Frida Polli is the co-founder and CEO of pymetrics which improves the efficiency and diversity of hiring through neuroscience games and AI. The company has raised $58 million from Khosla Ventures, General Atlantic, Salesforce Ventures, Workday Ventures, and Jazz Venture Partners to name a few. They have their U.S. headquarters in New York, as well as offices in London, Singapore, and Sydney.
In this episode you will learn:
- How our brain works
- Understanding the right time to launch a business
- How to deal with failure
- Tips on fundraising
- Pitching investors as a female founder
- How to reposition questions during investor meetings
- How being a parent can make you a more efficient entrepreneur
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About Frida Polli:
Frida Polli is the Co-founder and CEO of pymetrics, a venture-backed company improving the efficiency and diversity of hiring through neuroscience games and AI.
With global clients including Unilever and Accenture, pymetrics has matched hundreds of thousands of people with their ideal jobs, while removing bias from the hiring process.
She is also an award-winning neuroscientist, who was trained at Harvard and MIT, where her work on cognitive and emotional brain function won numerous awards from the NIH, Harvard, MIT and private philanthropies.
She holds an MBA from Harvard, a PhD from Suffolk and a BA from Dartmouth.
Connect with Frida Polli:
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FULL TRANSCRIPTION OF THE INTERVIEW:
Alejandro: Alrighty. Hello everyone and welcome to the DealMakers show. I’m very excited about the guest that we have today because I think that we’re going to be able learn a lot about many, many different things especially coming from a female founder. Without further ado, Frida Polli, welcome to the show today.
Frida Polli: Thank you, Alejandro. I’m very excited to be here.
Alejandro: I’d like to do a little bit of walk through memory lane here because I see that one thing that was very interesting to me is like how you jumped from one space which was the neuropsychology and neuroscience to really building your own company. Let’s do a little bit of walk through memory lane because you got your college degree from Dartmouth, and then after that, you started being a researcher. How was that for you? How was that experience?
Frida Polli: My background, like you said, is that I spent ten years at Harvard and MIT as a cognitive neuroscientist and really enjoyed the science that we were doing, but was not that excited about the fact that it didn’t have any real-world application. I got a bit disillusioned with that and transitioned out of academia through an MBA program at Harvard which many people thought, and myself included, a bit ridiculous because I already had too much education. It was actually during my MBA program at Harvard that I saw recruiting first-hand because that’s what I [2:49]. They try to figure out what their next job is going to be. That’s where the proverbial lightbulb went off in terms of thinking to myself, “Wow. Recruiting really hasn’t changed since I was in college. It’s very outdated. You’re trying to understand some fundamental cognitive and emotional features about people which we had obviously learned how to do in the lab. You want to predict something using machine learning which we also knew how to do from the lab. You want this all to be tech-enabled like all of the other machine learning platforms out there. I don’t think that without that experience that I’d be where I am today. It was very critical to experience that problem first-hand and see it first-hand in order to cross-pollinate from a different field.
Alejandro: How do you define your psychology for us, especially for those that are listening?
Frida Polli: Neuroscience and neuropsychology: It’s a study of people that relies more on behavior than it does self-report. So, if you think about psychology in general, psychology tends to ask you questions. “Alejandro, what kind of person do you think you are?” It’s really questionnaire-based and self-report based. What neuropsychology and neuroscience have done is really look at people’s behavior as maybe a more accurate predictor of who they are internally, and then also try to link it to actual biological brain functioning. When I was an in academic neuroscientist, we would do magnetic resonance imagining to study people’s brains and try to understand when someone’s memorizing something, what part of their brain is activated. It’s really the non-invasive exploration of someone’s brain using all sorts of high-tech machinery. We don’t do that anymore, obviously. In the development of the science, when you ask someone to figure out what the neuropathways are of memory, you need to make sure that when they’re in the MRI scanner, they’re actually performing a memory task. I don’t know if you ever had an MRI, Alejandro, but it’s nice and dark in there. It’s warm. People fall asleep. Unless you can actually make sure that they’re doing a memory task, you have no idea what your images are going to be of. That’s why they developed all these essentially computer activities that you can do that tie very closely to cognitive and emotional functions like memory, attention, planning, risk, reward, and so on and so forth. That’s what we took to start Pymetrics. We didn’t, obviously, do any of the fancy brain imaging stuff because that’s not necessary. It’s really just more the behavioral neuroscience piece that we use. So, it’s these computer activities that can look at lots of different cognitive and emotional abilities in people, and that’s the core data that we collect.
