For On Deck alumni Charles Hua and Soumya Mohan, how we communicate — the words we use, how we say them, our tone and body language — has a big influence on how we’re perceived and acknowledged, and can advance or inhibit our career mobility.
Verbal communication skills can be learned, but the current solutions, time-consuming clubs and expensive mentors, don’t usually fit most of our schedules or budgets. That’s why Charles and Soumya are building Poised: they want to make it easier and more accessible to improve our communication skills and thereby democratize access to greater career mobility for millions.
Today, we’re excited to share that Poised has raised $4.5 million in seed funding led by Wing Venture Capital, including participants such as Jeff Weiner’s Next Play Ventures, Slack Fund, Hyphen Capital, and Concrete Rose Capital to pursue that lofty goal. Other investors include Andre Igoudala, Brianne Kimmel, Julia Lipton, Adam Grant and Jack Chou, among others.
Just seven months ago, Poised was still an idea buried in the back of Charles’ and Soumya’s minds as they entered the fifth cohort of the On Deck Founder’s Fellowship. How did they move so quickly?
In light of having closed their successful seed funding round, we thought now would be a good opportunity to sit down with Charles and Soumya to discuss how their co-founder relationship started, how Poised came to be, and their goal with Poised in the future.
Thank you guys for being here!
Charles: Thanks for having us!
Soumya: Excited to get to do this.
Before we dive in, can you tell us a bit about your backgrounds?
Soumya: Before joining the On Deck Founders Fellowship, I was at Glassdoor for around three years leading a group of product teams, helping build their online self service business and launching new products for enterprises. Many years before Glassdoor, I had tried starting a few things on my own, and I knew that [starting a company] was what I wanted to do next.
Charles: For me before I started On Deck, I was at Amazon for two and a half years, both in AWS and Alexa. But my time in Alexa really inspired me to start thinking about the problem that would eventually lead to Poised. Within Alexa we were experimenting with what happens if Alexa goes into a meeting with you and some of the potential applications to helping improve communication during meetings spurred the idea generation process for Poised.
For those who don’t know, what do you do at Poised?
Soumya: One key insight is that with the world gravitating towards a flexible, remote approach to work, people are communicating through their computers and other devices more than ever before.
Charles: We see incredible tailwinds in the market, employees are advocating for a flexible working environment to their employers. It is now a competitive advantage from a companies perspective to be able to hire the best talent around the world.
Soumya: We saw an opportunity that we could create a product that connects seamlessly with your calendar and turns on whenever you speak in meetings. It then would give you personalized feedback in real-time and after the meeting where it provides you with tips and lessons, evaluating things like your confidence, clarity and empathy. In the end the goal was to help people achieve better career outcomes and improved relationships at work.
Why did you want to build Poised?
Charles: I know that stories are more easily told in retrospect, but Poised really feels like a perfect fit for us in terms of our professional backgrounds and our own personal struggles with communicating.
Over the past ten years I have tried to improve in my own communication journey, I’ve done Toastmasters, did improv training and enrolled in leadership communication classes while at business school.
Looking back the training was exceptionally useful, but only available if you had the time and money to spend on it. That’s why our mission at Poised is to improve the world’s spoken communication and democratize the language of career mobility.
Soumya: I had two metrics when I was evaluating ideas at On Deck:
- How passionate would I be when solving this problem?
- What strengths do I bring to the table in tackling this problem?
As soon as I came across the idea, I resonated with the problem. I came to the States as a non-native english speaker from India, started working as an engineer, then a product manager, then a product leader. As my career has evolved, the need for communication grew with it.
When I left my last two roles and asked my manager about what I could have done better, the answer was always communication, that I had great thoughts and ideas, but could have created an outsized impact if I communicated them clearer to the team.
After hearing this obviously I would look towards solutions after hearing this feedback, but the options were always time-consuming and expensive. So I knew that a product that could lead to continuous feedback and learning at a reasonable cost would benefit many people.
Why did you join On Deck? What did you want to achieve at On Deck?
