The investment team behind the Rockaway Capital’s successful investments in start-ups like Productboard, Brand Embassy, Gjirafa, or Storyous is launching a new venture capital fund, the Rockaway Ventures Fund, with…
Brand Embassy, a start-up established by Vít Horký and Damián Brhel in 2011, has become an extraordinarily successful project that has recently gone beyond the borders of the Czech Republic and even beyond Europe. The technology firm was a member of the first-ever edition of the StartupYard accelerator and has gradually become a major global player in the field of digitalisation of customer care. Brand Embassy has managed to grow significantly on an annual basis while expanding to global markets and currently aiding the digital transformation of the biggest players in the areas of telecommunications, banking and e-commerce.
One of the initial investors that believed in Brand Embassy’s potential was Jakub Havrlant, who at the beginning of 2014 announced one of the first investments in the firm under his Rockaway group. After six years, during which Rockaway’s business spread across Europe from Germany to the Balkans and its portfolio grew to twenty companies, Brand Embassy is an important member of Rockaway Ventures.
Why did you begin focusing specifically on customer care? Do you have any particular ties to that field or did you simply see a gap in the market?
I established Brand Embassy eight years ago with my partner Damián. At that time, it was already our third firm. We first had a digital agency involved in PR, which we later sold and is now owned by Publicis, and we subsequently established a software-distribution firm, where we learned to sell software. We then said that the third in line could be a firm in which we would make good use of our knowledge and experience from both of those firms. We also had the need to help firms to better establish relationships with customers and, at the same time, we felt for customers who are sometimes despondent because of the way firms behave toward us. Something breaks and you need to call the customer line, wait five minutes, listen to some annoying music and finally talk to someone who can’t help you or connects you to another operator.
It occurred to us that, in the age when social networks and mobile applications exist, it is absolute nonsense for us to have to pick up the phone and call somewhere and the call is answered by someone who is entirely unfamiliar with our problem, someone who knows nothing about us and has probably never even tried out the product with which we have a problem. This motivated us to establish Brand Embassy and after eight years we have come to where we are now, in the position of the leading technology start-up in the area of customer care.
What can you offer to firms today?
Today we provide our services to nearly 100 major international firms, including Fortune 500 and Global 2000 companies, so we are dealing with companies that are all undergoing a certain long process called digital transformation. The time when everything was based on paper, carried in binders between offices and, at most, someone picked up the phone when a customer called are long gone. Now everything is processed digitally, customers can contact you through whichever channel they are used to using in their everyday communication with their friends and family, including the biggest ones like WhatsApp and Facebook. Companies must rapidly adapt and we help them with that.
We guide clients through digital transformation primarily in the area of contact centres. A typical call centre of a mobile operator or bank here in the Czech Republic has 300 to 500 people who daily come to work and answer telephones. Those people are now seeing that the telephones don’t ring so much. Customers are using mobile applications, writing on Facebook and Twitter, using WhatsApp, and so on. That is easy and natural for an ordinary customer. For firms, however, it is a major change and we help them so that they can make that change quickly, correctly and immediately on the first attempt. It’s about helping a firm that has entered the digital age to become a firm which, in the area of customer care, suddenly points the way and can surprise its customers.
What, exactly, does that assistance involve?
At Brand Embassy, we developed software that can integrate all incoming requests from customers across digital channels – from e-mails and live chat to video chat, Facebook messages, WhatsApp, Apple Business Chat, etc. With nearly every conversation, we analyse hundreds and thousands of attributes, which guarantees that the customer’s request will be handled properly. We analyse not only the content of posts (key words, for example), but also the segment in which the customer is placed – where he or she lives, the mood in which the post is written, which services he or she uses, the utilised operating system, and so on. Based on all of that, we categorise posts, assign them priority and seek out the most appropriate person for them at the customer centre who will focus on and resolve the given request.
We are also able to assess whether it may involve a problem that could impact multiple customers. Of course, such problems have the highest priority because when they are resolved, it brings relief to additional customers who are dealing with the same problem.
Do you focus only on requests sent directly to firms?
Yes. It is important to say that this involves a conversation when a customer wants to communicate with the firm. Brand Embassy does not focus on monitoring the private areas of the internet or, for example, analysis of social networks. We specialise in processing requests directed to companies’ customer care through digital channels.
A recent new aspect is that a customer-care agent does not have to be a human, but can rather be a chatbot that can partially replace the work of human agents, especially in the case when requests are not overly complicated and comprehensive or, for example, when human customer-centre employees are not available (on weekends and holidays, at night, etc.). Chatbots thus represent a tremendous opportunity for firms to automate part of their customer support so that the people in contact centres can concentrate on more complex matters where they use the abilities that people have but computers still do not possess. At the same time, contact centres can lower their costs and increase customer satisfaction.
As you mentioned, part of customer support is carried out on channels such as Facebook, WhatsApp and, for example, Apple Business Chat. What does Brand Embassy provide in this area and what has already been done by technology giants like Facebook and Apple?
Those technology firms provide communication channels for customers and firms. However, they are lacking involvement in customer care. Apple and Facebook ensure that a message from a customer reaches the firm, whereas we additionally ensure that the posts reach the right person at the contact centre who is able to resolve the customer’s problem. We are even able assist with that to such an extent that, for example, the customer receives a message via iMessage that he or she hasn’t paid an invoice and the customer pays through Apple Pay within the conversation. At the same time, we ensure that the operator is informed in real time that the debt has been paid, we thank the customer and send a question on how well he or she was satisfied. All of this is the value added that Brand Embassy provides.
