How Hanno Renner went from yacht skipper to HR start-up CEO


Hanno Renner, co-founder and CEO of Personio.

Personio

Hanno Renner was 25 when he set up Personio, a software start-up looking to take the myriads of boring admin tasks and piles of paper out of human resources.

Before he became a tech entrepreneur, Renner was a student at Germany’s Technical University of Munich, where he had an unusual job to accompany his college studies.

“The only job I had next to my studies was being a skipper of sailing yachts,” Renner, now 29, told CNBC in an interview. Renner’s skipper gig took him around the world, from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean.

But he stresses he didn’t drop out of college, a familiar tale from the U.S. tech industry, where the likes of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg left school before they could collect their diplomas. Instead, he decided to complete his degrees and began Personio with a group of three friends from a joint institution run by Munich’s two main universities.

Renner says he found the inspiration to start Personio after one of his friends, who at the time was chief technology officer of a company with 100 employees, was having trouble organizing recruitment and payroll processes without any dedicated software.

“They had a problem with having all their people’s data in an Excel sheet,” Renner says. While Microsoft’s spreadsheet software can be a “good” way of organizing data, Renner said it wasn’t enough to solve many of the “bread and butter processes” involved in HR.

“What we really cover are the bread and butter things that every company needs, but that are really hard to do with pen and paper and an Excel sheet,” Renner said. “As you can imagine with an onboarding process, there’s a lot of information you have to get from an employee.” Personio’s platform offers a suite of tools to help manage and automate everything from job application tracking to payroll accounting and employee feedback.

Aggressive growth

Over four years since it was founded, Renner’s company is now a near-$500 million start-up, thanks to a fresh $75 million funding round led by U.S. venture capital firm Accel. With the latest investment, a Series-C round, Personio has now raised over $129 million from its investors, which also include Lightspeed and Lars Dalgaard, the CEO of rival SAP’s Success Factors.

And Renner boasts his firm didn’t even have to go out pitching investors for the latest cash injection. “We weren’t planning to raise yet,” he said, adding Personio was instead approached by new and existing backers. He said the firm still has about 50% of the money it raised from its latest round a year ago.

Enterprise software firms have been hot acquisition targets of late, with companies like GitHub and Red Hat being snapped up by Microsoft and IBM respectively in recent years. Last year also saw a huge number of software companies list their shares on the public markets.

Some of Personio’s direct rivals include software upstarts Bob and CharlieHR, but it’s also up against competition from established enterprise tech giants like Salesforce, Oracle and SAP. Renner said that Personio’s unique selling point is that it specifically targets small-to-medium sized businesses that employ between 10 and 2,000 employees.

Companies like SAP and Oracle “will always be focused on the enterprise space, the BMWs of the world,” said Renner. “We are trying to help those companies that currently don’t have solutions in the market tailored to their needs.”

With another $75 million in the bank, Personio says it plans to use the money to expand to the U.K. and Ireland as well as ramp up hiring. It’s already grown to 350 employees in 2020 from 120 last year, Renner said, and is set to have a global workforce of 700 people by the end of the year.



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