We recently caught up with Rob Liddiard, CEO and co-founder of Yapster, the internal communications app for retail and hospitality teams that is giving competitors such as WhatsApp and Facebook Workplace a run for their money. Rob explains why companies are increasingly turning to Yapster, not only to build great work cultures, but also to satisfy the more stringent data protection requirements coming into effect in May this year.

Can you give us a brief overview of Yapster and the problem it set out to solve?

Yapster is a mobile messaging app that allows for company-wide communication in a secure, closed network environment. Easy to use, and available on mobile and desktop, Yapster is highly intuitive and fun. Current features include:

  • one-to-one and group messaging, with truly asynchronous chat
  • a mobile staff directory
  • company ‘Instagram-style’ newsfeed, with user reactions and comments
  • flash-polling, and geo-polling for location-specific feedback
  • intelligent muting of notifications, protecting work/life balance
  • the ability to fully integrate with existing IT systems such as intranets, HR and retail operations programmes

80% of the workforce is made up of ‘deskless’ workers – i.e. they don’t normally use a computer on a day-to-day basis. Yapster has been designed from first concept to be a mobile-first alternative for industries such as retail and hospitality that have a high proportion of deskless staff.

The problems Yapster solves for them include:

  • ineffective communication and confused culture, as HQ cannot selectively broadcast its strategy and current initiatives quickly and at scale
  • lack of employee engagement, leading to higher turnover of staff who feel they aren’t being listened to or appreciated
  • store managers, who drive the success of the shop floor, feeling detached from HQ planning and implementation
  • the inability to harness first-hand experience from staff on the ground at HQ level before it is too late
  • a reliance on free-to-use consumer apps like WhatsApp that are not designed for communication among employees

Finally, licences are 80% less expensive than Microsoft O365 or Facebook Workplace, which makes Yapster uniquely affordable for large employers with thousands of employees to cover.

How did the company originate? And how have you grown?

Rob Liddiard: Co-founder of Yapster

I met Craig McMillan – Yapster’s CTO and co-founder – back in 2015 while I was working as a company lawyer. He’s a Cambridge-educated electronic engineering and computer science graduate, and I had seen first-hand the difficulties big businesses face when trying to innovate through technology. We wanted to bring our two worlds together.

We then started coming up with product ideas. The breakthrough came when we were considering a product for the retail sector and got a tip from Kingfisher’s group general counsel at the time. She said businesses like hers could really use a piece of technology that could supercharge the customer experience by mobilising their workforce… and the idea for Yapster was born.

We raised some seed money to hire a development team and build the minimum viable product, which we incubated in our first trial customer. Since then we have grown organically, focusing on outbound sales and content marketing to gain name recognition in our target markets.

Yapster has been run as an agile business, with low overheads and a heavily committed team. We have expanded our team and operations as we have brought new customers on board, reinvesting revenue to add features to the product and improve the user experience. We’re proud to work with some of the best-known retailers in the UK, including Ann Summers, Caffe Nero and Wyevale garden centres.

What has been your biggest obstacle to date and how did you circumnavigate it?

When we first started, we had to do a lot of work around education and making a strong commercial case for investing in employee communications. Many of the prospects we wanted to speak to simply didn’t realise that they were missing out on an opportunity and at that point we had no track record in their industry. Fortunately, our early customers were open-minded and up for allowing us to run experiments with them to test ideas we thought would not just improve engagement among their teams but also have a positive impact on their bottom lines.

Almost three years down the line, the challenge has shifted. As the market has become more sophisticated, larger players like Facebook Workplace and Microsoft have moved into our space. So we’re now competing with some of the biggest technology companies in the world. As well as maintaining our focus on a relatively narrow market segment so we can be known as industry experts, we are confident that our product and price differentiation will allow us to punch far above our weight.

How has the advent of GDPR affected your journey? Has it been detrimental, or has this highlighted some of the benefits for companies to use Yapster, instead of say, WhatsApp?

It’s certainly the latter. After speaking to 75 of the UK’s leading retailers, we found that more than 50% are using some kind of consumer messaging app (WhatsApp being the go-to) for staff communication. We call these channels ‘shadow communications’ because the company has no oversight or control over the content that’s being shared this way unless they are intentionally included. More than one in ten workers we surveyed admitted to sharing business-sensitive information via personal email or personal messaging. In the modern economy, data is often one of your most valuable assets, so companies should be concerned that the way their employees are communicating is increasing their risk of a data-protection incident.

According to the data protection and legal experts we have been consulting with, it’s highly unlikely that any organisation that continues to use these channels once GDPR enters UK law in a few months’ time can satisfy the terms of the regulation. The fines for non-compliance can be as high as 4% of worldwide turnover. So there is not just a strong reputational reason for tackling the use of shadow communications, failing to do so could be extremely costly. In contrast, Yapster is a safe, secure place to exchange information quickly, so we believe more companies will see GDPR as an opportune time to review their internal communications tools and policies and consider a more reliable plaftorm.

And of course, like pretty much every other company, we need to make sure we’re meeting our own GDPR obligations.

What’s next for you? Will you be looking to raise further funds?

Outside of our core product, further fundraising is the biggest priority for us right now. Among other things, GDPR, difficult trading conditions for bricks-and-mortar retailers, and a rise in the expectations of the new generations entering the workforce will all ensure demand for Yapster increases. We also need to meet the growing ambitions of what is becoming an international customer base.

We are looking at an equity fundraising round in the next 1-2 months to allow us to invest in the infrastructure we need to continue to be successful, particularly new hires and an expanded marketing budget and function.

We have a full funding prospectus available, which I’m happy to share, so please do email me on rob@yapster.info if you’re interested in this opportunity or hearing more about Yapster.