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Hazel co-founders Wisam Abdulla, Tim Abdulla, and Misha Abasov. (Hazel Photo)

As Wisam Abdulla and his co-founders were building Canadian payroll startup Rise, they encountered a common complaint from customers again and again.

Help with payroll was all well and good, they said, but how could they better manage their employees and foster company culture?

Hazel is Abdulla and his team’s answer. The Vancouver, B.C. startup uses software to help managers identify their weaknesses and improve as leaders.

“They say that employees don’t leave companies, they leave managers — and the research agrees,” Abdulla said. “And yet most manager training and development solutions are outdated and ineffective; they’re often one-day courses that do little to change management long-term. Our goal is to give managers the tools and resources they need to grow and develop, based on the areas where their teams need them the most.”

Hazel is currently incubating in the Techstars Seattle accelerator. We caught up with Abdulla for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “Great managers build more engaged, enduring teams. Hazel gives clarity on where managers are struggling and tools to develop their skills.”

Inspiration hit us when: “After hearing similar feedback hundreds of times in a row, we knew we were really onto something. The first four weeks of Techstars are designed to help you ensure that you’re pointing in the right direction before spending the last eight weeks speeding forward.

We spent our first four weeks talking to as many HR leaders and mentors as we could. We quickly realized that the biggest pain facing HR leaders (and their companies) today is developing their managers. In fact, every company we talked to said that they struggle to bring new managers up to speed, and that struggle ultimately leads to pain within the organization.”

Hazel CEO Wisam Abdulla. (GeekWire Photo)

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “Angels first, then VCs. We believe that great managers can be transformative to every organization. It’s a big problem space that we’re excited to solve, and solving it would mean building a big business, which would require VC backing.”

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “Our competitors in this space offer assessment without assistance or assistance without assessment. We show managers where they can improve based on employee feedback, use that feedback to drive personalized growth plans that help them level up, and then use feedback data to show real improvements.”

The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Joining Techstars. It has been an amazing experience so far. The feedback from mentors and the pressure to execute have helped us challenge our assumptions and be more decisive in our approach.”

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “A few months ago, we hired someone who wasn’t a good culture fit. At the time, we discussed it as a team and decided we’d compromise on fit in order to benefit from this highly-skilled person’s much-needed expertise. We quickly learned that it’s better to work with people whose values align with yours, and ultimately decided to go our separate ways.”

Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Zuckerberg. He has done an exceptional job of building a fast-growing behemoth without sacrificing a fair and engaging workplace culture.”

Our favorite team-building activity is: “We have a tradition of sabering a bottle of champagne every time we hit a major milestone. We currently have 20 bottles by our pod waiting to be cracked open. Don’t tell anyone.”

The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: “Because we’re still early and a lot is in flux we look for people who are comfortable with a high degree of ambiguity. Of course, we also look for people who align with our core values: craftsmanship, joy, openness, close the gap, and ownership.”

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “You are the biggest cheerleader of your business. If you’re not deeply excited about it, no one else will be.”

Editor’s note: GeekWire is featuring each of the companies in the Techstars Seattle 2017 accelerator as they prepare for their Demo Day April 19.

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