Seattle-based Inyore, a startup that lets employees anonymously share their concerns with employers, grew out of a dispute between two friends.
Inyore founder Sidney James, who grew up in Montgomery, Ala., had recently moved to Seattle from Atlanta. A friend in the Northwest asked if he was identifying himself as black when filling out job applications, suggesting that he instead answer (untruthfully) that he’s white. James rejected the idea that businesses in the progressive Seattle area would discriminate against him.
So he did a test, applying to dozens of companies twice, once as a black candidate and once as white, presenting resumes that were otherwise identical.
“We’re in Seattle, not in Alabama,” James said. He was convinced that the alleged discrimination wouldn’t surface, conducting the experiment “out of spite to prove a friend wrong.”
James was shocked by the results: as a black job seeker, his application was repeatedly rejected, while as a white candidate, he was contacted for a phone or in-person interview 80 percent of the time.
That led James to think about the need for more open conversations about race and discrimination. He created an app called Anonymously Ask a Minority Anything (AAMA) to encourage dialogue. AAMA allowed people to ask race-related questions that were answered by a racially diverse group of James’ friends.
The app drew a positive response, and people told James that they needed a similar tool in their workplaces.
Friends who were in the minority in their jobs told him they sometimes experienced bias and bullying, but feared a backlash if they spoke up. The message resonated.
“Those are the same things I experienced growing up, just in a different setting,” he said.
In August 2018, James launched Inyore to give employees a safe space to voice concerns, while also empowering companies to direct the conversation and generate reports summarizing feedback in real time. The startup recently launched a beta version and is working with companies interested in testing the product.
There are others in the anonymous feedback space, including Blind, Sarahah, Sayat.me, Suggestion Ox, Hppy and Incogneato. Supporters say the ability to engage on these issues anonymously give workers the freedom to speak openly and air unpopular ideas or concerns, though critics say the approach can result in snarky, unproductive attacks.
Inyore has raised $75,000 from angel investors. Former Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Sidney Rice is a board member. The company’s other employee is lead engineer Aaron Fredrick. James said he is hiring for two other roles.
James’ first startup was Kunfer, which worked with companies to provide savings in travel costs. The business folded, but James said he learned a lot about working effectively with larger companies — knowledge that should help Inyore. James points to what he thinks is an even bigger hurdle to success.
“The hardest thing is going to be earning employees’ trust,” he said. People need to believe that their identity will be protected, and that positive changes result from their comments. Inyore can’t just be a complaint form, he said.
“We want to try to have it so these things lead to actionable items inside organizations,” James said.
We caught up with James for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.
What does your company do? Inyore provides HR directors, engagement and inclusion leaders with access to anonymous feedback from employees. Results are shared in aggregated data reports, including demographic insights on sensitive topics, sentiment analysis, organizational overview and responses organized geographically. Inyore enables company leaders to keep their finger on the pulse of an organization on a micro-level from a macro-level perspective.
Inspiration hit us when: After meeting with some Fortune 100 companies, as well as speaking with 200-300 employees, we realized there was a huge communication gap and disconnect between business and HR leaders with their employees. It’s impacting employee trust, causing workplace bullying, voice suppression, cultural disconnection and concerns about hierarchies. Employees are afraid to openly speak up about certain topics in the workplace. We found that companies were learning this too late, whether it was in an exit interview or when quarterly/bi-annual reviews took place.
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: Bootstrap. It’s definitely not the most glamorous and consensus choice, but when it’s your only option it truly tests your character, values and patience. It challenges you to really dig deep to find the thing that is going to separate and position your company to attract the right customers, angel investors and VC.
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: We have continued working from the negative space, trying to disprove all of our assumptions and hypotheses. This enables us to stay focused on the work of solving the problem instead of implementing our own biases.
The smartest move we’ve made so far: Really listening to the advice from our trusted advisors, employees and customers then formulating those conversations into a hypothesis that can be tested with our users and customer base.
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: We tried to do everything people would suggest, from building a certain feature to looking at a different strategy — but without doing any research. We were just taking people at their word.
Which leading entrepreneur or executive would you most want working in your corner? Daymond John from Shark Tank. I’ve always enjoyed watching him from afar and enjoy hearing him share his story. He seems like an authentic person who embodies our core values of fairness, integrity and helping others. So from afar, he definitely seems like a person that you’d want in your corner.
Our favorite team-building activity is: Going to different local coffee shops to compare coffee prices and taste. We are still in constant search of the best white chocolate mocha in the Seattle area!
The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: You have to believe in our core values: fairness, integrity and helping others. We feel if you embody those three things, then we have a chance to work together and build something special. It’s just that simple.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Just get started. There is no substitute for going through the complete process. You should make sure that you have a great team and support system because there will be extreme highs and lows. Remember nothing goes as planned, so be flexible. The last thing is to make sure that you celebrate the small wins because without them, you will never achieve the big wins!