Bringing ‘peace’ to the workplace: Durham’s WorkDove unveils performance management product

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WorkDove, a performance management software company formerly known as Performance Culture, is something of a rebirth story.

In just the last two years, it has relocated headquarters from Wilmington to Durham, rebranded, raised $2.9 million in financing from Jurassic Capital, and installed fresh talent and a new board.

“We are, for all intents and purposes, a new company now,” said co-founder and chief executive Melissa Phillippi.

This month, the firm launched a new product, WorkDove Ignite, a core platform of its most popular apps that allows employers to measure performance and employees to engage more often with their managers.

WRAL TechWire’s Chantal Allam recently had the chance to sit down with Phillippi to find out about this and more. Here’s what she had to say:

  • How did you get into performance management and come up with the concept for WorkDove?

My story starts with my background as a financial planner working in banking and finance. Having gone through the financial crisis of 2008, I watched “too-big-to-fail” banks slash my peers’ jobs based on a broken performance metric system — one that was known to be easily gamified. The result was often layoffs for those that were ethically sound and job continuance for some that “magically” found a way for their metrics to be in line with goals. This left a sour taste in my mouth. After leaving the industry to start my family, I realized I didn’t want to go back to that type of culture.

Instead, I started consulting for a local independent insurance agency. By 2013, I had partnered with my now-exited co-founder, Dallas Romanowski, and his consulting practice. My primary job was to help sales and operation teams develop into high-performing, high-value teams. We developed a coaching framework to help accomplish this. My co-founder outlined the framework in his book, Performance Culture, and one of the fundamental management methodologies we utilized was the “performance-values matrix,” still used in our software today. The empirically sound model helps organizations and managers identify true star employees separate from those that might be “brilliant jerks” or possibly “lovable slackers.” It’s wildly effective and easy to use.

As effective as this model framework is, our clients were still encumbered with keeping it all tracked and documented in spreadsheets and Google Docs. It was horribly inefficient. Interestingly, we searched for a software solution in the market that would do the job for us, but nothing we found was acceptable, either in price or functionality. Being the problem solvers we are, in 2014 we decided to build it ourselves instead. Eight years later, here we are.

  • The company was initially headquartered in Wilmington and called Performance Culture. After receiving $2.9 million in investment from Jurassic Capital in 2020, you relocated the company to Durham and rebranded as WorkDove. Why did you decide to make these changes, and what have you learned?

Part of Jurassic’s experience as former owners of Bronto Software taught them how important a network of talent is to a growing software-as-a-service (SaaS) business. While Wilmington is my hometown, and I’ll always love it, the tech and other talent a startup needs (and can afford) is hard to find there. Leveraging Jurassic’s large network is incredibly helpful as well as the substantial population growth the Triangle is seeing.  Also, being closer in proximity to the Jurassic Capital team would help us partner together more efficiently, and allow them to better help us grow operationally and begin to scale.

  • How did you specifically come up with the brand logo of a dove and the tagline, “Bringing peace to the workplace”?

The rebrand was sparked by a coaching session I had with Joe, a professed marketer (in addition to engineer and former CEO and co-founder of Bronto Software). He asked me some good, but tough, questions regarding our brand and vision. Through this conversation, I realized it was time to represent our company’s brand with an updated look and message. He really encouraged me to think about an animal or other icon that could easily be pictured and remembered. With Bronto, he had seen success around this approach with “the big green dinosaur.” It was quite hilarious while we brainstormed together. I thought about a pterodactyl to play off of our Bronto and Jurassic Capital connections. But who can spell pterodactyl?

Weeks went by and I kept racking my brain until one day I let my mind wander while sketching in a notebook. It was a Sunday morning, and I was more relaxed than during the week, and I started to ask myself: “What do we want people to feel when they partner with us?” And the word “peace” kept coming back to me. Peace. Yeah, after the two years we’ve all been through, we could all use a little more peace in our lives. I’ve known and experienced the peace that can thrive in workplaces when leaders and employees alike are communicating effectively and all striving for the same mission, vision, and goals. That’s the mark I want to leave on the world — one organization at a time.

From there, the animal image was obvious: a dove, an international symbol of peace. Pairing “work” with another word is fairly standard in work tech.  For our buyers, they’d understand what we do, or at least the space we play in, right from our name. It was a massive feat to pull off in less than three months, with no outside help, but we did it. It’s been one of the best decisions we’ve made so far.

  • Talk us through your decision to take outside funding, and how you invested the funds. Also, as a female founder, did you find it hard to raise funds?

