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Hibob raises $7.5M to help SMEs manage their people (and those pesky workplace pensions)

TechCrunch TechCrunch 6/06/2016 Steve O'Hear

Hibob — yes we’re running that low on company names — is a new U.K. startup building out a cloud platform that helps businesses manage their people.

It includes various HR tools, including management of employee perks, staff engagement and reducing churn, and perhaps crucially, “auto-enrolment”, which relates to recent pension legislation that will see every U.K. employer having to offer a workplace pension scheme. In fact, I’m told the latter was largely behind Hibob’s decision to launch in the U.K. first. Who said red tape was all bad?

Currently operating an invite-only beta, Hibob is disclosing seed funding ahead of a full launch. The London/Tel Aviv-based company has picked up an impressive $7.5 million investment in a round led by Silicon Valley VC Bessemer Venture Partners. I also understand Taavet Hinrikus, co-founder and CEO of TransferWise, is an investor, along with Robin and Saul Klein’s LocalGlobe.

Also noteworthy is Hibob’s co-founder and CEO Ronni Zehavi, and likely part of the reason why the startup was able to raise a relatively large seed round for a European venture. He previously founded CDN Cotendo, which in 2011 was sold to Akamai for around $300 million.

In a call, Zehavi and Hibob’s CSO Andy Bellas explained that Hibob is targeting SMEs with a people-centric HR platform that is largely competing with Excel spreadsheets and other arcane methods in which small businesses attempt to manager their employees. That may or may not be true — there is no shortage of HR software — but it plays into a trend that is seeing this type of legacy offering being redesigned to sit in the cloud and with a more friendly UI.

Specifically, Hibob aims to improve the workflow of managing and engaging employees, saving hours of administration, such as for ensuring compliance and generating an array of common HR reports. In the short demo I saw, generating these reports and tracking what stage a new employee is at regarding on-boarding or any routine administration was relatively painless.

Another area that stood out is the way Hibob lets you drill down into various groups of employees based on common attributes that aren’t formerly work-related. This could include employees that have children or are members of various at work ‘clubs’ they belong to, such as a cycling club. The idea is to try to have people management software actually reflect a workplace’s offline happenings and culture.

In a brief email exchange, investor Taavet Hinrikus said he sees Hibob as serving a classic underserved market, and that dealing with HR for a small business is a huge pain and something that needs to be automated. “Next up is lots more stuff you can do around this and the employee relationship,” he told me.

But really pension schemes is the big bet that Hibob is making. Come for the people management, stay for the auto-enrolment seems very much the mantra here. That’s because by solving the huge administration headache that mandatory workplace pensions schemes will create here in the U.K. — different rules apply to different employees based on how long they’ve been with a company — there is the opportunity for Hibob to also act as a pension broker. In other words, there’s gold to be found in those workplace pensions.

“With the arrival of the long anticipated pension reform, there is a tremendous opportunity to combine world class HR software and a painless pension onboarding solution. Hibob represents what we seek in fast growth startups; product vision, a sound economic model and experienced leadership,” says Adam Fisher, Partner at Bessemer Venture Partners, in a statement.

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