A rapidly growing challenger to LinkedIn, which has attracted over 10 million users in its first year, is now set to swarm into the UK.
beBee was founded by serial entrepreneurs Javier Cámara, 43, and Juan Imaz, 48, who sold their last company, Canalmail, for $70 million in one of Spain’s largest ever technology exits. The long-time friends have invested $15 million in beBee and are now in discussions with investors in both the UK and the US to accelerate growth.
Headquartered in Madrid, beBee has 4.5 million users – or Bees as they call them – in Spain, compared to 13-year-old LinkedIn’s 8 million. The start-up, which also has 1.6 million users in Brazil and 2 million in the rest of south America, is adding 25,000 new Bees per day. beBee is free for all users, and attracts a younger audience than LinkedIn. And unlike LinkedIn, where there is a slightly higher percentage of men, 55% of beBee’s users are women.
The site focusses on 3rd degree connections, rather than 1st or 2nd degree connections, as is the case with LinkedIn and Facebook. beBee’s CEO, Javier Cámara, explains: ‘We believe business relationships, as opposed to merely business contacts, often develop through shared interests. These can be work related of course, but on beBee the relationship is often first formed through a non-work related interest or hobby.’ It’s for this reason that beBee’s groups – or Hives as the site calls them – are an integral part of a user’s profile, and their first Hives are set at sign-up. Popular Hives range from Technology and Online Marketing to Fun Facts About Dogs. ‘I love scuba diving,’ Cámara continues, ‘and I recently went on a trip with some fellow enthusiasts from beBee’s Scuba Diving Hive. It was a great experience, and now I’m working with some of people I met on a business project.’
It’s this connection, dubbed Affinity Networking, which has been a major factor in the start-ups phenomenal growth, although its pace has taken even its founders by surprise. beBee’s President, Juan Imaz, explains: ‘We always believed we were onto something special, but we never imagined beBee would grow this quickly. The feedback we get from our Bees is amazing, they love it. They’re developing new business relationships all the time and crucially they’re finding new jobs. Last year more than 400,000 of our Bees were shortlisted for jobs through the site. And employers tell us beBee provides exceptional candidates and in many instances dramatically reduces their time to hire.’
As with Twitter, beBee’s users can follow anyone, but can only contact them directly when they’re followed back. And beBee’s aim is to ensure the content users receive is 100% relevant. Users decide themselves what groups their posts – or Buzzes as the site calls them – will be seen in, ensuring their connections aren’t overloaded with irrelevant content. ‘There’s too much noise on so many social networks,’ Imaz continues. ‘Our Affinity Rank algorithm classifies content to show users only the material they’ll enjoy.’
There are currently more than one million English speaking Bees on the site, with the US growing rapidly, largely thanks to a word of mouth buzz there. ‘It’s now time,’ Imaz says, ‘for beBee to enter the English speaking markets in earnest, and the UK is key.’ It will open a London office shortly and then replicate their novel marketing campaign in the UK. As well as investing heavily in online advertising, and partnering with such business newspapers as Cinco Dias, they’ve also very successfully selected Brand Ambassadors from outside the business world. These have included Spanish celebrity chef, Javier Peña, and Olympic medallist, Ona Carbonell. ‘beBee is much more than just a professional networking site,’ Imaz says. ‘Our Bees show far more of themselves, their hobbies, their passions, so it’s only natural our Ambassadors should reflect the full range of their interests.’
Brand Ambassadors receive beBee equity, as do staff, currently totalling 60. Innovatively, the start-up rewards super-users with equity too. Cámara explains: ‘Our Bees are our biggest asset, and it’s only right they share in our success.’
beBee will always be free for our users and aims to monetize the site through targeted advertising and affinity based e-commerce – or a-commerce – in the Hives.
And they’ve set themselves lofty targets for further growth. ‘By the end of 2017,’ Cámara says, ‘we aim to have 40 million Bees globally and 5 million in the UK. The beBee story has only just begun,’ he says.