WhatsApp is the go-to messaging platform for many offices, and even though WhatsApp works well it is not optimized for professional use, but this London startup is. Guild is the professional messaging app that is private, GDPR-compliant, and designed solely for work use. It has built-in features such as professional profiles and it focuses on protecting the user’s professional reputation (you can edit or delete any message you post at any time).
London TechWatch spoke with veteran CEO and founder Ashley Friedlein to discuss how a popular, successful seed round provides Guild with the resources to may a foray into the messaging app space.
Who were your investors and how much did you raise?
We have 28 individual private investors including the two founders, Ashley Friedlein and Matthew O’Riordan. We raised £880k ($1.2M) as a seed round.
Tell us about Guild’s product or service.
Guild is a messaging app for private professional groups. The WhatsApp for work. Guild is GDPR compliant and ad-free.
What inspired you to start Guild?
We think it is time professionals had a messaging app that is properly private, GDPR-compliant and designed just for work use. Research suggests there are already over half a billion people using WhatsApp for professional use and that’s the market Guild is going after.
How is Guild different?
It is designed specifically for professional use, rather than consumer use, so there are professional profiles for example. Facebook has its professional equivalent in LinkedIn but WhatsApp does not have a professional equivalent. Also, Guild is GDPR-compliant where WhatsApp is not and Guild focuses on the individual’s privacy and protecting their professional reputation e.g. you can always edit or delete any message you post, whereas in WhatsApp you cannot after an hour.
What market is Guild targeting and how big is it?
We are targeting the business use of WhatsApp. According to our own research of 500 UK/US professionals, 38% of WhatsApp users also use it for professional purposes which equates to at least 600M users globally. Of that, 75 % would like a separate messaging app just for work use.
What’s your business model?
We charge the hosts of groups an annual fee. Members are free. Guild Black, our self-service product, costs £350 per year and is limited to 50 members. Guild Bespoke, our enterprise offering, starts at £3K a year for up to 300 members, customised branding, and dedicated account management.
What lessons have you learned from founding Econsultancy that you have been able to apply to Guild?
The importance of recurring revenue in your business model. And you should only hire the best possible people.
What was the funding process like?
Given there are 28 different investors it took some time (around 6 months in total) just to do all the meetings and follows ups. But otherwise, it was quite painless as private investors are less demanding on the legals and due diligence than venture capitalists or other institutional investors. We used the SeedLegals platform to handle all the documents and e-signing which helped a lot.
What are the biggest challenges that you faced while raising capital?
I was fortunate to have a track record of success with my first business, and lots of professional contacts, so the only real challenge was the time it took up.
What factors about your business led your investors to write the check?
Mostly, they are betting on me. They like the idea and the opportunity but more than that the investors are trusting that I can make it work. Having had one big success with Econsultancy obviously helps a lot.
What are the milestones you plan to achieve in the next six months?
We want to demonstrate product-market fit i.e. that we have a product that customers actually want and are prepared to pay for. We also want to create a scalable/replicable sales and marketing approach.
What advice can you offer companies in London that do not have a fresh injection of capital in the bank?
Too much capital can make you lazy. Being frugal is a good thing. But really you should have at least 6 months of runway before you are going to run out of cash, so you need to understand your monthly burn rate and cashflow really well.
Where do you see the company going now over the near term?
We’re busy hiring into our sales/marketing function and will be focusing on the product and sales. Initially, we will focus on the UK market and some specific target sectors, like professional membership organisations, before we go more international.
What’s your favorite outdoor activity in London?
I walk a lot in London. I’d recommend walking along the Hampstead Pergola and Hill Garden.