We Raised a $2m Seed Round to End Employee Surveys

While surveys are a valuable tool for talent management and feedback, we at Cultivate think the future of work just doesn’t need more of them.  We recently raised a $2 million seed round to help build that future.

Can you spare 5 minutes for a quick feedback survey?

Starting from when Josh Bersin declared Feedback is the Killer App in 2015, venture capital firms have invested hundreds of millions of dollars into companies creating surveys for the workplace.  Take into consideration companies selling surveys disguised as “diagnostics”, “assessments”, or “feedback,” and you get a market with not millions but billions spent on these tools.  

Notably, all of these platforms collect data in the same way: they require the user to actively participate and self-report.

But today, survey feedback tools are no longer novel.  Over the past few years they seem to be integrated into every part of the HR tech experience.  The latest news is full of giant companies spending lots of money to acquire survey companies, from Linkedin’s acquisition of Glint, to SAP buying Qualtrics for $8 billion.

Survey overload

What is the impact of the massive amount of capital pumped into surveys? Asking employees to spend more and more of their time explicitly providing feedback!  This in turn leads to:

  • Distrust as to whether the feedback matters and the suspicion that it is just turning into noise.  See recent article in The Atlantic discussing this problem with feedback.  

We have heard from many people leaders that employees are reaching the “burn-out” point on surveys.  

If your only tool is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail.

The other major impact of the massive capital being spent on survey products, is that almost all of the tools on the market today are fueled by data based on survey feedback. In turn, companies are relying on these tools to identify and treat issues relevant to today’s people leaders such as:

  • Inclusion
  • Wellbeing
  • Bias
  • Burnout
  • Managing a gig or remote workforce

The problem is that these issues are not easily measurable by data collected via surveys. 

While not the fault of the survey itself—a valuable tool for the decades it has existed—surveys are simply not the perfect feedback tool for all talent issues. Survey feedback can’t tell you if you are biased in how you communicate to your team. It can’t be real-time, no matter how fast you make the tool “pulse”.  And even if you force employees to give feedback more and more frequently, what is the cost? More than survey fatigue, there is an actual cost, in dollars, as noted by this article on Better People Analytics.

This is all in addition to the inherent limitations of survey feedback generally, such as:

  • Self-reporting bias
  • Recall bias
  • Social Desirability Bias
  • Acquiescence Bias
  • Survey Fatigue

So what?

In addition to the problems with survey feedback data as described above, is the problem of behavior change.  Surveys require managers to analyze the data and then identify an action plan. Then the data becomes unavailable once the manager leaves the survey platform.  That is a problem for the next-generation leader that needs to learn in the flow of work.

Our team of engineers and data scientists have been working hard at Cultivate to solve these issues with survey feedback data.  Here is what we are doing.

AI feedback is the solution.

The solution to the over-use of survey feedback is to introduce a new type of data into the field of HR tech: AI feedback.   

AI feedback leverages passive data to serve personalized learning in the flow of work

Passive data requires no work from the human user to collect.  David Green outlines the use of passive versus active data in the field of Organizational Network Analysis here.

For example, today I might fill out a wellbeing survey to recall my after-hours communication habits with my team, so the survey results can tell me if I am burning them out, or if I am burned out.  But do I have time to take that survey? Would it rise above the noise in my inbox for me to spend those resources?  And, perhaps more importantly, would I correctively and effectively self-report my communication habits?

That’s where Cultivate comes in. Because we as a workforce spend so much time in our email, chat, and other digital tools, our work-related communication is largely digital.  When managers give us permission, Cultivate leverages their existing data (email, chat, etc.) to fuel an AI that can help coach the manager to improve their digital relationships. Running in the background, Cultivate’s AI can discern patterns related to wellbeing and just push you a suggestion in your flow of work—not as a performance review or judgment, but similar to a Fitbit for your work communication.

That type of real-time, AI-coaching product would just not be possible built on survey data alone.

Why now?

So just because we can build it, why is now the right time for AI feedback in HR?  The time is right for a few reasons:

  1. Digital communication.  In just the last few years we have seen a proliferation of workplace communication apps: Slack has grown from a startup into a behemoth of workplace communication, Microsoft Teams was founded, and Facebook deployed its Workplace product—just to name a few. The way in which we communicate to our colleagues is increasingly digital.
  2. 87% of millennials say their phone never leaves their side, and the millennial demographic is also now the largest generation in the workplace.  So, like it or not, we have an abundance of digital communication data in our inboxes.

We at Cultivate think it’s time for our inbox to help us, not drown us.  Luckily, this is where AI feedback comes in.

Does the C-suite care?

Another important signal that the time is right for AI feedback is the focus from the C-suite.  Enterprises are now realizing the major impact HR focus areas like leadership, culture, and engagement have on their bottom line.  Companies are open to new technologies to empower their next-generation leaders.

For example, Cultivate has worked with customers like SAP from our very early stages.  A huge enterprise like SAP moving fast with a startup?  We think that is forward thinking from SAP’s leadership, but also that the time is right for AI feedback to help managers.  It’s that important.

How we leverage AI feedback at Cultivate

At Cultivate we have started leveraging AI feedback to bring new insights to talent management.  Here is one example of what we’re working on:

77% of people with bad bosses hope to leave their company soon, whereas only 18 percent of people with great managers plan to leave soon.  So what’s a bad boss?  Bad bosses are not self-aware.

If companies can improve manager self-awareness, they can improve retention.  But today’s tools are ineffective at solving this self-awareness issue.

Here’s where Cultivate’s AI coaching platform can help.  By leveraging digital communication data, Cultivate gives every manager real-time, self awareness on how they communicate with their team.

This is just the first step in our journey to unlock AI feedback in the workplace and empower managers and employees to strive toward more productive, fulfilling, and successful careers.

Curious to give all your managers AI-coaching with just a couple of clicks? Contact us for a demo.


Cultivate was built to help enterprises develop leaders in the digital age.

Want to learn more about how to empower your managers with real-time leadership development? Drop us a note or request a demo and we’ll be happy to help.

Curious how Cultivate’s AI creates metrics without traditional user inputs like surveys or assessments? Read How We Build Cultivate.