CEO INTERVIEW: SunFish DataOn -Real Business – Real Solutions
New Success Stories - SunFish DataOn
SRI COLES- CEO
Please share with us briefly what you do.
I am the Chief Executive Officer of SunFish DataOn Philippines, Inc. (SDP) – we provide reliable and flexible HR business solutions through SunFish SaaS, an extensive and fully integrated HR Information System (HRIS) software, and GreatDay HR, our enhanced and standalone mobile application. As CEO, I currently oversee all tasks and operations, including sales, implementation, and support for our fast-growing client base, and are very much hands-on with each at the moment. For now, I pretty much am involved with mostly everything day-to-day primarily to support the team and maintain clients’ satisfaction. I am basically a jack-of-all-trades for the business, practically wearing any hat that may be urgently needed at any given time.
What were you doing before this?
Prior to SDP, I’ve had 30 years of professional experience mostly with HR shared services organizations in Delivery or Operations. I am grateful to have worked with P&G, IBM, and most recently HCX Technology Partners (a member of the Ayala Group of Companies), prior to setting up SDP. I have held both regional and global leadership roles here, as well as in Indonesia and Australia, covering Human Capital Management disciplines ranging from CompBen, Employee Data, Payroll, Talent Management, and other core and strategic employee services. In these roles, I’ve also had extensive exposure to implementing strategic initiatives in sales, business development, and financial performance monitoring, as well as leading new and breakthrough offerings in the market.
Describe your product. How does it work?
SunFish HR is a comprehensive software HR Information System (HRIS) that allows companies to gain a competitive advantage by improving the quality of the people and the efficiency of the business processes. It is developed with a focus on cloud computing, and available as a Software as a Service (Saas) subscription or an On-Premise purchased application.
Its features are mainly grouped into two: SunFish HR Base and SunFish HR Talent. SunFish HR Base allows for efficient management of common HR Tasks (functional/operational) such as Employee Data, Timekeeping, and Attendance, Payroll, and Benefits. SunFish HR Talent focuses on the development of human capital through HR strategic tasks such as Recruitment, Training, Performance, and Talent Management, helping build a stable, engaged, and high performing workforce.
SunFish HR integrates all these core and strategic tasks to provide a holistic approach to managing and developing talent. All of our features are DOLE Compliant and offers complex company policy configuration as well.
What are the key benefits?
SunFish HR’s key benefits would be the following: User-friendly (easy to use interface, follows the way users work, easy access via web or mobile app), Intelligent (advanced analytics, automated workflows, comprehensive, and built-in best practices approach to Talent Management), Secure (internationally certified data security, built on the latest in cloud technologies), and Far-Reaching (integrated and automated end-to-end HR functions, empowering employees through self-service, readily provides data for tracking and analysis).
Who are your closest competitors?
I’d consider our closest competitors to be Ramco and SAP SuccessFactors HCM, Oracle Fusion, Workday, etc., mainly because their global breadth and the range of services their HRIS offers is within the same sphere as what SDP covers, at a more competitive price range. There are other similar companies as well as providing HRIS solutions, however, their main services highlight Payroll and some Recruitment/Hiring. SunFish covers way beyond, encompassing a wide range of HR core and strategic tasks.
Who is your first customer and how did that happen? What were they using before this, and why did they switch?
A Hotel, Resort, and Casino in Manila and a Japanese fast-food chain were our first two customers. Following email lead generations, we were requested to present to their companies. While they had an existing HRIS provider then, they were not satisfied with how the current features worked for them in terms of reporting, control, scheduling too many manual processes – even if everything was already automated.
What motivated you to start this business?
I found my last role (prior to SDP) with HCX Technology Partners fulfilling as I was like running the entire business. There I got introduced to SunFish, and I believe it is the right product for a country like the Philippines who is cost-conscious; the purchasing power is best on price and we offer more than that. Our product is at the level of other global brands like Oracle, Workday, Ramco, SuccessFactors, but at a more affordable price range. There is a lot of untapped market for SunFish to grow. In addition to that, SunFish’s founder, Gordon Enns, was a leader I truly admired and looked up to. I respect how he ran the business well, not afraid of competitors, but rather believed in fair market share and healthy competition as a means to see what you can offer uniquely, and to always have an innovative mind to continue further developing and adding more value to your product.
What is your biggest sacrifice to make this work?
I would consider the biggest sacrifice my shifting from steady-income salary-based jobs to now being the business owner, and driving it to ensure that we generate revenue continuously for our employees and business expenditures. For the last 30 years, I was guaranteed a decent salary every pay day, regardless of business performance or market conditions. Now, I rely heavily on both, to ensure that money steadily, and even increasingly, comes to the business.
How did you get funded?
In relation to my previous answer, we used up all our savings to fund this business. We did not want to rely on loans. We tightened up our belt, let go of luxuries we used to enjoy before, gave up practically everything, including a lot of comfort zones to set up this business. It was a huge adjustment and admittedly difficult at the start that I almost gave up; but thanks to mentors around me who encouraged and enabled me, glad we pushed on and grateful to see our efforts paying off and unfolding much more potential as we continue with this journey.
