David Niu explains how and why he created TINYpulse, the online systems that allows businesses to collect anonymous feedback from their employees.
David believes that great companies are made of two things, “people and culture” and so with this in mind, he created TINY pulse – which allows employees to speak their minds without the fear of getting fired.
With this online platform David hopes to give business owners a way to get more valuable feedback from their employees, and also help them improve their company’s culture.
Q: Please tell us a little bit about your company – what is TINYhr all about?
TINYhr helps organizations around the world improve employee and customer happiness through lightweight, cloud-based software-as-a-service solutions.
We have two product lines, TINYpulse which measures, or keeps a “pulse,” on employee engagement through one question each week. A hallmark of our product is that responses are kept completely anonymous, thus creating a safe harbor for employees to give honest opinions about their employers. The service also features a 24/7 virtual suggestion forum and “Cheers for Peers,” a popular peer recognition feature that allows employees to publicly or anonymously show gratitude towards to their colleagues. Our customers come from a variety of industries and sectors, including large tech companies, startups and government organizations.
Our other product, CLIENTpulse, is a similar solution targeted at external customers rather than employees. Many TINYpulse customers liked our product so much that they wanted a similar product to gauge customer relations. We launched CLIENTpulse earlier this year, and organizations are using the solution to poll their customers on a consistent basis to gain insights about customer satisfaction and to identify blind spots before clients jump ship. You don’t get a chance to lose an employee or client twice.
Q: Please tell us a little bit about your background and how you started your company?
I am a passionate serial entrepreneur who left a high-profile corporate career and launched two successful companies, NetConversions (acquired by aQuantive) and BuddyTV, prior to founding TINYhr.
In early 2012, after feeling burnt out from my career, I sold and stored all my belongs, bought one-way tickets to New Zealand for myself and my young family, and started a “careercation” around the world. During my six-months “careercation,” my family and I traveled around the world creating amazing shared memories.
Being an entrepreneur and lifelong learner, I used my “careercation” as an opportunity to interview other entrepreneurs around the world. I quickly discovered a common major pain point for all entrepreneurs, regardless of geography, culture or sector, is employee engagement.
Upon returning, I was determined to develop a user-friendly solution that will help organizations around the world gauge employee engagement and improve communications before personnel issues fester and reach crisis level. That’s how TINYhr was born.
I graduated from UC Berkeley with Distinction and received my MBA from The Wharton School. I also studied at Beijing University and INSEAD and was the youngest recipient of the prestigious Woodrow Wilson Fellowship.
Q: What are some of the projects you are working on right now?
I am focusing on growing TINYhr’s two products, TINYpulse and CLIENTpulse. TINYpulse experienced tremendous growth last year, tripling the number of customers, and we predict a similar growth trajectory this year; a testament to the need for our product. We also doubled our staff in February due to the increase in the number of customers. CLIENTpulse just launched this year and the responses have been overwhelmingly positive.
In addition to TINYhr, the other exciting project I am working on is my first book which will be a collection of interviews and insights, gathered during my “careercation,” from entrepreneurs around the world from Shanghai to New Zealand. The book is slated for publication in April 2014.
Q: What are your plans for the future, how do you plan to grow this company?
My plan for the future is to grow TINYhr’s customer base to include thousands of businesses and organizations. Once TINYhr reaches a certain size, I also envision the company to be an incubator for other passionate entrepreneurs who are trying to bring their great ideas to fruition. The incubator is a way for me to “pay it forward” for all the guidance and support I received from my mentors during my career.
Q: What were the top 3 mistakes you made starting your business and what did you learn from it?