Soumya: I left my job at Glassdoor in April 2020 and tinkered with some ideas in the three months before the fellowship started. But I was not attached to one idea and entered the program with goals of meeting a lot of people in a similar phase in life, brainstorming ideas, and finding something I was truly passionate about.
Charles: Towards the end of my 2 and a half years at Amazon I found myself wanting to have a much bigger impact than my current role. On Deck was an amazing way to meet incredible people, but also to have structure around the company building process.
I specifically remember early on leaning on resources for meeting co-founders. On one hand you could do a bunch of outreach and spend all day doing co-founder dating, but On Deck provided a survey that helped clarify your own strengths and values. The survey basically had a list of hundreds of different questions which helped Soumya and I figure out our internal values and where we were aligned and where we complemented one another.
On Deck also ensured that we would have numerous touch points with other fellows through hackathons and build weekends. The built-in investment community also led us to meeting our lead investors: Wing Venture Capital.
Speaking about co-founder dating. What were your first impressions? When did you both realize that the person you were working with was “the one”?
Soumya: It’s a good thing Charles mentioned the build weekends because initially, the idea for Poised started from one. Charles and I had interacted a couple of times before and we realized we enjoyed each other’s company and had similar thought processes.
We decided to jump together on a project, and Charles had some initial ideas around building a meeting assistant. Spending a weekend building that project to an acceptable MVP and presenting it to members of the community helped cement the mission of Poised to what we are working on today: helping democratize the language of career mobility by giving more people access to improving their communication.
For the next few weeks, we went through the founder survey and dug deep in where our interests, skillsets and values aligned.
Charles: The first thing that struck me about Soumya was that he was incredibly smart and a jack of all trades. There are a lot of smart people in Silicon Valley but Soumya really stood out to me and I knew that intelligence is always a superpower for early-stage startups. Now that I have gotten the chance to work with for over half a year, I’m incredibly grateful that he’s also a great person and it’s comforting to know that I have people like him in my corner.
Soumya: Now I’ve got to compliment Charles [laughs]. But in all seriousness, Charles has an incredible drive to move fast and aim big, and that’s been amazing to see him attract talent and interest investors.
Congratulations on the fundraise, now with that additional firepower what’s next on the roadmap?
Soumya: The mission of improving people’s communication is so big and complex that there is a lot of space to innovate. Today, we have an amazing product that we are testing with beta users, and we know that it’s great at providing you feedback on your speech.
What we want to tackle next is how we can help people improve with this feedback. How can we provide an experience that contains the insights, but also the learning to ensure that they really see a transformation in how they speak.
Looking back on the On Deck experience, what has made it the most memorable?
Charles: I’m thankful for the amazing community of founders with a spirit of service to each other. I’ve had a chance to meet others who are in earlier, later, and similar stages of the journey and we’ve all helped each other out.
Soumya: Beyond the relationships that Charles mentions, I think that On Deck has functioned as a continuous support system since we started. A lot of times we have questions like:
- Are there tools for X?
- We tried solution Y, but are there any others?
You can always rely on sharing these questions in the asks channel and knowing that you will get a response from someone with experience in that area within a couple of hours.
Poised is hiring for numerous positions (Founding Designer, Full Stack Engineer, ML Engineer, Data Engineer and Growth Marketer). To learn more, visit here.
I believe we are just scratching the surface of what AI-powered “sidekick apps” can do for us. The latest advancements in NLP/NLU can unlock the largest dataset in the enterprise: speech which will be an expanding market as it evolves remote work capabilities / or will be a gamechanger for remote work solutions.
Poised is pioneering a new generation of workplace apps that are lightweight and intelligent, all while working behind the scenes to make us better and happier. We were able to move quickly to get the team a term sheet because of our prepared mind around AI-powered voice businesses, having already invested in Gong and Deepgram.
I am grateful to On Deck, Charles and team for letting us partner with them as they pursue their life’s mission of delivering a personalized speech coach to millions of users. When we spoke to a few of Poised early users, the emotional appreciation for the product was immediately evident: Poised offers users confidence and skills to become more active participants for the way we work now.