In 2018, two friends, Deji Lana and Emmanuel Okeleji co-founded SeamlessHR, a technology company focused on assisting businesses improve their productivity and optimise their workforce. From 2 staff to over 180 today, SeamlessHR is creating presence in many African countries and is transitioning to build more products on how it engages businesses for more impact. In this interview, Deji Lana, SeamlessHR co-founder appealed to government to create tax haven for young businesses and innovators in Nigeria in order to fast-track economic growth. Daniel Obi brings the excerpts.
Could you tell us more about SeamlessHR, when it was established and the gap it has come to fill?
SeamlessHR is a technology company focused on empowering businesses, helping them improve their productivity and optimising their workforce. Our model is software. Instead of businesses to build different tools or use different technology to improve their workforce or their resources either human, financial resources or other assets, we do that for them. All that is needed to do is to log into our software or engage with us so that they can focus on the core of their businesses as either banking, oil and gas, healthcare, manufacturing etc. We are also expanding into other products such as procurement and helping employees do more with their pay to enjoy a better life.
Could you share a case study of how you have helped businesses in Africa accelerate thier performance?
Across countries in Africa, taxes, regulations are different. So, a particular company approached us in our early stage. When the company ran its payroll, it realised that it has been paying too much in taxes. Using our platform, the company was able to optimise that particular resource and save more money. Another case study is that some innovative organisations that use SeamlessHR have won awards on CIPM and best place to work. They are doing excellent work in terms of managing their resources. We have also seen organisations that started small with about 50 staff and now they have grown to about 500 staff with the help of our software. It is important to mention one of our customers, Sterling Bank, that has won the best place to work award in the past three years from both CIPM and other organisations.
Do you also have clients in other African countries?
From day one, our service has been Pan- Africa and that was the thinking behind it. That is why we made software as a service. We did not build it to just deploy to one particular organisation. When we started, we spoke to several people both in Nigeria and other African countries trying to understand regulations and tax laws to ensure that whatever we are building speaks across Africa. From the start. we have had people from Tanzania, Kenya and Ghana using us remotely.
There is belief in some quarters that outsourcing part of business is extra cost, so how do you convince organisations otherwise?
When we started, pre-Covid, we approached some companies to sell the service to them, they told us it was extra cost to the company and they will rather build it on their own. Fortunately, almost every organisation that gave us that response, makes use of our platform today. And that is because they have tried to build it on their own without success. They have also found out that HR management is not core to their business . For banks, they either use their resources to build core banking applications or insurance applications for insurance companies. For those companies that tried to build it on their own, technology is changing, human resources are changing, policy is changing, it is hard to maintain that. Sometimes, software you build today is obsolete next year. You can’t keep on maintaining that unless you set up a team but that is not core to their business. Some organisations tried to build it on their own, but they have realised that it costs them extra resources. At last, they moved to us and our service has been cost-effective to them. They don’t need a server, nor a server room nor a technology expert. We are there for them.
As a HR expert in managing organisations’ resources including human resources, how do they ensure talent management?
This is the main reason we are in business and it runs deep in our mission. Several times, we ask ourselves, are we doing this just for money or helping processes get smoother and seamless. We are helping businesses optimise their resources and be more productive. How can this be done, organisations need to run this process end to end on a single platform. Some organisations run their HR processes on different platforms, they use a software for this function and another software for a different function. Imagine you are using SeamlessHR to recruit a particular person. So when the staff leaves, SeamlessHR will be able to assess his reason for exiting the organisation. With such data, we are able to give that insight on how to manage talent. With SeamlessHR, CEOs will be able to assess the impact of their decision on human resources. Organisations care more about policies and processes and don’t tend to care about employees but SeamlessHR enables employee engagement.
Let’s talk about Japa syndrome. This trend is deepening especially when organisations spent resources to train a staff and he/she leaves thereafter. How are you managing that in your processes?
It is a sad situation. A whole lot of good talent who are vibrant youth , in their prime who should give back to the society are leaving, based on the poor economy, insecurity. Their contribution to the economy would have been huge. Before the Japa season, the number of people that were leaving was insignificant. For SeamlessHR, we have no control over it. But we have built a strong culture and what is important to me and my partner is our culture, how do people feel when they join the organisation. Our staff enjoy the freedom and openness. They can speak up and they can disagree with managers without fear. We also demand excellence. We have created that environment and staff are retained. But the bigger environment is the country where people are struggling with a lot of issues such as insecurity, poor infrastructure and economic instability and they believe there are better opportunities abroad. At SeamlessHR, we work closely with talent we don’t want to lose, give them a stake in the company, which we call employee stock option. The second thing we celebrate is their success, which is part of our core values.
As a country, how can we checkmate brain drain?
The best possible way to checkmate brain drain is to identify why people are leaving the country. Some of the reasons are insecurity, poor infrastructure and poor systems. So checkmating the best talent leaving Nigeria will be based on competences of those managing the economy in various sectors. When the economic managers do their best to ensure that electricity, security, infrastructure and other systems function well and their competences are at top notch, the economy will change and people will see a reason to change or come back home.
You celebrated Africa Day in your office, what is the celebration all about?
Africa Day is a day to celebrate Africa’s race, the continent, the innovation and technology across the continent. At SeamlessHR, what is important is Africa and how we help African businesses get better, how we connect employers with employees. I had the opportunity to work with firms with global presence, but I felt I can do this back home, build systems and assist organisations grow. It is a day to celebrate our race and green continent and innovations coming from Africa and remind ourselves that we are still the fertile and resource bank of the world.
What are the plans for expansion in Africa?
This year, our focus is on East and West Africa, with Nigeria and Ghana as our hubs. We are closing a deal in Gambia whilst spreading in West Africa. In East Africa, our office is in Nairobi and from there we expand to Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania. Across the continent, regulations, compliance, tax laws, the laws are there but people use it in different ways. Next year, we will move to Southern Africa, and Egypt in Northern Africa.
We also have plans expanding out of Africa but not immediately. The goal is to own the African space now and from there we can export technology out of Africa.
In all these scenario of opportunities in this business, where are the challenges?
The biggest challenge is talent in the continent and finding the right people. About 40% of my job is hiring and ensuring we hire the right people to do certain tasks. Finding the right talent to key into the vision and do the job is always a challenge. But we are overcoming it through internship and culture. Second one is technology. Before Covid, people were non receptive and traditional in doing things but Covid elevated the awareness of technology.
Looking at the economies across Africa, What advice do you have for the government to allow entrepreneurship thrive, especially among the youth?
Before we started this company, I have worked in some organisations and I was irked by the traditional ways of doing things. This kills innovations. The companies are learning now as most of these organisations are disrupted by innovation. What I will say to the youth is that the sky’s the limit. As long as they have the vision and the drive to make a change, everything can be disrupted as innovation has no end. They should be ready to make mistakes, but they should fail fast and fail forward. For the government, the future of every country is the youth; 18 – 40 years. Government should create a safe environment and provide amenities and tax free for various businesses owned by the youth so that they can thrive and be innovative. At the end, the country will earn it back.