Arist adds $2M to its seed round to grow its SMS-based training service

This morning Arist, a startup that sells software allowing other organizations to offer SMS-based training to staff, announced that it has extended its seed round to $3.9 million after adding $2 million to its prior raise.

TechCrunch has covered the company modestly before this seed-extension, noting that it was part of the CRV-backed Liftoff List, and reporting on some of its business details when it took part in a recent Y Combinator demo day.

Something that stood out in our notes on the company when it presented at the accelerator’s graduation event was its economics, with our piece noting that the startup “already [has] several big ticket clients and [says it] will soon be profitable.” Profitable is just not a word TechCrunch hears often when it comes to early-stage, high-growth companies.

So, when the company picked up more capital, we picked up the phone. TechCrunch spoke with the company’s founding team, including Maxine Anderson, the company’s current COO; Ryan Laverty, its president; and Michael Ioffe, its CEO, about its latest round.

According to the trio, Arist raised its initial $1.9 million around the time it left Y Combinator, a round that was led by Craft Ventures at a $15 million valuation. Following that early investment, the company’s business with large clients performed well, leading to it closing $2 million more last December. The founders said that the new funds were raised at a higher price-point than its previous seed tranche.

The second deal was led by Global Founders Capital.

The company’s enterprise adoption makes sense, as all large companies have regular training requirements for their workers; and as anyone who has worked for a megacorp knows, current training, while improved in recent years, is far from perfect. Arist is a bet that lots of corporate training — and the training that emanates from governments, nonprofits and the like — can be sliced into small pieces and ingested via text-message.

For that the company charges around $1,000 per month, minimum.

Arist did catch something of a COVID wave, with its founding team telling TechCrunch that pitching its service to large companies got easier after the pandemic hit. Many concerns better realized how busy their staff was when they moved to working from home, the trio explained, and with some folks suffering from limited internet connectivity, text-based training helped pick up slack.

We were also curious about how the startup onboards customers to the somewhat new text-based learning world; is there a steep learning curve to be managed? As it turns out, the startup helps new customers build their first course. And, in response to our question about the expense of that effort, the Arist crew said that they use freelancers for the task, keeping costs low.

Recently Arist has expanded its engineering staff, and plans to scale from around 11 people today to around 30 by the end of the year. And while Anderson, Laverty and Ioffe are based in Boston, they are hiring remotely. The startup serves global customers via a WhatsApp integration. So Arist should be able to scale its staff and customer base around the world effectively from birth. (This is the new normal, we reckon.)

What’s ahead? Arist wants to grow its revenues by 5x to 10x by the end of the year, hire, and might share if it wants to raise more capital around the end of the year.

Oh, and it partners with Twilio to some degree, though the group was coy on just what sort of discounts it may receive; the founding team merely noted that they liked the SMS giant and deferred further commentary.

All told, Arist is what we look for in an early-stage startup in terms of growth, vision and potential market scale — the startup thinks that 80% of training should be via SMS or Slack and Teams, the latter two of which are a hint about its product direction. But Arist feels a bit more mature financially than some of its peers, perhaps due to its price point. Regardless, we’ll check back in at the mid-point of the year and see how growth is ticking along at the company.

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