capital, including go-to-market advice and customer introductions. Whether you’re looking for advice on pricing, customer success, product marketing, or how to hire at scale, we can expose you to the experts at Salesforce that run those domains internally.

Looking ahead

With our new $100M Salesforce Ventures Impact Fund, we are excited to back the next generation of innovative companies driving positive social change. If you think we can be helpful on your journey, please get in touch — we would love to hear from you!

Visit our website at for more and remember to follow us on Twitter at @salesforceVC or LinkedIn for the latest.


Ureeka Empowers Minority-Owned Businesses to Accelerate COVID-19 Recovery

As SMBs experience uncertainty during the COVID-19 shutdowns and reopening phases, many business owners and entrepreneurs are seeking support to adjust their business strategies — building new customer experiences, offering more relevant products and services, and making it easier and safer to do business. This crisis disproportionately affects the 1.1 million minority-owned small businesses in the U.S. that employ more than 8.7 million workers and generate more than $1 trillion in output annually.

Investment in underrepresented business owners is integral to a viable economic recovery — immediate relief in the form of grants, loans, access to legal advice, and professional assistance could help underrepresented small business owners respond to the pandemic and protect their employees.

Removing systemic and geographical barriers for entrepreneurs

That’s where Ureeka can help. Established in 2018, the Ureeka platform connects and strengthens a community of entrepreneurs, mentors, coaches, corporate partners, and investors to help small businesses grow. “We remove systemic and geographical barriers for entrepreneurs because access isn’t just for the insiders,” says Ureeka Co-Founder Melissa Bradley.

Ureeka’s coaching programs are a new kind of methodology that drives impact within the first interaction. Entrepreneurs get connected with someone the second they enter the community and can work with a coach to build a plan that works for their unique business. This empowers sustainable and ongoing success.

Bradley has a track record of accelerating entrepreneurs from high potential to high growth. She began as an entrepreneur herself, who faced significant challenges with finding investors and a community to support her. As a Black woman, the statistics are not in her favor. This sparked her foray into helping youth entrepreneurs of color, and she launched 1863 Ventures to support and enable new wealth by and for entrepreneurs of color.

Supporting the economy and providing immediate relief for SMBs through grants

Bradley and the Ureeka team saw a huge gap — and opportunity — amid the impacts of COVID-19. In just three months, Ureeka’s community membership grew over 30% as diverse entrepreneurs sought guidance on how best to run their businesses in the current economy. Ureeka also administered more than $100M in grants to 15,000 small businesses, nationwide through partnerships such as the Salesforce Care Small Business Grants and WeWork’s grants for Black-owned businesses. Grant recipients across all programs were 52% women and 60% underrepresented entrepreneurs (Black, Latinx, Asian, American Indian, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander), spanning industries such as professional services, manufacturing, restaurants & hospitality, retail & consumer goods.

We feel privileged to work with Melissa Bradley, her co-founders Dave Jakubowski and Rob Gatto, and the rest of the team at Ureeka. As part of the Salesforce Ventures Impact Fund, we’re always looking for ways to support businesses that are using their platforms for change. If you’re working on something that positively impacts people or the planet, we’d like to hear from you.


Samasource: A Tribute to Leila Janah, and Why We Invested

On Friday, January 24 I received the devastating news that Leila Janah, founder and CEO of Samasource, had died after a brief but hard-fought battle with a rare cancer. In the last week and a half, I’ve talked with many people who knew Leila, and I’ve uncovered a common thread of not only grief but also disbelief. For someone who conquered so many odds in her relentless pursuits of equity and empowerment for the world’s underserved, it seems impossible that her epithelioid sarcoma would win. But cancer is not the end of Leila’s story; in many ways, this story was just beginning, and it will continue. I feel so very fortunate to have played a small part in supporting her mission.

Leila and I both graduated from Harvard in 2004, but in a class of 1,600 people, our lives were one degree removed. It was not until I moved to San Francisco in 2012 for a job with Kiva that our paths began to intersect more directly. At the time both Kiva and Samasource were social enterprise darlings, representing some of the first nonprofit organizations to be tech-enabled, market-based, and mission-driven. Leila had founded Samasource from the incongruity of watching a booming tech scene unfold in Silicon Valley while also observing the untapped potential of the world’s underserved who were under- or unemployed. Her idea was simple but bold: recruit youth and women from low-income communities in Kenya and Uganda, train them in data annotation in a 10-day course, and employ them — for a living wage — at Samasource facilities that serve large tech companies and their digital outsourcing needs.

