February 22, 2018

Startup Q&A - Koble Matches B2B Buyers and Suppliers to Connect and Communicate

Fabrice Saporito, Founder and CEO of Koble
Fabrice Saporito, Founder and CEO of Koble

Communication is key in the business-to-business (B2B) world, but one specific area of that industry that could use a little shaking up is sharing content in order to advance a sales pipeline.

Koble, which has been operating in stealth mode, has developed a platform leveraging relationships between B2B buyers and sellers and allows content and data to be shared in a more concise, centralized place.  

We interviewed Koble’s Founder and CEO Fabrice Saporito about how his company’s product is helping improve the B2B market at large. During our chat, Saporito also spoke at length of how the idea for the company came to be.

I’m a big fan of the phrase “origin story.” What are the origins of Koble?

The origin of Koble is based on working across the technology, business, and consulting fields for a couple decades. I have a background that sits at the intersection of the technology and business markets. I started my career with IBM at a time where e-business was to revolutionize bricks-and-mortar. I was part of a team that aimed at shaping the e-marketplaces of the future. Unfortunately, that was also around the time of the dotcom bubble bursting.

I found my passion for technology at IBM, but I figured I needed a more solid business background to make good use of it. I applied to Booz & Co and joined their ops practice where my B2B background was a great fit for the operations team. It led me to help Fortune 500 and brand names like LEGO. Our team’s job was to assist in turning around companies and we often did so by seeking efficiencies in the supply chain. That was great impact and I stretched the vice by joining the Boston Consulting Group.

After a decade-plus in consulting, I acknowledged that solving problems with technology solutions was really where my interests were based. The success of many of the turnarounds I led relied on technology. In 2010, I met Sievo, a young analytics startup, which I introduced and often sold into organizations that I was consulting for. When they offered me the opportunity to join them as their CEO and grow their international business, I couldn’t resist the startup itch any longer.

Sievo gave me the taste for building something from scratch. This was a nice supplement to my consulting experience, which often let me see through real-life business issues and also allowed me to understand why the first digital marketplaces failed.

When I branched out exploring my own startup ideas in 2015 with a few former colleagues such as Mika Huuhtanen and Emmanuel Lebot, we realized that the way buyers and sellers find each other in today’s digital landscape is really broken. Koble, after a short time spent under the name SpendLead, evolved from there.

We designed the platform as an enterprise business-to-business marketplace for connecting better from the ground up. Given what we’ve found makes mutually beneficial business connections, we’ve tied anonymity into the buyer-side of the platform.

When a buyer gets convinced that a particular vendor is worth connecting with on the Koble platform they can reveal their identity to connect with them and start doing business. This means they can avoid getting bombarded with inbounds from every vendor as they go about their initial search. This is much different than you’d likely find with the scattershot sales messages that are thinly veiled as networking connections on B2B networks like LinkedIn today.

We’ve essentially been in stealth mode since then, slowly optimizing the marketplace and trialing with global companies such as Oracle, Warner Brothers, and Sprint. Through that time, we’ve also quietly raised $3M and we are leveraging some of that capital to assist with the global expansion we announced earlier this month.

Explain what Koble does. If it’s a particular software/platform/service/etc. how does it work? Any use case that stands out to you?

Koble is a business matchmaker. A marketplace for business-to-business buyers and suppliers to meet, connect and communicate. But unlike an Amazon where goods and services are bought and sold, Koble solely focuses on helping its users to establish and maintain relationships by requesting and exchanging relevant business content.

Little of the $136 trillion exchanged between B2Bs is purchased on the spot. Contracts are the norm. This makes traditional marketplaces ill-suited to the B2B sales pipeline. However, like any consumer buyer today, business buyers are consuming relevant business content each and every day. This content helps them shape their decision over a 6-12 months time frame.