Alejandro: One of the things that I saw here taking a look at your professional career as we were discussing you were a researcher and being involved with all the schools, but then all of the sudden, you get your MBA. I think perhaps the MBA spark—you were incubating this thought or this idea on how recruiting was done for some time because I think that ideas, nonetheless, they take time to incubate.
Frida Polli: Absolutely.
Alejandro: What happened to you, Frida? Something happened during the MBA.
Frida Polli: Well, it’s like I said, it wasn’t just what was happening to me; it was what I was seeing all around. So, if you go to an MBA program, typically what you’re seeing is it’s a two-year recruiting cycle for people because most of them are coming in with a career, but oftentimes, either they want to change careers entirely, or they want to find a new firm to go work for. So, you get on campus, and you’re just inundated by company presentations, recruiters, and so on. What I was struck by was that it really hadn’t changed since I was in college. I was like, “Wow. This was like ten years ago, and nothing has improved.” Then not only that, but I was experiencing the pain of career switching myself because I had this 50-page-long resume that had to be condensed into one page. I’m like, “How can the resume even be accurate if a 50-page document can describe me just as well as a one-page document. Not only that, but I had thought of myself as wanting to go into entrepreneurship, but didn’t necessarily look the part in the sense that I was in my mid-30s. At the time I was a single parent. I was a woman. I didn’t look like the 24-year-old hacker in a hoodie. So, I think that experiencing the pain of “I think I want to do this, but none of these external resumes, like what people expect from an entrepreneur fit my mold. Then, also, just seeing it play out over and over again with people that I knew where they either didn’t know what they wanted to do, or they thought they knew what they wanted to do, spent all this time getting that internship and then after two days hating it and just realizing that there was really no way to get good data and use machine learning to help people understand what their best career choices where and the same for companies. There was very little data-driven recruiting going on.
Alejandro: You knew that this problem was there. You were starting to incubate this solution. I think that doing the MBA at Harvard was starting to shape you as well as a business leader as really being right there ready to take the leap of faith. Walk us through that moment, through that day that you told yourself “I’m going to pull the trigger, and I’m going to make this work.
Frida Polli: Oh, sure. It was actually kind of a funny day because I think even then the idea for the company hadn’t fully formed in my mind. I was talking to my then cofounder at the time. We were sitting in a coffee shop in New York. I was interning at a startup there for the summer. I just remember that I was like, “I have this great idea.” She was like, “What is it?” I’m like, “We’re going to use neuroscience somehow.” She was like, “What are we going to do with it?” I’m like, “I don’t know, but we’re going to solve this job problem that I see in front of me.” She’s like, “How are we going to do that?” I was like, “I don’t know, but it’s going to be great.” It was like this flash in my brain more than it was like I pulled out some kind of power-point presentation with a fully-formed business plan. I just had this inspiration that we had some great data. We could get data from people. We could use data science. We could predict outcomes. I just had this flash of like, “Wow. This is definitely going to be big.” Then that was that summer, and we built out an early MVP during that year and crystallized what the actual platform was going to look like. We had, at that point, these incremental milestones which were like, “If we can get five companies,” because again, companies come to HBS all the time, so we would have the opportunity to sit down with executives and say, “Here’s what we built. Do you think it’s interesting?” We had these sequential milestones. We can get five companies to take a demo and think it’s interesting, and that’s one milestone. I remember the milestone for taking the plunge because we bootstrapped for the first year. I was like, “If we can get a company to pay us a certain amount of money for this technology, we’re going to move to New York and found the company. In May of that year when we were graduating, we had a six-figure contract that we signed with a company. That was our friends and family or our seed round or whatever you want to call it. We lived off of that for a year. That was the impetuous. Part of it, for me, was realizing that there is no better time—first of all, starting a company is sort of like having a baby. There’s no good time. You’ve got to fit it in there somehow.
Alejandro: But there’s no exit, and you only break even when they let you sleep at night.
