First Person: Getting astute about payroll solutions

Marcus Webb and Nicholas Beames founded Astute Payroll with the goal of creating a tech payroll solution for the recruitment industry.

Since then, the business has expanded into new areas, and is growing strongly with more than 20 employees and revenue of $7.5 million.

Webb spoke to SmartCompany about growing the business, time management challenges and why technology isn’t really about technology.

At the beginning it was about finding a niche. The challenges in the recruitment agency space were that no one was servicing effectively for them.

I’ve been involved in online product management for some time. I was in state government for a while, and it just wasn’t right for me. There was a contradiction in the fast pace of tech growth and being able to respond to things quickly in that environment.

The life and reality of what you do in small business is just completely different, especially when you have an open-minded approach to problem solving.

We’ve grown outside of our management capabilities. It’s challenging to manage everything with just the two of us. The second half of last year, we rationalised a bit in parts of the business which weren’t working the right way.

We’ve reached a level of maturity. The business has come to a point where we have this built-up knowledge about what we’re doing.

The biggest challenge we’ve then had over the past 12 months has just been riding it. Staying on top of it, employing people, and getting them to come and join us is an ongoing challenge.

We’re a business tool. There’s an interesting trend where everything tech-related is lumped together. But we make this for businesses primarily.

I think some businesses don’t innovate or evolve. I find it quite amazing businesses say they’ve been the leader in timesheets for 15 years, or something, and I just ask, ‘What have you been doing?’ They don’t continue to move forward.

Neither of us are developers. It’s less material now but helped us in the early stages. We’ve run this business, as a business, from the start. They’re built from the basis of being a product first, not a tech solution primarily.

I don’t think tech is about tech. Tech is about problem solving.

Time has been my biggest challenge.

Businesses grow by energy. They grow by vision and energy and effort, and those things don’t just happen by chance. That’s very much a question of leadership. You don’t just tell people what to do without doing it with them.

With the rate we develop things one of my biggest challenges is staying on top of everything related to product design.

The biggest thing I’ve learned is that you start off thinking you know what the problem is. But you need to be open-minded with both that and the proposed solution. You need to be open to the fact that you have the problem or solution wrong.


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