Seismic shift to remote work and an urgent need for leadership development drives $13.1M Series A funding for coaching platform Sounding Board
Canaan Partners leads Series A timed with the launch of a new AI-powered Coaching Enablement Platform for enterprises to develop leaders that drive business growth.
Foster City, CA – January 21, 2021 – Sounding Board, Inc, the premier cloud-based coaching platform, announced the close of an oversubscribed $13.1M Series A funding led by Canaan Partners. Canaan is joined by Correlation Ventures, existing investors Bloomberg Beta, Precursor Ventures, and learning luminaries David Blake (Chairman & founder at Degreed), Kevin Johnson (former CEO at Udemy), Ed Miller (former CEO at NovoEd), and Brett Queener (former President at SmartRecruiters).
During 2020, the overnight shift to remote work caused by COVID-19 accelerated enterprise demand for Sounding Board’s Coaching Enablement Platform™ and managed coach network. The digital coaching market is estimated at $30B by 2025*, with explosive ‘hockey stick’ growth as enterprises move to virtual, scalable coaching solutions. Sounding Board’s unique approach and customizable platform focus on coaching for business outcomes versus individual health & wellness. Sounding Board solves the most challenging problems facing companies today – the ability to quickly develop leaders for measurable business impact at scale in times of rapid change. Their solution has attracted global enterprises including Bloomberg, Kraft Heinz, Intel, VMWare, Cloudera as well as rapid-growth startups such as Chime, Plaid, and Dropbox.
“Coaching broke through in 2020 as the go-to model for personalized leadership development. Demand for digital-first coaching platforms like Sounding Board accelerated as companies scrambled to shift their talent development strategies online,” stated Christine Tao, Sounding Board CEO who co-founded the company in 2016 with her coach Lori Mazan, President & Chief Coaching Officer. “Sounding Board saw record growth heading into 2021, pointing to the market’s urgent need for virtual solutions that are scalable and cost-effective. Our platform brings a systematic, data-driven approach to a traditionally service-driven industry – with measurable impact on the business.”
“Coaching is at an inflection point – it’s a massive opportunity and the timing is right. Sounding Board is the only company providing leadership development designed to drive business goals, unlike the many companies providing coaching for health and wellness,” noted Maha Ibrahim, General Partner at Canaan. Ibrahim will join Sounding Board’s all-female Board of Directors effective immediately.
Beyond simply delivering coaching virtually, Sounding Board goes to the next level, providing a complete, end-to-end, cloud-based coaching platform that supports a dynamic coaching ecosystem for the enterprise. Sounding Board’s solution allows enterprises to seamlessly manage, scale, and measure coaching on one unified platform. Proprietary AI-powered tools remove the administrative burden around coach matching, scheduling, and program management to allow coaching to scale broadly. Its clear competitive advantage is a scalable, adaptive approach to leadership development that is personalized to the learning style and cadence of each individual. Clients saw major improvements across key capabilities, including a 173% increase in the ability to successfully interact with others across all functions.*
“Finding scalable and customizable solutions for developing leaders is challenging in the most perfect of environments; finding something that will work within a hypergrowth and dispersed tech organization is even harder”, noted Ashton Stockstill, Learning & Diversity Partner at Cloudera. Sounding Board has been that solution and I could not be more pleased with the outcomes. Since partnering with them, I’ve been able to execute quickly with two organizations to provide immediate impact without compromising efficiency and quality.”
“Because enterprise growth and innovation is driven by capable leadership, having a strong bench of leaders has become a sustainable competitive advantage. Our clients appreciate that the Sounding Board Coaching Enablement Platform was purpose-built for coaching and solves their unique needs, including actionable data insights across all coaching programs. This is reflected in our key capabilities measurements and high NPS score of 81. ” said Co-Founder and Chief Coaching Officer, Lori Mazan.
“Every company will be adopting a technology platform to enable coaching at scale over the next 5 years and Sounding Board plans to be the company to create the ecosystem around our unique coaching enablement platform, just like Salesforce did with CRM,” added Tao.
About Sounding Board
Sounding Board disrupted a decades-long and well-established coaching business model that was costly, and in a domain exclusive to senior executives. With the goal of democratizing access to coaching globally, Sounding Board was one of the first to market with a virtual 1:1 coaching program that achieved the economics necessary to expand access to leadership coaching throughout an organization with a specific focus on sustainable leadership capabilities that tie directly to business impact. Sounding Board’s best-in-class coach network covers over 60 countries and 15+ languages around the globe. For more information please contact email@example.com
About Canaan Partners
Canaan is an early-stage venture capital firm that invests in entrepreneurs with visionary ideas. With $5B under management, a diversified fund, and hundreds of exits to date, we partner with entrepreneurs building the next generation of technology and healthcare companies that will transform how we live, work and thrive. To learn more about our people and our portfolio, please visit canaan.com.
