The freshly baked funding is lead by GREE Ventures, the investment arm of the Japanese games maker which is particularly active in Southeast Asia. Existing investors Koh Boon Hwee, Wavemaker Partners, Dennis Goh, and YSS Capital’s Ivan Yeo — from the company’s $800,000 seed round — also participated.
Pie is a messaging service for teams with apps across iOS, Android, Mac and the web, and integrations with Dropbox, Google Drive, Box and others. It’s much like a simplified version of Slack. Keeping things basic is a very deliberate and ongoing decision from its founders Dutch founders Pieter Walraven (a man who knows his messaging apps) and Thijs Jacobs.
“People like Pie for it’s unintimidating design and the things it doesn’t do, such as no developer focused bells-and-whistles. We’re targeting an audience that is underserved by other enterprise chat players — for example, ‘people that don’t read TechCrunch’,” Walraven explained.
Pie began life as a Pinterest-like service for ‘mini chats,’ but late last year it changed direction to fully focus on being a lightweight communication app for teams. Walraven told TechCrunch that, with no paid promotion, the app is being used by over 2,000 companies, from obvious verticals like marketing, advertising and publishing, to less likely customers including flower shops, manufacturing plants, universities, and even churches. Over 30 percent of registered users are active each month, he added.
Early servings gobbled up, it’s time this Pie became a business. With new funding in the bag, the company is preparing to introduce a paid version of this app, which will include admin controls and cost $3.14159 per user per month. We’re not sure if that joke will be lost on non-techies, but we appreciate it all the same.
Walraven told us that the company will initially focus heavily on Japan. With plenty of scope for paid-for enterprise software in the country — GutHub just opened an office in Tokyo to start a similar push — he said that GREE is an ideal partner to open doors. Existing investor Digital Garage is also a seasoned hand at helping overseas firms land in Japan, having worked with the likes of Twitter and Kiip.
The team will remain anchored in Singapore, and will grow its headcount, which is currently 10, to develop its apps and push the service forward.
Kuanhua Hsu, Principal at GREE Ventures, believes that Pie hits a sweet spot:
We’re extremely excited to be investing in Pie as we were impressed by the strength of the team and their vision for mobile communication and collaboration. Messaging is of course a mega-trend that’s still evolving, particularly on the enterprise side, and we feel the Pie team is addressing a market, particularly amongst SMEs, that’s in-between consumer apps like WhatsApp and heavier enterprise software like Slack.
Pie — which was an Apple Watch launch partner — is still finalizing its monetization push, but Walvaren suggested that it will use a reseller model over hiring a potential expensive in-house sales team.
“The Japanese market is really ripe,” he added. “It’s a high GDP market that has its unique distribution challenges, but that is appealing since, besides several previous-generation players, there are very few competitors.”
More than half of Pie’s current userbase is in the U.S., but the company is not turning its back on the States. Walvaren said it may open a small office in San Francesco in time, but it will largely rely on continued word-of-mouth and viral reach to land new customers — both paying and non-paying — in the U.S. for now.
The Pie team actually met with Slack during a recent trip to the U.S.. Walraven said both sides enjoyed a positive and very open exchange of information and future plans.
“We’re in such a different area to Slack though,” he said.
It’s tough to go from being a promising young product to a business with monetization, but Walvaren believes the trail that Slack has blazed shows that the right kind of messaging apps can work for less technical audiences. Slack has started out with the techies and looks like it will push out into new verticals from there, and Pie’s service — while bearing plenty of aesthetic and cultural similarities — is coming from a different angle.