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VoloMetrix CEO Ryan Fuller

How much time is your organization wasting on specific tasks? That question has been difficult for companies to answer, but Seattle startup VoloMetrix believes it can help out.

The company has developed an enterprise software tool that analyzes what people do at work from instant messages to social media posts to calendars — measuring how people and teams work together and plotting that against the company’s key initiatives.

Sounds a bit “Big Brother” like, huh? Well, VoloMetrix says that it trolls the data anonymously.

For example, a company could discover that its sales force is spending less than 10 percent of their time with customers, tied up instead on other internal efforts. To some degree, VoloMetrix sounds a bit like another Seattle area startup, RescueTime. (Though RescueTime is geared more to how individuals spend their time in front of the computer).

The eight-person startup raised a $1.6 million round earlier this year from Shasta Ventures and others. We caught up with CEO Ryan Fuller, a former manager at management consulting firm, Bain & Company, for this installment of Startup Spotlight.

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “VoloMetrix is a social enterprise intelligence application that uses anonymous, real-time information from your company’s email, calendar, instant messaging, and social platforms to identify how teams are spending time around top priorities, where collaboration can improve across the organization, and which important business topics are escalating and require a quick response.”

Inspiration hit us when: “Our co-founder, Chris Brahm, is a senior partner at a top-tier management consultancy. Through his 20+ years of helping companies with operating and strategic challenges, he saw a common pattern:  as organizations succeed and grow, they often become more complex and the teams within these orgs have a harder time staying focused on their top priorities. During one of many projects helping a client organization better understand whether it was truly “living its priorities,” inspiration struck Chris and he wondered: “Couldn’t we just pull aggregate calendar and email data from Outlook to help us quickly understand whether this company is really focusing time and team energy on its priorities?” The concept has evolved a great deal since then, but that was the spark which ignited VoloMetrix.”

VC, Angel or Bootstrap:  “We initially bootstrapped the company and I built the first iteration of our data extraction services and analytics platform in my basement while caring for an eight week old puppy. In retrospect, I probably should have picked either the startup or the puppy, but not both at the same time. We used that initial version to stress-test the concept and prove there was a real business need for the product with an early customer. From there, we brought on angel and VC partners that accelerated our growth through their investment capital and thoughtful guidance.”

Our ‘secret sauce’ is:  “I’ve been in the business of helping companies use data to make better decisions my entire career — initially as a software developer at business intelligence and analytics companies and later in an advisory capacity as a management consultant. Many technology companies struggle to really understand the way a business person thinks and makes decisions. Our ‘secret sauce’ has been assembling a fantastic and diverse team with incredible depth in understanding both the technical and the business side of our solution. The last thing an executive wants is more data for the sake of data. Instead, they want to know which information matters most to them and how they can use it. We have the right team to deliver on that promise.”

The smartest move we’ve made so far: “We built our solution around the concept of analyzing and aggregating anonymous data with a focus on protecting information about an individual. There are valid concerns with employee privacy and data security related to email, calendar, and other collaboration data and we understood the real power of this information is at the group level, not the individual. For example, we help our customers address fundamental questions like, “What do our best performing sales regions do differently?” and “Are we empowering those sales teams with enough time and resources to meet our most important goals?” Orienting our solutions at the team or group level alleviated potential privacy concerns and allowed us to focus on creating more value for our customers.”

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far:  “In the early days we focused on pitching to organizations more than human beings. We would meet with a business exec and say: “Think of all the great opportunities you could find to improve productivity across the entire company with this level of visibility!” They agreed in concept, but we learned through experience they really want a tool which is immediately relevant to their specific challenges, like ‘helping my team close more deals’ or ‘improving customer service in our division.’ Now, we’re much more focused on demonstrating the value for specific people and teams rather than for the more general organization.”

Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos

Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner:  
“Tough choice, but I’d go with Bezos.  It’s hard to find a more visionary, data-driven leader and it’s amazing to see how he has continually evolved the company. I often think about all the big bets that were made to take Amazon from being an online book and CD retailer to where it is today.  It’s truly phenomenal.”

Our world domination strategy starts when:  “There are a handful of forward-thinking companies with “people analytics” teams focused on understanding how teams in their organizations work most effectively. Their goal is to better empower employees and reduce unnecessary bureaucracy. We’ll feel really good when organizations view this type of capability as a core enabler for success across the various disciplines including sales, engineering, marketing, IT, etc.”

Rivals should fear us because:  “Because this is a new category, we like to think we don’t have many direct rivals out there. However, we think other technology companies may be impressed with our deliberate and enduring focus to build a solution that delivers on its initial promise and creates immediate business value for our customers in the “real world.”

We are truly unique because: “We are leading the charge in the Social Enterprise Intelligence category.  We often say, “This is the most powerful data you own, but you’ve never seen it before.” It’s so rewarding to see the “Ah ha!” moment and the excitement in our customers’ eyes when they see their own data and realize what our solution can do for them. ”

The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: “VoloMetrix is looking at improving productivity in a whole new way. When you’re doing something unexpected, there can be a small learning curve – the challenge of looking at a familiar problem in an unfamiliar way. So, we’ve honed our message and offering, and today we’re already collecting, analyzing, and providing actionable insights based on collaboration data from more than 10,000 information workers.”

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Keep the faith, believe in your vision, and just persevere. You often hear stories of a business or technology that continually evolves until it breaks through and becomes mainstream. That notion resonates with the entire team at VoloMetrix. We’re in a new space, so every day we find ourselves working through an array of challenges, but we all feel that we’re onto something exceptional.”

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