Feb
02
2021
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Oyster snaps up $20M for its HR platform aimed at distributed workforces

The growth of remote working and managing workforces that are distributed well beyond the confines of a centralized physical office — or even a single country — have put a spotlight on the human resources technology that organizations use to help manage those people. Today, one of the HR startups that’s been seeing a surge of growth is announcing a round of funding to double down on its business.

Oyster, a startup and platform that helps companies through the process of hiring, onboarding and then providing contractors and full-time employees in the area  of “knowledge work” with HR services like payroll, benefits and salary management, has closed a Series A round of $20 million.

The company is already working in 100 countries, and CEO and Tony Jamous (who co-founded the company with Jack Mardack) said in an interview that the plan is to expand that list of markets, and also bring in new services, particularly to address the opportunity in emerging markets to hire more people.

Currently, Oyster does not cover candidate sourcing or any of the interviewing and evaluation process: those could be areas where it might build its own tech or partner to provide them as part of its one-stop shop. It has dabbled in virtual job fairs, as a pointer to one potential product that it might explore.

“There are 1.5 billion knowledge workers coming into the workforce in the next 10 years, mostly from emerging economies, while in developed economies there are some 90 million jobs unfilled,” Jamous said. “There are super powers you can gain from being globally distributed, but it poses a major challenge around HR and payroll.”

Emergence Capital, the B2B VC that has backed the likes of Zoom, Salesforce, Bill.com and our former sister site Crunchbase, is leading the funding. The Slack Fund (Slack’s strategic investment vehicle) and London firm Connect Ventures (which has previously backed the company at seed stage) are also participating. The investment will accelerate Oyster’s rapid growth, and support its mission of enabling people to work from anywhere.

Oyster’s valuation is not being disclosed. The startup has raised about $24 million to date.

One of the great ironies of the global health pandemic is that while our worlds have become much smaller — travel and even local activities have been drastically curtailed, and many of us spend day in, day out at home — the employment opportunity and scope of how organizations are expected to operate has become significantly bigger.

Public health-enforced remote working has led to companies de-coupling workers from offices, and that has opened the door to seeking out and working with the best talent, regardless of location.

This predicament may have become more acute in the last year, but it’s been one that has been gradually coming into focus for years, helped by trends in cloud computing and globalization. Jamous said that the idea for Oyster that came to him was something he’s been thinking about for years, but became more apparent when he was still at his previous startup, Nexmo — the cloud communications provider that was acquired by Vonage for $230 million in in 2016. 

At Nexmo we wanted to be a great local employer. We were headquartered in two countries but wanted to have people everywhere,” he said. “We spent millions building employment infrastructure to do that, becoming knowledgeable about local laws in France, Korea and more countries.” He realized quickly that this was a highly inefficient way to work. “We weren’t ready for the complexity and diversity of issues that would come up.”

After he moved on from Nexmo and did some angel investing (he backs other distributed work juggernauts like Hopin, among others), he decided that he would try to tackle the workforce challenge as the focus of his next venture.

That was in mid-2019, pre-pandemic. It turned out that the timing was spot on, with every organization looking in the next year at ways to address their own distributed workforce challenges.

The emerging market focus, meanwhile, also has a direct link to Jamous himself: He left his home country of Lebanon to study in France when he was 17, and has essentially lived abroad since then. But as with many people who move from developed into emerging markets, he knew that the base of technical talent in his home country was something that was worth tapping and nurturing to help residents and the countries themselves improve their lots in life; and he thought he could use tech to help there, too.

Related to that wider social mission, Oyster has a pending application to become a B-Corporation.

Jamous is not the only one that has founded an HR company based on his personal experience: Turing’s founders have cited their own backgrounds growing up in India and working with people remotely from there as part of their own impetus for building Turing; and Remote’s founder hails from Europe but built GitLab (where he had been head of product) based on a similar premise of tapping into the talent he knew existed all around the world.

And indeed, Oyster is not alone in tackling this opportunity. The list of HR startups looking to be the ADPs of the world of distributed work include Deel, Remote, Hibob, Papaya Global, Personio, Factorial, Lattice, Turing and Rippling. And these are just some of the HR startups that have raised money in the last year; there are many, many more.

