Regional Startups 3 MIN READ

Working remotely isn’t a new concept; thanks to the internet, founders have managed to create and launch products from opposites sides of a country or of the globe for years, but it’s not often you hear of a man living in Darwin and a woman living in rural Alaska working together.

That’s the reality for Devan Sabaratnam and Hannah Wright, cofounders of human resources management platform HR Partner. The pair met, of all places, on Reddit earlier this year on a thread discussing startups.

In running boutique development company Blaze Business Software since 1996, Sabaratnam had years ago created a version of the software for Windows. He then decided earlier this year to update it, creating a SaaS platform more suited to 2016.

After showing Wright what he had built so far, she came on board as a marketing and design consultant for the startup. A few months later they realised that, despite the distance, they worked well together and Wright was brought on as cofounder.

HR Partner is a cloud platform helping small to medium businesses with their human resources, helping them streamline employee onboarding, leave management, and performance reviews.

It allows them to generate reports and file all employee records, while employers can also host company polls, track assets like company documents, and create and store the likes of procedure and training documents.

Managers can be granted access to specific departments, while employees can login to a self-service dashboard and submit leave requests, view their leave balance, read company news, update their contact information, and view company documents and training manuals.

These features have come in part through feedback Sabaratnam received from users of his old Windows platform, allowing him to understand what people wanted. However, Wright said it has been a challenge to educate users, time-poor small business owners, on all they can do in the system.

“We’ve had some users request features that already exist within the system, which was a wakeup call to us that we needed to create more awareness, craft educational emails, and expand on the documentation,” she said.

“While it’s simple to use, there are many layers and features. We’ve been using customer messaging platforms like Intercom to help let users know what they can do.”

The platform also integrates with payroll systems including Xero and Attache. Following a beta launch earlier this year, Wright said the cofounders have worked to iterate on feedback, with a Slack integration a development she is particularly excited about.

“HR Partner users can connect to their company Slack accounts and receive instant updates to common questions like who is on leave and when they’re expected back,” Wright explained.

Plans start at US$29/month for one to 10 employees, through to US$299/month for 51-100 employees and tailored plans for bigger companies.

Given their own experience, a factor of particular important to the cofounders is the platform’s ability to support companies who hire remotely or work with contractors, allowing users to set different custom location settings and communicate easily through email or texts to manage all manner of workers.

With Sabaratnam in Darwin and Wright in an Alaskan town so small there are no traffic lights, she said they’ve “had to get creative” – not only are they working remotely, but clearly, neither is working from a traditional tech hub.

“I think that’s a good thing, in a way, because it’s forced us to think outside the box,” Wright said.

“Remote work is also becoming much more common, and I think that over time, more and more companies will start running their business in unconventional areas.”

The startup is currently focusing on growing in the Australian and New Zealand markets, with sights set on Europe in time. There is, of course, significant competition in the space, with dozens of startups trying to ameliorate and update HR processes.

In Australia alone EmploymentHero is growing fast thanks to over $3 million in funding raised this year. An all-in-one HR and employee benefits platform, it helps employers manage all the usual things like employee performance, attendance, daily tasks, and rostering, while offering employees a range of benefits including discounts on gym memberships, mobile phone plans, electricity and gas, mortgages, and cars.

Also looking to target the small business space is DiffuzeHR, which has a particular emphasis on ensuring employers are compliant with legislation – no forgetting to give a new starter their contract after they’ve already been there two weeks.

DiffuzeHR gives users access to legally-compliant industry and role-specific documents that update automatically to reflect industry changes, recruitment and onboarding processes, performance management features, and an online portal for employees.

In the face of this competition, Wright said HR Partner will over the next year focus on adding new features and signing partnerships with aligned companies.

Image: Devan Sabaratnam and Hannah Wright. Source: Supplied.

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