David Niu – Founder of TINYhr

[quote style=”boxed”]Focus on people and culture. Hiring decisions are based on our cultural values. In fact, we put that right in the job description. We’re also willing to constrain revenue growth if we can’t find the right person. Good enough isn’t good enough. I also try to relate customer feedback and actions within the office to our cultural values.[/quote]

David Niu is a passionate serial entrepreneur, angel investor, and Founder of TINYhr. Prior to TINYhr, David co-founded BuddyTV in 2005. At BuddyTV, David focused primarily on content development, strategy, and monetization. David is still active on the board level and a huge fan of the BuddyTV Guide App for its simple over the air “OTA” listings.

Before BuddyTV, David co-founded NetConversions in 1999 which was then sold to aQuantive “AQNT” in 2004. At NetConversions, he rapidly cultivated a rabid client base of Fortune 500 organizations, like American Express, ESPN, and ATT Wireless. After the acquisition, David served as a Vice President at Avenue A | Razorfish, which is a division of aQuantive.

David graduated from UC Berkeley with Distinction and received his MBA from The Wharton School. He has also studied at Beijing University and INSEAD. David was the youngest recipient of the prestigious Woodrow Wilson Fellowship and has received the Puget Sound Business Journal “40 Under 40” award. He is also active in the Seattle chapter of Entrepreneurs’ Organization “EO.” David has spoken at SES discussing search engine optimization and at AdTech sharing about site optimization. He’s also been a panelist at Digital Hollywood discussing the pervasive nature of content and video.

David recently sold everything, stuffed everything else in storage, and bought one-way tickets to New Zealand for his lovely wife (Alice), his 10-month old bundle of joy (Keira), and himself. During this “careercation” they went to places they’ve never been like New Zealand and Seoul. Keira’s first birthday was celebrated half in Christchurch and half in Sydney. Their longest flight was from Gold Coast-Sydney-Beijing-Seoul, yet baby Keira was a trooper and did so well (mommy and daddy were so proud of her). For six months they traveled around the world creating amazing shared memories.

At the same, during the careercation, David interviewed entrepreneurs throughout the trip. His favorite part of being an entrepreneur is the development and mentoring of the team to reach their highest potential. Yet at the same time he detested doing annual performance reviews (think dentist or taxes). So it was hard for him to reconcile these two conflicting emotions.

So the lightbulb moment was for him to interview and learn from other entrepreneurs from around the world on best practices and pain points when it came to people management, culture and leadership. He ended up interviewing a diverse set of leaders from the wine-maker in Auckland to the fruit trader in Shanghai to the financial consultant in Seoul and blogging about it.

Upon returning, David focused on what he learned from these business owners to develop TINYhr’s first solution- TINYpulse. The goal of TINYpulse is to give leaders a pulse on how their employees are feeling so that they can build bridges to spark dialogue for positive change. Our mission at TINYpulse is to make employees happier. We believe when that happens- retention, customer service, and engagement all improve.

What are you working on right now?

TINYpulse, a lightweight tool for companies to anonymously survey their employees on a weekly basis in order to get a gauge on how happy, frustrated and burnt out they are before retention sinks and issues become cancerous.

Where did you the idea for TINYpulse come from?

After I left Buddy TV, I bought one way tickets to travel around-the-world with my wife and 10-month old daughter. I call this my “careercation” to recharge and not backload all my vacation and retirement when I’m in my 60’s with a little bit of hard-earned wealth but declining health.

While traveling, I interviewed CEOs to find out what the biggest pain points were for them as company leaders. I discovered that above everything else, CEOs dreaded employees giving them their two weeks notice out of the blue.

There’s real-time analytics and dashboards for social media, website traffic, finance, etc., but there’s wasn’t anything for people and culture. That was my “ah ha” moment.

How do you make money?

Clients subscribe to use TINYpulse on a monthly basis depending on how many employees they have.

What does your typical day look like?

