How This Company Hit Unicorn Status in 5 Years

To become a multibillion-dollar startup in AI, Moveworks had to put people first.

Written by Eva Roethler
Published on Aug. 26, 2021
How This Company Hit Unicorn Status in 5 Years
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What does it take to become a tech unicorn in just 5 years? 

The answer will vary depending on industry and other factors, but AI helpdesk platform Moveworks credits its multibillion-dollar unicorn status to a scrupulous “people-first” philosophy. Moveworks has galvanized employees around a culture that eliminates busywork and bureaucracy to focus on meaningful achievement, a tactic that has fueled its success.


Moveworks by the Numbers

  • Founded in 2016
  • Valued at $2.1B
  • $200M Series C funding round
  • Raised $315M to date


According to Founder and CEO Bhavin Shah, this employee-centric approach has contributed to Moveworks’ rapid growth, talent attraction and worker retention. Shah says that an anonymous employee feedback survey found that 100 percent of employees feel psychological safety at Moveworks, or the idea that there shouldn’t be retribution for speaking up. Meanwhile, 96 percent are satisfied with their job and committed to the company’s success. These metrics align with the company’s recognition as a “best place to work” by publications such as Inc. and the San Francisco Business Times.

Built In SF connected with Shah to do a deep-dive into how the company’s three core tenets — embodying its belief, collaborative ownership and total transparency — translated into startup success. 


Bhavin Shah
Founder and CEO • Moveworks


Let’s talk tenets. What does the “embodying our belief” tenet look like in action? What makes this work meaningful to employees? 

We believe that companies succeed when their employees can focus on meaningful work — not busy work. That’s the whole point of our platform: using AI to give employees instant help, so they can get back to what matters.

Not by coincidence, that same belief is the foundation of our culture. Because we’re introducing a completely new category of software, our people can’t rely on the traditional playbook for how to do their jobs. Rewriting the playbook takes total buy-in from everyone here, whether they’re optimizing our conversational AI models or creating our PR strategy. 

But to get that level of buy-in, our employees need to believe what we believe. They need to experience our vision for the world firsthand, every day they come to work. 

So embodying our belief is about giving our people the support it takes to innovate. We don’t provide comprehensive healthcare and unlimited PTO as items on a list of benefits — we do it because we believe people do their best work when they don’t have to worry about everything else. And when our people get to direct their full attention toward impactful projects, they become true advocates for us. 

Every time we launch a new product, my entire LinkedIn homepage is flooded with Movesters sharing how excited they are. That excitement — just as much as our product — is what it takes to make change happen on a global scale.   


What does “collaborative ownership” look like in action? What are specific ways employees are empowered to take ownership of their work?

Category creators have to find the balance between collaboration and individual ownership. The teamwork piece is obvious — it’s the foundation of every company. Preventing silos is particularly key for us because we’re in such a new industry, so people in individual departments can’t depend on their experience to understand the rest of the business. 

What’s maybe more surprising is our focus on individual ownership and autonomy, in parallel with our culture of collaboration. It’s because there’s no other option. Over time, each person becomes the leading expert on their unique role here, which means our success requires trust rather than instructions passed down from leadership. 


How does leadership achieve “total transparency”? 

Creating Moveworks is a massive undertaking for every single employee, which is why they need — and deserve — total visibility over the business. Unless you’re transparent, your employees can’t learn from mistakes or identify which risks are worth taking.

This kind of transparency involves total trust and active effort from leadership, but it’s worth it. For example, all four of us founders keep our calendars open and public for anyone who wants to book time. We share detailed financial information and updates from board meetings at our company all-hands. That’s how we drive decisions downward: We over-share and trust our people with as much context as possible to make the best decisions on their own. It goes back to the previous point about collaborative ownership — we hire super smart people who can figure stuff out with the right context.

Unless you’re transparent, your employees can’t learn from mistakes or identify which risks are worth taking.”


Is there an example of a time when you had to sacrifice something major or overcome a big obstacle to uphold the “people-first” value?

Around this time last year, we launched a 401(k) plan with a generous company match. We did this during one of the largest recessions in American history, not because it was easy, but because it was the right thing to do for our people. Rather than focus only on short-term work-from-home furniture stipends, we chose to focus on giving something back to our employees that would allow them to take advantage of the depressed stock market and leapfrog a retirement savings plan for themselves and their families. We chose something that would pay dividends well into their futures. 

Laying out this expenditure during a recession, when cash flow was tight and the business had not yet accelerated, was by no means the textbook thing to do. But I have never regretted it because Moveworks only goes as far as our people.


What aspect of the company do employees seem most genuinely excited about?

We increasingly work with the largest and most innovative companies on the planet, including Fortune 500 firms and industry disruptors that are implementing advanced tech across the board. Our employees are incredibly excited to be on the frontlines with these customers, not only guiding their transformation journey with AI but also learning from them in areas outside of support. In many cases, they’re deploying the future of the enterprise, which we get to see firsthand.


What insight would you want to share with someone considering a career at Moveworks?

Many companies these days talk about being a fun place to work, but Moveworks is a different kind of fun. 

We’re creating an unprecedented product with completely new technology to solve one of the most persistent problems in the history of business. Working here brings the joy that comes with setting incredibly ambitious goals and consistently reaching them, supported by the most dedicated team I’ve ever seen. It brings the satisfaction of learning a skill or refining your craft, every single day. And it brings the fulfillment of knowing that you’re helping millions of people avoid busy work, eliminate disruptions and focus on what matters. 

My co-founder Varun describes it well when he says that Moveworks isn’t “foosball table fun.” It’s the kind of fun that comes from achieving what no one else has before.



Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images via listed company and Shutterstock.

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