enterprise communications

With a simple tool, Waggl takes on employee feedback

February 11, 2014: 5:50 AM ET

Exclusive: A new enterprise communications startup is raising millions to answer a simple question: Why won't employees respond to surveys?

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FORTUNE -- Samantha Zupan had only one question. The problem? She wanted more than 200 answers, and that's where it got complicated.

The PR director for the jobs and career-focused website Glassdoor, Zupan wanted to know if the company's quarterly all-hands meetings, which lasted more than an hour and a half and covered an array of topics important to the almost six-year-old company's operations, were hitting home. But asking the hundreds of people who work at her Sausalito, Calif.-based company what they thought seemed like a logistical nightmare. Sure, internal communications are important, but when would she find time to sift through all of the e-mailed responses? And how many people would even respond to such a prompt in the first place?

"We were really looking for a quick solution to get a quick pulse on what was going on internally," Zupan said. "Do we e-mail our entire company and ask for feedback and me or another colleague wade through that data? And how do we reach everyone when different teams use different platforms? For example, our sales team uses Salesforce's Chatter, but other teams here do not."

Frustrated, she turned to the co-founders of the Fort Hill Company, the human capital management firm, who were working on a new project, Waggl. The startup's web-based namesake tool promised to poll large groups of employees, collate answers and use analytics to produce decision-worthy points from the mess. In short, it was exactly what Zupan was looking for.

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"For us, Waggl was a way for us to survey our entire workforce with a single question," she said. "We got some really good stuff. The response was quick, and the analytics on the back-end -- we didn't have to read all 200 responses -- were really interesting. Trends, standout comments, how many people that actually voted. It was great to be able to hone in on that one specific question."

Michael Papay, chief executive of the three-month-old company, says his new venture is named for the particular dance that honeybees use to convey information to other members of the colony.

"We did about six months of research inside large organizations, and what we found is two issues: How do we get at information faster, and how do we create engagement?" Papay said. "You hear about CEOs walking the floor to get the truth. We heard a lot of need for something light and fast." That is, faster than SurveyMonkey but more focused than the enterprise social software that has grown in adoption in recent years.

Enterprise communications is a $22 billion market; Papay and company believe they can capture a small slice of it. For that reason, the San Francisco Bay Area-based company is in the process of raising $1 million to $2 million in seed funding, with an expected close before May. MGM Resorts International (MGM) and Domino's Pizza (DPZ) have signed on.

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"Domino's Pizza posed a question to its franchisees: What are you doing to improve load time, that is, get product in oven in three minutes or less?" Papay said. "They got 60 answers in a week -- not coming out of corporate, but from the trenches. It works really well at getting information that's typically hard to reach."

He added: "We've seen three types of buyers: The executive who needs information that he doesn't currently have access to, like a CMO; [the executive] who needs ideas and input from a broader group, like a CEO; and [the executive] who wants people to feel connected and engaged around a changing corporation."

Papay says his product -- which is free to try but costs a few thousand dollars to deploy -- has enjoyed "overall engagement between 40 and 50%," with "about 20%" who respond and answer prompts. That's far more than the 1% to 5% response rate that a conventional survey usually enjoys.

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But what if companies just aren't very good at asking the right questions simply? Papay says his sole focus is cutting through the layers of a larger company to help leaders make more informed decisions.

"You work through so many managers that the answers that corporate gets are so twisted and inauthentic," he said. "We believe there's much more opportunity to get to the honest truth."

Even when the questions aren't quite mission-critical.

"We're going to be moving offices in the next quarter, so we wanted to get some creativity going," Glassdoor's Zupan said. "We name all our conference rooms after fake companies: Initech, Dunder Mifflin, stuff like that. So we were able to name all our new conference rooms -- we moved from five to 12 -- thanks to that feedback."

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