The attraction of Oyster seems to come in the simplicity of how the services are provided — you have options for contractors and full-timers, and full, larger staff deployments in other countries. You have options to add benefits for employees if you choose. And you have some tools to work out how hires fit into your bigger budgets, and also to guide you on remuneration in each local market. Pricing ranges from $29 per person, per month for contractors, to $399 for working with full employees, to other packages for larger deployments.

Oyster works with local partners to provide some aspects of these services, but it has built the technology to make the process seamless for the customer. As with other services, it essentially handles the employment and payroll as a local provider on behalf of its customers, but can do so under contract terms that reconcile both a company’s own policies and those of the local jurisdictions (which can differ widely between each other in areas like vacation time, redundancy terms, maternity leave and more).

“It has a few well-funded competitors, but that’s usually a good signal,” said Jason Green, the Emergence partner who led its investment. “But you want to bet on the horse that will lead the race, and that comes down to execution. Here, we are betting on a team that’s done it before, an entrepreneur experienced in building a company and selling it. Tony’s made money and knows how to build a business. But more than that, he’s mission driven and that will matter in the space, and to employees.”

Jan
17
2021
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Personio raises $125M on a $1.7B valuation for an HR platform targeting SMEs

With the last year changing how (and where) many of us work, organizations have started to rethink how well they manage their employees, and what tools they use to do that. Today, one of the startups that is building technology to address this challenge is announcing a major round of funding that underscores its traction to date.

Personio — the German startup that targets small- and medium-sized businesses (10-2,000 employees) with an all-in-one HR platform covering recruiting and onboarding, payroll, absence tracking and other major HR functions — has picked up $125 million in funding at a $1.7 billion post-money valuation.

The Series D is being co-led by Index Ventures and Meritech, with previous backers Accel, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Northzone, Global Founders Capital and Picus all participating.

The $1.7 billion valuation is a big jump on the company’s $500 million valuation a year ago, and it comes after a year where the startup has doubled its revenues and was not on the hunt to raise, with much of its previous fundraising still in the bank.

Personio currently counts some 3,000 SMEs in Europe as customers.

In an interview, Hanno Renner, the co-founder and CEO of Personio, said that the startup would be using the funding to continue building out the product — which operates a little like Workday, but built for much smaller organizations — as well as expanding its presence in Europe.

Although SMEs can be a notoriously challenging customer segment, Renner said that a new opportunity has emerged: A new wave of people in the SME sector have started to realise the value of having a modern and integrated HR platform.

“We started Personio in 2016 wanting to become the leading HR platform for midmarket companies, and we knew it could be a great company, but we realize it can be hard to grasp what HR really means,” he said. “But I think what has driven our business in the past year has been the realization that HR is not just an important part, but maybe the most important part, of any business.”

It may take one magic turn to convert users, he said, by providing (as one example) tools to recruit, sign contracts and onboard new employees remotely. Still, he acknowledges that the midmarket — especially those companies not built around technology — has been “lagging for years,” with many still working off Excel spreadsheets, or even more surprisingly, pen and paper. “Supporting them by helping them to digitize in a more efficient way has been driving our business.”

Personio is not the only startup hopeful that the shift in how we work will bring a new appreciation (and appetite) for purchasing HR tools. Others like Hibob have also seen a big boost in their business and have also been raising money to tap into the opportunity more aggressively.

Hibob is looking to build in more training tools, underscoring the feature race that Personio will also have to run to keep up.

But given the sheer numbers of SMBs in the European market — more than 25 million, and accounting for more than 99% of all enterprises, according to research from the European Union — the fact that many of them have yet to adopt any kind of HR platform at all, there remains a lot of growth for a number of players.

“SMEs are the backbone of the European economy, employing 100 million people across the continent, but it is also a sector that has been neglected by software companies focused predominantly on large enterprises,” Martin Mignot, a partner at Index who sits on Personio’s board, said in a statement. “Personio changes that, having created a set of powerful tools tailored to address the needs of small businesses.”

“We have had the pleasure of working with some of the most successful SaaS companies in the world, and given Personio’s success over the past five years and the immense market potential, we strongly believe in Personio’s ability to build an equally successful and impactful business,” added Alex Clayton, general partner at Meritech Capital, in his own statement. “After many great discussions with Hanno over recent years, we are now excited to be joining the journey.” Clayton is also joining the board with this round.

Dec
10
2020
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Hibob raises $70M for its new take on human resources

Productivity software has been getting a major re-examination this year, and human resources platforms — used for hiring, firing, paying and managing employees — have been no exception. Today, one of the startups that’s built what it believes is the next generation of how HR should and will work is announcing a big fundraise, underscoring its own growth and the focus on the category.

Hibob, the startup behind the HR platform that goes by the name of “bob” (the company name is pronounced, “Hi, Bob!”), has picked up $70 million in funding at a valuation that reliable sources close to the company tell us is around $500 million.

“Our mission is to modernize HR technology,” said Ronni Zehavi, Hibob’s CEO, who co-founded the company with Israel David. “We are a people management platform for how people work today. Whether that’s remotely or physically collaborative, our customers face challenges with work. We believe that the HR platforms of the future will not be clunky systems, annoying, giant platforms. We believe it should be different. We are a system of engagement rather than record.”

The Series B is being led by SEEK and Israel Growth Partners, with participation also from Bessemer Venture Partners, Battery Ventures, Eight Roads Ventures, Arbor Ventures, Presidio Ventures, Entree Capital, Cerca Partners and Perpetual Partners, the same group that also backed Hibob in its last round (a Series A extension) in 2019. It has raised $124 million to date.

The company has its roots in Israel but these days describes its headquarters as London and New York, and the funding comes on the back of strong growth in multiple markets. In an interview, Zehavi said that Hibob specialises in the mid-market customers and says that it has more than 1,000 of them currently on its books across the U.S., Europe and Asia, including Monzo, Revolut, Happy Socks, ironSource, Receipt Bank, Fiverr, Gong and VaynerMedia. In the last year Hibob has had “triple-digit” year-on-year growth (it didn’t specify what those digits are).

Human resources has never been at the more glamorous end of how a company works, and it can sometimes even be looked on with some disdain. However, HR has found itself in a new spotlight in 2020, the year when every company — whether one based around people sitting at desks or in more interactive and active environments — had to change how it worked.

That might have involved sending everyone home to sign in from offices possibly made out of corners of bedrooms or kitchens, or that might have involved a vastly different set of practices in terms of when and where workers showed up and how they interacted with people once they did. But regardless of the implementations, they all involved a team of people who needed to be linked together, still feeling connected and managed; and sometimes hired, furloughed, or let go.

That focus has started to reveal the strains of how some legacy systems worked, with older systems built to consider little more than creating an employee identity number that could then be tracked for payroll and other purposes.

Hibob — Zehavi said they chose the name after the person who owned the bob.com domain wanted too much to sell it, but they liked “bob” for the actual product — takes an approach from the ground up that is in line with how many people work today, balancing different software and apps depending on what they are doing, and linking them up by way of integrations: its own includes Slack, Microsoft Teams and Mercer, and other packages that are popular with HR departments. 

While it covers all of the necessary HR bases like payroll and further compensation, onboarding, managing time off and benefits, it further brings in a variety of other features that help build out bigger profiles of users, such as performance and culture, with the ability for peers, managers and workers themselves to provide feedback to enhance their own engagement with the company, and for the company to have a better idea of how they are fitting into the organization, and what might need more attention in the future.

That then links into a bigger organizational chart and conceptual charts that highlight strong performers, those who are possible flight risks, those who are leaders and so on. While there have been a number of others in the HR world that have built standalone apps that cover some of these features (for example, 15five was early to spot the value of a platform that made it much easier to set goals and provide feedback), what’s notable here is how they are all folded into one system together.

The end effect, as you can see here, looks less like word salad and more interactive, graphic interfaces that are presumably a lot more enjoyable and at least easier to use for HR people themselves.

The importance for investors has been that the product and the startup has identified the opportunity, but has delivered not just more engagement, but a strong piece of software that still provides the essentials.

