Company founders play an integral role in the success of businesses. Their stories have the power to engage and inspire others, attract talented employees, persuade potential customers and motivate investors. But what makes a founder’s story so special? Spend a few minutes listening to Performica’s founder Alex Furman share his career story from software engineer to founding team member to head of human resources. His story evokes emotion and his truth-telling draws you in. It is clear he has a passion for innovation, change and experimentation.
In his HR role, Alex found a critical gap in his search for HR technology. ‘“The fundamental underlying structure by which all of the [HR] data is organized [and technology] functionality is organized … isn’t how work was getting done,” shares Alex, “In fast moving innovative companies, [the work] is cross functional … happening in networks not reporting structures.” So, Alex and team built their own tools. Interesting, right?
It gets better. It is what he learned from using those tools that is game changing. “It taught me valuable and painful lessons about my own biases,” shares Furman, “I don’t think of myself as a bias person. I believe in all ideas. But I was a part of the problem before I saw what was actually happening [in the way work was getting done].” So, Alex started making different decisions about the talent in the organization. Humbling, right?
This is why a founder’s story matters! His experience led him to start thinking about productizing the tool and inviting other organizations to experiment. “It became really clear that this was a much bigger story,” shares Furman, “to do it justice, it needed to be an independent company.” So, Alex started Performica to help other leaders navigate their own organizational challenges.
In our brief time on the #HRTechChat podcast we touch on topics like data privacy, attrition contagion, moments that matter, DEI, and organizational restructuring. “The more you know, the better you will do,” shares Furman, “executives of large companies don’t see everybody’s work and don’t even know everybody by name anymore. They systematically have a skewed perspective of how work gets done and who contributes what to the output.” Simply put, more talent and organizational decisions need to be made with Performica’s insight.
Our #HRTechChat Series is also available as a podcast on the following platforms:
Apple iTunes: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/3sixty-insights/id1555291436?itsct=podcast_box&itscg=30200
Google Podcast: https://podcasts.google.com/feed/aHR0cHM6Ly9mZWVkcy5zb3VuZGNsb3VkLmNvbS91c2Vycy9zb3VuZGNsb3VkOnVzZXJzOjkyNDY0ODI1OS9zb3VuZHMucnNz
Amazon Music & Audible: https://music.amazon.com/podcasts/7e7d809b-cb6c-4160-bacf-d0bb90e22f7c
Pocket Casts: https://pca.st/iaopd0r7
Pocket Cast: https://pca.st/iaopd0r7
See a service missing that you use? Let our team know by emailing research@3SixtyInsights.com.
Jennifer Dole 00:00
Well hello, and welcome to 360s #HRTechChat. I’m Jennifer Dole and super excited today to be here with Alex Furman from Performica. Alex, give it a hello and why don’t you begin by telling us about your career path because it is not a ladder. It is a lattice of lots of different experiences.
Alex Furman 00:26
Yeah, absolutely. It’s all. Hello. Thank you so much, Jennifer, for having me for having me here. And hi, everybody who’s watching us. So my name is Alex Furman. I started my career in software engineering. And I spent the first chunk of it and fintech. I was building various trading applications, like algorithmic trading applications of various sorts, that I had my quarter life crisis realize that life is short and life crisis. Yeah, very much. So I think at the ripe old age of 25, I realized that life is short. And that moving other people’s money around doesn’t inspire me, I landed, I landed as a software engineering leader and biotech and through a sequence of highly unlikely events, wound up CO founding a company called an Invitae that took off. And we started an ETA on something like 2010. We took it public in 2015. And arrived before taking it public. HR landed on my lap, again, in a very unexpected way. Well, what was happening is we as a company, we were crushing. So our product development was going great. Our technology was working, our commercial traction was wonderful. We were talking to investment bankers planning our IPO. So by any reasonable business metric, it seemed like we were winning. But what I saw from the inside was that we’re organizationally, we’re tearing ourselves apart. That was the year we went from something like 20 people to over 200, people were continuing to grow rapidly. And we spent the next few years doubling in size every time, decisions weren’t being made politics were emerging. And I, I personally, and we, as a founding team realized that this is an existential threat. Like we’re, we’re actually at this point, like, we might mess it all up. And, again, unexpectedly, I wound up stepping in and what I thought was a temporary way I thought I was going to step in and manage a company out of a crisis and pretty good in a crisis, and then hire a professional handed off to a professional and right off into the sunset, and go back to software engineering and bioinformatics. And that never happened. I fell in love with a role and I fell in love of people space.
