Always Be Closing

Given the choice to market to an affinity network or to sell to an at large audience of users, I’d choose the affinity network 10 times out of 10. The passion and interconnectedness of these communities creates the kind of selling leverage that isn’t available generally. When I first heard about Atlas Powered, a time management and collaboration platform built for the direct selling and multi-level marketing crowd by veterans of the industry, it was this aspect that caught my attention.

Today, the young Los Angeles startup is announcing a $700,000 Seed financing from Tech Coast Angels, Maverick Angels, Pasadena Angels, Angel Capital Entrepreneur Fund, Clark Landry, and other individual investors. The company, which graduated out of Santa Monica’s Launchpad LA accelerator earlier this month, has previously raised $600,000 in angel funding. The Android and iOS product has been in product has been in private alpha for several months and will be available in private beta in February

In direct selling, if you’re not meeting new people daily and pitching them your product or service, you’re not making money. This makes the industry acutely aware of the limitations of current calendar and contact management tools. Atlas has built a mobile platform that centralizes calendars, contacts, tasks, and notes for collaboration among teams and for easy appointment scheduling.

Additionally, in multi-level marketing, team leaders need a level of transparency into the activity of their team members in order to hand down advice, support, and accountability. Taken at scale, this is a massive problem, but one Atlas was purpose-built to solve.

Through Atlas, users can send a meeting invite with multiple time options to anyone, regardless of their calendar software. The system blocks off the selected times in the sender’s calendar for a fixed period of time (i.e. 24 hours) to avoid accidentally creating conflicts, and allows the recipient to respond, automatically creating an appointment in the sender’s calendar. No more back and forth email negotiations, and no need to set a calendar appointment once a final time is selected. If the recipient is also on Atlas, they can see the proposed times overlayed in their calendar and similarly have an appointment auto-generated. If not, then the they can process the invite in a Web browser.

A paid premium version of Atlas also offers custom reporting and team management features that allow leaders to see the appointment setting activity of their team members. The company plans to create custom integrations for individual direct selling companies, which will integrate into their existing Web-based “business centers.”

The company has built a nice early product that would be broadly useful to consumers and professionals in a variety of sectors, but penetrating the productivity and collaboration market is an enormous challenge. The category is extremely saturated and standing out requires a combination of luck and design magic. Without the beachhead of the direct selling community to address, and existing relationships and inroads into that community, Atlas would be a far less compelling story.

One of the most appealing aspects of this market is that, unlike general consumers, these “personal business owners” are comfortable paying for business software. Most in the industry pay $20 to $50 per month for a suite of Web-based business tools offered by their company. Atlas is currently negotiating with several of the largest organizations in the industry to integrate their product and a recurring SaaS fee of $2 to $5 per user, based on individual negotiations.

Atlas has identified a real pain point within the $150 billion per year direct selling industry. Whether the company can polish its beta product and then navigate the sales process with the industry’s largest players is yet to be seen. The other bit of good news stems back to affinity networks. Direct selling organizations are highly competitive, and when one team or one company gets a new tool, everyone wants it. Given this, it’s the first sale that’s going to be the hardest. The founders, CEO Hunter Gray and president Michel Bayan have their work cut out for them to turn this into a legitimate business. Given their background in sales, they may have the chops to pull it off.