The coronavirus pandemic has thrust upon us the new normal where many of us have been working from home for over 6 months now. Tech giants such as Google, Facebook and Twitter have taken the lead to tell employees that they would work from home for the foreseeable future.
Some entrepreneurs have been looking to capitalise on catering to the new normal, however hackneyed it may sound. One such startup on the block is Gurugram and San Jose-based HRtech platform Mesh founded in June 2020 — a social network for remote-first companies that makes it easy for employees to accomplish their goals and get timely feedback.
The company was founded by the serial entrepreneur duo of Saurabh Nangia and Rahul Singh, and senior HR management professional Gaurav Chaubey. For Nangia and Singh, it’s their third startup together after TargetingMantra that helped ecommerce merchants with analytics and personalisation tools and Data Monk which provided companies with custom data intelligence services. TargetingMantra was acquired by Snapdeal in 2016.
Having worked with large corporates and ecommerce companies, the founders realised that most performance management verdicts were form driven and they were all point in time when he was doing consulting work for companies.
Nangia told us that most performance management platforms today are designed to cater to the buyers — such as HR professionals and CXOs — rather than employees who are the real end-users.
“Any HR or performance management platform out there will annually collect feedback and people are still relying on these periodic, point in time platforms to handle their appraisals and role management,” said Nangia.
Though a HRtech product was brewing in their minds since January, it was only after Covid hit that the founders realised they would need to tailor it for remote work. As companies started to go remote or becoming distributed across multiple locations, teams that were over a hundred employees in size got fragmented and it got very difficult to align everybody through the existing HRtech solutions.
The Mesh platform was put into development March-end as the demand for remote workflow management and performance evaluation surged.
How Mesh Built A Full-Stack Performance Indicator
Mesh’s platform has three major components — a social feed where employees can post content to discuss projects and achievements, a task panel where the workflow progress can be tracked, and a scoring system for employees that tests their alignment to the core values of the company.
Nangia, who is also the CEO of Mesh, believes these functionalities help employees consolidate recognition, goal management and feedback without using multiple apps.
Recognition is managed by the social feed where peers congratulate you for the achievements or discuss the challenges. The Mesh List tracks progress of deliverables, with virtual ‘pods’ for team huddles and discussions.
The feedback aspect is quite extensive — employees can have one-on-ones with their managers a la a private chat, besides continuous feedback on projects. Plus, there is an AI algorithm that’s watching all that’s happening. It uses natural language processing to analyse the content of the feedback. If it determines that colleagues are complimenting others for a task it will evaluate which core values of the company, this can be attributed to and adds points under that value.
The scores on each of the ‘values’ are used to generate a percentile for each employee which tells them how they rank among peers with regards to a particular cultural value.
“Just like when people wear Fitbit on their hand they start walking 40% more, people also perform better at their workplace when they know at any point of time where they stand in the company”, said Nangia.
One challenge with the feedback system that Nangia recognised in an interview with Inc42 and has tried to solve for in the platform is that a group of employees might try to game it by applauding each other to inflate scores.
He said, “We have a model where if you are writing about yourself every time, the weightage of your feedback will be very minimal… Also, if you have created a friend circle that keeps on writing about each other, then the weightage of that cluster of employees gets nullified.”
Further, the weightage is based on the designation of the person, the quality of their comments and also how frequently they dispense feedback.
Nangia said, “Let’s say the CEO writes good feedback all the time but the COO is very stingy…So appreciation from the COO will be given greater weightage than the CEO’s.”
Mesh also provides access to real-time visualisations for year-end assessments on workflow progress of employees and data on ROI in people and culture.
True Performance Measurement Through Data
One challenge with the feedback system that Mesh is looking to fix is the weightage of feedback. This also mitigates employees trying to game the system by applauding each other to inflate scores. “We have a model where if you are writing about yourself every time, the weightage of your feedback will be very minimal… Also, if you have created a friend circle that keeps on writing about each other, then the weightage of that cluster of employees gets nullified.”
Further, everyone’s feedback can’t be given equal importance — for this reason, the platform ascribes variable weightage based on the designation of the person, the quality of their comments, and also how frequently they dispense feedback.
Since feedback cannot be the sole determinant of performance Mesh also provides HR leaders and managers in the company access to real-time visualisations for year-end assessments on workflow progress of employees and data on ROI in people and culture.
While businesses spend a lot of time and effort to generate and analyse data on their target audience and customers, there’s a glaring deficiency in the kind of information they have with regards to their employees’ performance and behaviour.
That’s a gap that businesses have to fill with performance management systems that are intelligent enough to cater to a world that’s on the edge of a fourth industrial revolution. “Employees need a more cognitive and intelligent interface for such tools — just as the consumer tech platforms they use in their daily lives,” said Nangia.
According to Nangia, the company’s competitors are “age-old performance management systems such as Workday and Lattice.”
“They are all form driven… We believe our real competition will be some other startup who is probably thinking about how to challenge this status quo…and move away from the Workday and Lattice kind of structure,” he added.
To differentiate itself from these traditional platforms, Mesh will also provide a feature to collate data from CRMs so that revenue goals and achievements can be tracked. Further, integration with other HRtech platforms such as Jira and Slack are also in the works.
Nangia believes that integrating all the useful HRtech functionalities either by building proprietary features or through app integrations is important to make it a smooth experience for employees.
The founder said integration is also important since when tasks are managed on one platform and feedback happens on another, there’s a lot of miscommunication between managers and employees.
Often employee recognition is not in line with the performance with respect to deliverables and targets. This is something that Mesh is looking to solve. “That happens when goals are managed in one place and the feedback happens on another platform or on the basis of what people have to say,” the CEO told us.
Startups Looking At Deeper Employee Engagement
According to Nangia, the founders spoke to about 200 CXOs to understand their pain points while ideating a product for people management.
Leveraging this pipeline of B2B contacts with top management in companies, Mesh has been able to onboard tech startups such as Cleartax, 1mg and Meesho to their platform.
However, Nangia refused to divulge how many of them are paying customers. “Most of them have moved to a paying plan,” he added.
The company offers a free trial for the first month and it can also be availed at zero cost for a team of fewer than 10 team members. This base plan includes a task management module, the social feed, a leaderboard with employees’ score on core values and a feature that allows employees to get feedback from managers in a private conversation.
There’s also a $5 per month per employee plan for bigger teams which comes with additional features such as weekly manager updates, advanced analytics, and allows unlimited employee sign-ups. It also has a feature for employees to have private conversations regarding their performance with managers.
Mesh has designed an enterprise plan for organisations that have more than 2,000 employees — the pricing, in this case, depends on requirements as they need a lot of customised integrations with their legacy internal platforms.
The enterprise plan also comes with features such as employee performance summary, OKR-based goal management and single sign-on support, among others.
The startup has raised undisclosed pre-seed funding from Y Combinator and some angel investors such as Liquid 2 Ventures, Alvin Tse, Neeraj Arora, among others. With its clients being soonicorns and unicorns, the founder says Mesh is not looking to raise funds. “In fact, we have raised more than what we aimed for,” he adds.
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