“This is certainly not a Workday,” said Adam Fisher, a partner at Bessemer, in an interview. “Our overall thesis has been that HR is only growing in importance. And while engagement is super important, that opportunity is not enough to create the market.”

The end result is a platform that has a significant shot at building in even more over time. For example, another large area that has been seeing traction in the world of enterprise and B2B software is employee training. Specifically, enterprise learning systems are creating another way to help keep people not only up to speed on important aspects of how they work, but also engaged at a time when connections are under strain.

“Training, a SuccessFactors-style offering, is definitely in our road map,” said Zehavi, who noted they are adding new features all the time. The latest has been compensation, sometimes known as merit increase cycles. “That is a very complex issue and requires deeper integrations finance and the CFO’s office. We streamlined it and made it easy to use. We launched two months ago and it’s on fire. After learning and development there are other modules also down the road.”

Sep
29
2020
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Papaya Global raises $40M for a payroll and HR platform aimed at global workforces

Workforces are getting more global, and people who work day in, day out for organizations don’t always sit day in, day out in a single office, in a single country, to get a job done. Today, one of the startups building HR to help companies provision services for and manage those global workers better is announcing a funding round to capitalise on a surge in business that it has seen in the last year — spurred in no small part by the global health pandemic, the impact it’s had on travel and the way it has focused the minds of companies to get their cloud services and workforce management in order.

Papaya Global, an Israeli startup that provides cloud-based payroll, as well as hiring, onboarding and compliance services for organizations that employ full-time, part-time, or contract workers outside of their home country, has raised $40 million in a Series B round of funding led by Scale Venture Partners. Workday Ventures — the corporate investment arm of the HR company — Access Industries (via its Israeli vehicle Claltech), and previous investors Insight Partners, Bessemer Venture Partners, New Era Ventures, Group 11 and Dynamic Loop also participated

The money comes less than a year after its Series A of $45 million, following the company growing 300% year-over-year annually since 2016. It has now raised $95 million and is not disclosing valuation. But Eynat Guez, the CEO who co-founded the company in that year with Ruben Drong and Ofer Herman, said in an interview that it’s 5x the valuation it had in its round last year.

Its customers include fast-growing startups (precisely the kind of customer that not only has global workforces, but is expanding its employee base quickly) like OneTrust, nCino and Hopin, as well as major corporates like Toyota, Microsoft, Wix and General Dynamics.

Guez said Papaya Global was partly born out of the frustrations she herself had with HR solutions — she’s worked in the field for years. Different countries have different employment regulations, varied banking rules, completely different norms in terms of how people get paid, and so on. While there have been some really modern tools built for local workforces — Rippling, Gusto and Zenefits now going head to head with incumbents like ADP — they weren’t built to address these issues.

Other HR people who have dealt with international workers would understand her pain; those who control the purse strings might have been less aware of the fragmentation. All that changed in the last eight months (and for the foreseeable future), a period when companies have had to reassess everything about how they work to make sure that they can get through the current period without collapsing.

“The major impact of COVID-19 for us has been changing attitudes,” said Guez. “People usually think that payroll works by itself, but it’s one of the more complex parts of the organization, covering major areas like labor, accounting, tax. Eight months ago, a lot of clients thought, it just happens. But now they realize they didn’t have control of the data, some don’t even have a handle on who is being paid.”

As people moved into and out of jobs, and out of offices into working from home, as the pandemic kicked off, some operations fell apart as a result, she said. “Payroll continuity is like IT continuity, and so all of a sudden when COVID started its march, we had prospects calling us saying they didn’t have data on, for example, their Italian employees, and the office they were using wasn’t answering the phone.”

Guez herself is walking the walk on the remote working front. Papaya Global itself has offices around the world, and Guez is normally based in Tel Aviv. But our interview was conducted with her in the Maldives. She said she and her family decided to decamp elsewhere before Israel went into a second lockdown, which was very tough to handle in a small flat with small children. Working anywhere, as we have found out, can work.

The company is not the only one that has identified and is building to help organizations handle global workforces. In fact, just when you think the unemployment, furlough and layoff crunch is affecting an inordinate number of people and the job market is in a slump, a rush of them, along with other HR companies, have all been announcing significant funding rounds this year on the back of surges in business.

