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Scottish app builder readies scale-up fundraise

Edinburgh-based app building start-up Beezer is preparing for a fundraising designed to take it to the next stage of scaling up.

Talking exclusively to Insider, founder and chief executive Brian Smillie explained that the funding round is seeking to get new strategic, preferably institutional, investors to back the business.

Since launching seven years ago, the company has raised £1.8m, with one of the early backers being Bigmouthmedia founder Steve Leach.

Beezer has since grown to 10 staff, with clients across 33 countries and around £400,000 in annual turnover.

Now the company is close to turning a profit, Smillie is looking to take things to the next stage.

“We’re preparing fundraise documents at the moment, the investment will be spent on both continued development spend and marketing the product,” he explained.

Currently he is pursuing two main growth strategies: getting recurring revenue from sign-ups and channel partnering with the likes of banks, insurers and internet service providers to generate further income.

“Target customers have typically been micro businesses up to SMEs, with sectors like health and fitness, food ordering apps and events doing well,” said Smillie. “We just launched a new marketplace to enable customers to monetise without using the app stores, so it’s a closed ecosystem of code, which enables an all-in-one subscription base.”

Another new feature is called Appzer, which makes it easy for clients to transfer content from website to app, using Beezer’s tech to scrape it and pre-populate, while the Distributizer function embeds a distribution panel into third party marketplaces.

Fundraising money will also be used to dabble more with artificial intelligence to automate things.

“The next feature is dynamic templating, as many apps are currently limited, but we want to create content that is more in line with brands, using machine learning,” Smillie added.

So that’s the future, but what about the past?

Well, Stirling-born Smillie’s first venture was 1-2-1 Sign Installers, which secured contracts with Tesco and Shell Optimax, before he sold the business to national company Pearce Signs in 2004.

With that cash, he moved to Australia, taking up a role as sales director at The Leapfrog Group, a promotional and loyalty business where he worked for around three years.

Smillie then launched a digital marketing agency The Creative Shop in Sydney, before eventually selling that a few years later to the largest digital agency in Korea.

Returning home to Scotland, he had a few bright ideas: one to jump on the crowdfunding bandwagon and the other to build a company creating t-shirts.

“I lost my shirt with the t-shirt business, but the crowdfunding platform Squareknot did much better – someone eventually bought the database, but that experience sowed the seeds for the formation of Beezer in 2015.”

Smillie continued: “I came up with another idea to create web apps, as I was hearing from people that it was too hard to build them, and by chance I had met a developer called Grant Finlay.

“We built a no-code platform, with the USP of bypassing the traditional app stores, introducing new ways to distribute and track apps.”

Beezer’s big break came when Smillie and director of product innovation Euan McCreath went on Dragons’ Den in 2018.

Smillie, the 32% majority shareholder, told them: “I went out and raised £800,000 to get things going and put £150,000 of my own money into the business, I sold my two houses, my Banksy art colletion – I’ve put everything into this.”

The pitch impressed the panel, with four of the five initially keen, but unyielding negotiations whittled that down to just Peter Jones, who called the company “a potential unicorn” and agreed to give £125,000 for a 15% stake.

“We were the most watched episode on YouTube that season – and asked for the most money – but in the end we decided not to take Peter’s money,” said Smillie, who decided a better deal could be found elsewhere; and was ultimately proved right.

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