Branch Messenger, one of the start-ups that participated in the first Target+Techstars retail accelerator program last year, just announced a $6.8 million Series A funding round and operations from Southern California to Target’s native Minnesota, according to a Minneapolis Star Tribune report.
Branch Messenger offers a chat-based mobile app that helps retailers manage what have traditionally been paper-based work schedules for their employees, allowing the workers themselves to more easily trade or take over work shifts from one another.
Since moving from Los Angeles to Minneapolis, the company, with a staff of about 20, has been working out of a co-working space, but is now looking for a more permanent office in the area.
This is how accelerators are supposed to work, right? A tiny company gets a leg up to develop an intriguing concept, the companies running the accelerator get a nice long look at the idea and what the start-up can achieve, and the start-up goes on to raise money to keep growing and keep working. It's a good enough story that Branch Messenger founder Atif Siddiqi was making the rounds of the morning financial news TV shows on Wednesday.
The app itself also has been quite a success story, reportedly reeling in tens of thousands of individual users who work for retailers such as Target, Walgreens and others, according to the Star Tribune. Collectively, those workers have posted more than 2.5 million hours of available work shifts on the app. It's hard to believe that many retailers may still rely on paper-based shift scheduling — the app in a short time has managed to bring a new level of flexibility and ease of management to the task.
Things have worked out well enough with an app being made available for free to those users that Branch Messenger is now evolving toward a platform or service that the employer organizations actually would pay for, to have it integrated with their existing operational and human resources management systems.
That makes one wonder how long Branch Messenger can remain independent as a company. Working alongside established operation software and systems would be a great achievement for the small company, but if it continues to do everything right and proves its value to organization users, it would seem like many large technology companies serving retailers would love to acquire Branch Messenger and make it their own.
For now, however, Siddiqi is leading a growing start-up, and also trying to give something back — he is one of the mentor's for the current class of Target+Techstars participants.