Atlanta's Voxa raises $2.5M to add an intelligence layer to enterprise email

By Michael Carney , written on October 9, 2014

From The News Desk

The enterprise has an email problem.

Despite the average employee spending more than one third of their time using email, it’s largely a black box that offers no insight or analytics into productivity. Voxa is an Atlanta-based email intelligence startup that is working to change this by giving management and employees access to details like the number of emails sent and received, average response times, and outstanding requests. The platform also uses natural language processing and machine learning to automate much of the administrative burden of processing email and to deliver intelligent alerts.

Today, Voxa announced $1.5 million in Seed-extension funding, bringing its total funding to date to $2.5 million, all of which was raised in 2014. The latest round was co-led by Ethos Capital Partners and ISS (Information Security Systems) founder Tom Noonan, with participation from PGi (Premiere Global Services Inc.) and existing investor, Pardot founder David Cummings’ Atlanta Ventures. Cummings is a non-operating co-founder of the business and Voxa operates out of his Atlanta Tech Village co-working space. The company was a finalist in Pando’s inaugural Southland Startup Competition earlier this summer.

Voxa’s early offering was focused on adding automation to the CRM, via a Google Apps and Salesforce integration. But with the majority of enterprises still on Outlook and Exchange, the company has since widened its scope and now wants to fix all of email.

“There are email KPIs that every company should be tracking, but they have no visibility,” says Voxa founder and CEO Johnson Cook. “Instead, email is a black hole of time and energy. Voxa makes employers and managers much more productive.”

One example where Voxa can make life a lot easier is in alerting users to unanswered questions in forgotten email conversations. For example, if a users sends an email that says, “When’s a good time to meet to discuss this further?” but doesn’t hear back after a certain period of time, the system can flag that email for follow up. The analysis goes further than simply identifying the word “then” and the “?” to analyzing the context and intent of the message itself, according to Cook.

Because Voxa is targeting the enterprise, including regulated and sensitive industries like healthcare and financial services, privacy and security are of paramount importance. The company deals with this by not storing any of its clients’ emails on its servers. Instead, Voxa connects to a client’s email server and processes the information stored locally. It’s also implementing best-in-class security protocols, in part through the guidance of its investor Tom Noonan’s ISS.

The next phase of growth for Voxa will be about adding more automation, continuing to build out the company’s proprietary natural language engine, and adding enterprise readiness by beefing up security, scalability, and infrastructure, Cook says.

The product is available on a SaaS license and is priced at $30 per month per user, with volume discounts available. The company also offers a feature-limited free version which has lead to bottom-up adoption similar to the way Dropbox and Yammer have spread in the enterprise. This is a key point, as Voxa has just a 12-person team today and only a modest six person sales team. The next six months will be entirely focused on building out the product and proving that it can deliver lasting value, at which point Cook says he will consider shifting his focus and additional resources toward customer acquisition.

It’s still early going for Voxa, which has grown to 30 enterprise accounts and several hundred paid seats since launching earlier this year. At 2,800 seats, the company will reach $1 million in annual recurring revenue, and at 4,000 it will be cashflow positive, according to Cook, who highlights each as key milestones for his young company. The company will be at Dreamforce this coming week, where it will debut its newly broadened vision for adding an “intelligence layer” to all of email (not just the CRM).

“If I can tell a CEO that implementing Voxa will make his salespeople just 2 percent more effective, that’s a big deal for most companies,” Cook says. “We’re seeing gains that are much larger than that.”

Voxa is not alone in trying to solve the email black hole problem. RelateIQ, which was recently acquired by Salesforce for $390 million, offers a similar look into corporate communications and customer relationships.

The Southeast isn’t the first place that springs to mind when thinking of natural breeding grounds for great enterprise SaaS companies. But Voxa’s location has been a major advantage in Cook’s eyes.

Beyond the obvious benefits of cost of living savings, the company has been turning away talented applicants for engineering and product positions, according to the founder. It doesn’t hurt that Cummings, Voxa’s co-founder and early backer, is a bit of a local celebrity and that the company is the favored son of his Tech Village. Also, the Southeast region is home to some of the best sales talent in the nation, and has a large number of giant enterprises within driving distance. So when Voxa is ready to spread its wings, that should provide another layer of a home-court advantage.

These advantages notwithstanding, building a SaaS company outside of the traditional tech hubs can prove challenging. One area in which this crops up is fundraising. Voxa has had no trouble attracting seed capital in its local area – again, in part due to the Cummings tie-in. But when it’s time to raise the big bucks, Silicon Valley and to a lesser extent New York will be the prime targets. Cook took a series of preliminary meetings this summer with top Valley firms, nearly all of which he says expressed interest but also concern over the company’s location.

“We heard lots of, ‘We’d love to invest in your A, but it’s tough for us to do seed deals if you’re not in our backyard,’” Cook says. “We have a clear idea of the benchmarks they’re looking for at that stage, and I think we’re well on our way toward meeting them.”