Empowering the growth mindset: Next gen people SaaS

The employer-employee relationship is being reshaped and the next generation of HR software vendors are helping employers attract and retain the best talent

At long last, companies are waking up to the reality that the talent they employ is their most strategic, and ultimately differentiating, asset. However, in a somewhat ironic twist of fate, attracting and retaining talent is more difficult than ever before, driven by near decade-low unemployment rates, the much touted Covid-induced “Great Resignation”, and global competition for increasingly diverse and inclusive talent. Employers are also facing hybrid work as the new normal, as well as a generational shift to Millennials as the dominant employee base. 

The task for navigating these challenges is being laid at the feet of HR teams, whose responsibilities now span everything from driving Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) initiatives and improving organizational health and wellness to reducing employee attrition and navigating hybrid work / the return to the office. All of this in turn necessitates a much more strategic approach, and has escalated the importance of People teams to mission-critical as organizations recognize they need to do everything in their power to hire, nurture, and retain top-tier talent.

At the same time, People teams have historically relied on a legacy stack of outdated and inflexible software tools (e.g. ADP, SAP Successfactors, Oracle HCM, and Ceridian) that have acted primarily as systems of record rather than systems of engagement built for a hybrid work-environment and focused on employee user-experiences and organizational ROI. These tools are unable to drive employee engagement and lack the functionality required to enable People teams to operate effectively.

Enter Next Gen People SaaS, the new-age of HR software tools seeking to empower People teams looking to align People operations with overarching company strategy. 

These vendors are going after a massive market opportunity – Paychex, Workday, and ADP alone comprise $200Bn in market cap. That said, the market is not homogeneous, and the dynamics in each segment are nuanced. For instance, while the SMB market is largely greenfield (running many HR processes on paper and Excel), the enterprise market is rife with legacy solutions that are difficult to integrate with and thus organizations are left with tool sprawl, where a spaghetti-mix of 50+ different HR tools is not unusual. 

We at TCV have been lucky enough to partner with next gen HR leaders including LinkedIn, Grupa Pracuj (the largest job board in Poland), Hirevue (AI-driven talent assessment and video interview platform), Perceptyx (employee surveys and people analytics platform), OneSource Virtual (Business-Process-as-a-Service vendor for the Workday ecosystem) and more recently Darwinbox (cloud-native end-to-end HRIS platform for Enterprise), and Humu (enterprise-grade digital training platform). In addition, we have also had the opportunity to both collaborate with and learn from a deep bench of People-team leaders across our portfolio, including TCV Venture Partner Jessica Neal, the former Chief Talent Officer at Netflix. We continue to believe there are enormous opportunities ahead in HR and expect to see innovation arise from every corner of the globe. Here are three of the major themes we believe will shape the HR-tech landscape in the coming years.

#1: HR products built for employees

While we are now used to frictionless, user-friendly tech experiences everywhere in our personal lives, the software tools many of us use daily in the workplace are clunky and counter-intuitive. Next Gen People SaaS is changing this paradigm by putting employee experience at its heart and, in the process, turning systems of record into systems of engagement, driving ever-higher ROI, as well as enabling flexibility with how employees engage with employers.

Best-in-class UX is required for Next Gen People SaaS

Superior UX enables employees to self-serve to a much greater degree, alleviating the administrative burden on People teams. Geographic and vertical context also becomes relevant. For example, offering a truly mobile-native and mobile-optimized (note: not the same as just having an app) UX in emerging markets and frontline industries can be critical in driving access and engagement across the full employee base. This is a key factor that underpins the  strong momentum seen in companies like Darwinbox. Many new-age tools also monitor traditionally “B2C” KPIs (e.g. DAU/MAU, sessions per day), while also continuously A/B testing to drive better user engagement, thereby unlocking workforce insights that legacy tools with poor user uptake are simply unable to access. By utilizing Next Gen People SaaS, People teams can drive heightened employee engagement while also gaining meaningful insights in culture, sentiment, and employee performance.

Employing talent on its own terms

The days of inflexible, full-time, in-office employment are largely behind us. Companies have realized that, in the war to hire world-class talent, the ability to offer flexible employment (e.g. remote work from anywhere in the world, freelancing) can be a critical differentiator. That said, this creates enormous challenges for People teams, as running onboarding and compliant payroll and benefits across full-time and freelance employees in several countries is fraught with complexity. This has driven the rise of a host of new tools (e.g. employer of record, aggregated global payroll, end-to-end freelancer management tools) to simplify this process and alleviate companies of onerous compliance and administrative burdens. We believe these tools will further embed themselves into the core-HR stack of the hybrid workplace of the future.

