Throughout my years of owning and then running Recruitment firms, I dealt with daily the headache that was payroll. Recruitment firms have the worst and most complex time-consuming types of payroll because they employ on-hire temporary labour staff in every type of position, in every sector, in every state, and through every variant of labour award. If this is not headache forming stuff then I don’t know what is.
Having experienced such headache forming payrolls first-hand in my first business, Summit Recruitment, I was determined to work up a solution. As can happen in business I soon after and unexpectedly received and accepted an offer to sell my shares in Summit Recruitment. Before I knew it, I was working in an enjoyable and challenging management role for publicly listed Recruitment firm Ross Human Directions (ASX:RHD), which was later acquired by Chandler MacLeod.
I very much identify with the statement someone famous, or maybe infamous, once said “once an entrepreneur always an entrepreneur”, because within a year of being an employee the entrepreneurial urge was back. The problem I wanted to fix was still a problem for tens of thousands of Recruitment firms – their complex time-consuming payroll.
I departed Ross Human Directions and started my next business, Astute Payroll. We began in the spare bedroom of our inner-city Melbourne house. My then girlfriend and now wife of 10-years and mother to our three boys, Clare, was her usual fully supportive self and encouraged me to ‘get back in the game’ and ‘give it everything I’ve got’.
Beginning with a small team Astute Payroll offered a very manual payroll bureau service to Australian recruitment firms. We collected timesheets on a Friday, we processed payrolls and time-invoicing on the weekend, we got paid for work on Monday, we paid staff all disbursements on Tuesday and we then processed all compliance and admin tasks the rest of week. It was simple, it worked, and it turned a profit.
Although we had solved the payroll headache problem for our customers we, or I, had made the error of simply shifting the problem (to us) without actually making the workable solution I wanted to years before. It would actually not be until three years later when I brought on a business partner to focus on technology that we would even begin to start putting together a proper solution.
Not long after I founded Astute Payroll one of our very first customers, RSP Recruitment Founder Max King, asked if we had an online timesheet so they could stop faxing us paper copies (yes, it was when faxes were the norm!). Being a ‘can-do’ entrepreneur (or maybe a salesman who can’t say no) I quickly replied ‘sure thing’. That’s when came up with our first new software product. A software product that fits seamlessly in with what would become the multi-billion-dollar global HR Tech space. I’ve always been very clear with branding. I like to ‘put on the tin’ what’s ‘in the tin’, so for a software product that was to be an online timesheet, I called it TimesheetsOnline.com.au. It was simple in functionality, it did the job, it saved everyone lots and lots of paper, and it turned a profit.
Buoyed by the success of our simple timesheet solution we started building more functionality like jobs, personal details, security, banking, and more. It was a software product that enabled recruitment firms to do everything online ‘from the minute they made a placement to the minute they needed to start their payroll’. Again, being an entrepreneur who likes to ‘put on the tin’ what’s ‘in the tin’, I called it Placement to Payroll.
I quite liked the HR tech space and with Astute Payroll running smoothly and with little input from me I started looking for more HR tech ideas overseas, that I could bring back to Australia. I travelled to the US and the UK, investigated lots of ideas and options, and returned with the Australian versions of RecruitSure and InterviewGold. Two great ideas that got a bit of traction in the Australian marketplace but I suspect, in hindsight, they were a little too advanced for the needs of the Aussie hiring manager and job seeker.
As the Founder and CEO of Astute Payroll, I led and was deeply involved in every aspect of the company. After our earlier learnings with different HR tech software products we ‘bedded down and headed down’ slowly but surely building the company into a leading human capital management cloud software platform for the Australia and New Zealand recruitment sector.
By 2016 Astute Payroll was being used by hundreds of firms to process more than $200M is wages and $300M in invoices annually for more than 12M hours of work each year. It totally streamlined back office processes and workflows through features such as compliance, TFN submissions, timesheets, leave, expenses, pay interpretation, invoicing, payroll, superannuation, and taxation reporting.
During my ten-year tenure as CEO, my team and I were honoured with 24 awards! These included the BRW Fast Starters list, the BRW Fast100 list, the SmartCompany Smart50 list, and the Deloitte Asia Pacific Technology Fast 500 list. My proudest one was, however, being named a Finalist in the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year programme.
After a decade of creating, managing, growing, then restructuring Astute Payroll into a public company called Astute One Limited, it was yet again my time to exit. And that’s just what I just did. I look back at the Astute Group (that’s what the Accountants called it) with pride. They were, and still are, a sensational bunch of people and with some sensational product offerings.
What’s next you ask? Well, that’s easy to answer.
For a couple of years now Beames Capital, formerly Solstralen Capital, has been quietly financially supporting a number of tech startups. We partner with their Founders to help get their offering through the funding phase, then the startup phase, and well into scale phase. These Founders, and together with most of the tech startup industry in Australia, have an ongoing headache-causing problem. It is near on impossible to get funding without overly onerous terms from Investors who, many but certainly not all, only want to invest and not roll their sleeves up and help.
We don’t just invest. We partner by throwing all our experiences, learnings – and money – into helping extraordinary entrepreneurs achieve extraordinary goals.
That partner is Beames Capital.