Entrepreneur Mag: A deep dive into the ups and downs of building a tech startup in uncertain times

Entrepreneur Mag: A deep dive into the ups and downs of building a tech startup in uncertain times

Swae: A roller coaster ride

A deep dive into the ups and downs of building a tech start-up in uncertain times.

10 min read, 7 April 2022

Entrepreneur Middle East April 2022 issue is here featuring Swae CEO & Founder @soushiant‘s story of building Swae duding uncertain times [read ‘global pandemic] as well as enforced work, from home, team building and a host of other issues. Nobody ever said it would be easy, but every cloud has a silver lining and the Swae team is more dedicated than ever to help make the workplace more inclusive and help decisions beceom more democratic. 

The issue is headlined by @Mhdgroupoman‘s @mohsinhani and also features @Amazon‘s Paul Misener, @FarEye‘s @kushalnahata, and the winners of@MastercardMEA‘s #WomenSMELeaders Awards 2022. 

You can read the magazine here, read the virtual magazine below or keep scolling for the full text:

Back in 2019, I shared with Entrepreneur Middle East my company Swae’s founding story, and our big vision of the need to upgrade the decision-making process for organizations and government  institutions, so that they become more compatible to the needs of the future, as well as the direction the world was headed in. 

In it we shared a common trend we saw across many types of organizations – that most people feel they lack voice and cant influence the major decisions made inside the organizations they belong to. This is often the consequence of closed cultures, outdated structures, or an over reliance on a top-down decision-making process. As a consequence, many are disengaged and the impact on the organizations is very visible – 3x higher disengagement rates, 3x higher absenteeism rates, and 34% lower productivity rates per employee on average.  Thankfully, though slowly, this trend is leading many decision makers to come to terms with their structural or cultural shortcomings and begin reconsidering how they include others in decision-making processes or shift culture to be more inclusive.

“Today’s most consequential institutions (governments, corporations, city councils) make their most important decisions through hierarchical processes. They interpret stakeholders’ preferences through periodic surveys or consultations, and leverage representatives to filter information up and down the hierarchy, precluding regular, meaningful, and unfiltered participation of most stakeholders into the process. But, our ever-advancing communication technologies are challenging this outdated proces, enabling direct and instantaneous communication, allowing for efficient access to distributed intelligence, and even helping create the first ever distributed organizations.” 

Over this period, Swae began carving out its niche and penetrating the market. The platform amassed close to 40,000 users from clients all over the globe, including some of the world’s top organizations such as the United Nations, the governments of Mexico and Chile, blue chip corporations such as Bosch, Etihad Airways, LifeLabs, and EMC Insurance. After winning the New Shape Prize, and securing a $750K CAD non-dilutive grant, 20 months later we were able to successfully fundraise an additional $750K CAD seed round – a 50% increase from the initial $500K offer – led by the former head of Engineering at Netflix and other notable investors, and, we even had time to produce a swanky new explainer video showing how Swae works to condense the technological concept and narrative down into something digestible and fun for all audiences.

But since publishing the article in 2019, no one really could predict there would be a global pandemic that would turn every assumption all of us had on its head. From the unique lens of Swae, the pandemic was a positive forcing function – the challenges that organizations face only accelerated and came to the forefront. There was no more hiding them between the natural cracks an organization faces during growth. They became prominent issues to solve for today. 

THANKFULLY (THOUGH SLOWLY), THIS TREND IS CAUSING MANY LEADERS TO COME TO TERMS WITH THEIR STRUCTURAL OR CULTURAL SHORTCOMINGS, AND BEGIN RECONSIDERING HOW THEY INCLUDE OTHERS IN DECISION-MAKING PROCESSES, SHIFTING COMPANY CULTURES TO BE MORE INCLUSIVE.

 

Thanks to Covid 19 and the ensuing the market volatilities and revamped nature of work, the need for such a wake up, to create an environment of psychological safety and inclusion, to create a system that helps organizations listen at scale, to hear as many voices as possible (instead of the loudest or most powerful few at the top), to source creative solutions to new problems and enable good ideas with meaningful action, is more important today than ever before.

“In today’s era, there really is no excuse for organizations and leaders not to leverage the available but untapped collective intelligence that resides within them. We have the technology to do this efficiently, research shows that crowdsourcing reveals high enough quality of solutions to problems to be worthwhile, and modern culture has progressed enough so people expect this level of transparency and inclusion in the decision making process, especially decisions that have a big impact on their lives. Leaders and organizations that fail to listen and update their processes to meet the world where it is and where it’s headed will be left behind. No one wants a part of the outdated reality they have to offer.” says Soushiant Zanganehpour, founder and CEO of Swae

 But the Covid-19 pandemic did not discriminate between organizational types. Swae nearly went under. 

Covid-19 & its Impact on all Organizations 

As it generally goes, building a tech startup or any startup for that matter is indeed a roller coaster ride. Building a tech startup during a global pandemic brought a level of challenge I had never faced in my life before.  At the outset of Covid-19, Swae was thrown into a number of crises, and had to overcome many headwinds to adapt itself to the new reality.  We’ve had a lot of learnings since our 2019 launch. The challenges that hit when 2020 came all centered around planning and maneuvering through massive uncertainty – uncertainty about what our clients were going through and if they had the available budgets to invest in our solution; uncertainty about where funding would come from and how to fundraise without in-person roadshow and meetings; uncertainty about the impact of the pandemic on recruiting global talent and team formation; and uncertainty about how to grow a team and instill the right culture while being entirely remote! 

“Since 2019, the landscape and market we’ve entered has changed in ways that I couldn’t have predicted. Covid-19 came and hit everyone like a wrecking ball; the workplace instantly became remote, and decision-making, team collaboration, and innovation (the things that Swae does) are now far more complex and fragmented than we ever imagined before. The toll the pandemic has had on people on all levels means what we do for employees (and leaders) is so much more profound.  This shift certainly forced us to re-evaluate and reinvent how we support organizations, and we’re far stronger for it.

Initially we resisted the changes thrown unto us but learned quickly not to fight them. We reminded ourselves that we aren’t the only company that was massively affected during these highly unstable times, and it ended up being an opportunity for us to get really clear on what we’re doing and how to overcome big hurdles as a team. Embracing the uncertainty helped us find solutions and come a long way. 

Top 5 Challenges Faced and Lessons Learned

 From all the ups and downs we went through resulting from Covid-19, to some early learning moments predating Covid, here are the top 5 challenges we endured since launching Swae, how we overcame them, and what we learned about about hiring, team formation, strategy, as well as ways to enhance the technology.

Losing Anchor client at the outset of the Pandemic

At the outset of Covid 19, we lost our first and largest paying customer, Etihad Airlines. When the wrecking ball of Covid came crashing in, the impact on global airlines was swift, immediate, and painful. Etihad saw an 80% reduction in sales and canceled all major enterprise contracts to reduce their bleed, including ours. 

Our entire pipeline of enterprise deals also went up into thin air as well. Covid-19 indefinitely delayed the start of many projected client projects and or made the business case challenging to argue for. 

Mitigation & Lessons Learned

To respond, we quickly turned on a dime to minimize our burn rate and preserve cash flow. To replenish our lost projected cash flows, we began applying for grants and thinking of new markets for our product. We eventually leveraged government support and grants to help us recover 40% of the lost revenue to manage through this period of uncertainty.  

Knowing we weren’t the only ones facing difficult times, we understood that many organizations and local governments were struggling to adapt to virtual, all-digital, decision-making during this prolonged period of uncertainty. We came together and began brainstorming more immediate and shorter use cases of Swae. From listening to clients, we learned that people could use Swae to manage remote annual general meetings and even use it to crowdsource content and agendas for virtual meetings and events. We felt there was a way to adapt our core product to be more nimble to launch and easier to configure, to help others while allowing us to earn short term revenue.  Two months after losing Etihad, in May 2020, we launched three complementary products to enable teams to make collective decisions over the internet quickly, conveniently, and safely. These include: 1) Swae for digital annual general meetings, 2) Swae for digital policy making and governance 3) Swae for remote team decision-making.

