Interview with Jay Huang, Founder & CEO at Pulsifi

One of the reasons why HR continues to be viewed as admin jockeys is the lack of meaningful data.

And an anecdote I came across captures this best.

In a board meeting, the Head of Sales come in with the sales projection numbers. Finance would bring in the P&L, BS and Marketing would come in with their latest conversion metrics.

HR would come in with the attendance sheet.

It is not that data isn’t available but for the longest time, capturing those data is a full-time job by itself.

With advances in technology, that has improved significantly and Pulsifi is one of the local pioneers to take advantage of it to provide HR metrics visibility easily and meaningfully.

I speak with Jay to learn more:


1. Please share with us what you do

I am the Co-founder and CEO of Pulsifi, a people analytics software company.

My main role is helping my team connect dots and remove obstacles so that they can succeed.

Before Pulsifi, I was the Head of Strategy and Development at CtrlShift, a pioneer in developing artificial intelligence (AI) for digital marketing.

Earlier in my career, I was in strategy consulting at The Boston Consulting Group, venture capital at Infocomm Investments (now SGInnovate), and public service at International Enterprise Singapore (now part of Enterprise Singapore). 


2. What motivated you to start this business?

I’ve always known since my days in venture capital interacting with passionate entrepreneurs daily, that I wanted to start a company and change the world!

I just didn’t know when that opportunity would come or what the business would be.

Then after years of working in large organisations and growing small companies, I learnt that the single biggest challenge is always about people – finding and developing great people was difficult, and these great people are the key to bringing an organisation to greater success.

At CtrlShift, we used numerous data points on each person to make predictions on consumer preferences. My Pulsifi co-founder, Pete, and I were inspired to use a similar approach to help organisations solve their people problems.

We’ll use numerous data points on each candidate and employee to make predictions on how they will be at work! This will then drive better hiring, engagement and development. 

That was how Pulsifi was founded. We wanted to use data to help organisations better understand their people, and help people better understand themselves. I find this a meaningful and impactful line of work.


3. How would you describe Pulsifi?

Pulsifi provides a SaaS platform that helps employers identify great people and make more impactful decisions about their people.

Our goal is to help people realise their greatness,  and change organisations by helping them make people decisions with basis.

Today, 95% of employers and recruiters evaluate candidates based on their CV, even though what they are really looking for – traits such as grit, motivation to learn, and teamwork – are not found there. In fact, many of these traits cannot be easily assessed even in interviews.

This is where Pulsifi comes in. We help organisations answer two key questions – how people are really like at work, and which traits really matter for their success in the role. 

To really understand people at work, we have the core of our platform – the profile of each person, be it candidate or employee.

Pulsifi’s AI gathers information on each person (e.g. CV, psychometric results, social media), analyses the data, predicts and presents insights on each dimension of the person including hard skills (e.g. education, work history, competencies) as well as soft traits (e.g. personality, attitudes, behaviours, work interest, culture).

The traits I mentioned – grit, motivation to learn, and teamwork – are not obvious to humans in a short period of time, but our platform has been 80% to 90+% accurate in predicting them as validated by our clients.

To figure out which traits really matter for success, we benchmark employees in the organisation to distill the traits that are shown by data to actually contribute to success.

E.g. while many employers tend to look for extraverted people for sales roles, it turns out that warmth as a person actually leads to better sales results, regardless of whether the person is introverted or extraverted.

By answering these two questions, our platform predicts each person’s fit to the role based on the ideal mix of hard skills and soft traits established by employee benchmarks.

Our underlying approach combines research-backed organisational psychology, data science and predictive models into an intuitive SaaS platform.

Using the insights we provide, organisations make impactful decisions that revolve around their people, from hiring to teaming to learning and development, to create a more meaningful and purposeful work environment.

Organisations then benefit from improved quality in candidate selection, reduction in selection biases, increased consistency in selection, data-driven teaming and succession planning, targeted employee learning and development, and increased efficiency in terms of speed and cost.

On average, we’ve seen about 100% improvement in selection quality, and 70% improvement in efficiency.


4. How did you get funded?

Pulsifi raised over USD 2 million from 14 angel investors, such as CS Tiong, who used to run Kelly Services in the region, and Khor Chieh Suang, Principal at Cento Ventures.

