Mobilizing the non-desk workforce
Welcome back to What’s NEXT, the podcast exploring the future of technology. In this episode, I talk with Corey McCarthy about how communication platform Beekeeper provides secure mobile collaboration for industries like hospitality and manufacturing.
Ryan Lawler: I’m here today with Corey McCarthy from Beekepeer. Thanks for being with us.
Corey McCarthy: Thank you very much for having me.
Ryan Lawler: Tell me a little bit about Beekeeper and what you provide.
Corey McCarthy: Beekeeper is a communication platform for non-desk workers. We connect non-desk workers with the rest of their organization through a very simple to use app that allows for peer-to-peer messaging, group messaging, and top-down communication through streams.
Ryan Lawler: I think most people in the tech world use some sort of collaboration tool to communicate with their peers, with their bosses. What’s unique about non-desk workers and what they need from their employers and how they communicate?
Corey McCarthy: The non-desk workforce makes up about 80% of the world’s workforce, and they don’t have computers or email addresses in the large part, and so it makes it difficult to connect with the rest of the organization. But the adoption of mobile technology has proliferated the market and so now 84% of everybody has a mobile device. So what employers are able to take advantage of now that they weren’t able to take advantage before in the past is the fact that most of the workers have mobile devices and interestingly about 75% of them are already using their mobile devices to speak with each other about work-related issues.
Where we take for granted email and computers, now we’re able to finally connect with an entire and significant portion of the world’s population that we haven’t been able to connect with on a day to day basis or in the moment like we are able to now.
Ryan Lawler: Before Beekeeper was around, how were these workers usually communicating with either their bosses or their peers?
Corey McCarthy: Morse code.
It was really old school. It’s funny, we are in constant communication with our customers and we’ll frequently take groups of beekeepers to the back end of a hotel and you still see a billboard. It’s funny to see the time machines where they actually have to punch their card. So it very much still looks like 1950. You see print outs of schedules, announcements that have happened and the bulletin boards are really the way they are able to communicate information between shifts and to the employees that don’t have email addresses or computers.
Ryan Lawler: I guess one way of putting this is that if you’re a non-desk worker, you’re probably already messaging your coworkers or you’re already messaging your boss, whether it’s through SMS or WhatsApp or some other platform. This is a way for those organizations to sort of bring that communication together all in one place.
Corey McCarthy: It is a great way to centralize communication. A lot of the ways that people are communicating in work around situations are slightly dangerous because if you take a look at WhatsApp, WhatsApp is a really great consumer messaging app. However, it’s not GDPR compliant and it’s incredibly difficult to manage from the employer’s perspective. Most of the industries that we target have fairly high turnover and to onboard and off-board people from WhatsApp groups, a lot of times managers might not be aware of how many WhatsApp groups exist within their department, and then to take the time to delete that person and their data from that group is incredibly tedious and time consuming in addition to technologically not secure.
I think one of the things that is unique is that there are a lot of tools out there to communicate with, but none of them are accessible by non-desk workers. By bringing Beekeeper in we’re able to help connect those people that are inherently disconnected. You show up to work. You don’t have an email address, you don’t have a computer, and it’s very difficult to have an understanding of what’s happening within the organization or what is going to be expected at your job that day. There could’ve been any number of changes between when you last left and when you came back that you’re unaware of.
There’s also a big communication gap between shifts, and I think that that’s one of the big differences between knowledge workers and non-desk workers, is that idea of a shift. There are a number of different shifts that happen throughout the day and communication gets lost between the shifts and it’s almost like game of telephone. If the managing director comes and gives a state of the union address to the first shift, but then the managers are responsible for sharing that information to the second shift and then those managers are responsible for sharing with the third shift, there’s a lot of things that can be easily lost in translation.
Ryan Lawler: If you don’t have an email or a desk or a computer or you’re bringing your own device, how do you initially log in to Beekeeper?