Losing Anchor funders at the beginning of the pandemic 

In January 2020, we launched a $500K seed round and quickly closed the first $150K. As shared above, in February 2020, we also closed our first 6-figure annual commercial contract with Etihad Airways, after a year long pilot of our platform inside their organization. The year was off to a great start, so we thought. With enough investment closed and expected revenues from our first $ARR contract (as well as a pipeline of $500K-$1M worth of enterprise deals), we decided to pause our fundraise and instead focus on going to market with our product. Anyone who has built an early stage startup knows that fundraising is a very intense and distracting process, and we thought the time would be better spent closing new deals. Hindsight is 2020 (no pun intended)… When you have momentum, never stop! That was our biggest mistake. After we paused our round, in March, everything changed. Etihad canceled the contract and our entire pipeline of enterprise deals also disappeared, thanks to Covid. Now, with no anchor deal, and no pipeline of deals, how easy do you think it was to raise funds?  When we tried to revive the fundraise two committed anchor investors immediately retracted their commitments to invest due to the impact of Covid on their portfolios, general cash availability, and the grim future that presented itself. 

Their cancelled commitments combined with the comical series of other debacles SIGNIFICANTLY changed our cash flow projections and reality.  One day, we were projecting more money than we needed, the other day we could barely fund ourselves.  It was a vicious circle that would not cease. Without any new confirmed investment or revenues, we were projecting an end date of Swae for December 31, 2020. 

Mitigations

With a clear end date in site, we knew we had to prolong our burn rate as long as possible. So we came together as a team and decided to restructure and opt to reduce our salaries as a last ditch attempt to save the company. Each of us came to the table with an open mind and depending on our individual situations, each offered to give up some portion of their salary they derived from Swae.  The minimum amount reduced was 30% and most offered to give up 100% of their salaries.  Instead of salary, the team would earn what they had sacrificed in equity with a sizeable risk premium and bonus. That seemed fair. 

 I took the first heavy paycut, then all other part-time contractors voluntarily contributed their entire salaries to Swae in exchange for equity. Finally, the leadership at our outsourced tech team bravely offered to contribute some engineers to our cause without pay for a long enough period to help us with ongoing client implementations and progress against our roadmap. This experience was a transformational and cathartic moment for us as a team. During a global pandemic, amidst all the uncertainties surrounding our individual lives, the team came together and collectively decided to do whatever we all could to keep the mission and dream of Swae alive. That experience brought everyone together in ways that superficial team building exercises simply don’t. When faced with crisis, the team stepped up. Until this day that moment acts as an an enormous source of mutual trust and kinship – like a binding agent between all of us. It’s cemented part of our culture that we simply don’t give up when we face adversity, and instead we come together to look for solutions. That crisis gave us a resounding amount of  confidence to face the future, whatever it presents. 

The internal restructuring allowed us to extend our runway by an additional 9 months, allowing us to get to the other end of 2020 and successfully enter 2021. During these turbulent months, a silver lining emerged. Investors stopped seeing Covid-19 as a massive interruption and began seeing the long term implications of it on the future of work and society. Instantly, many began to see Swae as a potential source of solutions for the new complexities of working remotely during a pandemic. The explosion and irreversible long term impacts of Remote Working, the accelerated adoption of digital tools, and new challenges associated with collaboration, maintaining engagement, and decision-making increased the projected market size and opportunity for remote collaboration tools from $18b to $60b (almost a 4x increase) from 2021-2024. This new framing of the needs of the future workplace began changing Swae’s market perception and only increased interest in Swae. 

After a few short months, we were able to land our lead investor, Mr. William Eisenman, the former CTO and Head of Engineering of Netflix, and were able to finish raising our seed round and it was oversubscribed. 

Parting ways with two different CTOs and still building a great product

We went through two (yes, two!) CTOs but still built the platform without that leadership position filled. Here’s the backstory: when Swae initially launched, I bootstrapped the company from my savings and we didn’t have a CTO. We used the limited resources we had and our intimate knowledge of the problem to outsource the build out of a prototype (the team that did it is the team we still work with to this day). At that time, our needs were basic. 

After winning the New Shape Prize, getting a $750K non-dilutive injection of cash and some validation, we were ready to expand the team.  We began recruiting for a CTO, searching for a strong technical lead, full stack developer, and AI programmer with expertise in Natural Language Processing to assume the responsibility of shaping our product, prototyping new features, building beautiful, consistent, scalable and intuitive software, and leading our AI development. 

We received over 400+ applicants, and successfully hired a former Amazon Alexa Natural Language Generation Team Member, a Full Stack Developer + Architect (Natural Language Processing and Generation specialist), as our new CTO. 

Unfortunately, after working with this individual for a short 7 week period, things did not work out as we had imagined.  He was brilliant but the interpersonal fit was quite off.  Our working styles and expectations about how to manage Swae became more incompatible over his short tenure. 

Fast forward 6 months after his departure, we were able to find a more suitable CTO with the right balance of interpersonal, leadership and technical skills to be a better fit for what we needed. She helped improve the product and launched the newest version of Swae. Though she was with Swae for nearly 2 years, in May 2021, she also parted ways due largely to strong differences in opinion about the responsibilities and trade-offs of being a co-founder, the overall product experience, and the company’s direction. 

Mitigations: 

When we were recruiting for either CTO, we identified some red flags and the potential for some of the behaviors we saw later in the working relationship to arise, but we decided as a team to be practical – that we would try to manage these concerns as they came up. Truth was that we thought we really needed a CTO with the skill set they had to accomplish the technological goals we had in mind with the product, and we thought there skill set was a priority than fit. This was a costly mistake – something we will not repeat when our gut is telling us not to go ahead. 

Though exhausting and expensive, we learned very valuable lessons in both cases about how to pick the people we want to work with. Moving forward, we only make hiring decisions if the gut feels right, and won’t compromise that intuitive feeling on being “sensible”. We will never make the same compromises we did previously because they are unsustainable.

Initially we panicked about the fact that we couldn’t build a tech platform without a strong technical lead. The experience of going through two CTOs and having to launch a product without them proved we were wrong. We realized instead that we could distribute the tasks of the CTO into the existing roles we had amongst our team. Distribution of responsibility, combined with strong spring defining, demo, and quality assurance processes meant we were able to develop new features and iterate the product consistently and affordably without needing to rely on a figure head. 

With hindsight we also realized we were too early to need the skill set and seniority of a CTO, and instead could make similar progress with a strong senior developer instead. Adding the layer of CTO would only be relevant after a few more years of traction and progress of the product. 

Without a CTO, the engineering process and team did not fall by the way side. The team stepped up on both ends (in Vancouver, and India), to ensure things remain on track, features are released under the expected conditions, and the platform relaunch timelines are met. To make up for the gap, we have instituted new processes and meetings that include more critical roles (like weekly demos by the engineering team, priority setting meetings that include design, product and engineering together, etc.)

Not having a CTO also allowed us to save a significant amount in monthly recurring salaries and expenses, to help prolong our burn rate. 

At the moment, we don’t have a CTO. We decided that our ‘departments’ would be headless as we realized that we didn’t need a multi-layered C-level or VP-level role in every department of our startup. When everybody has a voice and everyone is equally accountable, this becomes the bottom-up way (or “Swae way”)  to drive all the important aspects from marketing, sales, product development, and customer success and improvement. We’re doing some radical things and practicing what we preach. 

“Ultimately, what we decided is that everyone has autonomy but everyone owns unique directives. Often things come back to me because the ultimate vision of any organization has to be driven by the core person(s) and I’ve been thinking about Swae and what it can be in this world for a much longer time than anyone else on the team. This has worked really well thus far and makes us much more responsive so we truly are practicing what we preach,” says Zanganehpour. 

Lacking Essentials for Strategy and Go-to-Market: 

As is typical in a startup’s initial launch phase, often there’s a lack of clarity in some key areas around marketing and sales. We had a bit of a rough start when we realized that we didn’t have some key strategic details fully fleshed out. Since Swae had so many use cases and was an organization and use case agnostic tool, we didn’t have a rigid and well defined understanding of who our ideal customer and archetype was. This lead us down the path of being everything to everyone initially, which is a perfect recipe for failure. 

