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The Multi-Million Dollar “Founder Dating” Success Story

Leni MaiaiFeatures
Two women at a table with a laptop

Editorial credit: Shutterstock.com / Eugenio Marongiu

Arriving in Sydney in 2018 after enjoying “a Spanish adventure”, Joris Luijke was looking to meet someone and start something serious.

Luijke wanted the yin to his yang — a person that could bring strength to his weaknesses, and share a vision with him. Ambitious, successful and energetic, Luijke was a catch. But dating, as we all know, ain’t easy.

It wasn't the romance Luijke was after, he was already more than happy sharing his life with a partner and a young child — with a second born this month — he was in the process of what is known in the industry as “founder dating.”

Founder dating is based on the conventional Silicon Valley wisdom that two founders are better than one, which has led to capitalist dating events, and even platforms dedicated to the kind of matchmaking. Typically, according to this model, one founder would be responsible for the big picture idea, while the other would have some of the foundational tech nous to turn their vision into ones and zeroes.

For Luijke, he was squarely in the big ideas camp.

After spending years as an HR boss at big tech firms such as Atlassian, Typeform and SquareSpace, Luijke knew all too well the shortcomings of the existing HR tech systems. Companies were sitting on huge amounts of employee information that they were failing to take advantage of — birthdays, work anniversaries, sales successes, and everything in between.

Luijke’ idea was that if companies could subscribe to a software that could automatically remind employees and managers of this important stuff, you could radically improve the engagement levels for all staff.

Armed with his idea and a “scrappy keynote,” Luijke traipsed from coffee shop to coffee shop, trying to find the right technical co-founder to bring this idea into reality.

“Sometimes people didn’t catch on with the idea or weren’t interested in the space. Other times, this person, technically maybe they can do it, but I’m not sure if they can really build a business as well as a product,” Luijke said.

“It's really tough to find someone who is capable technically of building a product, understands the HR space, has found a business from scratch themselves, and is in Australia. That combination is almost impossible to find.”

Luijke was making a genuine effort on these dates, but deep down he knew the guy he really wanted. Jon Williams, who helped found unicorn Culture Amp, was a long-shot who had all of the dream qualities of Luijke’ perfect co-founder.

“I knew Jon and we followed each other's careers. Throughout the journey of Jon being a co-founder of Culture Amp, I had met him several times,” Luijke said.

The timing was just right. As it turned out, Williams was internally yearning for the chance to build something from scratch, as he’d done so well with Culture Amp.

“He really wanted to go back to his roots of developing and creating products. Actually building them rather than talking about them, or talking to the customers in a go-to-market capacity,” Luijke said. “So when I pitched the idea I was hoping that I could get him on board.”

He gave Williams the sell, and in 2019 the pair officially launched Pyn, a tool designed to make “all of company” emails obsolete.

“I was super, super lucky, and Jon is just incredible,” Luijke gushed.

Automating good management

By plugging into the various technology solutions that an organisation uses, Pyn’s technology analyses data and makes well informed nudges to managers within the company.

For example, a company using Slack for their internal messaging and Workday for their financial and HR side, Pyn could recognise a high performing employee who hasn’t been given a raise in a year, and send a direct Slack message to their manager to consider upping their pay.

“You don't want to be in a situation where you're in month 18 and as a busy manager, you have completely forgotten to reward your high performers. Then suddenly they don’t want to stay here because you're not appreciating them enough,” Luijke said.

Pyn had been doing reasonably well during 2019, but the sudden shift to working from home during the pandemic put the HR startup into overdrive.

Luijke said that during the last half of last year, companies started thinking more strategically about communications and that led to an uptick in sales at Pyn -- although he’s reluctant to credit the increase to the effects of the pandemic.

Late last month the startup’s spiking growth was rewarded with an $8M investment round led by Andreessen Horowitz, with other investors including BambooHR co-founder Ryan Sanders, Accel Partners and Skip Capital.

Shopify, Rubrik and Carta are cited among the current customers, with Luijke saying that Pyn’s “perfect customers” are global companies with more than 250 employees, where scale can make it more difficult to maintain personalization.

It also helps cut through the problem of overcommunication that can sometimes come about with larger companies.“That's what we do in organizations, we over-communicate,” admits Luijke, who in a previous life was the HR manager for firms with thousands of staff.

“I used to send the same message to a select channel with hundreds of managers at Atlassian, a message that was only relevant to two or three, maybe a handful of people.”

So, what’s next for a company like Pyn with a focus on making HR managers nicer and more engaged?

“World domination,” Luijke chuckles.

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