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Start-Up Personio Joins Circle of Unicorns

Hanno Renner, Co-founder and CEO of Personio and Alumnus of the TUM School of Management // Image: Personio

A success story like few others – only five and a half years after its foundation, the start-up Personio is valued at more than $1 billion US dollars and thus joins the small circle of so-called “Unicorns”. Currently, there are only about a dozen other start-ups in Germany that have achieved this status, including, for example: Flixbus, Celonis, and Lilium. In a funding round led by one of their current investors Index Ventures, Personio recently received $125 million in a Series D funding. The company, which develops personnel software, says this brings its valuation to $1.7 billion, making it one of the most valuable privately held European software companies and Europe’s most valuable HR tech company.

Personio Co-founder and CEO, Hanno Renner, is an alumnus of the TUM School of Management. While completing his Bachelor’s in industrial engineering in Constance, Hanno Renner already knew that he wanted to work on digital products that would provide solutions to real problems. He also wanted to found a company that he himself would enjoy working at. Thus, he systematically worked toward precisely this goal and decided that the Master’s in Management & Technology at the TUM School of Management was the right fit for that. “The program provided what I had been looking for,” says Hanno Renner. “I was able to deepen my technical know-how while pursuing my interest in management topics.” Another decisive reason for him to choose TUM was the opportunity to go through the Center for Digital Technology and Management (CDTM) program in parallel. With the interdisciplinary add-on study program “Technology Management” of the CDTM, a joint institute of TUM and LMU, Hanno Renner was able to already gain valuable and practical experience in the field of management and entrepreneurship while still studying.

By chance, a friend brought it to Hanno Renner’s attention that many small and medium companies still handle basic HR management processes by hand or in sprawling Excel spreadsheets, making them cumbersome and time-consuming. “We quickly realized that this was a problem for which we could provide a solution,” says Hanno Renner. “That was the initial spark.” He enthusiastically told his fellow students at CDTM, Roman Schumacher, and TUM alumni Arseniy Vershinin (Computer Science) and Ignaz Forstmeier (Management & Technology) about the promising idea of developing a software for human resources work in small and medium-sized companies. As part of a group project, the four of them came up with a solid concept in no time at all, developed a prototype of their software – and promptly founded their start-up Personio in 2015.

The idea behind the company: to make HR processes faster, clearer, and more efficient with a holistic operating system. Personio offers customized software only for small and medium-sized companies with ten to 2,000 employees. Since the software used by large companies for precisely these processes cannot simply be adapted, the founders saw a gap in the market with great potential: only 30 percent of all small and medium-sized companies in Europe use HR software. “The market is huge and still underserved,” says Hanno Renner. “I am convinced that we will continue to grow very strongly.”

With the newly received funding, the start-up plans to double its staff to 1,000 this year at its offices in Munich, Madrid, London, and Dublin; and expand core software features. For example, customers should be able to control workflows via platforms such as Microsoft Teams or Slack. In addition to further investments in already developed markets such as Spain, the United Kingdom, and the Benelux countries, the team wants to expand into other countries, such as France and Italy in 2021.

The European market and the European idea, is important to Renner. He calls it European patriotism. He wants to help shape a strong digital company from Europe for Europe, he says. “One that creates sustainable jobs and generates value in Europe.” A company that will eventually be able to operate independently of investors. And one that won’t settle for unicorn status. The intention with Personio is not to target just one horn, says Renner, alluding to so-called decacorns: ten-horns, i.e., companies with a valuation of more than $10 billion dollars.

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