Article

Our Investment in Sana Labs: AI-Powered Learning and Knowledge

by Philip Chopin, Luke Pappas, Scott Sandell and Kemi Odusan

When we met Joel Hellermark, founder and CEO of Sana Labs, at Slush in 2022, it was clear to us that he and his team were onto something big. We were immediately compelled by the team, product and mission to augment human intelligence through artificial intelligence. The company has built what we believe will soon be a category-defining product that blends the best of learning and knowledge management systems, enterprise search, and meeting tools into one single platform. At NEA, we have a strong belief that generative AI will forever change how we work, create and consume information and we have a standing history of investing in applied AI with companies like Forethought, Mashgin, Instabase, Uniphore and Wispr AI.

Unfortunately, we met Sana a few weeks too late, as they had just agreed to a Series B financing. So for the better part of the next six months, we kept in close contact with the company, hoping that the business would continue to accelerate and that there would be another chance to invest. Lucky for us, today we get to announce our investment in Sana Labs.

So much has changed for enterprises over the past 40 years, as an increasing number of workflows have turned digital. As a result, enterprises are now swimming in data, but the majority of the intelligence captured in this data is largely inaccessible due to the sheer volume of it and the processing required to unlock it. But with the continued advancements in compute, and the early days of generative AI, this is all changing quickly. With the power of deep learning models running in the cloud, it is now possible for companies to better access the information stored in their data and use it to enhance operations. As a result, we believe that many of the core enterprise software use cases will undergo a transformational shift.

One of these such markets is the learning management system (LMS). LMS systems have been staples within large organizations for decades, as they are crucial to the onboarding of new employees, and maintaining consistent culture, compliance, and workflows. However, the LMS products that have powered enterprises over the last twenty years are all largely static. This means that once content is created, it often lives in the LMS unchanged for years on end, growing increasingly irrelevant with each new day of operations for the organization. Generative AI has the potential to fundamentally disrupt this category by ensuring that the content that lives in an LMS is always reflective of the latest data and knowledge that an organization has.

Enter Sana Labs

Sana’s core product leverages the latest advancements in generative AI alongside Nordic design aesthetics and a relentless focus on customer experience, to produce an LMS that truly delights users. We did dozens of reference calls with Sana customers, and in each call, customers raved about the product, citing usage of Sana across the totality of their companies, and employee NPS scores on par with even the most loved consumer apps.

We believe there are a few key things that really make Sana stand out. First, Sana is innovative. Sana created a new medium to capture content with cards. These cards are highly modular and versatile – providing an engaging and collaborative way to build content with Q&A, polls, and reflections. This is a stark contrast to today’s traditional Learning management systems which are clunky and use routine and static videos, Powerpoints, and surveys.

Screenshot of Sana Labs platform (Source: Sana company website as of May 2023)

Second, Sana is generative. Using the latest advancements in generative AI, Sana has built an AI assistant capable of writing much of the learning management system content for an organization. Moreover, this content is personalized and relevant for each employee. This is possible thanks in part to Sana’s proprietary technology that connects and searches an enterprise’s information stored in applications like Slack, Box, Google Drive, etc. For enterprises, Sana’s generative capabilities allow them to produce learning modules with a few clicks, saving weeks of time in the process.

Screenshot of Sana Labs platform (Source: Sana company website as of May 2023)

Third, Sana is dynamic and personalized. As an organization's information changes, so too does the content in Sana. Content is also personalized based on an employee’s role and permissions. Personalization is commonly seen as one of the most important objectives of Learning & Development leaders to increase usage and adoption. Unfortunately, for the majority of LMS tools on the market today, this is simply not the case.

Screenshot of Sana Labs platform (Source: Sana company website as of May 2023)

Finally, Sana has a beautiful aesthetic. True to the Swedish roots of the company, Sana’s interface is clean, intuitive, and delightful. This fresh take on what has otherwise been an overlooked product category is another reason Sana users are so happy with the product.

Sana AI – Universal Search capabilities for the Enterprise

Over the past six months, Sana’s pace of innovation has been incredible, with dozens of new features and products released (you can find a more complete list here).

However, there is one update that we believe has the potential to dramatically improve how organizations operate–enterprise search. Building on the technical infrastructure that powers the core LMS product, Sana has now given enterprises the power to unify all of its knowledge and query this knowledge with simple text interface. With Sana universal search, a user can query all of the connected apps within an organization and get back a synthesized, humanistic answer to any query, all in under 100ms.

For example: Think of any enterprise application that you use in your job today, be it Slack, Notion, Outlook, Box, or any other. How many times have you tried to find a document or a message in one of these products, only to struggle for tens of minutes trying query after query. And when the results do come back, they are often an unusable list of links to content based on keyword hits. This is not useful. And moreover, what happens when you want to search across multiple apps?

Screenshot of Sana Labs platform (Source: Sana company website as of May 2023)

This is certainly a bold vision, and there are many companies vying for this growing market in enterprise search. But we believe that Sana is one of the most well positioned, both technically and commercially, to win this market.