Others that have raised money during the pandemic include Deel, which like Papaya Global is also addressing the complexities of running global workforces; Turing, which helps with sourcing and then managing international teams; Factorial with its platform targeting specifically SMBs; Lattice focused on the bigger challenges of people management; and Rippling, the second act from Zenefits’ Parker Conrad.

“Papaya Global’s accelerating growth is a testament to their top-notch executive leadership as well as their ability to streamline international payroll management, a first for many enterprises that have learned to live with highly manual payroll processes,” said Rory O’Driscoll, a partner at Scale Venture Partners, in a statement. “The complexity and cost of managing multi-region workforces cannot be understated. Eynat and her team are uniquely serving their customers’ needs, bringing an advanced SaaS platform into a market long-starved for more effective software solutions.”

Apr
27
2020
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Factorial raises $16M to take on the HR world with a platform for SMBs

A startup that’s hoping to be a contender in the very large and fragmented market of human resources software has captured the eye of a big investor out of the US and become its first investment in Spain.

Barcelona-based Factorial, which is building an all-in-one HR automation platform aimed at small and medium businesses that manages payroll, employee onboarding, time off and other human resource functions, has raised €15 ($16 million) in a Series A round of funding led by CRV, with participation also from existing investors Creandum, Point Nine and K Fund.

The money comes on the heels of Factorial — which has customers in 40 countries — seeing eightfold growth in revenues in 2019, with more than 60,000 customers now using its tools.

Jordi Romero, the CEO who co-founded the company with Pau Ramon (CTO) and Bernat Farrero (head of corporate), said in an interview that the investment will be used both to expand to new markets and add more customers, as well as to double down on tech development to bring on more features. These will include RPA integrations to further automate services, and to move into more back-office product areas such as handling expenses,

Factorial has now raised $18 million and is not disclosing its valuation, he added.

The funding is notable on a couple of levels that speak not just to the wider investing climate but also to the specific area of human resources.

In addition to being CRV’s first deal in Spain, the investment is being made at a time when the whole VC model is under a lot of pressure because of the global coronavirus pandemic — not least in Spain, which has a decent, fledgling technology scene but has been one of the hardest-hit countries in the world when it comes to COVID-19.

“It made the closing of the funding very, very stressful,” Romero said from Barcelona last week (via video conference). “We had a gentleman’s agreement [so to speak] before the virus broke out, but the money was still to be wired. Seeing the world collapse around you, with some accounts closing, and with the bigger business world in a very fragile state, was very nerve wracking.”

Ironically, it’s that fragile state that proved to be a saviour of sorts for Factorial.

“We target HR leaders and they are currently very distracted with furloughs and layoffs right now, so we turned around and focused on how we could provide the best value to them,” Romero said.

The company made its product free to use until lockdowns are eased up, and Factorial has found a new interest from businesses that had never used cloud-based services before but needed to get something quickly up and running to use while working from home. He noted that among new companies signing up to Factorial, most either previously kept all their records in local files or at best a “Dropbox folder, but nothing else.”

The company also put in place more materials and other tools specifically to address the most pressing needs those HR people might have right now, such as guidance on how to implement furloughs and layoffs, best practices for communication policies and more. “We had to get creative,” Romero said.

At $16 million, this is at the larger end of Series A rounds as of January 2020, and while it’s definitely not as big as some of the outsized deals we’ve seen out of the US, it happens to be the biggest funding round so far this year in Spain.

Its rise feels unlikely for another reason, too: it comes at a time when we already have dozens (maybe even hundreds) of human resources software businesses, with many an established name — they include PeopleHR, Workday, Infor, ADP, Zenefits, Gusto, IBM, Oracle, SAP, Rippling, and many others — in a market that analysts project will be worth $38.17 billion by 2027 growing at a CAGR of over 11%.

But as is often the case in tech, status quo breeds disruption, and that’s the case here. Factorial’s approach has been to build HR tools specifically for people who are not HR professionals per se: companies that are small enough not to have specialists, or if they do, they share a lot of the tasks and work with other managers who are not in HR first and foremost.