In which segments are you strongest?
Practically since the establishment of Brand Embassy, we have specialised in firms that have a large volume of communication with customers and for which digital transformation is an important and primarily positive change. Specifically, we’re talking about telecommunications firms; in the case of mobile operators, we have a significant share in the world. We are really very strong there worldwide and we have clients among operators in more than 30 countries.
We also work a lot with banks (for example, in the Czech Republic, Komerční banka and Air Bank) as well as with e-commerce players. We see nearly unlimited room for growth. At present, only an absolute minimum number of firms have modernised their customer care.
Where are you geographically strongest?
Nearly 50% of our turnover still comes from Europe and the remaining 50% is spread out around the world. We have clients from Australia to Africa. We have a relatively large number of customers in Latin America and, for example, in the Middle East. The United States is currently the fastest-growing market for us. We see that after seven or eight years of outstanding operation in Europe and continuing growth here, the American market is now for us the key market with major growth potential. And we are also attempting to break through in the LATAM region.
You recently signed a huge contract with one of the biggest mobile operators in continental Europe…
Yes. We managed to conclude a deal worth more than a million dollars, which is the biggest order in our history. Furthermore, it is probably the beginning of much more extensive cooperation and today we are in talks with numerous other local branches of that client, since it is a telco operator that operates in many European countries.
It’s an interesting opportunity for us, as we are also helping the client with a major digital-transformation project. We’re making it possible for a large part of its customer care to be fully automated, thanks to which the firm will, among other things, optimise its financial situation. At the same time, we are essentially helping the client to substantially improve customer satisfaction though implementation of the most commonly used digital channels.
This is a very interesting project for us and half of our development team is currently working on it. Nevertheless, it’s interesting that at Brand Embassy, we do not adapt the product for a particular client. Every client motivates us to push certain things forward and all other customers also benefit from that.
Have you signed any other important contracts or partnerships recently?
In the past year, we have signed a number of very important and properly scalable partnerships with a range of large technology firms that have already integrated our solution into their own technologies. Among the most important is, for example, the partnership with the American company Amdocs, which is one of the key technology firms in the sector of mobile operators and media. Another interesting partner is Teleperformance, which employs more than 300,000 customer-care agents in nearly ninety countries. Last year, we also entered into cooperation with Talkdesk, which is currently the fastest-growing technology firm in this sector. We also have other new partnerships in Latin America, for example. Thanks to references from our satisfied customers, we have succeeded in acquiring the same brands in various countries.
It appears that you are truly succeeding. How would you summarise Brand Embassy’s trajectory over the past three years?
We have grown more than fivefold with Brand Embassy during that time. Massive growth has occurred both in turnover and in the number of people who work for us. Three years ago, we were a team of fifteen people and today there are more than sixty of us. We have branches in the United States and the Middle East, we have a development team in Ostrava and new headquarters in Prague’s Karlín district, where we have one whole floor, which we share with another start-up, Storyous. In the course of Brand Embassy’s existence and especially in the past three years, we have received investments in the value of more than seven million American dollars. We have received tremendous support particularly from foreign investors and we have managed to prepare the firm for the future. We are now self-sufficient; we are generating positive profit for the first time this year and we are able to grow further without assistance from investors. I consider that to be proof that our product and the firm itself have a bright future.
The product has fundamentally changed, particularly thanks to innovations with partners such as Facebook and Apple, with which Brand Embassy is one of the first firms in the world to enter into a global partnership. Furthermore, we have developed our own product called Chatbot Builder, which enables firms to very easily build, launch and subsequently scale and agilely develop a chatbot that will enable them to automate customer care.
Such rapid growth is certainly demanding also in terms of personnel. How have you managed to expand the team?
We’ve been on the market for some eight years and we have long been preparing for growth. Since the beginning, we have grown by at least 100% ever year and we at least double the firm’s turnover annually. However, thanks to the fact that we have a robust product which we can additionally sell in cooperation with partners, we luckily do not have to double the number of employees every year. Of course, that doesn’t mean that we aren’t strengthening the team. On the contrary, we are constantly looking for people to work in development and sales. We formed an R&D team in Ostrava and enhanced customer care and the sales department. We are hiring senior people with experience for that.
It will be essential for us to strengthen all of our teams this year, so we are hiring frontend and backend developers who will work in our fully agile teams and with state-of-the-art technologies.
The Rockaway group has been one of your key investors since 2014. What convinced you to cooperate with Rockaway?
Our investment agreement was concluded directly with Jakub Havrlant at the time when Rockaway was just being established. I have great respect for Jakub and for what he achieved in his youth, and I was convinced by his sincere, helpful and clearly rational approach to doing business. Since Rockaway’s establishment, we have become the focus of several very capable people, such as Dušan Zábrodský, who, thanks to a combination of extensive practical experience and enthusiasm for supporting us, have helped us to gradually reach the next level in our development. Rockaway has become a minority passive investor in Brand Embassy, though it actively helped us from the beginning and still does today.
How does your cooperation work, especially when you look back on the past six years?
Rockaway has changed a lot since the time of the initial investment, but its human approach in combination with extensive experience still endures to this day. Many times in the past, we needed help with things for which we didn’t have specialists at Brand Embassy and the Rockaway team was able to assist us. That involved, for example, the relatively complex conversion of numerous convertible loans into Brand Embassy’s equity or setting up the optimal cost structure within the firm. We spent some very productive time with Viktor Fischer and Martin Konop when preparing materials for the next fundraising.