How Melanie Fellay From Spekit Is Upending The Way You Work

The Crunchbase “Female Founder Series,” is a series of stories, Q&As, and thought-leadership pieces from glass-ceiling-smashers who overcame the odds and are now leading successful companies.

Melanie Fellay is the cofounder and CEO at Spekit, a digital enablement platform that makes it easier to onboard and maintain productive teams. 

Fellay founded Spekit after seeing the challenges employees faced in adopting digital tools firsthand. In less than two years, she’s led the charge in securing VC funding, hiring a world-class, enterprise-focused executive team, and building a strong caliber of customers from Fortune 500 organizations to fast-growing startups. 

In this Q&A, Fellay shares more about the insight that led to her founding Spekit, her experiences in raising funding as a female entrepreneur, and the importance of corporate values and mission in driving Spekit’s continued success.

Melanie Fellay, cofounder and CEO at Spekit

Q: What led you to start Spekit? 

I’ve always worked in fast-paced businesses with complex workflows, and when everyone is moving so quickly, it brings a lot of challenges with effective training, onboarding and change management. Employees are constantly bouncing from app to app to access information, but because our communications and data are scattered — especially now that we’re all remote — it makes how we work very ineffective.

When I was the person selected to manage a new implementation of Salesforce at a previous role, I saw that the company was struggling to gain user adoption of the platform, despite having spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the implementation. When I looked at options in the market to help with that training and change, everything felt very outdated.

I realized how revolutionary it would be if there was a way to consolidate all of the information that our employees needed to access across all of their different enterprise tools that was self-sufficient, contextual and easily accessible, without disrupting their workflows. That’s when the idea for Spekit was born. My cofounder, Zari Zahra — a former coworker of mine and Spekit’s chief product officer — and I worked to build Spekit. We’re a learning and knowledge platform, digital adoption solution, and change management tool all in one, giving users contextual training to continuously learn and access information across enterprise applications.  

Q: What problems were you trying to solve with Spekit?

Simply put, Spekit helps people be more productive at work. Today, employees are expected to navigate between chat apps, CRM databases, cloud storage, email and a slew of other tools to access the content they need to do their work. It’s estimated that employees waste over an hour each day switching between different tools or searching for the information they need. Additionally, training on these tools is often simultaneously costly and ineffective, with studies showing that employees forget nearly 70 percent of what they learn in traditional environments. 

Spekit addresses these challenges by offering an integrated, dynamic and highly personalized approach to continuous learning. When an employee needs to find a piece of information or has a question about how to best use a tool, the answer is already at their fingertips, preserving their workflow, saving them time and enabling them to work efficiently.  

Q: In 2019, only 3 percent of venture capital was invested in female-only founded companies. Did/do you feel welcome and accepted as an underrepresented group in the VC space?

In the early days of Spekit, I was more conscious of how underrepresented women — and woman founders — were among venture capital circles. There’d be times where I’d attend networking events and there would quite literally be only a handful of women in attendance. I was also highly attuned to the fact that a lot of events tend to be male-focused — such as playing a round of golf or sampling whiskey. I had to be comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. Despite this, I didn’t feel unwelcome and, over time, I think that having two women co-founders has really helped us stand out and be memorable. 

Q: How did you network, find communities and make the connections you needed to succeed?

I’ve been fortunate that networking and even conducting cold outreach has not been something I’ve shied away from. That’s how I’ve made connections, built my professional network and found the right investors for Spekit.

For example, I was introduced to one of our angel investors — who is arguably one of the best investors in Silicon Valley — over a tweet I was tagged in that he posted and that I followed up with a LinkedIn message. At the time, he seemed to only back startup founders who had a proven track record, as he felt that this was a safer bet when making an investment. However, he reviewed our pitch deck, was impressed with what he saw, and ended up investing in our business. He’s now investing in more woman-founded startups, which is incredibly exciting and gratifying to see, as I firmly believe that more opportunities need to extend themselves to aspiring woman entrepreneurs. 

Q: How did you connect with VCs? Can you describe the process of raising your seed round?

The process was varied — some connections were made through outbound prospecting, while others were through reaching out to connections with Zari and my professional networks. Initially, the process of raising our seed round was hard as we were essentially the polar opposite of the stereotypical male startup founder looking to raise funds. At first we were highly rational and meticulous in our approach, drilling into our numbers to back up every aspect of our pitch. But, we then realized that some of today’s most valuable startups focus on the big picture — and how they can upend the status quo for individuals, businesses, industries and even society at large.

As we received feedback on our pitch, we quickly adapted and course-corrected. We emphasized how our platform is able to deliver some truly impressive benefits: From reducing time onboarding employees, communicating new initiatives and creating new training materials, to upending training programs in their entirety. This, plus the support from people who were inspired by our story, enabled us to confidently and successfully close our seed round. 

Q: What is your advice for other female founders at the beginning of their entrepreneurial journeys?

Be confident. Don’t underestimate who you are and what makes you memorable. What makes you stand out shouldn’t be viewed as a disadvantage. Initially, I was self-conscious about aspects like my age and gender, but now I focus on how I can bring my authentic self to all of my business interactions. At Spekit, that’s manifested itself through the colors we use, the emotions we convey, and the energy that we exhibit and, in return, the caliber and diversity of the people we hire and work with. Ultimately, it’s who you are that people want to know and work with.

Q: How have you integrated your values and mission into your own company structure?

Zari and I created a document where we listed our goals, vision and values for the company on Day One, and those tenets still hold true today. For example, diversity, equality and inclusion is something we care deeply about and will always aim for within our organization. We also provide coaching and professional development opportunities for our teams as this notion of continuous learning is core to the Spekit platform.

Like many startups, we place a lot of value on people who have a growth and grit mindset, but we also put just as much emphasis on people who we believe are “simply spektacular.” As a company value, this means someone who embodies a lot of empathy, kindness and care, and incorporates it into the work they do. As we’ve hired people who demonstrate these values, we’ve seen this underpin the positive interactions with our customers and how we conduct business.    

Q: What qualities do you possess that you think have contributed most to your success?

First, it’s important to be creative, and use it to come up with various ways to solve problems. In any startup, there are going to be challenges as you scale, which means you’re going to come up with plan a, but likely b, c and d as well.

Similarly, as a founder, resilience is a really important quality, as you encounter a lot of highs and lows as an entrepreneur — and through it all, you need to keep going and stay positive.

Finally, being honest and clear on expectations is also critical. As Spekit has grown since Day One, I’ve had to find the right balance of relinquishing control and trusting someone to do the job, but still ensuring that I check in so we’re aligned and on track. 

Q: What do you look forward to most as you continue to build and grow your company?

More than anything, I’m looking forward to attracting more brilliant and creative people to the Spekit team. Whenever someone new has joined, they’ve always injected a new energy to our company, which is a major motivator for me in leading the business.

I’m also excited about changing the way people think about training. We see Spekit’s digital enablement platform as serving as the foundation for how people can be effective in their jobs by giving them access to the resources, knowledge and answers within an enterprise app and across the tech stack. We receive positive feedback each day from our customers who are awestruck by how Spekit has truly upended how people learn and work, and we want to keep creating that same experience for other companies.

Finally, as we continue to scale, I want to be an example of a startup that didn’t necessarily achieve this in the traditional way. We didn’t have a lot of the traditional startup ingredients in our early stages, like a network of venture capitalists at our fingertips, a male founder, or a track record of launching other startups. But by solving a real-world problem — empowering employees to learn and navigate process changes in real-time, while ensuring companies maximize the full power of their tech stack — we’ve been able to build a solid business that can hopefully inspire others to start their own. 

Melanie Fellay is the CEO and cofounder of Spekit, the leading in-app learning and digital enablement platform that helps employees learn in their flow of work with self-guided tool training, knowledge and enablement resources surfaced in real-time, everywhere they work. Fellay is a former enablement and operations leader with a passion for productivity and learning. Spekit addresses the pain points that many teams face around onboarding, adoption, change management by combining the power of a learning management system, digital adoption solution and change management tools.

  • Originally published April 22, 2021