In my podcast, I explore the many different facets of the world of high tech from development to marketing, to sales, to entrepreneurship, all with the goal of collecting key insights on startups for listeners to gain value from this knowledge-sharing. So, what did I discover this week?

If last week we discussed ThinkUp and its revolutionary platform for startup validation, this week we are focusing on the next step: what to do once your startup shows critical traction. Irad Eichler, CEO and founder of Circles, is just there. A little over a year ago, we met up to discuss his novel concept and what exactly Circles was aiming to do. Seeing a growing need for better grief support, especially in a digital era which surprisingly has many people feeling more isolated than ever, Irad set out to “reinvent support systems in the modern world,” as he puts it, and develop a digital solution that provides “circles of support” for people going through similar circumstances.

Shortly after recording the first episode, Irad successfully completed an $8 million seed round, pushing Circles’ mission forward. During that time, Irad and the team promoted new features and innovated on the platform, while hunkering down on their target market, to better understand their needs and what they would like to see in the Circles platform. Now, a year later, and having proven that his digital solution for specially curated support groups works is more than a good idea, Circles recently announced another amazing milestone: the group support platform raised a $16.5 million series A to advance their solution and show just how much Circles can grow.

Giving Grief a Voice

As part of scaling the Circles platform, Irad emphasizes that they always are open to hearing what their users suggest regarding the platform. “On average, every 16 months everyone will go through a life event that will take an emotional toll, that’s real, and most times we feel alone and don’t talk about it,” says Irad. Keeping the feedback close to their minds as they develop new solutions keeps them relevant and makes the platform more of a ‘partner solution’ that benefits the users and decreases their feelings of isolation, especially since most of them are generally dealing with some form of emotional pain. Moreover, in doing so, they can innovate on the product in a way that meets their users' actual needs, and that’s where their second product was born: Voices.

Understanding from the start they needed to build out their product suite, Irad began diving into the company’s data to see if he could spot some trends when it came to user acquisition and engagement with the platform. After one specific call with a man who had signed up for the platform, paid and everything, but never once attended a Circles online meeting, he realized that there was something at the top of their acquisition funnel that was leaving people out. After talking to other users, Irad realized they were not receiving the support they actually needed, “they told me they actually had the most meaningful experience on [Circles] just by listening,” while yet others demonstrated and described their apprehension to turning on their cameras.

After a few trials with other features, Voices was developed. An audio-based interaction room, a la ClubHouse style, Voices is an anonymous digital interaction room curated by leaders that focus on topics of grief. They are free and not as specialized or small as the Circles groups, giving two layers to the Circles platform - one that is accessible to the first-timer, the mildly interested, or shy people and one available for those who are more serious about seeking support. With his intention to scale Circles, this additional offering helped Irad reach more people and create a more efficient funnel to bring more users and grow the platform.

Founders, Companies, and Investors

With exciting new offerings like Voices, it is no wonder that investors found Irad’s solution even more appealing this time A-round (😉). While innovative, at the end of the day, the investments did not simply come due to the new features but due to what the new features provided. “You’re building a business, and the core thing you want to see is value to customers,” and for Irad, the value proven in his solution was through the high user retention rates. Moreover, he moved to a method of evaluation that focused more on daily interaction and less on weekly ones, to make sure the business is providing long-term, consistent value to customers.

In addition to the high retention rates, he aimed to scale his solution through a strong acquisition model. Voices was one example of this strategy, increasing their target audience through new offerings and reducing the barrier to access. Bringing the solution to more people was of course attractive to investors, but even more so, it showed a real, possible future for Circles to grow even more.

As Circles continues to develop on the support group and create a new way for people to connect with others going through the same hardships, it is inspiring to see entrepreneurs like Irad building technology for social impact. This is by no means meant to denigrate any other use of technology, but in times where feelings of loneliness in the wake of technological innovation are growing, it seems to me that he has begun showing that technology can indeed help us more than we know.