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Blend is like TikTok for training deskless workers

Imagine if ByteDance and Canva teamed up to onboard hospitality staff

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Hello there,

Today we have a first: a startup with the same name as one we’ve previously covered. It was probably going to happen eventually, but the other Blend was only a week ago!

While the other Blend is rethinking fashion discovery, today’s has a strong offer for the hospitality industry looking to train deskless workers in an efficient way. Full details below.

But first! A few things you should know about today:

  • 💯 Today we hit 100 startups in our Startup Tracker! That’s 100 early-stage B2B and deep tech UK startups, handpicked by PreSeed Now, with more being added all the time. [Get access]

  • Sequoia Atlas is a useful new tool out today from the folk at Sequoia Capital. It lets you explore the talent hotspots for different tech specialisms across the UK and Europe. [Take a look]

  • The biggest name so far that you read about first at PreSeed Now: ElevenLabs has raised a $19 million series A round for its voice cloning tech. Congratulations to Mati and the team.

  • RezKit, a London-based SaaS booking platform aimed at travel companies, has announced a £250,000 investment round from Jenson Funding Partners

– Martin

Blend is like TikTok for training deskless staff

Tech startups can easily target their products to desk-based workers, but workers who spend most of their time away from desks are more of a (literally) moving target and are tricky to serve.

It’s a common ‘fact’ you’ll see in pitches that 80% of the world’s workforce is deskless but receives just 1% of business tech spend. 

These figures are frequently quoted without source, but they certainly ring true. And whatever the precise percentages actually are, there are still big opportunities in the deskless space, which includes cleaners, construction workers, social care, and hospitality workers.

Blend’s mission is to “save business owners time and money in onboarding deskless workers,” as co-founder and CEO Jonah Werth puts it.

“It's notoriously difficult training these workers in what is a highly transient sector, where skills are very practical, and people need to learn things very fast. And a lot of money is wasted, repetitively onboarding these workers.”

Blend’s solution is to enable flexible, video-based training that draws more than a little inspiration from the success of TikTok’s video format.

The startup has developed a web-based platform as their MVP. It allows managers to upload short-form training videos they’ve already created and organise them into courses, with quiz questions to test those who take them. These courses can then be assigned to relevant employees.

When employees log in via their phone, they can see all the courses they’ve been assigned, and complete them wherever and whenever is most convenient or relevant. Videos are in portrait (vertical) format, as is the norm for mobile video these days. Managers are notified about each employee’s progress. 

This training data is a key part of Blend’s offer, co-founder Julia Smith explains.

“[It’s important managers know] who has done the training. And if it's health and safety training, or training that they have to do before they're even allowed to start their job, our platform will allow managers to track who has done what, so that they can be sure not to put any employees on shift that haven't completed the training modules.”

Blend’s offering is a timely one. Staff shortages in UK hospitality were last year estimated to have cost the sector £21 billion in lost revenue. Brexit driving European workers out of the country, and the Covid pandemic causing others to choose to leave the sector, have been particular drivers of these shortages.

“They're turning to younger British workers to fill the jobs that those experienced workers have left vacant,” says Werth. “They're turning to 16-, 17-, and 18-year-olds… But many of these workers have not even eaten at a restaurant, let alone worked in one before. and they're having to learn everything from scratch.”

As you’d expect, staff turnover is high among the youngest workers. 

“The managers are pulling their hair out having to repetitively train these workers over and over again, and young employees have to absorb so much information in such a short phrase of time,” Werth explains.

In that context Blend, a “TikTok-for-deskless-learning meets Canva,” as Smith phrases it, makes a lot of sense.

Going to market

Blend’s business model is SaaS-based with an annual subscription, and a sliding scale price based on the number of employees a customer needs to train.

One potential stumbling block is that businesses have to create their own videos. A few years ago this would have been a dealbreaker, but now it’s not necessarily the case.

Werth says Blend has validated that businesses are now ready to make their own video content. 

“Due to the likes of Tik Tok, and what's going on with Instagram and social media marketing, these businesses are creating video first content all the time. All we're doing is we're telling them to turn the cameras inside and create that content for their own training purposes. 

“In effect, what we're doing is we're blending user-generated content created by our customers with a learning management system that's mobile optimised.”

And a platform designed for short-form video is arguably perfect for a new generation of deskless workers, used to swiping through their TikTok ’For You’ page or Instagram Reels feed.

The story so far

Werth has a background in marketing and advertising, where he helped brands tell stories through the medium of video. Wanting to use those skills in a new way, he enrolled onto the Antler programme, which helps potential co-founders meet. 

It was there he met Smith, who has experience in the tech world, including a stint at Uber when it was growing its Uber Eats offering in Australia.

“For the last few years of my life, I’ve strategically positioned myself into companies that I thought had values that aligned with my values, and in roles that I thought would set me up to become a founder one day, because that is what I always wanted to do,” she explains, adding that using technology to create an impact on education is her passion.

Blend’s third co-founder is Helen Sydorenko, who previously co-founded Greenbin, a startup that incentivises recycling. She also joined through the Antler programme and is Blend’s chief product officer.

As Werth and Smith had both previously had jobs in hospitality, they chose that sector as their beachhead. As part of their research, Werth says they rolled up their sleeves and did shifts in the sector again to better understand the training pain points.

“While we worked in hospitality ourselves over 10 years ago, we realised quite quickly that the industry has changed. What's it like now?”

To find out, Smith worked serving dumplings, while Werth made sushi and learned how to be a pizza chef.

Werth says Blend is currently piloting its app with two full-service restaurant chains.

“We're making sure that for every pilot customer, we're doing at least one shift in their restaurant to really understand their processes,” says Smith. “You can observe someone as much as you want, but until you're actually in that role, you don't really understand the way that they see things differently.”

The roadmap

Blend’s next step will be to launch its MVP into five national restaurant chains, with the aim of generating revenue from these paying customers by the end of this year. 

Through next year, the startup aims to expand to serve 25 customers and move towards an expanded product that could include gamification elements and generative A.I. to help produce effective content.

While beginning with UK restaurants, Blend plans to expand to serve hotels, bars, pubs, and cafes. They also plan to explore opportunities in other deskless verticals, and in international markets.

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