I-Corps Startup Earns Funding, Launches with Fortune 500 Company

I-Corps Startup Earns Funding, Launches with Fortune 500 Company

By Casey Verderosa

Comake is out to change the way knowledge workers manage their digital workflow and the smart desktop startup kicked off 2019 in strong fashion. They recently hired their first full-time employee, received $250,000 in NSF seed funding, opened their Culver City, CA office, and are launching their product with a Fortune 500 company. The company didn’t start out as an office application though, customer discovery supported by entrepreneurship programs helped them reach this point.

The Birth of an Idea
The co-founders originally pursued a business idea to commercialize a physical structural system that can be shipped in pieces and can easily “self-assemble” on site. These structures are made of simple components, and could be used for disaster relief shelter, military operations, and even space exploration. The “self-assembly” magic is possible by understanding and mapping various complex relationships between components ahead of time. Throughout the course of digitally mapping out these physical structures and their subcomponents, the founders began to realize that their digital mapping approaches could generate tremendous widespread value for individuals and businesses and the foundation for Comake was born.

The Comake Team – Neal Fultz, Andrés E Gutiérrez, and Alder Faulkner
Photo credit: Severin Koller

The pair began to hone the idea of a digital workflow system by starting to explore potential markets and use cases in Cornell’s eLab accelerator program. “eLab was a lot of very early customer discovery and conceptual work,” said Gutiérrez. He and Adler learned to describe their relatively abstract business idea in concise terms.

The founders worked to create a smart workstation that consolidates the vast number of accounts and cloud services used by knowledge workers today. They imagined a system that lets you work normally with your favorite tools and that provides additional cross-account and cross-service functionality like universal search, managed contact profiles, and more. They are on a mission to empower everyone’s existing workflows by providing context and alternate points of view. For example, when a worker emails a colleague with a document, Comake would automatically show both people any related versions, files, people, and other messages that they each have access to see.

SBIR Phase 0: Narrowing Focus and Launching
Gutiérrez and Faulkner applied for SBIR Phase 0, a program run by UNY I-Corps and funded by the NSF, which helps entrepreneurs develop their business plans, launch their business, and apply for grant funding. Since participating in the NSF program, which included I-Corps training to speak with customers to evaluate the size and legitimacy of their market, the pair has conducted close to 300 prospective customer interviews in pursuit of narrowing their customer base.

The team felt that Comake could really be used by anyone. They were thus facing a huge horizontal market of potentially everyone and knew they needed to narrow their focus. “During the Phase 0 program, we identified a couple customer segments that were particularly interesting because we could easily access them, and because we knew our technology could help solve the big problems they really cared about,” said Faulkner. One of these segments was focused around account manager and coordination roles at medium sized agencies and consultancies. “These account managers tend to work with several clients simultaneously, who all use different software tools. They are responsible for making sure that external clients’ needs are met, and that these needs match internal team capabilities and availability,” continued Faulkner. “Because these individuals work across software ecosystems with several internal and external stakeholders, things can get messy quickly. Comake is a great solution to improve their workflow through better project documentation and information access. ” Added Gutiérrez: “Of course, there are many other types of companies that suffer from information fragmentation and because of our I-Corps interviews, we know better now than ever before where the common denominators lie. We also know how we’re narrowing our scope in the short term, and how we plan to go to market without having to independently target everybody.”

New Comake logo, released March 2019

Through Comake, knowledge workers can easily and quickly recall and share digital information and glean institutional knowledge while continuing to use their preferred productivity accounts, tools, and services. “While the big tech players are each trying to create their own ecosystem monopolies where everyone uses only their products, we understand the reality is that people use different systems from different providers in their daily lives,” said Faulkner.

“We believe fundamentally that special tools exist for a reason,” said Gutiérrez. “People have various needs, habits, and preferences that make them choose one system over another, and it’s difficult to make everyone in an organization happily adhere to one way of working. We want people to get the job done in the best way that works for them while maintaining a layer of shared access and clarity across the organization that allows everyone to communicate and coordinate clearly. That layer is Comake.”

“The conversations we started during the Phase 0 program are ongoing today and have led to our first revenue generation”, said Faulkner. “The connections we made through customer discovery continue to help us every day when making decisions about our product. We use the tools we gained in I-Corps on a daily basis when speaking to users, customers, interested individuals, and other stakeholders.”

Their Ask
Comake wants to make your data work for you, to break down organizational/institutional boundaries, and to improve your pace of innovation. They want to hear from more talented and passionate people who are interested in working with them, as well as from people that want access to The Comake Platform.