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As businesses grow and branch into multiple divisions and units spanning cities and time zones, it can be easy for workers to feel disconnected — both from each other and the information they need to fulfill their jobs. Remote work now being on the permanent menu for many companies may only compound matters.

And that is why Los Angeles-based startup Haystack is launching out of stealth today with $8.2 million in funding from a slew of top investors, to serve as a unified hub for employees to “receive important announcements, discover knowledge, and learn about your coworkers,” Haystack cofounder and CEO Cameron Lindsay told VentureBeat.

Haystack, which is targeting larger companies with at least 300 employees, is entering a space consumed by various incumbents. This spans siloed internal company intranets through to third-party platforms such as Jive (acquired by Aurea four years ago), Simpplr, and LumApps, the latter two of which have raised sizable investments in the past year. As the new kid on the block, Haystack is betting that a modern, easy-to-configure platform with deep enterprise integrations and universal search will be enough to garner attention.

“Almost every company after a certain number of employees will have some form of intranet,” Lindsay said. “These are either built internally — expensive and often siloed from other systems — or purchased from ‘modern’’ intranets that end up looking more like vintage social networks than tools to help people get their jobs done. These ‘modern’ intranet products take months to configure, and prefer companies to start from scratch rather than integrate with existing systems.”

Haystack was founded in 2019 by Lindsay and CTO Haibo Zhao, a former senior software engineer at Google and, more recently, tech lead at Snap. Haystack kicked off a pilot program in early 2020 with a high-profile ecommerce platform as its inaugural customer, followed later in the year by other pilot customers including Nerdwallet and Chime. During that period, Haystack also secured $8.2 million in seed funding from notable names from the VC and angel investor realm, such as Twitter cofounder Biz Stone, Greycroft, Coatue Management, and Day One Ventures.

How it works

Enterprises use Haystack to connect all their employees, systems, and communication channels in a centralized hub. The company offers a bunch of pre-built connectors for many of the popular SaaS business tools such as Slack, Google Workspace, Microsoft 365, Workday, Okta, and Atlassian’s Confluence, while it also offers an API for businesses that want to develop more customized integrations.

All this, ultimately, is designed to save personnel from having to switch between multiple applications to find key information they need for their jobs.

Across all these connections, Haystack offers universal search capabilities that allows anyone to search for any content across all their conduits — this is perhaps one of the core components of the Haystack platform.

“We lead with search as much as we can, and make sure search is the focal point of our product,” Lindsay said. “We also provide advanced search analytics that give admins insight into how search is performing and provide actionable insights to improve information accessibility.”

Above: Haystack: Universal search

Haystack has all the usual features you would expect from a modern intranet, including employee directories and event management portals, but some of the specific features within the platform are worth focusing on.

Through Haystack, managers or HR personnel can draft an announcement and distribute it to everyone in the company through email, Microsoft Teams, Slack, SMS, or a self-branded company app. Haystack offers no-code customization so businesses can make the interface reflect their own branding.

Above: Haystack

Related to this, businesses are given granular controls in terms of how users can engage with the content. It’s possible to disable emoji reactions, for example, if a message is deemed to be of such importance, while comments can also be turned off on a message-by-message basis.

Haystack’s analytics, meanwhile, can surface insights into who has opened the message, and in the future it will be able to apply sentiment analysis to show how it is being perceived.

Above: Haystack: Analytics

Digging down into the security and privacy side of things reveals some pretty intriguing features, such as disabling copy/paste and screenshotting, and general functionality that prevents leaked information — this includes requiring each user to sign in using SSO (single sign-on) authentication to view content, meaning that the user won’t be able to see the entirety of the message on email or Slack.

Additionally, management can stipulate that a message is uniquely watermarked with each employee’s name, to further dissuade information leaks.

Above: Haystack: Secure delivery

Haystack is also planning to introduce some machine learning smarts in the coming months, tapping the collective experience of a founding engineering team spanning Google, Snap, and PayPal.

“Many of our future add-on products will use machine learning algorithms to connect employees, improve search, and help admins better understand their organizations,” Lindsay said.

In terms of costs, Haystack said that it offers tailored pricing for each customer spread across two broad “professional” and “enterprise” tiers, with features like white-labeled mobile apps and custom URLs available across both, while custom integrations is limited to the enterprise incarnation.

Haystack is officially accepting new customers from today.

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