As Managing Director of Techstars Montréal AI, I get to invest in amazing founders and with work them as they grow their business … and the last few weeks have been pretty brutal. In a maelstrom of bleak news and gloomy predictions for what’s ahead, it’s super hard if not impossible to keep going business as usual. There’s just nothing usual about business right now. Nonetheless, there are impressive examples of resilience and adaptation to unexpected circumstances. I felt those deserved to be shared. Not because they’re spectacular. Not because they’ll give you the secret steps to success. Simply because it might give fellow entrepreneurs something positive that they can maybe relate to. And we all need a bit of that right now, don’t we?
Summary of the conversation
The story of Crescendo started in early 2018 when Sage Franch, Daniel D’Souza and Stefan Kollenberg got together to work on their initial idea. They went through Techstars Montreal AI in the Fall of 2018 which led them through a massive pivot and focus on a microlearning software for D&I that helps people learn about different cultures so they can build stronger working relationships. Through 2019, sales were picking up as they started to sign deals with increasingly bigger customers. Expectations were high as 2020 was starting with a shared feeling between co-founders that this would be their big year of growth and plans to go out to raise capital in March.
For Sage, it would also be a big year personally as she was expecting her first child by early March. As she was going out on maternity leave things felt mostly good until a few days into it, she got a call from her cofounders saying everything had changed. The spread of COVID-19 had become a pandemic and they needed to make major decisions. It became clear pretty fast that they needed to do something to adapt to this because it’s not the same business world it was three days ago. Measures being imposed created a massive shift forcing everyone to go remote. Going remote was something many companies have said they would never do. Now they had no choice, and adapting to it would clearly be a huge challenge. Sage, Daniel and Stefan figured that’s something they could help with. Not only because Crescendo is already built with remote teams in mind, but also because their own team operates remotely with people spread between Toronto, Montreal, and New York.
With this new customer need in mind, they wanted to make it open for anybody feeling that pain and ended up making Crescendo free for six weeks. It only took a few hours to see the interest being confirmed with over 90 companies signing up for that trial. And the impact is going beyond new customers, this has been a catalyst for deals sitting in the pipeline and pilots that had been going for the last few months. One such deal is a customer that was on a pilot basis deciding to speed up deployment to 1,000 employees across North America. Crescendo is now anticipating rolling out to over 20,000 new users around the world in the next few weeks.
Part of how Crescendo adapted their offering involved creating new microlearning content, not just about adapting to remote work, but also specifically about COVID-19’s impact on the workforce. These tracks address how xenophobia grows during times of pandemics, how it is impacting people around the world in different ways, and how the pandemic disproportionately affects people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. For the many businesses trying to adapt to a new remote reality and looking to help their employees navigate this stressful situation, this content helps educate and dispel misinformation, and build confidence and inclusion in the workplace.
We ended the conversation talking about how their own team was going. The restrictions imposed on everyone with everything closed down, kids home from schools, a new baby and everything else makes it super hard to be productive but the team has to support their largest customer rollout ever this week. The fact the team had already been fully remote since January made adaptation much less of an issue, and people have been supporting each other despite the distance. Also, Crescendo has a new full time CTO that recently joined the team. Overall, there’s a shared feeling of gratitude that everyone is happy and healthy, despite the surreality of the current state of the world.
The above is just a summary of our discussion, listen to the full recording (~11 minutes) for the whole thing: https://vimeo.com/403665308.
This pandemic is unfortunately not under control yet. People matter more than businesses. Take care of yourself and your loved ones. Stay home, stay safe.