Seeded with $2.5M, Sales Tech Firm Polis Is Coming for Your Front Door

There’s at least one thread tying together clean energy providers, former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, and home security systems, and it runs through a small Cambridge, MA, startup founded in 2015 by Kendall Tucker.

Her sales and political canvassing technology company Polis has helped sell all three of them by sending people to residents’ front doors, knocking (or ringing a bell), and striking up a conversation. And the startup is coming soon to your front door (if it hasn’t been there already.)

“Our goal is to knock every door in America in the next two years,” says Tucker, a Columbia University undergraduate and political campaigner herself who founded the company after being frustrated by existing campaign software. After designing the platform to address political canvassing—and its use in many campaigns including O’Rourke’s run for the U.S. Senate—her team shifted onto another aim: door-to-door sales.

Her answer was Polis’ software. Its data analytics engine starts by giving sales employees and campaign volunteers optimized routes through the neighborhoods they are assigned. At each home, it guides the user through scripts that, for example, can help the sales person sell a clean energy plan to the resident, or if there’s little interest in that, just a cheaper energy plan. New branches sprout on the script as the conversation continues. When all’s said and done, the outcome is logged (be it a sale, a stern warning not to come back, or a no answer), and the user moves on to the next house.

Polis also lets companies track their sales workers in the field and respond to how they are selling (or not). The company boasts that businesses using the Polis system close 8 percent of homes visited, versus the 2 percent average in the industry.

Polis, based in a Verizon-operated co-working space in Cambridge, says it has raised $2.5 million in a seed funding round led by Haystack VC. Joining in the round are Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian’s and former Y Combinator partner Garry Tan’s firm Initialized Capital, former NFL hall of famer Joe Montana’s firm Liquid2 Ventures, Fathom Capital and Background Capital. The funds put Polis’s total capital raised at $4.5 million.

Polis primarily works in three industries: energy, telecommunications, and home security—all home-based products and obvious candidates for door-to-door sales. Customers include NRG Energy (NYSE: NRG), Rogers Communications (NYSE: RCI), and Telus (NYSE: TU), Tucker says. Polis has seen interest from two NBA teams about selling season tickets, realtors, insurance, pest control, and other home services companies.

Polis has 19 employees split between sales and marketing offices in Utah and engineering and customer success in Cambridge. Tucker says the investment will help Polis grow “as quickly as possible,” and it plans to hire 30 to 60 more people in the next year, including engineers, data scientists, customer success, and sales.

The funds will also help the startup branch out into training an on-demand staff of door-knockers who can be hired to take on sales jobs for clients without a staff of their own, Tucker says.

A business’s decision to launch a door-to-door sales campaign can be a sort of crystal ball for what kind of customer it should target through other forms of marketing.

In one case, a home security company launching a door-to-door sales run using the Polis system had thought its products would sell well to tech-oriented people because it always had sold well to that segment when advertising online, Tucker says. The sales visits, however found the products were selling far better with low- and middle-income homes.

Other insights were less expected.

“One of our energy partners did some data analysis after a few months of using our product and found that their door knockers were having consistently better results when they pitched people who supported casinos, versus those who didn’t,” Tucker says. “They took that information and decided to up their marketing spend at casinos to better reach their end customer. They’re making a lot more money because of that realization.”

For all the focus on door-to-door sales, Polis hasn’t left politics behind. Its platform is still available for campaigns, and Tucker hints she’ll have big news on the political front in a few weeks.

“Our organization continues to be focused on how to empower all Americans to have a voice in elections,” she says. “We think a crucial part of empowering the American citizenry is talking to all people in-person.”

Tucker says teams using Polis have visited 10 million U.S. households so far, and it only needs the other 110 million to reach its lofty goal.

Brian Dowling is a Senior Editor at Xconomy, based in Boston. You can reach him at bdowling [at] xconomy.com. Follow @be_d

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