The Team Behind the Magic

What makes all of this possible is the world-class team that Sana has assembled. It starts at the top with founder and CEO, Joel Hellermark, who has a longstanding passion for technology. After teaching himself to code as a teenager, Joel became fascinated with machine learning, which led him to start Sana at the age of 19. Joel has a rare combination of technical acumen paired with a strong commercial sense. But perhaps the strongest indication of a best-in-class founder is the quality of the team they have been able to recruit.

Along with Joel, Sana is led by Jon Lexa, Sana’s President, and Olivia Elf, Sana’s Chief of Staff and Director of Operations. They make and have built a truly exemplary team. We feel truly fortunate to have met many of Sana’s current team, over the past six months, and not only are they incredibly talented, but they all seem to deeply understand Sana’s mission and are pulling the organization in the same direction.

We have full confidence in Joel, Jon, Olivia, and the entire Sana team, and are happy that this financing will help many more companies discover the joy of working with Sana. Scott Sandell and Philip Chopin have respectively joined as a director and observer of Sana’s board. We can’t wait to work with the Sana team and alongside their existing investors, Menlo, EQT, Workday Ventures and others.

If this sounds interesting to you, check out Sana’s Careers page for opportunities.

About the authors

Philip Chopin

Philip is Managing Director of NEA UK and is based in London, where he leads the firm’s European efforts. He has led investments in Sana Labs, DJUST and VAST Data. Prior to NEA, Philip was a Partner at 83North, where he led and was involved in numerous investments, including Paddle, Pelico, Exotec, Podimo, HungryPanda, and Wolt. Previously, Philip was Senior Director of International at SSENSE. Earlier in his career, Philip was a Project Leader at BCG. Philip holds an MBA from Kellogg and a MSc from Grenoble Ecole de Management.
Philip is Managing Director of NEA UK and is based in London, where he leads the firm’s European efforts. He has led investments in Sana Labs, DJUST and VAST Data. Prior to NEA, Philip was a Partner at 83North, where he led and was involved in numerous investments, including Paddle, Pelico, Exotec, Podimo, HungryPanda, and Wolt. Previously, Philip was Senior Director of International at SSENSE. Earlier in his career, Philip was a Project Leader at BCG. Philip holds an MBA from Kellogg and a MSc from Grenoble Ecole de Management.

Luke Pappas

Luke is currently a Partner on the Technology team focused on consumer and enterprise investing. He serves as a board observer at Aquabyte, Wiith, Modyfi, DJUST, Sana, Bliq, and PlayVS, and is closely involved in several other early-stage companies. Luke also works on Connect Ventures—NEA’s joint investing venture with CAA. Before joining NEA, Luke was a member of the Technology Investment Banking Team at Morgan Stanley. He graduated from Stanford University with dual BS degrees in computer science and management science & engineering, and also played four years of varsity baseball.
Luke is currently a Partner on the Technology team focused on consumer and enterprise investing. He serves as a board observer at Aquabyte, Wiith, Modyfi, DJUST, Sana, Bliq, and PlayVS, and is closely involved in several other early-stage companies. Luke also works on Connect Ventures—NEA’s joint investing venture with CAA. Before joining NEA, Luke was a member of the Technology Investment Banking Team at Morgan Stanley. He graduated from Stanford University with dual BS degrees in computer science and management science & engineering, and also played four years of varsity baseball.
Scott Sandell

Scott Sandell

Scott is Chairman, CEO, and Chief Investment Officer of NEA. Since joining the firm in 1996, Scott has led investments in a wide range of technology companies and has played a role in many industry-transforming businesses, including Bloom Energy, Cloudflare, Robinhood, Salesforce, Tableau, and Workday. Outside of NEA, Scott is actively involved with the National Venture Capital Association and is a founding director of the organization’s nonprofit, Venture Forward. He is also an Adjunct Lecturer at Stanford, where he teaches a course on principled entrepreneurship.
Scott is Chairman, CEO, and Chief Investment Officer of NEA. Since joining the firm in 1996, Scott has led investments in a wide range of technology companies and has played a role in many industry-transforming businesses, including Bloom Energy, Cloudflare, Robinhood, Salesforce, Tableau, and Workday. Outside of NEA, Scott is actively involved with the National Venture Capital Association and is a founding director of the organization’s nonprofit, Venture Forward. He is also an Adjunct Lecturer at Stanford, where he teaches a course on principled entrepreneurship.

Kemi Odusan

Kemi is an Associate at NEA’s offices in London, focused on technology investing across Europe. She joined NEA in 2023 after spending nearly two years as an Associate at General Atlantic, where she focused on the technology sector in EMEA. Previously, she was an Investment Banking Analyst in the Technology, Media, and Telecommunications (TMT) group at Goldman Sachs, in London. Kemi graduated from the University of Bristol with a BSc in economics.
Kemi is an Associate at NEA’s offices in London, focused on technology investing across Europe. She joined NEA in 2023 after spending nearly two years as an Associate at General Atlantic, where she focused on the technology sector in EMEA. Previously, she was an Investment Banking Analyst in the Technology, Media, and Telecommunications (TMT) group at Goldman Sachs, in London. Kemi graduated from the University of Bristol with a BSc in economics.