In this episode we are joined by Charlotte Ekelund, CEO and co-founder of Teemly. Teemly has developed their solution to offer virtual offices for distributed teams.
Charlotte discusses her journey into entrepreneurship, the story behind Teemly. She also shares how such a solution is so topical in today’s turbulent times, where “working from home” is indeed mandatory, where possible.
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Welcome to Gigapod! Today I’m joined by Charlotte Ekelund, who is the CEO and founder of Teemly. How are you, Charlotte?
Hi, I’m great. Thank you. Nice to be here. How are you?
It’s nice that we can now record podcasts remotely. With everything going on, Charlotte, why don’t we just kick it off? Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Charlotte. I’m Swedish. I just became an entrepreneur about half a year ago. I grew up abroad, and I have a business background, studied at SSE. I did a training program path kind of career in the beverage industry. I worked in strategy and marketing for about seven years. Then I went into recruitment for two years. After that, I joined the startup generator program called Antler, where I met my co-founder. We have now started the company Teemly, which is essentially helping distributed teams have a virtual office since they don’t have a physical office to go to.
That’s it in short.
Cool! So how did you come up with the idea of Teemly?
First of all, the idea as such is originating from a problem, I’d say. So I was in the Antler program, I was in the mode where I was looking for problems everywhere to solve that could potentially turn into a business. I spoke with Alok Alström from App jobs, and I asked him, what are your challenges? And he said, I wish I could just, have everyone in my staff in one say the same office, but obviously that’s not how the world looks. You know, we just need a virtual office where we want to be together. We want to interact as if we’re together.
I completely understood what you meant because when I was working in the beverage industry for a multinational. I was the only one working from Stockholm when my team was in London; I felt pretty left out socially. I also have been interviewing people over the past two years as a recruiter where a lot of times I kept hearing; I like my job, I like my boss, I like the tasks I’m doing, but actually, I sort of feel a bit left out. It’s a satellite office I work from, and that’s why I want to switch jobs. So I understood that as a leader, being [02:43 inaudible], loving his team, he wants to make sure everyone is feeling part of the organization and everyone has adhoc interacting. Everyone’s having fun, and it is easier to lead if you see people every day. So that’s essentially where Teemly started I would say.
Yeah. Cool. Great. I love that. For you, what do you see besides this moving really, into distributed offices and locations, even now with the virus, it’s even more so that people having to work remotely, when you first sort of, sort of working on the problem, what was the cool sort of issue that you saw that Teemly would be solving?
What we did, my co-founder and I, we started interviewing about 40 different companies—a lot of them tech startups in Stockholm or internationally. And we asked them how they work in their remote teams, what works and what doesn’t work. So that’s where we started digging into the area. It turned out that a lot of teams use some sort of chat functionality and a lot of teams use video conferencing tools. So the chat is sort of for the ad hoc interaction at this point in time. And the video conferencing tools are for the more scheduled meeting. Now, what does get lost is spontaneous interaction. And that can be both on a private level going, ‘how was your weekend’ or that coffee machine talk, water cooler talk, but it can also actually be productivity-driven and directly linked to business performance. And that’s when we found a couple of studies proving a very clear link and correlation between ad hoc conversations in an office space and business performance.
Then we thought, well, this doesn’t make sense. Distribution teams need to get the opportunity to talk to each other ad hoc. We also know that that drives employee engagement. So what we want to give back is to sort of give that arena back for ad hoc, talking to each other over video or through the sort of walkie talkie friendship.
You are in beta right now, and you have some customers already testing Teemly. Can you just tell us a little bit about how that’s going?
Anyone who’s worked with an MVP minimum viable product knows that it’s a bit of a trial and error, so I’m not going to sit here and say that everything is beautiful and works perfectly. Still, it is, we’re definitely onto something, and we’re constantly improving, and it’s very, very exciting.
So we launched the first time we launched, is [05:27 inaudible apt] jobs because that’s the guys we’ve been collaborating with from day one. So we launched with them in December, and then we’ve been adding on more and more organizations up until, in February before Corona hit, we were sort of having a waiting list of, around 120 users or something whom we were told. Listen, I want to dig deep into the user feedback that we get at the moment, which purposely trialling with different teams. One study group, one HR team, one tech team, and so on just to see the differences and then Corona came and all of a sudden overnight, we, I don’t even know how these people find us. Still, somehow we had over a thousand users screaming for the beta version. So we did decide, yeah. Amazing. To be able to help in these times also a bit scary because it is an [06:22 inaudible].
So, kind of like, sorry. So far it’s very exciting. Just this morning I had a call with one of our testing clients, Cogniti and their team in the Philippines. Just hearing how they adapt the office space to their needs versus seeing how the Antler team in Stockholm is designing their rooms and what they’re using it for. It’s really amazing. Very exciting times, but we’re still in beta.
