Data analytics is used to find patterns in business operations or revenue relationships between sales and marketing activity.
But software-as-a-service (SaaS) startup Saberr is taking a different approach.
The firm uses academically researched algorithms and analytics on top of personality tests to give customers insights into workforce performance and dynamics to optimise recruitment strategies and find areas for improvement.
Saberr was founded by Alistair Shepherd and Sam Mead in 2013, and has grown to 10 people in an office in London and three in an office in Belgrade.
We fired our spotlight questions at Shepard to find out more about his startup.
Tell us more about your company.
Saberr is a people analytics company. We build SaaS software at the intersection of psychology and data to help teams perform better. Imagine what the human race could achieve if people could just work well together.
At Saberr we're incredibly passionate about advancing the achievements of the human race. The biggest challenge to realising our potential is not limited by technology but by human interactions.
Teamwork isn't magic, it's science. And it's not hot air either. We've proved to improve employee performance at large corporations by over 20 percent simply by helping companies design teams and hire new employees who are more likely to work well together.
Why did you develop Saberr?
I'm an aerospace engineer by trade. When you design an aeroplane or a rocket, all the testing is done on a computer so that when you build it in the real world it behaves as expected. No surprises.
The ability to hone a design or process before executing it means you don't need to endure trial and error. Of course, no model is perfect but it's a wonderful improvement.
I'm also fascinated by people. Better understanding our brains, our behaviour and our interactions can help us make great leaps forward.
So when I was studying under Noam Wasserman at Harvard Business School and he showed me research highlighting that the majority of startup failures (65 percent to be exact) could be attributed to team dynamics, I thought: why is no one looking at this? Surely we could predict that from the beginning?
A little digging around in the rich data from online dating and from more classical psychology showed me that, with a few novel twists, we could actually build a rough model that predicts team performance with frightening accuracy.
Tell us how you got your business off the ground.
The first test of the algorithm was at a week-long business plan competition at the University of Bristol. We wanted to see if we could predict the ranking of the teams without knowing anything about the skills, experience or demographic of the individuals or the ideas they were working on.
All we were predicting was the relationships and behaviour between the individuals. We got the ranking spot on, a chance of one in 40,320.
We went on to do another 20 or so tests in different environments and found we could reliably predict team and individual performance by analysing team dynamics alone.
This has natural applications in HR. Today we help companies like Deloitte, Capco, Virgin, Bank of Ireland and smaller startups improve their hiring process by better assessing culture fit, and improve their resourcing by better allocating personnel to projects and teams where they're more likely to have great team dynamics.
It's a no brainer: employees are happier and work harder when they get on with their team. The results speak for themselves.
What technology do you use?
We're a classic SaaS startup. Everything sits on the cloud (Amazon Web Services) and can be accessed through any platform, mobile, desktop etc.
Did you start out in an incubator or startup centre?
We were accepted into Seedcamp, Europe's largest seed stage investor, in the fourth quarter of 2013 and were lucky to be able to base ourselves in their offices in Google Campus for the first year. We now have our own office just round the corner.
What level of funding have you received so far?
What challenges have you encountered to date?
We've faced some difficult challenges. Raising our funding round took eight months. It's a steep learning curve when you go through it the first time.
Finding product market fit is also not straightforward but then that's the whole purpose of a startup: to find product market fit and scale. I suppose another challenge is one of perception.
A lot of people think that humans are too complex to be understood by ‘an algorithm'. It's a terrifying thought to think that one day computers might be smarter than us, but it's also quite arrogant to think that it will never be the case.
The thing with modelling human behaviour and interactions is that you don't need to be perfect for the outputs to be really useful. We're far from perfect but we're making progress and one day I hope that people everywhere will be able to use Saberr to achieve their goals and reach further than they thought possible.
What's been the biggest highlight of your business to date?
Tough question. We've got a team of 10 now, and in their own right each person is truly great at what they do. Every time we hire someone new it's a big achievement to be able to work with them.
Closing our seed round was a nice milestone. Being able to work with some top-tier brand names as clients is also great. We're just getting started, though, so the real highlights are still to come.
What does your company do to relax or have fun after a busy day?
We're very sociable with each other. We frequently eat lunch as a team or engage in fierce ping pong tournaments, but we also make space for having a life outside work.
Nik, our chief technology officer, recently got married in Croatia so a lot of us flew out to celebrate with him and his wife. We're still small enough for that to be possible.
To me it's important to strike a balance between achieving goals at work and achieving personal goals outside work. Of course, having an office in Shoreditch means there's no shortage of quirky bars and pop-ups to explore after a long day in the office.
What did you do before starting Saberr?
After my Masters I stayed in academia doing an MBA and a PhD before starting a different startup and failing to achieve all three. I lived in Hong Kong working as an outdoor instructor for a few years but it wasn't until I moved to the US that the startup scene really took hold.
What are your favourite and worst things about running your own startup?
The freedom to pursue a real purpose is great but the best part of working in a startup is also the worst part: you can have the best day of your life and the worst day of your life in the same day.
Everything that goes right, everything we achieve, is a direct consequence of the effort we put in - it's brilliant. Everything that goes wrong, every mistake we make, is also ours to bear and it can be painful at times. Having a sense of humour makes the whole process a lot of fun.
If you could emulate the success of another startup, which would it be?
You're setting me up for a cliché here! Two companies I admire right now, firstly Slack. The speed at which they've managed to scale and the beauty of the product they've created is phenomenal.
Secondly, Elon Musk. The thing I admire about Elon, and I know I'm not alone in thinking this, is that he's got this epic grand vision for a better future. Tying together the missions of his three companies - SolarCity, Tesla and Space X - is well thought out and executed with real tenacity.
Imagine how much better we'd be if the whole world was running on electric vehicles powered by sunlight? And then think about taking that mindset to new planets. Not only is that a vision that really excites me but he's proving it's possible.
Do you work remotely, in a shared environment or have your own office space?
The London team shares a private office with music streaming startup Mixcloud. The Belgrade team works in its own private office.
We connect the two with frequent flights, Slack and whichever video conference service is working best on the day.
Coffee shop of choice?
A topic of frequent debate in the London office. Mine is Ozone coffee a few doors down from our office on Leonard Street.
Beverage of choice?
I find it difficult to refuse a craft IPA.
We're spoilt for choice in Shoreditch.
I've recently been enjoying The Economist: Espresso. It delivers really succinct summaries of the main global news stories. It's slightly politically biased, but otherwise great quality content refreshed every day.
Do you benefit from startup communities and related networking?
Absolutely. Seedcamp's founder network is an invaluable resource.
Could the government and technology industry do more to support UK startups?
It has made good progress in recent years so hopefully the trend will continue.
If you want to take part in the V3 Startup Spotlight contact Roland Moore-Colyer.
Previous startups under the spotlight have ranged from cleaner-seeking iOS and Android app Hassle.com and meeting rooms-as-a-service firm MeetingRooms.com, to IT management firm Essensys and cloud services provider Cube52.
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