Life was pretty sweet for Auckland-based PredictHQ when the Herald visited in the New Year.
The software company had just raised US$22 million ($34m) in a Series B round that closed before Christmas (on top of an earlier US$10m round - the better to expand its service, which alerts the likes of airlines, car-share companies, hotels and retailers to major events, helping them to manage supply and demand.
The likes of Uber, Qantas and Domino's were already anchor customers. No one had been supplying a one-stop shop for every major city worldwide, for alerts about events, from big sports games to extreme weather. PredictHQ had quickly expanded into an unfilled niche over the past couple of years.
Everything was buzzing as PredictHQ helped Uber anticipate how many drivers would be needed when, and where, and Domino's to help predict how much pizza dough to prepare, and how many staff to roster, on any given weekend.
But then the pandemic hit and, suddenly, there were far fewer events to track. New Zealand ground to a halt. Many cities around the globe are still in some degree of lockdown.
Sport stopped. Concerts stopped. Most flights were cancelled. Some sports resumed, but to empty stadiums in most places.
"Covid-19 has had an enormous impact on global business," PredictHQ founder Campbell Brown says.
On the face of things, no events seemed bad news for an event-tracking and forecasting company.
And yet, lockdowns and localised Covid outbreaks are also events that multinationals need to know about, if for grimmer reasons.
So PredictHQ added health warnings to its selection of 18 alerts, and started tracking where partial lockdowns or shelter-in-place mandates were in place around the globe.
That feeds into forecast modelling for when a company's business is trailing off, and for when it's going to spring back to life.
"For example, it would have been really useful for McDonald's to realise Kiwis were
going to order more than 300,000 burgers on the day New Zealand moved to level 3 so they could have prepared, not run out of stock so quickly - and roster on enough staff to avoid the 30-plus-car queues at their drive-throughs like at the Akoranga Drive store," Brown says, with a suspiciously specific reference to his local Maccas.
More broadly, he says, PredictHQ is now positioned to help large companies plan their global recovery.
"We've been working closely with many customers as they plan for the recovery - harnessing pockets of new demand, mitigating additional losses from other impactful events like natural disasters and ensuring their potentially obsolete forecasting models are now ready for the next normal," Brown says.
Correctly predicted a slump, if not because of Covid
It also helped that the startup raised that $34m in the New Year - which at the time Brown and co-founder Rob Kern saw as a hedge against a common or garden variety economic slump, which they thought was on the cards for 2020.
"We raised a pre-emptive Series B earlier this year, in part to prepare for what we saw as a likely US recession, although none of us could quite have predicted this chain of events. So we are well capitalised and we run our company sustainably."
Diversification has also helped - even if, again, the move to widen PredictHQ's business had not been made in anticipation of an outbreak.
"It's validated a decision we made a couple of years ago to expand beyond our initial travel focus, and into retail, CPG [consumer packaged goods], transport and finance customers," Brown says.
(Brown and Kerr first started PredictHQ because of their experience running a car and camper van rental outfit (since sold to Webjet), where they were constantly caught out by spikes in travel.)
No layoffs, growing revenue
While the privately-held PredictHQ does not release financials, MSD records that the 65-strong company did not apply for the wage subsidy.
"There have been no layoffs or furloughs and we don't anticipate either. Our revenue continues to grow so we didn't need the wage subsidy," Brown says.
"While we have regrettably lost one customer because of Covid so far - that was in the accommodation space - we've also signed on several new ones and just today we signed one of the world's top-five largest companies," he adds. (More on that shortly.)
PredictHQ has just launched a new "Notifications" feature, which it says will make its service radically more accessible for an entire company - not just the data scientists.
"The most significant impact [of Covid] has been it has forced us to accelerate our vision and roadmap," Brown says.
"The Notifications platform launched today is about six months ahead of schedule as we wanted to make sure our demand intelligence was as accessible as it could be."
PredictHQ's core product still makes no concessions to the layman; it remains aimed at professional forecasters and number-crunchers working at large companies.
The new, easily digestible Notifications service runs on top, and "provides instant alerts about unscheduled events such as severe weather and health warnings, as well as keeping key operational managers and decision-makers such as VPs of revenue informed about what's impacting their demand," Brown says.
Brown doesn't see any need for another capital raise.
"Our focus right now is on maniacally expanding the product, supporting and growing our customer base, and looking after the PredictHQ team through the stress of the pandemic," Brown says.
"We have continued to invest a lot in our team over the past few months and worked really hard to ensure people feel connected and supported, especially our working parents. We are moving to a fulltime hybrid [working from office or home] model before the end of winter."