The African-born co-founders behind Tenscores are making strides in the Atlanta tech scene.
Chrétien Mwizerwa and Christian Nkurunziza have just completed two sought-after Atlanta startup initiatives. Not only are they recent graduates of the Ascend2020 pre-accelerator program, but they were also finalists in the sixth iteration of Atlanta Startup Battle. Both programs assist tech startups in business development and connect them with capital.
Their company Tenscores automates and optimizes Google Adwords campaigns for small and medium-sized businesses. Once users link their AdWords account to the platform, they are able to monitor individual Quality Scores and historical performance.
Though Mwizerwa was born in Burundi, a small country in East Africa and Nkurunziza in Rwanda, also in East Africa, they both grew up in Belgium. That’s where they met as undergraduates at Louvain School of Engineering (Université Catholique de Louvain) in 2005. In 2010, they reconnected again in Montreal, Canada when both were pursuing further education to enhance their skills. Eventually, Nkurunziza, who was working as an Adwords Consultant, asked web developer Mwizerwa to create a tool that would address the challenge of tracking the performance of his marketing campaigns. It worked so well, they figured they had a profitable business idea.
“I built a tool for him and that’s how we started,” said Mwizerwa, co-founder and CTO of Tenscores. “It was mainly for his use as a consultant for Google Adwords. And then he was like ‘this is actually a good idea, it works pretty well for me, I’m sure it could work well for other people. Let’s test it out, let’s see if people will actually give us money for it.’ That’s how we started the business.”
At the time software engineer, Mwizerwa was working for a company that deals with cash registers and point of sales. He was also managing the marketing there as well. With the work he did with Nkurunziza (now CEO of Tenscores), they saw the need to automate the time-consuming process, optimize through the process of writing the ads by waiting and testing it out to get good results and see which one works best.
What has emerged is technology that connects to users’ AdWords accounts (recently rebranded Google Ads) through the AdWords API and pulls data to identify what kind of optimization is needed. They then provide tools to automatically fix things such as campaign structure and also repeatedly improve ad copy relevance. The impact of this is an increase in Quality Score, which is an estimate of the quality of the ads. This eventually lowers costs per click for their customers.
The pair recently launched the second version of their platform with an additional suite of keyword management tools to help users automatically find new relevant terms, detect wasteful and underperforming keywords, and discover those in need of adjustment. Users can directly take action in Tenscores and the platform will send those changes to AdWords. The technology also continuously monitors campaign performances and sends notifications to the account owner when needed.
The company got on its feet via the FounderFuel program, a three-month accelerator for early-stage startups that help them go-to-market and raise seed capital. Participating in FounderFuel, which is based in Montreal, and then getting an investment from the Business Development Bank of Canada helped them kickstart Tenscores. This was the impetus they needed to leave their jobs and go full-time.
Prior to moving to Atlanta, Mwizerwa lived in Louisville, Kentucky where his wife was finishing off her Masters. After her graduation last year, they started looking into relocating, with Atlanta being a perfect match, not too far from family residing in Kentucky. Mwizerwa said he applied to Ascend2020, and when Tenscores got accepted, they moved to Atlanta in October 2018.
“When I moved to Atlanta, I wanted to figure out a way to get connected to the ecosystem, know what’s going on, figure out the different players, and understand the dynamic of actually doing a tech startup here in Atlanta,” Mwizerwa said.
The program did just that, with Mwizerwa saying it was a pivotal experience, particularly for city transplants. That’s actually how they found out about the highly competitive Startup Battle pitch contest. Paul Judge and Tanya Sam run both programs. Tenscores made it through a record 6,000 companies that applied and then the 300 applicants that were considered for the semi-finals. They were one of the five finalists that took to the stage, which is a significant accomplishment.
Mwizerwa said Startup Battle was unlike anything else he’d ever seen. The standout difference from their other experiences was going through mentor day, which was what they called the semi-finals.
“The semi-finals for me was the most intense part because you had to go and convince every mentor that they should vouch for you,” Mwizerwa said. “All the mentors could only vouch for one company and then decide which one would make it to the final phase.”
Mwizerwa says during this stage of the selection process, companies worked in small groups, enabling them to see also how the other startups were pitching and modifying their presentations.
The sessions touched on new technology, customer discovery, product-market fit, and other key aspects of creating and running a successful scalable business. They were trying to access how strong you are and if could actually be in the finals, said Mwizerwa. “Being selected into the finals was incredible,” he added.
In a crowded packed market, understanding product-market fit was the first challenge they encountered in the early stages of starting their company. However, Tenscores has identified what differentiates them from their competition. The first customers they had were from agencies who already had knowledge in the space.
“But what we found out was most of those guys had different needs from actually when you go sell to a small business, who don’t have the same knowledge [and for them] it’s an education process,” Mwizerwa said. “We tried to do what our competitors were doing, and I think we wasted a lot of time to figure out exactly the product-market fit for us and how we could differentiate ourselves from the competition.”
Other challenges they encountered in the early days was hosting costs, dealing with a lot of data, and the cost of optimizing databases and queries. And raising capital, because Canada is not as venture ready as the U.S., said Mwizerwa. This makes them currently in the right place and position to scale further.
“We went through [Startup Battle] because we are raising a seed round of $500,000,” Mwizerwa said. What’s next for them is following up with investors and others leads since they are actively raising money. Finally, there are no plans to move: the bustling Atlanta tech ecosystem is an attractive option for ambitious entrepreneurs.
Follow Carlyn Pounders on Twitter@CarlynTechTalk