Serious series

Houston B-to-B tech startup gears up for growth following $7 million Series A

Following a $7 million raise, Houston-based GoCo is looking to grow. Courtesy of GoCo

A Houston startup looking to digitize the human resources industry just completed a reassuring round of funding. GoCo closed its Series A funding round led by ATX Seed Ventures alongside UpCurve, Inc. at $7 million.

GoCo, which was founded by CEO Nir Leibovich, Chief Technology Officer Jason Wang, and Chief Product Officer Michael Gugel, is out to bring the much-maligned HR tasks into the digital world. The funding round brings GoCo's total funding to $12.5 million. Leibovich said the new capital will be allocated to hiring across all departments, further platform development to extend the breadth of offerings and to broadly expand the company's customer base.

"Today, we have 6,200 customers across the U.S. and around the world," Leibovich tells InnovationMap. "And we have 25 employees. We're looking to double and triple — if not quadruple — that across 2019."

The company has a solid partnership network with employee benefit insurance agencies like OneDigital and PayneWest, and general agencies like Word & Brown, to offer GoCo's technology as an enhancement to their existing insurance benefits services clients. GoCo also auto-syncs with leading payroll providers ADP, PayChex, Paylocity, Intuit Quickbooks and more, thus uniquely enabling businesses to maintain their benefits broker and payroll provider by integrating with GoCo's platform.

"This Series A and the potential addition of UpCurve's distribution channel to reach hundreds-of-thousands of new customers continues our mission to free SMBs and HR professionals from outdated and tedious administrative burdens. When these professionals look at current HR and benefits solutions on the market and think 'there must be a better way,' we are the better way," says Leibovich. "We want to be synonymous with modern and streamlined HR."

GoCo is backed by additional investments from Salesforce Ventures, Corp Strategics, GIS Strategic Ventures, the venture arm of Guardian Life Insurance, and Digital Insurance, the largest employee benefits-only company in the US. ATX Seed Ventures is investing for the second time.

"We are doubling down on our investment in GoCo, as it is positioned to become the platform of choice for HR professionals to break out of the chains of outdated and complex HR duties, and empowers them to spend more time on their employees and higher value tasks," says Chris Shonk, managing partner at ATX Seed Ventures, in a release. "GoCo is simply the best platform solution to do all this, and their increasing customer base supports it."

Founded in 2015, GoCo is the fusion of modern, paperless HR functions like employee onboarding, secure cloud-storage document management, eSignature workflows, time-off tracking and HR data reporting. As well, it is paired with simplified benefits enrollment and management, payroll sync and HR compliance enablement. The web and mobile based app empower employers to give employees 24/7 access to the full spectrum of a company's HR and benefits offerings.

GoCo creates platforms to onboard employees, conduct training and myriad HR tasks which, said Leibovich, free up HR personnel to handle the business of actually working with employees to grow their potential and assist companies with their missions.

"Typically, HR has lagged behind when it comes to embracing technology," says Leibovich. "Sales, marketing, development, these are places where it's become the norm to seek out tech solutions to problems. With human resources, many firms are still using that paperwork model, and often, a new hire's first day on the job – and therefore their first impression of a company — is filling out forms."

Leibovich had founded two companies before, one based in analytics that they sold to Zinga, the other a biotech firm. It was the biotech venture that brought the Austin-based trio to Houston. Looking around the landscape, Leibovich said he and his partners liked the fact that Houston was a city on the move, with a highly skilled workforce and companies keen on finding tech solutions to their challenges. The city's "if you can dream it, you can do it here" vibe kept the group here as they launched GoCo. Leibovich said he thinks that, in terms of its startup ventures, Houston is where Austin was 10 years ago. And he believes that continued successes in the tech and startup culture will breed more success in the Bayou City.

"This is an ecosystem that is coming together to attract even more talent for ventures like this," he said. "Funding is going to ramp up, and we see Houston as a place where we — and other companies — can create something really special. This is a great place to do business."

All-in-one platform

Courtesy of GoCo

GoCo is the fusion of modern, paperless HR functions like employee onboarding, secure cloud-storage document management, eSignature workflows, time-off tracking and HR data reporting.

Houston small businesses are struggling to pay their rent with doors closed and operations ceased — but where should the relief come from? Getty Images

It's not too huge of an assumption to make that many Houston startups and small businesses failed to pay their rents in full yesterday. Since the city's stay-at-home mandate on March 24 — and even preceding that — most businesses have seen a slowdown of revenue as a result of COVID-19-caused business disruptions.

Business owners are frantically looking in their leases and searching online to see what rights they have and what sort of protection they have in such an unprecedented time.

"People are confused. They don't know what to do, and finding information is hard," says Meredith Wheeler, co-founder and chief creative officer of Sesh Coworking, which opened earlier this year.

Wheeler and Sesh's co-founder, Maggie Segrich, have created a petition to get on the radar of local elected officials to challenge them to pass legislation to protect small businesses in this time.

"At the end of the day, it would be so wonderful and idealistic to say that we could rely on the niceties and the moral compasses of our landlords, but it's probably not true for everyone and so that's why we need legislation to dictate what is right," Wheeler says.

But landlords are also in unchartered territory, says Josh Feinberg, who has worked in Houston as a commercial real estate broker and co-founded CRE tech platform, Tenavox.

"There's this idea that there's this acrimony between tenant and landlord, and I think, as a former broker, we're set up that way to get our side the best deal. But in reality, that's just not true," Feinberg says. "The majority of commercial real estate is owned by regular people — not usually some faceless, gigantic corporation."

And they have a piper to pay too, Feinberg adds. Ninety percent of CRE is owned by debt, he says. If the government steps in anywhere, it should be on the lender level, as well as creating some sort of tax relief.

"If there's any relief here, it's going to have to come from lenders, and I think you'd hear that from owners and brokers," Feinberg says.

In somewhat convenient timing, Tenavox has recently co-founded a new company that provides a bit of a solution for small businesses. Otso provides landlords with an alternative to cash security deposits. Traditionally, deposits are held onto by landlords — they aren't legally allowed to spend it unless the tenant defaults.

"In general, I think cash deposits are wasteful," Feinberg says. "It's critical capital that the business can hire with, invest, and use."

Tenavox teamed up with Euler Hermes, a 135-year-old credit insurance company, to create Otso, and the credit company backs the lease performance of each tenant that is approved by Otso. The transaction calls for a fee added to the rent, but no large cash deposit would be required.

The tool can be used on new leases, and, in light of the current situation, Otso can also be used to create an addendum in existing leases so that the tenant can get back their deposit and use it in this time of crisis. Either landlord or tenant can apply online and hear back that same day — Feinberg says he's focused on a speedy response to help get this deposit money back to the tenant.

"If we can get some liquidity back into the hands of the business, they have some a better chance of survival," Feinberg says.

Other than looking into Otso, Feinberg has some other recommendations for small business owners. He says they should be applying for relief from the Small Business Administration, which has more money to dole out than they have ever had. And, as it pertains to working with their landlords, communication is key. Show financials and specific information — like what March 2019 looks like compared to 2020 — so that landlords can take that to their lenders.

"An unprecedented crisis is going to require unprecedented solutions," Feinberg says.