The PayFit International Journey 🚀

Firmin Zocchetto
Sep 10, 2019 · 16 min read
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2018 was the year of our international launch. In May 2018 we opened our offices in Barcelona, in October 2018 in Berlin and in early July 2019 we opened our offices in London. The international adventure is beautiful and well underway! Local teams are growing and structuring themselves (25 PayFiters in Barcelona, 42 in Berlin, and already 19 in the United Kingdom), international customers are happy to use PayFit, and we are very excited to facilitate the daily life of HR, CEO, Office Manager, on a European scale (for now!), in managing their payroll and human resources.

However, when it comes to payroll management and social declarations, it means local legislation and therefore the need to adapt our solution to the specificities of each country. Since the opening of a new country is not just about adding new lines of code, we wanted to share everything we have learned, and are still learning from our international adventure. Here is how the opening of a new country is actually going today, what are the lessons learned and how we plan to move forward in the coming months and years.

👶 Phase 1: From the project stage to the signature of the first local customer

At the beginning of the adventure, the complexity of our Labour Code led us to automate all payroll calculations as much as possible. Our wish, from the beginning, is to create a simple product in order to be able to make it evolve quickly. From that point on, we knew that we would have to develop a solution capable of managing and integrating ever more laws, collective agreements, changes in regulation… in short, ever more rules.

The launch of PayFit in new countries has always been a matter of course. And it is with this in mind that we have been thinking about the development of our computer language, JetLang, from the very beginning. Thanks to JetLang we were able to code the Labour Code and collective agreements. This language, which allows us to make the product hyper fluid, is at the heart of our development. Indeed, it allows developers to truly separate our business logic from the code they use. By extracting this business logic, JetLang Masters can focus on everything related to payroll, collective agreements, and legislation. This allows them to have real-time control over the solution and to grow it. However, we were aware that each country has regulations that are very different from each other. We therefore had to take ownership of each of them in order to be able to make a product that could be used by 1 as well as by 50+ countries.

Each launch starts in the same way: everything begins with building the product and taking into account the specific local regulations. But this construction requires the involvement of significant resources.

The starting point was to find people who were motivated enough by the project and able to understand the reasoning applicable to language, in order to launch the solution. It was a real challenge, for several reasons: the novelty of the language and its complexity, but also the multidisciplinary nature required by the JetLang Master position.

True architects of the product, they are the pillars that must manage the construction of PayFit. They participate in updating the product by following legal developments and designing user paths in a consistent way with all teams (from sales teams, to support and developers) to have a global and relevant view of the product.

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Mastering this language requires a real analytical mind, a lot of rigour and logic. In short, you have to be ultra-versatile. Therefore we wanted to recruit entrepreneurs at heart, eager to participate in the construction of a solution that fundamentally simplifies cumbersome processes. The recruitment of the first local JetLang Master is crucial: this person is the first pillar on which a country is built. The JetLang Master must manage the construction of the product and the roadmap as well as structure the local team. He or she will eventually be the CPO for this country.

🏡 Phase 2: Launching from Paris office

As soon as the first local JetLang Master is hired, the construction of the product begins with a training period in our offices in Paris. The JetLang France team, who already have three years of experience behind them, have well-established working methods. It is now a matter of transmitting them so that local teams can become more autonomous.

For our very first launch, we decided to build on what had made us successful in the French market. Since this worked at first, we wanted to replicate the model. We studied the Spanish market, the players already established and the existing offer. We quickly became aware of the existence of a very competitive environment in which we would have to operate. The market was no longer what it was when France was launched. To be part of the landscape in a sustainable way, we would now have to increase our visibility. Our first objective was then to shape a product that would be well received in this new market. The development of the Spanish solution was a real challenge, a huge step towards the unknown.

