Bootstrapped CEO and co-founder Barb Hyman of Sapia.ai recently sat down with the GetLatka team to discuss how her startup B2B SaaS tool is helping to unlock people’s true potential. Discover how her ai-driven enterprise SaaS recently surpassed $6m and how it plans to compete in the noisy HR tech space going forward.
Former HR executive, now CEO and co-founder Hyman shares how building technology to work with smaller datasets has made Sapia.ai uniquely suited to dominate the structured interview market. The CEO also shared the importance of eliminating bias, how she is building on her 200% YOY growth with enterprise businesses, the role of data scientists in her organization, and what her immediate plans are for expansion.
- 50 enterprise customers in AUS, US, EU
- 80,000 successful placements last year
- Team of 54: 16 engineers, 7 sales
New science that 10,000 Google PhDs working on NLP haven’t cracked
Sapia has been product-led from the beginning, with a focus on being able to understand people from a short conversation. Google and IBM Watson have unsuccessfully attempted to do what she’s doing. Sapai.ai has some unique capabilities that have fueled its continued innovation. Sapai’s integrated vertical system is a new science built on proprietary machine learning. CEO Hyman proclaimed, “If you don’t have a team of data scientists, you don’t really have AI going on.” “We don’t use any open source or third-party algorithms,” Hyman explained.
Full-time team of 16 engineers plus data scientists
At Sapia’s Australian headquarters, their internal team of machine learning and AI PhDs work in their FireLabs innovation machine, with a directive to help unlock human potential with machine learning by identifying strengths through data interview insights.
1.8m interviews over 3 years
CEO Hyman’s SaaS is scaling the science of structured interviews. Hyman cited the rigorous, laborious interview process that companies like Google and Amazon use, measuring all interviewees against the same rubric of leadership principles. Human interviews are costly and subject to bias, so how can you use technology to retain the rigors of the interviews while also removing the human bias? That’s what Sapia.ai is doing, having already conducted 1.8m interviews totaling 800m words over the last 3 years.
Proprietary first-party data responses push 1b words
From the beginning, Sapia began collecting data in 15 languages across 47 countries in the last three years. As Hyman explained, this will continue to make the predictive models better over time as the data crosses 1b words.
2018 launch, 18 months to build product
Sapia launched in 2018, but CEO Hyman explained that the product wasn’t available for nearly two years, as it took 18 months to build the product. “For machine learning, you have to capture data, do research, and most importantly do bias testing,” she explained. Co-founder Hyman noted that when companies hire incumbents and/or off CV data, they risk amplifying existing biases. The company started with machine learning models that eliminated bias. The Sapia.ai model is a clean dataset. “It’s just words. No demographics. Not even the question. That’s what makes this a purer way to understand people,” shared an enthusiastic Hyman.
50 enterprise customers at an ACV of $110,000
Sapia focuses on enterprise customers in specific markets, all of which sign multi-year annual contracts. ACV values average $110,000. “We don’t do any mid-market or SMBs,” clarified Hyman. Sapia is already working with trusted Australian brands like Qantas Group, Bunnings, and Woolworths. “Everyone on the AS (Australian Stock Exchange) is either working with us or has heard of us,” Hyman quipped.
US expansion to fuel growth, push top ACV toward $1m
Sapia’s current plan for continued growth is to continue to dominate its current business vertical. “Our ambition is to take the incredible product microfit we have here in Australia… and bring it to the US,” CEO Hyman explained. She added, “Our focus is to be focused. Today we see value in expansion vs. new product creation.” Sapia’s full stack of assessments aligns with specific markets like retail, as Hyman eyes US enterprise employers like The Home Depot, Walmart, HEB, and Albertson’s.
120% Net Dollar Retention
CEO Hyman boasts a 100% retention rate for existing direct customers over the last three years, with a 20% expansion. “Customers pay for performance, by the hire, not the interview,” she explained. In Australia, employers pay $1000-$2000 per hire for recruitment process outsourcing (RPO). That figure drops to $20 with Sapia’s technology. CEO Hyman recognizes that Sapia is a disruptor to the entire RPO industry.
200,000 hires this year from 3-4m interviews; attribution through integration
Instead of being concerned about candidate attribution, Sapia’s technology integrates directly into a customer’s HR tech, like Workday and SAP SuccessFactors. “It’s a closed data loop that delivers higher and higher accuracy over time,” Co-founder Hyman noted. She added that she expects to cross 200,000 hires this year at a 2-3% yield rate on average.
Ideal for customers who hire less than 10% of application pool
Co-founder Hyman explained that Sapia is ideal for customers currently hiring less than 10% of their application pool. These customers are best suited to leverage the tech to optimize the hiring process. She admits that the yield rate depends partly on the industry: high volume retail employers may see lower rates than tech companies. But, she added, “customers pay by the hire, not the interview.”
6m run rate, 200%+ YoY Growth
Over the last two years, Sapia has realized a 200%+ YoY growth rate. This year’s 6mm eclipses last year’s 2.5m run rate. “We are very capital-efficient,” noted Hyman. The Co-founder invested $500,000 of her own money to bootstrap the company. “I’m a regular person. That’s a lot of money; it’s a second mortgage,” revealed Hyman. She added that the company had several high net-worth individuals in Australia back her in a pre-seed round but wouldn’t reveal financial details, except that they got a quick ROI, a 6-month payback.
Searching for strategic US partner to fund $10-15m VC round
Co-founder Hyman is currently spending her time in Seattle and San Francisco looking for the right VC partner. Her ideal VC partner is an expert GTM founder with experience cutting through the noise in HR tech. She’s not in a hurry, as capital-efficient Sapia has runway through the middle of next year. Hyman is looking for the financial resources to accelerate growth by building a bigger sales team supported by marketing.
No interest in acquisition
After being pressed by Latka on several occasions, Hyman reiterated that she has no desire to be acquired by stating, “This is the early stage of the journey. It is world-changing. We are raising the collective self-awareness of humanity with our tech because it helps you learn about yourself and your strengths and where you can go with your career. Imagine what you can do with that!” Hyman concluded, “This is the best job I’ve ever had. Every day I’m learning and am surrounded by people smarter than me.”
Sapia CEO and Co-founder Barb Hyman’s current favorite book is Founder Brand by Dave Gerhardt. “I’m absolutely loving it right now,” she exclaimed. Inspired by the book, Barb has rejoined Twitter and encouraged those interested in connecting to reach out to her @BarbHyman1 or on LinkedIn. The CEO Barb currently follows is Microsoft’s Satya Nadella. Barb’s favorite tool for building Sapia is Loom. “I am obsessed with Loom and how you can connect on a human level,” she gushed. She considers getting 5-6 hours of sleep a “good night,” admitting that it’s often less. Barb is 52 with three older children, a partner, and a dog. The CEO wishes she had known at 20 that she was so good at sales. “I would have gone into sales much earlier and made way more money,” she exclaimed.