While leading a department for Automatic Data Processing, Carolyn Peer had to pester employees all over the country to fill out work satisfaction surveys.
Their responses, she recalls, were usually the same: “Can we just put all 5s?” or “We don’t want to have to spend a bunch of time filling out surveys and nothing ever happens anyway.” But they complied, filling out the surveys as instructed. The responses took weeks to process, which was followed up with a meeting about how managers could use the data and what steps they should take, Peer says.
But Humaxa, a Cameron Park-based startup launching this month that aims to use artificial intelligence to boost engagement in the workplace, is the opposite of a cumbersome survey, says Peer, the CEO and one of three cofounders.
Using chatbot technology, Humaxa’s AI assistant talks with employees to find out how they feel about work, then determines and organizes specific actions that will most likely help them engage and perform their best — things such as mentoring, informal training, brown bag lunches, job shadowing, carpooling or volunteering at events. For example, if an employee is stressed at work, the AI assistant can refer them to colleagues (and eventually hundreds of types of wellness solutions outside of the company) who practice activities like meditation and yoga. Or if an employee likes their job, but they want to learn how to move into leadership, Peer says, a chat with the AI assistant might look something like this:
Humaxa Bot: “Hi, Carolyn. Tell me if you would: Do you feel like you are learning enough new things at work to keep you interested?”
Carolyn: “Well, yes I do, but I really wish I could learn more about management and leadership.”
Humaxa Bot: “Oh, that’s interesting. There are five or six other people who are asking about the same thing. Let me see about arranging something for you all.”
Humaxa tracks data in real time and directs managers’ or administrators’ attention to the most urgent issues, Peer says. The software can be customized in three ways: what types of questions the assistant asks; what topics it brings up for discussion; and what types of solutions it offers. All of this is controlled from the administrator’s dashboard, which keeps customized profiles and lists of recommended actions.
In 2018, Peer was a graduate of the first cohort of the Sacramento chapter of the Founder Institute, a pre-seed startup accelerator. There, she met Mariah Lichtenstern, the chapter’s managing director, who praises Peer’s ability to develop a scalable company and sees massive growth potential for Humaxa.
“Carolyn gets it,” Lichtenstern says. “Because Humaxa is software, she’s not tied to inventory. This market has a huge need for 21st-century approaches to dealing with retention, and her product keeps building upon feedback.”
Humaxa has raised about $120,000 as a loan from friends and family and released a beta version of the platform in September 2018. For the past several months, Peer has been attending various events and tech conferences, building momentum for the product ahead of its launch. In November 2019, Humaxa won first place (for-profit ventures) at the Carlsen Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s SPARK pitch event at Sacramento State University.
Humaxa charges $4 per person per month, but Peer says the startup offers volume discounts, discounts for nonprofits, and various other discounts. Explaining the concept of Humaxa to some people has been tricky because a communication interface like a chatbot is still relatively new. But she says responses from early adopters have been positive in helping people feel valued.
“It may seem counterintuitive,” Peer says, “but human resources technology is all about people.”