“Locals matter,” said Bernie Schiemer, CEO and Founder, HRBoss, a software company with offices in five countries across Asia.
He added, “I noticed the difference. You don’t realise how much Singaporeans want to speak to Singaporeans, period.”
The same went for other parts of this region, where different countries mean different languages, culture practices and behavioural styles.
“The Chinese, the Japanese have a similar language pattern; Korea is different,” he said. “These guys live an one hour’s flight from each other yet … the way they think is very different,” he added.
For example, in some countries, users might want software to indicate their last names followed by their first names — something many US-based firms do not provide for. In short, users want systems to look the way they want them to.
Its offerings allow employers to generate real-time reports and visual analytics, manage billing and invoicing, and make more informed hiring decisions, depending on which solution they purchase.
At the moment, the three-year-old company has a headcount of 75 in Asia. Schiemer told this author about hiring efforts in the region. “Most of our people are locals,” he said. “You might have me … running the company, but you want to make sure you have local people managing the businesses.”
He is originally from London, England, where he founded head hunting business James Harvard International with two other Co-founders. They managed to sell the company to UK-based staffing firm Hays PLC, and Schiemer completed his earn-out in 2009, according to HRBoss’ official website.
In the future, he hopes to have the region run by an Asian person. “We want to be the Toyota of the software market,” he said. “Go to America and show them how to build a car. Go to Europe and show the Germans how to build a car, and have them copy us,” he added.
Not the elephants, not the rabbits
Schiemer was clear from the get-go. While HRBoss targets the human resource industry, it is not trying to be “everything for everyone”. The software company focusses on two main areas – recruitment software and Big Data analytics for companies.
He further analogised that in any competitive market, there are three kinds of customers: the elephants, the rabbits, and the dogs.
“Everyone wants the elephants. And everyone thinks there are lots of rabbits… when actually it’s the dogs, cats, mid-sized animal market you should focus on. If you’re a hunter, … you go after the rabbits and spend too much time chasing, but when you do get one, there’s no meat on them. You’re tired out. You go after an elephant. It’s going to take a year to get it. And even if you do, you’ve got to get through really thick skin to get to the meat. You’re better off hunting for the mid-range mid-sized animals.”
For HRBoss, this typical “mid-range mid-sized” animal is a company with 500 to 15,000 employees. “There’s a big risk in focussing on one (big) customer. If the customer wants to cut the price, you have no choice (but to agree),” he explained. It’s also better to work with more smaller-sized companies to get varied feedback, as opposed to being limited to the opinions of that one large customer.
In addition to its philosophy of not being “everything to everyone”, HRBoss also believes that a company should not try and do too much too quickly. “You got to focus on a country and get it right,” he said. The firm sees the most value in focussing on big markets such as Japan and China, and understanding regional hubs such as Hong Kong and Singapore.
However, it was not always like that. “Most companies expand too fast and we were one of them,” he said. “You take a step back, you downsize a little. We had to. Recalibrate and start again. Fortunately, we got lots of funding. Other companies are not so lucky,” shared Schiemer.
To date, HRBoss has received US$12 million from various investors, including a US$3.2 million Series B round from JAFCO.
Schiemer is looking to reach profitability by the first quarter of 2015.
He further added that while revenue is important, success only comes with the customer being happy. “… That’s not so easy to do. It takes time. You have to suck it up and manage expectations. … If it were profitable, I would be laughing,” he stated.
HRBoss’ offices in Asia are located in Singapore, Japan, China, Hong Kong and Vietnam.