Why we started Dala

The search for context at work.

When the Covid-19 pandemic forced us all out of the office, we were collectively faced with a multitude of async, offline and collaboration tools claiming to help navigate our sudden transition into remote working. The two of us quickly found ourselves in meeting after meeting; our complementary skill sets meant that one would require the other for constant, but never sufficient, support.

Desperately lacking the fidelity of working together in person, we decided to turn our socratic, often meandering, conversations into working drinks late one afternoon. We groused about how difficult it was to constantly stay up to date with all the things that were going on, which then quickly turned into a philosophical musing: why do we need meetings in the first place? People are in meetings typically to gain and share context — context that is missing because knowledge is fragmented, people are distributed, and communication is hard.

What happens to knowledge before and after your meetings?

Even the most attentively nurtured workplaces struggle with the technological and cultural challenges of knowledge fragmentation. The proliferation of SaaS tools that knowledge workers use means that a Slack question quickly becomes a Zoom meeting, the notes of which are taken in Google Docs, and the accompanying documentation later updated in Confluence.

Instead of doing our best work, we are spending more time trying to organise, and then find the information we need to do our jobs. When that search yields no results, we’re confronted with the familiar anxiety of either bothering a busy coworker again, or venturing to connect the dots with incomplete context.

We’ve personally felt this stress throughout our careers, and in conversations with others, also realised that companies of all sizes and industries feel the full force of this problem. So much focus and energy is sunk into aimlessly hunting for the right answer because there’s simply too much noise. Our tools have gone from helping us do the work, to being the work.

Finding the true meaning of productivity

SaaS companies typically understand the term ‘productivity’ to mean ‘go faster’ and ‘do more’. While these metrics may be fitting for factory robots, they completely miss the mark when we think about what constitutes success for people in the workplace.

We want to shift the narrative, and think of productivity really as ‘being better’. When you recall your happiest and most purposeful moments at work, it’s always when you’ve been intellectually stimulated, in flow and doing the things that meaningfully create value for your customers. That’s the state of mind that a knowledge-connecting product should recreate every time you experience it. Our relationship with our tools has long surpassed one of utility, and it is deeply entwined with how we see ourselves — it’s time we got off the proverbial treadmill and rethink who and how we are at work.

We want to make work feel more coherent and delightful, and recast the imposter syndrome of not knowing the answer into an opportunity to spark curiosity.

Dala users should experience an improvement in the quality of their work, a stronger conviction in their company’s mission, and increased overall happiness.

Ambient contextual search

This means that there needs to be a new class of products that know what you’re working on, and surface only what you need, when you need it. Context is that goldilocks combination of information that triggers a lightbulb moment or unlocks a door you’ve been hammering at for months.

That’s why we’re building Dala to be your ambient contextual assistant. Your workplace already has the answer, but it’s spread across multiple systems of record, each with their own unique formats and structures. Dala sits on top of those repositories of information, connecting them behind the scenes and serving as a layer of meaning and intelligence. Our bleeding-edge AI automates extracting the knowledge for you, so you don’t need to recreate and maintain your organisation’s knowledge architecture in yet another system.

Whether you need guidance from a colleague, a definitive answer, or are just looking for inspiration, Dala meets you where you are so that you can search for the answer while remaining in your highly personalised workflow. It understands where you are in your learning journey, bypassing the basics and only assembling those ideas that help you advance further. When you don’t know what you don’t know, Dala gives helpful hints to explore related avenues. Have a question? Just ask Dala.

Search is a failure of systems

But intelligence is much more than just search — what we really need more of at work is context, clarity and confidence. Search is actually an imperfect mechanism for helping us achieve these necessary conditions for excelling at our craft. A set of search results doesn’t show you the thought processes surrounding a certain decision, nor does it give you a historical understanding of an ever evolving situation.

We’re starting with search because we’ve heard time and time again that the native search experience in your favourite apps just don’t meet your expectations; and we think that’s because they too suffer from the context isolation that plagues the distributed workplace.

Search is a failure of systems that don’t talk to one another, and it’s thoroughly manual, fuzzy and repetitive. It’s hard to find the answer if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Search is a crude but familiar instrument, and we believe we can do better.

Our mission partners

We’re backed by a formidable array of investors who spend most of their days connecting knowledge in order to make important decisions.

Led by Seedcamp, we closed a $1.4m pre-seed round joined by Valia Ventures, Johnny Boufarhat (Founder & CEO at Hopin), Roman Schumacher (Co-founder at Personio), James Meekings (Co-founder & CMO at Funding Circle), and many more.

They’ve lent their weight and expertise behind Dala because they trust in our vision for a better way of being at work, and their intellectual and emotional guidance have continued to support, interrogate and inspire us beyond our wildest expectations.

Our team is excited to learn about how you gain context at work, and hear what some of your questions-behind-the-question are. We hope that Dala can save you from yet another “could this have been an email” meeting, and give you back the space to be more inspired, closer to your colleagues, and ultimately happier at work.

Haroun & Joel

Co-founder & CEO of Dala.