Interview with CTO of Shelf, a startup that recently raised 52.5 million

On August 2021, the US startup Shelf.io announced a $52.5 million Series B investment round. AIN.UA made an interview with Shelf’s CTO Tobias Jaeckel about the company and what the funds raised will be used for.

About the company

How did you start a company?

At the time we were discussing the idea of Shelf, I was running a software product and services company. We faced many challenges there because we had to build management knowledge systems and processes from scratch. So we had the idea to productize this experience.

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Tobias Jaeckel, all photos in the article are provided by Shelf.io

I’ve been friends with two other co-founders long before joining together as business partners. And as the idea of Shelf matured, we decided to team up and build it.

How does your product work?

The average worker spends around 19% of their time looking for answers in corporate guides, documentation, instructions or tracking down colleagues that could help. If you think about it, it’s one whole day of the week. Every week. And we are trying to address this global issue.

Shelf is the central depository of all the corporate knowledge. Our platform helps every employee from management to customer support managers to promptly find answers to any questions. Our primary focus is on customer support (that often means contact centers).

Our product is a piece of software that every contact center agent has on their desk, and if they have a question, they just type it in and get the answer immediately, instead of browsing through tons of corporate sites, guides, and so on. 

There are a number of important metrics that show the efficiency of knowledge management, specifically in contact centers: customer satisfaction, average handling time (AHT), escalation rate, and so on. Typically with Shelf, we see a 25% reduction in handling time, and escalations are decreased by 40%. And these are massive contributors to the customer satisfaction metric.  

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How many people do you have in Ukraine, what are they working on? 

Our team in Ukraine is primarily focused on product development, engineering, and data science.

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We are now scaling the company across all departments. In Ukraine specifically, we have open positions for the product and data science teams. Our stack is built around Node.js on the backend and React on the front end. Then there’s AI and machine learning teams, where we use technologies like Python, NLP, and knowledge graphs.  

Does your office operate remotely or on site? Did the pandemic change that?  

Every team member has an option to work either remotely or at an office location. And frankly, most team members use a combination of both, it’s a hybrid working environment. And I think this is great because there is value in meeting your colleagues in person. But at the same time, you sometimes need a convenient, quiet work environment and an opportunity to work from home as well. 

How did coronavirus impact your business?

Of course, Covid did have an effect on our work routines but also during these years Shelf has been growing quite significantly. From the business model perspective, we have always been supporting remote teams. The shift to remote work has significantly accelerated during the pandemic and has actually increased the problem that we solve —  tracking down answers. Remote workers have much more difficulty accessing information than their office colleagues. The onboarding process for remote workers is more complicated as well. 

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So the remote work trend has boosted our business and at the same time pushed us towards making it an option for everyone at Shelf to work from home. It was easy for us: our infrastructure is all cloud-based so everyone could easily access the work environment.

On a recent round of investment

What do you plan to do with the money — hire people, launch new locations, new products?

Clearly, we are scaling the organization, so we are massively hiring as I mentioned before.

On the product side, we’ve doubled our efforts to continue being the number one choice for the knowledge management system. We’re working on some new and exciting features that I cannot disclose right now, they will be launched early next year. 

We also are planning to open a sales office in Western Europe and are currently assessing markets for that. As our team grows, we are now waiting a bit for the Covid situation to resolve, to better understand when there is a right moment to launch other offices. 

Are the team members getting anything like options or other things that motivate them to work on the product? 

All of our team members receive option plans, so they can participate in the success of the company directly and personally by being part-owners of the company. 

A stock option plan means that you have an agreement with the company that gives you the right to purchase its shares in the future at a fixed low price. Typically there is a vesting period, which means the longer you stay at the company, the more options you get. And at some point in the future, you can execute options, convert them to shares at the predefined price. 

When there is an investment round, there is a valuation of the company. At that point, all the options now have a new -and hopefully much higher- value.

Are you a unicorn?

We are on the path to becoming one.