Focus on the startup: Prokeep builds a communication platform for distributors

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How do you invent a software product or service that will be found useful in any industry? You talk to potential customers and research what they need to do their job more efficiently.

Prokeep founders, left to right, Mark Kanof, Jack Carrere and McKay Johnson. Photo courtesy of Prokeep

This is exactly what the co-founders of Prokeep did. And the hundreds of hours spent at distributor counters have paid off.

Prokeep is the first and only communication and commerce platform designed exclusively for distributors. Since launching the New Orleans-born software startup with business customers in 2018, it has served more than 1,000 marketers who have used Prokeep for more than 5.5 million conversations.

Contractors send orders and inquiries directly to their distributor, saving hundreds of thousands of hours per month across the entire customer base. The Prokeep platform, which enables a branch’s primary phone number to accept communications, continues to evolve based on feedback from distributors to streamline information such as orders, deliveries and pickups, all at one workplace.

“The relationship between distributors and their customers goes through communication. We spent hours observing how this interaction went and how we can improve these communications,” said Jack Carrere, CEO of Prokeep. Carrere co-founded Prokeep with McKay Johnson, COO, and Mark Kanof, CTO. “We’ve built an omnichannel platform to make it easier to communicate, build relationships, and get work done for our customers.”

Prokeep employs more than 60 people in offices in New Orleans, Atlanta, and employees working remotely across the United States. In 2021, Prokeep was included in Silicon Bayou News’ “10 Must-See New Orleans Startups”.

Company history : Carrère and Johnson are cousins ​​who have always wanted to start an entrepreneurial project together. In 2011, Carrere met Kanof at a startup event in Portland. Kanof, an engineer, lived in Portland and was determined to solve practical problems with technology. For several years, the two continued to share startup ideas, and Carrere would pass those ideas on to Johnson and vice versa. Eventually, the three teamed up and failed in their first two business ventures. It was the third time it was the charm.

In 2015 they tried to sell HVAC On Demand. “We found HVAC technicians who would answer our call if we found a customer who needed a repair,” Carrere said. “We ended up leaving the company for a number of reasons, but a recurring experience we found was in conversations with contractors, we saw opportunities to improve communications and efficiency within their company. .”

Thus, the three created the Timeline product, an application for entrepreneurs to help them better manage their business and easily communicate with their team and clients. While initial feedback on how Timeline was helping contractors was positive, the problem was that contractors were always jumping from job to job, and it was difficult to get contractors to spend the time needed to build momentum for Timeline. Carrere remembers looking for 15 to 20 leads who were promised free software in exchange for feedback. These leads were called, but hardly anyone called back. The timeline was brought back to the drawing board and a fork in the road directed them to texting distributors.

The three spent a year getting to know distributors while trying to sell Timeline. “We came up with the idea of ​​whether we were texting distributor landlines because we’ve seen it happen on home phones,” Carrere said. “Even though we spent two years building Timeline, we decided to pivot.”

The Prokeep platform enables the main phone number of a distributor branch to accept communications from contractors, such as orders, invoices and construction work requests. Photo courtesy of Prokeep

Ground: From this extensive research came a simple case: stop distributors from taking customer messages on home phones, storing notes on yellow pads and work files and inquiries about basic computer software . Move them to a cloud-based communication platform where distributors could receive, process and classify all communications – easy-to-use mission control for distributors adding three core values ​​of efficiency, accountability and convenience.

Traction: Initially started, Prokeep conducted client beta testing in 2017. Its first beta client was Flick Distributing Company, an HVAC distribution company in Harahan. Carrere and Johnson observed customers, suggested Flick employees and customers use Prokeep’s texting platform, and then collected feedback. Baton Rouge-based Acme Refrigeration also went live as a second beta test customer. Prokeep recruited 12 beta customers, and of these, 11 became full-time customers when the three decided to launch the company commercially in 2018.

Branch Texting was the origin of Prokeep’s business model. It enabled customers to text orders, photos and construction information directly to their distributor’s branch landline phone, reducing wait times, eliminating phone etiquettes and avoid communication errors. All parties access the cloud-based communication platform to conduct business. Distributors respond from their counter computers, home devices or phones. Searchable conversation history provides confirmation of details such as serial and model numbers, pricing, and other final decisions.

In 2021, Prokeep upgraded its SMS app to include multi-channel mobile messaging, internal messaging, broadcast messaging to customers, and the ability to connect to customer inquiries and leads through distributor websites. Prokeep’s Application Programming Interface (API) sends text when triggered by a company’s third-party system, communicating order status, shipping information, and receipts. “Thanks to the feedback and support of our customers, we have transformed Prokeep from a targeted SMS application to a secure omnichannel communication and commerce platform designed for distributors who process tens of thousands of orders per month” , Kanof said.

Funding: In June 2022, Prokeep announced the closing of its $9 million funding round. Johnson said the funds will accelerate marketing and product development as the company strives to continue to be “mission control for distributors.”

“By becoming the system of truth throughout the ordering process, we will bring better workflow and actionable data to distributors and enable an even higher level of customer service,” Johnson said.

The investment round was led by Ironspring Ventures with participation from S3 Ventures; Benson Capital Partners; Scott Wolfe Jr., CEO of Levelset; Lawrence Hester, former CEO of FareHarbor; and Hugh Evans, former head of PE/VC portfolio at T. Rowe Price; among others.

“Prokeep’s ability to launch with over 1,000 distributors and fuel 5.5 million conversations, while deeply respecting the human element involved between distributors and their customers, has blown us away and is a testament to the ability of this team to build a leading SaaS company,” said Austin-Ty Findley, co-founder and general partner of Ironspring Ventures.

S3 Ventures, a venture capital firm also based in Austin, was an investor in local success story Levelset, which provides construction payment software. “We believe in Prokeep’s vision to become the central operating system for wholesale distributors,” said Charlie Plauche, General Partner of S3 Ventures. “Their platform streamlines the way thousands of distributors and entrepreneurs communicate and do business.”

Benson Capital Partners was founded in 2019 by Gayle Benson, principal owner of the New Orleans Saints, New Orleans Pelicans and Birmingham Squadron. Benson Capital Partners is a partnership to honor the legacy of her late husband, Tom Benson, by fostering entrepreneurship and innovation in the Southern Gulf.

“We are thrilled to partner with the amazing team of professionals at Prokeep, a software company right here in our backyard that we believe is revolutionizing the way commerce is done in wholesale distribution,” said Mike Katz, CEO of BCP.

Challenges: Carrere said Prokeep’s biggest competitor and challenge in the market is distributors choosing to do “business as usual.”

“We have a unique product that we can offer, so our challenge is to continue to tell our story and explain the value we bring to a distributor,” Carrere said. “The opportunity we have is that the construction industry is growing and companies are investing in technology. We need to show that our communication platform can be a worthwhile investment for their strategic planning. »

The $9 million raised will also allow Prokeep to accelerate its marketing and sales efforts in the construction sector, expand partnership channels and penetrate other sectors. Prokeep markets its company through an extensive blog on the website, sharing distributor spotlights, trends and tips for using the software. The company also produces podcasts and webinars.

Growing from three founders to now 60 employees in six years, Carrere said as Prokeep continues to evolve, the company will hire across all departments.

“We hire in the areas of sales, customer success, product development, engineering and marketing,” he said. “We are excited to grow the technology ecosystem here in New Orleans and provide careers for people who bring innovative solutions to our customers in the United States and Canada.”

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