Whether you believe Jumia was “Africa’s first unicorn”, or Interswitch, or neither of them, what is undeniable is that it has always been assumed that sectors like e-commerce and fintech would be most likely to produce such companies.
The relatively unpopulated and undeveloped African human resources (HR) technology space? Not so much. Yet Dr Emmanuel Okeleji, chief executive officer (CEO) of Nigeria’s SeamlessHR, holds an alternative view.
Founded in 2018 and describing itself as “Workday for emerging markets”, SeamlessHR is building an enterprise-grade, cloud-based HR platform that helps medium to large-sized companies automate and optimise their entire HR process, from recruitment to retirement.
Disrupt Africa reported earlier this month the startup had closed a VC-led round of funding to unlock its next phase of growth, and in the press release announcing the round Okeleji said he believed SeamlessHR had the potential to become a unicorn.
Pressed on the topic during the latest episode of Disrupt Podcast, Okeleji said his belief here was a result of the size of the problem SeamlessHR was trying to solve, and how it looked at that problem. Key to his view is the opportunity the startup has to expand into multiple verticals and geographies.
“We are automating the management of resources for enterprises, starting with human resources. So we will start moving into other verticals, and we feel that that graph for enterprise resource management for emerging markets is a big graph. We will also move across geographies. It is not going to be just Nigeria and Ghana, we believe there are emerging market opportunities around the world,” Okeleji said.
He thinks the HR tech space is a US$2-3 billion market opportunity in Africa, and that SeamlessHR is reproducible across the continent.
“HR is HR everywhere,” he said, adding the only area that would need local alterations was payroll.
While freemium systems from the United States and Europe can easily scale globally, Okeleji said, that is not the case with enterprise systems as the pricing of such systems excludes Africa and other emerging markets.
“We are able to build tech at emerging market costs, that work for emerging market needs,” he said.
The likes of SAP, Oracle and Sage, which have provided these solutions previously, are being disrupted globally, and the same is happening in Africa.
“They are very complex systems, you need a certification to get around them. Whereas a modern SaaS play is user-friendly, mobile-enabled, solid technology on the cloud. So it is a timing thing for us – we are coming in at the right time where the world is transitioning from the Oracles of this world to the Workdays of this world. And we are the first in Sub-Saharan Africa,” said Okeleji.
“HR software, the way we look at it, is a vitamin to companies with less than 50 staff, it is a “nice to have”. But it is a painkiller for companies that have 1,000 staff. If you have 1,000 staff, you really need software to automate that. So selling HR software to them is not that difficult, because they already have that problem and it is a pain they are trying to solve.”
SeamlessHR is working with around 800 companies in Nigeria and Ghana, is growing fast, and is already profitable. Okeleji said it was now setting its eyes on pan-African expansion in the wake of the funding round.
The latest episode of Disrupt Podcast is available now, featuring in-depth interviews with Okeleji as well as Peter Njonjo of Kenyan agri-tech startup Twiga Foods.