Mitigations:

Realizing this was a flawed approach, we invested time in gathering information and conducting research to create archetypes (or personas) of who we serve – this was critical to success. Once the archetypes were in place we began learning what objections people had to saying yes or no, and redesigned our pitch to address those upfront before we face long sales cycles that go nowhere real fast. Not having that sound structure led us to realize it was necessary to deeply understand the people that we need to connect with, and understand how to work through the objections. We’re making these powerful changes for our sales and marketing output to help us make a larger impact overall. 

  1. Fundraising and Hiring Remotely: Fundraising without face to face meetings was much more challenging than anticipated, as was building a team totally remotely. When face to face interactions became undoable, we had to get to the core of creating important systems and building structures to support this effort. As most know, video conferencing is laborious and taxing as well.  Anything else here?

    “Even with these challenges, we were able to fundraise $750K CAD seed funding round – a 50% increase from the initial $500K offer from some notable investors and we’ve got the financial runway to build a MVP of our platform and really move forward in a more progressive manner. And we’ve been able to grow a solid team that is now in place as of 2022, even though we had retracted twice since 2019 given market challenges and global uncertainties due to the pandemic,” says Zanganehpour. 

The Future of Swae and the Creation of More Inclusive Bottom-Up Organizational Models

2022 Milestones for Swae 

With these great lessons behind us and more important insights to face head on, over the next year we expect: 

  • To grow revenues to $1M+ ARR
  • To double our team from 8 to 16 people 
  • To grow the platform user base from 40K to 100K+ users 
  • To add significant features to the core platform including Chats, Polls, and Brainstorms
  • To add to proprietary features to our existing AI algorithms, including bias detection and evidence suggestion features 
  • To add important integrations such as MS teams, Slack, and other collaboration platforms.
  • To launch a second product based on the core feature set tailored more to use cases in Web3, DAOs and participatory governance in Crypto projects
  • To partner with some smart cities to launch citizen engagement, bottom-up and participatory policy making initiatives 
  • And many more…

At the core, Swae’s mission stayed the same; to give everyone an equal voice in raising solutions and shaping decisions, allowing organizations (even government systems) to uncover and benefit from the untapped collective intelligence from within, through a robust and innovative idea management and bottom-up decision-making platform. 

The sheer pace of adaptation to change that’s required of organizations today thanks to Covid-19 has set the scene for Swae. Our three biggest use cases include collaboration during remote work, increasing collaboration without unwanted noise, and building more inclusive cultures supporting growth and DEI initiatives. All of these points are extremely important in today’s organizational realities, no matter the company size.

The ROI of Swae so far 

Over the past 12 months, the results from implementing Swae for various clients speak for themselves and this has made us more proud than anything else during such harsh times. Some of our clients include the United Nations, LifeLabs, Etihad Airways, and more.

Having compiled results from over 40,000 unique users and several large organizational pilots from around the world that demonstrates we’re delivering on our promises – even though we’re just getting started. Some of the great things that have come back to us: 

  • $5M+ USD – the value of innovation ideas that have been sourced through Swae (so far).
  • $1M USD – average value of innovation pipeline developed over 12 months
  • 200K+unique collaboration exchanges have happened between Swae’s users.
  • 94% of users polled say Swae increased their engagement, motivation and happiness by helping them have a meaningful voice in decisions.
  • 90% of users polled claim Swae surfaced ideas that would not have otherwise surfaced using other available collaboration tools. 
  • 84% of users polled say Swae made idea sharing and collaboration easier & more accessible to their whole community
  • 3-months is the payback period – either resulting from cost savings ideas generated from the platform, revenue generating ideas sourced from the platform for investment and development, or efficiencies resulting from replacing more manual idea management and decision-making tools.
  • 70% increase in engagement (compared to other experiments and efforts to date)

While Swae is all about helping organizations shed more light on their challenges and providing a reliable platform where they can source ideas from the people within to create more inclusive cultures and a more equal playing ground, we do have a more grandiose vision that is the next evolution of our technology.

“Swae is ultimately designed to inspire ideas and stimulate debate around new, more effective forms of global cooperation at the highest levels in the biggest governments whether it be in cities, states or countries. We must realize that our system is no longer fit for our new age and we need new actors, new operating assumptions, and new norms to help reframe our priorities and uphold humanity-first, and nations second.

We need new processes and improved participation methods in order to create new solutions that prioritize and give political weight to ideas that advance humanity, preserve and benefit all in our species, above a narrow set of national self-interests. This can happen using the foundation we’ve built for Swae and will be our next big evolution of the technology we’ve built,” says Zanganehpour.

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Swae is helping organizations across the world to solve today’s problems and generate tomorrow’s strategy. Our clients are finding that their greatest resource is their people, and Swae is proven to help get the best from the untapped potential within their workforce. We’d love the chance to show you how Swae can ‘pay off’ for you…

Ready to learn how Swae can help your organization?

More to explore…

The Results Are In [Why Investing in Swae Pays Off]

The Results Are In [Why Investing in Swae Pays Off]

The Results Are In [Here’s Why Investing in Swae Pays Off]

Swae Boosts Inclusivity, Idea Meritocracy, Enhances Decision-Making Processes, and Supports Collaboration Without Boundaries

FOFO business leaders not listening

Results from over 30,000 unique users and several large organizational pilots from around the world demonstrate clearly that Swae delivers on its promises – even though we’re just getting started.

These before and after results come from case study after case study that confirms Swae consistently helps organizations uncover hidden innovation, boost engagement, improve inclusivity and collaboration despite physical borders, and enhance decision-making options.

Swae boosts inclusivity, idea meritocracy, enhances idecision making processes and supports collaboration without boundaries.

“I created Swae out of lived experience. As a former director in charge of strategy and investment decisions, I saw missed opportunities resulting from closed, top-down decision-making processes first hand.

When I included employees from all ranks into the idea development, refinement and prioritization process – creating a safe yet competitive environment for the best ideas to shine through – the results spoke for themselves.

Swae was born just a few years ago, to help others experience those same benefits that I did.”


Soushiant Zanganehpour Founder & CEO

The stats below have been gathered directly from the mouths of our clients:

Digital Disruption

COVID & Remote Working

Need for Inclusivity

Idea Meritocracy

Swae

$5M

the value of innovation ideas that have been sourced through Swae (so far)

$1M

the value of cost-savings ideas that have been generated.

200,000+

unique collaboration exchanges have happened between Swae’s users.

1000+

number of organizational challenges and solutions that have been created and solved by Swae’s users.

90%

of users polled claim Swae surfaced ideas that would not have otherwise surfaced using other available collaboration tools.

84%

of users polled claim Swae made collaboration easier, and sharing ideas more accessible to their whole community.

92%

of users polled claim Swae helped increase voice and convey ideas better than other collaboration platforms available to them.

94%

of users polled claim that having a voice in decisions through Swae helped directly increase engagement, motivation and/or happiness.

3 Months

the payback period saved from other manual idea management and decision-making tools

Swae is helping organizations across the world to solve today’s problems and generate tomorrow’s strategy. Our clients are finding that their greatest resource is their people, and Swae is proven to help get the best from the untapped potential within their workforce. We’d love the chance to show you how Swae can ‘pay off’ for you…

Ready to learn how Swae can help your organization?

More to explore...

Swae Wins Top Award at 2021 ExO Transformation Awards

Swae Wins Top Award at 2021 ExO Transformation Awards

swae-wins-exo-award-2021-transformation-awards

Swae wins 1st place in the 2021 ExO 2021 Transformation Awards in the “New Company” Category (this category is for organizations less than 3 years old at the time of the application that used the “ExO framework” to launch their business).

Silicon Valley’s Salim Ismail, the former Head of Innovation at Yahoo and founder of Silicon Valley innovation hub Singularity University, lays out what he believes makes an exponential organization is (or, as he calls them, an ExO and the driver behind the ExO community and this award) in his Amazon best-seller, Exponential Organizations.

The foundation to this is simple. Rather than increasing human capital or physical assets, the most successful 21st-century companies leverage information and technology to achieve rapid expansion in pursuit of what Ismail calls “Massive Transformational Purpose” (MTP). In doing so, he describes that they’re able to scale their business strategies, culture, framework, and purpose at the same rate as technology.

