RPA, and companies like UiPath, swooped into on the world of work a few years ago as a catchy way for organizations to help teams automate and speed up repetitive business activities such as processing information on forms. Today, a company called TextExpander -- which has identified and built a way to fix a similar gap in another repetitive aspect of business life, communications, by letting users create customized shortcuts to trigger longer text-based actions such as specific phrasing around a topic, calendar events, emails, messages, CRM systems and many other environments -- is announcing $41.4 million in funding to expand something else: its business.
Alongside the funding, the company is also appointing a new CEO, J.D. Mullin, who is taking over from Philip Goward, who co-founded the company originally with Greg Scown. TextExpander was born out of another developer platform they built called Smile -- you can read more about that early history, with an interesting nod to how they originally met at Macworld and how the threat of a clone led them to build for iOS after first launching on Mac, here -- and both are keeping seats on the board and remaining involved in aspects of development.
Summit Partners is leading this round, which is significant in that its the first-ever funding that TextExpander has ever taken since first launching in 2007.
As a bootstrapped (and profitable) startup, TextExpander today has some 100,000 monthly active users, with in the last year some 560 million "expansions" have been carried out using its platform -- essentially, text snippets or keyboard shortcuts created by organizations or individuals to trigger longer text passages, useful when companies, say, want to keep messaging consistent; or (e.g., in sales or customer service) when they want people to use wording that has been successful in the past, or simply to speed up work for a person going through a repetitive process.
Now the plan will be to use the funding to build more advanced features around those existing operations. They will include tools to help suggest and build new snippets, more analytics to determine which snippets are most popular and which are leading to desired outcomes, and more ways of using these snippets in a wider set of use cases. (Today, for example, although there is an API available it doesn't necessarily feed into chatbots or other services that use natural language; nor does TextExpander work beyond text, so there is an opportunity potentially to build services for audio-based interactions.)
TextExpander's traction -- and now, attention from investors to fuel more growth -- comes at a critical moment in the world of work productivity, and it's been successful because of how it touches on a couple of key themes.
The first of these is automation, where we have seen a wide array of tools -- some based around the functionality afforded by machine learning and artificial intelligence; some simply built around more sophisticated scripts and API usage to improve interactivity and information exchange between different databases and applications; some a combination of both of these -- created and implemented to help humans do their very digital and information-heavy jobs more quickly, especially in cases where they repeating similar work.
The other is the rise of low- and no-code tools, ways of helping to empower workers to build solutions to their own software challenges in certain situations rather than rely on developers or other technical people to have the resources and ability to solve those problems for them.
TextExpander is operating in a realm where both of these are at play: Its platform was originally designed for non-technical individuals to be able to create their own shortcuts and hacks, and later as it expanded to building a way for teams to access shortcut repositories, it kept a lot of its non-technical ethos.
But while it does have a strong push toward speeding up and, yes, automating some tasks, Mullin in an interview was clear to separate its aim from that of RPA or what he described as "agent assistants" -- chatbots that are either customer-facing or are there to help nudge and help customer service agents or salespeople carry out their work more efficiently. While it might incorporate more sophisticated processes, TextExpander, he said, works fundamentally as a helper to, not replacement for, actual people.
"We see ourselves as a superpower for our users," he said.
He would not comment on whether TextExpander had considered acquisitions instead of taking investment to grow the business, but you could imagine a number of larger tech companies that might want to incorporate tools like these into their own platforms to expand their touch points with their customers -- those could include RPA companies, as well as customer service and CRM behemoths.
For now, it sounds like some of the investment will go toward helping TextExpander work with those behemoths but on a functionality basis. There will be, for example, efforts to expand integrations with the likes of Salesforce to both help build better repositories of "sources of truth" as well as to build more use cases for where TextExpander might be applied.
Mullin was essentially hand-picked by TextExpander's new investor for this role and to build out the business: Prior to joining the startup he was an executive-in-residence at Summit, having moved there after being a longtime exec at a startup that exited to Intuit, where he also worked.
“We’ve worked closely with J.D. for a number of years. As a leader and an operator, he offers a rare combination of product vision, technical expertise and business acumen, and we are excited to bring this perspective to the TextExpander team,” said Colin Mistele, an MD with Summit Partners, in a statement. “At a time when organizations are seeking ways to empower their employees by automating routine tasks and communication, we believe TextExpander stands out with a simple, yet powerful, full-featured solution designed to serve the needs of individuals, teams and enterprises.”
Updated to correct Mullin's prior roles.