Cynic meets punk
beecom’s story takes us back to 1989, the year Tim Berners-Lee invented the internet.
The World Wide Web’s global acceptance was a slow burn. When news of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs becoming millionaires overnight broke, there were cynics in Switzerland who dismissed it as straw fire.
One of them was a lecturer in St. Gallen who reminded his students, “90% of start-ups do not survive”. He advised them to traverse the more secure path of corporate life. This was in the early 90s when having a secure job was of utmost importance and setting up a business was an idea not taken seriously.
In this lecturer’s class was a student named Fabian Hediger who tried to follow his advice. Straight from University, Fabian worked at a consulting firm where he realized that the number of huge companies from banking to automotive going to their firm for advice about the new thing called the internet was significantly increasing. He felt the paradigm shifting.
With his innate alternative punk attitude, Fabian followed his instincts and dove head first into entrepreneurship, against the advice of his lecturer and notwithstanding the ridicule of his friends.
At Hochschule St. Gallen, the population back in 1995 was 90% male. Young, curious, and at that time, heartbroken Fabian wanted to meet the minority of the population. He exercised his strategic prowess and chose Psychology, a popular subject amongst the ladies. On the first day of class, he was disappointed to find out he was not the only male in the room. He had competition: Andreas “Zilti” Ziltener. Unbeknownst to Fabian, Zilti was in class without any ulterior motives but to learn. But being expectedly cliquish, the ladies didn’t want any business with the two of them during group projects. The two men ended up working together which turned out to be an effective tandem as Zilti was a positive influence and helped Fabian propel his grades up.
“Zilti taught me how to study well. Without him and his flashcards, I would not have passed University! He’s a straight A-student. He always got a 6 in his subjects. I learned a lot from him.”, Fabian proudly admits.
The triad is complete
New friends Fabian and Zilti were being rowdy at the back of the biggest auditorium in the university. The lecturer had enough of the noise, pointed at the back of the assembly hall and called out the boisterous men. Fabian and his friend were about to stand-up when, to their surprise, two other men in the middle stood up, thinking the lecturer was pinpointing them.
As the men trooped out of the class, Fabian and Zilti thought it was best to follow suit. Outside of the auditorium, they searched for the men and introduced themselves. One of them turned out to be Andreas “Homy” Heim. That moment was the beginning of a friendship that was set to make history. And it has been a history peppered with funny mishaps and victorious moments.
It’s a miracle…or maybe not?
The trio – Fabian, Homy, and Zilti – eventually founded beecom AG on September 11, 2000 in Fabian’s two and a half-bedroom apartment in District 5, Zurich, It was where they developed web apps on OSS platform J2EE. Their choice of computer language was a no-brainer. Java was free.
Fish out of water, their first year as businessmen was nothing short of chaotic.
They bought shares from beecom’s first and only customer, a company called Miracle. But as fate would have it, the stock price of Miracle fell from a high of 48CHF to a pitiful 80Rp. A few weeks later, Miracle was bankrupt.
And as their luck would have it, the pivotal dot-com crash occurred. As if that wasn’t heartbreaking enough, the 9/11 tragedy struck the US which pushed the global economy into a crisis. It happened exactly on the day beecom was celebrating its first anniversary in 2001– a feat, given all of their misfortunes, could certainly be considered a “Miracle of miracles”, pun intended.
The founders’ sliver of hope came when Swiss banks in 2001 decided Java was the most secure web technology for their industry. Java developers in Switzerland suddenly became in-demand and beecom was well placed to make use of the opportunity.
But the universe just would not let beecom succeed easily. In 2004, a freak accident caused a fire at the apartment in District 5 and the first ever beecom office burned to the ground, all files fried and computers toasted.
Within 4 years, beecom had suffered 4 big blows: 1) dot-com bubble burst, 2) 9/11 tragedy, 3) f*#@!%ked-up Miracle investment, and 4) the office burning.
For a company heavily dependent on the internet, beecom was pushed to the brink of bankruptcy.
beecom’s trusted insurance company Mobiliar was fast to give them assistance. Mobiliar’s fast service, topped by a loan from family, the support of their growing banking clientele, and the founders’ resilience kept beecom afloat. But the last hit turned into a silver lining as the fire prompted the founders to keep everything virtual. It pushed the team to create their own intranet, the internet at that time being still too slow for cloud technology.
Following the string of near-misses, Zilti continued in an advisory role, as he refocused on his true passion, teaching Innovation at University.
Fabian and Homy continued to work alongside each other.
Fabian and Homy proved to be an effective tandem as they were able to rebuild beecom from the ground up. Fabian credits the expertise of Homy in Client Servicing as he was able to build relationships with important clients that helped them survive the crisis.