#2: Talent is at the forefront of HR product innovation

The ongoing war for talent will dramatically reshape the HR tech-stack in the years ahead. Given the criticality of talent as a key differentiator, we expect to see accelerated innovation and the rise of best-in-breed point solutions (particularly for larger enterprises) at every stage of talent management process:

Sourcing

Professional networks, such as former TCV investment LinkedIn, have become staples of the HR toolkit. That said, there are further opportunities to enrich data from existing networks and build more advanced, automated searches powered by AI:  e.g. aligning with an employer’s diversity and inclusion goals, helping to automatically elevate talent at the right stage in their careers, prior candidate rediscovery, etc.

Screening and recruitment

We are seeing two major, and often simultaneous, themes reflecting the growing war for scarce talent – 1) a pivot towards building candidate-friendly recruitment experiences vs. being employer-centric (as much as employers are trying to better evaluate whether a candidate is a good fit for them, savvy candidates are doing the same with potential employers); 2) a pivot away from interview processes focused on subjective individual assessments towards more quantitative, standardized screening that collects dozens of data points along the candidate journey to reach better, less biased recruiting outcomes. 

Enablement

Retaining and nurturing talent have become highly strategic areas for employers, exacerbated by the generational shift towards a Millennial employee-base. We have seen the rise of increasingly sophisticated solutions for engaging and training talent, including a focus on individualizing content delivery. For instance, TCV portfolio company Humu helps teams instill and develop effective workplace habits through the use of behavioral nudges. At the core of Humu’s differentiation is the focus on delivering the right content, to the right person, at the right time.

Although the supply of world-class talent in every department is scarce, nowhere is the effect of the war for talent felt more acutely than in R&D. As ‘technology’ has shifted from being a standalone industry vertical to a horizontal foundation that nearly every industry depends upon, demand for engineering talent has never outweighed the supply more dramatically. Given that analysts continue to forecast a global technology talent shortage of nearly 5M workers by 2030[1], we anticipate this will be a defining trend of the 2020s and will continue giving rise to engineer-focused talent solutions.

While we expect the proliferation of talent-focused point solutions to continue, at the same time, we expect to see other segments of the HR stack begin to rebundle. Many mid-market and enterprise People teams have experienced massive tool proliferation over the last years (some using as many as 50+ different HR apps!) and tool sprawl is now becoming increasingly challenging to manage. As a result, we expect to see many core HR tools (e.g. time & attendance, benefits etc.) naturally aggregate thereby providing HR teams and employees with seamless, end-to-end integrated workflows.

#3: The specialization (and verticalization) of HR

In spite of the fact that both employer and employee needs vary significantly by size, industry, and geography, many vendors historically have offered a ‘one-size-fits-all’ HR proposition. As a result, there have been a number of historically overlooked and underappreciated market segments that represent massive greenfield opportunities when innovators focus on them explicitly. Going forward, as we have seen with broader vertical SaaS over the last decade, we expect to see the rise of verticalized HR vendors who focus on a specific customer segment and offer a much deeper, more tailored proposition than a generic, horizontal platform. In addition to this, we believe there are clear parallels with our theses around the office of the CFO and SaaS as a network whereby the verticalization of HR also gives rise to the opportunity for vendors to offer a bundled solution which in turn can drive TAM expansion, improved retention, better unit economics, and a more strategic relationship with customers. Two major expressions of this that we are focused on are 1) the rise of SMB-focused platforms and 2) tool-building for frontline workers.

Rise of SMB platforms

People teams in SMBs have historically been notoriously overstretched, understaffed (or even nonexistent!), and undertooled. More often than not, the “core People” platform is pen-and-paper or an Excel spreadsheet that is error-prone, time-consuming to update, and only acts as a very basic system of record. 

Increasingly, as SMBs are having to up their game and offer great employee experiences irrespective of resource constraints, we are seeing a new generation of arms dealers cater to this enormous yet enormously underserved market segment. Given the greater propensity for SMBs to purchase bundled solutions, we believe that vendors who can land with a mission-critical beachhead have an opportunity to expand their footprint and build a single-aggregated People suite for SMBs. 

We see two primary beachheads into the SMB today – the central people data repository (“HRIS”) and Payroll (mission critical from day one). Companies in such a position have a unique opportunity to build an ecosystem of integrations with best-in-breed tools (e.g. for performance, engagement, training and onboarding, interviewing, etc.), further embedding themselves as the epicenter of the new SMB People stack, and potentially over time branch out and cross-sell other People modules and even financial services (e.g. insurance, expense management, etc.). As outlined above, this drives a multitude of benefits (ARPU expansion, improved retention, deeper customer relationship, etc.). 

