HR Tech Europe summary

Small Improvements comes second at iHR startup competition

We presented Small Improvements to an audience of approximately 250 visitors and some 10 analysts and investors, competing with 5 other teams in the HR technology space. Kudos to TalentBin for winning the award — we signed up for a free trial immediately! Of course it would have been great to win, but second place in a competition with over 100 applications and 6 finalists isn’t too shabby either!

So kudos to us for attending two conferences in parallel (Linda in Toronto on the same day), and for showing off the new SI prototype for the first time. It looked awesome on the big screen, and you couldn’t even tell that we were still fixing design glitches an hour before the demo…

The Big Data hype

Big Data is king, but nobody really gets it. In IT, Big Data means that you collect such massive amounts of data that it’s problematic just to store it, let alone analyze it. Facebook or Google massive. Not Gigabytes, not Terabytes, but Petabytes. Of course this is a relative problem — what was considered big 20 years ago fits neatly on your mobile phone these days. Today’s ‘Big Data’ will be scoffed at in 20 years. The problems were neither easier nor harder back then, you just have to find a meaningful way to slice and dice the data you have… What people really mean in HR when they talk about ‘Big Data’ is learning to leverage the data you have to pick out trends that you might not have thought to analyze before. It was called data mining a couple years ago, and good old analytics before that. Sure, it’s interesting to learn for instance that “sales performance does not correlate with what university you attended, but with other parameters like spelling, finishing your degree program, etc”. But in itself, this has very little to do with Big Data, and much more to do with statistic methods that have been around for hundreds of years.

Not many vendors keen on SMB market

One thing that really amazed me is how few vendors are actually interested in catering to small to medium sized companies. Sure, the conference focused on the big enterprise, and SMB-vendors are less likely to travel all the way to Europe. But still, I spoke to many exhibitors and almost everyone said “we’re after clients that have at least 3000 employees”. Well, perfect for us I guess, but certainly surprising.

Integrated suites look terrible across the board
There’s an everlasting battle between “mix and match best of breed tools” vs “unify all software into one proper suite”. We’re obviously in the mix&match camp (and we integrate with other best of breed solutions using seamless web services). So the cry for “let’s standardize on one common platform” rings all our alarm bells. Fortunately, the solutions we’ve seen are so terribly complex, hard to navigate, and ugly as hell that there’s no way that our target group of small-to-medium-sized clients would ever want to roll these suites out to their end users. Phew.

Enterprise vendors are evil (maybe)
William Tincup’s talk on “How to avoid bad HR software contracts” was an eye-opener. The main points were quite standard: Ensure you consider license and implementation costs, make sure to exercise your power before you sign, test-drive the system, etc. The main surprise for me that this advice was necessary at all. I guess SMB ist just so different from enterprise sales. We love our clients, but we’d never lock them into contracts, let alone increase their prices after the first year. Bevaviour like that would quickly ruin our reputation. But if your market is only the top 500 companies, competition is super-fierce and you can make millions off a single client, which probably increases the incentive to screw existing clients rather than provide great customer service. Also check out this little video with advice on how to avoid getting ripped off. Not that we’d do that even if we decide to take on larger clients some day, but it seems to be the general consensus among enterprise-vendors, from what I learned. And the key take-away for us: We should focus on highlighting how we’re not like those major players: that we don’t raise our price tag once a client is firmly on board, and that you may of course take your data elsewhere whenever you want.

Overall, it was a great experience to attend HR Tech Europe! Exciting to meet all the HR bloggers and analysts, as well as the many inspiring entrepreneurs who worked for other HR technology vendors. We also learned heaps about competing and non-competing tools. The quality of the presentations was high, the food was great, and the location was carefully selected. Limiting the iHR presentations to merely 5 minutes was a good idea too — it really forced all the competitors to focus on their core features. I’d definitely recommend iHR and HR Tech to anyone running a startup in the HR Technology business.