Over the past decade, technology workers have witnessed how the "iterate and improve" agile development methods have significantly improved the software experience. CultureAmp's founders wondered whether this thinking could revolutionise human resources.
Douglas English, Rod Hamilton, Jon Williams and Didier Elzinga were inspired to address one of the biggest complaints about workplace change programs: that corporate sentiment doesn't quickly translate to tangible benefits.
Traditional HR consultants can take up to three months to survey employees and package the results, according to co-founder English. Companies spend months converting this information into a comprehensive corporate overhaul, and then implementing this across the organisation. It often takes a year for these benefits to filter down to staff members, who are faced with new problems with their working environment.
It was like the old waterfall development framework, where technology systems are developed in long-term, one-off projects.
The founders aimed to replicate Agile's cycle of regular release, smaller features, which benefits users and developers alike, with their application Murmur. Murmur lets companies quickly understand what characteristics of the workplace engage (and alienate) employees by regularly surveying staff to assemble a real-time snapshot of employee sentiment, and a "driver analysis" explains the aspects the best engaged employees.
"Taking an idea and testing it, trying different things," English said. "What we're trying to do is make it possible for companies to take that approach with the way they go about improving their place of work."
The genesis of Murmur was when English, Hamilton and Williams worked together as contractors on the NAB technology change program. The catalyst was the co-working space Inspire9 — based in Richmond, Melbourne, and started by AngelCube investor Nathan Sampimon — where they met fellow co-worker Didier Elzinga. The team is complemented by chief scientist Jason McPherson, an organisational psychologist, who explained the real-world impact.
When they first started the business almost two years ago, it wasn't particularly successful. English and Williams believed that if they built it, customers would come (the foundation of the lean start-up dogma), but didn't give enough consideration to how they would make money.
This lesson taught them to lighten the emphasis on execution, and sharpen the focus on strategy and planning. For the most recent version of their app, they demonstrated a paper prototype to 30 CEOs months before they wrote the first lines of code. Success has come from learning to look before they code.
Now the business is profitable, and revenues are growing 50 per cent each quarter. The founders must decide whether to continue "boostrapping" the operations via profits, or whether to sell a chunk of the business to scale sales.
"We're just now starting to think about what's our next path: how much do we continue to bootstrap and when, and for what; should we consider taking investment?
"Mainly [considering] just how quickly do we want to grow? We've seen enough we know we can bootstrap ourselves, but if we took investment, we would be able to significantly accelerate the development, and the building out of actual product. Doing more of the marketing, advertising — making a bigger splash, more noise."
The four founders have lived and breathed the problem. They arrived at a successful product through multiple iterations, and it's endorsed by its peers.
Their perspective is naturally weighted toward the technical, as opposed to the human resources side.
Companies will want to leverage engaged workers via smartphones in order to improve working conditions.
Companies and employees will need to see tangible results, and larger HR companies could offer similar functionality.
The team has survived a long, challenging journey, which should have equipped them with the skills and determination to succeed.