Thesis on Global Payroll / HR Space

The rise of remote work has led to also the rise of remote work companies. Examples include, Deel, Remote, Oyster, Papaya Global, etc. Some more “OG” players include Globalization Partners and Elements Global Services. This space is also intertwined with ancillary payroll, HR, etc. services.

So what actually differentiates one from the other? Below are some items to consider.

What is their geographic scale aka how much breadth do they have?

This is pretty straightforward - how many countries are they present in?

Does the provider actually own the entity, or are they dealing with a third party?

Be careful with this one - there's a lot of false marketing here. This is important though, because if they are dealing with partnerships with third parties, then your end user experience is impacted because you have to essentially go through 2+ parties to actually talk to someone who can help you with hiring, setting up an entity, doing payroll, etc. If the provider actually has in-house, local people, on the ground helping you, that is game-changing when it comes to understanding local special rules and servicing your employees.

What is the depth of their service offerings?

This is just how many features they offer. The more, the better. Some examples include visa offerings, recruiting services, automated contracts, etc.

Having in-house, local representation matters once more, because if you have niche questions for your employee in Sudan, someone can actually help you versus ghost you. Most of the time, these features will be set up via third party.

What is the experience and service post-sale?

Once you get the contracts for your employees lined up, what kind of servicing will they get? It's great that you get to hire around the world. But how can you help your employees feel like they actually have someone to talk to when they have questions about payroll, maternity leave, etc.?

Again, owning the entity matters, because we all know the hiring market is freaking difficult right now. If an employee feels isolated or ignored, they're just going to leave. Make sure your employees feel taken care of!

What does this mean from an investor's perspective?

Setting up a legal entity takes time! Anywhere from 6-18 months. This is clearly a long time. And not only setting up the entity itself, creating a network of HR / payroll people around the world to actually help your business's employees is costly and time consuming. But ultimately, margins will be higher, because you own more of the stack, and in the long term, you might have a winner if they can launch services faster!

So where is the space going?

Remote work has been exploding during and "post"-COVID. Hence the exponential rise of new startups and funding in the space. This also results in a huge price war - companies want to hire remotely and will want to sign up for the best service at the lowest price. They don't know what it actually means to sign up for one that will definitely be more expensive but probably better for your employees and business in the long term. It's easy to terminate a contract with one provider and switch to another one you find better, but do you want your employees to feel stranded? These questions are still very new and thus it makes it clear that the space is new too.

The space will continue growing.

Remote work obviously isn't going away.

The price war will continue, for now.

New startups are all pitching crazy low prices. No one's really turning profit right now and it's not in the near term plan.

There will be increasing consolidation in the space.

Payroll and HR providers are already consolidating because of the price war. The remote work provider that has the greatest breadth and depth will buy them out or build their own services in house.

There will be many winners across the globe.

Ironically even though businesses want to hire globally, they always ask where a remote work provider's head office is. They want someone who understands the local nuances and regulations and taxes. So there might be a European winner, an Asian winner, a North American winner. Either way, a winning provider needs the breadth, depth, and post-sales experience mentioned above.

The little ones will drown.

Right now all these startups are just burning cash for growth, and honestly their product differentiation is all marketing, but if they can't play the long game, they will die out, or get bought out.