We chat with David Mendlewicz, co-founder & CEO of Butterfly, an HR platform that gives managers real time insight on how their team members are feeling and provides avenues for direct and timely feedback. David discusses his journey as a founder, the growth of HR tech, the role of AI in transforming the people industry, advice for global HR teams and more.
For more information about Fusemachines, please visit https://www.fusemachines.com
For information on Butterfly.ai: https://www.butterfly.ai
Music: Welcome to the Show by Kevin MacLeod Link: https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/4614-welcome-to-the-show License: https://filmmusic.io/standard-license
What do you do for the company today?
Yeah, so I'm actually the Director of People at Fusemachines. So I do pretty much everything that falls under that umbrella. So I actually started at Fusemachines, five and a half years ago, it's crazy to think that it's been that long, but like half a decade, it's been my first job since I graduated from college in 2017. And when I joined the company, I actually joined as Sameer's executive assistant. And then over the years, I've just slowly taken on more and more responsibilities, and you know, just doing everything that needs to be done with people and the company, it's been great.
Good for you, it seems that you made yourself valuable for the company and get your own gig. That's good.
I try to be I try to be I think, Fusemachines in so many ways. I feel like it was just part of like my destiny to find this company. Like, sometimes, like, I can't believe it, like, you know, obviously, there have been really tough times, like, you know, your first job out of college and starting your career, there's so much that you're learning about yourself, and like, you know, the people around you. And I'm actually from southern Ohio, which is like the exact opposite of New York. And when I moved to New York, I met everybody at Fusemachines, and it was just immediately like, meeting people that I connected with and respected. And, you know, I feel like I've been given the space to grow as a professional person in the workforce, and also like, personally in the world. So yeah, it's been a great experience.
Good for you, good for you.
And what about you? I would love to hear more about, you know, your experience with Butterfly and how you got started as a founder.
Well, we started a little bit by chance. So both Simon and I knew each other for pretty much all our life, our parents are friends. So we grew up with each other very different. So Simon wasn't really a friend of mine always been some kind of like part of the family, but we are very different profiles. Therefore, that works well in a partnership, because we there's very little overlap in between what what we can do and what we enjoy doing. Yeah, and so we started the company, because I mean, although we have very different profile, we ended up the both of us developing our career quite early, like you ended up being a young manager in, in very different size and industry types of companies, I've always been working in the tech, like, big data type of world. So mostly with product related things. Simon was in the consumer goods, he was working at Coke, so Fortune 500 type of company, but we both started to manage people when we were I was 23. I think Simon was 22 or 24. And we started to manage people there and, we actually ended up building better Butterfly, the two we wish we had back then. So really, to kind of like, we built the tool that we thought we as managers needed. Actually to be fully transparent, before Butterfly was even a company, I started with a friend of mine, Simon joined us, like a couple of months after that developed Butterfly as a product for my previous company that I sold now. But Butterfly was developed internally for a company that I was managing back then only to be used internally. And we ended up kind of like, yeah.
Yeah, that's amazing to hear, and how has it been, like, coming up with an idea and then like leading it all the way to like execution and creating a company? Has it been easier than you thought it would be harder than you thought it would be?
Well, for me, the thing that kind of shook me out of my of my routine was the fact that I was starting something new in the US I mean in a very different country, different laws, different mindset, a total new adventure. But going back to your question, Butterfly is my fourth company. So this is pretty much and I'm not saying that to get like some kind of a wow response. But it's like, I like to say that I'm this kind of like forced entrepreneur. Nobody wants to hire me, I've never worked for anyone. I started my company when I was 17. Still in college was a failure. But then from there, I've always kind of kept on trying to do new things. So having an idea and building it up, at a level where it's somehow for the others become a company, for me always been a company. It's what I've only knew, what's this, this is the only thing I knew. It comes with a curse. Because, you know, I'm 39 years old, now I'm in a very different position than I was when I started my entrepreneurial life, I have a wife, kids, and so forth. And there is those moments in time where there is some crisis, because and some doubt, there's a lot of them when you are getting to this entrepreneurial lifestyle. And there is a moment in time where I was like, Yeah, I wish I could just, you know, work for someone and getting a salary and, and stop being, you know, concerned about the future and everything around me and but I don't know, I don't even think it would be suitable for me. But yeah, that's kind of my life, it says, so it's hard for me to respond to that question. Simon is a very different story. Simon Butterfly is his first company. So I think he's discovering the entrepreneurial lifestyle. I've been living with no money on my bank account the last few months.