Jennifer Dole 02:58
What I think is incredible about that, Alex, is that the you and the other founders thought so highly of the position that you wanted to step into it, you knew the value, you knew the contribution that HR was going to make to the organization, and you wanted to focus on it. While we were like drawn the short straw, the long straw, I got the great opportunity.
Alex Furman 03:26
Absolutely. Yeah, they got in, and it was career changing. And in some ways, I was like, certainly career changing. And I think in many ways, life changing unexpectedly. So to not to take too much credit we were it was less about this wonderful foresight that we had about the importance of a role and more I think that we were just scared until the company like a company really was tearing itself apart.
Jennifer Dole 03:54
And you were the brave one.
Alex Furman 03:57
And we decided that like one of us needs to do it, that we can’t, we can’t expect an outsider to come in and help us get off a burning platform that at least temporarily one of the founders needs to take her role. And again, it became so I went from leading software engineer and bioinformatics and now being like the HR executive at a publicly traded company. Had somebody told me that would happen to me, I would have laughed in their face, but here we are, and I was one of them.
Jennifer Dole 04:29
Your story’s not over yet. You still have more to tell about what happened once you became the head of people in HR.
Alex Furman 04:38
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So I spent the first few quarters really maybe about a year again, just managing us out of a crisis. And then by the time the fires were put out, and we successfully went public. I and I decided that you know what, I’m keeping this role I’m not going anywhere. I love this face or so. I still do, I started looking around for the right set of tools to enable me to do a good job. And to my amazement, I found this critical gap, which is that all of the tools on the marketplace and we started this from the 360 degree review and feedback angle, but generally speaking, it blew me away. But all of the tools on the marketplace were very, very work charade And how they were set up, like the fundamental underlying structure, by which all of the data is organized, all of the functionality is organized, our corporate silos, who reports to whom, business units, that sort of thing. And it was very, very obvious to me, that that wasn’t how work was getting done. Certainly not in detail. And then I started looking around more broadly. And it became really clear that that’s not how work gets done. In these fast moving innovative companies. All of the interesting stuff is cross functional, much of a is actually informal, and but types of things that I really, really cared about innovation and decision making. And they were they were attrition, even all of these things are happening in networks, that were far going all to the reporting structure. Yeah, I wanted to see those. And I couldn’t find anything that would let me see those. So we built it ourselves.
Jennifer Dole 06:26
You built your own. Amazing. And so you are in HR, you’re building your own tools, for your particular needs really focused on this kind of dynamic, teaming environment that you had. And what happened?
Alex Furman 06:48
Well, so the third thing that happened, again, as I asked the team of engineers to look at how work it actually is getting done. So what they did is they went and they, they looked at our calendar system, our email system, slack on the one hand, and a bunch of a collaboration to also salesforce.com, and GitHub, and so on, on the other end, took the metadata out of those importantly, we didn’t then and we still don’t look at like the contents of people’s emails and that sort of thing. That would be kind of creepy in my book. They took for metadata. So who is spending time with who is emailing who is tagging you like, who participates in the same Slack channel, who checks on the code and to the same repositories? And the first thing I asked for the first thing the team came back with was a real time representation of the company as a social graph. The first time I saw that, so like who the actual key nodes are, right, who are the people that around whom the company is organized for real? The first time I saw that I didn’t believe it, really, like my reaction was literally like, this was wrong, there must be a bug in the code, go find the bug. Because it turned out that about half of the most important people or just under half of the most important people in the organization, weren’t the people I was expected to. Really. Okay, so these are people whose names I don’t know. And I didn’t believe it. Yeah. And then when the team came back to me and said, You know what, Alex, there is no bog like, it is what it is, this is correct. And I started having the conversations and like validating the data, for all intents and purposes, it turned out that like, views and views were some of the most important people they were just quietly important. They were what we now call like the stealth leaders or stealth top performers. So those immediately around
Jennifer Dole 08:48
on the org chart right
Alex Furman 08:51
in not only were they not the leaders of the org chart, a lot of the time this was these were these were people who, like, I didn’t know what that was because they weren’t self promoting. So but people immediately around them went to them for advice, wanted them for mentorship and so for guidance when for them to get things done. But but that happened quietly, and neither me nor the rest of my executive team, like knew their names. And when we did I thought of them. I was like, look quiet engineers are quiet scientists. And there’s, there’s, in a very, very importantly, this was a painful lesson for me in many ways. Like that quiet group was mostly not made off of tall, straight white guys. Yeah. And we were and we were systematically not noticing and systematically under appreciating like just how wonderful these people were and just how important they weren’t for the organization. And just seeing that and using that to start, like promoting and trading. Fairly compensating, like just that was game changing. Game Changer also taught me like that valuable and painful lessons about my own bias is because I don’t think of myself as a bias person. And I like I believe in all the right all the good things. And I was a part of the problem before I saw like what was actually happening, I was very much a part of the problem.