Corey McCarthy: Our engineering team has a series of what they call Bee hacks, and it allows the engineers the open space to get creative with different issues that they see us being able to potentially solve. Through one of the Bee hacks we actually came up with a QR code sign in. For non-desk workers who don’t have email addresses even in the personal level can still log in to the Beekeeper platform just by scanning a QR code. They can walk up to one of the managers or any front line manager. That manager can open their phone, use the User Directory to find that particular employee and pull up their specific QR code. The employee pulls up their phone, scans the QR code, and they’re into their account. It simplifies the usage and allows us to achieve higher adoption rates because it’s just easy get into and easy to use.
Ryan Lawler: You mentioned the percentage of non-desk workers there are. How big is that really? How many people in total do you estimate?
Corey McCarthy: Two billion people worldwide.
Ryan Lawler: Okay, that’s huge. What sort of industries are you primarily targeting at least with Beekeeper right now?
Corey McCarthy: We focus on industries with a high concentration of non-desk workers. Our key verticals that we’re going to into right now are manufacturing, retail, hospitality, construction, logistics, transportation.
Ryan Lawler: When you start engaging with the customer, what are the things that you need to do to customize Beekeeper for their particular use case and how long does that usually take?
Corey McCarthy: Interestingly I think that we found that the needs of non-desk workers are fairly universal. One of the ways to split non-desk workers is into customer facing non-desk workers and non-customer facing. If you take a look at hospitality versus manufacturing, the use cases become slightly different but the needs of that worker remain relatively the same. They still need to have communication with their manager, with their peers, and receive information about what’s happening within the organization.
We’re moving into a more operational direction. We’re bringing in more operational features for shift management, task management which is still inherently important to most of the way they work during the day. One of the ways that we can differentiate based off of the particular industry is to build integrations with industry specific tools. For instance, right now we’re working with a number of different companies in the hospitality industry to really focus and make sure that we are tying together and integrating with the tools that their employees are already using. That is one of the ways that we can customize for a particular industry. Otherwise, it’s really about adjusting the way we speak and the way we talk to those particular clients.
Ryan Lawler: What was the big idea or impetus behind the creation of Beekeeper?
Corey McCarthy: Interestingly our founders are both graduates of the ETH out of Zurich which is the MIT of Europe, and they noticed a need or actually they noticed that in the United States there are all these online flirting platforms that have been popping up and there wasn’t really a great answer that was emerging in Europe. They created an anonymous online flirting platform called Spocal and at the school that they were at it had an incredibly high adoption rate.
It was interesting. One of the hotels in Zurich had a number of ETH students working with them and it was the general manager of the hotel that saw how they were using the platform and actually realized the business case and reached out to both Cris and Flavio, had them come in for a meeting. Cris and Flavio did a little bit more exploration and figured out that that idea actually really scales and that there was a big need to connect workers that didn’t have access to email or computers and that their platform actually served a greater purpose than simply online flirting, but it was a fun way to get into the business.
Ryan Lawler: That’s really interesting. I guess one of the other things that’s interesting about the company is that you’re very global. You were founded in Zurich I believe. Where does Beekeeper have offices and how does the organization work across all the different locations that you’re in?
Corey McCarthy: Right now we have offices in Zurich, San Francisco, Berlin, London, and we have … Actually we’re opening up our Krakow office right now. We have this really great tool called Beekeeper and it allows us to stay in touch and connected with one another. We have agreed as an organization that most of our internal communication doss happen through Beekeeper. So we have our organization set up through different departments, group chats, and individual chats so that we can really kind of work on the fly. We also are heavy users of Zoom. Zurich stays up late to speak with the US and my mornings generally start on a video call at 6 a.m.
Ryan Lawler: When you talk about using Beekeeper as your own tool, I think that that’s pretty interesting. What other things can an organization do to keep in touch with their workforce?
Corey McCarthy: We are able to automate a lot of frequently occurring messages. You can take onboarding is a really great example. We can create a workflow of messages that would typically come out once a person starts, and that message would actually be automated. So as soon as a user signs on, they immediately receive the first message, and then after a set period of time the second message in the queue automatically appears.