My co-founder decided to exit the business in 2020, so we set out to seek a suitable investment partner to help him and some other initial investors transition, as well as provide growth capital for the company. Most importantly to us and our board was finding an investment partner that 1) wasn’t run by jerks, 2) had done it before, and 3) were willing to go the distance to help us learn and get to where we knew Performance Culture could get to. We found all three key needs met in Jurassic Capital [led by Joe Colopy and Kevin Mosley]. We have been continually pleased with our relationship with them.

To be frank, the burden of the raise had not primarily been on my shoulders. Since this was our Series A, we’ve only taken outside funds once. I was certainly part of due diligence, and the deal wouldn’t close without my agreement to continue to lead the company, which I was pleased to do. I learned a vast amount during this first deal and have continued to learn more about the venture capital and private equity world since. Being in a “sexy” market like HR tech, I’m not at a loss for outside investors hitting me up on the regular. So far, I’ve found that being a female founder is quite “novel” for them, making them even more interested. With that said, we’re not looking for investors outside of the Jurassic Capital network right now, so I don’t know if the interest would stay just that – interest — and not convert.

WorkDove’s founder Melissa Phillippi works with new company logo in background at its headquarters at American Tobacco Campus.

  • This month, WorkDove launched its new product, WorkDove Ignite. What does it offer? How are you getting the word out? What has the response been?

As WorkDove continued to grow in performance and talent management offerings, becoming more and more robust, we stepped back and realized that there are still many organizations just trying to get off the ground with the basics. We got into this business to help organizations build better teams for better results, so we didn’t want to stray too far from our mission. WorkDove Ignite strips down our software to the core apps an organization needs to do performance management well – such as performance reviews, check-ins, and recognition. We paired this with a simplified onboarding and implementation process; thus, we’re able to offer Ignite at a very affordable price. In fact, it’s one of the most cost-effective platforms on the market now.

We’ve sent out a few press releases, emails, social media campaigns, and then launched the product at this year’s HR Technology Conference in Las Vegas. Due to Ignite’s narrowed focus and affordability, we expect to see the small and medium-sized business market respond quite favorably over the coming year.

  • Why is it so important for companies to incorporate a product like WorkDove Ignite into the workplace? 

One of my favorite quotes/ideologies is, “Do something about one thing, instead of nothing about everything.” We created WorkDove because we saw business owners and leaders just like us, all over the world, that truly care for their people and want to create healthy, high-performing cultures. But so many leaders simply don’t know where to start. That’s where WorkDove comes in. The Ignite product helps an organization get started on a critical business process that, if delayed or ignored for too long, will slow growth and even directly contribute to the derailing of your mission and vision. Performance management simply cannot be punted or phoned in.

  • Since its launch in 2015, what has WorkDove’s growth been like? 

I’d like to say that WorkDove has seen nothing but “up-and-to-the-right” growth since launching, but that is just not our story. We bootstrapped with “friends and family money” until December 2020. It had its benefits, but also its challenges. The world of work tech saw unprecedented capital investment since 2014, and the ability to keep pace with our competitors (many of whom are on Series C-F) became harder. Then 2020 hit. We went through not only the pandemic, but also our leadership and physical location transition.

I’m impressed where we are team-wise today. We’ve roughly doubled the size of the team from when Jurassic invested in us, and that’s a feat. We’re close to 20 employees now, with all but two of those hired after the move to Durham. The past two years have been more of a rebirth story: new leadership, new team, new “appified” platform, new name, new office, and new board. We are, for all intents and purposes, a new company now.

We’ve achieved product market fit and have better identified our best-fit customers. Our sales team is growing and maturing, as well as our customer success team. Marketing barely existed before, and now we’re experiencing increased brand awareness and inbound requests for demos at rates we’ve never seen before. That’s why WorkDove is indeed hiring — in pretty much every department — over the coming year. I’m personally thrilled to be hiring in an environment where many tech companies are laying off. We’ve already been able to “save” several families affected by recent layoffs, and selfishly, it allows us to pick up some really great talent that just earlier this year, we couldn’t afford.

  • Looking ahead, where do you see WorkDove in the next five years?

I love to dream and certainly have a vision for the next five years. But our focus is simply the “next right thing.” The 20th step can seem daunting; it can also derail you if you don’t focus on the step right in front of you. With that said, WorkDove will undoubtedly be in a position of strength and greater market ownership in five years. It can’t not work. There are too many of the “right” things happening, and for that, I’m truly excited.

Original Article Source: WRAL TechWire

WorkDove and WRAL TechWire Image