Uncovering Unstack

by El Cap February 3rd, 2021

A theme that energizes our work at El Cap is the idea that technology can be a powerful force in lowering the barriers to creation. We believe making it easier for people to start and scale businesses is a good thing for everyone. As the collision of cloud, data, and connectivity creates new opportunities across industries, it is critical that technical novices have a pathway to build. Unlocking the enormous amounts of knowledge, experience, and insight that has, up till now, been gated by technical know-how or access to capital will have wide-ranging positive impacts on innovation, and by extension, the global economy. In the spirit of removing these barriers, we're proud to announce that El Cap has led an investment into Unstack, an exciting Boston-based startup.

As software investors, we see a wide range of distribution models. Some companies focus on large enterprises, managing a laundry list of stakeholders through an arduous sales cycle that can last months. Others sell directly from their website, in a process that only takes minutes. At first blush, enterprise sales may seem more complicated than selling online, but that is not always the case.

Direct sales can be complex on an individual deal basis, but at the end of the day the challenges typically boil down to people problems. Selling through a website on the other hand is relatively simple for any single customer, but the issues that crop up are system problems, and that is where the complexity lies. Online sales are rarely tailored for the individual customer, and when a change is made to a website it has ramifications on potential future customers. Given how important it is for a digital business to adeptly manage the experience of users on its website, it's no surprise how complex and all-consuming the task has become. It requires A/B testing different landing pages, analyzing mountains of user-data, maintaining dynamic lists of integrations and updates, and both creating and managing lots of content. Moreover, it’s time-consuming.

We’ve seen these challenges first hand within our own portfolio, and it was through one of our portfolio companies that we first connected with the founders at Unstack. We were impressed from the start. Unstack's Co-Founders have the trifecta of experience, talent, and grit that we look for in the teams we back. They know what to build, they know how to build it, and they have the determination to push through the inevitable setbacks.

Unstack’s mission is to be the leading marketing platform for digital businesses. They aim to solve the system problems that stand in the way of starting and scaling a business online. It's a big goal, not one for the faint of heart. Today, most digital businesses cobble together multiple products from different vendors to manage their digital presence, using a CMS offering as a foundation and then plugging in separate marketing point solutions for specific needs. By offering a powerful no-code CMS solution, Unstack aims to replace WordPress as the de facto foundation for digital marketers. And to provide the simplicity that is so lacking in the market today, Unstack offers embedded marketing products and easy to manage integrations. Want to set up payments with Stripe? With Unstack, just few clicks and it's done, no developers needed. Unstack wants to empower software businesses the same way Shopify has enabled eCommerce businesses. By lowering the cost and complexity of starting and marketing a digital business, Unstack is arming the rebels.

No-code products that are scaling by filling the white space between large traditional solutions is a growing trend. By focusing on specific use-cases that aren't being met by current offerings, a growing number of startups have been able to scale despite the presence of established competitors. Figma serves the growing need for collaboration in the design process by blending elements of Photoshop and Google docs; Airtable unlocks the power of databases for non-technical workers by combining elements of relational databases, Google docs, and Excel; and Notion provides lean organizations a cost efficient all-in-one workplace by mixing elements of Dropbox, Evernote, Asana, with a little Excel sprinkled in. What all of these platforms have in common is they reduce the time and complexity of the underlying tasks, and are cost effective alternatives. Unstack is meeting the needs of digital businesses by blending aspects of WordPress, Hubspot, and Mailchimp into a single platform at a price point well below the alternative. In its current form, Unstack is saving over ten hours per week on marketing tasks, and we expect the time savings to grow as the platform scales.

Building a product like this requires deep knowledge of user pain points. And you don't get that knowledge unless you've actually sat in the seat and experienced the challenges that your users face. As a startup it's not feasible to build all of the features offered by the point solutions, but focus is a feature not a bug. Solve the key problems and in an elegant way. Curation can be as important as creation, and trying to solve all of the problems at once is not prudent. Grant and Steve, the Co-Founders of Unstack have a combined two decades of experience working with the existing solutions in the market. For them, the pain points of digital businesses are obvious. To the uninitiated, the problems are harder to discern. We call this type of knowledge asymmetry an obvious secret. We’re always on the lookout for businesses leveraging this type of knowledge to build product, and that is what we found in Unstack.

@stewbradley & @kunaltandon