Chief community officer is the new CMO

Community isn’t a single Slack group or event or newsletter. It’s an aggregation of all of these touch points, and includes both customers, eventual customers and one-time users. Despite this nebulous, disconnected reality, companies are paying more attention to various channels as remote work and digital communication powers our days. My recent tweet underscored the chord community strikes even in sectors such as edtech, which often have to sell to fragmented customer bases.

A conversation that I’ve been having over the last week is that startups are finally investing in community in a meaningful way, dedicating actual budgets to community instead of simply stealing a few dollars away from the sales and marketing team.

As one founder told me, “chief community officer is the new CMO.” That piqued my interest, especially because I had just talked to Commsor founder Mac Reddin about his recent funding, a $16 million Series A led by Felicis and Seven Seven Six Ventures.

As the ‘aha’ moment of community continues, Commsor is a solution to help community managers prove that they’re not wasting the budget, and outcomes. Commsor, he says, is the operating system for communities, helping companies distill how their different communities look, and feel, which could eventually trickle down into generating sales leads and revenue. Commsor could pull an insight like, ‘here are three engineers that are using your platform from Google, maybe it’s time to approach Google and ask if they want an enterprise contract.” Finding those sweet spots, and bottoms-up community adopters, is Commsor’s bread and butter.

Commsor, which is still in private beta, says that over the last year there has been a “huge increase” in startups that have a community budget or increase in community budget. To be a startup aiming to disrupt a category that still has a tone of gray in it comes with its own challenges.

Commsor launched C School to help aspiring community managers learn the trade, as well as a fund to back companies in the space. It also posted a memo with signatures from companies like Hopin, Lattice and Notion to show the commitment to defining the community space.

“We are kind of what Customer Success was 10 years ago, or what Revenue Operations was 300 years ago,” Reddin said. “People care about it and there are roles, but there’s still a lot of defining and growth to be done.”

Market map of community tools.

In the rest of this newsletter, we’ll get into early-stage startup competition, the pipeline problem, and Bitcoin breaking barriers. As always, you can find me on Twitter @nmasc_ or e-mail me [email protected] Want Startups Weekly in your inbox every Saturday. Sign up here.

Will your investor put money into a competitor?

When an investor backs a startup, they ideally think that the company will be the winner in said category, whether it’s CBD gummies, financial plumbing or peer-to-peer car-sharing. So, if they place a bet in a competing startup the investment could serve as both a negative signal and a reputation hit.

Here’s what to know, via Alex Wilhelm: As software markets mature, maybe the investing playing field is opening up to investing in competitors? Call it conveniently complementary investments.

Etc: In this week’s Equity episode, we talked about the complexity of competition within startups, and how one firm’s investments seem to all perfectly and conveniently fit into each other. I’ll make you listen to the episode to figure out who, but here’s a hint: Is there a world where Dispo creators track monetization from Clubhouse through Stir?

Equity Podcast icon

Image Credits: TechCrunch

An Olive startup competes with Amazon

Ambitious early-stage founders often have to answer a common question from investors and journalists: What if Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix or Google built your startup? The idea behind the question is figuring out why a founder is specifically and uniquely qualified to solve a problem, even if a behemoth business throws millions of dollars and a team of engineers at it.

Here’s what to know via Jet co-founder Nate Faust: He sold his business to Walmart for $3 billion in 2016, and now he’s back to compete with Amazon with a sustainable e-commerce play. Olive consolidates a shopper’s purchases into a single weekly delivery in a reusable package.

Faust acknowledged that Olive runs counter to the “arms race” between Amazon and other e-commerce services working to deliver purchases as quickly as possible. But he said that the startup’s consumer surveys found that shoppers were willing to wait a little longer in order to get the other benefits.

Etc: If you were wondering when it makes sense to compete with Zoom, these four edtech startups and Google might have some information for you.

Image via Getty Images / alashi

Bust the myth of the pipeline problem

The lack of diversity in Silicon Valley, from the check-writers to the employees, has often been chalked up to the pipeline problem: the idea that there isn’t enough enough diverse, qualified talent to fill roles. But recent research underscores how aged, and flawed, this mindset might be. Reporter Megan Rose Dickey interviewed Dr. Joy Lisi Rankin, a research lead for gender, race and power in artificial intelligence at the AI Now Institute.

Here’s what to know, according to Rankin:

“The pipeline is a way to silo all of that out and say, ‘we just need to get more Black women in tech,’ as opposed to saying, ‘actually, these companies are and have been racist and white supremacist and misogynist, and it’s those institutions and larger societal and global capitalist structures that need to change.”

Rankin adds that transparency around hiring and corporate recruiting could help combat biases and signal important information to talent.

Etc: At TC Sessions: Justice next month, we’ll be talking about how research like this, as well as structures within venture capital, impacts early-stage founders. Speakers include Arlan Hamilton, the founder of Backstage Capital, Brian Brackeen of Lightship Capital, and others. Get your tickets here for $5.

Around TechCrunch

TC Sessions: Justice 2021 kicks off in two weeks

Announcing the TC Early Stage Pitch-Off

Across the week

Seen on TC

Bitcoin breaks the $50,000 barrier as Coinbase’s direct listing looms

Clubhouse has topped 8 million global downloads, per report

YC-backed Queenly launched a marketplace for formalwear

Uber extends work from home policy through mid-September

Why two startups are betting on debt instead of equity

Seen on EC

Pandemic-era growth and SPACS are helping edtech startups graduate early

Investors SPAC push could revapm the private market money game

Dear Sophie: Tips for filing for a green card for my soon-to-be spouse

Why do SaaS companies with usage-based pricing grow faster

Paying $115B for Stripe or $77B for Coinbase might be quite rational

And for dessert, read this piece on how 10 investors predict MaaS, on-demand delivery and EVs will dominate mobility’s post-pandemic future.

See y’all next week,

Natasha

 

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Narmi, a fintech that helps small banks up their digital game, is looking to double headcount this year after nabbing $20 million from a backer of Salesforce and Plaid

Summary List PlacementA fintech founded by two former investment bankers has big plans for 2021 — and they all revolve around helping small banks upgrade their digital offerings. 
While major players like Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase hold an outsized share of deposits across banks in the US, nearly 50% of market share is held by banks outside the nation’s 15 largest – including more than 4,500 community banks spread across the country, according to FDIC data.
These are also the financial institutions that, even before the COVID-19 pandemic began nearly a year ago, have been most hard-pressed to develop digital banking services – from remote check deposits to account openings – that can be costly to develop and require significant, long-term investment.
Narmi is a startup that’s looking to bridge that divide. The fintech offers cloud-based technology to regional and community banks that includes digital banking and account opening tools for consumers and a digital business banking service for small businesses. 
On Tuesday, New York-based Narmi announced that it had raised $20.4 million in a Series A fundraising round that was led by New Enterprise Associates, or NEA, a venture capital firm with more than $24 billion in assets that’s also invested in companies like Salesforce and Plaid. Executives from Plaid and Brex also invested in the round although their names were not disclosed.
See more: Smaller banks have been forced to evolve in the wake of the pandemic. Insiders explain how fintechs are playing a key role in the future plans of regional and community banks.
“We do think we have a very strong differentiation strategy,” Nikhil Lakhanpal, Narmi’s co-founder, told Insider, adding that the capital raise will allow Narmi to execute its key focuses as a company in 2021: developing more business banking digital tools, enhancing the user experience of regional and community bank customers, and doubling down on their open-source strategy (Narmi’s API code is publicly available online.)
“It’s a massive catalyst to our company in so many ways,” Lakhanpal continued.
Firsthand experience
Both Lakhanpal and Chris Griffin, Narmi’s other co-founder, experienced the tech challenges smaller banks can face when trying to reach customers online. While students at Georgetown, they led the Georgetown University Alumni and Student Federal Credit Union, with Lakhanpal as CEO and Griffin as CIO. 
“We ran this financial institution and we really just wanted to give our customers, our end users, a really awesome digital experience, like nothing else mattered. That was critical. And we just couldn’t do it. We looked at the vendor landscape, it’s really crowded with legacy tech. You’re paying a premium, not for a premium product, but for a larger company,” Lakhanpal said. 
After stints in the investment banking world at Citibank and Barclays, respectively, Lakhanpal and Griffin launched Narmi in 2016. The startup counts Radius Bank, the Boston-based online community bank that was acquired by LendingClub for $185 million in February 2020, and Berkshire Bank among its customers. Lakhanpal said the company doubled headcount in 2020 and is planning on doing the same this year. 
Read more: Plaid’s breakout stars: These are the 14 people heading up key projects at the $5.3 billion fintech looking to make financial data more accessible
A big backer in NEA
NEA, meanwhile, brings both capital and experience to the table, something that Lakhanpal said was particularly valuable given the venture firm’s experience in growing companies at scale.
As for NEA’s part, it has a veteran of both the e-commerce and banking world in Liz Landsman, who helped close the round. Landsman previously headed the internet, digital, and mobile teams for Citi’s North America consumer banking business, was the chief marketing officer of E-trade, and served as the president of Jet.com, the e-commerce startup that was acquired by Walmart for $3.3 billion in 2016 (NEA was also an investor in the site.)
“We were very excited when we met these guys, both because we thought they were exactly the right team, we thought the platform they built was thoughtful and technically strong, but also coming out of those unique insights of having lived on the other side of the table,” Landsman told Insider.SEE ALSO: Citi just announced a leadership reshuffle in its consumer bank as new head Anand Selva takes the reins, and the promotions point to a big digital push
SEE ALSO: Digital-lending startup Blend just nabbed $300 million from backers including Coatue and Tiger and is now valued at more than $3 billion. Here’s how it’s disrupting consumer banking.
SEE ALSO: TPG Growth and Alphabet’s CapitalG just backed a $1.9 billion startup that’s helping banks and fintechs build interfaces that are as lovable as big consumer brands
Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: What would happen if you jumped off the International Space Station

