Investment

Boël family investment group invests in SaaS platform

The Boël family, one of the wealthiest in Belgium, has invested in Typeform, a technology business that helps companies to interact with their customers using digital conversations, video and chatbots. 

This March led a $135 million funding round. Other backers included Trium, a Nigerian tech backer on behalf of wealthy investors, Index Ventures, GP Bullhound and General Atlantic, a VC firm backed by family offices. 

Sofina became a diversified investment group and invests up to €300 million a time in stakes in established businesses run by families and entrepreneurs with skin in the game

Earlier investors include first-generation entrepreneurs who know their software. They include Anthony Casalena, founder of US-listed website provider Squarespace, Jay Pairkh of cloud security group Lacework, Javier Olivan, a vice-president at Meta and Riccardo Zacconi, chief executive of Swedish entertainment group King.com.

The Boël family’s decision to lead Typeform’s latest investment round via its listed Belgian company Sofina was an important vote of confidence, showing that old money has latched on to the idea.

Sofina was founded in 1898 as an engineering conglomerate, best known for its ownership of the Anglo-Argentinian Tramways Company.  

The Boëls, linked to the Belgian royal family, took control of Sofina in 1964 and Harold Boël currently serves as chief executive alongside industrialist Nicolas Boël and members of the Belgian financial establishment. Robert Peugeot of French family investment company FFP is a director. 

Sofina became a diversified investment group and invests up to €300 million a time in stakes in established businesses run by families and entrepreneurs with skin in the game.  It is prepared to buy up to 35% of the equity.

Its investments include wealth consultant Cambridge Associates, learning app Byju’s, and security firm Salto. It also backs funds, and stands ready to invest up to €50 million in smaller growth companies involved in digital innovation, education, healthcare and consumer sectors. Sofina’s assets total $12 billion.

Typeform, based in Barcelona, offers software as a service. It is out to improve the relationship between companies and their clients by offering them access to digital templates which can be customized but do not require coding expertise.

Rather than being wooed by direct marketing pitch or subliminal advertising prospective clients get drawn into opportunities through digital conversations, often taking the form of a quiz or a narrative.

Alternatively, clients get involved in a YouTube conversation through VideoAsk. Or Typeform service companies can put together Q&A sessions for prospective clients to access through chatbots. 

David Okuniev, Typeform’s co-founder, points out new tools are needed to bring remote marketing to life: “Businesses of all sizes confront intense pressure to create a meaningful digital experience and find opportunities to make personal connections through online  interactions.”

Companies basically need clients to want to communicate with them, rather than feeling obliged to do so.  In effect, Typeform replaces meetings with cheerful product marketers with a digital programme that wins deals and obtains information by entertaining the punters. The service also provides advice on how messages look and how they should be positioned.

Founded in 2012, Typeform now drives 500 million digital interactions which interface with the likes of HubSpot, GoogleSheets, MailChimp and Salesforce. It has a team of 450 all working remotely, representing 55 nationalities. Users have included Apple, Uber and Nike. 

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