The JetLang France team and the local JetLang teams worked hand in hand on the development of the local product. It is within the now famous Parisian Bocal, a closed space dedicated to JetLang, that everyone could be trained live. Even though we are surrounded by many tools that allow us to communicate remotely, there is nothing more effective than a direct contact person who can explain where our mistakes are, the usefulness of a variable, or the right methodology to follow. In a short time, our new recruits have truly become bilingual JetLang.

This operating mode finally made it possible to release a first version of the Spanish solution in just under 8 months. For comparison, the French product was born after one year of work. By capitalising on our experience and following the same model, these 8 months became 6 months for Germany and 5 months for the United Kingdom. This efficiency gain has allowed us to significantly reduce our go-to-market time. However, other elements also saved us time in building the app. For example, the reduced complexity of payroll in countries such as Germany and the UK has contributed to the acceleration of product construction. We are now eager to see if these deadlines can be met for Italy, whose payroll complexity is similar to that of France.

Although we had a good knowledge of local HR actors before we started in new countries, it was not enough. The desire to grow quickly and the lack of time prevailed over the conduct of an in-depth study of legal specificities. Inevitably, we had to learn lessons and rethink our strategy for subsequent launches. Our first action was to recruit a Business Strategy Associate to thoroughly analyse a market before making the decision to launch. By focusing on several technical elements, we would be able to concretely assess the relevance of our choices. And these elements are numerous: the size of the addressable market, the level of market digitisation, the willingness of a company to use a payroll service, the administrative complexity, the cultural distance or the cost structure.

The idea here was to rationalise what, in the first instance, was based on intuition.

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Our JetLang Masters in the Paris offices

After identifying the opportunities that a market could offer us and becoming well aware of the elements characterising this market for payroll and HR management solutions, we had to take into account local legal differences. This has allowed us to build our product as accurately as possible and to identify our added value for each country.

For example, in the United Kingdom, a payslip represents 30% of a French payslip. With an average of 7 lines for the British payslip compared to an average of 23 for France… we can expect that the Brits will have a much clearer view of payroll than French people. Also, there is only one organisation for all deductions (HMRC). The existence of a single body considerably simplifies all tax procedures. In Spain, monthly declarations of entry and exit (in the event of arrivals or departures of employees) are much simpler than in France, there are no rules for maintaining wages when people leave on holiday, each region has its own collective agreements, etc. Also, some markets were only very poorly digitised in terms of payroll while others very digitised but mainly on the payroll part and not the HRIS part. All these differences make HR management through a single tool across Europe a lot more complex and we have had to integrate everything into our product thinking.

🌍 Phase 3: Opening new offices

Time passes by and the time comes when local teams leave the Parisian nest. After all these weeks spent preparing for the big launch in a new market, local teams have to go out in the field.

Once they arrive on site, the local teams are able to better assess the extent of the work they still have to do: recruitment, the resulting logistics, the integration of the new PayFiters, the administrative elements to be settled, etc. In addition, all the product management was carried out entirely by the local teams.

For the rest, it was necessary to prioritise the teams’ broader missions: How to feed the Sales pipeline of Spain? What is expected from a recruitment department in the UK? What are the next recruitment needs for Germany?

While in Spain and Germany, word-of-mouth, network, and the prospecting carried out by the Sales team were our main pillars of development, in the United Kingdom we changed strategy, starting with different marketing campaigns even before the launch of the solution, to gain visibility more quickly and start building brand awareness earlier.

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A part of the German team

In this highly competitive market, it is important to make the customer understand what our added value is and why it will be a winner. Initially presented as a simple “payroll solution”, PayFit did not represent a great interest for companies since payroll is not their bread and butter in the UK. On the other hand, by speaking of PayFit as an HR provider guaranteeing both a legal watch, a piloting of HRIS tools and a payroll generation solution, PayFit has been of interest to the players in this market.

Far beyond product and market challenges, geographical distance has made us aware:

  • the need to make communication more fluid from one country to another,
  • the need to structure teams and processes.

