Devan Sabaratnam

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Cofounder of HR Partner

Who Are You?

Hi, My name is Devan Sabaratnam, and I am a serial entrepreneur who has been running various businesses over the past 30 odd years. Originally born in Malaysia, I currently live in the tropical north of Australia. I am currently building and running an online HR SaaS platform called HR Partner that is geared towards small and medium businesses all over the world to better manage their teams.

What’s the Story of Your Business?

For the past 25 years, I had been running a consultancy business that was responsible for implementing payroll and accounting systems for hundreds of small businesses all over Australia. In all that time, I kept hearing business owners and managers complain that while they loved the payroll solutions we were installing, they wished they had more information around their staff such as training records, performance reviews, leave requests and approvals and other core HR functions.

I took all those decades of feedback from real world customers, and 5 years ago I sold off my consultancy business and decided to go all in and write a cloud based HR system from the ground up that answered most of those requirements.

What Has Been Your Biggest Struggle?

In my old consultancy, growth was almost automatic, because I was only dealing with customers in my local area, so word of mouth was one of the best and easiest ways to get new customers and contracts. However, I severely underestimated the level of marketing I would have to do when I wanted to gain a worldwide audience with my SaaS platform.

The amount of ’noise’ online in such a crowded market makes it really hard for potential customers to hear your message, so I have had to throw out everything I knew about how to market and sell, and re-learn a whole new way from the ground up. I initially thought that building the software would be the hardest part, and selling would be easy, however I have learned that inbound and outbound marketing, and things like SEO are a ‘dark art’ that needs a whole level of expertise on their own.

This has lead me to realise that I cannot do it all by myself, as I had expected to, but instead to seek out experts in different fields to complement my own skills.

What Has Been Your Greatest Achievement?

The first few years of my startup, I was basically doing it on my own – from coding every single one of the 50,000+ lines of my app, to marketing and selling and keeping the servers running and doing the admin. We struggled to grow to around 50 customers in those first few years.

Then, in 2019 I met my amazing co-founder Fiona, and we joined forces and together managed to start putting an incredible team together and implement some new marketing strategies that saw us rocket up to 1500+ customers in under 12 months! Makes me wonder how far along we would be now if I had started the business with Fiona back in 2015.

Where Do You See Yourself and Your Business in 5 Years

Currently, my goal is to run a business that I can work on just on my laptop from anywhere in the world. We are pretty much there, and once the Coronavirus pandemic is over and the travel industry opens up again, my wife and I will start living and working in various countries all over the world. We have customers in over 70 countries and one of my goals is to go and meet most of them one day. Our entire team is remote too, so it will be nice to catch up with them all face to face some time.

When Fiona joined me, we made the decision that we would build the business up to a certain level of customers and income, then perhaps within 5 to 7 years, sell to another HR vendor or to an online accounting firm that needed an HR solution to round off their offering. But until then, we are 110% committed to HR Partner and building the best ever HR system for small to medium businesses.

What Do You Wish You’d Known Before You Started?

I wish someone had told me how much harder it would be to get traction and recognition in an international market. (Actually, I am glad that no one told me that or else I wouldn’t have tried). 🙂

The first few years were really tough, and required lots of perseverance, faith and hard work. It was during those years that I discovered how important it was to have supportive people around you who would be there when you needed them. I wish I knew more about picking my team members back then, but the lessons learned then have been applied to get to where we are now.

Finally, Tell Us Something Interesting About Yourself?

Probably the most unusual thing that people are amazed to find out about me is that I used to be a commercial pilot, and I also used to play guitar in several rock and blues bands. I still play the guitar these days, but not professionally any more, and I use music as an effective way to de-stress and refresh my mind after long days of coding.

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