A Wellington company with an original take on project management software has raised $3.5 million in seed capital - which it says it will use for a push into the US, and new AI tools including one able to spot employee burnout.
Formed on the brink of the pandemic, Projectworks makes cloud-based software aimed at making it easier to run a mid-size consulting or professional services firm.
While project management software is dime-a-dozen, co-founder and chief executive Matthew Hayter says his startup has a couple of differences. It includes several features sometimes found in different software - timesheet, resource planning, revenue-forecasting and expense management - in an all-in-one interface. And Hayter says there's an emphasis on keeping it "crisp and simple", as well as cheaper than traditional alternatives.
The startup already promises to help you "Keep people busy without burning them out" and "Know before you blow past your client's budget".
Hayter says some of the new capital will go toward implementing a backlog of wishlist features that will take this further, in part by using artificial intelligence.
One of the AI tools will focus on spotting employee burnout before it happens. Hayter says it'll cover a range of metrics, which could include simply how long they take to fill in a timesheet.
From one angle, it looks a bit Big Brother, but Hayter says it's about spotting problems with a staff member's wellbeing or, say, indicators they're being stretched between too many projects, before it becomes a serious issue - and they head out the door as part of The Great Resignation.
Another AI tool will predict what resources a project will require, and where pain-points might emerge, based on automated analysis of past projects.
Allcomers are experimenting with AI, but Hayter says Projectworks' usual competition "comes from people being wedded to huge Excel spreadsheets that they've spent ages creating and are loathe to give up".
Where the money's come from
The seed round was led by Lance Wiggs' Punakaiki Fund, which invested $2m. It also featured $1.5m raised through crowdfunded equity platform Snowball Effect and $490,000 chipped in by its Projectworks' own management team.
Projectworks is still at a very early stage in its commercial life. But Hayter says it now has several hundred customers and grew 170 per cent last year.
Earlier adopters include Walkerscott, a Microsoft business applications specialist and Aware Group, a Microsoft partner that numbers TVNZ, the NZ Defence Force and Vodafone NZ among its clients.
Projectworks hit the ground running, winning both the Xero Emerging App Partner of the Year and Microsoft Emerge X competition in 2020, and being a finalist for Xero's gong in 2021.
The fast start reflected that it's not its founders' first time at the rodeo.
Hayter and co-founders Doug Taylor and Julian Clarke all came from another successful tech firm, Provoke Solutions, while head of sales Madeline Bakewell was at Payscale in the US, which she helped to a US$300m exit, and head of product Kathryn Taylor spent five years as a senior designer at Aussie tech darling Atlassian during its explosive growth phase.
February 2022 documentation for the Snowball Effect raise said Projectworks' monthly income from its cloud-based subscription is now running at an annualised revenue rate of $1.36m, with just under $14m forecast by 2024.
"We've proved the model. Now we're ready to scale up," Hayter says.
Today, Projectworks has customers in 40 countries but Australia accounts for around 50 per cent of its revenue. Overall, some 80 per cent of its income is from outside New Zealand.
Now, "Breaking into the US is a big part of our plan because of the size of the addressable market," Hayter says.
His firm will be hiring staff to help make that happen. It currently has a dozen employees, with three coming on next week, and plans to hire another six over the next few months. The new roles will be partly in sales and partly in product development.
Working with other people's products will remain a key part of Projectworks' plans for international expansion.
While Australia has been his firm's biggest market, Hayter says "The UK is also growing fast, thanks to the strong presence of Xero. Building a strategic relationship with Xero is paying dividends as the Xero marketplace acts as a fantastic lead generator." Projectworks also integrates with Xero rival MYOB, among other software ecosystems.
Hayter says "the pandemic has been neutral for us". The outbreak caused some firms to foot-drag on contracts, while others accelerated plans to move to the cloud.
But he also concedes that given his company has not really known any environment other than Covid - it had only months in commercial launch mode before the coronavirus hit - it's hard to tell what impact the pandemic has had.
Notably, Projectworks' crew is already back in the office - perhaps unfashionably for a tech company.
"For product and engineering teams, being together just makes it easier to collaborate," the CEO says. "With sales, it can be easier to work remotely."