We talked to Danielle Owen Whitford, Founder and CEO at Pioneera about a safe, productive, engaged workplace and here is what she said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Danielle Owen Whitford: We’re doing well, thank you. We’re in Australia and we’ve had precautions in place for nearly a year now, so we’re starting to live with it. Major changes like these cause you to slow down and find new ways of doing things and that’s been interesting.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Pioneera.
Danielle Owen Whitford: I spent many years in big corporates, getting bigger and bigger roles. I loved what I did, but burnt out in 2016. I didn’t see the warning signs and neither did my company. So I took some time out and during that period, decided I wanted to help prevent others from having this same experience. When I looked back all the signs were there in my language and behavior, but we were all too busy to see it. So I founded Pioneera and set out to create a “spell checker for stress”, so it could do the hard work for us and prevent this insidious issue. We’ve now built an AI platform to help identify and act on stress and mental health in the workplace, which I’m very proud of.
How does Pioneera innovate?
Danielle Owen Whitford: We’re constantly questioning why and why not. We work closely with a group of customers and advisors and really listen to what our customers say they need and the unstated needs that aren’t always clear, e.g. our developers get together with our customers and get feedback on product enhancements and releases. We’re agile, so we iterate, etc, and do the usual design thinking processes so everyone in the team gets the ability to have input and share thoughts.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Danielle Owen Whitford: It’s been tough as our sales cycle with enterprise really slowed down. Whilst they saw the value for remote working, everyone was in crisis mode, so no capacity to do anything new. We expect that will change in 2021. SMEs are looking for help, so we’re seeing some good interest there.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources and what are the lessons learned?
Danielle Owen Whitford: Of course, all people’s decisions need to be considered carefully, as these are human beings and someone’s life you’re affecting. Our team is like a family, so I chose not to make significant cuts, we found savings elsewhere and didn’t hire as planned. We have a wonderful team and they’ve managed the transition to remote working, whilst still achieving some big goals. We made a few changes to processes, but it was pretty seamless. The team is awesome and I’m so lucky to have them with me on this journey. My lessons were reinforced from my past experience – your success comes down to your people, so go above and beyond to support your team. Shameless sales plug – we built our platform to help you and your team, so jump on and give it a try.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Danielle Owen Whitford: We continued to engage with our customers and support them where they were at. Those in large organizations were scrambling to move to a new way of working and so we were thrilled we could support them in doing that. Small businesses had similar challenges, but with much less resources, so we did see a lot more interest from that sector in 2020 and continuing into 2021. We have streamlined the product specifically for this group, which I’m excited about. We use a few productivity tools for our business as well as test collaboration tools for our customers – such as Slack, Office 365, etc, so they can use our AI in their businesses.
Your final thoughts?
Danielle Owen Whitford: I say to my family all the time “the only failure is not trying”, so we keep putting one foot in front of the other and we’ll all move through this time. Take care of yourselves and your team as this is what we drop in intensely stressful times. That’s why we built Indie, to help keep us all healthy and well.
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