Swae was chosen as an award winner as a new company that used the ExO framework to launch utilizing four main ExO attributes: algorithms, engagement, dashboards + interfaces, and community + crowd. This “new company” category is for organizations less than 3 years old at the time of the application that used the “ExO framework” to launch their business.

Let’s break these down a bit further as to how Swae uses the Exponential Organization attributes to emulate an Exponential Organization themselves:

Algorithms

Swae’s technology platform leverages NLP algorithms to help its users write better, clearer, more objective, and persuasive proposals for the ideas that they have. This helps users increase their chances of having their ideas heard, collaborated on by other colleagues, and potentially acted upon by leadership. We also plan to use algorithms in the future to help predict what ideas are likely to trend and gain momentum before they actually do, who future leaders might be based on their patterns of engagement, and what the sentiment of the organization may say about future attrition and retention rates.

Engagement

Swae leverages the engagement of the crowd as a filtering function. Engagement fuels the escalation metrics and achievements of the ideas that help efficiently and transparently signal which ideas deserve the attention of leaders/management and review ideas that still need some more work. Updates in the future will include are expansion to use a reputation system and additional gamification elements to keep users interested, involved, and increasingly committed.

Dashboards & Interfaces

Being a SaaS startup, we leverage good UX/UI and dashboards to share pertinent knowledge about user activity on the platform. Our dashboards help managers and leaders get real-time activity and trend information.

Community & Crowd

In the not-so-distant future, Swae will massively leverage the “Community & Crowd” aspect to invite those who are passionate about our MTP to be more directly involved in the main functions of Swae as an organization.

The bottom-line results and key metrics that Swae has achieved as a result of implementing ExO frameworks as a new company launching into the market, Swae was able to:

  1. Increase the Innovation Pipeline sourcing investable innovation ideas

  2. Create impactful Revenue Growth and Cost Reduction opportunities for Swae’s clients

  3. Correlate a direct causal link between positively increasing employees engagement, motivation, happiness, and retention as a consequence of having access to Swae

  4. Create many other intangible benefits

About Swae:

Swae is a SaaS platform that helps turn stakeholder voices into actionable proposals to fuel smarter decision-making and drive organizational innovation and improvement. Our tech helps organizations be radically inclusive while being selective about the ideas that they choose to invest in.

The AI integration that Swae uses helps users turn their suggestions and feedback into well-structured proposals. The combination of collective intelligence features, escalation metrics, and workflows help utilize the crowdsourcing aspect to both help improve ideas collaboratively while filtering the signal from the noise, making innovation discovery much more efficient, meritocratic, transparent, and inclusive.

Swae Partners with the Igarapé Institute and the United Nations launching a global digital consultation to strengthen international cooperation

Swae Partners with the Igarapé Institute and the United Nations launching a global digital consultation to strengthen international cooperation

The Igarapé Institute and United Nations Taps Into Our Collective Intelligence Platform to Crowdsource the Best Proposals to Adapt Multilateral Institutions and Global Problem Solving to Meet Tomorrow’s World

VANCOUVER and RIO DE JANEIRO

The world is facing monumental threats ranging from disease outbreaks and climate change to nuclear conflict and deepening inequality. In order to strengthen global cooperation, the United Nations is seeking input from stakeholders across different sectors of society to improve international cooperation. Swae is helping accelerate an innovative digital consultation to enhance and strengthen international cooperation, and reveal creative solutions to tackle the biggest challenges facing the world.

Working in partnership with the Brazil-based Igarape Institute and to support the United Nations Secretary General, Swae is being deployed to canvass the voices of civil society, including leading private sector groups, philanthropic organizations, metropolitan authorities, parliamentarians, labor organizations, humanitarian and development agencies, think tanks and civil society groups around the world. The platform is being used to generate bold and actionable proposals to bolster multilateral action and build a safer, fairer and more sustainable world in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The digital consultation will use Swae to crowdsource creative proposals for ways to rapidly accelerate delivery of the commitments made by governments in the UN75 Declaration adopted by the General Assembly in 2020. A key priority is identifying bold actionable strategies to bolster the Sustainable Development Goals and Paris Climate Agreement. With the help of Swae, the consultation will generate action-oriented recommendations to help the international community confront and adapt to new and emerging challenges.

The digital consultations are taking place between April and May 2021 and reaching all corners of the world. “This is an unprecedented opportunity to shape a new narrative for multilateral action”, according to Robert Muggah, the founder of Igarape Institute and SecDev Group. “Swae is a critical platform to take these kinds of debates to the next level”, he added. Swae will not just help develop new ideas, it will also ensure a high degree of diversity and inclusion in the consultation itself.

united-nations-and-swae-partner-for-international-public-consultation
 

“This project is an exciting step in improving the speed, diversity and user experience of consultation processes for critical institutions such as the United Nations. We urgently need to improve the quality of exchange between the general public and decision-makers. This is what Swae is designed to do. We’ve rapidly customized the platform to ensure that the voices of people too often excluded from these kinds of global conversations are front and center.” – Soushiant Zanganehpour, CEO of Swae

united-nations-and-swae-partner-for-international-public-consultation

Thanks to Swae, invited participants can access and input to the digital consultation and benefit from the company’s Natural Language Processing and Writing Improvement AI features in all six official UN languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.

Video and Visual Preview of the New Swae Platform

Below are screenshots of the all-new platform, redesigned for this consultation.

Screenshots of the New Swae Platform

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united-nations-and-swae-partner-for-international-public-consultation

About Swae

Swae is an AI-powered platform for turning feedback into smart, inclusive decisions for organizational improvement. With over 25,000 users, Swae’s platform creates a safe, inclusive, and anonymous space for problem and solution generation inside any organization, allowing leaders to source investable solutions, hear the truth, boost engagement, and reduce bias in important strategic decisions to improve overall performance.

Since launching in 2019, Swae has been implemented for clients such as Etihad Airways, Bosch, Doctors without Borders, Lifelabs, EMC Insurance, and the governments of Mexico and Chile, amongst others. We’ve won many prestigious awards recognizing our innovative approach to hacking through hierarchies and making inclusion useful to decision making.

More Info

FOR INFORMATION ABOUT SWAE, CONTACT: info@swae.io

FOR INFORMATION ABOUT THE DIGITAL CONSULTATION, CONTACT wethepeoples@igarape.org.br

ACTION BY THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY

To mark UN75, the UN’s 193 Member States adopted a Declaration setting out a vision for achieving the future we want and the UN we need. In it, they note they have listened to the concerns and aspirations of the people, through the UN75 global conversation, and pledge: “We are here to respond.”

They also tasked the UN Secretary-General to report back by September 2021 with recommendations “to advance our common agenda and to respond to current and future challenges”. 

‘WE THE PEOPLES’ DIGITAL CONSULTATION

The Secretary-General launched Our Common Agenda, a process of consultation and reflection to generate ideas to inform his September 2021 report. This process is being led by the Secretary-General’s office with support from a network of global partners, including the United Nations Foundation, Igarapé Institute, Accord, Southern Voice, and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy of the National University of Singapore.

The “We the Peoples” digital consultation is one part of this effort. Building on the UN75 global conversation, the consultation invites stakeholders from different sectors to develop practical recommendations to: accelerate delivery of the commitments made in the UN75 Declaration, together with the Sustainable Development Goals and Paris Climate Agreement; and to respond to new and emerging challenges.

Source: https://un75.online/take-action/

Former Netflix Head of Engineering Joins Swae’s Seed Round as Lead Investor, and Joins Advisory Board

Former Netflix Head of Engineering Joins Swae’s Seed Round as Lead Investor, and Joins Advisory Board

Swae Celebrates New Partnership with William and Eugene Eisenman: Experienced Technology Executives & Angel Investors With Winning Track Record of Turning Early-Stage Risk Into Scaleable Success
William and Eugene Eisenman Angel Investors In Swae

LEAD ANGEL INVESTORS IN SWAE

William‌ ‌Eisenman‌‌ is a former Captain in the US ‌Navy‌. He graduated in three years with a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Chemistry concurrently. During his first year of college, the Navy was actively recruiting him to join the CBRN division. After joining, he quickly rose through the ranks to become one of the youngest Captains in the military for his time. After his time in the military, he transitioned into the technology sector. He has held various executive and leadership roles throughout his career in tech. He is most well-known for his accomplishments at Netflix, where he is the architect behind the Video Streaming Platform, and at Palm, where he developed the WebOS platform.

