Earlier today, Personio, Europe’s leading HR software company for SMEs announced closing another $200 million to complete their Series E, which values the company at $8.5 billion. We’ve been sharing some of our insights over the last couple of years (here, with its CPO about remote office – here, in Michiel’s own words on their expansion) but the growth of this company has never stopped impressing us, and inspires many.
In digitising painful HR processes, Personio has not only simplified tasks like recruiting, payroll, and performance, it has also led the charge in establishing a healthy workplace culture both internally and externally with its customers.
To celebrate how far they’ve come, Northzone’s Michiel Kotting had a fika with Personio’s Co-Founder & CEO, Hanno Renner. They discussed Personio’s early days, the challenges and importance of hiring the right talent, and where we can expect Personio to grow next. Grab a fika with them, and enjoy the read!
Michiel Kotting: Hanno, thanks for joining me today. Congratulations on reaching yet another milestone reached today! I’d like to dive into the foundations before anything else. Can you share the story of Personio and how you came up with the idea?
Hanno Renner: I founded Personio in 2015 with a group of four friends, when we were still at University. We met at the CDTM (Center for Digital Technology and Management) in Munich and were all driven by a shared passion for building companies. When we stumbled upon the unbelievable pain HR admins face on a daily basis — a friend of mine was the CTO of a European SME and walked me through how time-consuming administrative tasks were for him — we were shocked that none of this HR admin was digitalised. Most big corporations were already leveraging digital services to help with complex solutions, but small- to medium-sized businesses were really left behind. We felt we could really make a difference.
Culture also plays an important part in your success, both internally and externally. Personio not only addresses these SMEs from a product perspective, but also from a cultural perspective. How did you approach building such a strong international culture from day one?
I really wanted to build a company that both had a positive impact and was a place where I would love to work. To do that, we had to be very intentional in defining and practicing our core values. One thing we do is constantly reiterate what our core purpose is: enabling better organisations. The other important part is recruiting. We are very deliberate in not only finding people who are great at what they do, but who also fit the culture. We tell our customers that their employees are the most important asset that they have, and they can’t be successful without a great team. We don’t just say that because we’re building an HR software; we whole-heartedly believe it ourselves.
Can you tell us more about how you approach recruitment, and finding that perfect balance between skill and culture?
It’s no secret that good talent is scarce, especially in fast-growing companies like Personio. We constantly need new people to join our team because we’re expanding fast and adding new customers every day. On one hand, we got 66K applications resumes for the positions we hire for. On the other hand, we’re competing with Google and Apple for talent — or, when you think of Munich, where our headquarters are, there’s also BMW and Siemens. We need to offer our employees something that makes them want to work for us but we also want people who fit our ethos of being impactful and ambitious. Ultimately, people join us because they feel the buzz of a purpose-driven company going after a huge market where culture is the #1 priority.
Speaking of fast growth, over the last two years you successfully launched Personio in Munich, London, Dublin, Madrid, Amsterdam and more recently Berlin and Amsterdam. What do you look for when expanding to new cities and markets?
Indeed, we have seven offices now. Given our pan-European mission and our constant need for talent, this expansion was a natural step. It started when we acquired a like-minded company in Spain, which has a large market for SMEs, and we saw the opportunity to further strengthen our culture by going international. Opening in Dublin was actually quite serendipitous. In Dublin, we hired our CRO, Geraldine MacCarthy, who came from Google and Dropbox. Meanwhile in London we brought Ross Seychell (ex Wise) on board as our Chief People Officer. And in Amsterdam, we were recently joined by Adam Avramescu as our VP of Customer Education (ex Slack). All are great locations to scout for talent that has experienced similar growth to ours, or even as attractive places to relocate to, as is the case with Adam, who joined us from the West Coast.
Do you have any expansion plans beyond the cities you just launched? Would you want to venture in the US?
We really consider ourselves European by design, supporting European businesses. There are 1.7 million SMEs in Europe with 10 to 2000 employees, and about 1.2 million of them haven’t digitised their HR process yet. For now, there are no plans to go to the US, Asia or anywhere else. We’re very busy with the European market!
Is there anything in the Personio story that stands out from other unicorns in Europe?
What makes us special is probably what you already mentioned, our culture, plus our laser focus on customers and putting their best interests first. I think the fact that we focus on SMEs also contributes to our success because it’s a sector that has been severely neglected in the past. The time is now for smaller software providers who have turned their attention to SMEs, and we’re ready for it.
Indeed, it’s your time, and we’re thrilled to see your success story unfold. Thanks for sharing your journey with us, Hanno!
Above: Michiel Kotting, Partner at Northzone