Access to information for B2B buyers has not changed for as long as I recall. Search remains the prime mechanism used to find the information needed. And while large vendors get easily found, small ones are hard to come. Information is either limited, irrelevant or gated. And when finding a needle in a haystack is not enough buyers get inundated with email marketing and cold calls which we all hate. And this is where Koble comes in.

So instead of searching or spamming, information gets exchanged in a dedicated space a la Facebook that abides by very simple, yet essential, rules for B2Bs.

  • First: Parties in the marketplace are fully authenticated by only using a valid corporate email.

  • Second: Parties can remain anonymous for as long as they wish.

  • Third: All information exchanged remains company ownership.

And it works in a very simple way. You sign up for free and declare your interest to join the right community. You can request for information as a buyer or simply market your company’s products and services as a seller. When your content gets read you have an anonymous match you can engage with. To move the needle the seller can now chat with the anonymous buyer and convince him/her to connect and reveal its identity.

What is the ultimate goal of Koble?

Our ultimate goal is to make establishing and maintaining fruitful, business relationships way more efficient and effective for companies. From finding and being found, understanding what content really works, connecting with the right people, or simply maintaining up-to-date contacts.

How big is the team?

We currently have a team of 12-plus globally. We have five full-time workers at our global headquarters here in Boston (within WeWork Fort Point) and an engineering office in Espoo, Finland. We’re always on the look for new talent looking to change the way we build meaningful business relationships online. If you’re interested, reach out!

Has your company participated in any trade shows/meetup events in the Boston area? What about events outside of Boston?

We’ve been operating pretty stealthily to date, but we’re looking forward to participating in some local events this year now that we are fully launched publicly. Being based in the Innovation District, there always seems to be interesting events happening on a daily basis.

Is the company bootstrapped or seeking investments?

We’ve raised a little over $3 million to date in seed funding from angel investors.

I’m always interested in how a startup came up with its name. How did Koble get its name?

When we evolved out of SpendLead, ‘our beta-brand’, we needed to find a name for the company that illustrated the platform is really more about making better mutually beneficial business connections, not simply getting business leads and being more cost-effective with sourcing vendors.

Given some of our global team is based in Nordic countries, some Nordic names certainly got thrown around in the rebranding process. Koble, which as I mentioned means ‘connecting’ in Norwegian, was on the table, and it’s a name that resonated with us all.

Any other additional comments you’d like to make?

I think the timing of Koble’s global launch comes at an interesting time in both the business and geopolitical landscape in terms of assessing what is real and what is fake online and in social networks.

I was actually at Harvard Business School in 2004 at the time Facebook launched. I recall our was not valid for graduate students to start connecting on Facebook like our undergraduate classmates.

A year after Mark Zuckerberg came back on campus to talk about how limiting Facebook usage to .edu university emails was crucial in maintaining trustworthiness and the high-quality interactions on the platform. Compare that with where the company is over a decade latter within the fake news debate and what role it played in enabling fake accounts to influence the last election.

When companies like Facebook, and to a certain extent LinkedIn, turned to rapidly scaling they turned a blind eye towards the overarching trust of the platform and opened them up to everyone with little verification. I think we’ve reached a time online where it is no longer OK to scale at all costs in this fashion. This is especially true with a business facing platform where trust is paramount to successful business outcomes. Our approach since day one has been to ‘scale smartly’.

Koble is designed to be a work-email-only site where each established connection belongs to the enterprise. By requiring members to join with a verified company email, Koble users benefit from a high-quality audience where everyone is who they say they are and unwanted inbound messages are eliminated.

I’m sure as we grow we’ll be approached by those that say the only way we can grow at scale is to open up the platform to everyone. And they may be right. But we will never go down that road without having a way to truly verify the identity of those that join our platform. The types of business relationships we help establish and maintain are only born out of trust. It’s just too core to the underlying usage of the platform to trade growth for trust.

Colin Barry is a contributor to VentureFizz. Follow him on Twitter @ColinKrash
Images courtesy of Koble and Fabrice Saporito.