The news was broken yesterday via Breakit that Universal Avenue, the on-demand sales force start-up that we covered back in April as being the potential next nordic unicorn, has just closed a seed extension round of $5 million. Participating in the round was existing investors MOOR, along side two giants of the VC world, Northzone, and Salesforce Ventures.
We caught up with Johan Lilja, co-founder and CEO to ask him about the business.
Q: Tell us a bit about the background of Universal Avenue, where did the initial idea come from?
A: Both Petter and I have been running companies before in the cross section of sales and online. The idea had been in the back of our heads for a long time and the timing is now optimal, with venues globally going through a digital transformation and with people looking for ways to work in a flexible way.
Q: Congrats on the funding! $5 million USD is quite a significant seed round with some impressive VC’s having now invested. What do you think the main factors that has has made you so successful at raising money?
A: The business is very scalable and the market size is massive. This combined with a strong team in place, early traction and multiple macro trends working in our favour has been driving a strong investor interest to get involved. We are happy that a large number of investors are seeing the same potential as we are seeing in the business and ended up in a situation where we could cherry pick who to bring onboard. MOOR complemented with Northzone as Salesforce Ventures is a very strong setup on the investor side that can help us accelerate our growth.
Q: There is a lot of hype around the on-demand sharing economy. How do you picture the future of work looking like over the next 5 years and how will technology make a difference in this?
A: Millennials (born 1980-1995) will make up 75% of the global workforce in 2025 and they are driven by a set of priorities that are very aligned with the on-demand sharing economy. They are looking for flexible work arrangements both in regards to time and place, want to give back to society and work for something that can make a difference. Technology will enable and drive a shift towards more mobile and fractional workers, getting work done in one centralized location during set hours is not the future.
Q: What do your expansion plans look like given the recent investment?
A: We are live in 3 markets today (Sweden, Greece and UK) and we are likely to enter a few additional markets already this year. Our current main focus is on UK but US and other key markets are on our radar.
Q: Many start-ups say that hiring is one of the biggest challenges they face. You seem to have hired a pretty strong team to date, any tips to share with others on how you have done this?
A: So far we have been able to hire mainly on recommendations from people in our networks. We are also active in the start-up community and get a lot of inbound interest from people at all levels. I try to ask new people I meet who the best person is that they have worked with in previous companies and continuously follow up on that with multiple interviews running every week.
Q: It seems you have some big brands you are working with up already including iZettle, Spotify Business and Shopify. Do you work with all stages of companies or mostly larger well funded ones?
A: At the moment our ‘sweet spot’ are brands that target small to medium sized venues as customers, for examples retail stores, hotels, restaurants, and similar places. We’ve had a lot of interest from brands since we launched (since we only charge for acquired customers there is no risk for the brand making the decision to work with us). We work with all stages of companies, and help start-ups to grow in the delicate early stages, but also larger companies to acquire market share more aggressively across the world. Interested brands can get in touch with us at https://universalavenue.com/brands?locale=en
Q: How about your team of freelance sales people, or ‘Brand Ambassadors’, how do you go about recruiting these and what kind of people work for you?
A: Our company motto is ‘work the way you want to live’. We offer Brand Ambassadors a flexible way to work however they wish. As a result our Brand Ambassadors often have different goals. Some wish to work full time and earn a good living doing so. Some wish to work part time, and some wish to fund travel costs as they travel to new exciting countries we are active in. We curate and interview each Brand Ambassador quite heavily before they are able to sell, but anyone can apply at https://www.universalavenue.com/ambassadors/new?locale=en
Q: We hinted back in April that you might well be the next Swedish start-up ‘unicorn’. Do you have any comments on that?
A: That sets the expectations at the right level The Swedish startup community is fantastic and we come across a lot of interesting companies when evaluating which brands to onboard to our platform. There are a few companies a bit ahead of us such as iZettle, Truecaller, Tictail and others. We are still early but all indications so far point in the direction of something big.