For this reason we have tried to build several specific points and rituals allowing us to promote exchanges and communication between teams. For example, we have the three weekly: a morning dedicated to major projects in progress between the founders, country managers and VPs of each country. This allows them to address the most important topics, those on which they would need advice. To ensure the smooth running of this morning, each country manager fills in a preliminary document that can be consulted by everyone in order to briefly present the topics of the day.

It’s our mistakes that allowed us to learn these two lessons. Indeed, the local JetLang Masters, which have acquired more and more autonomy over time, developed certain functionalities without synchronising with the rest of the teams. By wanting to progress too quickly on the product, this created a first gap between the local and French teams. This is what finally allowed us to put communication back at the centre of growth: the development of management tools to monitor growth. We have therefore opened many “Ops” positions in all teams.

Another crucial point in our international deployment is recruitment. The recruitment of future European teams has always started from France, and very quickly to meet local growth objectives, it was necessary to recruit HR managers. In each country, this recruitment was for us a top priority for 2 main reasons:

  • accelerate the recruitment of new local talent so that teams can become fully autonomous,
  • transmit and preserve the corporate culture that we had succeeded in building in France to the new local teams.

The recruitment of the Spanish team was quite fast and rather instinctive. We had with us two product builders, a payroll expert and a country manager in order to welcome the first customers, advance on the product and anticipate our future challenges. The team Sales was then slowly built up followed by the Customer team. The recruitment of the German and English teams followed the same model, with a few details: today we are recruiting much earlier senior profiles (“Head of”) who come with additional expertise and take direct responsibility for all team creation and execution of the team strategy.

By anticipating the local teams’ needs, they are the key element for each team to structure itself.

With the subsequent creation of a “global” team bringing together all the head offices, we allowed each team from each country to exchange more freely. By offering each team a global counterpart that can be called upon in case of doubt, we strengthened communication between countries and relieved the country manager who was responsible for bridging the gap between all teams in all countries. But it is not the only key player in recruitment when we launch in new countries.

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The Spanish team at the beginning

At first, each member of the local team had a very hybrid role that adapted to the new recruits: for example in Germany we recruited a Country Manager while we still did not have a Head of Sales Germany. If each launch begins with the recruitment of a product builder, the recruitment of a country manager quickly became a necessity. It is the Country Manager who is successively head of HR, sales, customer. This was the case with Michal, our German country manager. As the recruitment process progressed, he was able to delegate and focus on the strategic vision and coordination of each team. But before being able to build a team and give it a direction, the country manager must have immersed himself in everyone’s missions in order to have a global vision of everyone’s needs and give the right impetus to each country, the one that will allow us to move in the right direction. The country manager really has a crucial role to play in team structuring and we cannot afford to do without his presence. And unlike the product that can be launched imperfectly, we cannot derogate from the structure set up by a country manager. It is ultimately on this organization that a country’s future growth depends to a large extent.

Another major point in our HR strategy is the recruitment of an HR manager in the top 10 employees in order to transmit and maintain the culture and to properly implement onboarding, recruitment, training, etc. Without a responsible person, it is impossible to build a scalable human policy in the future. By deploying HR offices, we ensure that we maintain a global policy while respecting the specific legal requirements of each country. Their presence is all the more important because during launches, the teams are really small and there is no one to help them and pass on good practices.

These people are also the guardians of culture, the cement that allows us all to stay the same course.

The homogenization of our culture has been one of our priorities from the very beginning. And here again, we replicated what was important to us. This is the case for the BBQ Test, for example, the weekly appointment that allows all PayFiters in a country to meet candidates in the process of recruitment. Their organization in each country was crucial insofar as this event is part of our identity and allows us to convey all our values.

👩‍🏫 Phase 4: Onwards and upwards

Several lessons can be learned from the launch of PayFit in Spain, Germany and the United Kingdom. We have already learned a lot, but we also know that we will continue to learn and that each launch will be a new experience. Indeed, it is by noting our mistakes that we have been able to readjust our processes, correctly prioritise our actions and consider future launches in a different way.

