Factorial raises $16M to take on the HR world with a platform for SMBs

A startup that’s hoping to be a contender in the very large and fragmented market of human resources software has captured the eye of a big investor out of the US and become its first investment in Spain.

Barcelona-based Factorial, which is building an all-in-one HR automation platform aimed at small and medium businesses that manages payroll, employee onboarding, time off and other human resource functions, has raised €15 ($16 million) in a Series A round of funding led by CRV, with participation also from existing investors Creandum, Point Nine and K Fund.

The money comes on the heels of Factorial — which has customers in 40 countries — seeing eightfold growth in revenues in 2019, with more than 60,000 customers now using its tools.

Jordi Romero, the CEO who co-founded the company with Pau Ramon (CTO) and Bernat Farrero (head of corporate), said in an interview that the investment will be used both to expand to new markets and add more customers, as well as to double down on tech development to bring on more features. These will include RPA integrations to further automate services, and to move into more back-office product areas such as handling expenses,

Factorial has now raised $18 million and is not disclosing its valuation, he added.

The funding is notable on a couple of levels that speak not just to the wider investing climate but also to the specific area of human resources.

In addition to being CRV’s first deal in Spain, the investment is being made at a time when the whole VC model is under a lot of pressure because of the global coronavirus pandemic — not least in Spain, which has a decent, fledgling technology scene but has been one of the hardest-hit countries in the world when it comes to COVID-19.

“It made the closing of the funding very, very stressful,” Romero said from Barcelona last week (via video conference). “We had a gentleman’s agreement [so to speak] before the virus broke out, but the money was still to be wired. Seeing the world collapse around you, with some accounts closing, and with the bigger business world in a very fragile state, was very nerve wracking.”

Ironically, it’s that fragile state that proved to be a saviour of sorts for Factorial.

“We target HR leaders and they are currently very distracted with furloughs and layoffs right now, so we turned around and focused on how we could provide the best value to them,” Romero said.

The company made its product free to use until lockdowns are eased up, and Factorial has found a new interest from businesses that had never used cloud-based services before but needed to get something quickly up and running to use while working from home. He noted that among new companies signing up to Factorial, most either previously kept all their records in local files or at best a “Dropbox folder, but nothing else.”

The company also put in place more materials and other tools specifically to address the most pressing needs those HR people might have right now, such as guidance on how to implement furloughs and layoffs, best practices for communication policies and more. “We had to get creative,” Romero said.

At $16 million, this is at the larger end of Series A rounds as of January 2020, and while it’s definitely not as big as some of the outsized deals we’ve seen out of the US, it happens to be the biggest funding round so far this year in Spain.

Its rise feels unlikely for another reason, too: it comes at a time when we already have dozens (maybe even hundreds) of human resources software businesses, with many an established name — they include PeopleHR, Workday, Infor, ADP, Zenefits, Gusto, IBM, Oracle, SAP, Rippling, and many others — in a market that analysts project will be worth $38.17 billion by 2027 growing at a CAGR of over 11%.

But as is often the case in tech, status quo breeds disruption, and that’s the case here. Factorial’s approach has been to build HR tools specifically for people who are not HR professionals per se: companies that are small enough not to have specialists, or if they do, they share a lot of the tasks and work with other managers who are not in HR first and foremost.

It’s a formula that Romero said could potentially see the company taking on bigger customers, but for now, investors like it for having built a platform approach for the huge but often under-served SME market.

“Factorial was built for the users, designed for the modern web and workplace,” said Reid Christian, General Partner at CRV, in a statement. “Historically the HR software market has been one of the most lucrative categories for enterprise tech companies, and today, the HR stack looks much different. As we enter the third generation of cloud HR products, with countless point solutions, there’s a strong need for an underlying platform to integrate work across these.”


By Ingrid Lunden

Sales startup People.ai lays off 18% of staff, raises debt round amid COVID-19 uncertainty

Another startup has turned to downsizing and fund raising to help weather the uncertainty around the economy amid the global coronavirus health pandemic. People.ai, a predictive sales startup backed by Andreessen Horowitz, Iconic, Lightspeed and other investors and last year valued at around $500 million, has laid off around 30 people, working out to about 18% of staff, TechCrunch has learned and confirmed.