Jennifer Dole 10:16
Well, this hierarchy is the problem, right? And making decisions based on org charts, is the problem. Yeah, and a lot of information on how work actually gets done. And it’s different than what you thought, yeah.
Alex Furman 10:33
And we now have, or I now have years of experience, I’m looking at this first as a head of people at my previous company, and now helping perform it goes, customers navigate their own challenges. And we, like our assumptions are, in many ways routinely wrong about what matters and who matters and, and how work happens in our very own organizations.
Jennifer Dole 11:02
before we, before we get to what performer could does close that question on the career because you’re the CHRO, you’re using this tool, and what happens to your career.
Alex Furman 11:14
So starting, so basically, starting with this point that I just described, where I look at the data, and I realized that it’s like a correct to be critical. And see, like, critically important, I started thinking about productizing. So I, I realized that like, oh, wow, we’re onto something, this is kind of a big deal. And as a as a head of people out on eBay, I invited a couple of friendly organizations to like, try out these tools and see if they work for them. I didn’t know if that was like idiosyncratic to my org, or something that will actually generalize. And it did, right. Like those experiments were very successful. Hmm. And which led me earlier this year to work with the rest of my management team and the meetings board of directors on basically on spinning up at the college, it became really clear what this was a much bigger story of unjust than an internal tool. And to do a justice and to really do a good job here used to be an independent company with its own financing that is basically focusing on justice. So earlier this year, we spawned the technology out of vitae and vitae became a customer, we signed a couple more customers. And we’re and we’re now developing perform ACA as a as a standalone as a standalone entity as a standalone organization,
Jennifer Dole 12:43
An incredible career path for you, and an exciting journey. And I love this kind of innovation and change and experimentation that you kind of characterize as your career.
Alex Furman 12:57
Thank you. i It has been it’s been interesting. Most of the things I planned in my career never happened. And most of the interesting things that happened were entirely unplanned. And I think that was just a pattern in my life.
Jennifer Dole 13:10
I think there it is, right? You just can’t plan for these things. You just have to follow your own path, right? Yeah. So Performica it’s, you’re now leading this company, and you’ve got customers and tell us about Performica.