Frida Polli: Yeah, I know. There are some parts in the analogy that don’t work out that well, but my point is like it could always be a good time and there could always be a bad time. You kind of have to just do it. That’s my advice that I give to anybody. It’s like you’re never going to have even close to X-amount of certainty that you want to have, and there is no good time. So, you just have to take the plunge. When you feel passionate and excited enough, and there’s nothing else that you would ever think about doing. That’s when you know a good time is. We had set up all these things saying, “If we do this, we do that, then we can do this, then we’ll do it.” We had hit most of them, but at the same time, it was really just a leap of faith of “We’ve gotten these very early proof ones, and now is as good a time as any. One of the stories I like to tell is that my dad is kind of old-fashioned. He’s Italian. He had a steady career in consulting and then finance. He thought his daughter was finally going to get a real job because science—I’m joking. Science is a real job, but he thought, “Finally, she’s going to go to Harvard and get her MBA, and then she’s going to have a traditional job.” Then I told him, “Oh, Papa. I’m going to start a company.” He was like, “[Italian].” I was like, “I’m so sorry.” He was so disappointed. He was just like, “What is my daughter doing?” Now, he’s very proud. The point is that I think it really just takes a strong belief and a passion. It really is about passion and just feeling like all of these other opportunities that were getting thrown my way just seem so boring in comparison. I was like, “There’s never going to be a good time. I might as well do it now. If I fail—I then just thought to myself that being an entrepreneur and failing in the U.S. is actually still a mark of pride. Like even if you start a company, and it doesn’t work out, at least in the U.S. nobody is ever going to think of you as a failure. They’re going to be like, “Wow. You tried this. This is so great. It’s inspiring.” So, I just felt like the downside was low. Again, we had secured this small bootstrapping amount of money. I just figured the time was now.
Alejandro: I can relate to that. I’m originally from Spain. Spain is the mentality of if you fall, they point at you, and that’s it. While here in the U.S., they encourage you to do it again, and they actually value the lessons learned from failure.
Frida Polli: Absolutely.
Alejandro: I get that. Let me ask you this. What ended up being the business model then?
Frida Polli: The business model is fairly straightforward. It’s a SaaS platform that we sell to Enterprise clients. The idea is basically that it’s a tool that helps both companies and actually the job-seekers. The tool helps the companies because it helps them understand of all the people that are applying to them, who are out of that big, big pool, which ones are best suited, and for which job. We’re conversely on the job-seeker side; it’s the same thing. If a person applies, they go through pymetrics. Not only do they get assessed for the job that they applied to, but they actually get assessed for any job that the company has modeled using our platform. That was the other thing I wanted to fix at HBS is that I saw my friends going through these same exact extremely tedious processes over and over again, but it was like apply, get rejected, apply, get rejected. Eventually, you would find your right role, but it was just extremely inefficient. I was like why is this happening. Why isn’t it if you get rejected from this role, you can’t actually be rematched over here. So, that’s what we do at Pymetrics is if you apply and you are not a good fit for the role you applied for, we’ll actually rematch you to other roles that you could be a better fit for either at the company or even outside amongst our partner companies. So, a fast platform that you pay a subscription for and it’s volume-based. The cost is entirely on the company side. There’s no cost, obviously, for the person applying, but I think that they also get a lot of value out of it.
Alejandro: Really cool. One of the things I think I read somewhere so that listeners don’t get mad that I’m talking about age or anything, but I think the situation in which one is, it’s really important from a fact’s perspective. I think I read that at the time of starting the business, you were 38 years old and a single mother.
Frida Polli: I was. Yeah.
Alejandro: What was going through your mind during this period of time?
Frida Polli: What was going through my mind or my dad’s mind? My dad was like, “[Italian].”
Alejandro: What about yours?
