Interview: Brian Smillie, founder and chief executive of Beezer

Software-as-a-service platform works across all mobile systems and devices

Brian Smillie found that getting an app produced was  a slow, expensive process and this gave him the idea for Beezer, an app equivalent of the blog site WordPress. Picture: Contributed
Brian Smillie found that getting an app produced was  a slow, expensive process and this gave him the idea for Beezer, an app equivalent of the blog site WordPress. Picture: Contributed
Brian Smillie found that getting an app produced was a slow, expensive process and this gave him the idea for Beezer, an app equivalent of the blog site WordPress. Picture: Contributed

It’s been estimated that in the UK consumers collectively glance at their mobile phones more than a billion times a day, with 90 per cent of online usage via apps.

To capitalise on this level of engagement, serial entrepreneur Brian Smillie has just launched Beezer, enabling users to set up and launch their own app the same day.

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He explains the idea came about after his own attempts to get an app produced to catalyse a company’s brand.

His lack of technical know-how, however, meant this proved a “daunting experience” that involved meeting agencies, signing up for a hefty layout potentially reaching tens of thousands of pounds, and with frustratingly slow lead times. “It was an absolute nightmare,” he says.

In contrast, he underlines that Beezer gives users “full control” of their mobile strategy, with the software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform working across all mobile operating systems and devices, in an app equivalent of customisable blog site WordPress.

Smillie stresses that Beezer bypasses app stores, citing research that 83 per cent of apps in such stores are so-called “zombie” apps not being downloaded or receiving any engagement.

Businesses are also adopting apps eight times faster than they ever did websites during the dotcom boom, he adds, stating: “The timing is absolutely right for this product.”

There seems to be no shortage of firms offering a quick and straightforward app set-up, but Smillie claims Beezer is the only SaaS platform in the marketplace where you can both create and distribute an app.

The venture, about two years in the making, is focusing on SMEs, a sector often tight on resource but with vast ambition. Beezer is also eyeing fan engagement in areas such as sport and music.

Smillie lays out its targets, of 3,000 customers in year one, 6,000 in the second and 9,000 in the third, aiming for turnover of just over £1 million in year one, just over £2m in year two and just over £3m in year three.

“Those figures are not bullish in any way,” he says.

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Support has come from the likes of Ian Russell, managing partner at Castle Investments and a former associate director of Rangers Football Club, former PwC partner Kenny Fraser and Bigmouthmedia founder Stephen Leach.

Also on board, as sales director, is Smillie’s father Brian Smillie Snr.

“Having his experience in start-ups, running sales teams and developing large sales platforms has been invaluable,” says the younger man, crediting his father with inspiring him to start his own business aged 17 rather than pursue his other ambition to be a PE teacher.

He emphasises his real desire to forge his own path, saying: “When I left school I had this real entrepreneurial spirit. I was really keen to just get my teeth stuck into business.”

His first venture was 1-2-1 Sign Installers, which secured contracts with Shell Optimax and Tesco, and he sold the business to national signage company Pearce Signs in 2004. He then moved to Australia, taking up the role of sales director at healthcare data firm The Leapfrog Group, where he worked for just over three years.

Following this he founded digital marketing agency The Creative Shop in Sydney, but amid pressure from family and friends to return home, sold it to the largest digital agency in Korea after a chance meeting with its owner.

Bolstered by the learnings from this business, he co-founded crowdfunding platform Squareknot, which he deems a key stage in his career, putting him “on the coalface of opportunity”, and sowing the seeds for Beezer’s formation.

He says it was the first company of its kind in Scotland, raising about £1m for businesses and giving him insight into the difficulties they can face in accessing capital.

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One customer told him that if they didn’t raise the required amount in two weeks, their business would fold, and Smillie says with evident pride that the sum was raised in the period after what was a niche-sector company was turned into “a global opportunity, and that’s what became attractive for investors”.

He adds: “I’m very passionate about helping young business-owners grow their companies.”

It was while pitching a raise for Squareknot, which merged with private-equity fund Growthdeck in February this year, that he mentioned his idea for what would become Beezer, and received offers of investment.

Now Smillie says it is planning its own fundraising, looking to raise a seven-figure sum later this year.

The Beezer product “opens up global opportunities”, enabling users to reach global markets, Smillie adds, and the venture has international ambitions in its own right.

While based in Edinburgh, plans include opening premises in Australia and potentially Costa Rica.

Smillie is also adamant that the Brexit vote will not impact the business, saying: “We are in discussions with channel partners based in the States and Europe, and don’t feel exit from the EU will reduce their enthusiasm for the platform.”


Born: Stirling

First job: started my own business at 17, which I successfully sold before moving to Sydney

Ambition while at school: to become a PE teacher

What car do you drive: BMW M3

Favourite mode of transport: boat

Music: Mumford & Sons

Kindle or book: book

Reading material: non-fiction crime

Can’t live without: the internet

What makes you angry: busy fools

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What inspires you: being an integral part of something bigger than myself

Favourite place: New York

Best thing about your job: learning something new every day and being able to employ people