Not everyone understood Leila’s vision, however, and she ultimately launched Samasource as a nonprofit because she could not win over traditional venture capital in 2008. In those early years, Leila and her team scraped and scrapped for every dollar donated and every contract won, but over time it became clear that she was onto something. Along with the explosion of AI came a need for secure, high-quality training and model validation data for machine learning applications, and Samasource was uniquely positioned to meet that demand. A decade later, Samasource had served 25% of the Fortune 50, including Google, Microsoft, and Walmart, and the organization had become a profitable non-profit. Importantly, Samasource’s growth also fueled meaningful investments in its workforce; Samasource’s social impact business model enabled the company to pay a living wage, resulting in higher retention rates and overall worker engagement when compared to the rest of the training data industry.

In 2018 came another turning point for Samasource. The organization had developed an impressive earned revenue stream from an increasingly sophisticated portfolio of work across industries such as autonomous transportation and safety, communications media and entertainment, e-commerce, smart hardware, and biotech. And yet, as a nonprofit, Samasource was resource-constrained. Leila made the decision to transition Samasource to a for-profit model to further invest in and scale the company’s AI capabilities while remaining true to its social impact roots. It was time to pound the pavement again, but this time for venture capital.

By this time I had left Kiva to join Salesforce for a new opportunity leading a $50M Impact Fund. Though for years our paths had crossed and our worlds had overlapped, it was an investment opportunity in Samasource’s Series A raise that brought us working together closely for the first time. I remember vividly our first conversation about it over coffee because the idea seemed somewhat wild; not only was Leila converting Samasource to a for-profit, but she was also making the previous non-profit a shareholder in the new entity, ensuring that the company’s success would be used to fund social enterprises for years to come.

Over the course of due diligence, I grew more and more excited about the Samasource story. Against a backdrop of mega funding rounds for for-profit tech companies, Samasource’s growth was remarkable — with limited donor dollars and an overabundance of smarts, grit, and passion, Leila, COO Wendy Gonzales, and their team built a large, profitable, and increasingly specialized business with customers who demanded complex and secure AI services. Samasource had not only become an early market leader in AI but also led the industry in its ethical approach to employment and data sourcing, with a rigorous approach to impact measurement. Studies have shown that three years after leaving Samasource, workers increase their income 4x on average and gain valuable work experience that helps them build a pathway out of poverty. And through the ripple effect of providing its past and present workforce with a living wage, Samasource has positively impacted the lives of over 50,000 people.

For these reasons and others, the Salesforce Ventures Impact Fund ultimately invested in the Series A alongside Ridge Ventures, Social Impact Ventures, Bestseller Foundation, and Bluecrest Limited Capital. This funding propels the breadth of Samasource’s technology with more advanced features in the current platform, including building upon current annotation automation capabilities that increase efficiency and quality, and more advanced integration with customers’ machine learning models via API.

Over the years Leila earned an impressive array of awards — she was a WEF Young Global Leader, the youngest ever Heinz Award winner, and the accomplished author of the book Give Work — and ran in circles that included tech luminaries, world leaders, and the Pope. On the surface and in photos, her life could look glamorous, even easy. The reality was far different. The life that Leila deliberately chose meant very hard work, with great uncertainty, and a heavyweight that comes with tackling a massive problem. Leila was committed to “giving work,” but this required doing the work, day in and day out. The reason she did it, and returned to it every day, was because of her unwavering belief that connecting people to dignified work and paying a living wage had the potential to solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges, from reducing poverty to empowering women and mitigating climate change.

Leila was an impressive entrepreneur by any standard, but it was this belief that set her apart. Leila once said, “My biggest hope is that the world reorients itself to the concept of social business. If you’re an entrepreneur building a company, it damn well better be a company that does good in the world.” With words like these, it is abundantly clear that Leila’s story was really just beginning when her life was cut far too short. Her legacy will be powerful, and we at Salesforce are honored and committed to support it.

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