Safety may come first, but the security guard industry hasn’t really been updated in decades. And, as a result, some argue the world is not as safe as it could be.
However, one company — Bannerman — has created the technology close that gap and make people safer on a daily basis. As an “Uber of X” company, San Francisco–based Bannerman pairs security guards with businesses in high-rise buildings seeking protection. The app, which launched in 2014 from the Y Combinator summer program, allows the guards flexibility and the potential to make more than working with a traditional security guard company. In its first three years, the business has expanded from the San Francisco area to Los Angeles, New York and the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Johnny Chin, cofounder and CEO of Bannerman, spoke to PYMNTS about the founding of the business, why using software to solve problems works and why on-demand security is not just like food delivery.
Tell us, what is Bannerman?
Our mission is to keep our cities safe, and we’re building the technology to make that a reality. And so for us, we happened to have stumbled upon a giant industry that’s very much stuck in the ‘80s. Security guards today rely very much on pen and paper and phone tag. What we’ve done is used technology to streamline communication. More specifically,the security guards we work with have a Bannerman app, which allows them to be much better on the job. They can take photos of broken glass, they have their instructions there and they have GPS. Then, on the other side for clients we work with, we’ve taken what we’ve seen in a spy movie where you walk into a situation room and there are TV screens everywhere and video feeds. We’ve taken that and put it on a laptop so they are able to make sure that all of the locations that are currently being protected are there and everything’s fine.
Is there a story behind the founding of Bannerman?
I’ve lived around the world in some wonderful places, but they were not always safe — places like Delhi and Cape Town. I unfortunately have experienced unsafe situations, having to escort friends to the hospital after assaults. So I had a very personal longing in order to make people safer. It not only affects me, but it’s also something we all can face. So we wanted to use technology — something we’re strong at — in order to improve that for everybody. We really didn’t realize how big the opportunity was. So it’s been an exciting quest for us as to how we can use software for security, which is a real-world problem.
So would you say Bannerman is “the Uber of Security Guards”?
Absolutely. The technology is able to make security guards much more reliable, and that is so important in the world of security.
There are your clients, and there are the security guards. Can you talk about the two sides of the marketplace?
Being a marketplace is very exciting but also very complex. We need to have enough security guards who are willing to take shifts. And then on the other side, we have clients that work in or with offices and high-rise buildings who rely on Bannerman for protection 24/7 or whether it’s for specific business hours. So you can imagine for us there is a lot that we need to do in regards to prediction, but also for shift fulfillment, to have ultimate coverage.
Part of the reason that security guards love working with Bannerman is the flexibility. They can literally take out their phone, fire up the app and set their availability. In the industry, before Bannerman, it was very much set in stone. So if you had to take a relative to the hospital on a certain day, you couldn’t do that. With Bannerman, it’s more flexible. And that’s the beauty of Bannerman and why a lot of security guards love working with us.
How do payments and transactions work?
We actually work with Stripe, which has been interesting and has enabled us to pretty much get started at the very beginning. That was one of the very first integrations we worked on. And it’s very important to enable a strong infrastructure for paying both sides of the marketplace. Guards aren’t going to work with you if you’re not paying them and not paying them on time. So we really working on our back end through Stripe, and I think that it’s one of our main advantages. Having the payments solid at the very beginning allowed us to focus on other important aspects of the business.
Are the security guards truly on demand?
We do have a demand, and that is why big companies do like working with us, because of that flexibility. For instance, if they have a last-minute board meeting or a holiday event, the flexibility is a main reason to work with us. With that said, most of the customers we work with say, “This is my building, and I rely on you to protect it, 24/7.” It’s interesting how that’s changed, and this is just because this is what the client has wanted. They’ve seen how much more reliable and effective our security is, so they actually trust us to protect it all the time.
How does Bannerman make money?
What we do is we take a percentage of the overall transaction. Most of it goes to the guard, and we take our cut, and it all goes through our platform.
The cut depends on a few factors — for example, on the city, but it also depends on peak hours and times where it’s less desirable for someone to work. It does change and is in flux. But I can say that security professionals who work with us typically make 50 to 100 percent more than they would with a traditional provider.
The beauty of Bannerman is that we’re eliminating a lot of inefficiencies in the market where instead of rooms full of people handling payments and the different types of administrative processes, we’re able to have software do that. Our competitors have hundreds of locations across the country — brick-and-mortar — that manage professionals, and we’re able to do that with technology and pass on that value to the security guards themselves. So a security guard can make more with Bannerman.
How much funding have you received?
We went through Y Combinator’s summer 2014 class. We raised a small number and hit profitability. We’re at a point now where we don’t need to raise money, which is a very lucky situation at this moment.
How many users do you have on each side of the marketplace?
I can tell you that we have hundreds of guards who work with us, pretty much close to a thousand. We’re literally protecting tens of thousands of people because we’re protecting high-rise buildings that have a lot of residents as well as businesses. I can tell you we have hundred of clients.
Any startup bumps or battle wounds you can share?
That’s really interesting. For us, we’ve never really had it easy, and I know that’s a pretty generic thing to say.
It’s very complicated what we do. When you’re security, you can’t mess it up. It’s one thing if your food delivery is a few minutes late, but it’s very different if your security guard doesn’t arrive on time. There’s the potential breach if the security guard is late — there’s no one manning the post. Someone could snatch up laptops. We actually have to be so much more reliable than other types of services. For us, we really pride ourselves to use software to solve real-world problems. You’re dealing with people, and so it isn’t just pure safeware. People are people, and you need to understand that a fix isn’t all about software, it’s about people as well. So I would say we’ve had many more challenges than your typical Silicon Valley startup. I can tell you that the way we’ve overcome them is through software. We’ve built an amazing team, and we try to solve issues through math or engineering. And I think we have this big mission. The day we learned we saved a life, now we’re on a quest to save many more.
What does the term “Uber of X” mean to you?
The way I interpret it is using mobile technology to improve something that was inefficient before. So Uber of X for Bannerman is making the security professionals much better at what they do while on the job, and the implications or outcome of that means a far more protected building and far fewer instances of bad things happening. For us, that’s really exciting. And I think Uber of X is so much more than just Uber. For me, it has a lot to do with the fact that almost everyone has a smartphone these days and what’s been able to come from that. And many people get excited about VR and AR and other platforms, but I think there is much more to come from smartphones. I think it’s just getting started, and it’s so fascinating.