Patrick Gentry, the CEO and Co-founder of Sprout Solutions, describes himself as a “passionate tech entrepreneur” who boldly meets the changes of the evolving business landscape to reach new heights for his clients. That’s one reason why he moved from Silicon Valley to the Philippines. Another is his Filipina wife who is also his business partner and colleague. His latest company, Sprout Solutions, is empowering HR companies to manage their processes and people in one place, while using data analytics to make highly informed decisions.
Q: HR tech is becoming a billion-dollar industry in the US. How does the landscape appear in the Philippines?
PG: Actually the US industry in HR tech has far surpassed the billion dollar mark. It’s a massive industry by its nature of being applicable to any company. Here in the Philippines it is a huge opportunity as well, and the Philippines plus neighboring countries are worth billions to the HR tech providers and are able to capitalize on the opportunity. Here in the Philippines it's still a young and fragmented market but we will see it consolidate over time as ERP dies and niche softwares take its place.
Q: What are the kinds of HR software that most Filipino or Philippine-based companies use the most? There are many benefits to automating HR processes, but what's the number one pain point that HR software addresses?
PG: Most companies in the Philippines don't have a very good HR stack. Most still under-invest and are in the process of adopting new technology. The top three pain points here in the Philippines, by far, are Recruitment, Time and Attendance, and Payroll in that order.
Q: In your experience, what are the top three challenges in recruitment that Filipino recruiters face today? And how does HR tech address them?
PG First is finding qualified talent. Second, dealing with all the internal processes around recruitment. Finally, assessing candidates' fit into the company, a process which we call right-fit. HR tools like Kalibrr are amazing for finding good qualified talent. For the last two, Sprout aims to solve these by leveraging our platform of HR tools.
Q: Many HR managers are still concerned that using technology might make their job more impersonal, whereas HR is mainly seen as a very relational or people-oriented kind of function. There are also growing concerns of how artificial intelligence may one day soon make HR jobs obsolete. How do you respond to that?
PG There is a lot of talk across all industries around AI and the dangers of being obsolete. I think the reality will be far different from these fears; for example all the goals of our solutions are around removing administrative headache so as to allow HR managers time for personal interaction. The main problem HR folks today face is lack of time for personal interaction because of tedious admin tasks.
Q: Tell us more about Sprout Solutions. How big is your team, what products do you offer, and how many clients do you currently serve?
PG: We have around 100 staff internally and around 60 shared resources on the IT side. We solve several major pain points very, very well. The first is employee profile management (aka 201 files) – we make them digital, filterable, searchable, reportable, etc. The second is time and attendance by automating the 32 different timekeeping types from physical/software login/logout device all the way to payroll. The last is payroll and government compliance. We solve these problems very well for Enterprises here in the Philippines.
Q: Your background is in environmental science. How did you go from that to building an HR software startup? Was it hard being a foreigner starting an SME in the Philippines where you had very little contacts? What was your first breakthrough?
PG: I started working in the enviro-sci field but didn't see an aggressive enough career path there. Tech is so challenging intellectually, and has steep career growth if you're hungry - it was intoxicating. I started Sprout after being in the Philippines for several years already. I had some good contacts, but closing our first deal was a big breakthrough. Then, getting our first few Enterprise clients took us to another level.
Q: You co-founded KMC Solutions, which has grown tremendously over the years. And payroll software was just a side project, which you eventually spun off. What made you decide to go off on your own?
PG: KMC grew thanks to Mike McCullough, I was a small part of that success. It's a real estate and staff outsourcing business; my passion is tech and I loved the opportunity we had with the 'payroll tool’ we had internally developed. I wanted to give it a shot so I started overseeing it as a project and it just grew from there. Later I went full time in that venture and Sprout was born. The birth was very organic.
Q: You came to the Philippines as a backpacker. What made you decide to stay? Do you miss your backpacking years? With your schedule, do you still have time to travel leisurely?
PG: I did come as a backpacker and those years were incredibly formative for me. You grow as a person when you get outside your comfort zone, whether that's eating balut in the Philippines or hitchhiking in New Zealand. I'll get back to backpacking - this time with my kids after Sprout has matured quite a bit. No, there is definitely no time for long leisure travel now, but someday there will be.
Q: You work together with your wife Alex. How do you and your wife split the work? How do your strengths complement each other? And how do you juggle the challenges of dealing with work-life balance and separating business from family life?
PG: Initially Alex and I worked on most things together. As the company grew we had to divide up the roles more distinctly. Our strengths overlap but also complement - I’m more focused on vision and opportunities, while she is much more adept in operations and running teams. We are ok in juggling work and family life - we just don’t have time for anything else except work and family.
Q: How did Sprout Solutions transition from a payroll software solution provider to an integrated HR solution? What was the main idea or need that triggered this?
PG: We initially started with a payroll tool. It was quite robust and could calculate payroll very well for the myriad ways it’s calculated in the Philippines. It can also automate all the government reports and even most of the payment process. But there is a monstrous process behind payroll and time and attendance. To fully automate time and attendance, we ended up building a full-on HR solution. Thus the platform was born.
Q: You were recently named Founder of the Year at the at the Philippine Rice Bowl Awards. Last year, Sprout was one of the 3% of Y Combinator applicants to get flown to San Francisco. And Sprout is the first Filipino company to be backed by U.S. SaaS accelerator Acceleprise. Things are definitely looking up. What do you think has contributed to all your success?
PG: We have an incredibly dedicated team working at Sprout. We push pretty hard and at the same time have a very nurturing environment. I guess it makes for a good company. The company attracts good people, and this has been the driver for our successes.
Q: Where do you see Sprout going in the next few years? What are your plans for expansion?
PG: Every time I look at our runway in the Philippines it stretches out further in front of us. We have a lot to build to satisfy our current and future clients here, and that’s what we’re focused on right now. When we have satisfied the needs here, we’ll look more at adjacent markets.