It’s a formula that Romero said could potentially see the company taking on bigger customers, but for now, investors like it for having built a platform approach for the huge but often under-served SME market.

“Factorial was built for the users, designed for the modern web and workplace,” said Reid Christian, General Partner at CRV, in a statement. “Historically the HR software market has been one of the most lucrative categories for enterprise tech companies, and today, the HR stack looks much different. As we enter the third generation of cloud HR products, with countless point solutions, there’s a strong need for an underlying platform to integrate work across these.”

Jul
08
2019
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15Five raises $30.7M to expand its employee development toolkit

Technology has been used to improve many of the processes that we use to get work done. But today, a startup has raised funding to build tech to improve us, the workers.

15Five, which builds software and services to help organisations and their employees evaluate their performance, as well as set and meet goals, has closed a Series B round of $30.7 million, money that it plans to use to continue building out the functionality of its core product — self-evaluations that take “15 minutes to write, 5 minutes to read” — as well as expand into new services that will sit alongside that.

David Hassell, 15Five’s CEO and co-founder, would not elaborate on what those new services might be, but he recently started a podcast with the startup’s “chief culture officer” Shane Metcalf around the subject of “best-self” management that taps into research on organizational development and positive psychology.

At the same time that 15Five works on productizing these principles into software form, it seems that the secondary idea will be to bring in more services and coaching into the mix alongside 15Five’s existing SaaS model.

This Series B is being led by Next47?, the strategic investment arm of manufacturing giant Siemens. Others in the round included Matrix Partners, PointNine Capital, ?Jason Calacanis’s LAUNCH Fund?, Newground Ventures, Bling Capital, Chaifetz ?Group, and ?Origin Ventures (which had led 15Five’s Series A). It brings the total raised to $42.6 million, but Hassell said that while the valuation is up, the exact number is not being disclosed.

(Previous investors in the company have included David Sacks, 500 Startups and Ben Ling.)

15Five’s growth comes at a time when we are seeing a significant evolution in how companies are run internally. The digital age has made workforces more decentralised — with people using smartphones, video communications and services like Slack to stay in constant contact while otherwise working potentially hundreds of miles from their closest colleagues, or at least not sitting in one office altogether, all the time.

All well and good, but this has also had an inevitable impact on how employees are evaluated by their managers, and also how they are able to gauge how well they are doing versus those with whom they work. So while communication of one kind — getting information across from one person to another across big distances — has seen a big boost through technology, you could argue that another kind of communication — of the human kind — has been lost.

15Five’s approach is to create a focus on building an easy way for employees to think about and set goals for themselves on a regular basis.

Indeed, “regular” is the operative word here, with key thing being frequency. A lot of companies — especially large ones — already use performance management software (other players in this space include BetterWorks, Lattice, and PeopleGoal among many others), but in many cases, it’s based around self-evaluations that you might make annually, or at six-month intervals.

15Five’s focus is on providing a service that people will use much more often than that. In fact, it encourages use all the time, by way of sending praise to each other when something positive happens (it calls these “High fives” appropriately enough), as well as regular evaluations and goals set by the employees themselves.

Hassell said in an interview that this is in tune with what modern workplaces, and younger employees, expect today, partly fuelled by the rise of social media.

“Most millennials will get feedback on what they eat for breakfast more than what they do at work,” he said. “The rest of our lives exist in a real-time feedback loop, filled with continuous, positive reinforcement, but then you go into work and have an annual or maybe biannual performance review? It’s simply not enough.”

He said that he knows some millennial employees who have said that they will not work at a company if it’s not already using or planning to adopt 15Five, and since talent is the cornerstone to a company’s success this could have a significant impact.

The startup was born in San Francisco in more than one sense. It’s based there, but also, its principles seem to be uniquely a product of the kind of self-reflection and self-care/quality of life emphasis that has been associated with California culture for a while now, even amidst the relentless march that comes with being at the epicenter of the tech world.

In that regard, its newest investor, Next47, will help put 15Five to the test, both in terms of how the product will be adopted and used at a company whose holdings are as much manufacturing as technology, and in terms of sheer size: Siemens globally has around 400,000 employees, a huge jump up compared to the smaller and medium-sized businesses that form the core of 15Five’s customer base today.

