With the evolving challenges around hiring and retention of talent in the region, there is a general level of uncertainty in the industry. To find out more we spoke to Darwinbox co-founder Jayant Paleti, who oversees all sales and marketing activities for the unicorn company.

The company just announced a partnership with Microsoft to equip organisations around the world with the tools they need to succeed in the changing world of work. Along with the co-innovation roadmap, Microsoft has made an equity investment in Darwinbox to help them accelerate their mission of empowering organisations to unify their entire employee lifecycle.

The collaboration between Microsoft and Darwinbox will accelerate the global HR tech leader’s growth while enabling organisations to maximise the potential of their workforce.

Jayant previously worked as an investment banker at Ernst & Young. He worked in areas such as mergers and acquisitions and private equity. Jayant has advised several large corporations on major investment and strategic decisions over the course of his impressive 12-year professional career.

Given his knowledge of the corporate organisational structure and human capital-intensive decision-making practises, he is convinced that the HR function can provide a significant competitive advantage to an organisation. And that this underlying potential can be fully realised through technology.

Tada wants to change the way Malaysian companies engage their employees

Darwinbox’s cloud-based Human Capital Management (HCM) platform helps HR manage the entire employee lifecycle. With its international headquarters in Singapore, the company has clocked a 2X revenue growth and a 250% increase in headcount since its Series D Unicorn funding round in January 2022, powering 700+ enterprises and 2 million employees worldwide.

Leading enterprises (Singlife, SBS Transit, Bank BTPN, Armstrong, Senheng Electric, Al Rajhi Bank Malaysia, Tokopedia) and large conglomerates (Gokongwei Group, Indorama, Wilmar, and parts of Salim, Djarum, and Century Pacific groups) in the region are among Darwinbox’s customers. They also serve leading global brands such as Nivea, Starbucks, Dominos, T-Systems, AXA, Tokio, and Cigna.

Congrats on the Microsoft investment. Could you explain a bit more about it?

This is Microsoft’s first investment in the HCM space, and here are some key highlights from the collaboration.

The strategic partnership is a 3-part deal that involves Equity Investment, GTM Partnership and, unlike most other investments from Microsoft, includes an aggressive plan for Product Co-innovation and collaboration.  

Microsoft has commissioned multiple lines of co-innovation redefining what’s expected traditionally of HCM systems. The collaboration establishes a product offering that radically differentiates itself from the legacy incumbents in the market. Leading Microsoft products and platforms like Office365, Teams and Dynamics will offer integrated solutions involving Darwinbox’s offerings to compound both ease and value delivered for enterprises and end users alike.  

This is one of the first HRMS investments from Microsoft and is a sound validation for Darwinbox’s growth journey in Asia particularly. This also makes Darwinbox one of the rare few companies globally to have both Microsoft and Salesforce (the largest Enterprise tech players) on the cap table. 

The collaboration also emphasizes a strong and focused go-to-market push in the SEA region.

Darwinbox co-founder Jayant Paleti
Darwinbox co-founder Jayant Paleti

It mentions that you use AI technology to power your solutions, could you share more about the technology behind it?

Darwinbox has leveraged Microsoft’s Power BI to further augment its AI-based predictive analytics engine, to build rich visual analytics dashboards thereby helping employees across customer organizations to use data more effectively and power faster business decisions. Humans will still be the core element responsible for HR processes, however, our strategic product and engineering collaborations will amplify innovation around workforce management, payroll management, benefits, talent management, and acquisition. The presence of AI complements HR professionals to effectively and efficiently engage with employees via AI chatbots, automation of administrative duties and records, and facilitating recruitment. 

The company has grown quickly, could you share some of the challenges you faced in scaling from a dozen clients to over 750+ in the last few years?

It wasn’t so much about the challenges as it was about the opportunities to serve the organizations more deeply and relevantly. Our aim is to build a HR tech platform that caters to different cultural contexts of Asian businesses and users. One of the examples that I can think of is JG Summit (Gokongwei Group). JG Summit is a diversified conglomerate with several companies and over 21,000 employees. They had varied best practices across business units. They wanted a unified Performance management system across the board. Darwinbox provided the platform upon which existing best practices and processes could be applied digitally, propagating a culture of digitization and process adherence and enabling a high degree of acceptance and adoption throughout the organization.

The second very important thing to consider in SEA is the rate of mobile penetration, with nearly 9 in 10 internet users owning smartphones. The need to build mobile applications in Southeast Asia is prominent, as compared to other parts of the world, Furthermore, we have ensured that our HCM platform runs smoothly on smartphone devices that may have low inbuilt memory, slower processors, or lower internet speeds to cater our services to the masses. 

Our experience and success in India have led us to identify similar trends in Southeast Asia. We noticed that while the startup economy in the region was growing, Southeast Asia also had a large traditional business market. So we engineered solutions for both. In Singapore, we work with leading enterprises namely Singlife, SBS Transit, Adani Singapore, Armstrong, Carousell, MatchMove, Secretlab, Zalora, Ramky Cleantech, and Funding Societies amongst others. Our company also serves leading Southeast Asian organizations and conglomerates like JG Summit Holdings (now Gokongwei Group), Al Rajhi Bank Malaysia, SCB 10X, Tokopedia and leading international brands such as Nivea, Starbucks, Dominos, Sephora, Swarovski, Adidas, Zara, Lacoste, Calvin Klein, AXA, Tokio, Cigna, and T-Systems. 

