Episode No:109

Unlocking Team Productivity with People Analytics and AI

Abhinav Chugh

CEO and Co-founder, Peoplebox

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Ep # 109: Unlocking Team
Productivity with People Analytics and AI ft. Abhinav Chugh (CEO and Co-founder, Peoplebox)
Ep # 109: Unlocking Team Productivity with People Analytics and AI ft. Abhinav Chugh (CEO and Co-founder, Peoplebox)
  • Ep # 109: Unlocking Team Productivity with People Analytics and AI ft. Abhinav Chugh (CEO and Co-founder, Peoplebox)

Episode Summary

In this episode of The Hyperengage Podcast, host Adil Saleh interviews Abhinav Chugh, CEO and co-founder of Peoplebox, a company that enhances team workflow management through performance and workflow integration tools. Chugh shares his entrepreneurial journey, highlighting the challenges of scaling businesses and how these experiences led to the inception of Peoplebox. The discussion also covers Peoplebox’s mission to solve the “ten X problem” by focusing on execution and culture through OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) and introduces an upcoming Gen AI product aimed at providing actionable people analytics from fragmented data. Chugh outlines the company’s growth, its pivot during the pandemic, the significance of their Y Combinator experience, and the strategic focus on leveraging generative AI for better decision-making and efficiency in workplace management.
Key Takeaways Time
Abhinav’s background and previous experience building startups 1:18
The challenges of rapid growth at his previous health tech startup 2:06
Identifying the need for better alignment, visibility, and accountability through OKRs 2:42
Co-founding Peoplebox to provide the power of data and alignment to companies 3:18
How Peoplebox focuses on execution, alignment, visibility and accountability 4:36
Launching Peoplebox gen AI for people analytics using AI to provide insights 7:30
Targeting mid-market companies now but going more upmarket with gen AI 9:42
Leveraging their integrations and customer data for richer insights 11:24
The ups and downs of their startup journey so far 14:30
Excitement about launching gen AI for people analytics 17:12

