What is WOKEN and how does it work?
WOKEN is the first candidate-focused career exploration platform that educates, motivates and arms job seekers with the knowledge, tools and resources to confidently identify and forge a career path they will actually enjoy. The platform continues to guide professionals through a strategic job search and also arms coaches with transparent data about their client’s progress. We utilize design on our platform to teach professionals what steps to take, when/why/how to take each step, and utilize our workspace so they know where to track their work. We have coaching calls in addition to the work that a client does on the platform, and a coach reviews the client’s work each step of the way.
What is Woken’s mission?
To wake up the world to remember that you can and should find a job you love.
How did Woken determine a product market fit?
Over ~5 years I had been helping professionals with career exploration and job search through informal conversations. I didn’t realize that that was essentially a deep “customer discovery” phase to truly learn the patterns and challenges customers were facing. After starting to coach formally, I realized that my coaching conversations needed to be digitized, systematized and scaled. We came up with a clickable prototype and then a Google Sheets prototype (fully functional, full design, zero code). By testing that functional prototype, we started to see that people would spend time on our MVP and see positive outcomes from it. Their feedback became about how to make it more user friendly, so we knew it was time to build a more advanced version.
What did the initial proof of concept look like?
We had a Sketch prototype which housed a few tabs that each represented a step in my career exploration and job search process. It included some coaching guidance, some action-oriented elements where clients can “do the work,” and even alluded to some potential data analytics we could visualize. Our second prototype was a Google Sheets where each tab’s design was manipulated to look and work like a website without any code involved. We used design to show people where to type, and used some features like dropdowns, calendars, tables, and more. We would hide and unhide various tabs and email people when they had a new step “unlocked” to make it look and feel like a real process.
VC, Angel or Bootstrap? And why?
Bootstrapped. We were lucky to earn money from a fellowship, a grant, a competition, crowdfunding, and early client revenue. I’ve heard enough bad stories about VC that I felt it made sense to stay away for now given we have a budget we can use to focus on what matters — creating a great product and getting it out there to those who need it. Also, I’m a solo founder so focusing on VC would take a lot of focus/time. We will likely raise eventually when the time is right.
Where do you see the company in the near term and long term?
- We become the go-to career management platform so that at any point if you are exploring your next step, job searching, or just advancing in your path, you have one place to figure out and track your next steps.
- We create a consistent, standardized platform for every career coach including within organizations that provide career coaching.
- We support HR to enhance recruiting, interviewing, outplacement, internal mobility, and overall data/insights.
- We create a brick and mortar so that any professional has a career coach they can walk in and get support from, on any day, any time.
Who are your role models or mentors?
Steve Jobs. Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Ray Dalio. Jeff Taylor. My parents.
Which one thing do you wish you’d done differently?
I was bad at hiring. I wasted time on people who didn’t have the skills we needed. I believe in everyone, but when it comes to hiring, you have to figure out how to be “judgmental.”
If you had an extra $100k in your business, what would you use it for?
Because we’re in a season of growth, I’d focus on figuring out key marketing channels so we can get out there to every professional.
Biggest “win” in your business’s history? Explain what it was, how it came about, and what it meant to your business.
We were featured in some research by Entangled which I thought was a cool sign that we’ve “made it” into the career tech ecosystem. We also earned a grant through the National Science Foundation. We were eligible because of a startup program we participated in at NYU. It was a program focused on customer discovery which we used to learn more about B2B organizations who could potentially benefit from our technology. It did provide us with some funds as well and I hope it enables us to receive additional national grants in the future.
What’s the biggest risk your business ever took?
It took me a long time to get comfortable to even start the business, that feels like the biggest risk. Other than that, probably right now when we’re using a large chunk of our budget to redesign and redevelop this product and start to pursue growth, hoping we can grow on a limited budget.
How are you using technology to further your vision?
Tech has to be used wisely when it comes to career exploration. For us, it helps our clients to understand the process and track/organize their work in a way that a coach can visualize and better help that client. We separate that from coaching because we believes human coaches are inherent to any career process and should never be removed from the process.
Why does representation matter in tech?
Representation matters everywhere. Humans inherently judge — ourselves and others — and too few people know how to be empathetic, understanding and respecting of others in a way that is ‘outside’ of themselves and their own perspective. I have personally felt judged and discriminated based on my looks, my gender, and my religion, and it all feels shitty. No human deserves to feel shitty. That means all of us need to do better to treat each other fairly. That concept and goal sounds simple, but it requires effective education and training to teach people from a young age how to treat others. Shall I go on?
What is the number one quality an entrepreneur should possess?
Commitment. I find that persistence is one of the rarest qualities in aspiring entrepreneurs. So many give up after 2–3 years but that's the very time when you probably need to just figure out how to pivot. If there is a true problem/gap that needs solving, figure out how to keep adjusting until you can effectively find a model that solves it.
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