The Munich HR startup Personio just recently completed a 40 million dollar round of financing. After that, the startup’s next order of business was to move offices – after all, their number of employees is increasing faster than ever before. An interview with Hanno Renner, CEO of the flourishing startup, about the challenges presented by growth, how to make employees happy and future plans for Personio.
Hanno, how has the spirit in the company changed in the last few months? And how have you reorganized Personio?
Any company changes when it grows from 100 to 260 employees in one year — but the spirit and fundamental culture haven’t changed. It is very important to us, despite the growing number of employees, to retain the very personal startup character that contributes to an open and creative work environment.
Getting the right people on board is essential for being able to do that, which is why we implemented a comprehensive recruiting process early on that includes elements such as a value interview. That allows us to make sure our new employees share our company values. But such strong growth also obviously requires reorganization, particularly in larger teams.
Hanno’s advice: “Don’t mistake a major round of financing for success”
What advice would you give other founders who just recently completed a major round of financing?
It’s important not to mistake a major round of financing for success. While it is an important milestone and lets you aim for big goals while also growing rapidly, it also gives rise to new expectations that you need to live up to. That’s why it’s important to continue to closely monitor expenses and invest in things that directly support your strategy.
You acquired a Spanish startup in April, 2019. How has that changed things, apart from the fact that you now have an office in Madrid with 25 employees?
First and foremost, the acquisition has allowed us to expand our product range to include payroll and to introduce innovation to that field. Because it was an important new field, we obviously had to also adapt the organization accordingly.
And of course, working with remote teams also poses some challenges. We had to make sure, despite the distance, that we see ourselves as a team and share the same values. That is also essential because we’re planning to significantly increase the size of the Madrid office over the medium term.
You had planned to invest part of your financing in European expansion. How is that going? How are you positioned internationally, and what further plans do you have for internationalization?
The majority of our customers are located in the German-speaking region (Germany, Austria and Switzerland), but Personio is also already being used in 35 countries. To expand our international business, we’re currently establishing teams for Spain, the UK, Scandinavia and the Benelux countries. We now have our first colleague in London, who will be promoting the expansion of Personio as ‘Head of International.’ As soon as we’ve successfully launched in these four markets, we’ll then expand to other European countries.
The Munich quality of life makes Personio attractive to applicants
During our last interview in 2016, you were — apart from stores closing too early — quite happy with Munich as a startup location. Do you still feel the same way? Do you think things have gotten better or worse in the last few years?
Munich has proven its worth as a location for us. We can find an incredible number of qualified employees here. The high quality of living makes the city and Personio attractive as an employer – even to applicants from other parts of the world. It’s only the Munich rent that shocks most ‘newcomers.’
You are one of the Munich startups, according to Kununu, that has the highest level of employee satisfaction in the region. What’s your secret?
We take time to find the right people. That might mean leaving a position open for several months if the right applicant hasn’t come along yet. An open culture of feedback is also very important to us when working together.
What is the most challenging topic for Personio at the moment?
Finding the right employees, particularly in engineering, to continuously improve our product. Also finding colleagues for senior management positions is a challenge, because there aren’t many people in Germany who have experienced similar periods of growth.
How does Personio keep its employees happy?
What do think is the key factor sustainable corporate development?
The right recruiting and supporting employees to make sure they’re happy. Special projects, such as hackathons or task forces, give our employees the opportunity to get involved and go beyond their job descriptions.
Where do you want to be in five years? And in ten?
In five years, we want to be the leading HR platform for small and medium sized companies in Europe. We already have plans for afterwards, but we want to first concentrate on our goal of becoming the European market leader in our segment.
What’s on top of your desk at the moment?
To maintain continued rapid growth, my focus is currently on recruiting new employees and building an international team.
We founders are still highly involved in the recruiting process. Every candidate meets and speaks with at least one of us during the application process. But of course the subject isn’t sitting on my desk – it’s on file in Personio.