Frida Polli: There was some of that, maybe in English. “Frida, what are you doing?” Look, I’m not going to lie to you. I think there was a fair amount of self-doubt that I had to grapple with because, again, I wasn’t an engineer. I wasn’t a data scientist, that was my co-founder. I was much more the neuroscientist, product person, business person, which of course is very important, but I had no track record actually starting any companies. It was a combination of like, “Am I really going to do this? Is this going to work out?” But also, back to the point that I was making to you earlier is I had a domain expertise. I could have easily gone back into science. I could have easily taken a job in industry and biotech and consulting. Those options just seemed so boring to me that I couldn’t imagine doing that, yet there was this extremely intimidating yet extremely fascinating thing that I wanted to do. So, I just went for it. It was a completely buffet. I’ve learned about myself that I think if I’m not challenged in a very significant way, I tend not to do my best work. So, it was a big contrast in fear of am I going to be able to make this a career, combined with this huge amount of excitement. We had secured this small amount of money. I had some savings that I could rely on, so I wasn’t—you hear these stories of people mortgaging their house. I wasn’t quite at the stage, but still, I was a single parent. I was supporting myself and my daughter at the time. It wasn’t like I had nary a care in the world. There was definitely some tension there, but I felt like even if I fail, I’m pretty hirable. I can do something else and why not give it a shot?
Alejandro: Then what kind of support network did you build around?
Frida Polli: HPS is a massive support network. There are people that start companies that don’t have prestigious degrees and all the rest of it. Let’s not kid ourselves. Having an HBS network to fall back on is a huge advantage. That’s how we found our first VCs. That’s how we got some of our early clients. Really, I don’t consider myself to someone who is disadvantaged in terms of the support network that I had in any kind of way. So, there was obviously the business network that I had formed there. There was the scientific network that I had from my ten years in academia. Despite being a single parent, my daughter’s dad was very helpful in every way that he could be. Then, obviously, friends, family, and all the rest of it. As an entrepreneur, you hear all sorts of crazy stories. Like the first year of Pymetrics I lived with my co-founder at the time and my daughter. I call it two women in an algorithm phase of Pymetrics because it was very tight living quarters. You couldn’t go home from work. It was like, “I just left work, and now I’m back at work with my co-founder.” It’s not to say that it wasn’t without a lot of stress and all the rest of it. My daughter was seven at the time. To add a seven-year-old to the mix, I think is not easy, but there are plenty of people. You hear the same stories. I had to live with my wife and my co-founder. I was living out of my car. I don’t know. There are all sorts of crazy stuff that people do when they’re starting a company.
Alejandro: Any tips there, Frida? Especially for the ones that are listening that are perhaps in a similar situation on how you were able to balance business and the time you spend with your daughter?
Frida Polli: This is just general thoughts. I believe that for myself in any case, becoming a parent made me more efficient in the sense that a lot of the time I used to spend spinning my wheels and being anxious about other stuff just had to go by the wayside. I’ve definitely heard that from other people, especially women who have become parents is that they just become more efficient with their time. I think, quite frankly, they always tell you as an entrepreneur focus and time are the two things that are in the shortest supplies. I actually think it was a good push for me. The other advantage to being an entrepreneur is that you have a lot of flexibility in your schedule. The company has always had this work ethic that you don’t have to have a lot of facetime. As long as you’re getting your work done, you don’t have to be there until 2:00 in the morning. So, it’s very different than some of the other founder stories where there’s this ethos of “We’ve all got to be in the office drinking Red Bull until wee hours in the morning. So, it definitely is different from that perspective, but I think the philosophy has always been like, “As long as you’re efficient, you get your work done, you get results, it doesn’t really matter where you’re doing it from or how you’re doing it.” I think it’s also been helpful in just creating a work environment that is conducive to many people being successful. Not just people that have children, but people that might need to work remotely for certain reasons. Even those terrible Millennials we all hear about and how much they value flexibility and whatnot; I think it’s the core idea of being productive and yet having flexible conditions has just been really helpful for a lot of people at the company. I would encourage anyone that’s starting a new company—there are always pluses and minuses to my situation. Obviously, if I hadn’t had a kid, I would have been able to work more hours, but maybe those hours wouldn’t have been as productive. There are always pros and cons.
Alejandro: Got it. Now, talking about the business, obviously, you guys have major clients. We’re talking about Unilever at Center, LinkedIn. What were some of the early days and some of the challenges because now you’re at a point [22:30]? Walk us through those.