Yeah, you're used to that. I feel like so I actually, my partner is a musician. And he always like musicians are kind of like entrepreneurs, and they're, you know, their own right. Like, to market yourself, brand yourself, like do it all on your own. And just we live such completely different lives, because I'm like a salary person. And he's definitely like, I could never, I could never do a nine to five, like, absolutely ever. And I just I admire it in so many ways, because I could never do it. But he does it. And you know, he's pretty successful doing it. So, you know, it's beautiful that you've been able to make it work for you.
Yeah, I mean, it's. Yeah, you do what you have to do?
Yeah. And how do you think, you know, as technology, we've seen technology evolve more and more over the years? How do you feel like it's changed the people landscape and companies?
Well, I mean, quite. I think that well, I mean, by the time you start building a company, and by the way, that was your first question, what is how is it to tell an idea and building a company out of it, I mean, but often entrepreneur forget that it's not so much about an idea. I mean, everybody has idea good and bad. And it's very hard at a certain point in time to judge whether an idea is going to be successful or not. What makes the difference between successful stories, and unsuccessful story is execution. And execution is something that you can hardly do alone. So the people components, I never thought they were so much important, but it's actually, I think it was the number one most important asset that you would get into into company. And quite frankly, I could, I could have made the same adventure for Butterfly in probably half of the time if I haven't made that many people's mistakes. So I think that that's where that's where entrepreneur the entrepreneurial idea or lifestyle should start is, do you want to create something that you feel people can cope with and can be engaged with? So they can build that with you together? Because there's no, there's no building a company on your own. I mean, always some, some, some counter example to what I'm saying now, but in general, I think that people is the number one asset for a company we made a lot of mistake hiring. I don't think there's bad hire, but it's like, you know, bad match at some point, or us not being able to, to digest how to manage some of the incredible talent we had. The chance to work with in the past often comes most of the time the mistakes come from the management team itself, and we're taking full responsibility on that. But I think that comes in other words, and in a nutshell, companys' success are being built by people and company failure failures is always because of people.
So now like being a founder of Butterfly and working with all different types of companies are there like, certain mistakes that you see lots of companies making, like a trend and the types of people mistakes?
Yeah, well, I mean, it's, it's more about me spending time with other people building companies because quite frankly, Butterfly, the core, our customers are very different. We tend to, we don't really, we don't work with a lot of startups. So those companies tend to be a little bit more established. So, but it's small around the community of my friends and peers that are also themselves building companies that I hear things and one about mistakes you could make with people. And probably one of the things that I see happening the most often, and that's like I said, What happened to us is not having the right people at the right time. Because on paper I mean, talent is, I think that everybody can be talented in, in certain aspects. But you need to have some kind of an ecosystem surrounding you to, for talent to be expressed successfully. And most of the time, I think that companies are hiring people that are either too senior or too junior for them, to be able to manage them successfully. If they are senior, you need to be able to provide them with a framework that allows them to drive by themselves, and you need to be able to trust them. But in the beginning, when you're building a company, there's a lot of bad control. So hiring managers to senior early on, is definitely a mistake that we see happening often. And in the other way, as well. So being able to hire somebody that's very junior comes with the responsibility of development. Often startup doesn't have the shoulders all the time to be able to develop employees. And then hiring people that sometimes are too junior for certain tasks can also be a problem. So I think it's really about being able to match a need with a certain skill set. Often, I think company in the early days tends to ...