Alex Furman 13:31
So again, Performica was born out of this realization that many of the things that we really, really care about from an HR perspective, frankly, from like running, like managing organized organizations perspective. Yeah, they happen in networks, not overcharge. Yep, so the performance, particularly the underlying layer to our technology is the Performica org graph. And we build the org graph again, by looking at a bunch of these internal systems in a very, very privacy conscious way. I can talk about this, like I can talk about this for hours. And then once we have the org graph, there’s a number of things that we can do with it. One of the module that I’m incredibly excited right now has to do with managing attrition. Turned out that once when you look at the dynamics of attrition on the organization longitudinally, it turns out that this concept of attrition contagion is incredibly predictive, that that basically people and especially strong people follow each other out. And we kind of know this, we have decent data on this about managers leaving so we know that when my manager leaves, I am now I’m much more likely to leave, especially if I’m a high performing employee, because they’re gonna recruit me over to wherever they can because I had a sense of safety and I could rely on a good review When I can’t anymore, and I don’t know what’s going to happen. And generally speaking, we kind of novice, we have good data about this. Now it turns out when we started looking at the org graph over time, it turns out that the exactly the same thing happens with your strong cross functional types. So when my body and my partner and PNA, who I launch products together with my buddy in marketing, when they leave, it has exactly the same effect on me, again, partially because they like working with me, and they’ll try to recruit me over, presumably, I’m doing a good job here. Right? Partially because I lost a part or I lost a sense of safety, this might be a good time to look at my LinkedIn profile, where maybe pick up a phone or answer that email from a recruiter. And it turns out that this cross functional effect, the strength, like the predictive strength of a single event is a little somewhat weaker than the manager leaving, but we only have one manager, and we have a whole bunch of these close relations. So the cumulative effect of those is really what drives attrition, and especially what drives attrition among the high performing section of the company. It’s your good people who follow each other out. Yep. And once you notice, you can we can, what we offer our customers is a way that you have us in real time to kind of catch a domino, the second domino before the rest of them fault. So once somebody resigns, we know exactly who is now at risk. And we can walk their managers through a like Best Practices driven workflow and how to retain them doing, like many of the things we all kind of know we should be doing, but most of the time never yet, especially when it comes to following up later.
Jennifer Dole 16:44
Yeah, and you’re hitting on those moments that matter, right? With action at the time.
Alex Furman 16:50
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And I got like looking at, like, looking at predicting attrition as something that many people have been trying to do over the years. Like, it actually kind of is, typically tends to be the first question asked, like, and usually foreign people analytics organization, by but it turned out that without looking at those relationships, and without the ability to look at these cross functional interactions in real time, we don’t have the most predictive variables that really allow us to intervene on time. And if you have the performance at work, if you can, and again, it’s a breakthrough when we discovered it. Yeah. And it’s something that I’m really excited about building out at the moment.
Jennifer Dole 17:41
Yeah. I mean, just listening to the story. Alex, you’ve hit on a couple key points that I think organizations are struggling with right now. Right, with diversity, equity inclusion, and who are those quiet leaders, with retention of those high performing quiet leaders and others? You know, I think about one of the other things that organizations are struggling with right now, in kind of a looming difficult economic situation is restructuring. And, you know, do you see a use case for Performica, aka, in helping organizations either through restructuring, or post restructuring?
Alex Furman 18:27
Yeah, absolutely. And we’re in the middle. So we’re working with one of our customers, we’re working through this as we speak. And again, the implications of seeing the org graph and knowing the org graph are incredibly powerful. So for our customer of ours, who just did unfortunately shut down a line of business and half though, and how to lay off a number of people. What we did for him was, we identify the out of the group that stayed we helped them quickly identify who the most influential individuals are, again, about half of them they knew about on thought of as capital level leaders before Performica, but about half were surprises. That was right and knowing who these internal influencers are, lets management basically work through them to get the right feedback. They’re seen as leaders for a reason, and especially but quiet leaders are for a reason, because nobody designated them for that role. So they provide some of the best feedback but they’re also able to help stabilize the organization because again, they’re influential people trust them. People trust their opinions. So they can both drive the kind of change that’s needed to stabilize and also guide Yeah, also help them identify the what we call the orphans, right. The people who are the last remaining person on orphans, yeah, the people who lost many other colleagues, and are frankly in a really tough spot. I’ve been in that situation a couple of times when I survived layoffs and BBs lives were lost all your friends, many times you lost your manager, you’re probably the last person who is left holding up the work of a team. And, and these are the people who tend to be overwhelmed, and who tend to be demoralized and who really need help, like reintegrating as quickly as possible. And again, with Performica, org graph, we can identify those individuals and help our managers oftentimes are new managers, Kiva, because losing those people is incredibly painful. Because oftentimes, they are like the last verse of a certain bunch of institutional knowledge or like the last person who is performing some key workflow. And when they leave, it’s a disaster. And again, a very, very structured and guided way our customers can make sure to retain these people who they want to retain. And then lastly, and this is a part this is actually the part that I’m most excited about, is we, we can help our customers identify the people who are very well positioned to step into the organizational gaps that just opened up.
Jennifer Dole 21:18
Wow. Tell me about that.
Alex Furman 21:23
so like, yeah, and this is you can kind of think of us as the what you true bench strength, right? The second tier are leaders, who just lost some of the people around them, that were making critical workloads run on making the organization, tick, and so on. And these are the people who can step into those gaps now, and who can on one hand, are very, very well positioned to expand their influence and expand their impact and grow in their career. But on the other hand, they’re very, very likely to burn out. And they need support. And again, plugging these critical holes that just opened up in an organization. And look, again, I can talk about this for hours to and we’re just scratching the surface. But certainly from my experience with media and my role, but also with Performica, because customers now, like this kind of data is critical, critical, critical to a successful restructuring. And in some ways, like we’re, we’d be crazy not to take advantage of it.
Jennifer Dole 22:29
Yeah. And I think that you know, you can’t wait for the restructuring event to happen to bring in perform a go. Oh, absolutely. And there’s things that you can learn before that right, as we’ve talked about with DEI and retention, but certainly having this in place before can help you manage through. Okay, so you’re in the headlines?
Alex Furman 22:59
Yeah, absolutely. The more you know, the better you will do. And we have routinely as executives on larger companies, where we don’t see everybody’s work, and we don’t even know everybody by name anymore. We routinely have a skewed like a systematically skewed perspective of how work gets done, and who contributes what to the output as to the organizational output. And we make that and we start with that data, and we do our best, but we make bad decisions.
Jennifer Dole 23:36
Yep. With better decisions, better data, better decisions. And you can use this technology to be more human.
Alex Furman 23:49
Yeah, you can be you can use this technology to be more human, you can use this technology to be more fair. Again, one, and I and we’ve all heard many of us have had this experience, like I’ve had this experience a number of times where I survived the round of layoffs at a previous employer, and I saw the wrong people get fired and the wrong people stay. And we’re very slick as human beings we’re incredibly sensitive to on therapists. Yeah, when unfair decisions are being made like we know that we notice our employees notice. And they don’t like, there’s this knock down effect, right. When we fight over on people, not only did we just lose valuable contributors who are no longer contributing, and just like not having them as both, like, unfair to the individual and not great for the business. But the knock down effects of that on the culture and on. Everybody’s morale are sort of difficult to measure, but they’re staggering. They add up and the closer we get to making more fear decisions and more rational decisions, the have sort of the second word are benefits to the organization are equally massive.
Jennifer Dole 25:06
So Alex, why don’t more people use organizational network analysis to help them with these decisions?
Alex Furman 25:14
You know, I don’t know, Jennifer. It took me by when I got the head at the ball roll. I wasn’t expecting to build HR software, right. But I got the head of the ball roll at a biotech company, we were in clinical genetics, we were going fast. I went into it with the expectation that I will find the right tools out on the marketplace, and I will assemble my stack of technology, and go on and do my job. And it actually kind of blew me away that this wasn’t available. And seeing that we started experimenting, gonna be experiments are successful. And here we are. I think that it’s unfair to say that this sort of thing is not out there, this sort of thing is out there. And many of the big consultancies routinely do this kind of analysis, to help companies recover from restructuring or rewards or changes of control. During m&a and integration. You can totally if you’re buying a company, you can totally write a like multi million dollar check to McKinsey or Bain or BCG and they will help you have this sort of thing and do a great job. But what isn’t really out there broadly, yeah, initially, to my amazement, and now this is kind of both the opportunity and the mission, we’re pursuing at Performica is a way for companies to do this routinely on the background, not some high dollar value consulting engagement at a, like, designate a difficult or critical time, but really all the time. Right. And, again, our experience and the experience of our of our early castellers is that, like doing this changes the game and and changes the companies to the better. And, and this is both it’s kind of too bad that it’s not out there already on one hand. But on the other hand, again, this is this is like a wonderful opportunity for us were the performance of the organization was pursuing. Incredibly,
Jennifer Dole 27:31
You know, democratizing access to this type of analysis. For decisions. This is the right time.
Alex Furman 27:42
Yeah, absolutely. And again, there’s, it’s good for the business, the bias angle, the sort of Sheer fact that having access to this data and having access to this tool like really allows us to see the types of people in our organizations that we would otherwise like, with the best intentions, but routinely and systematically over look like that, as of itself is like, incredibly inspiring to me.
Jennifer Dole 28:26
Yeah, I mean, just so in such a short period of time, you’ve told us not only about your wonderful career path, but you’ve given examples of three really important use cases, DNI retention, restructuring. I mean, this is just the time to use this type of data to make good decisions. And, you know, balance the efficiency with the empathy, using this data to be more human. I mean, that’s just, that’s what I’m hearing. So you’re just getting started. It’s an exciting time for you and your team. And as we’re coming to close here, is there anything else that you want people to know about Performica?
Alex Furman 29:14
I don’t know, I think I think we covered most of it. I mean, it’s worth mentioning that that is at the very tail end of 2022. Like I literally in the last week of December, we did close around a financing from a wonderful group of investors. Where, as an organization, we’re looking to grow and expand in the coming years, as we continue building out our technology and we continue building out our services. And in many, many ways, we kind of I feel like we’ve talked about the big themes, but I also feel really strongly that we’re just we’re barely scratching the surface on the possibilities here, and maybe I’ll leave you with this analogy. And this is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot over the past while. So imagine I have a T shirt printing business, and I want to sell you a t shirt. By the time you’re seeing my ad, a bunch of incredibly sophisticated things happen, right? I know who you are, I know what music you listen to, I know what influencers influence you, I probably paid one of them to wear my T shirt or write or review. Many of these things are creepy, by the way, right? So again, this is like think of us as a partial analogy, okay, but if I want to send you a $20 T shirt, I am doing all of these things that are incredibly sophisticated, and aligned off of a very, very personalized approach to you. Before all of this, the way I try to sell you a t shirt, as I taken out on the yellow pages, I’d maybe take out an ad in a newspaper, or send you spam on the tree like you and everybody else, and you’re in your neighborhood. And that was really, really inefficient, and we stopped doing it because it’s stupid. Now you’re the lifetime value of a buyer of T shirts, I was like, Oh, I don’t know, 100 bucks, because maybe you’ll buy like three or four T shirts from the NDB T shirts are expensive. Now, if you think about it, in an organization of any appreciable size, like the lifetime value of a high performing salesperson of a high performing Software Engineer of a high performing marketing, like whoever it is, like, is measured on hundreds of 1000s. And often millions of dollars. And as corporate America like how do we talk to our employees, we send out company wide memos, but nobody reads like we post things on intranet. So there’ll be ghosts. I know that was because I was responsible for it in China. And I measured right like whether or not anybody knows, we fit to we try to fit in too much. And to all hands meetings that happened to me early on are too expensive. So nobody retains anything. And we know this because we measure this. And in general, were doing the equivalent of sending spam on dead trees with stamps on it and taking out ads on the yellow pages. And that is insane. Now there’s a there’s a really interesting ethics and privacy angle to us that I don’t think we have time to go into. And it’s very, very important to do all of these things in a way that is transparent and honest and where everybody is comfortable. And we have years of experience here. But you can do things to make sure that your approach your people is personalized. And paradoxically, in this high tech way you do wind up being much more human together. And yeah, it makes for a different dynamic, a different culture, the foreign company, much better.
Jennifer Dole 32:51
Yeah, I appreciate that analogy, because, you know, as consumers, we expect a personalized experience. Yeah. And the same technology can help us have a personalized experience as an employee. Absolutely. Right. And it’s beyond. It’s just making it feel like it’s connected. So Well, Alex, thank you for your time today. I love this fast conversation where we packed a lot in certainly, you know, people can follow up and learn more about Performica on your website or through connecting with you on LinkedIn.
Alex Furman 33:36
Or just or just send me an email Alex at Performica. I can talk about this for as long as you want.
Jennifer Dole 33:44
Yeah, I think there’s a couple of follow up items that people will be interested in learning more about how it works. So thank you for sharing your email. And again, thank you so much. This was great. And we’ll talk soon! Alright, bye!