Frida Polli: There are so many. I’ll never forget the first time we walked into a major financial services company, and I’ll never forget talking to them about the idea. They did the verbal equivalent of patting me on the head and saying, “Oh, that’s so sweet. So nice that you thought of this idea.” It wasn’t patronizing, but it was just that it was clear in their mind this was just a silly idea to some extent. I think there were a lot of challenges. It balanced by the fact that from a very early point, there was a lot of interest in what we were doing. It’s this interesting dichotomy of those types of experiences where people were patting you on the head saying, “This sounds ridiculous,” to other people just being like, “Wow! If this actually works, this is game-changing.” That was good because it just showed there was interest in the market. Obviously, it’s a huge market because all companies hire people. I think the challenges were that it’s very hard to build the data and AI company. It takes a lot of work. Not to say that any company isn’t work, but it’s not like you can just stand it up overnight. There’s a lot of investment that we had to do in terms of gathering data, building out the algorithms, making the algorithms into software and so on. There’s a tremendous amount of challenge. A lot of doors knocked on. A lot of people saying, “Thanks, but no thanks,” or “This seems absurd,” or “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” It’s so funny because now, we’re in this market where people copy our stuff, but if you thought back five years ago, there were lots of people who just thought this was a crazy idea. I think it’s not uncommon to have those experiences early on.
Alejandro: I imagine that probably one of the biggest challenges was with fundraising. How much capital have you guys raised to date?
Frida Polli: We’ve raised approximately 57 million in venture funding which is a lot. That’s both very exciting, and also, you’ve got to use it wisely. I think it’s a combination of things. I wouldn’t say we were lucky, but in some ways, I think we were lucky. So, there were lots of VCs that we pitched that really thought this was nuts. On the one hand, you’re pitching the kind of HR crowd that is like neuroscience. How does that even fit into the picture? They just wrote that off completely. Then, on the other hand, you’re pitching the people that have experience in life sciences, and they’re like, “Live science for HR?” So, nobody got it. Everybody was like bashing their heads against the wall. Then interestingly enough, one of the case studies that we had done at HBS was Khosla Ventures and Samir Kaul who is a partner there had come and presented. I just had in the back of my mind, “They’re an interesting firm. They do a lot of science investing. When we were ready to raise our seed round which was in late 2013, I asked my former professor at HBS, “Could you give me the email address of that guy who came and presented.” My professor, who really liked me a ton, thought of Khosla as clean tech and batteries. He looked at me and in his southern drawl, “Frida, they don’t invest in companies like yours.” I was like, “Okay. Just give me the email address.” It was like, “He can reject me on his own. I don’t need you to play like matchmaker here.” Interestingly, I emailed Samir and the next day got a response. Again, this is back to where the HBS network was really invaluable. They just saw it immediately because they do have a lot of portfolio companies that take science that isn’t designed for the purpose that it’s getting used for. That’s one of the things they like to invest in. It just took a lot of looking at many, many different options before that one became the obvious one. Then once you’ve raised some money, then it’s easier to raise further money. I think the Series A was also tough because as a data algorithm company, our revenue was pretty de minimis at that point. It was early 2016 when we raised it. We had zero revenue in 2015. We had to explain, “It takes a long time to build algorithms that actually work. We’re not a toothbrush company. We’re not a consumer goods company. I think at every point there have been different challenges. Honestly, fundraising is hard. I think most people you talk to; you know since you’re an entrepreneur as well. Of course, there are always the stories where you hear of people just pouring money into a company. I’ll never forget seeing Katrina Lake talk about Stitch Fix. They had such a challenge at raising money, and look at them. They’ve been this huge success. I just don’t think that success at raising money is necessarily a proxy for how successful your company’s going to be. Obviously, it’s a necessary thing, but I don’t think that “Just because I raise money easily” means my company is going to be successful or vice versa.
Alejandro: Absolutely. You guys got really, really good investors. You were talking about Khosla Ventures, General Atlantic, Salesforce Ventures, [Worthy Ventures 28:15]. Really, really great and also really strategic guys. Now, I just want to drop some facts. Just so you know and also for the listeners, I actually have three daughters myself.
Frida Polli: Fine. I do too.
Alejandro: I’m like, “I know what’s my place in the house.” But I’m really excited about the fact that things are changing because I think that the VC and startup world, it has been to a certain degree a boy’s club, and I’m really excited because this is changing. I really want my girls to live in a different environment. Some of the facts that I saw was something crazy like 60 billion in funding for male-cofounded companies versus 1.5 billion in funding for female-cofounded companies. Then there was another study from Cartha that share that women make up 33% of the combined founder and employee workforce, but only hold 9% of the equity value while the another 91% belongs to men. Why do you think this is the case?
