One of the bigger impacts of COVID-19 has been that more business than ever before is now being carried out online. To meet that opportunity, today a startup called Apollo.io has raised $110 million.
Apollo built an all-in-one sales intelligence and engagement platform to find sales prospects from a database of 220 million would-be buyers, build out deeper insights on them and their organizations by matching that database to a company’s own data and wider information sources, and then sell to them virtually.
This Series C was led by Sequoia Capital, with previous backers Tribe Capital, Nexus Venture Partners and NewView Capital also participating. Apollo CEO and co-founder Tim Zheng said the company was not disclosing its valuation with this round, but PitchBook — which records this round as closing more than a month ago, in January — notes that it is $910 million post-money. Update: We’ve now confirmed with another source at Apollo that it is $900 million post-money, a big leap considering the ups and downs that the company has faced over the years, including a rebrand and a data breach.
The funding comes on the heels of a period of strong growth for Apollo. Zheng told me that over 160,000 companies are now using its sales tools, working out to around 1 million individuals in all. Not all of these are paying users — it operates on a freemium model — but since its Series B in November, the company said it has seen its paying segment rise by 60% to 16,000+ businesses (up from 9,000). That still works out to 10% of its total user base, but it’s moving in the right direction.
Apollo’s rise, and this funding round, is also a notable case study in how companies that have built effective tools can grow under challenging circumstances. COVID-19 definitely heralded a shift to more business being done virtually, lending more credibility to online channels and generating a lot more demand for tools like Apollo’s.
But Apollo — which first had its start as a product called ZenProspect, which was incubated at Y Combinator and found strong early traction while still there among tech companies and others in its cohort — was definitely not the only one in what has become a pretty crowded space. Competitors include SalesLoft, Cognism, Reply.io, ZoomInfo, HubSpot and Outreach, among many others, delivering either more focused point solutions or — like Apollo — aiming to provide a wider all-in-one experience covering different aspects of a salesperson’s IT toolkit.
Apollo’s pitch is that it is providing a more compelling product to the market on a couple of levels.
The product itself is an exercise in big-data analytics, giving intelligence to users on who best to target, at which company, who might match best with what the salesperson is selling. On top of that, Apollo is presenting this as an all-in-one product to those customers. They can make one purchasing decision and use a single platform to run their sales processes, with tools to source prospects, design and run campaigns to target them, and manage the sales process and strategy. It then provides intelligence to assess how well different approaches have performed.
(That also leaves the door open for the company to build tools to go further down the funnel. Consider, for example, tools that analyze phone calls in real time, providing prompts to salespeople to tailor their pitch.)
Beyond that, the company has shown resilience in its user numbers and wider business after facing a data breach some years ago.
In 2018, as we reported at the time, the company discovered that its prospects database — at the time it contained around 200 million records — was stolen by hackers after a system upgrade at the startup exposed some vulnerabilities in its network. Apollo also disclosed that the breach involved some of its customers’ data but didn’t provide details on what.
When discussing the breach at the time, Apollo said that the prospects’ data was publicly available information, and thus not “sensitive” data, although it’s still a bad look, contributes to the wider trove of information that hackers are amassing on people and companies that can be used for phishing and other targeted attacks, and points to questions about how serious the breached company is about securing data and preventing further leaks.
Zheng had this to say about the breach. “2018’s data breach elevated security to the forefront of company’s priorities. Since then, we have gone through a radical revamp of our technical, HR, and compliance infrastructure, and obtained both SOC-2 and ISO-27001 security certification every year since 2019. Our business showed resilience as we practiced complete transparency with our customers and showed them the steps taken to improve our security stature.”
On a positive note, today’s funding round, valuation and growth stats seem to indicate that Apollo has done what’s necessary to keep investors and customers on its side.
“Apollo.io simplifies the convoluted and manual processes of sales prospecting—ultimately, making smart, data-driven GTM simple and accessible to all,” said Sonya Huang, a partner at Sequoia, in a statement. “Tim and the Apollo team have built a product-led tool that is beloved by thousands of customers. We couldn’t be more excited to partner with Apollo on their journey to help every company reach its full potential.”