GE fronts $11m for Zinc to stay in touch with deskless workers

SUMMARY:

GE Ventures leads an $11m investment in enterprise messaging app Zinc, which keeps deskless workers in touch while they’re on the move

Stacey Epstein

GE Ventures has led an $11 million round of investment in Zinc, a messaging app for workers who do their jobs on the move rather than at a desk. GE is also looking at rolling out Zinc to its own workforce, says Zinc CEO Stacey Epstein, who spoke exclusively to diginomica yesterday:

They invest in companies where they see a broad opportunity within their own organization for the solution. GE has 100,000 deskless workers.

The GE investment team recognized the value of a messaging application that’s specifically designed with these workers in mind, says Epstein, who according to IDC make up 72% of the workforce.

No one questions the value of communication for these workers. The challenge is that most communications tools haven’t been made for mobile workers, they’ve been made for people sitting in front of a computer. It’s not optimized for their use case — if it’s not as easy as texting they just won’t use it.

If they’re forced to use an app that’s built more for a computer than for a phone they can’t use it, and you’ve lost that opportunity to connect with them.

Field service up-and-coming

The investment is the company’s second after it rebranded as Zinc last year, when Epstein took over as CEO to drive more of an enterprise SaaS approach to the market. It brings total funding to date to $16 million, not counting amounts raised by its predecessor Cotap.

Existing investors Emergence Capital and CRV joined the round, along with Hearst Ventures, which says Zinc is a good fit because of the investor’s “focus on industries that have been historically neglected by technology.”

The customer base cuts across industries where workers spend a lot of time on their feet or outdoors, including hospitality, healthcare, construction and utilities. An area that’s up-and-coming is field service, which provides a good fit with recent GE acquisition ServiceMax, where Epstein was once CMO.

As a result of the switch to an enterprise SaaS model, Zinc has been able to attract larger customers, says Epstein. She cites BlueLine Rentals as an example. The company rents heavy construction equipment from 150 locations across the US,and adopted Zinc as a way of staying in touch with its highly skilled delivery teams, she explains.

They had deployed an enterprise collaboration system that never worked — these people had never used it because it didn’t have a mobile interface.

They’re the type of customer we’re seeing more now. They have 2,000 users on the platform.

Investing in R&D

The core of the product is the messaging app, which provides similar functionality to iMessage or WhatsApp, but with enterprise-friendly controls and security features. Other capabilities are built on this core, including location sharing, analytics, and a broadcast function for distributing company information, alerts and leadership messages. Zinc can also distribute content such as documents, images and video, either direct from the local device, or from Box, Dropbox and Sharepoint.

Epstein says the money will be split equally between product development and ramping sales, as Zinc extends its functionality:

We have a vision for how our communications platform can be. We have a lot of things we’re working on building — we’re going to be investing quite heavily in R&D.

Artificial intelligence will be part of that, both in terms of predictive analytics using data the application collects, as well as providing a messaging interface into line-of-business applications. Epstein explains:

We’ve created an information bridge to a type of worker that hasn’t had a digital connection to the company before. Now that we’ve created that communications or information bridge, what else can we put on that bridge? It could be an HR task or it could be, for example, a maid in a hotel sending a message, ‘I finished cleaning room 453 what room should I clean now?,’ fetching information from a guest management system.

I think that’s an opportunity for Zinc. Why shouldn’t you have a conversation with a system in the same way you have a conversation with a person?

That’s our company tagline — we help connect people to the people, knowledge and systems that help them do a better job.

My take

Does the world need yet another messaging app? Epstein gives a persuasive answer when she points out that existing messaging apps have been built for deskbound workers, not the deskless. What works well for a design team is unlikely to be the tool of choice for a hotel manager, construction worker or service engineer. And while apps designed for each of these roles can be made mobile, it does make a ton of sense to have a simple messaging platform that can keep all of them connected via their smartphones to the people, information and systems they need to do their work.

Image credit - via Zinc

Disclosure - ServiceMax, a GE Digital company, is a diginomica premier partner at time of writing.