Along the way, we’ve probably spoken to several hundred potential investors.

We’re thankful for the industry expertise, business experience and network that our investors bring to accelerate our growth.


5. Who are your closest competitions?

When talking to clients – multinationals, large corporations and government agencies – we actually haven’t come across another company that takes our approach to understand people.

While there are many companies out there in the people analytics space, there isn’t one that we know of that uses a similar blend of hard skills and soft traits delivered in the form of SaaS.

Who the industry would consider being our competitors – consultants and recruitment agencies – are often our partners.

Both parties help clients solve similar problems – they provide bespoke services and we provide deep analytics.


6. Who are your biggest customers?

Our first significant client engagement started with Nestlé in early 2018. Their progressive regional HR leader saw the value we could bring and gave us the chance to prove ourselves.

Prior to using Pulsifi, they employed external HR services to manually handle the process of selecting management trainees, of which they received a large volume of applications for.

As we know, manual screening of candidates can end up being slow, prone to human bias, and thus inconsistent in quality.

Today, Nestle relies on our predictive models to screen and shortlist the top applicants for their management trainee programme.

Our partnership with Nestlé has led to a better selection of high-fit candidates, improved experience for candidates, and greater efficiency.

We are extremely thankful for the opportunity to support Nestlé across multiple roles in multiple countries.


7. What is your most successful approach to marketing?

Exposure by thought leaders like Adrian, publications and media help us immensely in making us better known in the ecosystem.

We enjoy sharing our vision and our experience, and learning from the feedback, not just shamelessly promoting our offerings!

Word of mouth is also very effective for us.

We’re fortunate that our clients and partners speak so positively about us to industry audiences at events and to their network day-to-day.


8. What is the proudest moment in the history of your business?

My proudest moment was actually rather random – some months ago when the whole Pulsifi team, in Pulsifi T-shirts at our office, was discussing important topics for our business.

It struck me how Pulsifi has come so far in a short time, to grow into a team of talented people who live the Pulsifi vision and mission as much as I do.

As we keep this up, I am confident that we will succeed in changing the world. I teared at that proud moment!


9. How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success?

Ironically, one of our earliest struggles at Pulsifi was people-related.

At that time we were a very early-stage startup figuring our way around.

We brought on team members who had skills, but not so much the mindset, capacity and drive to shape Pulsifi in product and business.

We ended up wasting a lot of time and resources doing the wrong things.

Sounds familiar?

Most companies experience this too, but the problem is much more dire for a young company without an established business.

Our experience over this period solidified our resolve to build an awesome product that will help other organisations solve problems like what we faced.

Today, we use our own product when hiring new team members, and the dramatic turnaround in culture validates our vision for Pulsifi.


10. In the last 12 months, what new belief, behaviour, or habit has most improved your life?

Recently I’ve been focusing on time optimisation, which is about investing time on the most important, rather than urgent, things, and getting more out of the same period of time.

Every week I deliberately set aside time for my team and clients, and time for myself to think.

These time blocks can be moved within the week but not removed.

In the past, urgent tasks would overwhelm me, leaving me no time for these important areas.


11. What are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?

I don’t have the patience to finish books, but I got into audiobooks and podcasts recently.

Probably kind of late, but better than never!

Apps like Blinkist condense great books into 15 minute audios each, which is great to get to the takeaways quickly. So I can go through a few “books” everyday.

For podcasts, I am a big fan of Masters of Scale by Reid Hoffman, which is about successful entrepreneurs sharing how they scaled their companies.

He also put that content into a book titled Blitzscaling.

I listen when my mind has some free time, such as when I’m walking to the MRT station, or when I’m doing the dishes or mopping the floor!


12. What’s one productivity hack you can’t live without?

I can’t imagine not taking public transport, be it MRT or Grab/Gojek/taxi!

So much can be done in the time behind the wheel, getting confused by GPS or finding parking.

13.  Where can people find out more about you and your company?

Pulsifi is on LinkedIn and our website is https://pulsifi.me.

I’m personally active on LinkedIn. Pulsifi is updating our website and marketing, so stay tuned!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.