I completely agree with you as a person who I feel like the past three years of my life at Fusemachines, it has been hiring like senior junior mid level, like across the board. Hiring is so important. And we've I know for a fact, we've made that mistake as a company too with hiring, and it's something I reflect on a lot like how did we like was it? Was it me that, like didn't fully understand what we were looking for? Or was it just, you know, it just did not work out? And I think there's a lot of gray area that lies in that uncertainty. So, you know, it's still to this day, like I look back like, three years ago on somebody that we hired. And I'm like, like, what could I have done to have found somebody that would have, you know, done something differently? Like, I don't know if that's something we can avoid. But I feel like unfortunately, sometimes you just don't even know what you necessarily need, until you actually have people in there that are doing it. You learn so much.
That's true. Yeah. And it's not that you. I mean, some people have the chance to be able to a lot of an entrepreneur are reproducing something that they've done in the past, or they've experienced in the past, whether it's through their own, like an entrepreneurial experience, or by being part of an entrepreneurial adventure, and they know exactly what they need to do. But when we're looking at the numbers of company, and I don't have proper number on that, but I'm expecting when I'm looking around, we have most of the entrepreneur are first time entrepreneur. And we don't we don't know. And there's no, by the way, there's no training, there's no education on that. And that's why we actually ended up starting Butterfly, like I remember when I was working for that like scale up back then in Belgium. They required me a lot of I was often being reviewed by my peers, or analyzed in terms of work on how I was addressing the needs of my team, but I never had anyone telling me what to do and how to do it. And this is something that often is a problem. I think in companies that maybe they start to care about people too late in life and when you have some foundations that are bad building a culture in a company, it's very hard to like sanitize them, it's really important to start with something themselves. Probably the biggest shift I've seen working within the tech industry for more than 15 years, is the time or the size in when people professional comes in. Like 10 years, 15 years ago, I could talk to a company that was that had more than 50 employees and had no HR person, like, literally no one is in charge of HR. This is something that really happened and now I'm talking to a company that had like six people, and there's an HR person, I'm not not saying that's the good thing. But I mean, keeping in mind that people and having somebody that has some kind of interests and focused on that is really important as you've got the company. Yeah.
Yeah. And I think like having that transparency, that's something that's been really important for me, like now that I'm in this, you know, position as a people leader in a company, even if there are things that we haven't figured out yet, like, letting people know, we're working on it, we're, you know, this is something that we want to do in the next year, this is something we want to do in the next two years, I think, you know, having that transparency, but also then having like, data and actual concrete tools that we're using to actually implement a lot of the ideas that we have. That's something that I think is really important too.
Technology has changed a lot of things. Yeah, for sure.
Yeah. And for Butterfly, what do you think the roadmap, what does it look like, the next year, two years?
So one of the biggest things that we think at Butterfly and that we've been fighting for. And I think that's what makes us different is that we believe that engagement in a company is not a company nor an HR matter, it should be a manager of matter. But most of the time company tends to find a way to how you say like de-responsibilize their manager from that concern, and it's something that's been given to like, to the company or to HR as they should care. They should care about that. Sorry, for my I've been here for a week, and I've been speaking French all the time. So my English level, from day to day.
I'm the one that only speaks one language here, you do not have to apologize for anything.
I feel bad when I because I feel it. I know that my probably my English...
I would love to, I would love to see me try to do an interview and another language.
And going back to the roadmaps. And that's what we've been working for is to create a solution and HR tech solution that can truly be leveraged by manager and everything that we are building right now is going into that direction. What we want to help companies to offload some of the HR concern that we believe should be managed by managers and people manager off their plates, and that's including obviously, feedback and basic well beings needs. So everything goes around that. We see that most of the company addressing employee engagement tends to go in the direction of offer more that more analysis more strategical information, more AI also and things like that, to to project and to get more strategic based on people, on people that KPIs butterfly is going more on the idea that those KPIs needs to be more practical rather than strategical. So everything as far as it's about helping a manager to never forget none of their employees anniversary, helping managers to be able to help any of their employees getting into a personal challenge outside of work helping, managers to feel that they are more available or more accessible to employees, rather than, you know, providing complex information or projections on things, we think that we think that the value for Butterfly is to be able to, on a more technical basis connect managers with their teams, then everything goes in both by going that direction.
