In the go-to-market interview series, I ask the founders of high-growth ventures across all of MaRS’ sectors how they’ve overcome the growth challenges that surround going to market.
It’s a rare behind-the-scenes look that reveals how these successful founders scale.
This month, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Marlina Kinnersley, co-founder of Fortay. Marlina has been busy raising awareness of Fortay in our ecosystem, but managed to find some time in her crazy schedule to chat.
Fortay’s concept was born when the co-founders – Marlina Kinnersley and Bohdan Zabawskyj – started wondering why companies don’t have a way to effectively assess culture fit when recruiting new talent. They questioned: why is cultural alignment not a priority inside both large and small organizations)?
Fast forward a year and a half and they’ve built a solid team plus a brand supported by extensive customer development. They believe it all starts with hiring for culture first.
Founder(s): Marlina Kinnersley and Bohdan Zabawskyj
Industry: Recruitment and employee engagement / culture management
MaRS cluster: Work & Learning
Team size: 6
Elevator pitch: Scaling company culture is one of the biggest challenges for any venture. Research indicates that employee dissatisfaction is an endemic issue that costs companies time, money and valuable resources.
Fortay is a data-driven platform that enables companies to scale their company culture alongside their headcount. It’s a patent-pending platform that uses machine learning to determine a company’s unique cultural ‘DNA’. The platform has the ability to analyze the values and beliefs of an organization, plus the workplace culture identified by existing cultural champions. Companies can use it to focus their recruiting efforts on candidates most likely to contribute to their mission. They can also boost productivity by measuring and improving culture, engagement and satisfaction levels as they go along.
What are some of the growth challenges Fortay has faced? How did you overcome them?
Definitely awareness and a lack of resources to build awareness. We are currently a bootstrapped company that understands the power of community and customer service in raising awareness. Educating and sharing best practices and success stories with customers is a priority for us, but sometimes it’s hard to find time for this. Feedback from customers additionally helps us to iterate the product roadmap in real-time – so it’s vital!
As Fortay grows beyond Canadian borders, we have to adjust to the demands of international customers too, including one in Malaysia. Overall we’re positioning ourselves for success by being laser-focused on customer service to drive credibility through word-of-mouth; building a strong community presence; and leveraging customer insights to improve our product.
What are some of the key tactics you use to grow the company?
Our initial growth and content marketing strategy has been focused around our customers’ success stories. In essence, these have become our best source of content marketing. By showcasing our customers and using their experiences, we’re promoting the value of a culture-first approach and driving a pipeline of future clients.
These featured organizations include fast-growing tech companies who have leveraged Fortay to double or triple their headcount, while achieving industry-leading employee engagement metrics.
We also created Culture Lab X Toronto, a new meetup group where progressive senior leaders and cultural trailblazers can share their experiences and experiments. We’re currently looking at partnerships with companies like Slack, Greenhouse and more to facilitate Fortay’s integration with other organizations’ existing HR/communication tools and processes.
Our growth has been organic to date, with zero marketing spend.
What kind of culture do you want to create for Fortay? How does it impact growth?
It was important to us that we were aligned on our own values and beliefs before doing anything else. We care a lot about peoples’ success. We want to see everyone achieve the goals that drive them. Personally, I want to create a mission-driven company, a fun team environment and feel connected to the overall goals of Fortay.
If leaders are not culturally aligned, they are not making decisions quickly or effectively. Team members are not happy and become disengaged, which means productivity is not at its optimal levels.
You are only as successful as the culture you create!
How does Fortay ‘s technology align belief systems with culture?
What makes us so different? Fortay focuses only on cultural alignment and employee engagement as validation metrics. Our assessment framework is not based on personalities.
Unlike psychometric solutions, we determine a company’s unique cultural profile based on the collective beliefs/values of their cultural champions. Our analysis only takes five minutes and filters down to individual teams. With our methodology, a company increases objectivity, removes hidden bias and promotes diversity, which is important for building a culture of innovation.
What do you think of the quote: ‘Innovation = technology + go-to-market?’
I think that the formula can be taken out of context. Innovation can occur via technology, execution (or go-to-market) or process. Timing is also a factor.
I believe that innovation is also about a person’s passion for solving a problem or providing a fundamentally new, disruptive solution. I see a lot of companies that simply emulate existing business models. They aren’t really addressing fundamental problems and may simply be introducing new features or increasing efficiency.
Algorithms are beautiful things. By applying algorithms to the data associated with a fundamental problem — with passion — we can potentially be innovative. We can make things more elegant, more efficient and even make the impossible, possible!
Here at Fortay, we believe we’re solving a widespread problem – employee dissatisfaction – that has remained unchanged for decades despite countless psychometric, behavioural and emotional intelligence based solutions. We’re coming at the problem from a profoundly different angle.
What do you wish you had known when you began that you know now?
Get out and interact with your founders in informal settings. It’s also important to find out how everyone deals with the stress of the startup experience. Talk about your intentions and be very upfront. We spent six weeks with one of our team members until we were comfortable bringing him on. Do not rush that part, it’s incredibly important.
On the product and business side of things, make sure you always design tests upfront to understand if something is going to work. The hypothesis – test – feedback cycle is critical to learning about the product and what your customers need. Don’t spend too much time on something if it doesn’t work or provide value to your customers. For example, we found that external recruiters considered Fortay a point of friction, so we switched our efforts to culture-focused leaders and culture consultants instead.
What three words describe your company?
Culture. People. Innovation.
Still intrigued? Read another go-to-market interview with Karan Walia from Cluep.