1.5 years, 5 pivots, 1000 recruiters, and countless learnings
Steven is a 1517 Fund grantee. Are you working on something interesting? Set up a call with us at 1517fund.com/take-action.
During my Junior year of college, my cofounder Russell and I attended over 20 different hackathons together. We knew that when we graduated, we would need to be very strong programmers in order fill out our ambitions. Throughout this whole journey, we also applied to 200 companies (each!) as software developers — using primarily Angel.co and a few GitHub lists we saw floating around.
We got 0 (ZERO) callbacks.
Concurrently, we started researching the science of startups. What did it take to make your own successful high growth business?
Starting with books like Zero to One, Mom Test, and Rework we began gorging on content to learn about what it took to make a successful startup. We also started talking with an Akron based incubator frequently, The Bit Factory, throughout this process. It was pivotal that the investors there were willing to mentor us when we were at ground zero.
Towards the end of my Junior year in college, we were getting pretty frustrated with filling out so many job applications while seeing no results.
So what’d we do?
We made a hackathon project!
We actually called it DeepHire, and it’s still on Devpost!
At the start of MHacks, I saw 1517 Fund as sponsors. Recognizing the logo from previous hackathons, we decided to win their prize as I knew they were startup focused. Russell and I walked to their table before the event started and asked for 5 minutes to pitch.
“We want to make a recruiting hack that matches job seekers and employers quantitatively by using culture fit! “
…I’m sure the actual pitch I give them was much longer and more confusing.
To their credit, they listened and asked a few prodding questions to see how we were thinking about the platform. With some words of encouragement (and endless enthusiasm from Danielle), we set out to work on our prototype.
We ended up building out AI software that would give a similarity rating for a candidate and employer based off of candidate FRQ answers to screening/personality questions.
Fast forward to the middle of judging: Russell was sleeping, Nick left, and I was so nervous that I was listening to the Hamilton Mixtape on repeat. I distinctly remember trying to memorize My Shot to get my mind off of judging.
Finally, it was time for 1517 to present their award — and I heard our project be called!
What a relief.
After collecting the award from them (they Venmo’d us the prize money within 2 hours), we were emboldened to take our startup seriously.
Fast forward 3 months, and we close a pre-seed round with The Bit Factory while simultaneously graduating from our local I-Corps group for a total of $35,000.
At the start of the summer, Nick Russell and I did the whole ‘startup’ house while being wildly optimistic! Blissfully not knowing anything about recruiting and chanting the term ‘Product Market Fit’, we rented a house to share over the summer while focusing on going to market with the DeepHire hackathon project.
We quickly realized that the prototype was not robust enough for real world use, as explored ways to make the AI model get better results. But in order to get results, we knew needed a corpus of data to train off of. This was a problem, because we had no way to train our AI.
Enter the first pivot.
While speaking with The Bit Factory mentors constantly, we decided to pivot into the ‘employee engagement’ space. My job was talk to dozens of HR professionals and figure out how much interest there was around this idea, and what possible pricepoints could be.
After 1.5 months and 1 pilot, we decided that a product like this was most useful for large corporations. We knew that selling to large corporations with a brand new offering was a very long game to play, and that it wasn’t in our strength. And the small businesses we COULD sell to said that this was a vitamin, not a painkiller.
I obsessed for a few nights about what WAS our strength, as to-be graduates from our local University. We emerged with a mobile focused recruiting marketplace, that used company videos to attract talent.
This was the second pivot.
It was a two sided product — one offering for job seekers, and another for employers looking to hire.
On the employer side, we had a lot of cool tools for recruiters to hire faster! Enriched candidate profiles, one way video screening, and ways to collaborate with team members on candidate decisions.
But to make it work we needed a 10x way to create a talent pool in order to monetize.
Like most recruiting startups, we found out that we didn’t have a good way to do that. And because we didn’t have a talent pool, companies weren’t very willing to join the platform.
We crashed and burned on our very first pilot because of this.
When rolling out with the second pilot, we learned that a recruiter was extremely interested in the one way video screening tool we had built — but they weren’t very excited about the rest of the offering.
Listening to that feedback, we completely pivoted (now the third pivot) to this video screening tool.
Best decision we ever made!
We ended up building out the MVP with our new pilot in August, in September closed our first (ever!) 2 paying clients, October demoed to big enterprise (and learned how slow it is to sell into), and in November closed a just-in-time round of $50k.
Throughout this 1.5 years, we learned gallons about recruiting and B2B SAAS. We’ve personally talked to over 1000 recruiters + HR folks, learning and getting feedback.
But the exciting this is, this is just the beginning.
The goal is to get to $10k MRR by May, close a seed round by July, and get to 1mm ARR by July 2020.
With established competition, a huge market, and being first time founders…
It’s going to be long, and it’s going to be tough.
But we are committed to bringing culture fit to the staffing industry, and empowering recruiters to drive client decisions faster.
When you see a very real opportunity, strike while the iron is hot!
This is the first in a series of blog posts about our DeepHire startup journey. If you have any comment or questions, feel free to text me at 3309318770 (seriously! ) or email firstname.lastname@example.org