Ally founder and CEO Vetri Vellore (left) and Cooper Crosby, head of UX. (Ally Photo) It was a problem that came up at his first startup that led to create his second one. In 2007 Vellore co-founded , a company providing digital tools that allow large businesses to run employee development programs for mentoring and coaching. It was going well, but Vellore found that it was difficult to effectively and efficiently manage his team. The resources that he wanted didn’t seem to be available. So in 2017, two years after Chronus was acquired by a private equity firm, Vellore decided to pursue a new project. “I found myself itching to do something much bigger,” Vellore said. He launched , a Bellevue, Wash.- based company that provides management solutions. OKRs are a framework for running teams and businesses that helps companies track and stay aligned with specific goals. The operations approach became widely popular thanks in large part to its use at Google. Vellore said that his long-term goal is to develop a tool that helps businesses connect their strategies and execution, using AI to successfully pursue their goals. The company, which has six employees, was in private beta mode for many months, working with a few Seattle startups. Ally had a public launch in the spring of 2018. The company has raised $3 million seed round from investors such as Founders’ Co-op, Vulcan Capital, and others. Ally, an OKR tool, helps companies track their performance in meeting specific goals. (Ally Image) Ally’s competition includes 15Five, BetterWorks, Khorus and Workboard. The startup distinguishes itself from the other tools available by integrating with business management systems, Vellore said, including Slack, Salesforce, Jira and Smartsheet. That allows users to avoid switching between apps or program and automatically update progress on projects. Customers include Slack, Remitly, Plaid, National Institutes of Health and UrbanClap, and the product is available to businesses of all sizes. Companies managing up to 10 users pay a $29 monthly fee, while those with 11-to-250 users pay $7 per person per month. Ally offers discounts for businesses with more than 250 users. The product is available as a free, 14-day trial. Before launching startups, Vellore was at Microsoft for 14 years, ultimately running the Visual Studio core and platform team. We caught up with Vellore for this . Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire. Ally CEO Vetri Velllore. (Ally Photo) Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: We help businesses move fast and align their strategy and execution to match the evolving needs of their customers and market conditions. Imagine trying to win a basketball game without knowing the score or where the other players are on the court. So why would you run your business that way? Inspiration hit us when: I was struggling to manage operations at Chronus even though we were only about 20 people. I had managed much larger teams at Microsoft and was surprised that I was struggling with such a small team. Then it dawned on me that to be successful in today’s environment, the way that teams and businesses are managed has to change in a fundamental way. Microsoft went on to realize this themselves years later. Businesses need to operate at higher speeds than even before, but strategy and execution still need to be combined in a very tight, iterative loop. At Chronus we tried to use project management tools, spreadsheets and other software solutions to do this and they just do not work as well as we needed. I knew that there had to be a better way. VC, Angel or Bootstrap: Chronus was bootstrapped and I am familiar with the pros and cons of that model. With Ally we knew that what we were building was really big, so my plan was to bootstrap for a few years and then raise outside funding. But the strong tailwinds and aggressive interest we’ve experienced for our product since launch led us to decide to raise money sooner to build on that momentum. We are fortunate that round was heavily oversubscribed and are thrilled to have an amazing syndicate of investors, led by Founders’ Co-op with participation from Vulcan and others. Our ‘secret sauce’ is: Creating amazingly simple experiences to accomplish very complex workflows that involve multiple systems. The smartest move we’ve made so far: Focusing on a product experience that allows for easy user engagement at all levels of an organization, which has led us to bring features to where users are already doing their work, like in Slack. The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Not scaling sooner. We are stretched too thin and running really hard to meet the strong customer interest while scaling as fast as we can. PS: We’re hiring sales development reps! Ally’s approach helps businesses track overarching goals and individual achievements. (Ally Image) Which entrepreneur or executive would you want working in your corner?: Sunny Gupta of Apptio would be one. I am huge fan of how he managed to essentially create a new category and scale the company successfully. In many ways, we are also trying to create a new category and can learn a lot from how Sunny did that so well. Our favorite team-building activity is: Playing ping-pong. This was big at Chronus as well. The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: Unstoppable drive with a genuine passion to help teams and individuals achieve their goals. What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Pick a problem you are genuinely passionate about. The journey is going to have ups and down and your passion for solving the problem will be one of the key determinants of success and help you enjoy the journey.
(Atomo Image) Andy Kleitsch was pacing, sipping and talking rapidly during a phone conversation on Thursday morning. The Seattle entrepreneur had had multiple cups of coffee already — and he’d just aimed at upending what we think we know and love about the beverage. and are the co-founders of Atomo, a startup that claims to have “hacked the coffee bean,” in so much as they’ve removed it from the process of making coffee and substituted it with a molecular concoction derived from naturally sustainable (and secret) ingredients. Kleitsch is a tech vert who once worked at Amazon among other places, and he currently leads entrepreneur workshops at the University of Washington. He started looking for his “next thing” about six months ago and reached out to friends in Seattle. Atomo co-founders Andy Kleitsch, left, and Jarret Stopforth. (LinkedIn Photos) “I got all kinds of great ideas,” Kleitsch said. “I heard ideas around firefighting robots and all kinds of things. But Jarret said, ‘I want to make coffee without the bean.’ And that was just too good. It blew my mind.” Stopforth is a Ph.D. with extensive experience around food safety and quality at companies such as Chobani and Campbell Soup. “I love coffee, but every day I was adding cream and sugar to mask coffee’s bitter flavor” Stopforth said. “By replicating the taste, aroma and mouthfeel of coffee, we’ve designed a better tasting coffee that’s also better for the environment.” The sustainability element of Atomo’s mission is driven by the belief that regions where beans are grown will be greatly impacted in the coming years. The company points to a last month that said “60 percent of the world’s coffee species were in danger of going extinct in the next 50 years due to climate change, population expansion, and disease.” Atomo promises that its ground coffee will be suitable for drip machines, French presses, refillable K-Cups, and pour-overs. The grounds will be made of a non-allergen, Kleitsch said. “It’s not going to be made out of peanut shells,” he said. “What we’re really excited to do is find a material that we can upcycle — naturally occurring ingredient that is probably a spent item, that is usually thrown away from a different food process and give it life again.” Disrupting something that is so near and dear to the tastebuds and culture of so many people, and doing it in a coffee capital like Seattle, is a big deal. Atomo could simply create a liquid product without worrying about the grounds and consumer’s brew habits. But the five-person company is made up of coffee lovers who respect all that goes into being addicted to the stuff. “People’s coffee ritual is very important to them and it’s something they do every morning,” Kleitsch said. “And so we want to fit into that ritual, we want to be a part of that, and that’s why we’re coming up with the grounds. So they can just replace [their current coffee] one for one.” A video shot on campus at UW shows Atomo going head to head in a taste test against another certain Seattle coffee company: Atomo has set a goal of $10,000 on Kickstarter, with a deadline of March 9. The crowd-sourced funds will be used to further development. The team is partnering with Mattson, a food tech company, and is bootstrapped right now, with eventual plans to seek investors. Kleitsch said no one else is trying to build coffee from the molecular level up. The closest thing might be coffee without the black color. A company called Endless West does make molecular whiskey, and Kleitsch points to the , makers of a plant-based burger that “bleeds.” When told that maybe Gates would like coffee without the bean, Kleitsch said, “I hope he does!”