With us today is Carolyn Peer, CEO and Co-founder of Humaxa. Humaxa is a Sacramento-based startup that addresses remote workforce engagement and performance through a fun, modern AI assistant. With experience of more than 20 years in HR Industry, watching companies struggle to get to the root cause of workplace engagement problems, Carolyn and her team wanted to resolve these problems. They united and launched Humaxa in the summer of 2017, an employee satisfaction tool that uses artificial intelligence and a chatbot to change how businesses assess employee loyalty and enhance the workplace.

Carolyn will be sharing her experiences about Humaxa and how they took it to a successful stage and advices for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Please share a brief about yourself and your responsibilities as CEO at Humaxa. How Humaxa differentiates itself from similar startups working towards employee engagement? What is the current status in terms of achievements, customer acquisition and turnover?

Humaxa’s AI Assistant – affectionately named “Max” – is the AI Assistant designed by and for remote workers. Max is a fun, modern bot who figures out what people need and want to make the virtual work community perform at its highest level.

  • Want to grow your career? Max might offer to facilitate mentoring conversations or introduce you to a group discussing leadership.
  • Want to get feedback on a video you’re working on? Max can find someone willing to help.
  • Feeling stressed out due to Coronavirus and market volatility? Max can introduce you to a group of people practicing meditation or other stress reduction techniques.
  • Feel like awesome coworkers are being overlooked? Max can help you thank people that aren’t getting the recognition they deserve – these are just a few examples.

There aren’t many bots that focus just on remote workforce engagement.

What is the current status in terms of achievements, customer acquisition and turnover?

We currently have more than 6000 users on our platform and are growing ~10% month-over-month.

How did you build up an entrepreneurial spirit? Did you inherit the trait from family or it started with you?

I think I’ve always been more of an “inventor” than an “entrepreneur.” When I was about 10 years old, I decided it would be a good idea to build automatic door openers on every door in my parents’ house. I waited until they were gone, got out metal girders, pulleys, rubber bands, a hammer, nails, and bunch of electric motors. When my parents got home, they were absolutely horrified that I’d pounded nails in the walls and rigged these contraptions all over the house! 

How often do you face problem explaining customers on how to use the platform? What are the problems you want to solve related to customer handholding?

Humaxa’s platform is extremely easy to use but we struggle with people being afraid of AI (Artificial Intelligence). It doesn’t seem to matter how or how often I explain that our AI is serving a profoundly beneficial service or that providing feedback to an anonymous chatbot can be a lot easier than talking to a real person. Somehow, people seem to conjure up images of “Hal” in 2001: A Space Odyssey! Trust takes time to build – even for relationships between people and bots.

Struggle follows an Entrepreneur throughout the life. But the initial days of acquiring customers, explaining your idea to customers and investors is almost like hell. How do you keep moving on in spite all of these?

I think Winston Churchill said it best: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

In the beginning, a lot went wrong. There was one time where I was sitting next to a beta client, watching them interact with our AI Assistant. The bot was asking the client if they enjoyed a JavaScript lunch discussion it had arranged. The client answered: “It was great, but I got lonely.” The bot answered: “That’s great news!” I wanted to crawl under the desk and hide from the client. Forever. We just kept going.

What is the usual mindset you carry as a mantra to be successful? How do you make your day productive?

I try to be kind to myself. So much can go wrong in a day, a week, a month, a year. It’s so easy to blame yourself when things don’t go as planned. I feel that entrepreneurs have to be extraordinarily kind to themselves because it’s a difficult journey that few people truly understand.

I am always eager to know how an entrepreneur maintains work-life balance. Recently I came across a blog post, which says – “there is nothing like work-life balance, you just need to blend in”. What is your point of view on work-life balance?

Personally, I don’t like the word “balance” because it insinuates that you have to give up one to have the other – that it’s a zero-sum game. Some of my happiest moments are doing things like swimming laps in a pool on a Saturday afternoon – and jumping out of the pool to jot down an idea I had for a new product feature. Similarly, I can be hard at work – concentrating on solving a problem – and I step away for a brisk walk or to go outside and sing at the top of my lungs. I think the key is finding a way to make 1 + 1 equal 6 – not in time, but in value.

How many members are there in Humaxa? In your point of view – what is an ideal approach to build the next leadership team in a startup.

We have a small but mighty team of five. In my opinion, it’s not about how many people – it’s about having the right people. If you were going to battle, who would you want in your army? Who do you love spending time with but who also approaches problems completely differently that you? Who is committed but also unafraid to challenge you? Whenever I’m considering teammates, the first thing I do is try to talk them out of it. I come up with as many reasons as I can why some other option would be better. It’s not a decision people can make with logic – if they make it, they make it with passion. Then you know they’re really the right person.

What advice will you give to the aspiring entrepreneurs on how to pitch or sell your idea to the prospects or the investors?

I am probably the worst person to answer this question. In the end, it’s a numbers game. It’s said that you have to pitch 100 investors or more, just to get one “yes.” I think it’s even more. It also takes a tremendous amount of time – time away from building your company or doing anything else. In the end, I suppose it’s a necessary evil but I think there are people MUCH better at raising investment capital than I.

You have aged closed to 4 years with Humaxa. What advice you will give to those who are getting ready for their entrepreneurial journey?

I don’t think I’ve aged 4 years – maybe 20! (Just kidding). Entrepreneurship is not about making a bunch of money or becoming famous. It’s about doing something that you can’t NOT DO. It’s about doing something that will test you in every way possible. It’s about knowing that on your deathbed, perhaps penniless but smiling, you’ll never have to look back and wonder “What if?”

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