Frontline Seed

Exceptional leadership in extraordinary times

Posted 03 March 2021
By Will Prendergast

Our formal relationship with Boxever ends today as the company has been acquired by Sitecore but my attachment to the team and product vision will live on.

Our investment in Boxever is as old as Frontline. When we raised our first cash to invest, Jason Green (Emergence) and Brian Ascher (Venrock) advised us to look back at the great companies that had secured seed funding in the last 12 months that we wished we had been in a position to fund. Our exercise led us to two obvious contenders; Logentries (now Rapid7) and Boxever.

I’ve enjoyed every minute I have spent with the Boxever founders and management team in the intervening seven years. Not because it was always easy or successful, but because the team was solution-focused and determined all the way through. When competitors raised much larger rounds or when sales didn’t close, the team dug deeper and never lost belief in their product and vision. Think about the amount of competition in marketing automation over the last seven years and how many companies have come and gone… yes, those…

Marketing software Landscape from 2017

Never was the teams’ determination more apparent than over the last twelve months. As a business where most customers came from the travel sector coming into 2020, Boxever was immediately exposed to Covid on all fronts. Not only did the pandemic make it hard for Boxever to sell, but it also made it much harder for them to get paid. Pile this onto a debt financing round that got pulled and you can picture the scenario within the company in March 2020.

In that same month, we created a document for our investors in Frontline Fund 1 to summarize the impact of Covid on the various investee companies. The main criteria we used to divide the companies into groups was “Level of Covid impact on sector”. Looking back, the criteria should have been “Strength of management team to navigate Covid” as that was a much more important lens through which to look at our investments. All management teams were operating with no forward visibility acting under a lot of financial pressure and stress, and Boxever was no exception. They were dealt a really poor hand (sectorally) and yet, they played the most professional game.

Dave, Lorcan & Jon, supported by co-founders Dermot, Alan and Chair Cormac, took swift action with customers and employees to do everything they could to keep both. They created an innovative payment structure for customers and they were fully transparent with their employees, communicating clearly and regularly on how they planned to navigate the pandemic. The result was that both customers and employees remained in lockstep with the company. People didn’t just “hang in”; they rallied around Boxever. This was a tangible reflection of the level of leadership the management team displayed.

And then, during the latter half of 2020, something special happened — the thing the team knew would happen but couldn’t tell when it would happen; the work that had gone into building the product — and taking it into new verticals — began to click. You could feel the sales momentum build behind the company and as Boxever approaches the end of Q1 2021, it does so from a position of great strength enjoying its two best sales quarters ever. How did this happen? Well, a combination of all the usual things — and then two specific things:

  • Partnerships — the company invested heavily in building partnerships during 2019 and 2020. This allowed Boxever to be part of large enterprise sales discussions in multiple countries and geographies whilst retaining a small sales team. Typically partners don’t want to talk to startups. But when you have customers like Emirates and Ryanair who are pushing your technology hard and singing your praises, they are compelled to listen.
  • Confidence in new verticals — looking back, Boxever stayed focused on the travel sector for too long. They had a unique advantage in travel but questioned their ability to win in other — very competitive — verticals (retail, financial services). Over the past two years their tenacity and courage paid off, though, and early victories in new financial services and gaming verticals in 2019 infused Boxever with the confidence they needed to keep winning in new spaces.

This post is to thank the entire team at Boxever for their dedication to helping a great product get to market over the last seven years.

I will remember Boxever for many things, but most of all for the team’s exceptional leadership in the most extraordinary of times.

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