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Startups Meddo offers a scrappy startup alternative to top-down hierarchy

Meddo CEO Ben Brubaker-Zehr, centre, works with software developers Mike Chong, left, and Dan Szekely in the company’s Kitchener, Ont., office.

Glenn Lowson /The Globe and Mail

A Canadian startup is on a mission to overhaul the management industry with software that offers “startup speed at enterprise scale” by cutting down bureaucracy.

Meddo, a Kitchener, Ont.-based software company, helps businesses to organize people around strategy instead of top-down management hierarchies. Launched last February by co-founders Kurtis McBride and Ben Brubaker-Zehr, the platform takes company-wide goals and applies them to five layers: key objectives, initiatives, projects, roles and people.

Meddo creates a real-time model where employees can see how their projects are contributing to the big picture, and leadership can view work and connect it to strategy.

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The concept is part of a larger workplace trend as companies turn to software and technology to organize priorities, manage teams and appeal to a millennial labour force with values such as flexibility, collaboration and purpose. Enterprise, or large, companies are also turning to software solutions in the hope of tapping into the adaptability and agility often found at startups, along with work cultures that view offices as places of passion and meaning rather than drudgery.

“Traditional hierarchies and bureaucracy are a competitive disadvantage today,” said Mr. Brubaker-Zehr, Meddo’s CEO. “Meddo helps an enterprise to work like a startup, where everybody knows the whole picture and sees how their role has an impact.”

'Meddo helps an enterprise to work like a startup, where everybody knows the whole picture and sees how their role has an impact,' says Ben Brubaker-Zehr, Meddo’s CEO.

Glenn Lowson /The Globe and Mail

To engage employees, the software has a set of built-in tools. Staff can request to work on projects that better align with their interests and skills or offer and request mentorship opportunities. Meddo also encourages feedback. After a project is completed, employees can express how they feel their potential is being used.

“It’s a hierarchy of work and objectives rather than people,” Mr. Brubaker-Zehr said. “The features allow leadership to understand how the business is actually going.”

The idea for Meddo comes from another successful startup. The software started out as Teal, an internal tool at Miovision Technologies, a traffic analytics company in Kitchener, Ont. While Miovision started small in 2005, today it has several hundred employees and its technology is used worldwide in more than 17,000 municipalities.

As the company scaled up, it faced a dilemma. Mr. Brubaker-Zehr said Miovision saw growing bureaucracy frustrate employees, causing them to lose interest in the business and its direction.

The company created Teal as a way to encourage the scrappy startup culture that helped to make it successful. In October, Teal became Meddo, a stand-alone software platform designed for mid- to large-size companies. The name references the word meadow and the idea of a flat area where people can gather and see clearly.

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The company has caught the interest of tech companies across North America, Europe, Asia and Africa as it gears up for a closed beta release of its software in early February, according to Mr. Brubaker-Zehr. Meddo is collaborating with more than 50 partners, including businesses and consultants, and will use the feedback to tweak its product before its official launch later this spring.

Meddo has also attracted investors. The startup has raised $500,000 in seed funding to date and Mr. Brubaker-Zehr said they plan to raise another round this year, with another $500,000 already committed.

But while the company is gaining momentum, Meddo may face challenges as it takes its idea to market. Melissa Nightingale, author and founding partner of management consulting group Raw Signal, said objectives and key results (OKR) is a popular framework for setting high-level goals and measuring progress in organizations, and the dominant software tool for managing OKRs is Google Docs.

“That sounds like an uncomplicated technical solution, but that’s part of the appeal. The reason it works for most organizations is that it’s something they already have, teams know how to use it and it’s really easy to update and share,” Ms. Nightingale said.

For large companies, it can be expensive for teams to switch applications, transfer data and learn a whole new set of functionalities.

“Enterprises, by and large, already have a set of tools that they’re using. If an organization is using a tool like Google Docs, you’re basically asking them to pay for something that used to be either already paid for or free.”

Ms. Nightingale points to Holacracy as a cautionary tale. Holacracy, a trendy self-management method, is based on a model where employees don’t report to a direct manager. Instead, decision-making power lies in teams or “circles” and roles rather than individuals. It’s been adopted by businesses worldwide and rose to prominence after Amazon-owned online shoe and clothing retailer Zappos adopted the system in 2013.

“Around 2014, it was really in vogue for organizations to experiment with rolling out Holacracy,” Ms. Nightingale said. “In 2016, most of those organizations had rolled it back. It had a catastrophic impact.”

Meddo is also competing with other Canadian workplace software providers such as Toronto-based Sensei Labs, Ottawa-based Fellow and established U.S. companies such as Asana, which offers an application that helps teams to organize, track and manage work.

But Mr. Brubaker-Zehr said he hasn’t seen a competitor present a complete organizational model that connects broad business strategy to people in real time.

“Creating a data model between individuals and outcomes is where Meddo becomes an increasingly powerful thing,” he said.

Meddo has a busy year ahead. Beyond its launch and fundraising, the company is preparing to double its four-person team and hire its first customer support employees. Down the line, Mr. Brubaker-Zehr said Meddo may explore adding features such as messaging or project collaboration tools to the platform.

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Ms. Nightingale said companies have the best outcomes when software solutions are paired with strong management.

“Having a framework that people can plug into and see how their work connects to what the organization is trying to do is really important,” she said. “Software in conjunction with skilled management can be incredibly powerful, but the software alone can’t do it.”

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