It was a problem that came up at his first startup that led Vetri Vellore to create his second one.
In 2007 Vellore co-founded Chronus, 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 Ally, a Bellevue, Wash.- based company that provides Objectives and Key Results (OKR) 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’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 Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.
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!
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.