Alongside that, the company has quietly raised a debt round in the “tens of millions of dollars” to make strategic investments in new products and potentially other moves.

Oleg Rogynskyy, the founder and CEO, said the layoffs were made not because business has slowed down, but to help the company shore up for whatever may lie ahead.

“We still have several years of runway with what we’ve raised,” he noted (it has raised just under $100 million in equity to date). “But no one knows the length of the downturn, so we wanted to make sure we could sustain the business through it.”

Specifically, the company is reducing its international footprint — now, big European customers that it already has on its books will now be handled from its US offices rather than local outposts — and it is narrowing its scope to focus more on the core verticals that make up the majority of its current customer base.

He gave as an example the financial sector. “We create huge value for financial services industry but have moved the functionality for them out to next year so that we can focus on our currently served industries,” he said.

People.ai’s software tracks the full scope of communication touch points between sales teams and customers, supposedly negating the tedious manual process of activity logging for SDRs. The company’s machine learning tech is also meant to generate the average best way to close a deal – educating customer success teams about where salespeople may be deviating from a proven strategy.

People.ai is one of a number of well-funded tech startups that is making hard choices on business strategy, costs and staffing in the current climate.

Layoffs.fyi, which has been tallying those losing their jobs in the tech industry in the wake of the Coronavirus (it’s based primarily on public reports with a view to providing lists of people for hire), says that as of today, there have been nearly 25,000 people laid off from 258 tech startups and other companies. With companies like Opendoor laying off some 600 people earlier this week, the numbers are ratcheting up quickly: just seven days ago, the number was just over 16,000.

In that context, People.ai cutting 30 may be a smaller increment in the bigger picture (even if for the individuals impacted, it’s just as harsh of an outcome). But it also underscores one of the key business themes of the moment.

Some businesses are getting directly hit by the pandemic — for example, house sales and transportation have all but halted, leaving companies in those categories scrambling to figure out how to get through the coming weeks and months and prepare for a potentially long haul of life and consumer and business behaviour not looking like it did before January.

But other businesses like People.ai, which provides predictive sales tools to help salespeople do their jobs better, is (for now at least) falling into that category of IT is still in demand, perhaps even more than ever in a shrinking economy. In People.ai’s case, software to help salespeople have better sales conversations and ultimately conversions at a time when many customers might not be as quick to buy things, is an idea that sells right now (so to speak).

Rogynskyy noted that more than 90% of customers that are up for renewal this quarter have either renewed or expanded their contracts, and it has been adding on new large customers in recent weeks and months.

The company has also just closed a round of debt funding in the “tens of millions” of dollars to use for strategic investments.

It’s not disclosing the lender right now, but it opted for debt in part because it still has most of its most recent round — $60 million raised in May 2019 led by Iconic — in the bank. Although investors would have been willing to invest in another equity round, given that the company is in a healthy position right now, Rogynskyy said he preferred the debt option to have the money without the dilution that equity rounds bring.

The money will be used for strategic purposes and considering how to develop the product in the current climate. For example, with most people now working from home, and that looking to be a new kind of “normal” in office life (if not all the time, at least more of the time), that presents a new opportunity to develop products tailored for these remote workers.

There have been some M&A moves in tech in the last couple of weeks, and from what we understand People.ai has been approached as well as a possible buyer, target and partner. All of that for now is not something the company is considering, Rogynskyy said. “We’re focused on our own future growth and health and making sure we are here for a long time.”


By Ingrid Lunden

Turbo Systems hires former Looker CMO Jen Grant as CEO

Turbo Systems, a three-year old, no-code mobile app startup, announced today it has brought on industry veteran Jen Grant to be CEO.

Grant, who was previously vice president of marketing at Box and chief marketing officer at Elastic and Looker, brings more than 15 years of tech company experience to the young startup.

She says that when Looker got acquired by Google last June for $2.6 billion, she began looking for her next opportunity. She had done a stint with Google as a product manager earlier in her career and was looking for something new.

She saw Looker as a model for the kind of company she wanted to join, one that had a founder focused on product and engineering, who hired an outside CEO early on to run the business, as Looker had done. She found that in Turbo where founder Hari Subramanian was taking on that type of role. Subramanian was also a successful entrepreneur, having previously founded ServiceMax before selling it to GE in 2016.

“The first thing that really drew me to Turbo was this partnership with Hari,” