In the nearly two decades that Carolyn Peer worked at human resources giant ADP, she came across the same problem again and again: How do you retain your best employees?
“Clients would say to me, 'Carolyn, you’re sitting on gobs and gobs of data. How come your company can’t help me predict what is going to help my employees engage and perform the best that they can on the job? We don’t want to lose our best people. We want to give them the tools and resources,’” Peer says. “And they were right! We were sitting on gobs of data. But the technology wasn’t there, or it was in a basic form.”
Peer stepped away from her secure career in 2017 to answer this problem, founding the tech startup Humaxa, a smart HR assistant that gathers employee feedback to improve retention.
The app integrates with the popular messaging platform Slack, where employees can anonymously talk to a lively AI bot dubbed Max about their needs surrounding work stress, work-life balance, and manager support. Through these interactions, Max can help solve employees' problems by facilitating group discussions, providing mentorship, and relaying anonymous feedback to management. These conversations are then aggregated into a data dashboard where employers can identify the kinds of support their staff needs.
It was the solution to the big problem Peer kept hearing about, but leaving a stable job to start a company is no easy decision, including Peer, who was a leader in her industry.
“It was a risk. I walked away from a job that played well and worked with smart people that were great to work with. I could be anywhere that I wanted,” she says. “But at the end of the day, what finally got me to take that leap of faith was I pictured myself on my death bed, thinking, What if I had really done what I wanted to do? And sure, I may fail miserably, and I may end up broke. But what I would really want to know is I gave it my 100% of what I was capable of. And if I fail, I fail. And if not, I would never look back on my life and wonder, What if I actually tried?”
Humaxa is already proving its worth. Since entering beta testing in 2018, the startup has seen a 25-50% increase in product engagement compared to other employee survey tools in the market.
The company has recently reprogrammed the AI assistant to discuss COVID-related issues in the workplace, such as social distancing and remote work transitions. Peer says this is one of the best ways that tech founders can respond to the pandemic: “Do little pivots that meet the need of an entire industry that’s been disrupted because of COVID. Recognize and think about things in terms of what’s been disrupted and how can we help with that situation.”
As a first-time founder, Peer notes the importance of support during the entrepreneurial process. From the anxiety of making payroll for your staff to the stress of sending out that right email, having a “strong support network within the business and startup community,” where other founders “will know exactly what you’re going through” is something that comforts Peer during the hard times. Taking care of yourself is equally important.
“You have to be kind to yourself,” says Peer. “It’s so easy to get caught up in the, Oh my gosh, I have 20,000 things to do today, and I only did 15,000. Where am I going to find the time to do the other 5,000? You have to take care of yourself, and if you don’t, your health suffers, your psychological well-being suffers, everything suffers, including your business.”
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