Cork-based software firm is to add as many as 200 to its workforce
In the first quarter of 2022, Ireland’s quota of tech unicorns – companies privately valued at over €1bn – grew from four to six.
Cork-based employee engagement software firm Workvivo is aiming to be the next one.
In four years of developing the platform, it has quietly soaked up hundreds of large enterprise clients, including giants such as Amazon and Bupa. It has done it in the face of direct competition from Facebook’s Workspaces and, recently, Microsoft Viva.
In doing so, it has become one of the fastest-growing software companies in Ireland.
This week, it announced a Series B funding round of $22m (€20.8m) and an intention to expand on a much bigger scale than it has known to date, with up to 200 new jobs and a deepening of its hubs in London and Dublin.
The company won’t publicly talk about its valuation, but it’s understood to be a nine-figure sum that keeps its unicorn ambitions on track.
Co-founder and chief technology officer Joe Lennon says that the potential prize in front of it has affected the way it’s currently thinking of building the business.
“We bootstrapped for a very long time actually, for like the first couple of years before we ever took on any external funding,” he says.
“But then you see the potential in places like America. So we knew that there was a significant opportunity that’s not going to be there forever, right? So now’s the time to execute. We know this category is up for grabs and we want to take full advantage of that we want. We know somebody is going to own it.”
So it went for the Series B cash, little more than a year after its Series A.
Mr Lennon suggests that the company didn’t really need the cash to simply carry on as normal, as it was “well funded” from last year’s €15m Series A round.
But ambitions change. And the Cork company now appears to be going for it, with a drive to treble its current workforce from just over 100 to around 300 with bigger, richer hubs in cities like London and Dublin, as well as its US ambitions.
That means refocusing from profitability to growth and scale, something it had been very cautious about before.
“There’s a choice that you make,” says Mr Lennon. “Do you go slower and aim for profit or is it more about growth? We’re definitely in the latter bucket right now. So my focus is exclusively on scaling the company, growing the business, investing in it and deploying the capital that we have raised, as well as reinvesting the funds that we’re generating. Obviously at a later date, that focus will change to being profitable. But you don’t scale at the pace that we’re trying to scale if profitability is your north star. We’re looking at hyper growth now.”
This may seem like a very bullish approach in a market that’s currently re-evaluating the worth of tech software firms.
But Workvivo is used to atypical trajectories. Its ascent was very unusual for a small Irish startup. It launched itself by bagging large enterprise customers instead of the usual path of small firms, moving up the enterprise ladder along the way.
A quick look at the product it actually sells makes it plain why this might always have been the case.
Its employee engagement platform seems a lot more more naturally aimed at HR departments and management teams in big companies than scrappy startups who are bootstrapping and scrambling. It’s a smooth interface with access to workplace tools like Zoom, Slack and Microsoft Teams, as well as HR and CRM tools. There’s a strong Linkedin vibe from it, too, with quasi-social comments and links to articles, quizzes and ‘fun’ content that managers hope will give staff a bit more of a team vibe.
This makes Workvivo’s pitch to help keep employees engaged and connected with management and company life in the era of ‘great resignations’, a particularly golden one to big corporations with layers of middle management.
“Communications has always been a big challenge,” says Mr Lennon.
“How do we connect what people are doing every single day in their working jobs back to the company? How are the values or goals or the mission of the company communicated? Most people working in a company don’t really connect with that kind of thing on a day-to-day basis. You might have a town hall meeting with the CEO saying ‘here are our values’, but then everybody goes back to work and forgets about it two minutes later, right? One idea here is to put those front and centre on the platform.”
The other idea of the platform seems even more relevant to bigger firms: providing a company communication resource in a giant corporation that may have lots of workers that aren’t typically mixing with each other or with core internal teams.
“If you look at one of our larger customers, like Bupa, they have something like 30,000 employees that never had a way of communicating directly. Organisations like that may not be on the company’s active directory or have a work email address,” says Mr Lennon.
Workvivo is starting to feel and act like a bigger company itself, now. To celebrate its fifth birthday last month, it flew in remote workers from all over the world for a bash in Cork, putting many of them up in the Metropole Hotel. It counts 300 customers in 90 countries, most of them larger firms. A recently-opened office in Boston will be used to attack the US market more aggressively.
Workvivo says that its latest new funding round, which was led by venture capitalist firm Tiger Global, triples its value. Local Irish VC firm Frontline is a previous investor, as is Zoom founder Eric Yuan and Enterprise Ireland.
“I fully expect us to hit something that will unlock another wave of growth again,” says Mr Lennon. “We’ve executed fairly well up to now, but it’s time to double down again.”