How did People First RH get started?
In 2018, we were looking for a workplace harassment reporting tool for our own organizations. It was the height of the #MeToo movement and we wanted to ensure that our staff had a way to safely and securely share any issues they encountered. We contacted several vendors and what we got was the same training modules that have been in the market for 20+ years.
We thought we could do better and so we created People First. People First goes beyond reporting to actually resolving workplace conflict. The platform is designed to ensure that both the employee and the employer reach a successful outcome.
This is not your first time founding a company. What do you think is the most important skill founders need to succeed?
Great founders create successful winning teams. This means that your teams don’t work for you, but you work for them. It’s the times when I can’t keep up with the energy and pace of my team that I know I’ve hired the right people.
How did you meet your co-founder? How do you work together?
Shantanu and I met in 1997. We were both recent college graduates at PwC (then Price Waterhouse). Over the years, we had experienced this topic both from the employee and employer standpoint and felt it was time to address it in a systematic way. Shantanu and I have very different skill sets, which works perfectly for a resource constrained startup!
He leads our product, sales and finance efforts and I work on our marketing, fundraising and partnership opportunities. Having known each other for so long, we are very much at ease with the other person’s style and business decisions.
What’s been the #1 (or two) top challenges you’ve faced while launching your company?
We knew that reporting tools alone don’t solve the problem. 90% of people don’t report discrimination or harassment mainly out of fear of retaliation and opaque processes. We needed a software platform. Against the advice of others, we spent longer building the product and released the platform with the resolution functionality. We probably could have been in the market 6 months sooner, but the features we took the time to build are what has led to our early success. We have 100% resolution of all incidents in 18 days.
Have you learned anything new or surprising about yourself through this process?
I’ve learned that I have patience, which is something I’m not known for! I don’t doubt that People First will be successful and greatly improve the lives of employees all over the world. I know we created a product that is significant and impactful to everyone, so I don’t worry too much about those that won’t fund us or buy our product. I focus on the people that do see our vision.
In addition to People First RH, you are the founder of Nafasi Ventures, an advisory firm helping the private sector incorporate social impact into their work. What's your advice for companies looking to expand or create a social impact program?
Create programs that are measurable and accountable.
If you can’t be fired for the underperformance of your social impact program, then you didn’t create a program of importance.
Private sector companies are very comfortable measuring their success in terms of revenue, number of customers and retention. They don’t hold themselves accountable to social impact measures as much as they could.
What's the best advice you've ever recieved?
The best advice I’ve received is to stay authentic. It’s okay to not have everyone like you, but you can’t be a great leader if people don’t respect you.
How have today’s current events and the COVID-19 pandemic affected your business?
The recent events, like the murder of George Floyd and subsequent global protests, have drawn more attention to the racial inequality existing in the world today. This includes the workplace. As a result, we have definitely seen increased inbound interest in our product.
Unlike some startups, we have not seen a slowdown in product usage or interest due to COVID-19. Unfortunately discrimination and harassment can also happen in remote work environments. We are seeing cases reported, and resolved, while employees work from home.
What’s your team culture like?
We work on a serious topic, but the team is relaxed and we love to have fun and laugh.
What's your superpower?
Getting stuff done. I’m very good at working in any location and with a diverse team. I keep focused on our goals and can break down anything complex into small, movable pieces.
What’s your kryptonite?
Do you have any unusual routines or habits?
I have an exercise routine that’s a mixture of CrossFit and yin yoga. It keeps me balanced and away from work often enough.
At a startup, no two days are the same, so it’s important to have practices that you enjoy doing regardless of your workload.
Do you have any other hobbies/things you like to do in your spare time?
I really enjoy photography and cooking. Fun fact, I spent a month in Thailand taking cooking classes while living on a farm.
Are there any apps or gadgets that you can’t live without?
I’ve been reducing my social media and gadget consumption over the past few years! However, I still can’t live without my Kindle.
What’s your experience been like as a female founder? Any advice for women looking to start their own company?
In some ways, being a female founder is no different than being a male founder. You tackle the same problems for your business. Right now, there is a lot of support in the tech industry, and beyond, for female founders. I think that’s a great and needed thing. I encourage all women that want to start a business to take advantage of these resources as much as possible.