Carol Levey, Sounding Board, Inc. firstname.lastname@example.org
William Nevius, Canaan Partners wnevius (at) canaan dot com
* Source – Human Resources Today – 2025, Coaching and Trends
*Source – Survey results from client-coach, management, and stakeholders
Christine Tao Sounding Board Co-founder & CEO
Christine’s extraordinarily rapid career growth to executive management in the media, mobile and tech sectors of Silicon Valley became her inspiration for founding Sounding Board. As she began to manage larger teams and be responsible for growing revenues, it became clear that she needed a “sounding board” to coach her on the development of her leadership skills. That’s where her Sounding Board co-founder, Lori Mazan came on the scene. A seasoned executive coach focused on leadership development, Lori coached Christine on real-world leadership skills that had a direct impact on business outcomes. Based on her positive and impactful experience with leadership development, Christine was driven to make leadership development coaching accessible to people at all levels of the organization.
Lori Mazan Sounding Board Co-founder, President & Chief Coaching Officer
Lori spent more than 25 years coaching C-Suite executives to leadership excellence. Many of those public and private company CEO’s expressed that they would have liked this caliber of coaching earlier in their careers. Inspired by these experiences, Lori joined with Christine to launch Sounding Board as a feedback-driven, cloud-based leadership coaching platform that could maintain best-in-class leadership coaching while lowering costs to make it affordable and scalable for leaders at every level of their careers.
Maha Ibrahim Canaan Partners General Partner
Maha spots technology trends early and partners closely with her companies to drive growth and exits. She focuses on e-commerce and enterprise / cloud, and was one of the first investors to recognize the potential of social gaming. She was also the first investor in The RealReal (REAL) and sat on the company’s board through the 2019 IPO. A champion of women in technology, Maha is passionate about funding and raising the profiles of female entrepreneurs and is a founding member of All Raise.
Q & A Regarding the Deal
On the momentum Sounding Board has created in the industry:
Lori Mazan: “Canaan told us that an early indicator for investment was speaking to our current customers and how thrilled they were about the service and results we provided. We have democratized coaching by bringing it to a much larger group of talent in an organization and at a much earlier stage in an employee’s career.”
On the ‘tipping point’ that led to investing in Sounding Board:
Maha Ibrahim: “The tipping point for the Sounding Board investment was really an accumulation of experiences that we’ve (Canaan) had within the portfolio and outside the portfolio. Certainly Covid-19 accelerated the need for coaching to provide talent the tools to excel at their jobs and meet demanding business objectives. More and more, as we talk to enterprise companies, they are recognizing that retention of talent is about supporting their skills growth…”
On the expectations for a Sounding Board Series A investor:
Lori Mazan: “Maha saw our vision, asked questions that provided more clarity for our vision and even provided us with referrals after our first meeting. We waited for a long time to have an investor on our board, and we could not have asked for a better representative to help us achieve our vision…”
Christine Tao: “We’re thrilled to be one of the first investments in Canaan’s 12th and most recent fund, given their experience in scaling some of the most endearing companies across every vertical. Beyond that, we really appreciated getting to know Maha during the process and the perspective she has about the potential of this industry and the leading growth role we can assume…”
On the short and long-term impact of the investment:
Maha Ibrahim: “It’s about accelerating through the Fortune 5000 and 1000. Sounding Board is perfectly-positioned for large companies, or fast-growing pre-public companies. Thanks to Sounding Board, Chief People Officers are not having to ask what the ROI of coaching is because they are seeing in real-time how employees at all levels can do their job better, making this product’s growth infinite…”
On the assets and industry experience Sounding Board brings to the Canaan portfolio:
Lori Mazan: “Our customers choose us because of our consistency in scaling coaching that creates impactful leaders at every level of an organization. We can bring the same thought leadership to Canaan and its portfolio to help them accelerate the development of their most critical resources – their leaders.”
On how the funding will be used by Sounding Board:
Christine Tao: “The funding will be primarily used to grow the product and engineering functions, as well as our enterprise go-to-market strategy. We are accelerating development against the platform given the demand for a unified solution for enterprise. We will invest in deeply developing the next iteration of our ability to democratize coaching and develop the world’s most impactful leaders.”
Contact email@example.com and we will be happy to provide a brief demo or answer any other questions you may have.