Matthew Cowan, a partner at the firm, noted that while Siemens is currently not a 15Five user, the thinking behind the investment was strategic and the idea will be to incorporate it into the company’s practices for helping employees’ progress.

“It’s very representative of how the workplace is transforming,” he said

Mar
29
2019
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ServiceNow teams with Workplace by Facebook on service chatbot

One of the great things about enterprise chat applications, beyond giving employees a common channel to communicate, is the ability to integrate with other enterprise applications. Today, Workplace, Facebook’s enterprise collaboration and communication application, and ServiceNow announced a new chatbot to make it easier for employees to navigate a company’s help desks inside Workplace Chat.

The beauty of the chatbot is that employees can get answers to common questions whenever they want, wherever they happen to be. The Workplace-ServiceNow integration happens in Workplace Chat and can can involve IT or HR help desk scenarios. A chatbot can help companies save time and money, and employees can get answers to common problems much faster.

Previously, getting these kind of answers would have required navigating multiple systems, making a phone call or submitting a ticket to the appropriate help desk. This approach provides a level of convenience and immediacy.

Companies can brainstorm common questions and answers and build them in the ServiceNow Virtual Agent Designer. It comes with some standard templates, and doesn’t require any kind of advanced scripting or programming skills. Instead, non-technical end users can adapt pre-populated templates to meet the needs, language and workflows of an individual organization.

Screenshot: ServiceNow

This is all part of a strategy by Facebook to integrate more enterprise applications into the tool. In May at the F8 conference, Facebook announced 52 such integrations from companies like Atlassian, SurveyMonkey, HubSpot and Marketo (the company Adobe bought in September for $4.75 billion).

This is part of a broader enterprise chat application trend around making these applications the center of every employee’s work life, while reducing task switching, the act of moving from application to application. This kind of integration is something that Slack has done very well and has up until now provided it with a differentiator, but the other enterprise players are catching on and today’s announcement with ServiceNow is part of that.

Sep
19
2018
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Fresh out of Y Combinator, Leena AI scores $2M seed round

Leena AI, a recent Y Combinator graduate focusing on HR chatbots to help employees answer questions like how much vacation time they have left, announced a $2 million seed round today from a variety of investors including Elad Gil and Snapdeal co-founders Kunal Bahl and Rohit Bansal.

Company co-founder and CEO Adit Jain says the seed money is about scaling the company and gaining customers. They hope to have 50 enterprise customers within the next 12-18 months. They currently have 16.

We wrote about the company in June when it was part of the Y Combinator Summer 2018 class. At the time Jain explained that they began in 2015 in India as a company called Chatteron. The original idea was to help others build chatbots, but like many startups, they realized there was a need not being addressed, in this case around HR, and they started Leena AI last year to focus specifically on that.

As they delved deeper into the HR problem, they found most employees had trouble getting answers to basic questions like how much vacation time they had or how to get a new baby on their health insurance. This forced a call to a help desk when the information was available online, but not always easy to find.

Jain pointed out that most HR policies are defined in policy documents, but employees don’t always know where they are. They felt a chatbot would be a good way to solve this problem and save a lot of time searching or calling for answers that should be easily found. What’s more, they learned that the vast majority of questions are fairly common and therefore easier for a system to learn.

Employees can access the Leena chatbot in Slack, Workplace by Facebook, Outlook, Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams and Cisco Spark. They also offer Web and mobile access to their service independent of these other tools.

Photo: Leena AI

What’s more, since most companies use a common set of backend HR systems like those from Oracle, SAP and NetSuite (also owned by Oracle), they have been able to build a set of standard integrators that are available out of the box with their solution.

The customer provides Leena with a handbook or a set of policy documents and they put their machine learning to work on that. Jain says, armed with this information, they can convert these documents into a structured set of questions and answers and feed that to the chatbot. They apply Natural Language Processing (NLP) to understand the question being asked and provide the correct answer.

They see room to move beyond HR and expand into other departments such as IT, finance and vendor procurement that could also take advantage of bots to answer a set of common questions. For now, as a recent YC graduate, they have their first bit of significant funding and they will concentrate on building HR chatbots and see where that takes them.

