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Kiwi startup Joyous raises $3.8 million to jump on “frankly massive” HR tech opportunity

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien /

Joyous

Joyous co-founders Mike and Philip Carden. Source: supplied.

New Zealand HR startup Joyous has raised $NZ4 million ($3.77 million) in seed funding, led by Aussie VC fund AirTree Ventures.

Founded by brothers Mike and Philip Carden, the Auckland-based startup provides employee feedback software, with a specific focus on large enterprises “where a lot of the workers are at arm’s length from the mothership”, Mike Carden tells StartupSmart.

The product allows for “frequent and open” feedback, and encourages managers and senior leaders to respond to it.

“We just turn on a feedback culture for them,” Carden adds.

Because Joyous generates so much feedback, it also has an engine that can extract trends and insights from the data, allowing leaders to understand what daily life is like for their employees, and to identify and act on any potential issues.

The co-founders took the product to market in January this year, after securing $NZ1 million ($942,000) in seed funding.

And, while he doesn’t reveal any actual revenue growth figures, Carden says things are going pretty well.

“Revenue growth looks stupid in organisations that are brand new,” he notes.

“Last year we didn’t sell much, this year we sold lots.”

He does reveal Joyous has started bringing multinational clients on board, including large US companies.

“It’s only a handful, but these are big deals. These are employers of tens of thousands of staff,” he says.

“That’s exactly where we want to be at the moment.”

A Kiwi icon

Already, the brothers are thinking on a global scale and long-term. They’re not looking for quick growth and a quick exit, Carden says.

“We’re trying to build an iconic tech business. We’re building something of significance.”

Carden has a vision of building a large employer that has an impact on the New Zealand economy and the broader, global tech scene.

“And the opportunity we’re in is, frankly, massive,” he says.

There are currently 1.5 billion people worldwide working for large companies, outside of the office, he says, and they’re not well catered for.

“There is definitely the ability to build a new category of micro-transactional feedback out there,” he adds.

“There is an opportunity to build a really substantial business.”

The wellbeing bandwagon

Joyous is also well positioned to make the most of an ongoing shift of consciousness towards employee wellbeing, and alternative approaches to HR operations. More and more large companies are taking notice of employee experience.

“Employee experience is a fashionable term, but it’s quite possibly just a whole new way to disappoint employees,” Carden says.

“What you really need to do is you need to give employees a voice … let them shape the experience they want at work.”

The startup’s mission also ties into increasing focus on employee inclusion. Whether you’re out driving a truck, on the ground in a retail store or in the head office, “your voice should still count”, he explains.

“We see that commentary affecting our market opportunity a lot.”

And finally, we’re seeing pressure mounting for organisations to be as transparent as possible, both when dealing with clients and employees. The ability to identify issues as early as possible plays into that transparency.

“We are, fortunately, right on that trend,” says Carden.

More than an MVP

The majority of this bout of funding is pegged for investment in the Joyous engineering team. Already, most of the 12-strong team are engineers, and the engineering team is set to double, Carden says.

Currently, the startup has no sales team to speak of, and while the co-founder suggests he will invest in a customer success team and sales people, “it’s certainly not the focus”, he says.

“We’ve got to this point so far without having a sales team.”

Carden has been working on growing Joyous with an ‘engineering-first’ approach.

When you’re building enterprise solutions, you can’t just create an MVP, build a sales team to sell and and see what happens, he says.

The product has to work at scale and, crucially, pass the security audit of a large multinational.

“You have to be able to show a combination of engineering excellence and, more importantly, that you provide a product that’s actually going to shift the needle for the enterprise,” Carden explains.

“That’s much more of an engineering challenge than a sales and marketing challenge, thank God,” he adds.

“It’s a much nicer world when you’re judged on your product rather than your persistence.”

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Stephanie Palmer-Derrien

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien is the editor at StartupSmart. You can contact her at [email protected].