And something that I've seen even just internally at Fusemachines is that managers want that, like, they want that type of connection, they're just so they're so busy. So unless it's like, put in front of them in a very seamless, like, clear way, it's harder for them to gather all of that on their own. But something like Butterfly is really useful because it puts everything right in front of them. And it doesn't take them that long to look at, you know, 10 different points that are super important for their team to address, you know.
Yeah, absolutely. And it's funny that you say that I've actually just realized that I've never heard and we talk to a lot of managers, I mean, down the road, they are our user. I've never heard a manager saying, telling us that I won't be able to do something with that information. But I always think some I always hear something opposite from the HR, I mean, something that I hear a lot is my manager are not ready for that. They will not know how to respond to it. They don't need that information. I'm not sure they could. They know how to behave on criticizing and things like that. But when you talk to a manager, they are actually quite the opposites like, I need that actually. And that's the feeling and this is why today Butterfly is mostly engaging at first with people on the operational site. Manager more specifically, because they know that Butterfly is filling a gap that they still have, which is I don't know what's going on in my team, like real time. And I want to know.
What's beautiful about Butterfly is I think it's, you know, again, what we've seen from using it on our own is, it starts those conversations between managers and HR and people teams. It helps, you know, bring everybody together, not just like from the manager team level, but all of senior management. It's a great, like gateway to having a lot of those conversations that can sometimes be hard to just start on your own. Kudos to you for making it. This is the last question. I would just like to know, something that you are most proud of, as of recent, it can be personally and professionally. Anything.
Being a dad. It's been it's only happened to me two years ago, which is still like, yesterday.
That's a fun age.
But it's so it's, it's, it's, and that's typically the time where I mean, at least that's what happened for me, I don't want to speak for others. But that's where I really starting to realize that things are different for me. I talked to a lot of friends that are dads. And it seems that we have some kind of delayed, you know, awareness of what does it means to be a dad compared to the moms that that it's happening at birth or sometimes even at at pregnancy. Now being able to exchange and see how important I am on the on the eyes of my son really makes a difference. And that brings me also to back to, to Butterfly. I'm being proud today of of being able to sustain the development of a family and of my son by an idea and a will and an energy that I put on my own. Yeah, I'm very proud of that. As you know, I haven't made anything so much successful for me and my family that I could just say, Hey, I'm not working anymore. And you know, we all have those like, entrepreneurial dreams and it's all about the exit and all the things but um, there's 10 People that works for us being paid. I have a wife, I have a son. He's going to school my wife is a comedian, so she's not into those 9-5 and, and we just live quite frankly well. And I'm happy for my employees. I'm happy for my family to see that I'm being able to provide. And I think that sometimes people tend to forget that being an entrepreneur, that's part of the success. You know, we always think that it's the end of the book. That's important, but for an entrepreneur that and like for every story, it's not about the end, but it's about the, the entire journey and the journey is being enjoyable. And I don't think that no one is suffering here. I mean, entrepreneurial, working for startup can be can be hard as well. I mean, I've worked for a lot of startups. Many times, I had my, I mean, two of the startup that we're working with. One day, I receive a call that said, we're done. You don't have a job anymore. I mean, we've been there. Everybody's paid and everybody's fine. I think that sometimes entrepreneur forget, just to be proud of that.
Yeah. The experience holistically. I respect that. I have so much respect for parents in the workforce, especially entrepreneurs. Like I, I don't have children on my own yet, but I have seen it and it's a hard job, but seems like a very rewarding job. So I'm stoked for you. Seems like a good place to end it.