Nice. Tell us a little bit more about your business model. Yeah.
So we haven’t launched yet, first of all. So this is still to be set. We are looking at a freemium business model where we sort of want teams to be the initiating driver of using this. So it’s not going to be one of those products that go to the IT department instead of getting implemented top line or sort of from the leadership team down.
What we found in our research has a lot of teams already use. It doesn’t matter if the distributed or not a lot of teams already use, like some of them even use Messenger or WhatsApp for their team communication. And it’s not like that’s aligned with the IT department. I’m not saying people shouldn’t do things that aren’t compliant just to be clear, but it should be a user-driven tool that users want to use because it’s fun in their team to use it and want to feel connected to the other teammates.
That brings us quite nicely to the next question. That is really, and I think you’ve kind of explained it already, but how do you really see Teemly fitting into the future of work? Is there anything, any additional developments or any sort of, even just within the short period that you’ve been operating Teemly that you’ve seen, if they had this function or people could be doing this way, or as a result of the virus, we could see the way that people are actually working could fundamentally change in the next sort of short, mid-term period.
Right? I think that, wow, that’s a great question because it has so many angles to it. So I’m going to try to just visualize what I usually, how I see the market, this is going to sound a bit harsh, but I see it as; imagine it’s a line going from, it’s a scale from left to right and all the way on the left, you have the very sort of traditional organizations. They use tools such as Outlook. They use Microsoft Teams or back in the days Link, and they have never heard about Slack and believe it or not, that’s a very big chunk of the market. I, myself come from that, business area. I come from companies where I didn’t know how to use Gmail or G suite or had never heard about Trello and Slack, like literally.
So you have a lot of those. Then you move along the scale to the right, and you move all the way to the more and more digitally savvy organizations, and with that also more and more remote a lot of times. And on the very right side of this scale, you have the super digital, the truly remote companies. When we first started out with Teemly, we thought, great, we’re going to target those remote-first companies that where everyone is spread out, they don’t even have an office. This is going to be perfect for them. What we found pretty fast was that was the only guys that really did not need Teemly, cause they are the only ones who have been forced to find their ways of working already. So it’s taken them sometimes two to three years, and they’ve made adjustments and set up rules and behaviours, but they’re the only ones sort of cracked it.
They still like the idea of Teemly, but they’re just like not too keen on changing their ways of working. So where we see that we can really add value is the ones on the sort of, let’s say on the right to the middle scale, where organizations that might use Slack and might have a global team, some of them could be in offices. Some of them could be freelancers. Some of them could be gig workers or just the fact that you’re not physically together. That’s where we’re adding value now to your question about Corona. So what’s happened is basically that a lot of people who were all the way on the left have now very fast, been forced by this wave to move over to the right-hand side.
I had an onboarding call yesterday with, and a pretty big organization that has never heard of Slack, they don’t use, they never do digital collaboration. They all are usually in an office, and now they’re all working from home, and you know, the questions they ask are literally like, how do we do this when everyone is talking at the same time, how do you manage? So it’s to us like living in this techie world, we might be used to some of this, but there is a very big part of the market that needs help to transition into the remote workspace, I would say. And I think the effect of Corona will just be that even more well, start thinking about it. Unfortunately, the economic recession coming up, well, I think also lead to gig workers and remote working, becoming an even bigger thing, so more and more organizations will need to adopt.
Yeah, for sure. Do you see that if you look at your potential customer base, that’s on the side of the scale, would you say that there’s a lot of education that you as an organization need to do towards them? Do you think they will pick up quite quickly the different tools? Yeah.
I think that’s interesting. So we work with agile team coaches and psychologists in our product development, and we’ve done so since day one. It’s pretty interesting because I don’t consider myself an expert on everything and that has to do with promoting leadership, it’s just, I’ve done a bit of research and trying to create a tool that makes it easier for leaders and formal teams.
Now, having that said to quote the psychologist, we work with Shahab, he always says, it doesn’t matter how good your digital tool is, if your leadership isn’t good, then you know, it’s not going to work. There is something to that.
I think right now with Corona; it becomes very obvious that a lot of teams realize, now we have this video conferencing tool, but how do I change the way I feel? That’s where the routines come in, such as daily stand-ups and sort of making it okay to do just social talk on video and those kinds of things. So, yes, I think there is an element of education to it, but you know, not everyone needs to work remotely. I’m not saying that. I just think the organizations that are moving towards that end of the scale anyway could use some help.
I understand that. So we just looked at your background, and I saw that you’d spent two years almost working with recruitment, and you talk a little bit about leadership and teams and recruitment pools nicely within that sphere. When you started that building Teemly, was there any key points that you could draw on from your experience from meeting differently and recruiting different roles that you kind of bring into building a product?
Hopefully yes. So there’s a bunch of things. First of all, I’ve always had this genuine interest in other people and understanding people and leadership and psychology. I studied management of business, but I also studied a little bit of psychology just because I love people and understanding what makes them tick. During those two years interviewing people as an interviewer, you, a lot of times, you do get to see people’s best sides, of course, cause they want to do well in an interview. But if you manage to create that connection with them, you actually get to really understand what makes people tick. In a highly digital world, it’s not like our brains have developed for the past 10,000 years, humans still have a very basic need of feeling, be seen feeling part of a group, no matter how introvert you are, you still want to feel valued by your colleagues or your manager.
I think that I bring in every day in terms of, you know, discussing the product, road map and features. Also, I think people underestimate the importance of having fun at work. Now I heard, I don’t know if this is true, but I heard a rumour that Microsoft teams like since Corona the usage of Gifs has literally exploded, and there is this human touch to it, and it makes sense. Yes, I do bring it into the product, I think in terms of what else I do bring into Teemly, having worked in recruitment and having worked with building teams and helping managers build teams is probably just understanding the differences between different types of organizations.
I’ve worked in multinationals, I’ve worked internationally, I’ve worked in family-owned businesses, small ones. There’s a tremendous, difference in both leadership, I’m not saying it’s the same, same, no matter if it’s multinational or not, but just understanding a specific organization’s needs helps when you’re trying to target specific organizations that you’re trying to build the tool for.
That’s great. Just tell me a little bit more about your founding team. It’s you and your co-founder Oleg, is that correct?
That is correct. Yes.
Tell us about him and also, do you have anybody else that you’re working with too?
Yes. Currently, we’re a team of four and a half, I would say, but we’re constantly growing. It’s Oleg and me who are the co-founders. Oleg and I are so different, and that’s exactly what makes us such a strong co-funding duo I’d say. He is absolutely amazing, like we were ninety-eight people that were accepted to the Antler program and 45% of those were, had a tech background and 55% had a business background, and sometimes the other people tell me, wow, Charlotte, it’s really funny, you’re the most talkative extrovert person. Oleg, I didn’t even speak to him, but you know, you guys are just like so different, but such a fun combination.
Now what makes it work is that we; one have different skills different strengths, two we really respect each other. Oleg has a background; he’s both a data scientist and a machine learning expert. He’s been in gaming. He’s been with Klarna as a data scientist. He’s been with Ikea. He’s from Ukraine; we have had, quite some developers there. He is extremely humble, very intelligent. I think because we have such different backgrounds and different ways of working. Just to give a concrete example, as I had never worked with daily stand-ups before I was famous for walking down the hallways to Coca-Cola to like pull people into a room when I needed something. But you know, in Oleg’s world, you have daily stand-ups, because that’s what you have. So it’s when we bridge those worlds when it gets really exciting because that also means we build a tool for people who come from both worlds.
Then it’s Oleg then we have more people on the product side and also a person on the customer success side.
Okay, fantastic. Tell me, I’m quite curious about, and maybe not all of the listeners know so much about you can just take a couple of seconds and describe what it is and how you guys, found each other within the program?
Yeah, sure. As I said, it’s basically a program where we were ninety-eight individuals, and then it’s a VC fund that’s behind all of this. Then they say, okay, kids go play, in 10 weeks it’s time for you to pitch. It’s the sort of dragons then set up, pitching, find a co-founder, find an idea, you know, make a really good research, make a business case and business model and everything, and then we’ll see if we want to invest in you guys.
That’s exactly what happened. Then this craziness starts. It’s like a TV show. It’s like a non-romantic version of like big brother meets dragons then meets, I don’t know what those bachelors, those crazy series where everyone’s like dating, but you’re not obviously dating, dating, you’re just like co-founder dating, which means you’re just trying to working with everyone. Then you track out, which means you’re in an exclusive, co-funder relationship and you trial work and then you break up. So both Oleg and I were working with other people before on other business ideas. After a few weeks, we decided to go back into the pool of people up for grabs, and that’s when this started. I think we were 35 constellations of teams pitching to Antler after ten weeks and they decided to invest in 15.
Out of the, I’m not a hundred per cent sure of the right number, but I think out of the ninety-eight, that started the program, we were twenty-eight people left after ten weeks.
Fantastic. They’ve really helped no only with the foundation of your Teemly story, and they’ve also helped to fund you as well.
Yes, yes. Yes. And that’s what they’re designed for. They have this philosophy of helping and coaching first-time entrepreneurs. We’ve got office space from them the three months after the first pitch, we got the first investment, and we got coaching and other support as well. That’s been a really, I have to say a very good platform for us to start our business, but now we’re not sitting with them anymore, but we’re still in touch with them quite a lot, actually.
