“Believe in yourself and ignore the stats.” With CEO of Checkr, Daniel Yanisse

Believe in yourself and ignore the stats.
I had the pleasure of interview Daniel Yanisse. Daniel is the 29 year-old CEO and Co-Founder of Checkr, one of Silicon Valley’s fastest growing startups. Checkr is the leading background checks platform for the modern economy. The company’s intelligent online reporting software delivers fast, accurate and fair background reports, enabling organizations to put the right people in the right jobs faster. Built for the applicant processing demands of on-demand economy, Checkr now helps more than 4,000 businesses, including Uber, Instacart, grubHub and Postmates on-board trusted talent. A mission-driven organization, Checkr is committed to increasing transparency in background reporting and creating a fairer future for workers, and is a staunch advocate for fair hiring practices.

Yitzi: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

At heart, I am an engineer. I see a problem, and I want to fix it. Even as a child, I would tinker with computers for fun. I even built a freeze cooling system as a teenager to try to make my computer systems go faster.

My drive to be a problem-solver is one of the key reasons I chose to work at startups for my career prior to Checkr. At startups, I knew I would be able to dig in and get hands-on experience on many facets of the business beyond engineering. It was at one of those startups that I realized the background check industry was a mess. As the on-demand economy exploded, the background check process was still tedious and slow. I knew I could streamline the process to put people to work quickly without sacrificing accuracy. That led to the creation of Checkr, a technology platform that combines the best in human expertise and AI to simplify a disjointed, labor-intensive process.

Through a coworker, I was introduced to the co-founders of DoorDash who, at the time, were living in a house together in Palo Alto. Eventually, Checkr would become the preferred background check solution for the pioneers of the on-demand economy, including Doordash, Postmates, Instacart, and Uber.

As we grew the business, we realized we were uniquely situated to discover the flaws in the system that prevent people with convictions or arrest records from being considered for work. As a result, we’ve built a vision for fair hiring to open doors for 70+ million Americans who are impacted by a past criminal conviction when applying for a job.

Yitzi: Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company

In the very early days we were using Heroku for web services on the Checkr application. The team suddenly got a notification that the credit card we used for billing had declined and that our service would go down if we didn’t input a new credit card. In a heroic act, an engineer put in his personal credit card details running up a bill in the tens of thousands of dollars to keep our service going. We’ve since reimbursed the engineer and have moved to a more bulletproof system. But that engineer has entered the Checkr hall of fame for bank rolling us that day.

Yitzi: So what does your company do?

Checkr is an innovative, streamlined, modern background check solution that drives trust and accuracy in the gig economy and enterprise. Our platform reinvents background checks to simplify the process without sacrificing accuracy, putting people to work quickly.

Each month, Checkr handles checks for more than 4,000 companies in Silicon Valley and beyond. In 2017, Checkr continued to build out its product, forge new partnerships and expand its reach beyond Silicon Valley. In fact, Checkr’s API features the fastest turnaround time in the industry. On average, a background report from Checkr is ready anytime between a few hours and two days, with most ready for review within 24 hours.

Yitzi: How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Our mission at Checkr is to build a fairer future, and we believe a conviction shouldn’t be a life sentence to unemployment.

At the moment, many Americans are being unfairly excluded from employment because of old hiring processes that disqualify applicants with criminal convictions. There are 70 million Americans (one third of the population) with a criminal conviction on their record. If such a large segment of the population struggles to find meaningful work, that’s going to perpetuate cycles of incarceration and make it very difficult for families to build better lives for themselves.

Our technology is designed to give the employer all the information they need to make an informed decision, without excluding people who could be their greatest assets. For example, someone with a conviction for fraud would not be a good fit in the accounting department, but could easily work in other companies or positions.

Fair hiring not only makes good business sense, it creates a more diverse, engaged, driven, and loyal workforce. There’s also plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that ex-offenders are more loyal to the companies they work for and are less likely to leave a job, knowing how hard it is to go through the process of applying for jobs all over again.

Along with offering technology to improve fair hiring outcomes, we are also living our mission via our “Bounce Back to Work Program” which connects ex-offenders with employment opportunities, and provides resources to help applicants navigate the job application process. We are also partnering with organizations like ’70 Million Jobs,’ ‘Code of America’ and ‘Root and Rebound’ to help provide job training in prisons, as well as convening a Fair Hiring Advocacy Council — aligning academics, private sector HR leaders and nonprofits — to move fair hiring best practices forward.

The ability to compete for a job makes the economy strong. According to the NELP, “reduced output of goods and services of people with felonies and prison records is estimated at $78 to $87 billion in losses to the nation’s economy in one year.” Studies cited by the NELP also show putting people back to work “increases tax contributions, boosts sales tax and saves money by keeping people out of the criminal justice system.”

Checkr is uniquely positioned to help resolve this issue. We have a social role to play in this situation.

Yitzi: What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I launched my Start-Up” and why

Location, location, location: When I first arrived in America, I headed straight to LA. But, I quickly learned that — if founding my own company was my goal — then I had to move to Silicon Valley. Not only was the Valley full of like-minded innovators, it also had the resources (like Y Combinator) and infrastructure I needed to succeed. As a result, I moved to the Bay Area, found roommates (a group of Italian engineers) on Craigslist, and got to work. Living in an area that encourages and supports innovative thinking is crucial — as is being exposed to professionals with the network and acumen to help you navigate the initial stages of your startup idea.

Hire the right people: It can be difficult building a workplace that has a cultural fit for all employees, especially when you are still acclimating to American culture yourself. The key to doing this is hiring people that align with your mission, share your core values, and most importantly, have the necessary experience to help you build your company.

Remember the importance of culture: It’s something I didn’t value very much during my engineering days. We have clear values of what we value in people, for example drive, humility, learning, those are really important things. There is no space for ego at Checkr.

Find your mission: The early days of a startup are a grind. The stress of funding your vision and attracting early customers can be intense at times. For me, Checkr was more than just making money. I was driven by the injustice I saw in the system, and the mission to build a fairer (and faster) system helped give me a push during tough times. Every startup guru will tell you to be persistent, which is great advice. But it’s much easier to persist when you are thinking about your mission’s impact on society.

Believe in yourself and ignore the stats: We quit our jobs to start Checkr. To some, it might have seemed foolish. There were plenty of people who reminded us of the statistics — 9/10 startups fail. I’m grateful for the people and companies who gave me a chance and believed in me. This certainly helped in building my confidence and self-belief. It was confidence in our idea and our ability to execute (with the guidance of a trusted partner like Y Combinator) that helped us push through those doubts.

Yitzi: Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

I’d love to have lunch with Barack Obama. He understands our mission and was instrumental in driving visibility for fair hiring last year with the Fair Chance Pledge. We’d love him to continue this great work and get involved with the Fair Hiring Advocacy Council that we are spearheading.

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