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Karen Cariss’ PageUp eyes ASX and export milestone

PageUp, a maker of human resources management software founded in Melbourne 20 years ago, has not ruled out an ASX listing as its share of revenue made outside Australia surpassed 50 per cent for the first time in 2016-17.

Biochemist Karen Cariss and software engineer husband Simon originally built PageUp as a recruitment platform, after being overwhelmed by paper applications for a job in a forerunner business, but today their software-as-a-service platform also covers onboarding, performance management, learning and development, and succession planning.

PageUp turned over $31 million in 2015-16, its last year of accounts available from the companies regulator, from customers including Aldi, AMP, ANZ, Asahi, BP, Commonwealth Bank, Dairy Farmers, Dunlop, Fosters, Newcrest, Telstra, Sony and Wesfarmers.

Those blue chip credentials led PageUp to engage UBS and Credit Suisse to lead a non-deal roadshow to investors in September 2016, however plans for a $150 million float came to nothing in the wake of uncertainty following the surprise election of Donald Trump to the US presidency.

“We’re always looking at the best resourcing options for the business, especially as we continue to grow revenue at 20 per cent year on year,” Ms Cariss told The Australian Financial Review in an interview to mark her start-up’s 20th anniversary.

Global events like US presidential elections have become a bigger factor for PageUp as offshore usage of its product has skyrocketed since 2012 when Silicon Valley venture capital firm Accel-KKR invested $US10 million for a minority stake.

That backing, PageUp’s only external capital to date, has allowed it to build a global headcount of 200 including an office in Singapore – where the Cariss’s moved in 2013 – as well as offices in the Philippines, Hong Kong, and the UK.

There are also nine salespeople spread across the US, where specialisation is key to PageUp’s strategy. It is initially focused on higher education providers, a sector which Ms Cariss said was identified as the most under-serviced niche of several where PageUp had a presence.

PageUp lost $5.8 million after tax in 2015-16, and lost $6.3 million off $24.3 million revenue the year before. Spend on sales and marketing leapt from $7.7 million to $11.6 million across the two years.

The “rule of 40” for software-as-a-service companies – which holds that growth rate and profit rate, both as percentages of revenue, should ideally add to 40 or higher – was a rule PageUp aspired to, Ms Cariss said.

“We definitely look at that and determine whether the following year should be a growth year or a year of consolidation, and we’re in a growth patch at the moment because the opportunity for an end-to-end people management SaaS platform is there.”

PageUp was increasingly an “ecosystem” of partnerships with start-ups in human resources technology, Ms Cariss said. The company recently partnered with an AirTree Ventures-backed provider of staff engagement software, Ento, and also welcomes plug-ins, which accommodate new trends like the “regular check-in” style of performance management, and video interviewing.

Video interviewing was proving a valuable means of removing human biases from the recruitment process, Ms Cariss said. There was a developing capability for artificial intelligence analysis of such interviews, she said, where even body language could become a data point in determining a candidate’s trustworthiness.