London startup Essensys builds software which helps shared office landlords automate their IT and manage all their tenants in one place. The platform looks to take the IT department out of modern offices by allowing employees to self-serve things like desk booking, meeting rooms and lockers.
Founder and CEO Mark Furness is an outlier when it comes to the London startup scene. The outspoken Liverpudlian doesn’t fit the typical tech CEO template but if he has to fall on either the business or the technical side he is definitely more salesman than engineer.
Furness admitted to the BBC earlier this year that he knows "not one jot" about how to write a software programme. He made his entry into the IT industry in the early 2000s. What he saw was a problem to be solved: "I used to look at everything to do with technology within the enterprise and it was really complicated."
“You'd ring up the IT team and say the time was wrong on your phone and you would get a big intake of breath and told to put a ticket in. So there had to be a better way."
Essensys now essentially handles the IT for 6,000 businesses in the UK, and 250 in the US, where it has been operating out of New York for almost six months. Its annual turnover is more than £12 million and it employs more than 90 people.
The startup fell into its target market of coworking spaces, as Furness explains: “The first pitch I did was to a brand new shared workspace company who said these are my challenges, namely: responding to clients requirements when managing fifty companies with different IT needs, efficiently and cost effectively.
“They lined up with what we were doing and we didn't look back, that first customer meant that we would become the IT provider to that flexible workspace industry. That immediately became the play for us."
How does the platform work?
The Essenys platform started out as a way for businesses to automate their IT but has evolved to become a de-facto customer relationship management (CRM) tool for shared workspace landlords following the acquisition of UK startup and workspace management specialists Hubcreate.
The platform that came out of the acquisition is called Occupie “which is a single platform for the industry to manage all kinds of workspace. The whole customer journey," Furness says.
The four parts are prospect (which is essentially a CRM tool for landlords to manage tenant acquisition), operate (enterprise resource planning), connect (flexible IT infrastructure like wifi, network and phone line provisioning) and community (a self-serve platform for tenants to book meeting rooms, reserve desks and ancillary services like postage).
Landlords can manage their tenants in one place, from customer acquisition to automated billing, and employees can work in an environment where their technology needs are met and resources like desk and meeting rooms can be booked straight from their phone, without an IT ticket in sight.
Occupie is run in the cloud, in a private instance across four data centres, two in the UK and two in the United States. It is priced on a typical software-as-a-service (SaaS) model of pay what you use.
Shared workspace market
The shared workspace market is booming, with flexible working on the rise and tech companies looking to embrace the WeWork model of design and technology led work space to attract young talent.
The US company WeWork, which rents and subleases office space with a specific look and feel, has ridden this wave all the way to a $16 billion valuation and 500,000 members.
Essensys targets smaller players trying to emulate WeWork’s model. Furness said: “Regis and WeWork are 17 percent of the global market opportunity. My job is to empower that 83 percent to beat them at their own game."
What this means is it’s now better placed than any software company to benefit from the boom in coworking space, working with smaller tech incubators like Level 39 in Canary Wharf and The Dock in Wapping. Property agents and brokers, science parks and serviced offices make up the rest of the Essensys customer base.
Furness sees his advantage over the big players as a case of focus. “I’ve got 70 product people and I think WeWork's developer team is 20 people. It's really difficult for a WeWork to keep up with someone like us that only thinks about this singular focus."
Although Furness would never use the Silicon Valley term, he certainly sees Essensys as well placed to hit unicorn status. "I have no doubts, this is a billion dollar company and I hope I am here when it is and I want to do it based on real metrics like revenue and earnings," he said.
Furness also refused to rule out the possibility of taking its first round of venture capital or even going public. “If you asked me a few years ago I would say I am the last person to take my company public," he said. “Now I think that is a definite option. I think we are the right size and the growth curve is right, the tech is proprietary so we have the IP. We have all the attributes for growth capital or a listing."
Furness clearly feels that he has put the company in a position to succeed, saying his job now is to "set the tempo of the business and make sure we don’t fuck it up".