Investing in Clearword

Posted: 8 Feb 2022

A love letter to meetings

Announced a couple of weeks ago, Connect led Clearword’s $3.25M seed round. Here is the story of how and why we have partnered with David and the amazing Clearword team.

Reinventing the meeting experience

Making fun of unproductive meetings has always been a classic. We all joke about excessive soul-sucking meeting culture. But that pain is real. Meeting inefficiencies have been a thorn in the side of productivity for a long time, and with the normalisation of distributed teams, Zoom fatigue and information overload have become a huge problem with no end in sight. We all record tons of hours of video and audio and generate a million pages of transcription. But this is not the solution, it doesn’t scale and doesn’t take advantage of the new opportunity created by a fundamental shift:

meetings have moved from offline to the cloud. Hence meetings are now software.

What happens when product founders are obsessed with a problem and there is a novel software product opportunity? They build.

This is exactly the story of Clearword’s Co-Founder and CEO, David Coallier. As Director of Engineering at Sophos, David managed a team of 70 engineers spread across India, the UK, and the US, spending days and nights on Zoom meetings just trying to stay on top of things and close to his people. Not only was this not scalable, it didn’t work. His teams drifted away, severely impacting human capital.

Driven by the desire to solve his own pain, David started Clearword last year with the mission to make meetings and remote working healthier.

“Hello Opinionated Product!”

I’ve been fascinated by and investing in the Future of Work for many years. Back in 2019, I shared a few perspectives in “My SaaS (and Super SaaS™) Points Of View.”

Fast forward to today, the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of remote and hybrid teams and with it, the demand for purpose-built work-tech SaaS. These products must be natively designed for distributed teams with specific intent for cross-team collaboration.

On the quest for built-for-remote SaaS (and bored by video meeting madness), I heard about Clearword and was immediately intrigued. So I reached out to David directly with a cold email and a teasing subject: “Hello Opinionated Product!”

Perfect timing: I found out that David was fundraising (“duh”) and looking for a lead investor. We engaged in several chats, product roadmap and GTM workshops, and category design sessions.

For me, it was (professional) love at first sight. Not only is David exceptionally witty, amicable, and humble, he is also a very compelling founder for many reasons. He is a natural-born entrepreneur — he’s been coding since he was 12 and sold his first tech company at 16.

He’s a self-proclaimed “freak for efficiency” and has those product founder attributes we love to back at Connect: product-first, UX-obsessed, scale-driven (tweet)

And of course, he has an inspiring cause: to promote a healthier, more productive working environment and create the future of what it means to meet online. His best line: “I am obsessed with the problem, almost delusional that I can fix it for everyone.”

Rory and Sitar shared my enthusiasm and conviction, and together, we convinced David to partner with Connect. 🙌🏻🥰

We led the round and HelloWorld, Act Venture, Unpopular and several other individual investors joined in, including Oyster’s founder Tony Jamous and TrueLayer’s co-founder Luca Martinetti — both founders we’ve backed here at Connect.

How Clearword fits our investment thesis

Opinionated products

  • Opinion #1: Video is inefficient to consume. It’s long and hard to navigate. Text always wins but transcription doesn’t address the problem; it just generates more data without context, which in turn simply creates more noise.
  • Opinion #2: People should attend the information and the meeting outcome — not the meeting itself.
  • Opinion #3: Leaders should be informed to support, not informed to micromanage.

Crafted with love

David and his Co-Founder/CPO, Daire Irwin, are true product crafters in love with the problem. And Clearword is their love letter to meetings. They are redesigning how online meetings should work from the first principle — one meeting at a time. Here’s an example of their product development thinking: “In each phase of a meeting, there is a lot of friction, which for us is both a problem and a product opportunity. We decide what to prioritise by asking what will deliver the fastest time-to-value and create the most value to our customers.”

Loved By many

With a $40B market expected to grow to $100B in 5 years, the opportunity to empower team and organisational growth for companies around the world is ripe. Clearword sits at the intersection of collaboration + communication + productivity which are amongst the largest SaaS categories.

Vectors of value

In order to invest, we look for two essential criteria: an outstanding founding team and a great fit with our investment thesis. Clearword also brings two superpowers we all know to be huge value multipliers when building legendary SaaS companies:

  1. A product-led growth engine organically baked into the product: users invite external and internal people to a branded meeting page.
  2. SOR + SOE + SOI = three value systems combined:
  • System of Record: Find all your meetings’ content and context in one place with powerful cross-meeting search and analytics
  • System of Engagement: Collaborate before, during, and after your meetings
  • System of Intelligence: With transcription, indexing, and voice-command detection that get more accurate over time through proprietary machine learning, Clearword really understands your specific company business language

Our take on what the future holds

COVID-19 has accelerated the transition to distributed teams and remote work by at least 10 years. While teams have been able to transition quickly to online calls, they haven’t yet adapted how meetings are planned and run. The first player to successfully frame and solve this new problem will win the category. Speed of adoption and execution will be another crucial factor to success.

Now that the alpha is ready, David and I are eating our own spaghetti (the more appetising Italian version of “dogfooding”). In fact, we’ve started running our board meetings on the Clearword platform. By the time we IPO, I won’t need to attend — I’ll just review the summary. 😊