It is easy to forget that the path to success as an entrepreneur is seldom a straight line. Behind every overnight success is an untold story of personal sacrifice and sleepless nights.
Today we are thrilled to congratulate Opus on their Series A financing led by Stage 2 Capital, with participation from NextView Ventures, Bling Capital, and Gutter Capital. To celebrate this milestone, I am compelled to tell the untold story. The story of Opus is one of uncommon tenacity and integrity in the face of great obstacles.
Our story begins nearly 5 years ago. In 2018, I received a cold email from Rachael Nemeth. She had founded a company called ESL Works to help restaurant workers learn English, and was looking for advice. At the time I was still CEO of Managed by Q, and an occasional angel investor.
Rachael had tremendous experience running operations in top New York City restaurants, including for Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group. She had experienced first hand the pain caused by training front-line workers without the proper tools. Rachael grew tired of watching high-potential employees get overlooked due to poor communication, and organizations suffer the consequences of high turnover. She resolved to do something about it, getting a masters in teaching English as a second language (ESL) and founding ESL Works.
James and I were struck by Rachael’s passion and authenticity. As James would say, “she’s gonna do something.” We invested in Rachael’s pre-seed round, and supported Rachael as she converted the ESL training she had delivered through live instruction into a text message based training application. Despite having no software experience, she got a functional product live and built a roster of happy customers.
Fast forward to March 2020. The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic and life as we knew it ground to a halt. New York City restaurants were hit hardest; many closed their doors and sent their employees home with no plan to reopen. Those of us who were here still remember the fear and uncertainty. Rachael was in the middle of raising her seed round and like many of her customers, she watched as her business went to zero overnight.
At a moment when many founders would be ready to throw in the towel, Rachael was thinking of her customers. On March 14, 2020, as I boarded a flight back to New York, I received an email from Rachael with the subject line “I’m moving to Martinique”. In the email she detailed investors who had pulled commitments and her decision to stop billing all customers, knowing they would soon face financial hardship. She asked me to call when I could. She was not moving to Martinique, but the path forward was unclear. I called as soon as the plane was on the ground at JFK.
In this moment of crisis, Rachael saw opportunity. She saw a city of essential workers who couldn’t afford to stay at home and who struggled to get reliable information about how to protect themselves and their families from COVID-19. As the CDC released safety guidelines, Rachael began to send COVID-19 safety training to all employees on the ESL Works platform. She did not wait for an invitation to help. The response was positive. We spoke again the next day, and devised a plan to provide free training to as many frontline workers as possible, as fast as possible. We would figure out the business later.
As fate would have it, I wasn’t really doing much. One year earlier I had sold my company, Managed by Q (MBQ), to WeWork. WeWork had their own troubles at the end of 2019, which caused me to leave the company abruptly. In February 2020, WeWork scrapped MBQ for parts, and laid off most of the team. I was personally adrift. As someone who derives meaning from work, I felt particularly useless in the face of a global crisis. Rachael inspired me to action, and put me to work.
Rachael had an ambitious plan to refocus ESL Works on COVID-19 training, but needed help. Just as Rachael had called me to action, I put out the call to my former teammates. Many of them were in the same boat as me: newly unemployed, and eager to help. I posted an open call to the Managed by Q alumni Slack group seeking volunteers. The next morning we had assembled a group of engineers, designers, and product managers ready to contribute their time and abilities to meet the moment. Within a week, StopCovid.co was live, delivering free COVID safety training to frontline workers.
Under Rachael’s leadership, a volunteer team rebuilt the platform, partnered with Twilio to reach rapid scale, sourced translation support from around the world to make the training broadly accessible. We partnered with employers like Alfred, Delivery.com, and Blackstone to reach thousands of frontline workers with reliable COVID-19 training at a time of great need. The days were long, but unforgettable.
It was then that Opus was born. On that first zoom call were Jeff Silver, a MBQ Engineering manager who joined the company out of college, and Vince Li, my dear friend and MBQ Head of Design. Jeff and Vince were inspired by Rachael, and decided to join her as Co-Founders of Opus. What they have accomplished together in the past three years is nothing short of remarkable. Jeff and Vince have infused the company with the technical acumen and design sensibility to compliment Rachael’s industry experience, and embolden her to think bigger.
Today, Opus is a mobile-first, multilingual microlearning platform designed for businesses with a large distributed frontline workforce, trusted by employers like Just Salad, Chopt, Dos Toros, Vanderbilt University, Luke’s Lobster, and many more. They are leading the industry forward by implementing novel user experiences and technologies to make training fun, engaging, and effective for everyone. Not surprisingly, Rachael, Jeff and Vince have successfully attracted other highly talented and mission-driven employees in critical go-to-market and product roles that well position them for this next chapter of growth.
There are 110 million deskless workers in America, driving trucks, preparing food, maintaining buildings, and stocking shelves. They are the backbone of the US economy. The COVID-19 pandemic brought into stark relief how essential these workers are, and forced employers to fight harder than ever to retain them. Training is fundamental to an engaged and productive workforce, and the software available today does not meet the need. There are over 1200 Learning Management Systems (LMS) on the market, and they are almost all designed for a worker who sits at a desk, uses e-mail, and speaks English.
In October 2021, we raised our first dollars into Gutter Capital, and sent them right out the door, leading a Seed round into Opus. It was not a hard decision given everything we had witnessed in the years prior. The LMS market is expected to grow at a 14% CAGR to reach over $40B in 2029. While these industry numbers can feel made up, we’ve watched Opus create the market before our eyes as they convert large enterprises from training with pen and paper to using software for the first time.
In building a venture capital firm, as much as you may try to shape the companies you invest in, the truth is it’s the founders you invest in that shape the firm that you build. The Opus team has played a tremendous role in shaping the founders we back and the work we do to support them at Gutter Capital. We are proud to call Jeff, Rachael, and Vince our partners at Gutter Capital, and excited to welcome Stage 2 Capital to support them through the next phase of company building.
Rachael’s fateful email to me on March 14, 2020 concluded “The alternative to all of this of course is that I self-quarantine in the tropics, learn French, and start a company that teaches delivery drivers to up-sell packages of ranch and sanitizer to customers who order delivery. Gonna be a billionaire.” We’re glad she stayed.