That’s great. I saw on the news that you’ve recently raised some capital. Can you just tell us a little bit about that story?
That was exciting. I had never raised a financing round before, so that was new, you know, it’s amazing when you become an entrepreneur, and you just have to be wearing all those hats and all of a sudden you find yourself as a head of finance and investor relations and you didn’t even know that meant two months ago.
Yeah. So essentially what we did was once we got the Antler investment, we had a choice. Oleg could code the MVP himself, and it would take longer, or we could get help, but we would burn more cash. We decided to run for it, at the same time, start our fundraising quite early. So we started talking to investors already in November. Antler had this big demo day on the 15th of January where they invited around 400 investors, and we had a three-minute pitch, all the 15 companies had a three-minute pitch. Now we already from the beginning said that demo day we’re not going to use that as the big bang to our fundraising, that’s just if something comes through on top of that, it’s going to be an icing on the cake.
We were almost fully subscribed already when we were pitching, then what happened was it was a really emotional roller coaster ride. We actually got oversubscribed, and we were about to sign the papers with only Angels when a professional player came in and said, ‘actually we want to join the round’. All of a sudden, we had to start picking whom we put onto the cap table, which was luxurious and a strange position to be in. So we closed that round. We have, now we have Illumina ventures., We have Desola, which is a recruitment firm. We obviously still have Antler, and we have some fantastic angels. We sort of picked are angel investors in the sense that we thought of it as a great football team, like, what do we need, what competencies do we need? Having a former CFO of a tech startup, having an investment professional, having a CEO of a tech scale-up, having a SAS expert and a product expert and psychologist, you know, that kind of thinking, that’s how we designed our investors.
Fantastic. I mean, first of all, congratulations, that’s amazing. I really loved looking at the story from afar.
Usually, I ask what are your top three tips for scaling, but instead, I’m going to change that question and say, what are your top three tips for any of the gig platforms out there, or any future of work type businesses. What are your top tips when you are looking for investment, especially with this climate now?
Well, this climate, I think the rules just changed everything. So I feel a bit bad even, you know, talking about investing during Corona times because I think the absolute bulk of companies have been very negatively affected by COVID, and we are, although it’s a very, very sad reason as to why we are one of the few companies or areas where we see increased demand as a consequence.
In terms of funding, everyone told us it’s going to take time, and it did take time, but one of the best advice we got from one of our coaches, who’s absolutely amazing Warren Campbell. He said, guys, you know, this can drag on forever, you just set a date. You don’t necessarily, if it’s the first time you’re fundraising, know.
You respect everyone, and everyone wants more material, and they’re doing their due diligence, and it makes sense, but it can drag on forever. So we reached the point where we said, okay, everyone, great, you’re interested, but this is the info you get. We’re not going to spend another week doing spreadsheets for you or pretty PowerPoints, because we don’t have time. We want to build a product and a business here, so just make up your minds. It’s a bit harsh to do that. I think that is one thing then yes, do budget time, we aim to close on the 30th of January, all the paperwork and the bank transfer and everything was done on the 25th of February. We were done by the 30th, but it just takes time to file all the paperwork. Then I think thirdly, stay true to – that sounds very cheesy now – to your self and your values. Go for the right investors. It’s very tempting; I guess if you’re in those situations where, you only have one investor who’s interested, and that’s what you’ve got to do, but then if that doesn’t feel right, we were warned by rather thinking twice before bringing the wrong investors on board. They can also consume a lot of energy if you’ve got the wrong ones.
That’s great. I mean, I love all of those tips. I mean, as you said, it’s a different time that we are operating in right now, and of course, there’s going to be, unfortunately, some businesses that will suffer from this and we can already see that, but then there’s also business opportunities that are being created as well. It’d be interesting to see what sort of businesses will be created as a result of this turmoil that we face.
Yeah. Yeah. It’s interesting, I spoke to one of the contact in the investor community here in Stockholm and just last week, more and more on a general level about the market situation. She said, you know, there’s been so many crisis, it is a tremendous crisis, absolutely, everyone should make sure to have a longer runway. But in a way enterprises are forced to think differently as well during crisis time, and the efficiency becomes different, and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. So, I’m not saying that that’s encouraging in any way, but I think that that can be great things coming out of a crisis as long as you’re agile and you just need to adapt. I mean, even we adapt, right. It’s not like we just continue as usual just because COVID hit either. So, and that’s the advantage if you’re a small business you are nimble, you can just change.
I think on that, that’s a great way for us to wrap up the episode today. Thank you so much, Charlotte, for joining us and chatting with you and good luck with Teemly.
Thank you. Thank you so much and take care and don’t get sick, please.