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Transcript

Adil Saleh (0:00:03) - Hey, greetings, everybody. This is Adil, your host. Just like every time, not so good on the energy, but this guy that we got to meet today is really going to bring everything to the high voltage. First off, thank you very much, Abhinav, for taking the time and joining this podcast. And just quick, quick overview on what Abhinav does. He's the CEO and co founder at Peoplebox. They've been around for about five years out of San Francisco. They're helping teams better manage their workflows. They're pretty much integrated with all the tools. It's more of a performance management and workflow management platform, helping teams from early stage to a team of size, of as big as you could think of. There are some unicorn companies using the platform. So we have Abhinav, who's been, I would say, the brains behind this platform and all that. We get to learn about people bugs. He's one of the co founders of the platform. Thank you, Abhinav, for taking the time. How are you feeling? Abhinav Chugh (0:01:11) - I'm feeling great, thank you. Glad to be here. Adil Saleh (0:01:14) - Love that. So, thinking of your journey, like, if we just talk about yours, how it transitioned, you've been back in early 2019, it's about like 15 years now. You've been building b, two b portals, and then you co found another platform more in the kind of a marketing space. So how this all rolled up to people box back in 2019, when you just thought, okay, we need to build this platform and we need to do it at scale. Abhinav Chugh (0:01:46) - Thank you, Adil. That's a great question. So let me start by going a little bit back. So I built my first startup when I was living in Europe. I was in Dublin, Ireland. I built my first SaaS startup then. And after that I actually joined, I would say, one of the fastest growing health startups that I had ever seen, or I think the word had ever seen. I joined when we were around 200 people. In less than two and a half years, we grew to almost 3000. And we raised around quarter billion dollars from the who's who, from Google, Sequoia, Tencent, Sofina, Matrix. And as you can imagine, when a company grow that fast, it comes with its own set of challenges. So we faced all sort of people and alignment challenges. Our glass store rating got a hit. We were not able to execute as fast as we were able to do. When we were, say, 3400 people, we were struggling with knowing each other. Employee engagement was not at the highest. And that was when, since Google was an investor, they introduced the whole concept of, okRs, to us and we just love that. And this was an idea of connecting the people and business data and execution to help companies grow faster was there in our mind, so we quit our roles. That's where I met with my co founder. He was an ex YC founder. He built a startup which was only the third startup in India to get through YC. And we said, okay, if this is a problem that most of the companies are facing, if we think that we have learned something, then let's go and build it out and give this power of data, this power of technology and alignment to every other company. Adil Saleh (0:04:05) - Absolutely. We talk about ten X problems like these product leaders that we get to speak like these founders. We talk about the ten X problem. What is the ten X problem that your platform is solving? We talk about all the a players that they have. Of course you'll have average players on your team as well, and then you'll have a players maybe on the leadership, but you need to know who players how to get the most work, like most productivity out of these folks, and of course how to get all of these average people that we have that are evolving over time with these folks that are smarter or maybe that are more experienced or skilled. So talking about ten X productivity and ten X outcomes, what is your view on thinking of this B two B ecosystem we are in? Like everybody is trying to do more with less. Everybody is trying to as a startup, everybody's trying to cut costs and optimize cost. Try to have a set of three or four tools to get everything out of them and not investing or thinking so much onto the training and management and then coming tools like people box. If you think smartly as a founder, this is not nice to have platform. It is must to have platform because your two or three or four or five or ten people, they're going to be as good as you get them a platform to perform or exhibit or express. So what's your view on this? Abhinav Chugh (0:05:37) - Yeah, so Adil, if you look at it, ultimately for almost all companies, whether you're a startup or you're a large company, everything comes down to execution. There are very few set of people who set the strategy and very rightly they are responsible for that. And making sure that with the changing market conditions or with new technology coming in, they are able to take the right call. I would say that that's a very critical thing, finding the right strategy. But a more important thing is to go and make sure that you are able to get everybody aligned to it, able to provide the clarity able to provide everybody the visibility of what's happening and why we are doing that and make them execute. So everything we do is primarily about execution and culture. And in our OKR, we have this sort of acronym that we use, Fava, which is all about focus, alignment, visibility and accountability. And if you look at it, OKR is just one medium, and I would say one of the most important or the most impactful medium. And it has been proven by Google, Intel, Twitter, Dropbox, you name it. But almost every company goes and trying to bring visibility, accountability to everybody, to make sure that everybody is aligned to what our goals are and make sure that people are focused towards what they are supposed to be to achieve the business objectives. So what we try to do here is to help them instrument that in a very easy to use way. Otherwise, doing that is hard when you are like 20 people, it's an easier job when you are 200 or maybe 2000. There is no such word called over communicating. So you need to make sure that not only you over communicate, but you also have the right set of tools to make sure that you are able to enable and empower your team members to execute. And that's what we are all about. The second bit is also about culture. We live in a very sort of a different world than we were ten years ago. We have distributed teams. The time span of an employee living in a company is very low. A lot of time, people haven't even seen each other in person. They don't know how tall are they. So culture and employee experience plays a huge role. And that's where the other set of our product on how do you go and again, give people a place to talk about what they're facing, to understand their goals, to discuss them about how the career trajectory would be. And that's largely we go and connect. Just to add on one thing, there is a third element of peoplebox. So, just to explain, what do we do at Peoplebox AI? We are one stop tool for OKR talent management and people analytics. And we are launching our sort of newest, our most ambitious and the most thrilling products of our life, which is the Gen AI for people analytics. So when it comes to people analytics, which is about data, that becomes the fundamental of making every decision. If you look at okRs, if you look at engagement surveys, if you look at performance reviews, they're all in some way data, but they are limited data. A lot of data sits in