They've come a long way since their days as two men in a Ponsonby garden shed, just four years ago.

Auckland-founded startup AskNicely has raised US$10 million ($15m) in its first major funding raising.

The Series A round was led by Nexus Venture Partners - a venture capital outfit that operates across the US and India. Existing investors Blackbird Ventures (the Australian investment company which is backed social media tool Canva) and Sir Stephen Tindall's K1W1 also chipped in more money.

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AskNicely makes software for real-time customer satisfaction surveys and gauging a company's "net promoter score" or NPS, a trendy metric derived from taking the number of positive mentions it gets from customers, then taking away the number of negative mentions for a net score ranging somewhere from -100 to 100.

Co-founder and chief executive Aaron Ward did not want to put a post-money valuation on the company or reveal stakes.

He also declined to discuss financials but said the business is on track to hit profit in 2020.

The number of companies using its software worldwide now numbers more than 1000.

When the Herald first caught up with Ward and co-founder John Ballinger, in 2015, they were a two-men-in-a-shed startup, as the photographic evidence of the time documents:

Two men in a shed: Ward and Ballinger in 2015.
Two men in a shed: Ward and Ballinger in 2015.

But although only a year old, their company had already landed some big-name backing from the ubiquitous Sir Stephen and Mike Carden - a veteran of a successful software exit with Sonar6 (and since 2018 AskNicely's chairman).

Since then, it's grown to 50 staff - split between 35 in Portland, Oregon (marketing, sales, customer success, finance, HR), and 15 in Auckland (product and engineering) - "mirroring the Pushpay structure", Ward says, name-checking the NZX-listed mobile payment high flyer that has successfully worked an Auckland/Seattle setup.

"We're using the money to double our product and engineering team in Ponsonby - investing $5 million over the next year - and scaling up sales and marketing in the US," says Ward.

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The co-founder is now based in the US on a full-time basis (he moved his family across in February last year), while Ballinger runs the team in Auckland.

Why Oregon?

Ward says: "It's the most customer-obsessed city in the world."

It also doesn't hurt that the Pacific Northwest is something of a tech hub, with Microsoft and Amazon also based region, and Google recently opening a major office in Oregon.

AskNicely - Emerging Company of the Year at last year's Hi-Tech Awards - is up against traditional survey platform heavyweights like Qualtrics, which was recently bought by SAP for US$8 billion, heading off its planned IPO.

What's its point-of-difference?

"AskNicely enables businesses to actually improve the customer experience rather than just measure it. We do this by providing specific feedback every day to every team member and powerful tools to simplify following up with customers," Ward says.

AskNicely has also just released a new product, Conversations, which it says captures feedback with a familiar chat format where questions vary dynamically based on intelligence about the customer's situation and sentiment.

"Traditional surveys feel more like an interrogation when they should be conversations," Ward says.

"With AskNicely Conversations, businesses now get more actionable feedback from more customers by avoiding asking lots of unnecessary questions and make sharing feedback feel like answering a text message - it just takes seconds."

The new platform supports all popular customer experience metrics including Net Promoter Score (NPS), Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) and Customer Effort Score (CES) and integrates with more than 40 different platforms including Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics, Salesforce Marketing Cloud, Intercom, Zendesk and Hubspot.