Given the sheer scale of the SMB base (e.g. SMBs typically represent ~50% of national GDPs[2]), the market opportunity for even national or regional champions is enormous.

Building for the frontline

Despite the fact that nearly 2 billion people currently work on the frontline and nearly every organization employs a combination of desk-based and frontline workers, HR tools have historically catered primarily to longer-tenured, desk-based employees. That said, this is changing as organizations are increasingly recognizing the importance of engaging their frontline workforce, in no small part catalyzed by the recognition of the critical role frontline workers played in helping navigate the Covid-19 pandemic.

The requirements of frontline employees can differ significantly from those of desk-based workers. As a starting point, many frontline workers lack access to a desktop (so being truly mobile-optimized and deliverable to a variety of endpoints is mission critical); they may not have a company email address (which has implications for security as well as means of communication); and they often have more flexible, shift-based working hours (which has implications for time/attendance/payroll). In addition, hiring, training, and onboarding may need to happen in a matter of hours, versus days or weeks for desk-based employees.

We are now seeing the rise of HR tools optimized to service the unique requirements of this historically underserved segment of the workforce. Going forward, mirroring the rise of vertical SaaS in the past several years, we expect to see continued specialization of HR platforms by worker type, which in turn is a stepping stone towards industry verticalization. As with the SMB opportunity, this could in turn drive opportunities to offer bundled HR solutions such as employee learning, time and attendance, and payroll.

What excites us

While great progress has been made modernizing the HR technology stack in recent years, the unprecedented challenges HR teams face when looking to hire and retain world-class talent are more pertinent today than ever before. We believe this will continue to create massive opportunities for problem-solving technology vendors across the HR stack, especially into historically underserved market segments. We at TCV are incredibly excited about what the future holds for HR tech and look forward to backing and supporting visionary teams building the seminal businesses of tomorrow across every corner of the globe.


[1] Future of Work: The Global Talent Crunch, Korn Ferry, 2018

[2] 2020 Annual Report on European SMEs, European Commission; & “Measuring the Small Business Economy,” Bureau of Economic Analysis, US Department of Commerce, 2020

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The views and opinions expressed are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of TCMI, Inc. or its affiliates (“TCV”). TCV has not verified the accuracy of any statements by the speakers and disclaims any responsibility therefor. This blog post is not an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any private fund managed or sponsored by TCV or any of the securities of any company discussed. The TCV portfolio companies identified, if any, are not necessarily representative of all TCV investments, and no assumption should be made that the investments identified were or will be profitable. For a complete list of TCV investments, please visit www.tcv.com/all-companies/. For additional important disclaimers regarding this blog post, please see “Informational Purposes Only” in the Terms of Use for TCV’s website, available at http://www.tcv.com/terms-of-use/


TripAdvisor: Driving Decisions from Data, to Benefit Both Employees and the Company

Part 2: Aligning HR with Technology and Data / Planning for Acquisitions

Beth Grous, Chief People Officer for TripAdvisor, is applying the same strategy to HR and strategic talent management that TripAdvisor  utilized to become the world’s top travel site: leverage new technology and approaches to gain insights that drive decisions and positive business outcomes. In Beth’s case, that includes everything from recruiting and retaining employees to increasing equity, diversity and inclusion. In this second part of a two-part conversation, Beth talks with TCV General Partner Nari Ansari about the many ways this approach is benefiting both TripAdvisor and its people. Examples include informing business strategy with direct feedback from employees, using smarter benefits and training to retain employees, building a more diverse talent pipeline, and how her team plans for acquisitions so that people management operates effectively during and after integration.

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Nari Ansari:  Beth, thanks for joining us again to discuss TripAdvisor and your talent and people operations journey. We previously talked about aligning HR with business strategy, and jumping back in, I’d love to hear a little bit more about how TripAdvisor is using technology and data in HR operations.

Beth Grous:  Great question, and I can give you some relevant examples across different areas.

Let’s start with employee development. We want to use technology to think about learning differently and less traditionally, and we want to meet the workforce where they are. As one example, we recently began piloting Audible for Business. Employees like to get training delivered to them during their commute or during their downtime; it’s a different approach to content delivery than classroom learning, and one which our employees have embraced.   

