MIPIM was drawing to a close, attendees exhausted and ready to get back home, when Leesman’s Tim Oldman finally tracked down Thijs van der Brugt, MD of HqO. The pair had put off meeting for days, inundated with other commitments in Cannes.
“Eventually, I managed to find him lurking somewhere at a free table in the basement,” Oldman, Leesman’s founder and CEO recalls. “Literally within a few moments a spark was lit.”
Just three months later, I’m speaking to Oldman and Chase Garbarino, CEO of HqO, about the “super quick” deal that will combine a leading workplace platform with some of the best data available on employee experience.
“We’ve long been fans [of Leesman],” says Garbarino. “We’ve been following them for a very long time, and when we heard in the market that there might be something to do, we kind of dropped everything.”
Striking a deal with Leesman was a major coup for HqO. Corporates truly value the level of insight the Leesman Index provides. For more than a decade, the company has measured and analysed employee experience, collecting a million data points along the way and helping thousands of occupiers across 108 countries better understand their employees. And, as Oldman casually mentions, he’s had conversations “for a little while” with other potential partners.
So why did this one pan out – and pan out so quickly?
‘You complete me’
Garbarino says understanding the value of the workplace relies on comprehensive data and benchmarks. How does the industry work? How are my peers doing? You need actual, real-world insights to make decisions that cater to the needs of everyone in a building. That’s what Leesman provides.
On the flipside: “One of the things we continually heard from many of the companies that work with Leesman was, ‘We get all this intelligence, and what we need now that we’re levelling up our skillset in terms of how we think about workplace experience is the platform to action off of.’ And that’s what we do,” says Garbarino.
In other words, Leesman has the data and HqO has the tools to put it to good use.
Channelling my inner Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire, I ask if it’s fair to say that the two companies complete each other. Garbarino chuckles. “That was the first thing I said to Tim!”
But Oldman picks up on that point seriously. “I think there is something in that,” he says. “[Clients] just do see it as one plus one equals many, many, many more times than two.”
He says the combination of HqO’s experience with landlords and Leesman’s experience with occupiers creates what he genuinely believes is “the richest dataset in the world” on employee experience. More importantly, his clients agree.
A joined up data approach
The deal isn’t just about enriching HqO with Leesman’s data; it goes the other way, too. As a workplace experience app, HqO has a lot of data about day-to-day activity that Garbarino says is “relatively untapped”. Things like how often employees come into the office or how they book and use meeting rooms.
“We’re interested to see how Leesman figures out the patterns within those things, and what they might do,” he says. With its resources and complementary datasets, HqO will help Leesman flesh out new ideas.
But both he and Oldman decline to expand on specific plans for beefing up the Leesman Index, suggesting we might know more in six months.
A foot in the door
Geographically, Leesman opens doors for HqO – particularly in Asia Pacific. Based in Boston, HqO had a presence in 25 countries before the deal, its acquisition of Office App helping it secure a strong foothold in Europe. APAC, on the other hand, is still uncharted territory. “We’ve got a number of investors already on our cap table that are located in APAC, and they’ve been banging down our door to get over there,” Garbarino says.
Thanks to its work with major multinationals, London-based Leesman has insights into markets around the world and plans to open further offices. “We will have boots on the ground in Singapore very soon,” Oldman says. He won’t reveal a date but does say they will be in APAC “within weeks rather than months”.
Being a few steps ahead allows Leesman to usher the way in for HqO. After all, for Garbarino, expansion isn’t predicated on having the right tools – localisation on the app is relatively straightforward – but on knowing the right people and understanding the culture.
“If we could redo anything in building the company, it would be: lead with the insights,” he says. “When you think about what our solution does, it’s really hard to go in and provide a workplace experience solution before you have the insights on what’s good, what isn’t, where’s their improvement within the workplace?”
Leesman’s analysis of regional trends and its physical presence effectively fast-track that process for HqO. That suggests it won’t be too long before the platform is up and running in APAC, continuing its rapid expansion in the last year.
Not a bad outcome for a meeting that almost didn’t happen.