Frida Polli: There have been studies done by academics that show that with the exact same pitch, a woman is half as likely as a man to raise capital. They did the study, and they had women and men pitch the exact same idea to a group of investors, and men were funded at 2X the rate that women were. So, there’s no doubt. Then there was another fantastic study that they did. I thought it was super interesting where they looked at the questions that VCs ask men and women. Essentially, most of the questions that women are asked are very much like—they had this term for it, but it like preventing the downside like, “What are you going to do to mitigate this problem?” For men, they were like, “What’s your dream for this company?” So, there have been a lot of studies just showing that unconscious bias is a big piece of it. Again, it’s great that they’ve done the studies because I think anecdotally, I could tell you as a woman some of the experiences that I’ve had. Unfortunately, it’s an anecdote, so as with racism, it’s really always hard to pinpoint sexism because it’s hard to prove that that’s what it was, but the last series of funding that we did, I can give you a perfect example that in my mind if it wasn’t sexism, I don’t know what it was. It was this relatively well-known firm in the Valley. We had gotten pretty far. We had met with a bunch of their partners, and then we got this email which was classic. It was like, “You’re amazing. The company’s amazing. The business model is fantastic. We’ve never seen such amazing financial… There’s just something that makes us not believe in the market opportunity,” or something like that. I was like, “Oh, could that something be sexism. Again, I can’t prove that. Maybe it was something completely different. I definitely think that that’s where these studies come in where they’ve done the contrast and shown that women are at a significant disadvantage. The only thing you can really attribute it to is sexism. Again, I don’t think it’s conscious. I think women can be just as biased or sexist against other women. So, it’s not that men are bad and women are good or anything like that. It’s just that we’ve all been raised to think certain things about men and women. The pattern-recognition people have of women is not that they’re going to go on to form billion-dollar companies. I think that is honestly the biggest challenge. Then people can also say, “Oh, maybe it was a pipeline problem and all the rest of it.” My strong suspicion is that it’s not as much a pipeline problem and that all of this unconscious bias is really where it comes in. I think I was protected from some of that because—again, there’s a lot of research around this that if a woman has domain expertise or the way a woman can mitigate bias is to have a track record of strong success in something. Granted, I’ve never been an entrepreneur, but I had a very good track record in being a scientist, and I was proposing to build a science-based company. I think that gave investors confidence like, “This person can do this.” That was where I got some of that mitigated. But again, I don’t think that I’m shielded from a lot of the bias that’s out there, quite frankly.
Alejandro: I hear you completely. There’s actually a lot of studies that have proven that companies that have a female executive at the top tend to perform much better than those that don’t. So, I’m very glad that things are changing. I don’t know if you have experienced anything about this, but talking about the fundraising itself with the Me-Too Movement, there were a bunch of VCs that were really put in the spotlight. Did you experience any type of inappropriate interaction where you saw that already?
Frida Polli: No. I really didn’t. Thankfully, obviously. We both live in New York. New York’s actually a better climate for women. They’ve looked at this as well. There are a lot more women founders. They’ve raised more capital. Boston’s also not as bad. I think the Valley, for whatever reason is probably the worst and has more of that culture. I never experienced that. I feel very fortunate. I think all of our VCs have been super professional in every way. Luckily, it didn’t get to that extreme. I think that’s another piece of the funding challenge that women face. I think we probably experience this too as co-founders of just plain old sexism, but not sexual harassment.
Alejandro: Yeah. I get for the female founders that are listening, what would you say are the top three tips to keep in mind when going out and raising money?
