Poka raises $2.5M for an industrial-grade social network aimed at manufacturers

Alexandre Leclerc can still remember the last time he used a printed sheet of instructions to fix something.

It was back in 2012, and he had just hopped into the newly-installed shower his father had installed at home. However, his father had put the water regulator too low, and all of the water coming out of the shower head was cold. Leclerc’s first thought was to fix it himself.

“I took the paper instructions that came with the kit, and I tried to fix it for about half an hour and I couldn’t figure it out,” he said. “At one point, I was like, OK, I’m not that stupid. So I just grabbed my Mac and I went on YouTube … and there was a 46-second video on how to do it.”

It took Leclerc just another few minutes to get the shower up and running with hot water – a huge improvement over the time he spent fiddling with the instructions on paper. But that time wasn’t a total waste. In fact, it helped Leclerc launch a new business – Poka, a company providing manufacturers with a social network for training and education.

Leclerc’s family owns a company called Leclerc Foods, which currently has six plants and factories across North America. When he was a student, Leclerc had worked several jobs around one of the factories, doing everything from operations to sanitation, and he saw firsthand how frustrating it was to use paper manuals to try to explain how to do a task correctly.

He figured showing short videos would be a faster way of training employees on procedures and regulations, and it’d be infinitely more efficient than using long, tedious training manuals. Plus, there was the added bonus of visually showing people how to do something, versus trying to convey the concept on paper. Leclerc Foods soon became the testing ground for a new business that Leclerc would launch himself, alongside his best friend, Antoine Bisson, who has worked as a programmer for companies like Microsoft and Ubisoft.

About two years ago, Leclerc and Bisson started Poka. Based in Quebec City, Poka’s platform allows a manufacturer’s employees to access training videos and educational resources, and higher-ups can also share best practices and news with all of their staff, even if they’re located in facilities across the continent.

This week, the company raised $2.5 million in funding in a round led by iNovia Capital, a venture capital firm based in Montreal. The round also included participation from SoftTech VC. Leclerc and Bisson plan on using their newfound funding to hire a team of 10 to 20 engineers, as up until this point, the pair has been doing all of the work themselves.

Basically, the Poka platform is something of a cross between an “industrial Facebook and industrial YouTube,” Leclerc says. It allows employees to log in and check out the latest news, as well as connect with other employees both at their own facility and at other plants. Plus, it provides profile pages for both humans and for machines – meaning if users want to search for information on a specific make or model of a machine, they can go to its profile page and find all of the resources associated with it in one place.

Manufacturers can be rooted in their ways of doing things though, and some have been dubious about embracing a social networking platform modelled after Facebook for their businesses. Still, when Leclerc points out the value of how-to videos on YouTube, they start to get it, he says.

He adds that Leclerc Foods has been testing the platform for just eight months. However, its employees have already created more than 4,000 videos, and Poka was instrumental in helping his family get a new plant in Phoenix, Ariz. up and running.

Then there’s the bonus of added productivity. Poka makes the most of employees’ time by allowing them to quickly create training material, Bisson points out.

“A procedure of 10 pages or so would take five to 10 hours [to write],” he says, adding there are extra headaches in translating those procedures. “But for a two or three minute video … If you want to explain something that’s going to take three minutes, then it’s going to take roughly three minutes to make, five minutes to edit, and then that’s it.”

Still, for a startup of just two people, Leclerc and Bisson have accomplished a lot. They have built Poka as both a website and an iOS app, with plans to release an Android app by the end of 2015 or during 2016.

They’ve also signed on five different manufacturers as customers, including Leclerc Foods, Multi-Action Label Manufacturer, and PG Hardwood Flooring Inc. Nor are they finished there – Poka has just closed deals with four other customers, and is in the process of on-boarding nine others, including some large, multinational corporations headquartered in North America. Pricing for the Poka platform is set at $18 per user per month.

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Candice So
Candice Sohttp://www.itbusiness.ca
Candice is a graduate of Carleton University and has worked in several newsrooms as a freelance reporter and intern, including the Edmonton Journal, the Ottawa Citizen, the Globe and Mail, and the Windsor Star. Candice is a dog lover and a coffee drinker.

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