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Introducing PANDA – We Raised 3 Million Dollars In A Pandemic

TL;DR, PANDA AI raised a $3.3M Seed round from PSL Ventures, the Allen Institute for AI (AI2) Seed fund, and Ascend VC. This is the first investment from the AI2 Seed Fund. Founders of legendary Seattle companies also participated including Court Lorenzini (DocuSign) and Eric Browne (Smartsheet).

I hit bottom.

After years of chasing information across systems, begging our sales team to update the CRM, and endless status meetings, I’m officially over it.

For context, before PANDA AI, I was the CEO of an enterprise SaaS company.

We were super close to our customers. We were constantly selling them new solutions while simultaneously deploying products we had sold the prior year. And they were already using stuff we had sold from years before.

Oh, and we had custom professional services. And unique billing. Complicated contracts. Partners.

This amounted to a pretty complex enterprise sales motion. Our teams from professional services, customer success, sales, product, operations, and exec sponsors all had to work in unison.

On a relative basis, we succeeded. We were industry leaders. We were acquired. It was in a difficult industry, so we weren’t as big as zombocom, but our customers loved us; we made lots of annual revenue, our culture was excellent and our products are still widely used.


But I just couldn’t stand how we managed information.

Stuff was everywhere. It was simply ridiculous. The current generation of tools simply wasn’t designed for our type of customer-centric, fluid, collaborative company. I wanted daily enlightenment, but what I had was chaos — tamed only by arduous labor. 

I almost feel sorry for our marketing VP, who listened to me yell at tools all day. Sorry for the employees sitting through endless customer scrubs. Sorry for schedules tracked in google slides. Sorry for endlessly long emails of notes. 

Sorry. Not sorry. But sorry. 

After talking to dozens of people in similar companies, despite the wave of new, modern tools, it became clear that


I was not alone.

The pain. The frustration. The agony. The fight to keep on the same page, endlessly consuming more and more information just to know what’s going on. Just, no. No thank you.

We software people don’t stand for agony in the digital world. We envision a better world. We create better things.


I had been thinking about a better way for over a year.

That’s when I met Yue. We were both entrepreneurs in residence at the AI2 Incubator. He said he’d been doing Natural Language Processing AI for a few years first at Qualtrics and then at his own startup. 

Yue realized that NLP was progressing in such a profound way that it could be part of the defining architecture for a different kind of information synthesis approach. And that if you started over, with NLP as the core enabler, then you can unleash entirely new capabilities in a way that would be impossible with legacy systems. 

Yue is the rare person who can sit down and digest an NLP research paper, understand what’s going to be useful in practice, and understand how to productize it at scale. He had been successful at companies like Amazon, Twitter, and Qualtrics, but was down the path on his own startup.  

So there we were. He, an expert on modern NLP AI research and product technology. Me, a former SaaS CEO, burning with fury on the need for a better way to understand what is going on across teams.


The path became obvious. PANDA wanted to be built, and we were just stepping into the roles that fate had created.

It’s too early to get specific about what we’re building. Our customers know, we (hopefully) know and luckily we have awesome investors who trust us. 

We are excited to share that Pioneer Square Labs Venture fund is leading this round and that Mike Galgon, himself a founder of legendary aQuantive, has joined our board. PSL is packed with top-shelf company building expertise and we couldn’t be happier to work with them.  

PANDA also received the first investment from the AI2 seed fund, which is backed by Sequoia, Kleiner Perkins, Madrona, and more. The AI2 incubator was a fantastic experience and we are proud to be an AI2 incubator spinout. 

Additionally, we actively sought out Kirby Winfield of Ascend.vc who joined the round and is one of Seattle’s startup whisperers.

Rounding out our investment team are entrepreneurs from iconic Seattle companies such as Court Lorenzini, (founder DocuSign), and Eric Browne (founder Smartsheet). Eric is also our product advisor.

We are also pleased to now share that we work with Dr. Noah Smith and Dr. Matthew Peters, both highly regarded NLP experts and affiliated with AI2.

Between this group and our first cohort of customers, we are so grateful for the growing PANDA community. 

At heart, we think the way teams stay on the same page about stuff is badly broken. With today’s technology, we can do better. 

We believe when teams understand themselves better, they’ll achieve more, work less, and be happier for it. That’s our mission and we hope you’ll join us! 

Thanks,

Aaron 

PS: Did I mention we’re hiring? More info here.