Jun
29
2018
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Leena AI builds HR chatbots to answer policy questions automatically

Say you have a job with a large company and you want to know how much vacation time you have left, or how to add your new baby to your healthcare. This usually involves emailing or calling HR and waiting for an answer, or it could even involve crossing multiple systems to get what you need.

Leena AI, a member of the Y Combinator Summer 2018 class, wants to change that by building HR bots to answer questions for employees instantly.

The bots can be integrated into Slack or Workplace by Facebook and they are built and trained using information in policy documents and by pulling data from various back-end systems like Oracle and SAP.

Adit Jain, co-founder at Leena AI, says the company has its roots in another startup called Chatteron, which the founders started after they got out of college in India in 2015. That product helped people build their own chatbots. Jain says along the way, they discovered while doing their market research a particularly strong need in HR. They started Leena AI last year to address that specific requirement.

Jain says when building bots, the team learned through its experience with Chatteron that it’s better to concentrate on a single subject because the underlying machine learning model gets better the more it’s used. “Once you create a bot, for it to really add value and be [extremely] accurate, and for it to really go deep, it takes a lot of time and effort and that can only happen through verticalization,” Jain explained.

Photo: Leena AI

What’s more, as the founders have become more knowledgeable about the needs of HR, they have learned that 80 percent of the questions cover similar topics, like vacation, sick time and expense reporting. They have also seen companies using similar back-end systems, so they can now build standard integrators for common applications like SAP, Oracle and NetSuite.

Of course, even though people may ask similar questions, the company may have unique terminology or people may ask the question in an unusual way. Jain says that’s where the natural language processing (NLP) comes in. The system can learn these variations over time as they build a larger database of possible queries.

The company just launched in 2017 and already has a dozen paying customers. They hope to double that number in just 60 days. Jain believes being part of Y Combinator should help in that regard. The partners are helping the team refine its pitch and making introductions to companies that could make use of this tool.

Their ultimate goal is nothing less than to be ubiquitous, to help bridge multiple legacy systems to provide answers seamlessly for employees to all their questions. If they can achieve that, they should be a successful company.

Jun
20
2018
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Beamery closes $28M Series B to stoke support for its ‘talent CRM’

Beamery, a London-based startup that offers self-styled “talent CRM”– aka ‘candidate relationship management’ — and recruitment marketing software targeted at fast-growing companies, has closed a $28M Series B funding round, led by EQT Ventures.

Also participating in the round are M12, Microsoft’s venture fund, and existing investors Index Ventures, Edenred Capital Partners and Angelpad Fund. Beamery last raised a $5M Series A, in April 2017, led by Index.

Its pitch centers on the notion of helping businesses win a ‘talent war’ by taking a more strategic and pro-active approach to future hires vs just maintaining a spreadsheet of potential candidates.

Its platform aims to help the target enterprises build and manage a talent pool of people they might want to hire in future to get out ahead of the competition in HR terms, including providing tools for customized marketing aimed at nurture relations with possible future hires.

Customer numbers for Beamery’s software have stepped up from around 50 in April 2017 to 100 using it now — including the likes of Facebook (which is using it globally), Continental, VMware, Zalando, Grab and Balfour Beatty.

It says the new funding will be going towards supporting customer growth, including by ramping up hiring in its offices in London (HQ), Austin and San Francisco.

It also wants to expand into more markets. “We’re focusing on some of the world’s biggest global businesses that need support in multiple timezones and geographies so really it’s a global approach,” said a spokesman on that.

“Companies adopting the system are large enterprises doing talent at scale, that are innovative in terms of being proactive about recruiting, candidate experience and employer brand,” he added.

A “significant” portion of the Series B funds will also go towards R&D and produce development focused on its HR tech niche.

“Across all sectors, there’s a shift towards proactive recruitment through technology, and Beamery is emerging as the category leader,” added Tom Mendoza, venture lead and investment advisor at EQT, in a supporting statement.

“Beamery has a fantastic product, world-class high-ambition founders, and an outstanding analytics-driven team. They’ve been relentless about building the best talent CRM and marketing platform and gaining a deep understanding of the industry-wide problems.”

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