Fabian emphasizes, “Homy’s leadership and authenticity fostered valuable client relationships. The trust he built with our clients is truly the bedrock of beecom’s success.”
The universe conspires
beecom’s first collaboration solution prototype was called “Bürogummi”, a choice obviously not quite exhibiting yet of a global mission and mindset.
The team positioned Bürogummi for the banks to use as an interface that keeps all data, regardless of size, in one web application.
It was while they were improving their own internal network the team learned about a small company in Australia known as Atlassian who already had a more advanced intranet technology and software called Confluence and Jira. Today, Atlassian is one of the biggest tech companies in the world with a market capitalization surging to $50 billion.
In 2004, when Atlassian had only 25 employees, beecom became one of its first partners. beecom went on to be associated with Atlassian and Silicon Valley to this day. Regular trips to California, Atlassian, and other internet companies have shaped the company’s future and paved the way for beecom to grow organically. Moreover, a number of Atlassian employees beecom had built relationships with were poached by Silicon Valley companies. All of a sudden, beecom found its network expanding as these employees moved to other companies such as Twitter and Google. This laid the foundation of the support system beecom needed for what was about to happen next.
From a local user group to a global conference
In 2006, with the help of Atlassian, beecom founded the first “User Group” with only 15 participants. Its aim was to find out how internet technology can help organizations work together more effectively and more flexibly.
That small User Group is now a global leadership conference called Worldwebforum which will next take place again in January 2020. Worldwebforum brought together the brightest minds in various industries and beecom leveraged its expansive network, reaching Silicon Valley and even Asia, to invite quality speakers year on year.
The exponential growth of Worldwebforum was so rapid that in 2016, management had to limit the number of participants to 1,500 to preserve the quality of the experience. Despite the lure of becoming even bigger, beecom stuck to its mission of giving Worldwebforum guests a conducive venue to learn and meet people. Getting bigger than what it already is will lose the essence of what beecom ought to achieve in the first place.
Empowering radical change
beecom and its partnership with Atlassian resulted to beecom developing JSU, the number 1 app used by corporations worldwide to supercharge their Jira software. With almost 20,000 installations from companies of all sizes and across industries, the product has truly shaped how companies all over the world operate through e-collaboration. This has positioned beecom as a leading and experienced services and solutions team for automation, collaboration and agile transformation.
As a software provider, beecom knows the pain points of companies. It has recognized that many European economies have been stagnating for several decades, being all too comfortable with the way traditional industries such as oil, gas, and banking operate– that the way in which people live, work, travel or spend their free time has not changed since the founding of beecom and that the challenges that are currently at the doorstep cannot be mastered by the generation of baby boomers and their leadership approaches. Unfortunately, future generations would have to pay for this failure.
For this reason, beecom has positioned Worldwebforum to commit to the mission of “Empowering Radical Change”, relying on today’s decision-makers- entrepreneurs, misfits, mavericks create sustainable value for future generations.
The new paradigm
As the long history of beecom and Worldwebforum show, the companies’ DNA makeup-up is rooted in internet technology. beecom and Worldwebforum stand for the new paradigm, which will be the result not just of the fourth industrial revolution but of cultural and normative components, particularly the change of mindset from pure efficiency thinking to radical change. Creating sustainable value in entrepreneurially-managed companies is the best way to move to the new frontier.
Strategic Partnerships with Zurich Insurance, McKinsey Digital, Financial Times, ETH Zurich have pushed the mission of Worldwebforum forward. It has attracted an international pool of speakers from Steve Wozniak of Apple, Ed Catmull of Pixar, Marian Goodell of Burning Man, Claude Zellweger of Google, John Sculley of Pepsi, James Monsees of Juul, Glenn Gore of Amazon, and even the man that inspired beecom’s story-Tim Berners-Lee, Creator of the Internet.
Known music fans, the founders have also invited Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones, Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, and gracing the Worldwebforum 2020 stage, Lars Ulrich of Metallica.
All of this international presence and much of what beecom has learned with the way it does business is owed to Atlassian. The strong business relationship formed by Fabian, Zilti, and Homy with Atlassian President Jay Simons and Head of Global Field Operations Jose Morales and its founders Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar is invaluable.
beecom stands tall as it celebrates its 20th birthday at Worldwebforum 2020. It is proud to produce Worldwebforum year-on-year as it stirs the conversation and pushes people to act and drive radical change through innovation for the next generation.
In working towards a vision, there will be tremendous bumps in the road and mistakes along the way but as the beecom founders have greatly exhibited, as long as one never gives up, one shall find that success is just around the corner, if you only stay and work hard enough to welcome it.
***Bürogummi is a term the Swiss people use to describe someone with a desk job.