„Interactio“ team: Co-Founder & Head of Sales and Marketing Simona Andrijauskaitė, Co-founder and CEO Henrikas Urbonas, Co-Founder and CTO Domas Labokas.
Contract year: 2017
Investment: 0,5 million from Change Ventures, 1,7 million EUR in total
Interactio has started as an interpretation tool for churches and now it is a global leader for events and hybrid events. The fact Interactio helped connect Angela Markel, Emmanuel Macron and other world leaders in a global covid-19 remote conference helps to grasp the significance of the startup. Andris, the investor and the Chairman of the Board, says it is now a time to really scale the business. Read the story and find the key to Interactio’s success.
How did you come up with the idea to create an interpretation software?
Henrikas, Interactio: It started in 1892 and it was a very dark winter time... No, actually we gathered the team with an intention to create a mobile app that replaces wireless microphones at conferences and events. During the initial testing and throughout many conversations with potential clients we’ve learned that interpretation is a much bigger problem. Due to our international backgrounds we also knew about the problem, so literally during the first test we were like: “We can do it for the interpretation as well!” And then everything became very interesting.
Our first client was a church in Klaipėda. It was sharing the campus with the international university, so they had and still have Americans, Canadians and other foreign students coming in the church, local russian speaking community and they had to buy expensive equipment to provide interpretation. When they had to replace the current hardware which was supposed to cost them around twenty thousand dollars or so they just didn't have the budget and they were looking for an alternative solution. The pastor in that church was very determined to convince me that we would build something for interpretation. I was saying: “We have it in the roadmap and will do it but now we focus on the microphone”. Everyday he was finding me in one way or another and talking about this and, as we got more conversations with conference organisers, companies that provided the interpretation services, we made the decision. It sounded for us as a much bigger problem, the potential value for the people seemed also much bigger, therefore we made the shift and focused on making tools to enable meetings and events to have interpretations and to remove all unnecessary costs of bringing the equipment.
By the way, the church uses our solution to this day.
Who found who – Change Ventures found Henrikas or vice versa?
Henrikas, Interactio: I am taller so you saw me first (laughs).
Andris, Change Ventures: Good question. We actually met in Vilnius at the startup fair in Login and it is, I think, 5 years ago now maybe.
Henrikas, Interactio: 4 years.
Andris, Change Ventures: Yes, 4 years. I think Henrikas emailed us or we met through the networking app but, anyway, I can tell what immediately impressed me about the Interactio team – it was a team that very early on figured out how to find customers in the US remotely, not having any people on the ground there. In this case it was churches and I thought it was a very interesting niche for their product. I was impressed with the hustle of going out there and finding businesses and clients. That means you can take a product and put it in the customers hands, get feedback, learn from it and improve it. That’s the key to building something successful. That was my first impression: it was a team that found opportunities where people might not have the patience and energy.
How did you decide to collaborate with Change Ventures and not another venture capital company?
Henrikas, Interactio: Well, it was Andris before Change Ventures. During the first meeting we started sharing what we were doing – churches, events and so on. Until then none of the investors that we had spoken with were familiar with the field completely whereas Andris said: “Yes, I am a part of the church in Latvia”. He was even the head of church or something?
Andris, Change Ventures: I am still the head of a very small congregation, yes.
Henrikas, Interactio: So he’s the head of a congregation, he’s also a part of TechChill, has all the experience with events and, I think, from the very first meeting he really understood what we were doing, understood the value we are providing whilst others were thinking: “Well, English will be the dominant language, maybe the problem is not such a big deal” and so on. At that moment it was very important to have someone being on the same page.
Andris was very open to sharing his ideas, we were discussing what else we could do, he had a fantastic network in the US and other places in the world, but the most important thing is Andris’ attitude towards founders which plays a big role for me. So, when the opportunity came to collaborate with Change Ventures, it wasn’t a big discussion as we were already kind of working together in one way or another.
Andris, Change Ventures: For us as a fund it’s part of our explicit approach: we want to talk to founders, see if we can help them regardless we invest or not. It is because the tech world is in a sense very big and in another it is very small and we find that there are opportunities to help founders. Even if we are not going to invest in their business, we can help. Then the founder is inclined to help us someplace: we get plenty of introductions and referrals from founders that we said “No” to as well. We wish to be helpful to the whole community. Obviously, we want to spend most of our time helping our portfolio but we want to be helpful to the community in general.
Could you name the biggest challenge that you had to overcome together?
Henrikas, Interactio: Being in a startup is a constant challenge. Andris, do you have anything in mind?
Andris, Change Ventures: I have a smaller one – it was to learn how to interact and how to have a productive relationship. We, as an investor, don't have our fingers in the everyday business, so we don’t see what’s going on, at the same time we want to have a good communications line. So we had discussions on what kind of data Interactio provides us, we went through the figuring out what’s the right format for metrics, as I joined the board, we were looking for the format for board briefings, how do we set them up, what timing and so forth. Inevitably, it takes some time to adjust and for all sides to get used to working together in a proactive way. But, I think, those are pretty normal challenges for any founder that hasn’t had worked with a well structured board before.
Henrikas, Interactio: I can add to the previous point – it is a good extension here too. It is our first startup so we know that we don’t know a lot of things. A lot of people in the startup world come as advisors or investors and they are very open: they say they can help you. If you want to get that help, you have to initiate, you have to be very proactive, you know that this person is very knowledgeable but you don’t even know how to formulate your question or idea and extract that valuable knowledge, so then you are kind of locked in that position. With Change Ventures it was very different because they were also very proactive and I felt like we were in a mutual relationship. Andris, specifically, was open in sharing his ideas regardless if we worked together or not. I think it is a very good virtue to provide help upfront and have mutual interest in success regardless if you get something out of it.
One of the biggest challenges is fundraising. We are very much into working with the clients, therefore fundraising is like an extra thing that you have to switch to. Change Ventures was very helpful in proactively talking with other investors: getting those conversations started and putting us in the loop. In this way Change Ventures was like an extension of our team in the process.
What was the best advice from Andris?
Henrikas, Interactio: So many… erm. I think it’s almost like a mantra from Andris to say “First – the client and then everything else.” I think that's important advice.
Do you still work together and, if yes, what are you working on initially?
Andris, Change Ventures: Yes, we work together, I am the Chairman of the Board.
Henrikas, Interactio: We, as Interactio, see ourselves as the bridge to connect people whatever language they speak. We want to be in every single place where that interaction is happening. Our goal is to build the ideal product to facilitate those multilingual meetings, events, whatever and, I think, we are on the fantastic path: in the events business we are definitely a number one solution already, in a hybrid event category we are also a number one solution in the world. The current goal of the partnership is really to transmit that opportunity and attract world class investors to join our team, to help us in scaling the global potential that we have. So this is our biggest and most abstract goal.
Andris, Change Ventures: Interactio has an amazing market opportunity and the challenge now is in working together to really scale the business. Once you hit the product-market fit, the business starts taking off dramatically and then it's like a crazy horse ride: you have to hold the reins really tight and make sure you steer it and don’t just let go anywhere. Staying on this horse is the job and our job as an investor is to support in any way we can to help Henrikas and the whole team be more successful.