What has been your most successful form of marketing?
We’re privileged to be at a time wherein Social Media has a wide reach and is very effective in terms of Marketing. We leverage right now on LinkedIn and Facebook – that would be the digital side. But the power of Networking also can never be discounted. It really is a small world that building and nurturing the right relationships within your industry, from previous work, contacts from existing and previous partners and employees, etc., is always very powerful and can lead you to both business revenues and unmatched learning experiences. Human interaction is still best, aided with the available digital tools for ease and efficiency.
Describe a typical workday
I usually start my day at around 7:00 AM, beginning with checking on all team members especially during this time of the pandemic – work deliverables status, productivity, etc. After which I attend to emails to respond to clients. Then I work on Sales Matters – planning for meetings, scheduling demos with the team. Then visit the business’ financials. I start early and basically try to touch on all things I cover at the moment, simultaneously at a time on many occasions.
Who has been the greatest influence in your business and why?
For this, I would have to give credit to my husband, George Coles, SDP’s Director. I was originally scared to start this business, with all the uncertainties that go with it. But George has been the best influence and enabler, reminding me time and again that I know the business and am in the best position to run it, and we have indeed been reaping the benefits month on month since we began. He builds my confidence that I am the best sales person for the business since I know our product inside out and have the extensive HR knowledge. His background has always been sales, and he channels his knowledge assuring me that I can speak the best language than any other person because of the wealth of HR background and experience I have.
What has been your proudest moment in the history of your business and why?
Our proudest moment would be winning one of the largest enterprise accounts we have less than a year into our operations. They told us that they chose us because we were easy to talk to all throughout the deal, we were very knowledgeable about our product, and the entire team is in the Philippines. It was also a factor that even if we were a new company, at least in the Philippines, the product we were selling has been in the market for 20 years – and still we keep growing and build on new features for the clients; that was very impressive for our client.
What is your favourite business failure (and what did you learn from it)?
I will not necessarily refer to it as a failure but more of a disappointment. There was this one time we got awarded one of our largest enterprise deals after going through standard procurement processes. Unfortunately, 6-7 months into the project, suddenly they told us that they needed to cancel due to internal procurement hiccups/findings from their end, and they would therefore need to re-bid the project. My lesson there was that from the moment we were awarded the bid, I should have pushed harder to formalize the contract and should have been more firm in getting all of the paperwork done. That way, either we could have helped iron out any hiccups that came up, or we could have found out sooner that it really will not be workable after all; then, we would not have had to unnecessarily spend more months and redirected our efforts to other clients instead.
Another experience was when we lost the bid also for another large enterprise. During the proof of concept phase, we already had a sense that we weren’t really able to address all of the clients’ concerns – not because our product didn’t have it, but more because we were not able to illustrate or demonstrate it well enough. We were just on our first year of business then, and our team members were very young in the field. Just the same, it was a lesson on the need to speak with conviction and be confident with what our system is capable of.
If you could go back in time to speak to your 20-year-old self, what would you tell him/her?
At 20 years old, I was still studying in College then. I consider myself not really a very academic person, but more street smart, learning everything from experience. But just the same, looking back, I’d tell my 20-year old self to take my studies more seriously and maximize the opportunity to learn more. To not treat my studies just as a duty, but something I can also have fun with while learning.
What’s one productivity hack you can’t live without?
I would have to say it’s doing as much as I can when I can. I hate to be idle. I’d be one to multi-task as much as I can to maximize my time. I can’t sit doing nothing, I always move around. I am a very active person.
More about Sri :
My first job was a very basic one at a computer shop doing demos about the computer’s hardware as well as software (Wordstar, DOS, etc.). The Personal Computer came out in 1984, and I started working after College in 1986. It was a computer distributor/trading company to sell computers. I stayed for 1 ½ years before I got an opportunity to join P&G.
Pretty Woman immediately comes to mind! The film that immediately comes to mind is Pretty Woman! It is a feel-good movie which I really enjoyed, especially because of the actors: Richard Gere, Julia Roberts, and Laura San Giacomo (Julia’s friend in the movie).
To celebrate my 30 years in the corporate world, I went back to my hometown in Pontianak, Indonesia. From there, we visited the City of Singkawang (about 3 hours drive from Pontianak), to attend Cap Go Meh, an annual festival to welcome the 15th day of the Chinese New Year. It is one of Indonesia’s largest and very lively festivities attended by hundreds of thousands of people all over. The festival’s rituals are rooted in Taoism – wherein they showcase their inner power. In the festival, they demonstrate this through the most extreme stunts such as sitting on a knife, letting it pass through your throat, and many other nerve-wracking tactics. It was really scary but also very thrilling to watch.
I went with my husband and three best friends of ours, a Filipino and an American, and our photos then were amazing.
When you are not at work, where can we most likely find you?
At home! I am definitely a homebody and love spending time at home.
For more information: