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Preview: Backbone – a better way for small business to manage workforce

by Vincent Chan on Jan 13, 2010

It’s not a secret that we are working on something cool in the past few months. I am extremely excited to tell you that our little startup company, Primitus, is almost ready to launch. One year ago, Primitus was only a dream. But thanks to our investors, it’s becoming a reality now. After getting some early feedback on Hacker News, we have decided to build our first product – “Backbone“, an easy and affordable Human Resource Management tool for small business. Today we announced that we’re just few days out from beta release.

Let’s show you some of the basic features, benefits, and a few screenshots.


We believe that traditional enterprise HR management systems are too expensive and difficult to use, especially for small business. Because of these reasons, many small businesses hack together solutions for many of their HR problems with Microsoft Excel, pen and paper, or nothing at all. We want to reduce the massive technology gap between large enterprise and small business.

In this talent age, companies with the best talent win. Small business cannot ignore the importance of talent management. We want to simplifies HR management so small businesses can focus on developing their talented workforce.

Unlike complicated enterprise HR systems, Backbone is built for small business from day one. It was created to make solving simple HR issues simple. We looked at the needs of small business managers, included the best features, and take away everything else.


Below are some of the goals we want to accomplish with Backbone:

Help small businesses gain control over and do more with their workforce
– Give managers rich insights into their workforce
– Save time, improving HR operational efficiency
– Foster a more inclusive and collaborative culture
– Better retention and higher productivity
– Make information about company activities more visible, accessible and measurable

Twitter-like Microblogging Feature

Like Twitter and Yammer, Backbone allows users to post updates of their activities, follow others’ updates, and share great resources. Unlike Twitter and Yammer, Backbone also combines other business activities into the news feed. In the Backbone’s activity feed, users not only can see group and personal updates but also other business activities happening inside the application. In this way, managers can monitor all activity in one single place.

Employees Database 2.0

In the web 2.0 era, the old boring employees’ profiles don’t work anymore. Backbone tries to redefine what a worker’s profile should be. We make it easy to identify employees’ hidden talents through the tagging feature.

Analytic Dashboard

Our analytic reports help small business better understanding of HR’s overall performance and employee productivity.

Expense Reporting

Our application enable workers to take care of their own expense reports. Moreover, Backbone streamlines the processes for submitting and approving employee leave. Employees use it to view their absence balances, record their time off requests, and track the approval process of their requests. And managers can look at employees’ current, planned, and historical absence events; monitor absence trends as a predictor for employee engagement.

And more…

Company goals management, group management…etc.


If you want to sign up for the private beta, simply go to our pre-launch page and fill out the sign up form:


The product is free during beta and we will donate $1 to Kiva.org for each qualified beta account. If you got a special demo invitation code from other blogs, you will get a special discount in the first year after the introductory period.

We look forward to hearing your feedback and incorporating your suggestions.

Thank you so much for your support!

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Jack Welch on Company Size and Success

by Vincent Chan on Nov 24, 2009


With all the hype about the advantages of small company size in recent years, does growing big really mean failures to your company?

Bill Taylor, cofounder of Fast Company, just wrote a great article on the relationship between size and success on his Practically Radical blog. He recently did an interview with Jack Welch, the legendary former CEO of General Electric. And one of the themes of their conversation was about company size.

While Jack agrees the disadvantages of big institutions, like waste and bureaucracy, he still believes managers and entrepreneurs should want their companies to get bigger. He said:

For one thing, it’s evidence that you’re winning in the marketplace. For another, it gives you the opportunity to bring in more people, which gives you access to more talent, which allows you to tap into more ideas, which you can then spread more widely – and start winning all over again.

In this talent age, which companies don’t want to get more brain power? But for many companies, managing talent is the hardest part. How can a company scale without suffering the costs of size? Jack has an answer for us:

“I want to be big, but then run the company like it’s the corner grocery store.”

Obviously, this sounds easier said than done. And some people even argue that GE was never run like a corner shop either. But that doesn’t mean it is unachievable.

In fact, there are many new companies which are BIG and SUCCESSFUL in the past decade. For example, Google, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Salesforce, VistaPrint, Research In Motion, Zappos…etc. All these companies were started by a small team of people. But right now, they have thousands of workers, great corporate culture and tremendous success.

After all, IF you have the management skills and leadership to make your company remain quick, responsive, and flexible, why stay small? (Assuming you have an ambitious goal).

Don’t be remain small just because people think you are cool.

Start small. Grow big but remain agile.

In the future posts, I will dig into different strategies that help growing companies to become smarter and remain quick, responsive, and flexible.

Photo source: januszbc @Flickr

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Ask Startups: Is Employee Retention Overrated?

by Vincent Chan on Oct 30, 2009


During Startup School 2009, Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive of Facebook, and Tony Hsieh, chief executive of Zappos, talked about two contradicted theories on employee retention and hiring:

Facebook aims to recruit talented, entrepreneurial hackers who may not want to stay for long, while Zappos wants to hire the best people to fit its culture and try to keep them as long as possible.

Obviously, these two fast growing internet startups are highly successful. So is it possible that these very different approaches can actually achieve the same goal? Is employee retention really that important to startups?

In my opinion, Facebook’s current method can only produce strong near-term outcome. After all, technology is one of the most talent-intensive fields. If your employees think that moving out is more attractive than moving up inside the company, your corporate culture probably is not designed for a long-lasting company.

If you expect many of your best talents are going to leave the company in 3 to 4 years, will you still provide any career development planning for them? It is not only bad for the company’s effectiveness but also creates extremely expensive costs.

To reinforce the idea that employee retention is essential to create a great workplace, let’s look at one more internet company which is using Zappos’ method – Netflix.

In the famous 128-page presentation about their corporate culture, Netflix talks about something interesting related to “loyalty”:

People who have been stars for us, and hit a bad patch, get a near term pass because we think they are likely to become stars for us again. We want the same: if Netflix hits a temporary bad patch, we want people to stick with us.

And of course, this doesn’t apply to every case:

Unlimited loyalty to a shrinking firm, or to an ineffective employee, is not what we are about.

As you can tell, Netflix truly values their employees and they are trying to build a long term relationship together. Given Netflix’s successes as a fairly large company, it would seem that their strategy is working quite well. They are creating a high performance culture and attracting stunning employees.

Besides, Netflix expects their employees to seek what is best for the company, rather than best for themselves. Just like any sport teams, some players have to sacrifice their own interests for the good of the team. A coach will never ask a player to come and learn all the skills, and feel equally happy when the player wins a championship for another team after 3 or 4 years later. Great teams will try their best to keep all their best talents. I believe startups should do the same.

If an extremely talented hacker didn’t want to stay in your company for long, I would argue that if you should hire him/her in the first place. Ultimately, ability and loyalty of an employee should be equally important to every business.

What is your view on employee retention? Which way do you prefer? Facebook’s or Zappos’? And how do you view your employees? Are they long-term or short-term assets? Let us know in the comment section. Your feedback is priceless to us. Thanks.

Photo sources: Mathieu Thouvenin @Flickr, mathoov @Flickr

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