Another great way that you can use that automation is to set up pre-populated messages that need to go out to the entire organization. You can script it beforehand and set it up to go out in a week from now, a month from now. Or you can set up reminders that also go out on a weekly basis or recurring.
We offer surveys. It’s a really great way to pool, to feel the pulse of the culture, the pulse of the organization. You can use it for compliance if there are any mandates that say that you have to read a particular safety protocol and then click that you have confirmed receipt. You can actually track that from the back end and see who has confirmed that they have indeed read that memorandum or who you still need to reach out to make sure that they have also seen it.
Ryan Lawler: You have an international workforce, and given that, I’m sure you have to do a lot of localization. How widespread is usage around the world?
Corey McCarthy: We’re currently operating in 137 different countries.
Ryan Lawler: So what are some of the challenges that non-desk workers face, especially in hospitality or other industries?
Corey McCarthy: When you’re taking a look at the complexion of the non-desk workforce it’s very multicultural and in a lot of the business settings there are multiple languages being spoken which creates great barriers to understanding even the delegation of the daily tasks. One of the things that Beekeeper has that’s very unique is inline translations. The user can not only set the Beekeeper app to their local language, but any posts. So my coworker Maria is originally from Russia. She can post something in Russian and I can receive the translation into my native language based off the settings that I have within the app.
Ryan Lawler: Okay, that’s really, really cool actually. Personally tell me about how you joined Beekeeper and what got you interested in being a part of this company.
Corey McCarthy: I’ve been in the hospitality industry nearly for 20 years. I grew up on the publishing side. So I’ve seen a lot of technologies come through. Most of them don’t work. Inherently hoteliers are very adverse to technology, especially new technology. At a previous position I met Julie Allegro, one of the seed investors in Beekeeper, and she found out that I had a background in hospitality which is one of the key verticals for us, and she’s like, “Oh, you have to talk to Cris.”
I was at first very skeptical because I’m like, “Technology, not sure.” But I sat down with Cris, I took a look into the company and it just made sense. It’s technology but it really emphasizes the human connection. And that’s really what the hospitality industry is all about, it’s being able to deliver an exceptional guest experience. You have to have happy employees and you have to have really great communication with the people that are working for you in order to achieve that guest satisfaction. It wasn’t necessarily that this was a technology. It was more than that. It’s really where technology meets people.
Ryan Lawler: When you talk about the hospitality industry being averse to adopting new technology, what’s your sales pitch, how do you convince a company that they need Beekeeper?
Corey McCarthy: That it’s simple to implement and easy to use. There’s really very little training because the application is intuitive. It doesn’t require any infrastructure on the part of the person who’s buying it or the company that’s buying it because it’s cloud based. We turn on that app for that particular company. They log in their users and it feels, the app itself looks and feels like a lot of the consumer tools that everybody’s already using. So it’s very easy to navigate around.
Ryan Lawler: Then once you’ve been adopted within an organization, what’s the onboarding look like for the workers themselves and what can they expect?
Corey McCarthy: We have a fantastic customer success group that works very hard with our clients to teach them first how to use it from an organizational level and then we have packages and roll out programs that go all the way down to the end users, down to printed out sheet, where it gives them instructions about how to actually log on to the Beekeeper system.
Ryan Lawler: When you talk about what your selling point is, it’s not just about communication. What’s the return on investment for somebody in the hospitality industry or a company that’s looking to adopt Beekeeper?
Corey McCarthy: Labor’s a really big issue and it’s an incredibly steep cost right now. Every time an employee turns over in the hospitality industry, it costs about $4,000 to replace, train, and outfit that person with a uniform. If we can reduce their turnover even by 1%, it more than covers the price of the Beekeeper platform.
Ryan Lawler: Just from a cost perspective, how are you priced? Are you like on a per seat basis or licensing deal or how does that work?
Corey McCarthy: It’s a SaaS model so it’s per person per month.
Ryan Lawler: Give a typical use case for what it would look like for a hospitality worker to use Beekeeper.
