When I Work, a messaging app that lets shift-based teams schedule work and more, raises $200M

Hourly workers make up abut 55% of the working world, yet when it comes to tech built for the world of work, their so-called knowledge worker counterparts dominate the space. Today, an app built specifically to address the needs of the former is announcing a big round of funding — underscoring both the evolving landscape of business software and how hourly and shift workers are increasingly coming into their own.

When I Work — a popular messaging platform that lets hourly workers employed by a business sign up for shifts, trade shifts with colleagues and let management and others know when they cannot make it to a shift — has closed a growth round of $200 million, funding that the company will be using both for business development, and to expand its product.

The funding is coming from a single investor, Bain Capital (specifically its Tech Opportunities fund), and while the pair are not disclosing valuation, it’s being described as a “majority growth investment”, which implies something around $400 million. CEO Martin Hartshorne said in an interview that When I Work is profitable, and it has been since June of last year — notable, considering we were in the depths of pandemic living and economic uncertainty — and its steady rise was the reason for raising now, after raising just $24 million in the 11 years prior.

“We have hit a new phase,” he said, with growth currently “north of 35%” and generating a profit. “The customers love the product and culture is really good. We’ve got something great and it’s time to go for it.”

Previous backers include Arthur Ventures, Drive Capital, Greycroft and High Alpha.

Founded in Minneapolis in 2010, When I Work says its app is already used by some some 10 million hourly workers in the U.S. across some 200,000 businesses, with a focus on smaller businesses and franchises of well-known names (the list includes Dunkin’, Ace Hardware, Ben & Jerry’s and Kenneth Cole). Some of that growth has specifically come from the changing needs of the market: while some retailers were forced to shutter operations, and some closed down altogether, other sectors like healthcare picked up steam.

Hartshorne noted that in Q2 of this year, the company picked up more than 50 customers “spinning up vaccination operations” — that is, building shift-based systems to handle that effort. The plan will be to continue doubling down on the opportunity in the U.S. as well as to start moving into other markets internationally.

As for the app itself, it has mainly made its name around providing tools to make it easier to communicate with shift-based and hourly staff, people whose hours mean that it’s unlikely that everyone would be at the business at the same time for meetings, and have potentially more variable schedules when they work, schedules that often need shifting depending on customer traffic and the circumstances of workers themselves.

As its name implies, When I Work’s most-used functions are managing shifts and communicating with the team, addressing what are the biggest and most general productivity challenges for that segment of workers. But over time it has capitalized on the audience and engagement to add in other services, like payroll facilitation (interconnecting with more dedicated payroll software), labor reports and analytics, and the idea is that this part will continue to grow, both organically and likely by way of acquisition.

Software catering to the world of work has largely been focused on so-called knowledge workers over the last decade or two: equipped with computers, smartphones and tied into work that relies on software and apps, that segment was a natural fit for more software tools, which have if anything only become more specialized over time, addressing specific verticals and use cases.

Yet digital transformation, and the rise of smartphone usage among the general population, have presented a host of new opportunities to expand the products and use cases for software in the workplace to touch a much wider swathe of workers. The population at large has shifted to using apps and other digital products in their daily non-work lives, and so they, too, want and are ready for those tools to help them do their work more easily, too.

In the case of When I Work, employees install it on their own smartphones, a signal of how bring-your-own-device has been an even stronger trend in this category of workers than it has been among knowledge workers. (They log in much as you might on any other work-based app, based on the company you work for and your mobile number or email.) Hartshorne said that a good part of its growth has been from word-of-mouth, with employees asking for it from new employers, having used it at a previous job.

But given that wider trend, it’s no surprise the company is not without competitors, as well as others addressing the same segment of workers that could potentially also become competitors, if not already. They include the likes of Homebase, which raised $71 million earlier this year; Workiz, which focuses on home services pros; Fountain and Wonolo (both currently aimed more at recruiting and signing up to shifts less-than-full-time people); WorkWhile; Yoobic (more of a productivity platform for frontline workers currently); Crew (which Square acquired earlier this year); Workplace (which now has 7 million paying users); and Justworks (which in September filed to go public). The fact that some of these are addressing the same segment of users, but with different features, also presents something of a roadmap for When I Work and how it might expand, too.

Phil Meicler, a managing director at Bain Capital Tech Opportunities, said that the engagement on When I Work — 85% of its users log in and use it at least once a week — makes the app one of the more compelling in that bigger field.

“In today’s modern workforce, having a solution that yields such clear productivity gains and strong employee engagement are unique,” he said, noting that the labor shortage among the hourly working sector has become even more acute in recent times. “Doing what it does at scale and efficiently is difficult to execute. The combination of growth and profitability was a core part of why we were excited about When I Work.”

He added that Bain “shares Martin’s vision” to continue to expand the HR suite. “Building out the product through the eyes of the employees, what else they use, how we could extend to make their lives easier, is the aim, and it has a terrific foundation in scheduling. It has a unique opportunity to grow organically and through M&A.”