This September, an investor shared a website with me called PeopleSpark, that appeared to be an almost identical copy of 15Five.
I’m always flattered when folks are inspired by us, but I found it shocking that someone would literally rip off every detail of our product, right down to the exact wording of the tagline on the website and most of the copy from our “How It Works” section.
They did however note one improvement, stating that their product would take only 10 minutes for employees to write instead of 15! (What is this, 7 minute abs?!)
At first I thought nothing of it, but when PeopleSpark officially launched last week I learned that the founder, Mitchell Harper (formerly founder and CEO of Bigcommerce), was claiming that the idea behind PeopleSpark originated from “a scribble on a napkin,” as a result of the challenges he experienced while running Bigcommerce.
In an article outlining the process of launching the company, Mitchell noted how a mentor had advised him on finding the right entry point into the market. It just so happens that this mentor is also a former 15Five customer who emailed me last year saying “I’m a big advocate of 15Five, both internally and externally.” Additionally, it turns out (perhaps only coincidentally), that a 20-person team at Bigcommerce has also been a 15Five customer for over a year, overlapping with the time when Mitchell served as CEO.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m actually quite happy to have competition, and PeopleSpark represents 15Five’s first direct competitor. Ultimately it’s great validation for the emerging employee engagement software category, and also serves as fodder for us to up our game, ensuring that we stay on our toes and keep innovating. However I take offense to blatant plagiarism and not giving credit where credit is due.
It also feels like a personal affront to me and to the entire team who has worked so hard these past few years to build this company. It lacks originality and authenticity and it’s certainly not something I would have expected from another Silicon Valley entrepreneur. Quite frankly, I would have much preferred if he’d simply come out and said “Hey, what 15Five is doing is really interesting, but I think we can do it better.” Bring it on! For someone who’s vocally promoting honesty, trust and transparency, this seems like a major breach of integrity.
In the case of 15Five, we didn’t actually come up with the idea for the 15 minute weekly check-in, but we clearly credited those who did, and from day one have been building a company that’s 100% authentic to who we are and the impact we want to have on the world.
We launched our product in 2012 with a mission to create the space for people to be their greatest selves. To us that means creating tools that help bring out the best in people at work. Because when people are fulfilled at work, not only do they thrive individually, but so do their organizations. Those organizations are then better able to attract and keep great talent, creating a virtuous cycle.
At the time our core insight was that regular, meaningful, and open communication between managers and their teams was the crux of what makes that possible, yet it was sorely missing from so many organizations. We designed our product to automate these weekly check-ins, which in turn creates transparency and builds trust — two key pillars of healthy organizations.
In the few short years we’ve been in business, we’ve seen a number of companies launch employee feedback products that speed up and surface insights on workplace culture and happiness, and we’re proud to have helped pioneer this movement.
In addition, the world has started to wake up to the ineffectiveness and burdensome costs of quarterly and annual performance reviews, with now over 10% of the Fortune 500 ( expected to be over 20% by next year) ditching them in favor of more regular weekly check-ins, which is exactly the process 15Five facilitates. It’s been an exciting time, yet we’re still just getting started.
I predict that we’re going to see tremendous growth in this category over the next few years, as more and more leaders continue to realize just how critical workplace culture and employee engagement are to their success, and as the world shifts away from outdated and bloated performance review processes to more regular and agile feedback.
PeopleSpark is claiming to be on a similar mission to ours of helping to create great cultures where each individual thrives. I do hope it’s authentic, as that’s a world I want to live in and am working every single day to create. Surely it will take more than one company to define this emerging employee engagement space. My hope is that a friendly rivalry ensues as we each find our authentic approach to solving the challenges leaders face in creating extraordinary workplaces where everyone wins.
Update: Mitchell Harper posted a response on December 3, 2015. Here are my comments:
I really appreciated Mitchell sharing about how PeopleSpark’s product got started, his kind words towards me and our team, and his commitment to building products that help companies build great, sustaining cultures. What is still missing for me however is any acknowledgement or understanding of the apparent role 15Five played after their first product failed and they decided to pivot in July.
The fact remains that two months after their pivot, on September 18th, they launched a near replica of our core product (a weekly question-based check-in between managers and each of their team members) with a marketing site to match.
That site mimicked the headline we’d had for years and had built our brand around, our “How It Works” section, and our key 15 /5 positioning statement (or in their case 10 / 5). Mitchell has yet to explain the story behind how that came to be.
This will be my last comment on the subject. It’s time to get back to work!