William and Eugene Eisenman, along with their other investment partner, operate a family office. William and Eugene Eisenman are a father and son angel investing duo. Some of their team’s past successful angel investments include early positions in Netflix, Callaway Golf, MD Pharmaceuticals, and others, reminding us of the Greek myth of Midas, whose touch turned everything to gold (taking all of the positives of that myth into context here). 

We’re extremely excited to announce that they have become Swae’s Lead Investors in Swae’s seed round, and we’re ecstatic as to what this partnership will bring to Swae as a whole.

“Those that invest in Swae become part of our startup family. We develop a strategic and close working relationship with each of our investors so that we can together advance Swae’s platform and offer to develop more powerful ways to bring value to the world.” — Soushiant Zanganehpour 

Already, William and Eugene have spent countless hours conducting due diligence on Swae, reviewing the code base of the platform, UX/UI, and AI systems. They’ve shared important feedback and will continue doing so since William will also be joining Swae’s Advisory Board, bringing his years of experience to bear on important strategic decisions. 

We believe William and Eugene will be a vital source of intelligence for improving Swae’s platform, offering, user experience, and developing innovations outside of our existing roadmap.  

Soushiant Zanganehpour, CEO of Swae, sat down with William and Eugene Eisenman to learn more about their decision to invest in Swae, and the interview is below. In the interview, we learn about who the duo are and what potential and the hidden value they saw in Swae that compelled them to lead our Seed Round.  

Their unique outlook and support to help Swae exceed its goals in 2021 is a thrilling start to the new year!

INTERVIEW WITH ANGEL INVESTORS, WILLIAM AND EUGENE EISENMAN

 

1. Soushiant: William, your background is extremely diverse and impressive. You went from being a biochemist and ex-Navy Captain to moving into the corporate and technology world in senior positions. From what I’ve seen, all of the companies you’ve worked for or lead at have introduced major innovations and products to shape not only their sector but the world of technology. Let’s first talk about your role in bringing video-streaming to Netflix, I think anyone in tech would want to know more about that!

 

William: I’ll give some background about my career before Netflix to provide some context moving forward. I was the former Head of Technology Innovation at Read-Rite. I helped take the fifteenth ranked semiconductor, building it into a top-two company and leaving that role to be a Partner joining Capgemini’s consulting practice. 
 

During my time at Capgemini, I worked with various clients across different sectors like aviation, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, semiconductors, financial, technology, etc. My teams and I were advising these companies on potential acquisitions, scoping out new business opportunities, creating new divisions to go after those markets, scaling their entire business operations quickly and efficiently, amongst other things.  

As I was boarding a plane to meet a few clients, I received a random call from someone at a startup called Netflix. I let them know that we could schedule a time to meet after I got back from my trip to discuss some of the issues they were facing at the time. After my business trip, we met up for lunch, and I was asked to look over their entire processes.

There were No NDAs at the time, so it was relatively easy to gain visibility into their operations and contribute feedback quickly. At that time, they had about a thousand users (1000) and were renting out the DVDs at .25 cents each and shipping them to customers.

They were hemorrhaging money because the cost of sending a DVD was more than the price they charged each customer per DVD rental. My military background and my management consulting experience allowed me to look at their operations and see clearly “this isn’t going to work.” So while we were finishing up lunch, on the back of a paper napkin, I wrote out what I thought it should have been versus what it actually was.

Within a couple of weeks of implementing the changes I had suggested, they reported that they stopped the bleeding and credited me for saving them millions! I was invited back for another lunch, and before I left the lunch meeting, to get into my car and drive away, their VP of Operations, Former CEO Marc Randolph, and now current CEO Reed Hastings chased me down and hired me on the spot!

After I joined, in about 1998/1999, I helped successfully scale their DVD business and switched the revenue model from charging .25 cents per DVD to a monthly subscription service for $19.99.

During this time, I was also pushing them to explore video streaming (though that isn’t what we called it then) because I knew that mailing DVDs one at a time was completely unscalable in the long run regardless of how much we had scaled. I felt that DVDs were going to be a stop-gap between VHS and Streaming. I knew that bringing the content directly to people’s televisions and computers would be the wave of the future, which would reduce the marginal cost of delivery significantly, allowing them to focus on having the best content.

I remember saying to Reed Hastings that we would have to change Netflix’s revenue model to a subscription plan because we didn’t have a good recurring revenue stream.

Even with a subscription before streaming was possible, a consumer could only really rent about 8 discs/month with the mail transactions because of shipping times being 3–5 business days. Originally there were hard limits to their consumption. At the 0.25 cents customers would be paying per video, and we couldn’t even afford the return mail on each transaction.

We were paying 0.57 cents to send a consumer with a return address already provided. This problem was creating huge deficits.

As a transitional step, I implemented technology and automation to assist the sorting and mailing process to get away from the manually laborious and costly process for sending discs to consumers. We brought in a sorting machine similar to the ones in USPS.

I would send data to this sorting machine to segregate each subscriber’s DVD automatically and help with sorting and pre-preparation for the mail delivery. This system, along with Certified mail, helped us improve unit economics and bring down the costs of servicing each customer from .57 cents to about 0.18–0.20 cents, so we were finally making some money.

However, the situation wasn’t sustainable. When I would look at the whole big picture, I could see that wasn’t going to work, even with the subscription model. I also felt like DVDs were going to be a stop-gap technology between VHS and Streaming.

We needed video streaming and a subscription-based business model to make this company viable and sustainable. With the combination of subscriptions and streaming, I believed that we could focus on curating and creating the best content available. I knew that hitting economies of scale was inevitable. I could just see it.

The rest, I guess you can say, is history!

 

 

2. Soushiant: And, Eugene, what are more details around your background?

 

Eugene: My story is directly tied to my father William’s experience. I grew up in the tech and consulting world with him, witnessing and experiencing all of these moments in his career. I guess through osmosis, I picked up a bunch of things along the way from his experiences that have helped me thus far. When my father was a consultant, I went with him to work a lot. I watched how his teams identified key problems, their approach to solving those problems, and presenting their clients’ solutions. 
 

When he was a Netflix, I was there sitting in many meetings with the leadership team, and they asked me questions about what I thought, to actively beta testing and giving my feedback on the UX/UI of the video streaming platform. At Palm, I was a beta tester for the WebOS platform to find potential bugs or issues and provide feedback on the phone design. I actually helped catch a critical error that the QA team missed, which helped save the company millions of dollars.

I also worked at Alom technologies [where William currently works], where I conceptualized and led the charge to create a fully integrated autonomous warehouse. The fully integrated warehouse utilizes advanced robotics, AI, and Machine Learning to improve and scale all aspects of supply chain logistics for Alom and its customers.

I help create a few features that utilize AI and Machine Learning to choose the most optimal shipping route, the best shipping service to use, and the lowest cost possible. The AI also accounts for potential problems for each company’s supply chain and will actively reroute each customer’s entire supply chain and packages in transit to avoid delays from things like natural disasters in real-time.

Another feature I help create uses Alom’s customer data to forecast potential demand each day of the year. The AI utilizes this data and advanced robotics to continuously optimize daily warehouse inventory flow accounting for potential demand to ensure that all customer’s orders are fulfilled with speed and precision.

The integrated warehouse has allowed Alom to provide more advanced technical features and offerings. These key technological advances empower Alom to continue to service its growing roster of customers, including Fortune 500 companies like Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Walmart, Tesla, Ford, General Motors, McKesson, Genentech, Pfizer, Moderna, and many promising startups like 23andme and Color.

With everything that I mentioned before, you would think I had a degree in something related to tech, but my background is actually in Finance.  

When I graduated from school, I started working at Goldman Sachs. I quickly realized I would rather work in the venture capital and private equity space, so I started out doing secondary market transactions for VCs and founders, getting liquidity for their shares. I’ve since led the sourcing and diligence process of several of our potential Angel Investments for our family office. I also act as an operating partner that is actively helping founders with product improvement, UX/UI, and other aspects as necessary to help them out in any way that we can.

