Covering public companies can be a bit of a drag. They grow some modest amount each year, and their constituent analysts pester them with questions about gross margin expansion and sales rep efficiency. It can be a little dull. Then there are startups, which grow much more quickly — and are more fun to talk about.
That’s the case with Shelf.io. The company announced an impressive set of metrics this morning, including that from July 2020 to July 2021, it grew its annual recurring revenue (ARR) 4x. Shelf also disclosed that it secured a $52.5 million Series B led by Tiger Global and Insight Partners.
That’s quick growth for a post-Series A startup. Crunchbase reckons that the company raised $8.2 million before its Series B, while PitchBook pegs the number at $6.5 million. Regardless, the company was efficiently expanding from a limited capital base before its latest fundraising event.
What does the company’s software do? Shelf plugs into a company’s information systems, learns from the data and then helps employees respond to queries without forcing them to execute searches or otherwise hunt for information.
The company is starting with customer service as its target vertical. According to Shelf CEO Sedarius Perrotta, Shelf can absorb information from, say, Salesforce, SharePoint, legacy knowledge management platforms and Zendesk. Then, after training models and staff, the company’s software can begin to provide support staff with answers to customer questions as they talk to customers in real time.
The company’s tech can also power responses to customer queries not aimed at a human agent and provide a searchable database of company knowledge to help workers more quickly solve customer issues.
Per Perrotta, Shelf is targeting the sales market next, with others to follow. How might Shelf fit into sales? According to the company, its software may be able to offer staff already written proposals for similar-seeming deals and other related content. The gist is that at companies that have lots of workers doing similar tasks — clicking around in Salesforce, or answering support queries, say — Shelf can learn from the activity and get smarter in helping employees with their tasks. I presume that the software’s learning ability will improve over time, as well.
Shelf, around 100 people today, hopes to double in size by the end of the year, and then double again next year.
That’s where the new capital comes in. Hiring folks in the worlds of machine learning and data science is very expensive. And because the company wants to scale those hires quickly, it will need a large bank balance to lean on.
Quick ARR growth was not the only reason Shelf was able to secure such an outsized Series B, at least when compared to how much capital it had raised before. Per Perrotta, Shelf has 130% net dollar retention and no churn to report, meaning its customers are both sticky and expand organically.
While Shelf is interesting today and has certainly found niches it can sell into in its current form, I am more curious about how far the company can take its machine learning system, called MerlinAI. If its tech can get sufficiently smart, its ability to prompt and help employees could reduce onboarding time and the overall cost of employee training. That would be a huge market.
This is the sort of deal that we expect to see Tiger in — an outsized investment (compared to prior rounds) into a high-growth company that has lots of market room. Whatever price Tiger just paid for the company’s stock, a few years of continued growth should de-risk the investment. By our read, Tiger is really just the market-leading bull on software market growth in the long term. Shelf fits into that thesis neatly.