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Simpplr raises $70M for its AI-powered intranet platform

Several years ago, entrepreneur Dhiraj Sharma's first company, a software consultancy, was hired by an HR tech firm to develop an app to improve the employee onboarding experience. Instead of creating a one-off, ad hoc solution, Sharma spearheaded a platform, Simpplr, which later spun off into its own company.

Today, Simpplr sells what's essentially an internal social network for companies -- one that enables employees to create profiles, share content, follow users and engage in polls or surveys via a tailored intranet. Managers can create an employee directory, as well as social workspaces that can be customized for various teams and departments.

Business is booming, evidently. Simpplr this morning announced it raised $70 million in a funding round led by Sapphire Ventures with participation from Norwest Ventures, Tola Capital and Salesforce Ventures. The tranche, which adds to Simpplr's previously raised $61 million, will be put toward growing the company's workforce and supporting ongoing product R&D, Sharma says.

"Simpplr is built for business owners, so they can own it -- with limited to no dependency on IT," Sharma, who serves as the company's CEO, told TechCrunch in an email. "Simpplr delivers an engaging and a reliable source of truth by enabling effective communication, collaboration, connection and productivity including delivering seamless access to content, resources and tools for every employee at a company."

The market for "employee experience" software has proven relatively resilient to the macroeconomic pains of the past few years. As the world transitioned to remote and hybrid work, IT decision makers prioritized tech that enhanced the employee experience and engagement despite budget constraints.

Startups in the space benefited. One of the more successful examples, Culture Amp, which aims to help employers turn the data they collect from anonymous employee surveys into insights, raised $100 million at a $1.5 billion valuation in July 2021.

Intranets tend to be dreadfully unpopular, with Workvivo data finding that 57% of employees don't see a purpose in their company's intranet. But Simpplr appears to have successfully ridden the aforementioned investment wave despite this, growing its customer base to more than 700 companies, including Moderna, Penske, Snowflake and AAA.

In the next 12 months, Sharma expects Simpplr's annual recurring revenue to grow 70% year over year -- or higher.

Facing competition like Workday and ServiceNow, how did Simpplr perform so well? Sharma credits the company's AI-first approach. He points to the ways Simpplr is using OpenAI's ChatGPT for its "SmartWriting" feature, which helps customers auto-write and fine-tune company content intended for employees.

"AI is at the core of our platform," Sharma said. "Simpplr’s AI-powered employee experience platform enables IT to give business users ownership of their content and the digital experience users need."

Simpplr
Simpplr

Image Credits: Simpplr

Simpplr also uses AI for sentiment and emotion analysis -- a somewhat concerning fact considering that biases tend to creep into the algorithms trained to detect sentiments and emotions. A 2017 story in Vice revealed that a Google API for determining whether text had a positive or negative sentiment was found to label sentences about religious and ethnic minorities as consistently negative.

"[Simpplr] combines active and passive listening to analyze millions of data points across the platform to detect emotions, sentiment, and language patterns and trends over time," Simpplr's website reads. "Rapidly understand, adapt and respond to changing trends and attitudes before they become bigger issues that could impact a broader base of employees."

That second bit raises questions about which "trends," exactly, Simpplr is monitoring. Posts about work policy? Emoji reactions? It's not completely clear.

Sharma didn't say which steps, if any, Simpplr has taken to mitigate potential biases in the sentiment and emotion analysis algorithms. And he declined to answer questions about the company's privacy policy, including how long Simpplr stores users' data and whether users can easily delete that data.

If one can look beyond the lack of transparency, Simpplr seems to have a bright future, with a workforce numbering 450 people and plans to expand in the coming months.

"The broader slowdown in tech has, thankfully, not had a major impact on Simpplr," Sharma said. "We serve over 30 industries, so even as some tech organizations have understandably slowed decisions in some instances, or curtailed budgets, this has not impacted our pace of growth . . . In addition, from the start, Simpplr has been disciplined in our operations and in stewardship of our investments, which serves us well, whatever occurs in the wider economy."