B2B startups often rely on word-of-mouth and online advertising to get the word out about their products. Over time, they often add a marketing and sales department, but they typically don’t have the resources to build a full-blown salesforce for their products that can pitch business owners directly, especially when they are looking to expand internationally.
Universal Avenue, a Stockholm, Sweden-based startup, aims to give companies access to an on-demand workforce of trained freelance brand ambassadors who can go out and sell their product for them.
As Universal Avenue CEO and co-founder Johan Lilja tells me, the company is currently active in Sweden and Greece, but plans to roll out its service in the U.K later this year, followed by a few more countries in Europe and, eventually, North America. In the long run, the company plans to give brands access to a global workforce.
As Lilja disclosed in our conversation, the company raised a $2 million seed round from Rovio co-founder Kaj Hed’s Moor fund last year to fuel this expansion. The company’s current customers include Spotify Business (which is only available in Sweden) and payments solution iZettle.
Currently, Universal Avenue focuses on businesses where it’s relatively easy for its brand ambassador to reach a decision maker. Those include hotel, hostels, restaurants, clubs, bars, cafes, stores, beauty shops, tour operators, museums and similar businesses. As Lilja argues, it’s pretty hard for a B2B company to reach the owner of a small pizza restaurant to pitch a food delivery service, reputation management product or booking solution. Using the company’s on-demand solution, these companies now have access to a sales force that can be called up when needed.
Here is how this works in practice. Say you want to get more businesses to partner with your “Uber for food delivery” startup. Universal Avenue will work with you to create a training program for its sales force and the ambassadors can then work through this material through the company’s mobile app. To get certified to work with your brand, they then take a test — also through the app. Universal Avenue then provides the freelancers with potential leads through its app (though they can also work their own leads, too) and once a sale closes, they get a kickback from every sale.
Because the ambassadors also provide real-time feedback — including why they may not have been able to close a sale — businesses could also use the service to research new markets they are planning to enter.
The company typically charges brands about half of their year one revenues from every sale and the ambassador then gets half of that when they close the sale directly. Universal Avenue also has an in-house team to close deals for ambassadors who would rather leave that part to others. In that case, the ambassadors only get 25 percent of the sale.
Lilja argues that companies are already comfortable outsourcing many core functions of their business to cloud-based solutions (think Zenefits for HR or LiveOps for customer support). In his view, adding an outsourced sales team represents a natural next step for these businesses.