Frida Polli: That’s so hard because I think you just have to be prepared for it to happen and not to let it surprise you, but it shouldn’t shock you. I’ll give you another example. This is kind of a funny one. I had done an in-person meeting with another firm in the Valley, and then I got feedback from another person that worked at that firm that I had come across as lacking in self-confidence. When I told this story to anyone who knew me, they were just blown away and like, “What!? Do they know you?” Again, I hadn’t projected whatever male version of behavior passes on as confidence, whatever that is. I think you have to take it with a grain of salt and try not to let it get you down because it’s just going to happen. I think if you just let it really get you down, it’s going to demotivate you. I think that’s one thing. The other thing is, pick your VCs or who you’re pitching somewhat carefully because I think if they have a bad reputation or you know people that have had a bad experience, don’t go there. It’s like why would you knowingly—just don’t. There’s enough money out there now that I really don’t think you’re in a position where you have to go pitch a firm that has a bad reputation or a partner that has a bad reputation. Then frankly, I do think that firms that have shown some sort of commitment to diversity in whatever way that is they have, whether they’ve really tried hard to have women partners or in whatever other way you can see some sort of movement in that direction, I think is just another sign. I think it’s like anything else in life. Go in with some sort of knowledge, and try to be smart about it, and then realize that no matter how smart you are, you’re still going to encounter it. The other thing is that article I was telling you about where women were likely to get through the negative questions and men got the positive ones? What they found was really interesting is that if you then spun it as a woman and you said, “Well, I’m not really so worried about the down part of this business, I’m actually really excited about the potential.” You flipped it, and you turned it into the positive scenario. It actually mitigated the decrease in funding that you were likely to get otherwise as a woman. I thought that was really fascinating and actually used that. I was very aware of that when I was pitching VCs and how they would go to the negative, and I would always try to spin it around and say, “You’re thinking about this wrong. You’re not thinking about the huge upside.” I do think as we learn more about how to mitigate some of this stuff, you can get some really useful advice.
Alejandro: Right. Yourself, with all the neuropsychology background that you had. Oh, my gosh. You had an advantage. Come on.
Frida Polli: Maybe. I’m not sure about that. I think there’s a lot of research out there, so just do your homework.
Alejandro: That makes sense. For the people that are listening to get a sense, how big is the operation of Pymetrics today?
Frida Polli: We’re 120 people now spread across several different geographies. Most people are in the U.S. with the headquarters being in New York. Then we have offices in London and also in Asia.
Alejandro: Let’s say in a world where the vision of Pymetrics has been fully realized, what does that world look like?
Frida Polli: I always say if everyone in the world was forced to use Pymetrics in their hiring, the hiring would be much more predictive and much more fair. Literally, if there was a law tomorrow or if someone waved the magic wand and all hiring was don’t through Pymetrics, it would actually have that outcome. Really what the vision is, is to be the most ubiquitous platform for matching people to roles. That could be externally where you’re doing recruiting, or it can be internally. Think of us as the Harry Potter Sorting Hat for talent where we’re going to match you to your right opportunity no matter what your background is, no matter what you look like, no matter what your demographics are, we’re going to understand something fundamental about you and fundamental about the job and make that match in the most accurate and fair way possible. That’s really the vision and has been the vision since the beginning. Hasn’t really changed. We haven’t done pivots or anything like that. Again, if we could wave a magic wand and everybody used Pymetrics in hiring, we would have people staying longer, people being happier in their jobs, and a more diverse workforce. We’ve seen this time and time and time again. This is why people, companies like the ones you mentioned earlier buy our product is because they too want to see a future where not only are people that are suited for their jobs but actually, we see a lot more diversity in the workforce. To me, that’s super exciting because like you, I have two daughters. I have one on the way. Five weeks away, actually.
Frida Polli: I think it’s an exciting time. It’s not just about general diversity we need to talk about, underrepresented minorities. We need to talk about the social-economic diversities. I think the world is changing. We need to evolve into a place and time where everybody is considered equally regardless of their background, their pedigree, what they look like, what they did before. I personally think we’re not in a place anymore where we can afford that luxury. You know what I mean?
Frida Polli: If you look at all the challenges that are happening in the world today whether they’re political or whatever, a lot of them are centered around economic inequality, lack of opportunity for certain large groups of the population. Then you just talk about basic challenges like companies can’t find workers with the skills that they need because the workforce is evolving so quickly that the jobs of today don’t match the jobs of even five years ago. So, all of that requires that we use better data and better machine learning to do that matching. We just need to evolve into a place that our hiring is a lot more like Netflix than it is like Blockbuster.
