Pandemic disruption to supply chains has played havoc with demand-forecasting - or trying to glean what your customers will want, and when, and how to fulfil that demand.
Quantiful says its demand-forecasting software, called "QU", is here to help. The Auckland startup hs already landed marquee customers including James Pascoe, IAG, Spark, Silver Fern Farms, Farmlands, Tourism NZ, Fonterra and, through a partnership with Colmar Brunton, NZ Rugby.
QU - which is cloud-based and AI-powered, as is now de rigueur for any new software platform - scours 90 data sources, including all major social and search platforms, plus economic and sales trend data, to divine customers' buying intent.
The idea is that people's digital life - taken collectively - can be melded with other indicators to help predict their real-life buying behaviour.
Quantiful then marries those findings with transactions data from its clients, and its dashboard spits out demand forecasts - the better to help its clients get the right products on the shelves at the right time. Or in the case of the likes of IAG, the right service.
QU has been in the market for around five years, but it's gained momentum from the Covid outbreak, and has just raised $2.5 million in a round that included two of its customers: Farmers Trading Company and IAG, and was supported by Sir Stephen Tindall's K1W1.
The funds were raised at a post-money valuation of $15m, and means Quantiful has now raised $4.5m, including two earlier seed rounds.
The James Pascoe Group-owned Farmers, which led the round, was a new investor, while K1W1 and IAG were doubling down on previous punts.
Quantiful was co-founded by Alan Gourdie, chief executive of Telecom's consumer division in the four years leading up to its split into Spark and Chorus, and Jamie Cormack - a former supply chain specialist at Spark whose previous positions include top roles with logistics, warehousing and supply chain outfit Brightstar in NZ and Malaysia (Brightstar, which has just rebranded Likewize, is a global giant in mobile phone distribution and various other services).
The new funds will be used for R&D, and to expand an NZTE-supported push into Asia that's already underway through reseller partners in Singapore and Indonesia (where Jakarta-based agro-trading firm Indogal is a client).
Pandemic opened opportunities
So what's been the impact of the pandemic on the young company?
"It's opened opportunities," Goudie says.
"Supply chain disruption caused by Covid has made managing and supply and demand much more volatile and certainly less predictable for many of our customers."
Ironically, while lead times are getting longer, sales demand has never been stronger for many of Quantiful's clients, he adds.
"And as a result they are focusing more on how they can become more efficient and smarter in meeting that demand."
Gourdie pitches QU as part of the demand-forecasting solution and says it integrates easily with customers' existing systems.
Quantiful was IAG's first local investment through its Sydney-based venture capital arm Firemark Ventures
IAG and Quantiful will investigate demand for insurance products – something that is important in today's world when customer's needs and expectations are changing at such a rapid pace, Gourdie says.
For James Pascoe, it's also a strategic investment, and the company's group head of IT, David Lean, will join Quantiful's board.
That tech squeeze
Quantiful is still in growth-over-profit mode and won't break even until around 2024, Groudie says.
"We have 19 full-time staff - mostly data scientists, data engineers and software engineers," Gourdie says.
There are three roles vacant: two data engineers and a data scientist.
Has it been hard to recruit amid a long-time tech skills shortage that's been exacerbated by border restrictions?
"This is our biggest challenge," Gourdie says.
"We have been very well supported in our growth in NZ and offshore by Callaghan Innovation and NZTE - and in return we have committed to hiring local talent and developing future talent through our intern program.
"Every year we bring on five interns to work with our team, we usually end up hiring two to three full-time afterwards.
"But because of the specialised capabilities we need and the shrinking availability of talent in NZ, we are being forced to look at offshore outsourcing options."
Contracting offshore talent is one way to get around the Covid border squeeze, but it doesn't come cheaply when you're working in a high-end field like AI.
"Our costs have also increased sharply - by around 30 per cent," Gourdie says.
Expanding Amazon partnership
Quantiful has a partnership with Amazon's Amazon Web Services (AWS), which does the heavy lifting behind the scenes when it comes to all that AI computation.
And some of its new capital is earmarked for "investing in R&D resources to upgrade QU with the latest AWS technologies to support increased data loads, continue use of state-of-the-art ML [machine-learning] modelling technologies and ensure scalability of the QU SaaS platform," Gourdie says.
Conveniently, Amazon has just announced a plan for AWS to build a series of giant data centres in Auckland - a project that the tech giant says will involve a $7.5 billion spend over 15 years, and include programmes to help startups with advice and AWS credits.