Think of the myriad industries where technology transformed the way individuals consume content. Amazon first did this with e-books before it became the juggernaut it is today. Netflix eliminated the need for brick and mortar video rental and then again disrupted the space by introducing digital on-demand video.
However, many of these types of technological innovation have not trickled into the workplace. Blackberry, Apple, DocuSign and others have made meaningful differences in employees’ lives when it comes to communication and getting business done. But as it pertains to the consumption of content, the workplace has largely been left behind, most notably ~110 million deskless workers. There are some that have their sights on changing this. And today we’re excited to announce our Series E investment in Inkling, a company dedicated to bringing the next wave of technology to the distributed workforce.
Lifelong friends and a pivot
We first met Inkling’s co-founder and CEO, Matt MacInnis, a number of years ago when he was on a mission to change the publishing industry by digitizing textbooks. Matt and Inkling’s co-founder, Rob Cromwell, first met at a YMCA camp as teenagers in Nova Scotia, an experience that instilled them with great ambitions beyond the borders of their hometown. They quickly went from friends sharing a canoe together to building computers in one another’s garages, eventually reuniting years later to found Inkling.
We immediately gravitated to their passion and intellect as they set to change a large but outdated industry. More importantly, we came to admire their tenacity and perseverance as the company identified an even greater product-market fit for the underlying technology they had built. Matt and team took the concept of collaborative authoring and ease of consumption required for textbooks and redirected the technology into corporate workforce enablement.
It’s a great example for entrepreneurs who may find that the true path for their solution is in a different industry entirely than they originally expected but with grit and hunger you can still get to a great spot. For Matt and Inkling, this alternative path was not in the digital textbook but rather in serving the deskless worker.
Who is the deskless worker?
The deskless worker isn’t someone who sits in a cubicle or stares at a computer screen for all or part of the day. Rather, she or he is a mobile, customer-facing employee who likely works in an industry such as retail, food service, hospitality, financial services and others. Their job might be in store operations or field services, or they may work for a mobile sales satellite of a larger enterprise or as medical staff.
Importantly, deskless workers typically don’t even have a corporate email address or continuous access to a work computer. Therefore they haven’t seen many of the benefits of technology in the workplace that so many others have enjoyed over the past decade.
These workers rely on information from paper binders that are physically printed and shipped to stores for their training and development and spend 30–40 percent of their time looking for information locked in a filing cabinet or email. Meanwhile, access to business information at a moment’s notice is critical.
The past — printing press
The amount of money spent today on printing and shipping paper documents is staggering, and the way these documents are used is archaic. An estimated $65–85 billion is spent on maintaining, updating and distributing paper forms and roughly one-third become outdated before they’re even used.
Corporations create documents, print and bind them, and physically ship them to stores. In most cases this information is updated annually, maybe quarterly if you’re lucky, and key updates are either mailed or ignored until next year. There is no ability to interact with the end user, thick binders never get read and paper forms are sent back to corporate for processing. It’s a broken process.
The future — living documents
On the authoring side, Inkling provides enterprises with a tool that allows for quick and easy creation of engaging and dynamic content without the need to write code or hire designers. Links, files, interactive diagrams, slideshows, quizzes and videos can be dragged and dropped into the fully-responsive documents and then digitally distributed to the appropriate locations.
Managers and employees are given a digital tablet and can search for content; view tasks and checklists; quickly access training, compliance and standard operating procedures materials; and collaborate and communicate across workflows. An analytics engine ties it all together to provide insights into who is accessing what and what drives engagement.
The perfect storm
Inkling is riding a number of big waves in the industry that we believe position the company for great success.
- Operations are shifting out of the traditional office, and demand for up-to-date information is required wherever an employee happens to be.
- While not new, mobile is finally finding its way into distributed workforces. Tablets are cheaper than ever and provide access to a wealth of knowledge that paper binders could never offer.
- Employees are shifting from the long-term, tenured team members of the past to a much more nimble and fleeting workforce. This requires constant training of employees and the ability to access content on the spot.
- UI and UX have become paramount to the consumption of and engagement with all content, whether on a mobile phone at home or on a tablet at work.
Inkling creates real value for all constituents in an organization and saves time and money at each step along the way. Its flexible and turnkey authoring tool empowers enterprises to create impactful and effective pieces of content with a breadth of applicability across operations, workflows, field service management, sales enablement, marketing and more.
The market speaks
But we didn’t just take our observations or Inkling’s word for it. We spoke with over a dozen Inkling customers who raved about the authoring tool and described just how mission critical it is to their underlying businesses. These customers are some of the largest organizations in the world, and we fully intend to leverage Sapphire’s global footprint to bring Inkling many more of them.
Moreover, Matt has developed long-standing, authentic relationships with his customers that strongly align with the cultural foundation we at Sapphire strive to maintain — from a clear desire to win to radical transparency to a no a**hole policy in everything we do.
We are confident we have found a driven, intelligent and hungry team that has discovered a clear market need and is laser focused on making the experience of managing distributed workforces better for all those involved.
We are incredibly excited to join Matt and Inkling in their journey. We believe the days of thick paper binders are over. The future is Inkling.
The portfolio companies referred to above do not necessarily represent all of the investments made or recommended by Sapphire Ventures, and were not selected based on the return on Sapphire Ventures’ investment in them. It should not be assumed that the specific investments identified and discussed herein were or will be profitable. Not all investments made by Sapphire Ventures will be profitable or will equal the performance of the companies identified above. Sapphire Ventures’ investments can be viewed here.