Jerome Harlington, a business adviser at Buckinghamshire Business First, was excited. “As soon as I started talking to them, I just knew this was a business with huge potential.”
He was talking about WorkBuzz, and with good reason. Software platforms targeting the employee engagement space are red hot right now and the Buckinghamshire-based business is definitely on trend. Hybrid or flexible working, where staff split their time between the workplace and most typically home, is the new must-have, accelerated by the COVID pandemic.
But out of sight cannot mean out of mind. More than ever before, business leaders need to make sure their staff feel fully supported by, and connected to, their organisations. WorkBuzz, which was launched in 2018 by Steven Frost, hopes to fill the communication gap by providing a tool for companies to acquire and analyse real-time feedback from their employees, franchisees and potentially anyone they work with. And so far, it seems to be working. Clients such as Shell Energy, Premier Foods and HS2 have taken the bait and this year WorkBuzz is targeting 120% revenue growth.
Taking the business to the next level
But there was a problem and it’s one Jerome thought he could help fix. “I’d started having these discussions with Steven as part of the Advice service within the Growth Programme. It was clear that if they were going to capitalise on the opportunity, they needed more investment. I felt I could open some doors.”
WorkBuzz founder, Steven Frost, takes up the story. “I think we’d taken the business to a level where we were at risk of plateauing and funding was the biggest constraint. We needed to make some big upfront investments in our technology and in marketing and client acquisition.”
One of the things they wanted to do was invest in machine learning by creating algorithms that could accurately characterise qualitative feedback and turn it into useful management information.
Imagine you receive tens of thousands of employee comments and suggestions. What are you supposed to do with all of that? Intelligent machine learning, computed in the moment, can scan by topic and strength of feeling. It leaves the old days of manually sifting through annual employee surveys in the dust. Now you can send out a pulse survey, to whoever you want, whenever you want, and understand the answer while the information is still up-to-date.
“Even then, the platform will never be where it needs to be because there's constant change and relentless shift in our sector,” said Steven. “We have to stay customer obsessed, keep innovating and never take it for granted. As soon as we do that, we're gonna die.”
But this all takes money.
Required: investment and a foot in the door
Steven had come across Buckinghamshire Business First just by chance - a random find on Google. But he made the call and the conversation quickly found a sharper edge. Steven wanted to know whether Buckinghamshire Business First could help WorkBuzz get more investment-ready so they could approach venture capitalists with confidence. Jerome reviewed the business with him, liked what he saw and provided a warm introduction to Mercia Asset Management.
“I was really aware that most venture capitalists receive lots of approaches and take one in 100 deals,” said Steven. “But if you get a warm introduction, you get an opening and then suddenly have a better quality conversation. I think Jerome appreciated the business and that gave us a bit of extra credibility, which helped us get our feet in the door.”
And get their feet in the door they did.
After an initial introduction in May 2020, Steven and his team, with the support of Jerome, worked on the business case. Now armed with a clearer understanding of where the goalposts were and what boxes needed to be ticked, they tweaked the financial model. “We didn’t want to go in half-baked or present something that wasn’t fully aligned with their investment criteria,” remembered Steven. They pitched in October. A second round followed in November. They got the offer within 24 hours.
In the end, WorkBuzz negotiated an equity finance deal which became even sweeter when another big investor, the Foresight Group, decided to get involved too. By March 2021, when everything was signed off, WorkBuzz had received investment worth £780,000 from both organisations through the Midlands Engine Investment Fund (MEIF).
Clear and measurable benefits
It promises to be transformative. Their workforce is expected to double to around 30 employees by the end of the year, but the goal is to scale far beyond that.
Steven has been so impressed by the overall experience that he decided to become a Buckinghamshire Business First mentor so he could help other businesses in the area and ‘pay it forward’.
“I think Buckinghamshire Business First and the Growth Programme offer a really important service, particularly as the UK needs to become more entrepreneurial, more dynamic,” said Steven. “I’ve seen first-hand the difference they can make. It can be quite lonely running a business, particularly at an early stage. We didn’t have a board of advisers, so having an external set of eyes was crucial. That and the introduction. The benefit was clear - raised and measured in investment.”