Sean O’Brien and Jason Ennor are North Shore entrepreneurs with global ambitions for their hybrid HR service. Having established a strong presence across New Zealand and Australia, they’re now working hard to take MyHR even further afield.
Compatibility. That’s the key when there’re two individuals striving to create and build a successful software business. For MyHR’s(link is external) co-CEOs Sean O’Brien and Jason Ennor that compatibility has been forged through mutual respect – how highly they value each other’s ideas, opinions, and what each brings to the table.
Sean and Jason both grew up on Auckland’s North Shore. Together they have succeeded across many aspects of life – from shared OE work experiences, raising their own families for the past ten years and, most surprisingly, playing in a 90s punk band (which was a support act for The Sex Pistols).
“We have a 30-plus year connection through barbecues, surfing trips, snowboarding and watching each other’s kids grow up,” explains Sean, “but it’s that enduring friendship we value above all else.”
They both had successful careers prior to starting up MyHR too. Sean was just 26 when he started his graphic design business, growing it to ten staff over ten years. Jason was a highly accomplished HR professional working in corporate, and always finding the time to advise Sean on his business’s people management needs.
Sean remembers first discussing the idea of helping small businesses with their HR needs one day after a surfing trip.
The pair went on to develop a true DIY spirit and deep-seated friendship while building the MyHR platform together. Staying connected and in sync with each other has been the major reason for the success of their business partnership, they say, especially when location or time zones aren’t exactly making it easy.
“We have a standing weekly meeting and will only cancel it if we’ve already talked that week or are due to meet face-to-face that week anyway,” explains Sean.
He says other keys to their successful partnership include giving each other enough space and agency to do the work they are individually good at and recognising each other’s strengths.
It’s also about respecting their friendship and prioritizing that with down-time and shared experiences that aren’t business related.
Looking back Sean highlights two key drivers for galvanising the success of their business.
The first was finding clarity on their product USP, as well as their target buyers and what they value. “From there we’ve invested heavily in our revenue operation metrics and reporting capability,” says Sean. “This has allowed us to take advantage of a segment a lot of other overseas providers struggle with here.”
HR department for companies without one
MyHR is a pure outsource business model. Quick growth has been achieved through targeting companies with ten to 100 staff (typically with no internal HR) and by utilising an easy-to-follow sales process, which makes it easy to onboard new team members and to understand the ‘where and why’ of what is happening.
Sean says the best time for a business to form a partnership with MyHR is when they’re scaling up, “because it’s much harder to retrofit good HR practice when your company is at say 80 people”.
“We’ve also invested heavily in thought leadership – putting our awesome HR team out in front and leveraging their subject matter knowledge, which has created a strong brand built on trust and expertise.
“We’re all about our internal subject matter experts taking part in CFO conferences, for example, or running workshops on how to get your organisational structure right. We’re very much out and about when it comes to promoting good HR practice and running really useful content.”
Ten years after launching, MyHR now has more than 77 employees across New Zealand, Australia and Canada.
The Canadian business is fresh out of the blocks – the result of a chance meeting with a friend of a friend and scheduled to go live on April 1st.
Developing that North American market opportunity has been made easier with the assistance of NZTE.
Sean says the MyHR platform works well in any Commonwealth jurisdiction, where employment law is generally the same, but they are also looking at Singapore, the UK and South Africa as potential markets.
It’s also important to note that the software dovetails nicely with Xero’s payroll software in Australia and New Zealand, avoiding the double-handling of information.
Naturally using MyHR software to support the company’s own growth, in essence becoming their own customer – or as Jason puts it “eating our own dog food” – has meant that they have a constant feedback loop to help enhance their roadmap decisions and product development.
“It has given us a structure to scale with, and the systems and processes necessary to keep a fast-growing business on track,” says Sean.
There’s no doubt that many businesses are grappling with uncertainty in 2024. Sean looks back on 2023 as “another weird year”, with business owners and employees constantly bombarded by negative headlines.
“This can be pretty overwhelming if you’re trying to foster a happy workplace,” he says.
“The employee wellbeing space is pretty hot right now, but I honestly feel that if you get the core principles of HR right – knowing what your role is, what is expected, and having a collaborative performance framework that encourages discussion and rewards success – then a lot of the angst around job-related mental health can be avoided.”
On the potential of augmented AI
New technologies will continue to impact the HR market going forward, and MyHR will continue to appraise them and implement if necessary.
“AI is obviously a huge one right now and we are incorporating it into our app and the enhancements it delivers are really exciting,” reports Sean.
“That said, I believe we’re a long way from trusting AI to understand context and to have the depth of human experience a real HR professional can provide.”
He thinks augmented AI and ChatGPT is the real opportunity in the short to medium future, particularly around eliminating mundane tasks and delivering greater accuracy and speed around those repeatable tasks.