I like to start my day by meditating. I’m a believer in slowing down to speed up. My daugher usually bursts into our room shortly after my sitting around 7. My time at work focuses broadly on three areas: delighting clients, thinking about our current and future offerings, and how I can uplevel my team’s skills and experience. I usually get home around 5ish to have dinner with my family. Then I try to squeeze in a run or workout before hopping into bed around 10 for some computer time to tie up any loose ends.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I start with what delights clients. Then I relate it to my own pain points and needs to refine. After those building blocks are in place, I look at the offering within our “TINY” brand of being lightweight, easy, and approachable. We are believers that shipping is better than perfect and like to get our offering out to users. Then we follow up very closely to look at usage and feedback to iterate.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

HR 2.0. The realization that if we’re at work for 50% of our waking hours, why not make them as happy as we can. I believe people that enter the HR field are originally motivated to inspire and touch people’s lives. But as time goes on and companies grow, HR is more about compliance and rules, which taints HR’s impact.

But as the war for talent heats up, I think more and more companies are realizing that HR is really about inspiring and motivating their team. I think most business leaders agrees that people and culture are their most valuable assets. If that is true, they have to spend the bulk of their time and energy investing into their team. Correspondingly, HR’s role in the boardroom expands and increases in importance.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

When I was 16, I worked at a hamburger joint. At night, I had to clean up and dump all the fatty sludge out into vats. Whenever I went home, I smelled like a half-eaten greasy hamburger and fries. And I made $3.35 per hour. I learned that it’s much better to aspire to be a white-collar worker, and I have a lot of respect for people who have to work at places like fast food.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I would have been even more proactive networking and going to social events to find talented people to work with.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Focus on people and culture. Hiring decisions are based on our cultural values. In fact, we put that right in the job description. We’re also willing to constrain revenue growth if we can’t find the right person. Good enough isn’t good enough. I also try to relate customer feedback and actions within the office to our cultural values.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

When I first started as an entrepreneur, I was much more lax about company culture and fit. We closed a deal with a Fortune 500 client, and we needed to staff up. For one particular employee, we didn’t find the right fit, but we thought he was good enough. At the end of the day, it created such a negative vacuum in our office that we had to let him go. I know “slow to hire, quick to fire” is trite, but I think it rings true based on my experience.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Lead generation for IVF / adoption. As couples get older before wanting to have kids, it is more difficult to conceive. In addition, with the pollutants increasing in the environment, we’re not doing ourselves any favor in getting pregnant.

It’s such a personal decision, so a reputable site to provide resources and guidance to the right clinic for couples would be very compelling.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?

Eat less meat. I believe the research is clear that less meat intake decreases all sorts of illnesses and diseases. Additionally, there are also environmental and humanitarian reasons to do so. I wouldn’t evangelize, but I’ll share my reasoning and choices if others are interested in learning why.

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

My parents told me they almost named me “Pete.”

What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?

(1) Google Apps – it is just so easy to collaborate and share. Plus one can’t beat free. (2) Pandora – I love how easy it is to start rating songs and create my own personal channel that plays. (3) TripIt – the simplicity is just great. I enjoy showing how seamless the experience is to friends who aren’t using TripIt.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I would recommend “Double Double” because it’s written by a fellow entrepreneur and has real life experience. In addition, his practical company-building ideas can easily be blended into one’s company to boost results.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

@msuster because he’s an entrepreneur turned VC and tells it like it is. I love his advice and liberally RT him. @neilpatel because he dispenses implementable ideas that one can integrate into their business right away. @NewbergReport if you’re a diehard Texas Rangers fan like me.

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

Yesterday when a client emailed, “Seriously, you guys are still wondering if you [TINYpulse] are awesome? The answer will always be HECK TO THE YES! I love this program. Thanks for all you do. Way to be fantastic :-)”

Who is your hero, and why?

My mom. She followed my dad and left behind her profession as a nurse to become a homemaker in America. Not only did she have to learn English on the run, but she also had to work hard to make sure we were brought up right and smothered her own career ambitions for us.

When do you know you’ve lost your passion and need to move on?

When I look in the mirror and realize that I’m not a 9 or 10 going into work on a consistent basis.

How can you make more time for your family and personal pursuits?

Block off my days to focus on one area at a time. For example, Monday will only be for customer delight, Tuesday will be for product, etc. This focus enables me to structure my work day better, so I’ll have more personal time.


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