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3. Soushiant: William, looking back at the many changes in your career, is there an arc of interest that guided your decisions, or were they spontaneous? For example, what made you jump to a high-risk company like Netflix from a safe bet like CapGemini or go to a high-risk company like Alom from the safe haven of Palm? Do these decisions provide some insight into your tolerance or understanding of risk?

 

William: As I shared before, I was a former Captain in the US Navy working in the CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear) Division. My experience in the military and, in particular, the pressure of being entirely responsible for the lives of many other people really tuned my senses to pick out situations where risks were too high or vice versa where risk could be managed. At the time, if I made the wrong decisions, I could kill one of my subordinates or other members of the US military worldwide. 
 

My choices could either cause harm to members within our military, or I could find solutions that would get the job done and keep us all safe. If you were overseeing departments in the military, you would be tasked with dealing with the department budgets. I was fortunate enough to be blessed with the burden of always getting less money than I asked for and told to accomplish the same goal anyway.

This time in my life taught me many great skills and lessons that have been a foundation for my military and tech career. I learned leadership, how to carefully assess and manage risk, accomplishing goals with limited resources, and learned that change is the only constant you either change to win or try to cope with the change.

When I transitioned to the technology world, I worked for Read-Rite, a semiconductor company built on chemical engineering. I was Head of Technology Innovations, where I essentially created and built out the Innovation group.

Because of my strong chemistry background, I had the technical foundation and requisite skills to jump in and be useful immediately.

But when we began manufacturing, I realized that I was a natural systems thinker and had a knack at looking at multifaceted systems with multiple moving parts and could see ways to make them better. After realizing I am a systems thinker that was attuned to risk, I could present solutions to optimize processes.

When I left Read-Rite, they were one of the top two semiconductor companies in the world. Read-rite certainly wasn’t a safe bet when I first joined and were maybe in the top fifteen at the time. After I left, within five to seven years, they were out of business because they thought far enough ahead of everybody and stopped innovating.

When I joined Palm, they were one of three industry-leading telecommunications companies at the time. The other two industry-leading companies were Nokia and Blackberry. Now the industry leaders are Samsung and Apple. Those three companies, Nokia, Blackberry, and Palm, all got beat out by companies that weren’t even making cellphones.

During my time at Palm, I joined to create the next innovative phone. I developed the WebOS platform with the intent to build an all-touchscreen phone similar to Apple’s iPhone. Everyone in that space knows that building an OS system is the most important thing and making a good OS system is really difficult.

The phone design is a lot easier, and changes can be done pretty quickly. Unfortunately, Palm wasn’t willing to change. They wanted to stick with the Palm Pilot and PalmOS platform that made them famous. They were content to keep making the same Palm Pilot, making a few changes here and there. All of these companies stopped innovating, Palm specifically went out of business five years later and got bought only for my WebOS platform. The same fate could be in store for Samsung and Apple if they stop innovating.

The only company that still exists today that I worked for is Netflix, and they are now a household name that changed the way society consumes content and entertainment. We went from sending DVDs in the mail directly to customers to successfully curating and creating the best content possible for consumers to watch via streaming. Netflix is the only company that was willing to continually innovate and kill their existing business to that point in order to continue to succeed.

There isn’t any company or investment with a zero risk factor, which is fine with us. There is a risk in everything, but the way I look at it is that you can either be a part of the company, causes or leads all the disruption or innovation, or be a part of the company that is getting disrupted by innovation.

When in doubt, we always choose disruption and innovation over the status quo.  

We like to choose the company causing all the disruption, whether that be in public markets or investing in startups looking to disrupt larger companies across sectors. In the greatest win or take all economy, change is the only constant; you either change to win or cope with the change when you lose. Every single company has the possibility to go out of business in a short period of time if they stop innovating and stop playing to win. There is no safe bet except to continually bet on change, which is the driving force behind disruption and innovation.

I assess opportunities by stepping backward, looking at the entire picture, and finding out where all the octopus tentacles go, mapping all potential opportunities. That is why we’re investing in Swae. We feel like Swae has the potential to be the platform that allows companies to see all the opportunities for growth, new business, and changing with times. We believe Swae can be the tool that keeps you at the forefront of innovation instead of being that company getting disrupted by everybody else. There are a lot of great places and opportunities for Swae to go!

 

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4. Soushiant: Eugene, as a close outsider looking at your father’s decisions, what did you notice that he may not be sharing? What, in your opinion, guided his decisions? What did he see that no one else really did?

 

Eugene: This may sound cliché, but my father has always seen, experienced, and done things differently in life, going against the grain.

For example, my grandfather was also in the Navy, so my father’s family moved around a lot, going from base to base. He grew up in Japan and then in Germany before they immigrated to the US when my father was around the age of 10–11. He taught himself to speak fluent English just from watching six months’ worth of television.

That same year my father immigrated to the US, the principal at his school realized he was incredibly gifted and offered his parents the opportunity to let my father skip grades 7–12 to go directly to college. His parents didn’t think that an 11-year-old should be at university at such a young age by himself because he was still just a child. With the principal’s help, they were able to enroll him as an 11 year old into the local community college. During his time there, he was enrolled in classes, became a teacher’s assistant, and even began teaching multiple courses by the end of his first year attending that community college.

Another example comes to mind. When my father was enrolled in university, he received both his Bachelor’s and Master’s in Chemistry concurrently in three years, a feat that is impressive in itself. Anyways, when professors assigned labs, he would always write out what the lab results would be and just turn it in without actually doing the lab experiment because he did the entire lab in his head. He was always able to conceptualize what the answer should and would be. He’s always been able to see how things are going to unfold.

As a final example, my father had a semester-long project that involved tracking fruit flies with genetic defects. This process is pretty painstaking slow and took a lot of time to complete. My father was attending university full-time to complete his dual degrees and juggled three jobs simultaneously. So he didn’t have the time to be there to track everything going with the fruit flies, so he taught himself to write Assembly to get the computer and machines in the science lab to track it all for him.

My father loves to learn new things, which interests him a lot because lifelong learning is a core value. He masters new things incredibly quickly and then gets bored extremely quickly. So, this process of learning and doing new things drives him.

Also, from observing him my entire life, it doesn’t really matter what company he touches. He is the star of the show, and I know he has the skillset, mental tools, the self-confidence to see the roadmap and navigate the journey to reach success. You just need to let him just do his thing, and everything should work out for you in the end.

I also think his consulting background and military experience gave him tools and frameworks to understand risks and account for risk better than others. His unique experience and view of the world allow him to see risks or opportunities before they were apparent to others. We both are similar in our approach to risk and managing it. We both use some variation of the scientific method, utilize principal based thinking and decision making when analyzing any career or investment decisions we make.

 

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5. Soushiant: William and Eugene, we’re extremely excited for the depth of experience and unique genius you’ll bring to Swae! Maybe this is a good segue about decision making into investments and your understanding or appreciation of risks. If you have a rubric or a set of criteria, what patterns did you see in Swae that led you to make the investment?

William: Swae is technically our first investment outside of the US. We were impressed with your pitch to the Walton Family and their Scale Challenge, organized by the Centre for Advancing Innovation.

As I explained earlier, I am always all about optimizing processes to create systems that work with the vision. I can see how things connect and I’ve always seen the employees as the truly valuable resource that a company has. I believe that everyone has a good idea or pieces of a good idea which causes you to make a command decision. So, that’s how Swae comes into the picture.

Back when I was a manager, we didn’t do it with the formality that Swae provides, by typing in feedback, etc. It was more a water cooler kind-of-thing, where people would get around a machine and talk about what was working and what wasn’t. We used to call this process Total Quality Management.” With Swae, leaders can make pulling ideas from a larger pool of their own people a formalized part of their processes.

Eugene: When we’re considering investments, When we’re considering investments, we’re all about investing in potentially disruptive and innovative companies, and in the Founder or Co-Founders — those are the biggest determining factors. When you deal with a lot of people, you start to see different tendencies and we believe that we’ve gotten pretty good at seeing what makes them successful. In terms of judging criteria, we actually have very long criteria, but I’ll try to keep it to three or four main topics with key points from our criteria that must be met for us to invest. Swae hit all of our criteria!

