Interflexion Founders Seek to Upend the Training of Middle Managers Using Conversational AI

In 2019, experienced entrepreneurs John Muldoon and John Hack had an idea that they couldn’t shake. After doing some work for a leadership-training firm, said Hack, they realized that “there hadn’t been innovation in the corporate training market since the introduction of computer-based training.”  To solve that problem Muldoon and Hack founded Interflexion (Hillsborough), where they now serve as CEO and CTO, respectively.

The cofounders had noticed that lower-level staff and middle managers were often left behind, as management invested mainly in higher-paid employees.  The middle managers had no idea how to talk to the people who reported to them or how to motivate them to get work accomplished, or even how to conduct performance reviews in a way that would be meaningful to their employees.  “We wanted to help people be better versions of themselves,” Muldoon said.

“Our vision is to have a more harmonious and productive workplace, and we do that by helping people have better conversations, using a platform for conversational performance using AI [artificial intelligence]-driven role-play,” he added.

Hack had been tracking AI prior to 2000, participating in some AI-related projects along the way. “It was clear to us that natural language processing was getting close to its crossover from the lab into the corporate world. We wanted to be positioned with an application using the technology and something that would be useful in the workplace to help people develop their communication and interpersonal skills,” he said.

 The two friends and colleagues realized that their domain knowledge and technical skill sets would mesh very well in a new company to address this situation.  That was in late 2019 and early 2020. Then, “for better or worse,” the pandemic hit. The pandemic reinforced the need for remote training out in the marketplace, Muldoon noted.

The two founders were brought into an “innovation foundry” at a “Big Four” accounting firm, and “for the first year of our existence, we worked with them to clarify the whole experience,” Muldoon said. “They did a whole software evaluation on the platform: scalability, privacy, security, all the stuff you would expect from that firm. And, not surprisingly, as John [Hack] built many of these, we passed with flying colors.”

While the use of AI may be controversial in some cases, Hack and Muldoon maintain that they have built a safe platform that has guardrails. It’s a configurable system that allows the end user to shape the situation for role-playing. “It won’t go off the rails for you or present AI hallucinations,” Hack said, referring to the false patterns perceived by some large language models.

While a business relationship didn’t develop with the accounting firm, the two continued on their quest to develop Interflexion.  One interesting scenario is playing out with a professor at the University of North Carolina’s business school, said Hack. The professor is using their app in an undergraduate course on organizational ethics, as homework to allow students to experience what it’s like to encounter an ethical dilemma in the workplace. As the students encounter several dilemmas over the course of the semester, they use the tool to apply the course concepts in conversations. The professor uses it to gauge which concepts are effectively helping the students put what they’ve learned into practice. “We expected students to do the right thing because they’re very motivated in an ethics class to identify the ethical issue and do the right thing. In a workplace, though, you can’t just throw your coworkers under the bus. You need to continue to build good relationships with people that you may be in conflict with,” Hack said. The professor can guide the students to both build the necessary relationships and navigate the dilemmas.

Another customer is the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), a global organization that offers professional education to CPAs. It’s using Inflexion’s software to help early-career CPAs be more effective in job interviews. Yet a third group using the app comprises individual companies that have a learning-and-development group looking to help their people have better conversations. “We’re working right now with a company that is a large real estate rental group, helping their sales staff handle new customers, as well as customers who are current renters looking to renew their leases,” he noted. Many individual companies that offer extensive training to senior-level managers are using the app to help first-time and mid-level management employees develop their conversational skills.

When asked about funding, Muldoon noted that Interflexion has raised about $900,000 from friends and family, and has begun bringing in recurring revenue. The founders are currently raising a seed round of funding. Right now, they have six employees, who are working 100 percent remotely. Muldoon and Hack expect to move to office space in the Princeton area upon completion of their seed financing.

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