Most people write VCs to pitch an idea and get funded.
But Autopilot CEO Mike Sharkey had the exact opposite in mind when he wrote VCs before getting seed funded: turn me down.
Sharkey, an Australian native, was applying for government funding at the time, but one of the qualifications was you had to fail to raise private funding from a venture capital firm. There were only two well-known VC firms in Australia at the time, so Sharkey wrote both of them, hoping they would reject him.
His email was arrogant and full of profanities. Sharkey wanted them to feel offended and simply turn him down.
But unfortunately — or fortunately — one of the VCs really liked Sharkey’s company, and ended up investing in Autopilot.
“It was quite ridiculous at the time, but they really liked what we were building and saw a big opportunity in us,” Sharkey told Business Insider.
Autopilot offers software that makes marketing easy and accessible, whether it’s through email, direct mail, or text messages. On top of the basic marketing automation functions such as running email campaigns, Autopilot can trigger special thank you cards when someone accepts a deal, or follow up with people who failed to open your email the first time.
It’s also one of the more affordable marketing automation software, only costing $US4/user a month, which Sharkey says is intended to “democratize” marketing technology to small and medium sized businesses — a segment that can’t afford the more sophisticated marketing automation technology, and is only able to use the more low-end options.
Citing an internal report, Sharkey claims only 4% of all companies use marketing automation, with 44% of them never even hearing about it.
“We want to bring marketing automation to the masses and democratize it as much as possible from insider baseball,” Sharkey said.
Autopilot officially launched just four months ago — after shutting down some of its older products to just focus on marketing automation — and has grown its user base to 3,000 companies, Sharkey said. Plus, Autopilot has been able to do it without a sales team, growing purely based on word-of-mouth and organic search.
That growth has led to a fresh $US7 million round on Thursday that brings Salesforce and Stage One Capital to an investor group including Blackbird Ventures, Garnett Ventures, and Tim Draper. Autopilot has raised a total of $US20.5 million to date.
Autopilot is certainly in its early stages but Sharkey sees a huge untapped market ahead. “Most marketers still rely on 1990s technology, which is very sporadic, unorganized mass emails,” he said. “There are about 50 million companies worldwide that can benefit from this technology.”