How to Grow Your Business in an Uncharted Market

Insights from my Interview with Ken Frei, CEO @ Screenie

[Originally published on February 28, 2015]

When you meet Ken, you immediately get a feel for his sensible optimism and humility. These two qualities, along with his passion for startups, has allowed Ken to develop a knack for discovering and solving meaningful problems. This knack led him to launch his first company, XoomPark while a student at Brigham Young University. And more recently, Screenie — a visual screening and interviewing platform created to reduce the time and cost involved in the hiring top talent.

Screenie — The Story So Far…

In 2013, after a great run with XoomPark, Ken was actively looking for the next meaningful problem to solve. He managed to meet both a developer and an HR expert who had intimate knowledge of problems within the HR industry. These three individuals began to collaborate on ideas to create a more efficient hiring solution and quickly founded Screenie to do just that.

Alta Ventures, a venture capital firm which specializes in Latin American investment, caught wind of Screenie through their Utah office and challenged the team to focus on building their company in Mexico, along with providing support through seed investment. After just 12 months, Screenie now has a database of over 2.5 million users (3rd largest in Mexico) and hasbuilt an innovative hiring platform used byover 100 of Mexico’s top businesses.

Idea Validation

After hearing about Screenie’s success thus far I was compelled to learn more about how they progressed from idea to growth. Although the team had a deep understanding about the HR industry in the U.S. they were unfamiliar with the challenges within the same industry in Mexico. Their journey into a seemingly uncharted market offers a unique perspective.

Q: How long did it take to validate the initial idea for Screenie in Mexico?

“In reality we are still working to validate our idea every day. As soon as we arrived in Mexico we went out to all the largest businesses to figure out what their biggest pain points are in the hiring process. Ever since then, idea validation has been an ongoing process for us — we are still figuring it out as we grow.”

Growing Pains

One of the challenges that Ken and his team have faced in their early-stage growth is creating and maintaining an ideal company culture. Many companies say that a culture is one of the most important and most difficult facets of growth. For example, if a company scales too quickly and is forced to rapidly recruit personnel, it could lead to long-term consequences of poor management, bad decision making, and high turnover rates. Many successful CEOs have stated that making culture a priority early on is essential.

“Going from a 3-person team to a 20-person company is a more difficult transition than you’d think. You have to be patient and hire people that already have characteristics of your desired culture. For example, if you want a hard-working, high-intensity culture, then you need to hire people that already work like that.”

Thoughts on #GrowthHacking

“Growth hacking” is now a popular buzzword for using creative ideas to sell products and/or quickly scaling user adoption. Many examples involve various forms of social media, viral marketing, search engine optimization, or content marketing. After learning that Screenie already has a database of 2.5 million candidates, I was curious to see if Ken and his team had implemented any creative growth hacking techniques in Mexico:

“We have definitely done our fair share of growth hacking! Our platform has a somewhat unique challenge because we need to increase engagement with both companies and job candidates in order for our business to be successful.

We’ve done lots of things like creating a viral referral program using WhatsApp, which was hacked together during a weekend hackathon. We’ve created a webinar series to get leads for our sales team. We’ve actually already been banned from various job boards because of some of the crazy stuff we’ve tried.

Growth hacking strategies are something we are constantly brainstorming about to increase adoption and engagement.”

Ken’s Advice for Someone with an Awesome Idea:

“If you have a cool idea that you feel has potential — just start doing something. You’ll already be ahead of the game because most people end up not doing anything.

I have won my fair share of business competitions in the past and have received recognition for hitting various milestones in our business and, for some reason, people assume that I’m some sort of expert. To be honest, I still have no idea what I’m doing most of the time. You just learn as you go.

It’s always important to remember that if you are actually solving a real problem for someone, it will grow naturally.”

Remember what I said about optimism and humility? There is wisdom in that — and Ken never fails to disappoint. Great lessons learned from a great entrepreneur! I really respect Ken and the whole team at Screenie for their drive and passion in tackling hard problems, especially in a new and uncharted market. Ambitions like that take some serious guts and determination.

Connect with Ken Frei

Originally published on February 28, 2015 at www.idea-growth.com.