Corey McCarthy: Absolutely. We recently had a client in Washington DC. The Watergate Hotel let us know that there was a guest that had left a book in the car. The valet found it and through a series of messages between coworkers were able to figure out what room the guest was in and the guy was able to personally deliver the book back, but he was also able to write a note to the guest specifically mentioning a conversation that they had had. The guest came back down to the front desk and was so thankful that that book had been returned to her and mentioned how absolutely sweet it was that the valet took the time to write her a personalized note. The front desk person was then able to share that story and congratulate the valet for a job well done.
There are a number of use cases that were in there. A) the immediate transfer of information so that we could find the owner of the book, and then rewards and recognition because the front desk person was able to give a shout-out to the valet and let everybody know that, hey, this guy just did a really amazing job to encourage more great things like that to happen on site.
Another great instance is we have the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, Texas. There was a housekeeper that was working for them that only spoke Vietnamese. She had to travel in one hour one way just to check her schedule every single week and it was a big personal burden for her because she had to find childcare, it was time away from her family. So when she found out that she could check her schedule on Beekeeper she almost cried tears of joy because that was such a huge and significant savings of time for her and that made a big impact on her life.
Ryan Lawler: From the organizational standpoint I imagine it saves a lot of time for them as well?
Corey McCarthy: Yes, absolutely, they’re able to automate a lot of frequently asked questions, they’re able to speak immediately with people, they’re able to get almost immediate feedback through the survey system.
Crisis communication is actually another big use case that we have, and talking about that immediacy and that flow of information back and forth in a time of an emergency, if you take a look at the situation that happened in Las Vegas a few months ago, if there were protocols set up or if they had Beekeeper, they would’ve been able to communicate immediately that there was a situation. Just like you can have different messages backlogged waiting to go, you can pre-populate messages and determine exactly which groups or which portions of the organization, if not the entire organization that they need to be sent out to in different emergency scenarios. We could’ve definitely been helpful in a time of need.
We also work with a number of properties in South Beach and they use us very extensively during the hurricanes, just to check in, make sure that everybody was safe, that everyone knew when they needed to return to work and communicate schedules and shifts as they were coming back.
Ryan Lawler: It sounds like you’re talking a lot about the use case and hospitality in the US. How much of your business is based here? How much of it is in Europe? How much of it is worldwide?
Corey McCarthy: Our roots are in Europe. I think that the majority of the business is between Europe and the United States. The United States is definitely a big market opportunity for us, and I think that this is the first year where our total revenue coming in is equal between Europe and the United States.
Ryan Lawler: How’s it different being a part of an organization that’s based in Europe and with that might mean either culturally or technologically just in the way that the company operates?
Corey McCarthy: What’s interesting is I think that we can get even more precise and talk about working for a Swiss company. We’re definitely, it’s great, the product is incredibly stable because it’s Swiss over-engineered in the best way possible and from the corporate perspective we are so well organized. I joined the company when I think there were about 30, 35 people, and the amount of processes that had been laid out and documented for such an early stage company was mind blowing, the amount of attention that was paid to every detail was incredible and definitely very different than a lot of startups that I’ve seen around Silicon Valley.
Ryan Lawler: What’s one controversial opinion that you have that’s very strongly held?
Corey McCarthy: Champagne should be served in corporate meetings.
Ryan Lawler: Okay. Can you elaborate on that?
Corey McCarthy: It’s one of my trademarks. When I came into the organization, there was the US office was just getting started and there was a communication gap between Zurich and the US on the marketing side of the business because there hadn’t been a full time marketer in the US.
In order to ease tensions what I would do I had this standing Thursday afternoon meeting. So at 4:00 every Thursday I would invitee everybody to sit down and I would chair what marketing was doing and exactly at 4:00 I’d pop a bottle of champagne to make sure that everybody was there. It turned into one of those really nice things where people were relaxed and felt comfortable asking questions and were more open to integrating the sales and marketing functions.
Ryan Lawler: What happens if Beekeeper becomes ubiquitous?
