As reported by Patrick Durkin in The Australian Financial Review, here:

Jeromy Wells, the chief executive and founder of listed cloud communication platform and workflow software company Whispir, denies COVID-19 is the best thing that has ever happened to him.

Still, Wells is not exactly complaining. After listing on the ASX in June last year, Whispir’s share price hit a low of 70c on March 23 as markets around the world plummeted.

Since then, as government contracts have rolled in and the market comes to grips with the potential of the company’s services amid the changed world of work, the share price has shot the lights out, rising to $2.28 to close of markets on Friday – a rise of 230 per cent in just two months.

That means Wells – who owns about 15 per cent of the company – has seen his personal wealth from the start-up grow from about $10 million to more than $35 million in just nine weeks.

Despite the share price rise, the New Zealand-born former architect says his fortune has been 20 years in the making, after he created the start-up in Melbourne in 2001.

“I would really categorise COVID-19 as an unanticipated but welcome tailwind”, Mr Wells tells The Australian Financial Review. “If anything, COVID-19 has shone a light on how valuable our services are.”

“We founded this company just after the dot com bubble with no capital and it has just been a super hard graft.”

Whispir’s customers include BHP, Rio Tinto, Telstra, Foxtel, Australia Post and Qantas as well as global players, but since the crisis it has been asked to help many government agencies get up and running within 24 hours to respond to COVID-19.

“Organisations leverage our platform to automate communication interactions with people, whether they are staff, community, customers, regulators or the government”, he says.

“What our technology does means that companies can be present and consistent across all the available channels.”

When asked how Whispir compares to platforms such as Slack or Facebook Workplace, Wells calls them “islands of communications activity”.

“Content that’s offered within the Slack environment, it is difficult to disseminate that as an SMS to people’s mobile devices or as an email to disseminate to people outside the organisation.”

“Islands of communication aren’t particularly helpful when you want to be consistent across all the available channels, so that everyone has access to the right information at the right time.

“Some people want to receive their communications in Facebook Messenger or in Twitter or WhatsApp, and organisations should deliver their communications in the channels people want to meet the market.”

“Let’s say you’ve bought a new bicycle off Amazon and you get a message it’s being delivered tomorrow between 10am and 2pm. You can actually reply and have a conversation to reschedule that delivery for Wednesday or later in the week.”

Wells says call centres are also “a really old fashioned way to communicate with people”.

“You think about if you’re a Foxtel customer and have a problem with your set top box. If you have to ring a call centre and wait 15 minutes, it can feel like an age. If you can pivot to a digital solution and get an answer more quickly without speaking to a human, customer satisfaction goes up and demand to your call centre goes down.

Long role in crisis communications

“Or let’s say there is going to be a big storm tonight and there will be power outages, it is much more efficient for utilities to communicate with their customers digitally.”

Wells says Whispir has been involved in crisis communications from its very beginning, which has given it a solid footing to flourish during COVID-19.

“If you had been travelling overseas and were required to self-isolate, we have provided the capability for [Victoria’s] DHHS [Department of Health and Human Service] to communicate with those people and confirm they are self-isolating”, he says.

“We were involved in the nuclear earthquake in Japan and organisations repatriating people from Japan to different countries,” he says.

“In this last bushfire season, we supported multiple agencies co-ordinating first responders and managing communications across agencies and with the public.”

Telstra in from the start

Wells says the business uses a subscription model with user-pays charges – an entry level subscription costs about $95 a month but on average customers pay $2800 a month. Whispir’s prospectus predicted the company would be in profit by June, which the company recently reaffirmed, and it is now making more than $40 million in revenue each year.

Telstra Ventures is a founding investor, and its general partner, Steve Schmidt, says that platform means companies can build closer bonds between their customers and employees at scale.

“When Telstra Ventures originally invested in Whispir, we were attracted to the company’s ability to rapidly manage, automate and optimise connections across voice, video and messaging,” Schmidt says.

“What’s increasingly attractive is that Whispir can now stitch layers of these connections together across the entire hierarchy of an organisation and their customers such that the output of one connection becomes the input of another connection, and so on.”

Head of Communications Technology at Spurrier Capital in New York, Mark Yurko, is also a believer and is helping the company make connections in the US to expand its global reach.

“Great to see the company cross the $40 million ARR [annual recurring revenue mark] and 30 per cent growth – those are very compelling results”, Yurko says.

“Net retention figures look very strong – 120 per cent is best in class for communications software.”