It may seem difficult to open a new country without a team physically present, but in reality, it is all a matter of organisation and it can very well be done from France as we have done. If the teams are formed by people who already have good experience in the field, they will be in a better position to get a clear idea of the target’s expectations. While things have not been perfect (they never are), they have not prevented us from moving forward in a logical and consistent way throughout each launch. We did not have all the necessary information that would have allowed us to offer a different product? Yes, but the mistake, as painful as it is, is inevitable and remains highly educational. Even if we do not have all the necessary information to offer a highly successful product, delaying the deadline means taking the risk of letting other players gain market share. it is better to launch a product that is not perfect and make it grow with its customers, than never to launch it.

No project is totally disconnected from the work of others. One of our priorities was to strengthen communication between the French and local teams. To ignore such an essential thing would be to ensure that all employees confine themselves to their projects and work in duplicate. To achieve this, we have set up a large number of regular points between teams to allow a cross-checking of the missions of the different employees, weekly points between each Head of and Country Manager on the different issues encountered in each country, international onboarding weeks in Paris to properly integrate each new recruit from each country into all the teams. This week allows everyone to discover PayFit, its teams and its values, but also to create a sense of community among all PayFiters.

But if setting up regular meetings is a good way to maintain good momentum, it is not enough. You have to gather people around the same table regularly… Going there is essential in order to maintain a homogeneous culture and not to ensure that it remains in only one country.

By surrounding ourselves with real specialists, we have acquired a more long-term vision. This is the work of Nicolas, our Business Strategy Associate, whose role is to audit the markets in depth in order to launch themselves “with full knowledge of the facts” in a country. Other indicators to be considered include market maturity, regulatory details, cultural aspects, etc. Setting different KPIs makes it possible to process launches. For the United Kingdom, unlike Spain, for example, a minimum number of clients to be reached during the incubation period has been established in order to achieve a certain stability. Before reaching the 80 clients, i.e. a sufficiently solid base, the UK team could not open its offices yet.

These indicators, which mark the path of future premises, are also a good way to supervise them, allowing them to clearly visualise the most important tasks.

Each launch reinforced this idea of the importance of brand positioning before a launch in a new country. Raising awareness among our target group must not only be relayed in the background. For our launch in the United Kingdom, for example, our strategy was to focus on building PayFit’s reputation as a product, which we then did for Germany and Spain. This way, the arrival in the market is softer. The work of the teams already present is not burdened by the implementation of a strategy of notoriety, acquisition of new customers, and let them focus on the conversion of prospects.

So what about the rest of the adventure?

In general, our main challenge will be to continue to support each of the teams already launched in each country and to accompany them throughout their growth while participating in the launch of new countries to come. But this objective requires a consistent organisation, particularly in our head office, the nerve centre for decision-making on the opening of a new country.

In terms of recruitment, finding new recruits for future launches is a major challenge. Beyond the simple fact of recruiting, we will have to manage this strong growth properly. More and more, it is PayFiters with only a few months’ seniority who have to board newcomers and give them a vision of our own. We will have to reinforce our efforts to transmit our values and maintain the same culture in all countries. Each of the French, Spanish, British or German PayFiters on board of the rocket will need to have all the tools required to be the guardian of our shared values.

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Finally, rethinking our approach to markets can be a good way to optimise our efforts.

Typically, being known before a market launch will allow us to adapt our product and our pitch around the solution. It is through an in-depth market study that we can know how attractive our product is to customers and thus avoid unnecessary back-pedaling associated with the development of secondary functionalities.

If we are motivated by objectives to achieve, we must also stay motivated by all the challenges that lie ahead. Country support is a real priority for PayFit at the moment. The recruitment of VPs who have a global role, for each of the teams, aims to support this internationalisation and the relationships between all our offices. They are the guardians of the relationships between individuals and ensure that each team in all countries is connected regarding ongoing projects, the roadmap and the challenges to be met.

Want to be part of this great international adventure? We have a lot of open positions in all our countries. Find out more about it here 🚀

PayFit

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