Going Against the Flow: Armen Berjikly, CEO of Kanjoya

Armen founded Kanjoya in 2007 and serves as the company's CEO. Their workplace intelligence platform is used by leading enterprises such as Cisco, Microsoft, Bain and Twitter. Armen received a BS in Computer Science and an MS in Management Science from Stanford University, where his research focus was Human-Computer Interaction. Previously, Armen founded numerous successful Internet startups, including FileDemon, Do Everything, and multiple online patient health communities designed to sponsor hope through research and community.

2016-02-14-1455483712-7250750-Armen2.jpg
Armen Berjikly

What does entrepreneurship mean to you, and what underlying characteristics do you see in successful entrepreneurs?

Armen: More than anything, entrepreneurship boils down to two things: dedication and passion. As an entrepreneur, you really need to have both of these characteristics to thrive personally and professionally.

Why? A lot of people have great ideas. Very few are dedicated enough to develop these ideas into a business and see them through to fruition. The honeymoon ends very quickly. And yet, in my experience, dedication is a byproduct of one's underlying passion for and belief in their idea -- and its ability to transform a market, an industry, or even, the world. In essence, you can't have dedication without passion -- at least, not for long. But if you have passion without dedication, you won't be able to turn your vision into reality.

What are you most proud of in your professional career? If you could do something over in your life, what would it be?

Armen: We are people. We don't just think, we feel. That feeling is just as important -- and often more important -- than logic in how we make decisions or how satisfied we are. We crave to be understood with empathy, whether we're having coffee with a friend, or taking a survey at work. This is where technology has historically fallen incredibly short. Scores of products are designed to improve or understand people and their lives as employees, customers, and so on, yet they have no capability of recognizing, understanding and respecting the qualitative, "left-brain" aspects that actually drive these behaviors.

I'm most proud that my professional career has been dedicated to building products that are designed for the reality of people. Kanjoya is a company that provides a valuable, tangible solution to help companies understand their employees. It does this not only by measuring their responses on multiple choice questions or what they click on in a website, but also by deciphering how they're feeling, and what they really care about. It's become a product that helps businesses be more productive, more inclusive, and react faster to internal problems, saving countless dollars, yes, but also helping the people that drive that value in the first place. I'm very proud and humbled that Kanjoya is able to both positively impact companies bottom lines as well as employees' everyday lives.

Tell us about an instance where you had to go against the flow to realize your goal.

Armen: Kanjoya's technology was originally based on the Experience Project, which we developed as a social website with hundreds of millions of users sharing anonymously and authentically about their life's experiences, emotions, and ambitions. Experience Project has been quite successful, proving that you could use technology to provide understanding. But a website's reach is limited to the people that come to it, and what we're delivering has potential to affect everyone, everywhere. Could we instead take what we had learned about how people express their wants, needs, and intents, and bring it to where people already were spending time and missing out on their potential- for example, in their workplaces or in commerce.

It wasn't an easy decision to make to shift the focus of our company to delivering enterprise software for people analytics, but it was the right one, and it both preserved our legacy while providing an enormous new opportunity. Now, as a company we've been able to extend our vision to the masses, ensuring people are not only heard, but changes can happen to empower them.

Analytics and data have been incorporated into almost every company's department with the notable exception of human resources. Is this beginning to change?

Armen: You're exactly right in that human resource departments, in many cases, have either been slow to incorporate data and analytics into their processes, or when they have, it has not led to meaningful improvements in the organization. This is the core part of an organization, the literal lifeblood of a company's success or failure, yet we buy Facebook ads with microscopic precision and hire executives based on a few interviews and our gut feeling about them.

It's beginning to change with more data. For example, there are more frequent employee surveys. But more data isn't really the problem, it's getting the meaning out of the data. Knowing 72% of people report they're satisfied with benefits doesn't help a front-line HR manager know that the female engineers in the organization are being disproportionately driven to frustration and attrition because of a lack of a flexible work schedule. This latter level of depth, combining qualitative and quantitative insights for predictive insights in real-time is what Kanjoya offers in its SaaS products for the enterprise.

What drives you? How do you measure success for yourself?

Armen: I think the most important thing I measure myself on is that I'm making a positive impact on people's lives with the products we build. We only have a finite amount of time and energy, and I feel that whether you are a teacher, a waiter, or an entrepreneur, you will work extremely hard if that's your personality. So, make that hard work count by doing it in a way that makes someone else's day a little better. I try to do that developing the best products possible for Kanjoya, and I try to do it by striving to create the best work environment for my team as well. How do I measure success? If I witness people growing, either within our company as teammates, or in increased engagement and satisfaction in our customer's workforces, I am making the most of my time.

What advice would you give to your 22 year old self?

Armen: I'd tell myself to value experienced people, and involve them as early as possible rather than trying to do so much alone. I was a sole founder for nearly 3 years, and I had to become a de-facto expert at things ranging from insurance to corporate law to engineering and marketing. Looking back, while I enjoyed the challenge and felt I conserved resources, I also incurred enormous opportunity cost in doing things that would have had the most impact.

Follow Armen Berjikly at @armenberjikly, check out the other interviews in Going Against the Flow series at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/charu-sharma/ and join this movement to empower 1 million female entrepreneurs on goagainsttheflow.com.