To understand the startup Beekeeper, think of workplace communications tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams. The service helps hourly workers without desktop computers, such as housekeepers, stay up-to-date. The fresh funding underscores a recent boom in hotel tech investment.
Beekeeper, an operational communications platform for hourly workers, has raised another $45 million in funding. The Zurich-based startup has clients in 26 industries but hotel groups like Hyatt are its largest early adopters.
Thayer, a travel-focused venture capital firm, and Swisscanto, an asset manager via its growth equity fund, co-led the Series B round. The startup has raised $71 million to date.
A classic use of Beekeeper is for posting shift schedules. The company itself isn’t in the business of managing schedules. But Beekeeper’s staff-to-staff chat system — think Slack — works with task management services, such as Expedia’s majority-owned Alice and Amadeus’s Service Optimization Software (formerly called HotSOS), which let hotel companies track assignments or chat with guests. The system can also integrate with online training programs, payroll services from companies like ADP and SAP, and other workplace tools.
“Heathrow Airport used to post any shift changes on a physical bulletin board,” said Cristian Grossmann, co-founder and CEO of Beekeeper. “Managers typically would require staff to make any requests for swapping shifts three days in advance. After adopting our system, workers can see schedule changes on their mobile devices and they can make requests like, ‘Hey, can someone take my shift?’ on the same day in many cases.”
Until now, many hotels and other service companies have used email or multiple chat groups on platforms like WhatsApp to communicate with hourly and overnight operational staff. Beekeeper standardizes the process in a consumer-grade interface that it claims has a 90 percent activation rate and that workers engage with its app three to five times a day, on average.
Grossman said many managers like his company’s service because it helps boost morale. He cited the story of a hotel night manager who often struggled to sing the praises of his team to the folks on the day shift.
Grossman’s team cited various statistics claiming to show that management companies have retained more of their workers for longer after adopting the tool in the past couple of years.
“There are few digital tools which cater to the needs of non-desk-workers,” said Nils Granath, responsible for the equity investment from Swisscanto.
Some Questions Linger
Security is a factor, given that many hotels and other companies have fluid workforces.
Beekeeper manages the security of the information shared on its platform in two main ways. It encourages companies to make deactivation of employee accounts to be a standardized part of the severance process. It also makes technical efforts, such as encryption, and process management, such as testing weak leaks in integrations between its data centers and third-party integrations.
In terms of physical security, it integrates with app called EAlarme that allows a company to send an emergency message to the whole workforce in case of a crisis. But it lacks any app for reporting assaults.
Some critics wonder about how quickly the company can scale up. Adoption rates for Beekeeper’s tool jump when customers pay extra to provide on-site training. But workshops add a cost.
Grossman said that his company has made its online, self-service adoption process seamless by putting know-how online with checklists and training videos that skip the in-person training.
White-collar managers can sometimes forget that their front-line workers often lack digital savviness when it comes to enterprise software tools or even workplace email. Many hourly workers are more accustomed to using mobile-first consumer apps like Facebook, Whatsapp, and YouTube.
Some workers may be scared about revealing gaps in their language, for example, which Beekeeper attempts to circumvent by offering simultaneous text translations when relevant.
Skift named Beekeeper one of its top travel startups to watch in 2019. The company has shown resilience. Beekeeper pivoted to business-to-business after an early failed attempt at having a consumer-facing product.
The fresh funding underscores a recent boom in hotel tech investment and communications investments. Last year, Amadeus bought TravelClick, a hotel technology company that offers business intelligence and operational services, for $1.52 billion.
Beekeeper’s nearest comparison may be Microsoft’s Teams product for inter-office communication and Slack, a workplace messaging tool that debuted in June as a public company at a valuation of $23 billion but has since faced questions about its ability to compete with Microsoft.
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Photo credit: Jeff David, managing director of The Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C., is a fan of Beekeeper, a communications platform for non-desk workers. Beekeeper