Workleap: Learning to be an employer
In 2006, Simon De Baene launched his small software development company with a couple of friends and one ambition: to be a breath of fresh air in Quebec's tech sector. Today, the thirty-something is the head of a flourishing company with 400 employees and some 20,000 clients across the world.
De Baene recalls what inspired them to launch GSoft (now known as Workleap). "We found the IT world to be a bit grey." With his friends and partners Guillaume Roy and Sébastien Leduc, he sought to shake up IT. Goodbye grey cubicles and dull ambiance, hello Silicon Valley innovation, culture and spirit.
The Montreal-based company's first foray was developing customized IT tools for Quebec businesses. This prepared them well for their next step: developing tools of their own. They were designed to improve employee experience from different angles, ranging from new team member integration to skills development to productivity tool management.
"In business, there are a lot of variables you can't control. Employee experience is one that you absolutely can."
Simon De Baene, co-founder and CEO, Workleap
Being a good employer above all
From the beginning, the company wanted to create a workplace environment which would grow and evolve. "Not to be on the list of top employers, but because we knew that our success depends on our people," De Baene says. "You have to set the stage for your teams to excel. Give them the tools they need, challenges that energize them, ambitious goals. And surround them with talented people." Workleap's employees were the first users of its software ecosystem. They were also the first guinea pigs!
"We believe that commitment and excellence come down to employee experience. That's why, with our tools, we look to make work simpler, more efficient and more human."
Simon De Baene, co-founder and CEO, Workleap
De Baene remembers when they were first hiring, when people weren't lining up in droves to join the young startup. "We started by recruiting friends and classmates." Seventeen years and a pandemic later, the company has seen rapid growth, its tools meeting a crucial need in today's changing professional world. The challenge these days isn't recruiting, it's knowing how to adapt to growth. "You have 10 employees, then you have 40, then 100 … every milestone brings its own set of challenges," explains De Baene.
Do things differently
Another major milestone is on the horizon for the tech firm, which recently obtained $125 million in financing. "For 17 years, we were bootstrapped—self-financed—and we were completely up to the task," says De Baene. "So this is the start of a new chapter."
The entrepreneur believes the foundations of Workleap's success are still very solid. "I think that comes from the fact that the 3 founders still play an active role in the organization," he said. "Yes, the business is going to evolve. But we're going to keep doing things our way, and having fun along the way."
If you could start over, what would you do differently?
"My best decision was to partner with Guillaume and Sébastien, but if I had to do it again, I'd try to surround myself with even more people. I'd go even further to meet people who have had experience. We didn't use incubators or support systems. It would have been nice to have that kind of sounding board."
How do you prepare to become an employer?
"At some point in their journey, an entrepreneur will invariably have to become an employer," says Simon Prévost, Director, Employer Solutions at Desjardins. However, he notes, few are prepared for that transition.
Entrepreneurs often dream of being their own boss. "But, from the beginning, they have to envision the fact that they'll be someone else's boss as well," Prévost explains. In addition to all the regulatory responsibilities and obligations they'll need to adhere to, employers also need to attract and retain candidates in a market where there are competing interests.
Since candidates look for a company that shares their values, an employer's brand plays an important role in attracting talent. "If you don't define your identity as an employer, your staff and the market will do it for you, and it may not necessarily be as positive you'd like it to be," warns Prévost.
Onboarding and integration are just as essential to the employee experience as the job interview. Does the new employee on the team feel welcomed and supported? Do they have the tools they need to quickly get up to speed? Do they have the right resources, and do they have a clear way to access them? Do they have a training plan? "The integration plan doesn't need to be overwhelmingly detailed, but the person needs to feel that they're attended to and they need to know where they're going," Prévost says.
Be an employer of choice
Caring for employees should also be top of mind for an employer, according to Prévost. "It means offering total compensation that promotes financial empowerment, like retirement savings, group insurance or profit sharing, based on a company's situation," he says.
For experienced employers and people just entering the workforce alike, personalized support is more important than ever. Prévost says, "Rather than presenting a full slate of solutions to the employer, we help them find ones that are specifically adapted to their company's needs so they can manage and take care of their employees."