Our criteria are:

1. Founder or Co-Founders with different or unique backgrounds:

a. Diversity: We prefer to invest in founders and founding teams with at least one or more of the following — A woman, a minority (Person of Colour), an immigrant, or a child of an immigrant. This is a huge asset, especially in certain sectors.

b. Previous Experience:

  • Is this the first company you are starting? Do you have previous experience with a startup or running a business?
  • Are you an expert in that specific field that you are starting a company in? Are you the correct founder(s) to bring this to market or is somebody else better suited to execute the same idea?
  • We like founders that are either older or younger but it depends on what they are doing. Sometimes the experience really matters and sometimes the inexperience is more helpful.
  • Do you have previous experience together or do you have good chemistry? Do you even like working together?
  • Do you have complementary skill sets?

c. Personality Traits and Characteristics:

  • People from the groups I mentioned above usually are more successful because they have a giant chip on their shoulders. They tend to have grit, a strong work ethic, are more resourceful, better at capitalizing on more opportunities, and are motivated by something bigger than just themselves.
  • Opinionated founder(s) who have a compelling view for how something should be or will be.
  • An extreme sense of ownership. We want you to take pride in what you are doing and be passionate about it. You’re always thinking about your startup consciously or unconsciously.
  • You pay attention to the little details. Those little details add up can be a big driver of success.
  • Asking for help when you need it and consistently seeking out critical feedback
  • The ability to analyze situations and make important decisions with conviction leaning heavily on your gut instinct without data to back it up.
  • If you need all the data or information to make a decision then you missed your opportunities, your company isn’t innovative and you are likely to go out of business in the near future.
  • Ability to double down on their position and at the same time be willing to completely abandon their position, that shows real leadership.
  • The landscape is always changing, and you need to adjust accordingly. You either change to win or you cope with change when you lose. You don’t win awards for doubling down on something that puts you out of business or knowing that you made the wrong decision and continuing down the path even though you see red flags everywhere.

 

2. Product, Market, and Market Timing:

  • Is this idea or product even viable?
  • Do you have product-market fit?
  • Is there a customer who would pay you to use your product?
  • Is there room for this in the marketplace?
  • Is this the right time for this idea to come to market for customers and consumers?
  • Are you building something too ahead of its time? Can you stay alive until everything catches up?

 

3. Networks Effects, Frequent and Repeated usage, Marketplaces and Platforms

  • We prefer Platforms or Marketplaces but are perfectly fine if a startup isn’t either of those. Each kind of startup investment presents its own unique challenges along the way.
  • Network effects are a double edge sword, it can either scale your business quickly or can kill it just as fast.
  • If you combine both aspects, you can create something special. On the one hand, you can create monopolistic companies and, on the other hand, create a company to challenge those monopolistic companies at the same time.
  • For example, Amazon vs. Shopify and Instagram vs. Snapchat vs Tik Tok
     

4. Cash Management, Bankroll Management, and making Asymmetric bets:

As a founder, you need to account for every dollar you have in the bank and understand how to allocate it effectively. Founders also need to be great with bankroll management and making asymmetric bets. You can never make a bet that is too big that it depletes your entire bankroll. These bets you take with your company can have high risk, and you need to manage the risk accordingly. If the bet works out in your favor, the company can make significant gains, and if it doesn’t work out, your company would still be alive to reassess and move forward.

These things have become less of a concern to many founders because of how large startup valuations and funding rounds have become. It’s essential for founders to really understand this because although these valuations and funding rounds have gotten larger, you may not be able to raise any money at all or receive any additional investments. Covid-19 has only highlighted the importance of accounting for all the money you have, bankroll management, making asymmetrical bets. Just remember that most startups don’t get funding and don’t get bailed like airlines or banks.

William: Let me add that when we looked at your customer data and the customer feedback, we were using it to validate what we had thought of your product in the demonstration you provided.

You [Soushiant] had said that you didn’t yet think you had a Product-Market fit and arrived at that fact by carefully reviewing customer data and usage trends. Upon recognizing the patterns, you made changes and talked us over changes in your general logic flow.

That sealed the deal for us because you actually arrived at the fact of how to get product-market fit, and you were open enough to make changes and talking over changes to your general logic flow which shows that you are agile. Your approach and thinking gave us tremendous comfort in investing. It was clear you were making changes to your logic and feature set to arrive at a better offering to really nail product-market fit.

Not everyone is like that. Many other founders we see have blinders on and they don’t see any of the changes that need to go on around them. When those teams do the short-term actions, they always get blindsided later. We didn’t see the same failed approach in Swae.

Eugene: Additionally there was customer feedback that stuck out to us in your customer feedback is that someone said:

Swae User Feedback: “I feel like I have a voice, this is what freedom feels like!”

If you can affect somebody at that level, then you really have something valuable! We believe that Swae is the platform that allows companies to really utilize and leverage their real competitive advantage which is their own human capital inside of their organization.

 

William: As a leader, I’ve found that the people that are on the front lines, or the people that are dealing with customers every day, those “in the trenches” are the ones that consistently can tell management where the problems are.

From personal experience in our own operations adapting to Covid-19, our temp hires have been the ones raising issues and telling us what the problems were in our operations. Those people in the trenches doing the actual work can tell us things that we could never actually see. Management would eventually see what those people see but way later, after spending a lot more money experiencing production problems and quality control issues. The others saw them earlier because they’re on the floor.

With Swae’s product, it would allow them to tell us quickly, and allows them to get credit! In a lot of companies, they may not get credit.

For me, if everybody figures out how to solve the problem together, then everybody has a little piece of the pie and then the right people can get in there to fix the problem and keep everybody making money and keep everybody employed.

Swae can show HOW you can actually get insight back from the people that are “in the trenches: so to speak. Swae will allow them to tell leadership without backlash.

Many companies today with this COVID-19 challenge, they’re running 24-hours a day, seven days a week, so making people’s voices heard inside of their organization is essential to their success.

Eugene: Since people can stay anonymous when putting their ideas on the Swae platform, employees get to say their part without fear of retaliation in any way from management or from their peers and that is key!

Let me ask you when was the last time in a company where you had a boss ask “Hey Soushiant, what do you think of this? What’s your input on this decision?” That type of bottom-up feedback on important ideas and decisions rarely happens. If it does, the manager may often take credit for your good idea and if it goes badly you may catch all the blame.

The problem is compounded further if you’re a minority, for example, going into tech or going into any other fields, you probably feel like an outsider already, so naturally you are less inclined to stick your neck out, and speak up to offer your thoughts or ideas. More than likely you will just put your head down, do what you are told and try to not rock the boat.

Swae can solve a bunch of different problems at the same time — improving information sharing, idea generation, empowering introverts or outsiders, increasing diversity and inclusion, solving for toxic work cultures, and many more.

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6. Soushiant: Have you seen similar solutions to what Swae offers in the market? Why do you think Swae differs?

 

William: Not really. Now since companies are all looking at remote work the in-person meetings and “watercooler” talk is missing. Swae is like a sophisticated “watercooler” so a bunch of people can formally come to talk about what’s really going on in the company and then figure out how to fix it. 

Swae replaces the need for all of the extra zoom calls just to get a take on what’s going on inside of the organization. Having Swae’s product would really help management to hear what they’re not hearing because they can get all that interaction without actually needing to be there on the floor or in person.

Eugene: A lot of Enterprise companies and SMB’s will have to realize that remote work is here to stay and that technologies must be put into place for your company to thrive in the future. The covid-19 pandemic has created the perfect opportunity for Swae. You can’t bring people together anymore, as we used to, since everyone is remote.  

Society has been gradually shifting towards this for a while, more and more people are becoming digital nomads realizing they don’t need to be tied down to a physical office location to be successful. People have been running successful businesses and making meaningful contributions to their teams with just their computers in the comfort of their homes, at their favorite coffee shop, or vacation getaways. 

