Alex Furman, the co-founder and CEO of Performica and co-founder of Invitae, has had an intriguing journey from his birthplace in the Soviet Union to leading two successful tech-based ventures and a nonprofit supporting Ukrainian refugees.
His early struggles, self-taught path to software engineering, and empathetic approach to leading HR at a hyper-growth startup have fostered a unique blend of resilience, vision, and innovative thinking.
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Soviet Union Roots
Alex Furman was born in the Soviet Union in the late 1970s. His family, like many others, came to the US as refugees on the tail end of Soviet Jews fleeing the country when he was just a child. The transition was not easy, but it wound up shaping the rest of his life.
The Struggles of Adapting to a New Country
Moving to the US was a culture shock for young Alex. He had to learn a new language, adapt to a new culture, and deal with the challenges of being an immigrant in a foreign land. His mother passed away from cancer only a few months before the move. These experiences, while difficult, helped shape his resilience and determination.
The Journey Through Depression and College Dropout
During his teenage years, Alex struggled with depression. He floundered in college and wound up dropping out after just three semesters, unable to overcome his mental health challenges.
Despite this setback, Alex never lost his drive to succeed.
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The Path to Software Engineering and Fintech
After dropping out of college, Alex, a self-taught programmer from a young age, found a job as a software engineer.. He started working in fintech, building automated trading systems for startups and then large financial institutions.
The Shift to Biotech and the Birth of Invitae
Despite his success in fintech, Alex felt a calling to make a difference in the world of biotech. After a stint leading software engineering at a biotech startup, he co-founded Invitae, a genetic information company with a mission to bring comprehensive genetic information into mainstream medical practice.
The company’s mission was to make high-quality genetic testing affordable and accessible to everyone who needed it.
Invitae’s innovative approach to genetic testing was a game-changer in the healthcare industry. By leveraging advanced technology and a patient-centric model, Invitae was able to offer a wide range of genetic testing services at a fraction of the traditional cost. This made it possible for more people to access potentially life-saving information about their genetic health.
Invitae grew rapidly, becoming a leading player in the genetic testing industry, but the company struggled with managing its hyper-growth. Sales were thriving as their technology was well-received in the market, but organizational challenges threatened to grind the company to a halt.
Alex and his cofounders agreed that one of them needed to establish and build out an HR function to support Invitae’s ongoing success, and Alex agreed, thinking that this was going to be a short-term crisis management exercise.
Instead, to his amazement, Alex found himself loving his new role, and veering from his software and data science background to become Chief People Officer at a publicly-traded biotech company.
As the company grew, Alex refined his vision for building and managing high-performing teams. This experience laid the groundwork for his next venture, Performica, where he continues to push the boundaries of what’s possible in the tech industry.
The Challenges of Raising Capital and Growing Invitae
Raising capital for a biotech startup was not easy. Invitae’s founding team faced numerous rejections and setbacks, but they never gave up.
Over the year the team spent fundraising, they were rejected 116 times. In the end, their perseverance paid off when Invitae got funded, successfully developed their technology and started to grow and gain recognition in the biotech industry.
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The Incubation and Spinoff of Performica
As Invitae’s Chief People Officer, Alex craved the data to deeply understand how work was getting done at the human level.
He evaluated the various HR Tech offerings in the market and found that all of them relied on org charts and formal reporting relationships. Alex and his team quickly recognized that dynamic, cross-functional social networks drive decision-making, influence, engagement, and even attrition.
The teams of people doing truly innovative work didn’t operate in silos or show up on an org chart.
Recognizing this, Alex started experimenting with technology that would allow the organization to see how work was actually happening.
This view (called the OrgGraph™) allowed his team to build a data-driven, human-centric approach to managing talent– at the core of what is now Performica.
As they began to see the transformative impact of using the OrgGraphTM to support their talent management, Alex allowed other design partner organizations also to use the software, and they found similar success.
In 2022, Alex began to realize that he’d love to help more companies create a radically transparent, close-knit culture using the Performica software and negotiated with the Invitae team to spin off the software as its own company.
Performica: Revolutionizing HR
Performica, led by Alex Furman, is revolutionizing the tech industry with its innovative approach to HR solutions.
The company’s primary focus is on developing advanced tools that help organizations remove blind spots and make smarter, more human decisions using data without bias.
Performica’s OrgGraph™ technology gives companies an “x-ray vision” of how work is actually happening, how their employees feel about it, and what actions to take.
It uses digital trace data to ensure every employee is seen, heard, and valued. Coupled with their unique approach to peer feedback and pulse surveys, Performica aids in understanding morale and influence while minimizing many types of bias.
The company’s Helpful Employee Retention Optimization (H.E.R.O.) program automatically identifies at-risk employees, then guides managers through the right actions to increase retention, engagement, and productivity, saving millions in unnecessary onboarding and recruiting expenditures, ensuring continuity, and strengthening an organization’s operational stability.
Performica also offers comprehensive people analytics and guidance, going beyond conventional dashboards to detail reporting metrics, employee relationships, and key influencers.
Their platform helps prioritize individuals requiring immediate attention, strategically driving positive organizational impact.
Under Alex’s leadership, Performica has grown exponentially, expanding its customer base and establishing a strong presence in the market– a testament to Alex’s leadership skills and his ability to build and lead high-performing teams.
The future looks bright for Performica, having raised its seed round in early 2023 with plans for further expansion and the development of new, cutting-edge solutions.
With Alex at the helm, the company is well-positioned to truly deliver Human Resources transformation using technology.
The Business Model and Vision of Performica
Over the years, Alex and his team built out a suite of software modules leveraging the OrgGraphTM data to enhance the efficacy of HR processes. These include unique approaches to engagement pulse surveys, 360o feedback, performance reviews, OKR tracking, change management, and more.
While companies can pick and choose modules, most Performica clients elect to purchase the full suite on a SaaS basis and integrate with their HRIS, communication, and collaboration tools to have a comprehensive view of their organization.
Reflections on the Entrepreneurial Journey and Advice for the Younger Self
Looking back on his journey, Alex has learned many lessons. He believes in the power of perseverance, the importance of mental health, and the value of taking calculated risks.
If he could give advice to his younger self, he’d encourage a shift from letting his anxieties and insecurities drive him, to working from a place of inspiration.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to learn more about more, including:
- Alex’s journey from the Soviet Union to the United States
- His early struggles with depression and decision to drop out of college
- The self-taught path to software engineering and fintech
- The creation of Invitae and Performica
- His innovative approach to business and team building
- The future of Performica and its impact on personalized health and performance optimization