Swiss Startup Beekeeper May Seek IPO Amid U.K., German Expansionby
Beekeeper is preparing to open first offices in London, Berlin
Mobile app is designed for remote, hard-to-reach workers
Beekeeper AG, a Swiss startup whose clients include LafargeHolcim Ltd. and Mandarin Oriental International Ltd., will consider options including selling shares in an initial public offering as the mobile applications maker forges ahead with an expansion in the U.K. and Germany.
“It’s definitely an option we will be looking at,” Chief Executive Officer and co-founder Cristian Grossmann said in a telephone interview, referring to a possible IPO. He declined to elaborate, or to give a timing on when such a decision could be made. “We are absolutely open” to an IPO, he added.
The Beekeeper app is designed for employees who don’t work behind a desk and are hard to reach because of shifts or hourly work, travel or temporary contracts. It helps companies stay in touch with remote users, including kitchen and front-desk personnel as well as cleaners in hotels, clerks in shops and factory workers.
Estimates by Forrester show that more than two billion people make up the global mobile workforce, compared with just 615 million employees who sit at their desks for most of the day.
It’s a market that has been “massively under-served so far,” Grossmann said. “The numbers are impressive.”
Beekeeper is preparing to open its first offices in Berlin and London so it can be closer to its clients. Grossmann is unfazed by the possibility that the U.K.’s departure from the European Union may make business in that market more difficult.
“It plays more to our advantage than against us,” he said. “Brexit means uncertainty. During uncertain times companies need to engage even more, to be closer to their employees. It’s definitely a trend that helps us, in that regard.”
Privately-held Beekeeper, whose app is used in 137 countries, was first developed as a social network for students in Switzerland called Spocal. It was founded in 2012 as an ETH Zurich university spinoff by graduates Flavio Pfaffhauser, currently the company’s chief technology officer, and Grossmann.
The company now has 50 employees and 150 clients, with bases in Zurich and San Francisco. It plans to employ 80 to 100 people a year from now, Grossmann said. Other customers include the U.S. discount chain Dollar General Corp., Heathrow Airport, as well as Swiss retailer chain Globus, he said.
Beekeeper has attracted the attention of Niklas Zennstrom, the founder of Skype Inc. and CEO of London-based venture capital firm Atomico, who is a financial backer. Last month, the company secured $8 million in Series A financing, led by KEEN Venture Partners LLP, a London and Amsterdam-based venture capital company.
The Beekeeper app, which can be downloaded to smartphones or tablets, includes a central workstream through which text, images and videos can be posted. It has instant-messaging features that allow users to communicate directly or in group chats.
Beekeeper competes with companies such as Microsoft Corp., which has developed its own corporate team-chat service, and Slack Technologies Inc., but their tools “are more focused on increasing productivity for office workers and teams” rather than on empowering hourly workers who work shifts and don’t have email or computers, Grossman said.
Beekeeper’s app is more efficient than text messaging and allows for more control and data safety than Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp, he added.