Universal Avenue is playing squarely in the on-demand economy with an app and service that lets companies, including startups, hire sales people (or ‘brand ambassadors’) on-demand. In the same way, perhaps, that Uber is disrupting traditional taxi firms and private car hire companies, the Swedish startup is taking on traditional marketing agencies or the need to recruit an ‘on foot’ or local sales team of your own.
To help with that mission, the company has raised further funding. Described as a ‘seed extension’ round — leaving room for a larger Series A down the road — Universal Avenue has closed $5 million in new backing from Northzone, and Salesforce Ventures. Previous investor Moor, the fund of Rovio co-founder Kaj Hed, also participated.
Specifically, the problem that Universal Avenue has set out to solve is that it is often difficult to reach decision makers in B2B sales without a face-to-face approach, citing cultural differences, missing contact details and limited online presence.
Furthermore, when wanting to test a new market, such as dipping a toe into international expansion, there’s limits on how you can deploy local sales people or ambassadors locally at reasonable cost. Hence Universal Avenue is tackling it via an on-demand model, something it reckons works particularly well for U.S. startups wanting to set up shop in Europe.
To do this, Universal Avenue recruits independent brand ambassadors locally via its app and trains them up for each specific company using its service, including having each ambassador pass a bespoke test. It them sends them out to drum up business or glean important customer feedback on how viable a market is, on a job-by-job basis.
“Many well-funded startups are looking for ways to grow faster while being cost efficient and keeping risk low,” Johan Lilja, co-founder and CEO of Universal Avenue, tells me in an email. “We give selected brands access to a global infrastructure of freelancing direct sales people working fully on commission.”
For the freelance brand ambassadors who are recruited to the platform, Lilja says they are given the opportunity to “work where, when and how they want”. Therefore the Uber comparison in this instance isn’t too much of a stretch.
“Traditional sales companies or agencies can be be considered competitors on a local level, in a similar way as a local taxi company is a competitor to Uber,” he adds. “We feel confident our approach is better, since our on-demand workforce is truly scalable, mobile and can be ramped up and down in volume as brands require unlike a traditional sales company. Likewise we can access hard to reach countries/cities or even villages due to the flexible nature of our solution, something regular sales companies cannot.”
Meanwhile, I’m told that Universal Avenue now has 20 full time hires and has people in Stockholm, London (based at the WeWork co-working space) and Athens, working with brands such as Spotify Business, iZettle, Wrapp and Shopify.