SXSW Startups: 70MillionJobs

The Forrest Four-Cast: January 19, 2018

50 startups from across 10 categories (and numerous different countries) have been named as finalists for the 2018 SXSW Accelerator Pitch Event. Half of these startups will demo their talents on Saturday, March 10 and the remaining 25 will take the stage on Sunday, March 11. Winners from each of the 10 categories will be honored at the Accelerator Award Ceremony at 7 pm on Sunday, March 11 at the Hilton Austin. The SXSW Accelerator Pitch Event takes place within the Startup & Tech Sectors track of programming.

Today’s interview is with 70MillionJobs, one of five finalists in the Social and Culture Technologies category. Based in San Francisco, 70MillionJobs calls itself the first for-profit marketplace for the 70 million Americans with criminal records who deserve a second chance and companies eager to access a vast, untapped pool of labor. We spoke with CEO Richard Bronson for a few minutes about his current passion project. See Bronson (pictured at right, second row, with others from his team) at SXSW at 11 am on March 10 in Salon AB at the Hilton Austin.

Tell us more about 70MillionJobs.
Our bottom line is: we are driven to help people with criminal records land jobs. Not only do jobs address critical economic needs, like food and housing, but studies have shown that without a job, someone released from jail or prison is likely to be re-arrested. Employment truly is the silver bullet for short-circuiting endless cycles of recidivism.

What inspired your team to apply for SXSW Accelerator?
SXSW provides a company with spectacular exposure. That matters to us because we want people who have records to hear that we can help. And we want employers to know that we can provide them a unique opportunity to access a virtually untapped pool of labor. If they want to assert their leadership as being second chance friendly, we can help there as well.

Since your team will all be new to SXSW, what most intrigues you?
The idea that there are so many creative, passionate people assembled in one place at one time, eager to share and learn. Great ideas have emerged from this assembly in the past. We can’t wait!

What sessions are you most excited about?
Several of the sessions about AI, as well as events discussing social good. And there are so many great speakers: Mark Cuban, of course, Peter Thiel is always thought-provoking, and, as a Y Combinator alum, I look forward to hearing fellow alum Steve Huffman of Reddit.

What are your goals for SXSW 2018?
We count the successes of 70MillionJobs one job at a time. If through the exposure, we can let folks with records know that there’s help available and that there are people who truly care, we’ll consider it a successful trip.

Tell us about 70MillionJobs previous experience with pitch events.
We were part of Y Combinator’s Summer 2017 batch, which culminates in Demo Day, when each company delivers a two-minute presentation to an audience of prominent VC firms. This forces you to really understand your business and synthesize it into just a few sentences. For investors hearing many, many pitches a day, I learned how to make my presentation short and hopefully very impactful.

What is your competitive advantage?
To my knowledge, there are no other startups in this space, but if we’re successful, I’m sure that will change. I believe my background has a lot to do with our success thus far. I built a large, successful business before. I myself was incarcerated for two years in a federal prison. I served as Director of a prominent non-profit in the reentry space. All of these experiences have taught me how to address the challenges of addressing an enormous societal problem, while taking advantage of an unprecedented business opportunity.

70MillionJobs is based in San Francisco. What is the best thing about launching a startup in the Bay Area?
San Francisco feels like a place where everyone is involved with a tech startup. Anywhere you go, you hear talk about stock options, product market fit and scaling. As a New Yorker, I decided to operate the business here because there’s a real spirit of paying it forward: people are incredibly generous of spirit. They offer their time and connections with no sense of quid pro quo. It’s a special place at a special time.

Have you been involved with other startups?
I co-founded DoYouRemember.com, the Internet’s most popular destination for nostalgia.

What aspects of the startup experience do you enjoy most?
Bringing order to entropy, swinging for the seats, failing big.

What do you enjoy least?
The mood swings.

What has the startup experience taught you about life?
Life will provide you with so many interesting opportunities to learn and grow, if you have an openness and the courage to explore.

Look for interviews with other SXSW Accelerator finalists in this space between now and March. Startups already profiled as part of this series include Bluefield.

Or, click here to browse the full lineup of startups for SXSW Accelerator 2018.

Hugh Forrest serves as Chief Programming Officer at SXSW, the world’s most unique gathering of creative professionals. He also tries to write at least four paragraphs per day on Medium. These posts often cover tech-related trends; other times they focus on books, pop culture, sports and other current events.