Shopify’s favourite HR startup exits stealth mode, raises $8.75 million

article-aa, an Ottawa-based performance- and team-management software startup, has raised a $8.75-million seed round.

What it is: Managers use Fellow to schedule meetings with direct reports, track tasks they’ve agreed to, set priorities and get feedback on projects and decisions. The app, which integrates with calendars and workplace-messaging platform Slack, also suggests questions to ask in conversations with staff based on management research and best practices. It’s ongoing engagement, rather than the annual goal setting and review systems many big companies use.

What’s happened so far: Aydin Mirzaee, CEO, and his two co-founders started Fellow in October 2017. The platform was tested at local tech giant Shopify starting with 200 employees, and eventually installed across the company. Fellow now has more than 8,000 users and 20 staff.

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What Fellow said: “Everybody wants to make their organizations work better. And they want a tool for managers and their teams,” said Mirzaee. “So, naturally, just through the Shopify angle, we were introduced [to other companies].”

Who’s backing it: iNovia Capital, the Montreal-headquartered venture capital firm, whose portfolio includes commerce software company Lightspeed POS, which went public in March, and enterprise messaging startup Smooch, which was acquired by ZenDesk in May. San Francisco-based Felicis Ventures—which invested in Shopify—and Garage Capital—a recipient of the federal government’s Venture Capital Catalyst Initiative—also contributed to the round.

Why it matters (financially): Fellow’s raise is the fifth-largest seed round ever in Canada, according to data from the Canadian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association.

Why it matters (to Canada): Fellow is being used by many of Canada’s best-funded scale-ups, including enterprise video platform Vidyard, wearables developer North, and Tulip Retail, a software platform for brick-and-mortar stores. Fast-growing firms frequently promote employees into their first management roles, and are rapidly adding to their workforces—Shopify went from 632 employees to more than 4,000 between May 2015 and December 2018. Helping those first-time managers was “part of the motivation in originally building the product,” said Mirzaee. The user base has since expanded to company leaders at all experience levels, and sectors like health care and education.

Why it matters (in Ottawa): Mirzaee and his Fellow co-founders previously started Fluidware, an online survey and review company that grew to 70 employees. SurveyMonkey acquired the startup for more than US$20 million, and made Ottawa its second headquarters; the San Mateo, Calif.-headquartered company now has more than 150 people in the city. Mirzaee is a prominent figure in the local tech community, helping set up the city’s SaaS North conference.

What’s next: Starting Thursday, companies can sign up for early access. Fellow’s full public launch is scheduled for the fall. Mirzaee said the app’s suggestions will improve over time, and companies will eventually be able to customize it for their specific policies and routines. “I wouldn’t quite call what we’re doing right now AI, but it definitely lends itself well to morph into that category,” he said.