Fighting the hidden pains of scaling a business
Teamhouse wants to stop operations and HR teams drowning in complex admin
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Long-time watchers of the early-stage startup scene in the UK will know Paul Smith. I remember taking a trip to Newcastle over 10 years ago to meet the teams taking part in the Ignite accelerator he ran at the time.
He’s done a lot since then, but today we take a deep dive into the new startup he’s co-founded with an eye on making life a lot easier for operations and HR teams as they scale their company’s ‘people processes’.
Scroll down to read how Teamhouse plans to make life easier for people buried in spreadsheets, Slack messages, web forms, emails, and databases.
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Teamhouse wants to stop operations and HR teams drowning in complex admin
As businesses grow, so do all the processes that operate under the surface to keep them running. But those processes can actually hold companies back as operations and HR teams struggle to keep up.
Looking to solve that problem is Teamhouse, which is pitched as “the no-code platform for HR and Ops teams”, promising to help them “stop spending hours in spreadsheets or thousands on SaaS” as they grow their HR and people processes.
“Between us we’ve been in five or six different companies, on two different continents… from pre-seed up to Series B. And every time in operational roles, we see the same challenges in the back office, especially around employee administration and people processes,” explains Smith.
“The challenge is, especially in scaling companies, none of the processes scale. You never build something when you're 10 people that will manage 200 people or 1,000 people. And so everything you have is either broken, about to break, or you've just fixed it and will be broken in six months’ time.”
The ‘people process’ problem
The ‘people processes’ Teamhouse addresses encompasses HR but also wider company-wide activities like employee benefits.
Smith gives the example of a work-from-home benefit companies might offer to help employees set up a home office. The policy would have to be shared via a PDF, a doc, or a Notion page. Then you’d need an online form for employees to fill in. And then people will just bug you with questions the doc and form would answer if they just thought to look at it.
The form would populate a spreadsheet, and you’d need another spreadsheet to track all the things that need to be done to get that request fulfilled, like clearing the funds, ordering the item, getting the employee to tell you when it’s arrived, and informing payroll about a taxable benefit.
It’s a load of faff, essentially, and that’s just for one process. Onboarding is another example, involving admin and communication across multiple departments in a complex dance of forms, databases, spreadsheets, emails, and Slack messages.
“When you get into teams of past 100, or 200, or 1,000, this becomes a massive amount of work and it's completely repetitive… it stays manual because there's no tools to manage any of this,” says Smith.
“It probably gets worse as you get bigger because it all becomes more disparate. For a company of 200, that can be two full-time employees working just on people admin; 500 hours of people admin a month,” adds Lewis.
Building a Teamhouse
Smith began his career in journalism and radio before he shifted into startups. Longtime UK startup scene watchers might remember him from when he ran the Ignite accelerator in Newcastle.
Since then he’s worked in senior operations roles at startups like Hyperloop One and Ori Industries, as well as co-founding and exiting from his own startup, Ricochet, which offered sales development software.
It was during his time as COO at Ori Industries that he met Lewis, and Teamhouse’s other co-founder, Jack Hughes.
Lewis, who previously worked in senior roles at Events.com, was chief of staff and then head of operations at Ori. Hughes, meanwhile, was technical lead at Ori.
Smith and Lewis experienced the pain Teamhouse is now trying to fix themselves, building prototypes with Notion and Trello, but kept hitting a wall. Nothing they could find had granular permissioning (to stop junior staff seeing sensitive data), for example.
After the three left Ori, they decided to tackle the problem head on, founding Teamhouse late last year.
Progress so far
Teamhouse kicked off with experimental development as they looked for the right product-market fit.
Smith says they have developed prototypes based around expenses and knowledge management, and built an MVP focused on policy management which they shipped to five companies for feedback.
They’re now developing an MVP that uses generative AI to help handle inbound queries and requests from employees. This is targeted for launch at the end of June.
This GIF offers a preview of the MVP and how the generative AI works inside Slack 👇
“Ultimately, employee requests are the start of so many of these workflows. So we're building something that ingests all of your employee policies and your handbook. And then employees can ask questions in Slack without the need for human intervention,” says Smith.
“Where we want to start with our workflow automation platform is the workflows that we know are the most manual, that cause the most friction… which is around onboarding and policy management,” says Lewis.
“There are no tools that integrate policy management into the workflows and the systems of record, and into the places where employees work. Employees want to communicate and work out of Slack.
“That's really what our proofs-of-concept were proving. So we're going to start by building the first stage of our workflow builder, focusing on those two or three use cases.”
Beyond using generative A.I. to free HR staff from tedious staff queries, Teamhouse believes this rapidly developing field of tech will provide them with other opportunities. This could include generating the policies themselves
“Having been operators, Paul and I know that there are only so many ways you can run an onboarding or a benefits request flow, or a payroll. They're incredibly compliant workflows that have to have certain steps,” explains Lewis.
“So we can start to generate these policies for companies based on the size and their needs. And we can look at them and suggest things, and they can configure them. Templates don't work very well in this space, because people get overwhelmed.”
Another use case for generative AI could be to suggest the broader workflows they need and help them build them from scratch.
“Things like Airtable and workflow automation software have a low barrier to entry, but actually a very high ceiling to sophistication,” says Lewis.
“You have to become really embedded and knowledgeable about the tool in order to build the application you need… Given that we are addressing non-technical users [we want to] understand if we can suggest workflows and just allow them to customise them, rather than overwhelming them with this agnostic tool that they have to build software in, essentially, themselves.”
Go deeper on Teamhouse
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