your erps, in your asanas, in your project management tool, in your CRM, in your hris. And what we are doing is building that foundation of connecting all these business and people data so that you can make better decision and you can do faster execution. Adil Saleh (0:09:35) - Amazing. This is only this year, just including these few months that we have, we've gotten around more than twelve, I think, Gen AI startups, and this is the first we are speaking to that is more on the people's data, because a lot of them are either for sales teams, either for success teams, marketing teams, they are more taking external data sources from Clearbit, all of those, and they're doing exceptionally well. But this is something Janique, I wanted to learn more about what kind of people did. Are you talking about people that are understanding the patterns with the help of data? Could you explain slight more on what does it mean by people gen? Abhinav Chugh (0:10:18) - So when you think about people analytics, some of the very, I would say the basic level of data is about recruitment. Is it about attrition, is it about headcount, is it about diversity? But if you really go into deep and if you try and connect that with business, let me start with a simple example. You work with this TRG group, you're a sales manager there. At some point you went to your boss or your manager and say, I want to leave. At that moment, if somebody in the company, either your manager or your HR business partner or an HR manager, try to identify that, what is the business impact of, are they leaving? How easy it would have been for them? Or let me put the question in another way, how helpful it would have been for them if they're able to get that data. If you today have the business impact of every employee, what happens if Adil leave? Why is this business impact so high? What are the skill gaps we have? Who is more likely to leave when we hire, say 50 people at once? Who is more likely to become manager at which college or university we hire? Who is likely to stay longer? We are paying a lot for, say, a specific set of engineers. Are they happy? Are they performing well? Are they likely to perform well? Are they likely to leave soon? These are the data which impact your business and your growth in a significant way. And today, because data is so fragmented, just think about the employees data, how fragmented that is in tens of different tools and then probably dozens of different sheets. Building these insights are very hard. Just collecting the data is a hard job. And then once you do that, you just drown it in the whole sets of data. Now, you talked about the gen AI, right? And I see the incredible uses of gen AI, but one of the very impactful use is to reduce the noise that all these large data sets create and just tell them in a very simple to explain storytelling format of actionable insight. If I am a business head, what do I need to do to keep my turnover in check? If I'm an HR leader, what do I need to do to make sure that I'm the employer of the choice or my classroom reviews are good or my retention is high? That's it. That's what we are trying to do with people analytics using gen AI. Adil Saleh (0:13:05) - Love that. Great. There is so much that you could do when you talk about making these large language models pretty much concise and very specific to one use case and then expand on it. Like how soon are you going to launch this people gen AIus? I'm excited about it. Abhinav Chugh (0:13:25) - I can't share the exact date, but we are, I would say just a few weeks away from launching. Adil Saleh (0:13:32) - Wow. Amazing. I have a bunch of folks that it's my team members and we definitely going to test that. So going to the GTM frameworks of people box as of now. I did see your plans that are quite interesting, like leaning towards of course charging per se and then leaning towards smaller to bigger teams and giving a whole suit of packages too. So thinking of your customer segment, what is that you're trying to penetrate more today? Of course, everybody goes from startup to up market. That's fine. I do see you have some enterprise customers, which is really good. So how closer you are staying in that spectrum of mid size to enterprise. Abhinav Chugh (0:14:13) - At this moment, if you look at our current set of products, which is your OKR and talent management, I would say we are primarily in the mid market. This is this I would say 200 to 2000 employees journey. We do have many enterprise clients, but I would say majority of our customers are in 200 to 2000 range. But as we launch and as we go deeper into the whole people analytics space, and especially using Gen AI, we are going much upmarket and going more enterprise. And this primarily because of the pain point and need of large companies. When you're small you can still use gut and instincts and all. Adil Saleh (0:14:57) - Yeah. And you have a lot of time to interact with them as well. And even if the team is remote, you have good enough time to wear different hats and work closely with the team because you don't have a lot of processes in place, things in place. We talk about data a lot, by the way, investing in data early. So how much you guys are investing into in terms of data for your customers, for your teams, mostly customer facing teams like your marketing, sales, any kind of technologies are you using? To make sure you stay on top of all the data points that are actionable, that is driving action, which you mentioned in the beginning. Abhinav Chugh (0:15:36) - I think one of the, I would say, great advantage we have from, say, a startup in people analytics space who is starting today is that we have a lot of customers, so we have a lot of data, and it's not our day one in the analytics space. So every product that we have built, whether it is OKR, whether it is engagement surveys, whether it is performance reviews or one on one, each one of them have their own analytics and have their own analytical dashboards. What we are trying to do right now is to build a very actionable insights layer on the top of that by connecting a lot more external data, which goes beyond just updating your key result in an OKR. So, for example, recruitment data, like what was your salary in your last role? Where did you do your education? A lot of these data then provide much richer and actionable insights for you to know. What exactly do I need to do to make sure that my employee experience is better, our retention are on the top, and we are able to make our workforce more productive and efficient. Adil Saleh (0:16:50) - Very interesting and thinking about. I do see you have integrations for customers to have everything work for them within their workflows, which is nice. Are you thinking of any potential partnerships down the road that can elevate this movement? Talking only about people? Jenna? Abhinav Chugh (0:17:09) - Absolutely. We are always open to partnerships. Firstly, on the integration bit, I think another, I would say maybe an advantage, or I would say the reason why we are more aligned to solving the problem of people analytics is because of our ability to deeply integrate with any other system, because of our OKR product. So we already integrate with all business and HR system. And that, of course, gives us the ability to connect any data, whether it's a project management data, whether it is your help desk data, your CRM data, your ERP, or just the data sitting in a sheet. But as far as the partnership is concerned, absolutely. If you look at people analytics as a layer, it's