Additionally, we seek employee feedback as a key input to how we build and evolve our people programs. We do everything from surveys to monitoring Glassdoor to, and it sounds overly simple, but just talking to people. As much as I love tools and technology, you’d be surprised at how much you learn if you just ask people what’s going on … they’ll generally tell you. And we are increasingly looking to data to help us think about our people in more detailed ways. Let’s use the turnover example. You’re never going to get it to zero attrition, so it’s really about slowing that path to exit and increasing engagement.

One of the recent data-driven insights we had is around the leave of absence journey. When an employee goes out and then returns from leave of absence—particularly one taken to welcome a child into the family—they enter a meaningful period from a retention standpoint. It doesn’t matter whether the employee is the birth parent or not. Our data indicated that one of the most important factors in determining retention during this period was the employee’s relationship with their manager; do they feel supported as they leave and return?  So with this understanding, this past year, we did two things. We increased our benefit level around leaves in general, expanding our leave policies to include a paid caregiver leave: 8 weeks fully paid for caring for a newborn, caring for an ailing family member or elderly parent. For birth moms, who also get an additional 8 weeks of short-term disability pay, this brought our full maternity benefit to 16 weeks; non-birth parents get 8 weeks. We also coupled our leave enhancements with improved manager training. The data gave us insights that if our managers aren’t paying close attention to that transition, your likelihood of losing someone just after a leave of absence increases significantly.

Nari Ansari: Clearly some impactful examples with regards to the use of data to inform your people strategy. Are there any other areas where you have experimented with the use of data to make people-based decisions?

Beth Grous: We’re in stage one—the early phase—of our overall people analytics journey, but I believe we are starting in a very good place. We have robust systems, including Workday and Greenhouse, to capture data. With 3500+ employees, we have scale, which provides a lot of data points. So we’ve got a good basis to work from.

We’re actively thinking about data and analytics and how we apply it to the workplace. Within talent acquisition, we monitor a number of key metrics: How many days does it take us to fill jobs? Where are the pinch points in the various recruiting stages and how can we speed throughput for candidates? I expect that in the future we’re going to be even more intensive about how we aggregate all the signals, both active and passive, around some interesting analytics. I think we’ve barely scratched the surface here. And that’s really exciting.

Nari Ansari:  I think certainly the world is recognizing that business is going to be intensely data-driven, and on the people management and HR side it’s very much heading in that direction as well. As we continue to shift from a manufacturing economy to a knowledge economy, many would argue that people are a corporation’s most important asset. 

Beth Grous: I couldn’t agree more.

Nari Ansari:  Along the lines of employees as a critical asset, one of the things we are also seeing many tech companies grapple with is how to make workforces more diverse. I know at TripAdvisor you have an equity diversity and inclusion department with a responsibility in this arena. Perhaps you can shed light on that department’s role and your organization’s journey.

Beth Grous: It’s an important topic and something many companies are grappling with. My personal macro view is that individual companies need to do much more, but that said, this is not a one-company solve for one-company problem or opportunity. This is an ecosystem opportunity. I think about not just building diverse and inclusive teams here at TripAdvisor but building diverse and inclusive skill sets that help the greater employment ecosystem. I had a new dad tell me recently how grateful he was for our eight fully paid weeks of caregiver leave, because it allowed his working wife to go back to work at her company, and not have to worry about finding a nanny,  childcare center, or a relative to help for those first several weeks she was back to work, because her spouse was able to be home with the baby — because of our benefits. I was excited to hear that our benefit had eased the transition to motherhood for a woman working in another organization.  It is important that all companies — sort of like all boats — rise together.

When we built and crystallized our organizational values back in 2016, one of the values we were explicit on is “We’re Better Together.” We then built a small team in the end of 2016 to focus on equity diversity and inclusion or what we call “ED+I.” In 2018, we looked at the demographics of our workforce, to be clear on our starting point. We asked our workforce what their experience here has been around the topics of equity, inclusion, diversity and belonging to really understand how people are experiencing our workplace. And that information helped inform our initial approach.

Over the last year, one of our insights was that we needed to focus even more purposefully on talent acquisition, which meant providing our recruiting team and our hiring managers with better tools and training around sourcing and recruitment delivery, and around building a diverse pipeline.  You can’t have a more diverse organization if you don’t bring more diverse people into the pipeline. And once they get here, they have to experience an authentic sense of belonging. It’s so obvious, right? And you can’t build a diverse pipeline unless you’re really paying deliberate attention to the talent acquisition process.

