David Niu is the founder & CEO of TINYhr, a company driven to create products that improve employee happiness worldwide. David is a serial entrepreneur, having founded and successfully sold two prior businesses, NetConversions and BuddyTV, the latter of which was honored in 2011 with the Inc. 500 award as one of the 500 fastest growing companies in America.
David attended the University of California at Berkeley for his BA and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania for his MBA. David was named a “40 Under 40” recipient in the Seattle area, and is actively involved in the Entrepreneurs Organization “EO.” He is frequently asked to speak on topics spanning employee engagement, company culture and organizational morale at top-tier organizations including Amazon, HubSpot and Year Up. David is also the author of Careercation: Trading Briefcase for Suitcase to Find Entrepreneurial Happiness.
Magazine MN: David, you left a high-profile corporate career to launch your own companies, NetConversions and BuddyTV. What sparked your interest towards entrepreneurship?
David: Prior to going to Wharton for my MBA and dropping out to start NetConversions, I had worked at a startup called Billpoint. I sat right across from the CEO and did whatever he wanted me to do, which was definitely different than being a management consultant. In a matter of months after I started, we were sold to eBay (within one year of Billpoint being founded). I was just blown away by how quickly things moved and the impact I could have. So I carried that enthusiasm into business school and wanted to try my hand at starting my own company.
Magazine MN: What is your favorite part about being an entrepreneur?
David: I love being able to foster a positive workplace by hiring engaging, talented members to the team. It’s incredibly energizing to work with colleagues that aren’t just good at what they do, but are also great people to work with.
Magazine MN: How do you keep yourself motivated in difficult situations?
David: At work, I keep focused on our mission and values. Our mission is to "make employees happier." We help thousands of people around the world be happier at work. They send us emails, Tweets, and messages of appreciation. So, whenever we are in a challenging time, I keep thinking that we only touch a fraction of the employees that we need to. Plus our number one value is to "Delight the customer."
Magazine MN: What are the most important lessons you’ve learnt while running NetConversions and BuddyTV?
David: Workplace culture is the #1 competitive advantage of any company. This was particularly true for startups like NetConversions and BuddyTV, because we needed to pivot to find better product-market fits. Of course, the business idea evolves, but we still need great people who are excited to tackle the new direction. The core foundation is always people, people, people.
Magazine MN: What book are your reading today?
David: I've just finished reading Richard Branson’s autobiography. It’s a great read for anyone looking to get ahead in a competitive landscape.
Magazine MN: Earlier this year you published your book Careercation: Trading Briefcase for Suitcase to Find Entrepreneurial Happiness. What is your book about and what we can learn from it?
David: I was at a point where I was just burned out and I was at a cross roads. My second startup was a success and yet I just wasn’t excited about going in everyday. I knew it was time to take a big step away and recharge, so my wife and I packed up our home, put our things in storage, and set out to travel the globe with our baby daughter. I called this my Careercation (career + vacation).
Along the way I interviewed founders and entrepreneurs and talked to them about their challenges. The fascinating thing was no matter who I spoke to, they all had the same pain point: managing people. It didn’t matter what country or industry they were in, motivating and retaining top talent was really hard. Careercation features all of these great entrepreneurs and the tips and tricks they’ve learned along the way to building great teams and work cultures.
Magazine MN: How did you come up with an idea of creating TINYhr?
David: TINYhr really was a direct result of my careercation. After realizing that people management was such a universal challenge, I knew there had to be a way to empower managers not just to become better leaders, but to also build the types of work cultures that make employees happy to walk through the door every morning. This was really the inspiration for TINYhr, and our first product, TINYpulse, which is an employee engagement survey tool.
Magazine MN: You launched TINYpulse in 2012. What do you want people to get out of it?
David: In a nutshell, happier employees. When managers have a way to know exactly how happy, frustrated, or burned out their employees are, they finally know where they need to turn their attention. TINYpulse aims to do just that. We ask employees a simple, one-question survey every week, and we make sure it’s anonymous so they feel safe to give honest answers. It’s easy for them to take, and even easier for managers to see the responses. A quick glance at the results will tell a manager if things are going smoothly or if there’s a pressing issue impacting employee happiness.
Magazine MN: As an entrepreneur, what is your favorite productivity hack?
David: Take a careercation. I used to think that I could recharge with a bad sunburn from Hawaii. That truly was not the case. If you really need to re-group and think through the next stage of your life, it’s critical to take a big step away.
Magazine MN: What is your best advice for the first-time entrepreneurs?
David: When it’s time to scale up your team, never take your eye off a fit. When you interview a candidate and they have all the skills you need, it’s so tempting to want to give them an offer immediately. But if you fail to think about how they’ll fit in your culture, you’re doing yourself a disservice. If you want to work in a great, positive environment you need to hire engaging, happy people.
TINYhr website: http://www.tinyhr.com/
TINYpulse website: https://www.tinypulse.com/about
David Niu was interviewed by Natalie Myhalnytska