In order to have a local presence on the ground, we have established local offices across Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, and most recently, Thailand. 

Which markets in Southeast Asia do you see the most potential for Darwinbox?

We serve five countries in the SEA, namely Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, The Philippines, and Malaysia. Our approach is not the same for all markets as the needs are varied. Our HCM solutions cater to the needs and nuances of the Asian markets, unlike global players. This has definitely given us an edge. What we have been able to solve are the problems very specific to the region, be it catering to the distributed workforce, or building a unified platform for organizations that may have a presence across countries in the region. Example: while enterprises in Indonesia may be looking at solutions that can enable them to manage hybrid workforces and enhance employee experience, Malaysia, with its large manufacturing base, is looking at solutions that are easy, intuitive and helps increase efficiency and productivity for their shop floor employees. 

We have witnessed steadfast growth in Southeast Asia – 2x revenue growth and a 250% increase in team size since our Unicorn funding round in January 2022. We have grown in every way and have been working with some marquee clients like JG Summit Holdings (now Gokongwei Group), Tokopedia, Kopi Kenangan, Al Rajhi Bank Malaysia, Shakey’s Pizza, Singlife, Adani Wilmar, and SCB 10X amongst others. We also serve leading international brands such as Nivea, Starbucks, Dominos, Sephora, Swarovski, Adidas, Zara, Lacoste, Calvin Klein, AXA, Tokio, Cigna, and T-Systems. We now have offices in Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia. 

We are rated as the #1 customers’ choice on Gartner Peer Insights 2022, which further validates our commitment to our customers. 

What’s next for Darwinbox?

The growth curve looks steep, As a customer-centric brand, we are constantly evolving and innovating to serve our customers better in each region.

Here are some of the highlights from what’s in the works already and what will be next:  

Delivering a Stellar Employee Experience – We are actively working on a broader engagement model by building a product that leverages existing question sets and benchmarks from organisations like Mercer, Gallup, etc. As we move forward, we will overlay the element of journeys on top of our ongoing engagement story which will establish the dialogue.

Building a Cloud Agnostic Platform with Greater Extensibility – Platform investments will focus on enabling cloud-agnostic patterns which will deepen the partnership with Microsoft, thereby opening deeper Go-To-Market options all over the world.

Strengthening Reporting, Analytics, and AI – In addition to revamped analytics dashboard for all modules, Darwinbox Sense (our AI engine) will continue to augment itself by building and enhancing modules that can predict attrition, candidate joining, recommending candidates from a local pool, recommending candidates for IJP, etc.

Building for the world – Darwinbox has grown immensely by focusing on markets like Singapore, Indonesia, and the Middle East. There is a need to support the markets by enhancing the multi-language framework, strengthening payroll and job board integrations, time and attendance, etc. As we look further into 2023, the focus would also be on preparing for markets like the United States.

Delivering Consumer-grade Enterprise App Experience – Focus on revamping the omnichannel experience to be in tune with B2C user experience patterns in 2023. 

Powering the Skill-first Enterprise ­­– Understanding an effective ontology that maps numerous industry sectors will be of importance. This will be necessary for organizations to plan for the right kind of headcount they will need to hire with the right kind of job descriptions. Assessment of these skills with the right kind of credibility will be necessary for the organization to make informed choices about the composition of its workforce.

Through the Microsoft partnership we will be able to deliver exceptional personal and meaningful experiences to their workforce:

With Better Transparency: Darwinbox OKRs or MS Teams, personalized dashboards with Darwinbox and Microsoft Power BI, and AI-based predictive recommendations will provide insight at the right time, and can act as a strong source of feedback for the workforce.

Power to the People: The integration of Darwinbox with MS Teams brings HR tasks into the flow of work, unifying all employee service and lifecycle stages in a single interface.

Efficiency at Scale: Multiple integrations and collaborations between Dynamics 365 and the Darwinbox HCM will unlock efficiencies across functions such as workforce management, payroll management, benefits, talent management, and talent acquisition.

Our research and innovation arm, Evolve Labs, headquartered in Singapore, along with the recent collaboration with Microsoft, promises a roadmap with multiple lines of innovation. 

While we have already onboarded influential names in the leadership team including Ex. Minor Group and ex. Kincentric leader as the Managing Director for Thailand, which we believe will strengthen our understanding of local markets and customers, innovate for specific needs and enhance the capabilities of our local teams. 

We have also launched HR Evolution Perspectives: Empower & Evolve, first-of-its-kind research, which delves deep into discovering both sides of the story-employer and employee. With prominent HR leaders and employees from India and SEA across 15 industries. The inputs from the reports will help us discover best practices, benchmarks, and hindrances, in becoming nimbler in responding to change.

We plan to strengthen our Change Maker’s community,  which is our endeavour to bring top HR Leaders to connect, collaborate and create a better future.