I can only choose 3 mistakes? I’m going to draw from mistakes I made throughout my entrepreneurial career, not just from TINYhr.
i. Obsessing about selling or going public. For my first company, NetConversions, people would ask me and my co-founder what our plans were for the business. We’d always say selling to a complementary player or going public. In hindsight, we were just dumb MBA dropouts. Instead, the answer should’ve been, “We’re going to delight our customers who will then pay us. If we have enough of these clients then we’ll have lots of great options.” That should’ve been first and foremost. We learned this lesson through a near death company experience, but we were able to pull out of the death spiral to actually sell the business.
ii. Hiring more for skill than fit. In the past, all things being equal, I’d always err on hiring for skill rather than fit. Now my approach is flipped. All things being equal, I’ll hire for fit and train for skills. As someone once told me, if you want a happy, smiley culture, then hire happy, smiley people to start.
iii. Not focusing enough on culture. In the past, I’d always have vision, mission, and values because that’s an exercise that every founder should do. But after I completed the exercise, I’d share it and then tape it up in the breakroom. But no one knew what they were. So essentially, it was a big waste of time. Now, we role play decision making based on our values, give recognition based on our values, and constantly revisit our mission and vision. We even share our values in our job descriptions to ensure that candidates resonate with them before they even apply.
Q: Please share some advice for new entrepreneurs, someone who’s just starting out.
Someone once told me that you can never control revenue, but you can always control costs. At the end of the day, companies die because they run out of money. One can extend their runway as long as possible by watching their expenses like a hawk.
Q: What was the best business advice you have ever received and who gave you this advice?
It’s all about people and culture. The CEO’s who gave it to me were the ones I interviewed over a six month period as I was trying to become a better leader and find inspiration for my next startup. In the past, I thought it was about customers, product, marketing, strategy, etc. Nope – all about people and culture.
Q: What are the top 3 online tools and resources you’re currently using to grow your company?
My three favorite online tools are:
i. Google Apps. We get our email, collaboration, docs, spreadsheet all through them. It is reliable, easy, and fast.
ii. TINYpulse. We eat our own dogfood and using TINYpulse has kept me on a constant rhythm of receiving and responding to feedback. For example, I discovered through TINYpulse that our onboarding process left a lot to be desired. I stood up and took accountability and pledged that we’ll go from “zero to hero” and that others will write case studies on our onboarding process in the future as we strive to improve.
iii. CLIENTpulse. Sorry to mention another one of our products, but I just looked at the tabs open on my browser to answer this. Getting feedback from clients is gold to us. It’s amazingly transparent, humbling, and empowering when we review hundreds of candid responses from our clients. They are unveiling a blueprint for improvement for them.
Q: What’s your definition of success?
From a business standpoint, it’s living out our vision, mission, and values. If we do that, we’re going to build a great company where people love to come to work.
Q: What are three books you recommend entrepreneurs to read?
Q: What is your favorite entrepreneurship quote?
Q: How can our community get in touch with you?
Readers can email me at David @ TINYhr(dot)com.
Q: What has been the response to TINYpulse?
Responses to TINYpulse have been overwhelmingly positive. Here are a couple of examples from company founders:
“To be honest, I didn’t realize we needed TINYpulse before, so I didn’t have expectations because I didn’t know how well it would be received. Now though, my team looks forward to it every week because they can be honest without any fear. The best part about TINYpulse is the Cheers for Peers section. Every week our team gets to pat each other on the back and really let someone shine.” – Amy Balliett, Founder and President of Killer Infographics
“A wonderful tool for measuring the happiness of your team, and optimizing your company culture for long-term success. We’re recommending it to everyone we know.” – Ben Jesson and Dr. Karl Blanks, Co-Founders of Conversion Rate Experts
Other comments from users:
“Thank you so much for the creativity that brings a streamlined, efficient method to this process. It makes it easy for everyone to take part, with no excuses that they can’t figure it out.”
“I love having a venue through which to share my feedback with my company each week. Even better, I love giving and receiving Cheers! It’s nice to have an opportunity to send a thank you to those who make my work experience better.”
Readers can also visit our twitter@tinypulse to see in real time how TINYpulse is making a difference in employees’ lives.