needed for every platform today. There are HRIs systems, which has a lot of data, but they struggle because they still do not have the complete data. Data still sits in an ESOp tool, or in a performance tool, or in an engagement tool. It's another spreadsheet. So we do partner with many companies and we are always open to partner with as many either service and product companies as possible. Adil Saleh (0:18:28) - Wonderful. I was also curious because I have to ask some questions, because when I get people like you, I want to get the best out of you. Like pick your brains in many topics and also need to think of these startups because I have this emotional connection with these startups. I'm a startup, very early sales startup too. So now thinking of startups, of course you are a platform looking at your products, any of these products is like core product led, like product led sales motion or. Most of these are kind of account management touch or CSM touch. Abhinav Chugh (0:19:02) - It's interesting. None right now. When we launched our, and this is pre pandemic, we launched our one on one platform, which was quite a product led growth. But when the whole pandemic hits and we built the whole one stop platform for both OKR and talent management, since then it is primarily sales and marketing driven. Adil Saleh (0:19:29) - Okay, sales and marketing. So that means you have sort of like account executives presales and then you have account managers or solution engineers or something like this for some bigger customers. Okay, cool. So now thinking about, because I was so curious, because I spoke to more than 30 folks that we became almost friends, originally from India, specifically from Bangalore, and it's my pleasure to see how they thrive, like in so quick succession. They're finding a solution. They already have big enough industry, like consumer industry that they can validate the idea, which is not the easiest job right now, even in the North America. And now they're validating it now that they're building the MVP and getting to YC, getting to tech stars, moving to the US, if not moving to the US, if they're already there, scaling and acquiring these customers, which is really hard at this time to acquire a B two B customer, you have got to invest a lot in this. So how was your journey in the beginning? Like talking about so far, four years. Abhinav Chugh (0:20:29) - Back, to be honest with you, it's been a full roller coaster ride. I would say majority of the startups journeys are. If I say that our journey has been a piece of cake, I would be like probably the biggest liar. We had our ups, we have our downs. Our start was quite dreamy, to be honest. When we started, we sort of started working with one of the largest sort of tech startups. We got our term sheet from one of the biggest VC firm. We raised over a million dollars when we had pretty much zero customer or sort of barely any revenue. And then it was hard to get that PMF. And the word hit the pandemic. We had to rethink our strategy because the problems had changed, the ecosystems had changed, the entire bird had changed. And then I think it took us a year sort of year to figure out that. And then I think 2022 was incredible for us. We almost had a sort of ten x growth. We raised another round. We went to YC and you may find it very unusual. After raising VC money, we went to the YC, but it was primarily driven by the faith and I think the trust of YC and my co founder had previously experienced it. So once we get the call from the YC, probably for a few minutes, it's for the hard decision. But then it was a very easy decision. In the hindsight, I would say it was the right choice we made because fundraising becomes so easy. It was incredible learning, doing the office hours, having a great community. Even today we get to use that. I think the last year has been tough for almost all startups, specifically HR tech. And I wouldn't say we are an exception there, but one of another short in the arm happened with the whole Gen AI, because this is a problem that we have been trying to solve, or have been looking to solve actually for long. And with Gen AI, it provides so powerful capabilities now to not push your audience into the mountains of data, but just give them what exactly they need. So very excited and thrilled about what we are building and I just can't wait for the launch. Adil Saleh (0:23:27) - Yeah, that's the beauty of being a startup founder. You'll reach the highest levels of adversity at one point, and that's a real test when you got to make sure that you survive and you pass the road and you see the light and that's about it. It's pretty like with your co founder, it's just like a marriage relationship. You got to make sure that one of you have to be someone who picks the another, and that's how it goes. So it was quite a great, inspiring journey. So now at this point you're launching this platform. Sure. You're laser focused on that as co founders. So thinking of this, what is a go to market strategy for going up market, as you mentioned? What are you thinking on top of your mind for listeners to maybe take some notes? Abhinav Chugh (0:24:19) - Just to put a sort of a small disclaimer, we already have a lot of customers today for our OKR and talent management platform. We already have a very good motion set for GTM. We are sort of entering into new territories like very large enterprise and the new GTM channels as well. In fact, it's so funny that we are having a podcast. And again, that's the life of founders. Sometimes I think that I just did my podcast just like an hour ago, where first episode of the table. Adil Saleh (0:24:57) - I got your first episode listed earlier today. I'm sure you're talking about the second episode, right? Abhinav Chugh (0:25:03) - Yes, I did the second episode and I was the host. And just like half an hour later, I'm again doing a podcast, this time as a guest. We have a really good SEO, so we have tens of thousands of visitors coming to our website every month. We have a very good outbound motion set, but it just call it an excitement and the passion about the whole data, plus AI, plus people. We just can't resist ourselves launching new channels. Even though, like I said, the product is a few weeks away. Adil Saleh (0:25:42) - Yeah, absolutely. Because at the end of the day, when you have this traction, you have organically inbound people interacting, inquiring about your product or service, or it may be education, then you try to invest more on the community, just like you started the podcast. A lot of these folks, they are starting doing their substacs and newsletters. I follow some as well. I think you're pretty much headed in the right direction. And we'll have so much to learn because I'm not sure about other communities, but we always follow journeys. We never leave people. We always try to seek them there. There are some guests that we are thinking of getting them again because they have changed their roles and maybe they've moved into a different product. So there is so much that you have to offer today, and I really appreciate that you had your sharing. Abhinav Chugh (0:26:33) - Yeah, most welcome. Adil Saleh (0:26:35) - Yeah. Thank you very much, Abhinav, for your time. And I really appreciate, you know, all the insights that it was genuinely candid and free falling and original. So thank you very much for being that person. Abhinav Chugh (0:26:51) - Pleasure is all in mine, Adil, and I really enjoyed the talk. Thank you so much.

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