Nari Ansari:  That makes sense. And it ties back to our point earlier, that people are the most important asset in companies. When you do an acquisition, it’s a talent acquisition, not just the IP or the customer base. The people are a huge part of it. Most of our portfolio companies do augment their organic growth with inorganic growth as part of their strategy, and these acquisitions can introduce a lot of complexity and challenges from a people management standpoint. What role have you and your HR organization played as you think about strategizing around and integrating these various acquisitions, particularly the ones that are global in nature and may have additional unique complexities as a result?

Beth Grous: We recently acquired Restorando in South America and Bokun in Iceland. Both are companies with teams that are not located near any other TripAdvisor office. I mention this because it’s often easier to integrate acquisitions if you have a local presence in that market already, or a leader from the new parent company who joins the newly acquired team. When organizations do that, people on the acquisition side can see and understand what the parent company is about, through that leader. You have to think about it a bit differently when you’re totally remote from the center or other offices. Our business leaders, for sure, recognize that having a successful integration and change management strategy materially increases the likelihood of that acquisition being successful. So, therefore, the HR teams or people operations teams are very involved in the pre-acquisition planning. We invest a fair amount of time in that upfront planning, and I’m diligent about making sure that people have well-thought out, detailed project plans so that at the appropriate time, you can just enter execution mode and go from there. How do we think about organizational structure? How do we think about Day One change management and culture integration? How much of the TripAdvisor fabric do we superimpose on this acquisition, and how much of the local culture should continue to exist? I think it’s always a really healthy balance of those two things. An acquisition can be both a thrilling and terrifying time for people. There are many unknowns and a lot of uncertainty. Part of what we try to do is bring that human element to the forefront and recognize change management and communication are vital parts of that journey. 

We’ve started to develop a bit of a muscle around acquisition integration. And again, when we’re buying a company, we’re often as excited about the employees and what they bring to the whole of TripAdvisor as we are about the customer base or the part of the industry that they’re in. We’re thrilled to be welcoming these folks to the family, so we try to make it as seamless as possible.

Nari Ansari: Right. I’m glad you used that term, “muscle,” because it’s certainly a term that we think about a lot as we work with our portfolio companies. We also compare conducting acquisitions to building a muscle, and like any muscle, it’s developed and honed over time, through practice and exercise. And I think you get better with each one. TripAdvsior has certainly done enough where you’re seeing pattern recognition and have enhanced your approach on the people side, to ensure things go as smoothly as possible and you get all the good positive impacts you want on the other end.

Beth, my last question is a little more open, because of where you sit at the intersection of technology, people management, consumer internet, and international growth. You see a lot. What else in the world of tech outside of TripAdvisor gets you excited? What are you watching and thinking about in the tech world more broadly?

Beth Grous: Good question. First, I think technology is improving and becoming more integrated into people’s lives. Five years ago, if you had told me that people would be comfortable booking an expensive trip on their little, slow mobile phone, I would have probably raised a bit of a skeptical eyebrow. That was a big transaction to do in that way. And now, we see this happening all the time with our customers. Consumer habits and technology have shifted.

Personally, I’m very excited about the level of innovation in HR technology across the spectrum, whether that means delivering benefits in a different way, new data and analytics approaches, thinking about various talent acquisition strategies, or how we use technology to help us end up with more diverse workforces. The new technology solutions that I see today are very exciting to me as an HR practitioner.   I do think that technology will continue to transform the work of HR and it’s going to have a net positive impact on organizations, which is energizing.

Nari Ansari: As someone who invests in HR technology, I definitely see more interesting things and innovative approaches than in years and decades past. So, lots to be excited about.

Beth Grous: The last thing I’ll add, and I say it to people all the time, I am so lucky to have the opportunity to do this work in this company. It’s really fun. I’ve got a great team and work with a great team of executives. And for that, I’m very grateful.

Nari Ansari: That’s great to hear. We are very proud to have TripAdvisor in the TCV portfolio. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us.

Beth Grous: My pleasure!

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The statements, views, and opinions expressed are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of TCMI, Inc. or its affiliates (“TCV”). TCV has not verified the accuracy of any statements by the speakers and disclaims any responsibility therefor. This interview is not an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any private fund managed or sponsored by TCV or any of the securities of any company discussed. The TCV portfolio companies identified, if any, are not necessarily representative of all TCV investments and no assumption should be made that the investments identified were or will be profitable. For a complete list of TCV investments, please visit www.tcv.com/all-companies. For additional important disclaimers, please see “Informational Purposes Only” in the Terms of Use for TCV’s website, available at http://www.tcv.com/terms-of-use/.