I understand why people want to go back into the office and go back to the way things were. In reality, you really just want to work from home and have your kids go back to school. I guarantee that if you go into the office and your kids are in school, you’re going to want to be remote because it’s nice to spend more time with your kids. 

The covid-19 pandemic has caused everyone to reflect and figure out what they value in their personal lives and cut things out that weren’t necessary. For businesses, covid-19 has clearly shown what you were good at, as well as highlight every single flaw and weakness in your business. Many companies were able to capitalize, thriving during the pandemic, experiencing some of the best growth to date.  

But, sadly for many companies, they didn’t experience the same success and this has been one of the most trying times. There is no way to revisit the past and undo what happened. The ripple effect caused by the covid-19 pandemic has and continues to persist. The only thing you can do now is to reevaluate your business and address those problems to come out of this pandemic stronger than ever. 

Swae is poised for the current “new normal” that won’t go away, as well as what the future holds. It’s how business, in general, will need to be done for companies that want to avoid disruption.

 

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7. Soushiant: Do you believe that companies need to maximize the value and unleash the creativity of their employees?

 

Eugene: Yes. Most companies in traditional sectors are realizing that technology is actually here to stay, it has been disrupting their businesses for a while, and now more than ever, if you don’t change with the times you go out of business. The executives of these companies know that they are behind, all they have to do is look at their peers they came up with and see how many of them are still in business. Many of those companies aren’t here today, and if your company still is, you need to really change to continue to win in business, or else your company will struggle to keep its doors open.

In order to not be disrupted, your business needs to be the company everyone is chasing. If you’re the company everyone is chasing, then you need to everything in your power to keep your edge on the competition. Either way, you look at it, everybody needs to fully leverage and maximize every resource they have. 

The power of a company or organization — is its people. Your employees are the boots on the ground doing the hard work and are the backbone of your company’s success. We believe Swae can be the platform that allows companies to leverage their most important competitive advantage which is their human capital. Companies can unlock their true power of staying competitive by implementing Swae to unlock and leverage their own internal network. 

Covid-19 is a “black swan” kind of event that has really forced a much quicker education curve and adoption for those companies that were resisting this reality or using these kinds of tools to stay competitive. 

But every company will need tools to help them collaborate and be successful.

Swae is positioned on the cusp, to ride the wave of the new normal.

 

WHAT’S NEXT FOR SWAE… 

Thank you to William and Eugene for sitting down with our CEO, Soushiant, to share openly about who they are and why they’re investing in Swae. All of us here at Swae are extremely excited to start working on our bigger goals to make our platform all the more powerful and of value to our customers. 

A big goal for our technology team that is led by our CTO, Su Yon Sohn, is how Swae can integrate with other team collaboration and project management tools in 2021. We’re looking at integrations with platforms like Microsoft Teams, Slack, Asana, etc. This is just one of the many goals we hope to accomplish this year.

Our mission is to empower unheard voices within organizations to ensure that leaders can identify problems and hear investable solutions quickly, and to hear the truth of what’s going on in an organization so they can reduce the amount of bias present in important strategic decisions.

We know Swae can have a major impact within large companies on many levels, and truly transform the way leaders include others in sourcing challenges, finding solutions, and making better decisions faster.  

We know that some problems within large organizations can’t be discovered unless you have everyone’s input. 

The impact that covid-19 has had on businesses globally has set up the “new normal” and there’s no going back.  

Companies need to be positioned to get stronger during this time, not weaker, and Swae is a technology that can’t be ignored. 

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN SPEAKING TO OUR CEO, SOUSHIANT, ABOUT POTENTIAL INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITIES, PLEASE CLICK HERE. 

 

 

How Swae Can Impact the Future of Work and Can Create Smart Cities

How Swae Can Impact the Future of Work and Can Create Smart Cities

Swae has been selected as 1 of 6 finalists competing for in the Innovation at Work & Smart Cities streams at the 2020 Inventure$ Canada Pitch Competition

swae-startup-pitch-competition-inventures-canada

Earlier this month, Inventure$ Canada — Western Canada’s leading annual tech conference bringing together over 4,000+ entrepreneurs, investors, and industry thought leaders to learn, share, and experience awe-inspiring creative collisions at the intersection of social change and technology advancement — invited Swae to compete in their 2020 competitive annual pitch competition.

After a few rounds of judging, they selected Swae as 1 of 6 finalists competing in their Innovation at Work & Smart Cities streams, recognizing Swae’s impact on creating Organizations and Cities of the Future. The topics of the Future of Work and creating Smart Cities are of critical importance and relevance for us here at Swae.

Creating the Future of Smart Cities

The impact that technology advancement can have on how cities operate, grow, evolve, and how it can provide different citizen experiences is immense. Today, cities have a choice to embrace the status quo or embrace a new direction for the future and fix the broken systems.

In either case, as trends converge and the pace of change accelerates, it’s clear we need to design things differently and more inclusively. In the not-so-distant-future, gone are the days where a handful of bureaucrats plan, design, and dictate in isolation how our urban spaces should look, operate, and what policies are needed to make them function.

Driving Innovation at Work

Similarly in workplaces, whether we all work remotely due to the COVID-19 crisis or not, technology is changing what we do and how we do it in unprecedented ways and, for most, at a nerve-racking pace.

  • Communication-styled technologies have enabled the “do anything, from anywhere” gig economy.
  • Automation technologies are reducing the need for human beings to do the most low-skilled and dangerous jobs, but also proposing new risks with technological displacement and unemployment due to lack of transferable skills.
  • Other emerging technologies are bringing a combination of benefits and risks to existing industries and players.

As we enter a new era, we’re facing decisions and new circumstances that we haven’t faced before. We believe that the benefits of inclusion, transparency, healthy competition for the best solutions, and quality data is far superior to the typical top-down driven decisions usually dealt by only a handful of experts or leaders.

We are in a time where people value and will understand that coming together to hear all of the relevant solutions and perspectives that matter is imperative to success and using a fact and merit-based process for making important decisions is the way.

This is where you put Swae into the equation…

Swae + the Future of Work and Creating Smart Cities

Since the launch in 2019, we’ve been deployed inside cities and large organizations to:

  • Increase unique perspectives
  • Boost inclusion
  • Gather the best thinking, ideas, and insights to support complex decision-making
  • Enable bottom-up and merit-based competition to select the best ideas from

Swae’s platform is intended to help organizations and cities include more people in the decision-making process which allows everyone to make more informed decisions. We fundamentally believe that organizations and communities can thrive when decisions are made more inclusively.

We’ve seen first-hand how our process and platform helps to increase the sheer volume of ideas that come in from a greater collective, provides transparency, and ensures a better quality of big decisions. All of this leads to smarter decisions that minimize bias and takes out complexity without sacrificing speed. The combination of having more creative, innovative suggestions leads to more informed decisions with higher quality choices that can impact culture, financial, and organizational or community performance.

Prepping for the Pitch

To prepare for our pitch, we were paired with Bruce Alton, a Canadian Angel Investor and Techstars Seattle mentor on AI and Enterprise Software who spent 5–6 weeks with us providing unfiltered and no-bs feedback on helping us, a) communicate Swae with more specificity about the problem, and, b) do this in under 2 minutes.

Working with Bruce (who generously volunteered his time), we anchored our pitch and problem statement.

Swae solves the problems associated with excessive cognitive bias in decision-making and the impact of bias on stakeholder engagement.

We were able to find data that quantifies the cost of bias and disengagement to organizations and weave these new details into our narrative so that we can make the problem concise and more data-focused.

We were also able to simplify the communications of how Swae works and what value our platform and process provides organizations and cities. And, finally, we were able to bring our pitch down from 4 minutes to just under 2 minutes.

Below is a link to our video pitch and please let us know your feedback!

The next steps…

The competition will be held June 3–4, 2020 and the winners of the $10K prize will be announced on June 5th, 2020.

Whether we win or not, this process of refining our pitch has generated much more value than a monetary prize. We are indebted and grateful to Inventure$ Canada and to Bruce Alton for your strategic insights and clear-minded advice!

Here we go… wish us luck!

Check out our 2-min pitch video below (feedback welcome!): 

See more about Inventure$ Canada 2020 below and to check out the other participants’ click here.
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