Corey McCarthy: The perception of the workplace divide completely disappears because employees will have access to information whenever they need it in the moment and will also be receiving clear and concise communication.
Ryan Lawler: I’m just going to push back on that a little bit. It sounds a little creepy to have your organization always on your phone. Do you get pushback from workers at all about that?
Corey McCarthy: Yes, we do. The pushback that we get from the workers is it’s very big brother. We don’t really have the ability to track exactly where they are, and most organizations are not using it for that purpose, but I mean, if you want to talk about big brother, I mean, there are so many broader topics that we can talk about there that I think that having your workplace perceptively see where you are is the least of your concerns.
One of other things to consider with that level of transparency is that there’s an incredible amount of bottom up communication that begins to happen. The company leaders actually get to have more insight, more access into what’s really happening within the ranks. We’ve had a number of organizations think that the bottom up communication is actually turned out to be more of a positive, even though they had initial hesitations because they were able to identify problems and solve problems sooner because they came to the surface just based off of the immediacy of the communication platform.
Ryan Lawler: Actually I’m curious what the communications that you see, what sort of data can that provide to the organizations and how can that data become actionable?
Corey McCarthy: We can provide engagement and user data. We can also give organizations a perception of what content employees are really gravitating to and what the employees think matter. From a data perspective it’s interesting. We have a client in Zurich who can take a look at the engagement trends and within three months predict when somebody’s going to turn over. I’m excited for what we’ll be able to do with the data in the future if this guy’s able to just take a look at the dashboard and identify that now, so he can proactive go and speak and work with the employees that are potentially at risk to reduce his turnover which of course is very expensive.
Ryan Lawler: You had mentioned crisis communications earlier. How does Beekeeper help deal with that?
Corey McCarthy: With crisis communications you can pre-populate a number of messages and send them out at the time of need, and they can go out with a confirmation receipt. When the message is received by the employee, the employee has to double tap to confirm receipt of the message, which then allows the employer to identify who has already read the message. One of the questions can be as simple as: Are you safe, yes or no? And the employer can see in real time his people are answering who’s safe, who’s not, and really identify on a really micro level who else they need to research and go look for or check the property to make sure is safe.
Ryan Lawler: Right now what’s your biggest challenge to adoption? What’s the biggest reason that a potential customer might say no?
Corey McCarthy: One of the biggest pushbacks that we get right now is concerning labor laws and the bring your own device policies that are out there. Using a device at home could potentially mean that the employee’s able to bill over time and employers are really hesitant to allow that into the organizations. I think they oftentimes overlook the benefits of an employee having the ability to check their schedule or communicate with the manager to let them know that they’re not going to be able to make it in or swap a shift for that particular day.
The other thing that we have that’s recently coming up as it relates to the bring your own device policy is who gets to pay for the phone bill. We have a fair play rule that we’ve put into place that we have all of our employees using the platform agree to that says that they will only use the device at work and on the employer’s Wi-Fi system to get around some of those.
Ryan Lawler: When you’re operating in so many different countries, how much do you have to worry about labor law or regulations, and does your approach to some countries differ as a result just in what you offer or in the sales and marketing process?
Corey McCarthy: We operate from a no matter what basis. Our technology was built in Switzerland and we operate very heavily in the EU, which means that we are very behold into GDPR. Everything that we’ve done has been built to GDPR standards and we have our ISO certification. The level of security that we bring is top of line and it’s regardless of the market that we’re going into.
What’s interesting about that is a lot of companies in the US market don’t realize the extensive GDPR and the fact that it extends far beyond the boundaries of the EU, and that US companies operating with anybody that has a European residency is subject to GDPR rules and GDPR regulations. I think that in the European market of course it’s a standard, but over here we don’t change the way we approach that. It is one of the things that is comforting to know that we have the companies that work for us covered from that standpoint.
Ryan Lawler: Well, Corey, thanks for joining us today.
Corey McCarthy: Thank you very much for having me here. It was a pleasure.