Communication is key

Tech startup finds support to propel it forward in Chico

After three years, Patrick Carroll says his startup, Compini, is “now mature and stable.”

After three years, Patrick Carroll says his startup, Compini, is “now mature and stable.”

Photo by Meredith J. Cooper

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When Patrick Carroll first rolled through Chico two decades ago, he couldn’t have predicted that this place would someday become his home. But, as these things go when it comes to this city of trees, the seed had been planted. So, after two years as a Jesuit novice in Minneapolis, instead of taking the path of brotherhood, he chose to return to civilian life. That other path, it turns out, led him back to Chico.

“I researched hundreds of incubators and co-worker spaces,” Carroll said during a recent interview. “From my perspective, the things that were important were having access to a university and having a good, collaborative environment at an incubator/accelerator.”

That’s how he found ChicoStart, a nonprofit startup incubator with offices in City Hall. In his research, Carroll said he was impressed with ChicoStart’s tangible results. According to the organization’s website, it’s helped 65 startups over its three-year lifespan and 10 of those have graduated to bigger and better things. Carroll, 42, is one of them. When he launched Compini (pronounced COM-pih-nee) three years ago, it was just him, and the focus was on product development. Just last week, he and two employees moved out of the ChicoStart space and into their own office above Starbucks in downtown Chico.

That’s a clear statement of Compini’s success, and of its transition from development stage to really pushing forward with sales. To describe the business succinctly, Compini offers organizations an online environment in which to facilitate communication, particularly from the bottom up.

“We provide a platform for people to speak up and be heard,” Carroll said. “We strive to improve organizations’ structure, so management doesn’t have to wait for an issue to be revealed six months from now in a survey.”

For example, in a company with 50 employees, the owner or manager may not get much face time with everyone working there. Regardless of an organization’s success, it’s going to have problems that need to be resolved—from inadequacies in health coverage to a proliferation of dirty dishes in the break room. Compini’s main objective is to identify those problems in their infancy so they can be solved, improving employee satisfaction and even productivity.

To do that, Carroll said while demonstrating the platform on his laptop, users can enter a Web forum-type application and choose to begin a discussion or add to an existing one. All comments are anonymous by default, though users can choose a handle or to sign their name. They also can designate which discussions they want to be alerted about and which are unimportant to them. From there, managers can log in and see what their employees’ concerns are.

If a large group of people are upset about, let’s say, the inconvenience of having to walk upstairs to use the copy machine, management may deem the issue worth fixing to improve both morale and productivity. Issues naturally vary in importance.

“We realize it takes a tremendous amount of trust to allow your employees to speak so freely and anonymously,” Carroll said. Despite the anonymity provided, he said that he’s seen only a few instances in which a comment had to be flagged for profanity or indecency. “People tend to understand that these are their co-workers; they’re not some random troll.”

In addition, Compini offers tools to build polls and surveys, and is able to track issues by topic and note their resolution. There’s also a spot for positive feedback, where employees and managers can recognize their peers for jobs well done.

Thus far, Carroll says he’s been very happy with his choice to open up shop in Chico. And he has plenty to compare it to, having attended University of Notre Dame (where he double-majored in mechanical engineering and medieval studies) as well as business schools in France and Singapore, then spending time in San Francisco and San Diego before devoting himself to his Jesuit studies in Minnesota.

Beyond garnering the support of ChicoStart, which provides conference rooms, Internet and phones in addition to built-in brainstorming participants and mentors, the community has been very welcoming.

“People work hard here at cultivating a sense of community,” Carroll said.

How would he describe Chico? “It’s self-assured without being smug,” he said.