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Listen and learn: Danny Lessem

Over the course of 18 years, Danny Lessem has continued to build, rebuild and redefine ELMO Cloud HR & Payroll. The company has steadily continued its growth by hiring more staff, expanding into new markets and listing on the 11Australian Securities Exchange (ASX).


However, the cloud-based HR and payroll solution did not come from a single moment of brilliance – it developed from years of executing a customer-centric approach. “We didn’t innovate and pull this idea out of nowhere,” ELMO’s CEO explains.

“There was a need in the market and we delivered according to the customers’ needs. It wasn’t Steve Jobs in his garage; it was just listening to the challenges of the customers and coming up with solutions.”

ELMO launched in 2002, when cloud-based technology was still novel. Danny explains that there were many challenges at the beginning, primarily with customers distrusting the internet as a conduit for delivering business software solutions. Danny, however, wasn’t deterred.

“We believed in the opportunity for cloud-based software to deliver a superior outcome compared to on-premise based delivery,” he says. The openness of communication between Danny and customers solidified a long-term relationship, allowing the company and its offerings to develop.

In 2013, after speaking with customers and determining their pain points, a decision was made to expand from cloud-based learning to other HR functions. From 2014 to 2017, ELMO reinvested and released five additional modules to help its customers manage and automate recruitment, onboarding, performance management, succession planning and HR administration.

It excites me that technology can make life easier for millions of people. It excites everyone at ELMO.

“By 2017, we had a fully convergent solution that assisted companies in managing the entire employee life cycle from hire to retire,” Danny explains. From 2014 to 2017, the company grew revenue by about 35 per cent each year. In 2017, ELMO listed on the ASX. “We raised A$25 million,” Danny says.

“With that money, we accelerated our growth by further investing in our people and products. We supplemented our organic growth with strategic acquisitions.” As ELMO moved from the startup phase into the scale-up phase of business growth, Danny maintained a focus on cutting-edge innovation and investment in technology.

“Although we are rapidly scaling, we’re a mature business. We invest heavily in technology and will continue to do so.” One of ELMO’s recent partnerships is with the University of Technology Sydney.

“We’re developing an AI-driven predictive analytics capability,” Danny explains. “We are diving into our deep data sets to find patterns of behaviour across an employee life cycle, and we’re putting together hypotheses that are going to drive these algorithms – the AI.”

The project will deliver predictive analytics toolsets to manage hiring risks and help companies put together workforce strategies. “Our vision is to continue to provide a seamless employee experience to millions of workers in Australia and New Zealand,” Danny says.

“We are also taking the opportunity to look at geographical expansion, as we’ve just acquired an e-learning business with operations and customers in the UK. We’re at a historic crossroad. I don’t think things are going to be the same after COVID-19. I believe that remote working will become more popular and there’ll be a rapid engagement of cloud-based technologies and general automation of the way companies manage people.”

Danny credits much of his success to listening. He relays a time about 10 years ago when he had the opportunity to briefly meet the Dalai Lama, who famously said, “When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.”

The idea to first listen and then act left a mark on Danny’s leadership style. “Listening to our customers is one of the reasons we’ve been able to scale,” he says. “But it is just as important to listen to the great people at ELMO. There are a lot of fantastic ideas.”

The essential factor, he says, is to “talk less and listen more”. ELMO’s ongoing innovation is what continues to drive Danny as well as his team. “It excites me that technology can make life easier for millions of people,” he says.

“It excites everyone at ELMO.” He concludes the conversation with a piece of advice: “If there’s an innovation that you truly believe in, that you think is the future, stick with it.”

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