Levitate, a Raleigh, North Carolina-based marketing platform and customer relationship solution provider, has raised an additional $6 million for its AI-powered software offering small businesses an alternative to mass blast emailing. To date, the startup has raised $12 million from investors, including Tippet Venture Partners, Durham, North Carolina-based Bull City Venture Partners and angel investor Peter Gassner, the co-founder and CEO of Veeva Systems and investor in Zoom.
The company was founded in late 2017 by serial entrepreneur Jesse Lipson, who sold his previous cloud storage and file sharing startup ShareFile to Citrix for $93 million in 2011. Lipson continued to work at Citrix post-acquisition, most recently as corporate vice president and general manager of Citrix Cloud Services business unit.
Itching for an escape from the corporate world, Lipson left the position in 2017 to build Levitate, which has now scaled its service to reach more than 1,000 businesses, which pay for its service on a subscription basis.
Levitate’s software plays in the same general ballpark as buzzy startup Superhuman, which also provides a set of advanced email tools for inbox triage and managing important relationships. But Superhuman does so by offering its own (pricey) email app, which includes a wider range of features for inbox triage and email efficiency, beyond those that typically fall under a CRM or marketing automation umbrella, like customer insights, email tracking or follow-up reminders, for example.
Levitate, by comparison, focuses more specifically on a toolset designed to help businesses or even individual entrepreneurs keep in touch with clients, prospects and other referral sources. This includes tools that let you create rules about who you want to stay in touch with and how, reminders that push you to keep up with your relationships, customizable email templates, relationship analytics and others.
Lipson says he doesn’t think of the software as a CRM.
“We’re not really a CRM. We’re trying to create this new category that we call ‘keep-in-touch marketing,’ which is contrasting to email marketing,” he explains. Email marketing involves blasting out impersonal business emails, often with lots of colors and pictures, to users who can’t reply. “Keep-in-touch marketing is more about quality over quantity. Not building the biggest list. It’s about curating your list of people who you truly know,” says Lipson.
For business customers, expanded options are available, like the ability to import contacts from Excel or .CSV files, as well as from CRM and AMS systems, including Salesforce, HubSpot, Dynamics, AMS 360, QQCatalyst, Cigita, TAM, Epic, Hawksoft, EZLynx and Partner XE. In some cases, particularly with the insurance and financial advisory industries, API integrations are also offered.
The contacts, once imported, are enhanced with publicly available information, like photos, social media links, company information, website address, bio and other details.
Businesses with five users pay $150 per month, which comes out to $30 per seat. However, Levitate offers a free personal plan for one user that has a more limited feature set. Larger businesses can upgrade to a $199 per month plan that includes live onboarding, training and support, as well as a personal marketing coach.
With the additional funding, Levitate aims to build out its AI technology, which today makes suggestions about who to keep in touch with and when. More recently, it rolled out automations that allow users to create workflows around particular types of activities — like sending out a welcome kit to new customers, for instance. The AI also more newly is able to decide if someone’s name is correct — as in, if it’s a real first name, or if it’s a company name — so emails don’t sound impersonal because of bad data.
Longer-term, Lipson envisions a system where emails can write themselves using technology like OpenAI’s new GPT-3 language-generating AI.
“I thought that’s what we’d be starting to bring in five years from now, but it could be something that we could maybe bring in a little bit sooner,” he says. “People are so overwhelmed and busy but they do know they want to keep in touch. Our role is not to fully automate it but just help them with that process,” Lipson adds.
Ahead of its latest round, Levitate was named one of the Triangle’s most promising new startups. It raised $6 million last year, then did again just now, amid the coronavirus pandemic. The company plans to use the new funds to invest further in the product and raising awareness about its solution in the market. It’s also planning to hire around 30 people this year across sales, customer success, support and engineering. Currently, the Raleigh-based company is a team of 80.