Building relationships remotely, and not technology, has been the key to handling the pandemic, Dell and Slack executives say

Summary List PlacementWhile technology has been integral to working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, building relationships among employees has been even more important to a successful work-from-home model, human resources executives from Dell and Slack said during an Insider event.
At Wednesday’s “Workplace Evolution,” hosted by Insider, Najuma Atkinson, the senior vice president of human resources at Dell, and Dawn Sharifan, the vice president of people at Slack, shared how they’ve continued to work with and onboard employees during the pandemic. 
In the session, titled “The Big Shift of 2020,” Atkinson and Sharifan said when their companies went fully remote last year, they had to weigh how to keep employees feeling supported, how to help managers lead a remote workforce, and how to build culture and community.
“Yes we use Slack; yes we use Zoom.” Sharifan said. “But I think really continuing to build that community is the most important thing regardless of what technology you use.”
Atkinson added that, “While technology is our enabler, the other key factor is about the culture.”
Working remotely has opened up opportunities for companies to hire new employees wherever they are, instead of location being a major factor, they said. Work is no longer tied to where we are physically, Atkinson said. “Everyone has a seat at this virtual table now. Because we are remote, you have more access versus less access to senior leaders and to opportunities that you may not have had,” Atkinson added.
People no longer have to leave their communities and homes to come work for a new company, she said. As for Dell, the company is using the remote opportunity to hire under-represented populations, such as women and minorities. The company has even launched a new effort to hire people on the autism spectrum to add to the talent pool. 
The playing field has been leveled for everyone, Sharifan said. One of Slack’s first moves amid the pandemic was to make all current and open positions remote. The company hired several hundred people during the pandemic who have never been into the office. 
With most people working from home, companies have been forced to think about the actual deliverables and skills needed for a job, as opposed to the amount of time spent in the office, Sharifan said.
“It’s less about butt and feet time,” she said. “You’re allowing more space for the moms and dads of the world that also need to be with their kids and don’t need to be seen in the office until 6 or 7 pm at night.”
Making sure employees have the ability to take care of themselves while working has also been key to success during the pandemic, the panelists said.
“Put on your own oxygen mask and take care of yourself,” Sharifan said. “It’s more important than ever for us to be thinking of the entire employee.”Join the conversation about this story »

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