Amsterdam-based startup Speakap, founded in 2011, was mainly known as an ’enterprise social network’. Fast forward to 2017. Up until today, the startup was doing what a startup should be doing: just shaping the business and hauling in big clients.The company’s focusing for a while now on non-desk employees, instead of being another ’Facebook for business’. We talked to co-founder Patrick van der Mijl about the story of Speakap so far.
Van der Mijl (left on the photo) met his co-founder Erwin van der Vlist in 2007 at a job in the supermarket. At that time, they noticed communication problems: everything was still done with physical inboxes or ’pigeonholes’. At that time, everyone was just getting to know Facebook and The Netherlands was hyped on Hyves (a Dutch social network, RIP). They decided to make such a social network for their employer, as their was clearly an internal need for it.
Time passed and both got a ’real job’. Speakap was still done next to their jobs, but when in 2011 the opportunity of a client investment came, they both decided to quit to make Speakap their fulltime commitment. Now, the company has more than 200 clients.
From the start on, Speakap was called an ’enterprise social network’, but the focus clearly was on retail. How’s that?
Our focus is on non-desk employees, like people working in retail, factories or in hospitality. Marketing-wise it’s also a stronger proposition than saying it’s an ’enterprise social network’. The big guys, like Yammer at that time, don’t focus on that. We’re all about the complexity of such organizations. So when we were even called a next ’Facebook for businesses’… well at that time, we thought that was fine, because we do bring the private experience of social media to our service. It made sure Speakap was adopted more, while we actually were doing something else. Clients have a very specific designed environment for them, what isn’t the case with well-known tools like Yammer, Slack or now Facebook Workplace.
Can you give us an example how it differs exactly?
For Rituals we designed the Speakap environment in very specific groups, building different layers between them. For instance, Rituals can communicate with different countries, with stores, even with specific regions. It’s very flexible. So our enterprise-product is very different from ESN’s.
What’s the biggest benefit?
It’s important in terms of employer branding to have a social network under the employee’s brand. So no Facebook Workplace. There’s a difference between communications done in private and business. Facebook has the association with private communication against it. We say: Facebook and Whatsapp is for your private life.
But still: we’re glad Facebook made that step towards social networking as internal communications. It shows the importance of our sector and it only helps us. It’s a big item right now. Back in 2011, it was still a market in its infancy.
Talking about those kind of businesses, how did you look at the quick rise and success of Slack?
It’s impressive, but we use a totally different way to grow. You can install it online, pay with your creditcard or get it for free for small teams. That’s how they can grow quick. We are on the other side and have different kinds of customers.
It’s almost the same as with Yammer – just use it and see where it goes. That’s why Yammer failed, there’s not really a strategy behind its use. That may lead to ghost accounts nobody looks at anymore. We really accompany the client in the route to implementation, so you get to communicatie with 100 percent of the employees.
In a previous interview on StartupJuncture Speakap said “it’s a long term battle”. With the fast developments in social business communications, even in the non-desk employees sector, in mind: Are you shifting to short term battles as well?
When you’re in enterprise sales and your product is good, then eventually you have a solid base. So we’re mostly operating with the longterm in mind.
Do you have an exit strategy?
We can grow on our own, so not really. We don’t really lean to the big companies and they don’t lean to us as well. Also we’re not looking at other businesses to take over, we just focus on our own company. The reason we can do that is our API where clients can develop new functions for their employees. This way Speakap facilitates a hub for them. Because of those integration we are deep in those organizations and we can grow further.
What can you tell us about your first steps abroad and the strategy there?
We are now operating in Belgium, Germany and Spain as well with sales offices. Sales abroad should be done with locals, because they know the market, the culture and have their own network. For us it was finding the right people first, not the market. It’s not difficult to start a sales office in another country, but getting the right sales person is. We didn’t expand to Germany just because we want to go to Germany, but because we met the right person to help us in Germany.
We have a plan ready for expanding to the UK and the US. By the end of 2017 we want to make the first steps towards those markets.
I smell a new funding round to finance that kind of expansion…
It’s not really necessary because we can finance our growth ourselves. But we exclude nothing to grow even faster – it just isn’t a priority.
What about your team? Is there enough talent?
We have a team of 20/25, and we’re planning to double that this year! We’re looking for developers, and that’s a big challenge. In the early days we really could convince talent to work for us, because we grew hard and working on a social network is cool. But now the market in Amsterdam has changed. For instance, a booking.com is kind of disturbing the supply with big financial resources. It’s getting tougher finding talent, so we’re looking abroad as well. Luckily we now have talent from Bulgaria and Armenia working for us, but here in Amsterdam it’s becoming scarce.
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