BeezThingz managing director Julian McCurdy shares what it is like to run a software-based beekeeping service and how it's helping to sustain the bee population.
A brief description of the business?
BeezThingz provides a match-making service to beekeepers and land owners.
We provide our beekeepers with hive management software for inspection logging and customer management. Our land owners get all the benefits of having a beehive with none of the hassle. They get inspection reports after every visit so that they can follow the progress of their hives.
We get residential properties, corporates, schools and cafes to rent beehives and then we do the beekeeping services.
How it works is people express interest through our website and then I forward that on to the appropriate beekeeper who looks after their area. The beekeeper will go out and do a site inspection, walk around the property and talk through all the potential hazards with the landowner. They will then book in a delivery date, install the bees and get a regular service schedule.
The beekeeper will go to their property and inspect their hives every month for 12 months. Depending on the plan the landowner has selected they'll get a set quantity of honey from their own hives.
How popular is it for businesses to have beehives on their property?
We generally grow our customer base by 30 per cent per year, but this season it's been picking up and picking up and picking up. I think this season is going to be spectacular.
What gave you the idea for the business?
My Dad was a beekeeper for about 15 years and he started BeezThingz in 2001 and he was running it as a lifestyle business. He was sort of managing everything in his head and didn't really have any processes in place so he was limited to how many customers he could take on.
I took over in 2012, built the software and started putting systems in place. I built the software up to a level where it was running the whole business. Then last year I changed the business model somewhat and now it is just a software company essentially.
So you are a software business now?
Yes. It just means that I am now unrestricted. I can grow as fast as I want to and take on as many beekeepers as I want to. I don't have to grow my own stock or take on new employees. It's much more scalable.
Who are some of your big-name clients?
As far as rental customers go, we've got 13 schools in Auckland, the Langham hotel, we've got bees on their roof, Lot 23 - a cafe in Eden Terrace, and the Auckland TVNZ building. We've got five rooftops lined up that we'll be putting bees on to over the next month or so.
Is renting bees the latest "trend" or is it picking up with demand for sustainability?
I think it is growing so much now as there is more awareness around the struggles bees and beekeepers are facing. More people are realising they need to be doing something and when you go online and start researching, you come to the realisation you need to get bees yourself to help.
A lot of people want to get bees and become beekeepers but they don't have the time, energy or motivation to go and learn beekeeping. As soon as people realise that it is an option to rent bees, there are just so many more people coming on to it. It's the public awareness and easy access now.
Do you think the demand for renting bees is going to continue?
It's definitely going to keep growing. The influx of new customers is growing season on season and we're getting enquiries from all over the country. What we're doing now is trying to get more beekeepers around the country.
What are the benefits of having bees?
The main benefit to the landowner is they get pollination. If they've got any fruit trees or a garden, plants, flowers, as soon as you put the beehives in the flowers and plants respond to the added pollination.
A plant produces a flower and that flower gets pollinated. The plant knows when there are insects around to pollinate it so it produces more flowers. People find that their fruit trees all of sudden flourish and the whole garden comes to life.
The other benefit is obviously honey out of your own hives and that ranges from getting 5kg a year up to 25kg per year depending on what plan you are on. And that's all unprocessed honey.
What are the biggest challenges you have faced?
I think developing the software that manages the whole thing. I started about four years ago and had to learn PHP, coding language, etc. I had to teach myself how to code and database management, that has been quite challenging ... It's been hard work but it's been fun.
What has been the best thing you've done?
Putting bees into schools. We managed to get sponsorship from Frucor, they released a drink called Humble Honey Soda and some of the proceeds were to go back into the beekeeping world and improving beekeeping in New Zealand.
I managed to find a few schools that were looking to get bees and got them fully-funded beehive rentals for 12 months for 10 schools. Ten schools in Auckland now have free bees because of us.
The way they use them at schools is built into the curriculum and the kids get right into it. They talk about the biology of the plants, the ecosystem the bees are part of and they [the beehives] become the starting point of conversation for the kids.
To me that is so awesome, that I can start the conversation for so many kids around Auckland.
Are you working on any projects?
We're working on the City Bee Initiative to make Auckland the most bee-friendly city in the world.
We've got the Government behind us and city parks and we're essentially starting our own bee club and we are going to be teaching holistic beekeeping, planting for bees and also craft projects with bee products. We'll be running those every month with a different course.
We're really trying to spread the word to get as many people into beekeeping as possible.
What advice would you give to other small business operators?
You've got to put yourself in the mind of the customer and really understand what they want to get out of it. Do good things and the money will come.