With so much attention on gender and diversity gaps in the workplace today, knowing how your company stacks up is vital. While hiring managers typically have access to data such as diversity stats, employee salaries, and performance metrics, they don't usually have an easy way to analyze all of it. That's where Twine comes in.

The New York City-based startup's software aims to help human resources teams organize and analyze employee data so that company leaders can make more informed HR-related decisions. Clients can use the dashboard to monitor the progress of specific initiatives, such as narrowing the gender pay gap or hiring with diversity in mind. Companies can also get granular by assessing an employee's individual trajectory. You can see if an employee is due for a raise or perhaps a promotion, among other things. "It can answer those ad hoc questions that come up frequently in senior leadership meetings that would take hours or weeks to pull data and turn into analytics," says Joseph Quan, the 29-year-old co-founder of Twine.

The company he co-founded in 2017 alongside Wharton business school classmate Nikhil Srivastava, 31, is still operating under the radar until its formal launch later this year. Even so, it already has worked with the likes of note-taking app Evernote and blood-test company Guardant Health, says Quan, who declined to provide revenue details. At launch, Twine expects to charge corporate customers between five and six figures annually for services, depending on a company's size and other factors. The startup has raised a total of $2.7 million in funding from angel investors and the Menlo Park, California-based venture capital firm Trinity Ventures. 

While Twine now appears to have hit on a product other companies want, it took the founders three tries before settling on their current company's mission.

Searching for a problem

Quan and Srivastava's first idea was to use Wharton's network of current students and alumni to create a white-label match-making service for people with similar professional interests. Users fill out a survey and an algorithm connects people based on their career aspirations. They scored a contract with Wharton and hundreds of people signed up within the first couple of weeks, says Quan, who still helps the school run the service today. 

They crafted another business idea--which would match employees with jobs based on their industry or interests--but that flopped, as companies, which were expected to purchase the service, typically don't want to help talent out the door. At that point, they had reached an impasse: Despite their skills in analytics, the co-founders lacked a problem to solve. 

Quan and Srivastava set out on a listening and learning tour, meeting with more than 200 chief people and chief human resources officers in New York City and Silicon Valley to hear their biggest pain points. They learned about the challenges of using several types of platforms that don't necessarily talk to each other. For example, the employee-benefits tracking system Bamboo HR, which includes an applicant tracking system, doesn't integrate with the recruiting software service Greenhouse. To allow these tools to communicate on a single platform, the founders learned, would be infinitely useful for companies. It would help HR staffers focus on how to keep the people they've already found.

"What gets measured gets managed," says Quan. "When you know who is leaving and why and what makes people stay, you're able to make much more effective investments in time and energy."

Growth potential

That's the key benefit of Twine, say investors like Sarah Smith, a partner at Bain Capital Ventures. In 2018, while she was a partner at San Francisco's Graph Ventures, she proposed the seed-stage investment firm invest in Twine. "I think HR department investing in tech used to be a nice thing to have; now it's a must-have," she says. With the unemployment rate hovering at 3.8 percent, companies need to get better about giving employees a reason to stay, Smith says, adding: "That's where Twine is a great opportunity."

To be sure, Twine has ample competition. Its biggest rivals include HR data collection and visualization companies like Tableau and Looker, both of which produce charts or graphs to help users understand their employment picture. While these platforms collect impressive data, they don't seamlessly communicate with each other so that users can easily analyze it all, Quan says.

The company also faces internal challenges, as Quan notes he's still transitioning from co-founder to CEO and leader. It's a move that will require him to relinquish his current role as the company's chief salesperson. As one of the company's creators, he was responsible for calling prospective clients and wooing them; now he must trust that responsibility with someone else. 

"It's founder magic: I have the enthusiasm and know the market, and that helps close customers," he says. "It's a unique challenge to find that sales person and pass the torch."