We caught up with Katerina, co-founder and CEO of the fantastic HRtech startup Personably.co, which does smart onboarding for growing teams.
What does Personably do?
Personably helps fast growing teams onboard their new employees.
It automatically sends emails before someone starts, sets up their Slack, Google and other accounts, and schedules everything that needs to happen in the new person’s first weeks and months.
It saves some of our customers, like Monzo, a day a week and creates a much better experience for the new employees. It means people join the team knowing what their first weeks will look like and with everything ready to go!
What made you start Personably - a personal passion, a problem you identified, or a market opportunity?
This was a problem we saw at the high-growth companies we’d worked at previously so we had first-hand experience! Without exception, everyone we’ve spoken to has had a bad experience in a new job that has stuck with them.
Companies spend a lot of time (and money) on their hiring process and getting the right person through the door. Then preparing for and training them up becomes an afterthought. Finding out what the wider team do, how to contribute, and how to be successful becomes a huge challenge.
There’s a great Stripe post covering this but the quote that sticks is - “Joining a high-growth startup can be an intimidating experience, and without guidance, new hires have to work twice as hard to learn what they need to be productive.”
It’s not just high-growth companies either: much larger enterprises have these issues too, even though they’ve been hiring people for 20+ years.
If you’re hiring ambitious individuals, the ensuring they can be productive and deliver value is the key to retention. People also spend so much of their lives at work so helping people be successful at their jobs and have a better experience is really important.
Personably closed a £500k seed round from VCs last year. Do you think they invested in the concept, the product, the founders, or the team?
It was a mixture of those things. I think it always has to be.
They understood the concept as they had a lot of high growth companies in their portfolio so know what growing pains look like.
My co-founder and I had first-hand experience of the problem we were solving and are passionate about making work better for people! We had the skills between us to cover everything a very early stage company needed (it was just us at the point we raised at the end of year 1). We could both code and build product. Lewis is great at talking to customers and fixing things as he previously handled developer support at GoCardless. I knew how to handle sales and investment from my time at Crowdcube.
Now we’ve hired some more awesome people to be part of scaling this.
If there were three pieces of fundraising advice you could give other founders, what would they be?
Get feedback on your fundraising deck
There’s a lot of resources online about what a good fundraising deck looks like (this one from Scott Sage) for example. Follow these guides and get your deck reviewed by other founders, your family, friends, anyone who will read it. It’s worth paying attention to the design to communicate the information as clearly as possible.
Prepare your pitch and pitch lots of people
You’ll eventually start hearing the same questions from investors so do some research first to learn what these will be. That way you can prepare answers and have data to back up your points. You shouldn’t need to think up an answer to ‘what’s your route to market’ on the spot. Try to get as much practice as possible before pitching your most desired investors. Also make sure you understand the thesis and stage of each person or fund before you contact them. Read their website/blog and use Crunchbase. You’ll never get a seed investment from a Series B fund.
Don’t underestimate the time or level of focus it will need
Fundraising is incredibly time consuming and takes longer than you think it will. It’s not done until the money is in the bank. It’s a strange situation to be in as talking to customers and building product is the most valuable thing you can be doing. But you need to raise funding to continue doing this. It ends up as a second full-time job alongside your existing more than full-time job.
I’m really glad it won’t just be my co-founder and I next time we raise. That way our team can still be working on the other important things while I focus on the fundraise.
What do you see in the future of HRtech?
Currently there are a lot of HRtech products that exist as a digitalisation of paper based systems. This is useful but it’s still just the beginning of where technology can help everyone make better people decisions.
We think the future of HRtech means tools that will help you build more productive teams and better understand your people. Personably (andlikely others) will enable you to ramp new hires quicker, help them grow and develop, and improve retention rates rather than just tracking holiday time and salaries.
We want to use data and more automation to help people be more effective.
There’s a shift in the way people think about their careers now and I think companies are still adapting to that. People want more of a portfolio career and to be able to progress and learn at each stage. The main reason people leave companies is they aren’t learning anymore or don’t see a way to progress.
I love this post by Zoe Jervier from EQT about how talent has changed as a function
This series by Balderton is more of a deep dive if you want something more in-depth.
What aspects of your work are you most passionate about?
I enjoy talking to our customers who love using the product and seeing all the new starters they’re onboarding with it. We’re giving them hours back each day and it’s exciting to see the difference that can make to both them and the new employees. It’s also awesome seeing the team we’ve hired handling their area of expertise better than we did. It’s interesting figuring out the best way to help them be successful and productive in their jobs.
What's next on the horizon for Personably?
We’ve got some really exciting updates to the product being released in the coming months! Things that we’ve wanted to add for a long time but that we had to ruthlessly prioritise away when we were a smaller team. And we’re planning to fundraise again this half of the year.