A look into Dtec Venture’s portfolio company Qordoba as they shifted gears to sharpen their core tech to be come the world’s first UX content management platform, and how it is breaking stereotyping barriers in Founder profiles of startup ecosystems, as told by Forbes
When the startup Qordoba first met with California venture capitalists to share its software idea, its founders faced an uphill battle for attention. Its chief executive was a female ex-banker. Its chief technology officer was Syrian and had taught himself English. And their business was based in Dubai.
But Qordoba was operating in a market that resonated across geographies: translation. Initially focused on helping businesses manage local teams to translate their projects and copywriting to different languages, Qordoba had changed gears to focus on its core tech, a machine learning tool that could keep text consistent—say, a corporate name or slogan—across thousands of instances on different websites and apps. Qordoba had raised money from Middle Eastern investors years before. Now it wanted to come to Silicon Valley.
“I didn’t even have a permanent visa yet,” remembers cofounder and CEO May Habib. “And they told me, ‘Somehow this foreign guy with this thick accent and this woman an ocean away could close Visa?’ And they preempted the round.”
That investment, just over a year ago, helped Qordoba relocate to San Francisco and get on a different level of trajectory that has made it one of the faster-growing software businesses in tech’s epicenter. So much so that just a few months later, Qordoba’s raised funds again—this time a $11.5 million Series B led by Aspect Ventures, with a gaggle of other investors including Upfront Ventures, which had led the A, Rincon Ventures, Broadway Angels, The Perkins Fund and Yelp cofounder Michael Stoppelman all joining in.
“When it comes to the actual words inside products, it felt like there weren’t any teams on that product, and it could be the most important,” says Habib. “It felt like a part of the stack that had been absolutely missed.”
Qordoba’s pitch is simple: Engineers would rather spend their time coding than working with words. That’s why they’re engineers. But in practice, engineers write and rewrite corporate names, slogans and copy to live in a host of digital places; mistakes ensue. Qordoba’s software acts like a guard rail, says Habib, a side panel that can check copy for language, grammar and consistency with a company’s style guide. Customers like Marriott, the NBA, Postmates, Sephora and Visa all use Qordoba to make sure offers and brand messaging are consistent. Plus, the product is intended to simply save time.
While Qordoba’s software can help with navigating different languages, it’s not the translation tool Habib and cofounder Waseem Alshikh originally pitched. The bigger market opportunity appealed to Aspect, says firm cofounder Jennifer Fonstad, who led the new funding. “We spoke to some of our own portfolio companies, and everyone we spoke to had this problem,” she says. “The challenge was so prolific that we felt they’d hit on something.”
Though it didn’t specifically drive the deal, Aspect’s investment in Qordoba reflects one sign of hope that the VC ecosystem is becoming more open to founders who don’t fit the classic white male stereotype. Fonstad was reintroduced to Qordoba through Upfront partner Kara Nortman; both women are members of All Raise, the group of top female venture capitalists working to improve diversity among investors and entrepreneurs. With the funding, female-led Qordoba now has two female VC partners as key backers, and a board of directors that is more than half women.
Qordoba plans to hire aggressively with its new funding, adding product development, data science and sales staffers to a team that already has two Ph.D.s. Qordoba was named one of Forbes’ Cloud 100 Rising Stars in September.
Habib believes that as more businesses adopt agile or micro-service approaches to development, with small teams releasing their own features, a tool like Qordoba will only prove more important to maintain consistency over time. “You can reach users faster, but with more complexity,” she says. “Qordoba is how they can go to market with higher standards.”