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4 Awesome HR Tech Leader Backstories

Founding stories from some of HR Tech’s fastest growing companies.

Phil Strazzulla
HR Tech Expert, Harvard MBA, Software Enthusiast
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15 Best Employee Rewards Programs (2024)

If you work in Human Resources, you know the frustrations that archaic or over-complicated software can bring to the table. When a program doesn’t run as promised or as you had hoped, a perceived time-saving investment can quickly become a headache that puts you behind on your work and leaves you feeling unproductive and frustrated at the end of the day.

To save you the pain, we’re bringing you more than just some of our top software recommendations in this post. Take a peek into the background of these HR software companies and get to know the real HR experts behind the programs, because we all know that when it comes to the HR world, you want tech that’s been developed by business owners who live and breathe everything HR.

Spark Hire

While in college, Josh Tolan worked for a marketing firm that experienced exponential staff growth in a short amount of time. With this growth, they also, of course, experienced the pitfall of hiring promising employees who ended up becoming another turnover statistic or were simply just not a good fit for the company. Strongly feeling that there had to be a better way to identify the right candidates earlier on in the interview process and without time-consuming meetings, Josh had the idea for a one-way interview video system, and with that idea, Spark Hire was born.

The one-way video interview is a truly groundbreaking idea that allows for recruiters to essentially “screen” candidates instead of spending valuable time on first round interviews by having them record answers to pre-listed questions through video software.

“You’re able to review these video recordings at your convenience and share them with hiring managers. As a result, you’ll interview way more people in far less time, learn more about your candidates, and boost collaboration so you’re only investing time and effort into the best candidates for in-person interviews.” - Josh Tolan (The SHRM Blog)

An interviewer using video interviewing software


Kazoo is actually the rebrand and merger of two different companies that you may have heard of - YouEarnedIt and HighGround. Paul Pellman, the former marketing manager of Google Analytics 360 was named CEO when these two companies first united, and he’s been on the front lines establishing Kazoo HR as a leader in the field by pioneering new methods of positive reinforcement for employees through employee engagement, performance management, and rewards software.

Keeping with the mission of the company, Paul truly has a passion for helping companies create workplaces that employees are engaged with and motivated to come back to each day.  Paul was also was a part of the naming process, and he states that “Kazoo” comes from the idea of creating a work environment that leaves employees connected, excited, and celebrating their work-life and work-family.

“You find your Kazoo is when your employees are propelled and inspired, driven by their desire to achieve. When all boats rise together for the greater good. When the game is elevated and good talent becomes great. Kazoo is when employees are empowered to take ownership of their work, can see the bigger picture, and know how they fit within the collective success of the team and company.” - Paul Pellman (Kazoo.Com Blog)


The founders of HiBob, Ronnie Zehavi and Israel David, started HiBob with the awareness that Millennials have strong feelings regarding work-life balance and happiness at their jobs. Knowing that these same Millenials are the emerging work generation, they set out to create hr software that would not only spark the interest of these potential hires but would also help companies to retain them by creating a  personalized workplace where open conversation between management and employees leads to innovative ideas and empowerment.

Josh Bersin, a world-renowned industry analyst and expert on HR technology, recently published a report, "From Talent Management To Talent Experience. Why The HR Tech Market Is In Disruption," where he credits Hibob as an employee experience platform that is part of the new breed of HR technology designed to make work better. (Credit: https://www.prnewswire.com/)


Calendly is the brainchild of an innovative and passionate entrepreneur, Tope Awotona. Growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, Tope looked up to his family of business owners and self-made leaders who walked their own path. With a grandma who started an import/export textile business successful enough to send her family to college, a mother who co-owned a pharmacy, and a father who left his job to pursue his own business ideas, you could say that the entrepreneurial spirit runs through Tope’s blood.

Success didn’t come easy for Tope, and he attempted three startups before finding success with Calendly. After the failures of his previous endeavors, Tope told himself that he would only launch another idea if it truly solved a problem and was something he was passionate about. After a particularly frustrating day spent coordinating meeting times and interviews, Tope came up with the idea of a simple link that cuts out all back and forth when it comes to scheduling. Calendly was born and now reports over $30 million in annual revenue.  While not specifically an HR Tech solution, this interview scheduling software can be a valuable tool for recruiting teams.

Anyone Else?

We love founding stories because they are inspiring, and also tell us a lot about the underlying DNA of a product.  If you have any stories you think we should feature in future posts, let us know!

Phil Strazzulla
HR Tech Expert, Harvard MBA, Software Enthusiast
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Phil is the founder of SelectSoftware Reviews, a website dedicated to helping HR and Recruiting teams find and buy the right software through in-depth, expert advice. He has bought over $1 million worth of HR and Recruiting tools. Additionally, as of 2023, nearly 3 million HR professionals have relied on his advice to determine which business software they should buy.

Phil studied finance at New York University and started his career working in venture capital before getting his MBA from Harvard Business School. His in-depth understanding of the Saas landscape, especially HR Tech, stems from nearly a decade of researching and working with these tools as a computer programmer, user, and entrepreneur.

Featured in: Entrepreneur Harvard Business School Yahoo HR.com Recruiting Daily Hacking HR Podcast HR ShopTalk Podcast Employer Branding for Talent Acquisition (Udemy Course)

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