CharlieHR: Truly great brands are built from the inside

We recently announced a number of investments into some of the most exciting digital tech companies in the UK. Through our series of guest blog posts with their founders, we’re going to uncover what makes them tick and what the future holds…

First up, CharlieHR – an HR platform for small businesses. From a guided onboarding process for new hires and a secure team directory, to a holiday booking system and smart notifications, Charlie exists to automate many of the arduous tasks that come with building teams, so businesses can focus on the people themselves. We caught up with Co-Founder and CEO, Rob O’Donovan, on the journey so far and plans for the future.

When was CharlieHR born and how was it conceived?

My co-founders Ben, Tom and I have been working hard to try and build companies for over a decade. Along that journey we learnt a huge amount about how to run companies (as well as a lot about how not to!), but the one thing that really had us tearing our hair out was the amount of time we had to spend just “running” the company. We loved getting our hands dirty and solving the problem that inspired us to start the business in the first place… but realised that the bigger we got, more and more of our time got sucked into the daily grind of just keeping the wheels moving rather than tuning the engine to make it go faster.

We launched CharlieHR in September 2015 with an ambition to automate many of the administrative headaches that accompany growing businesses, so that teams can focus on doing the stuff they really love. Thousands of companies around the world now save time every day by using Charlie to look after their HR processes. Many of them are building incredibly exciting businesses. Some of them might change the world one day. We’re extremely proud to play a small part in powering them to do just that.

Did you focus on building a strong brand identity and UX from the beginning? If so, why?

Yes, absolutely. Charlie has been driven by a few core beliefs right from the start:

1) HR software is only useful if it’s used by everyone within the business, so driving internal adoption is critical. Our vision was to design a simple and intuitive platform that was easy for everyone to use whoever they were in the business. We relished that challenge.

2) There is a context paradox in product design. We tend to expect beautiful and slick apps in our personal lives but settle for ugly and obtuse software when we’re at work. We wanted to redesign the tools we work with every day to match up to the standards set by consumer products outside the office.

3) Brand is increasingly becoming a differentiator in the software market. It’s a powerful tool that can help us better communicate to the right customers why we exist and how we can solve their problems.

How does the CharlieHR brand identity interact with your company culture?

One of the big misunderstandings about brand is the idea that it is “external”. Truly great brands are built from the inside. The way you make your customers feel is the same as the way you make the team feel. The values you use to trade with your customers are the same as the ones you share with your colleagues. Charlie is, in many ways, a manifestation of much of what we have learnt building companies. That the people sit front and centre of every successful business. That time is our most important asset. And that – however serious the agenda – there is always time to stop and smile.

How important is a strong brand identity in the London tech space?

We don’t think too much about the “London tech space” if we can avoid it. We’re not building the product for startups, but for every small business in the world. I think it’s easy to get preoccupied by what contemporaries in the tech scene think and drag yourself away from the much bigger opportunity.

Any exciting plans for CharlieHR in the near future?

Lots, of course. We recently launched a premium tier (CharlieHR+), we’re growing the team fast, and we’re serving more customers every day. There’s a lot in the pipeline and we’re working as hard as we can to bring as much of it to life as soon as possible. Watch this space! www.charliehr.com


We’ll be profiling more of our portfolio companies in the near future. To stay up to date with all of our updates, sign up to our newsletter.

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