First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Andriy Bas: We’re going ok. None of the close relatives got COVID (yet). We’re trying to limit the social distancing as much as possible, avoid crowded places, and wash hands regularly. I did the test 2 times when I knew that I could have caught COVID by contact with people who had close relatives sick. But all tests were negative.
In the office, we limit the number of people overall and in each room. Limited personal contacts, and we make temperature checkers regularly.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Plai.
Andriy Bas: I co-founded Plai in July 2019 with Sasha Chepurnoi (CTO) and Oleh Kryvytskyi (Product Designer). While working at our previous company Uptech, we faced the need to align the team around common goals (OKRs), share feedback, conduct performance reviews, etc. We didn’t find any suitable solutions to meet our needs. Almost all performance management software is designed for enterprise (with annual contracts) and too complicated and expensive for smaller companies. And most importantly – employees don’t use them unless forced to. So we bootstrapped a solution for our needs with the combination of Google Docs/Spreadsheets/Notion. And this gave us the idea for Plai.
We did some research, and over 20+ companies confirmed our hypothesis. Most early-stage companies have similar problems with performance management and struggle the way we did.
We quickly created a landing page and launched it in 2 weeks. We posted about it on social, BetaList, BetaPage. After receiving positive feedback and 500+ beta sign-ups, we started working on the solution.
We launched the public beta in October 2019 after 1.5 months of working on MVP. We started onboarding paying users in February 2020. As of early October 2020, we have 6,000+ users and hundreds of companies using Plai.
How does Plai innovate?
Andriy Bas: We democratize performance management for all kinds of companies, especially SMBs. Traditionally, OKRs, feedback, and reviews were used primarily in bigger companies, and smaller ones didn’t usually have this process. Of if did, managed it often in endless Excels/Spreadsheets/Forms. And most of the software is focused on big players, with enterprise’s yearly contracts and complex workflow. With the user-friendly, simple, and affordable solution like Plai, we empower small and medium-sized companies to set up effective OKR, 1:1, feedback, and performance review processes. Helping the team align better around common goals, boost performance, engagement, and retention.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Andriy Bas: Initially, it affected negatively. We saw a decline in the new users and visitors. Everyone was focused on how they’d survive the pandemic. Now, as people learned how to cope with the restrictions and got used to the new normal, we saw an increase and demand for our solution again, with the new users and registrations on the highest levels ever.
To help our users who were most affected by the pandemic, we launched a Helping Hand program and offered credit or free access to businesses that were impacted by the COVID the most. If you’re a small business affected by the pandemic, you can still apply to our support program here – https://plai.team/blog/coronavirus-help.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Andriy Bas: We didn’t have to make difficult choices in terms of firing anyone or closing the business. We are a well-funded and self-sustaining organization and managed to transition through this period relatively ok.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Plai in the future?
Andriy Bas: When dealing with stress, I try to maintain a balanced schedule. It includes sleeping well (at least 7 houses, often 8), eating healthy. I also exercise 2-3 times a week (swimming in the pool and running). I also write a daily journal, meditate, try to spend time with my girlfriend and myself, and my hobbies (like learning new languages). It helps stay calm and be productive.
I see Plai keeps growing in the future, potentially launching Indian localization and entering a market in India by the end of the year as well. In terms of the team size, we’ll probably start growing from the next year.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Andriy Bas: Our main competitors are Excel and Spreadsheets. Since it’s free and easy to start. Our research showed that companies’ earliest needs are setting and tracking goals, and they often do it in spreadsheets. That’s why we’re offering a free and easy solution to start. Users told us that they skip the spreadsheets begin with Plai instead or switch from existing spreadsheets to Plai to leverage the included features (integrations, reminders, history, Dashboard).
Other competitors are dedicated performance management / CFRs (Conversation, Feedback, Recognition) software – Lattice, 15Five, 7Geese, Culture AMP, Betterworks, Reflektive, Leapsome, Small Improvements (in total over 100+). These are the most direct competitors. Plai differs from them by providing a freemium business model, solutions to SMB needs, and simple functionality. We acquire customers long before these competitors start targeting them. Our moat is switching costs. One of our customers switched from Lattice to Plai, since Lattice was too complex/too expensive for them.
Another competitor segment is HRIS – CakeHR, Bamboo HR, Hi Bob, Sage People, PeopleGoal, ciphr, PeopleHR, Zoho People. They’re suitable for managing people/salaries/vacations/days off. Still, their performance module is often somewhat limited, and employees avoid using them as much as possible (confirmed dozens of times through interviews with our users). We’ll not compete with them but integrate (companies would still manage their HR-related tasks in HRIS and performance management activities – in Plai). Our customers already asked for such integrations.
Your final thoughts?
Andriy Bas: If you have any questions about OKRs, performance management, or need help and support setting up these processes, feel free to reach out to us through the website, we’ll be glad to help free of charge.