Alejandro: Got it. Makes sense. Obviously, now, you guys have built what seems to be a rocket ship and fantastic success. I’m sure that you agree with me that at the end of the day, there’s no such thing as a straight line. The highs are really high, and the lows are really low. Looking back on those dark periods, was there a moment where you thought perhaps there would be no tomorrow, and how did you handle that situation?
Frida Polli: You mean this morning over breakfast? I mean, I’m not even joking, and I think it’s partly because I’m pregnant, but you know this morning I was just crying. I’ll be honest. I was just crying. My husband’s like, “What’s wrong?” I’m like, “I just don’t think I can do this.” I’m just being honest. Maybe I shouldn’t be admitting to these emotional highs and lows. Was there anything in particular that had put me in that? No. There’s always going to be the customer that the renewal isn’t what you thought it was going to be, and the employee who may leave because of personal reasons. It’s an accumulation of all of those things. Then, of course, there’s like the huge lows like, “Oh, my gosh. Are we going to be able to raise our next round? I don’t think that in the world of entrepreneurship, Alejandro, you have experience in this as well that you just have to expect it. What I found about myself is that I am fortunate, I feel like, that I bounced back from those things quickly. That type of an environment to some extent stimulates me because again, it’s back to the idea that like a regular job I find overly boring.
Alejandro: How do you do that, Frida? You said, “I bounced back.” Bouncing back is key. Is there a specific exercise or a way or lens in which you look at things because you have this background as well? You’re trained in really understanding the brain. So, how do you do it?
Frida Polli: I don’t know. I would ask you the same question. How do you do it? I think people do it differently. Right? Everyone has their technique, I think. Then there’s probably some sort of inherent aspect of people that make it more versus less. I think there is a personality type that probably resonates better with this than not. For me, being completely honest, I’m half Latin. I think that venting, crying, letting my feelings out—I don’t mean venting, screaming at the office. I just mean being emotional is actually helpful to me. I think if I can let that out, then I’m like, “Ah! That’s a weight off my chest, and now I can move on.” I also think, and this is something I learned very early on, your team is your biggest support network. We really value certain cultural values of teamwork, positivity, and all the rest fit because I truly think that as a team, you can accomplish exponentially more than you can as a sole person. Yes, I am the face of the company and the founder, but I am nothing, honestly, without my team. I truly mean that. I just think that like having that backing, it’s like a safety net. It’s like something you can fall into where when you’re feeling weak, other people will be there to support you. I’ve seen this time and time again where whether it’s me or someone else is going through a rough time I think you can have other people come and say, “How can I help you? What can I do to take the burden off?” That’s how you can create a resilient environment. It’s not just about individuals. It’s about people working collectively to support one another toward a shared goal. I think everyone is really very passionate about the mission that we’re bringing to the market which is accurate and fair hiring. If you’re passionate about that, and you work collectively to achieve that, I think it’s a very strong combination.
Alejandro: Got it. Basically, there’s one question that I always ask the guests that come to the show. You’ve now been at it for quite a bit and experienced quite a lot. If you could go back to the past, and I know this is impossible, but if you could have that possibility of being able to have a chat with your younger self and give yourself one piece of advice before launching a business, let’s say in this case Pymetrics, what would that be and why?
Frida Polli: I think what I would tell my earlier self is really, “Don’t be afraid.” I know that sounds absurd because there are so many things to be afraid of, but I think I spent so much of my 20s wrapped up in a ball of anxiety. It’s just like don’t be afraid. Be bold and challenge yourself. Especially as a woman, I hate to say this, I think that’s not necessarily the message that we’re always given, so just be bold and don’t be afraid. Shoot for the moon. That’s what I would tell my younger self.
Alejandro: I love it. If you don’t land, you at least land on the stars.
Frida Polli: There’s no harm in failing. There’s no such thing in failing, honestly, I think to some extent.
Alejandro: I love it. Look, at the end of the day, there’s no such thing as failing. It’s either you succeed, or you learn. So, you’ve just got to keep moving.
Frida Polli: Yes. Exactly.
Alejandro: Love it. So, what is the best way for folks that are listening to reach out and say hi, Frida?
Frida Polli: People can either shoot me a tweet at @fridapolli or find me on LinkedIn or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Alejandro: Amazing, Frida. Thank you so much for being on the DealMakers show today.
Frida Polli: Yeah. Thank you, Alejandro.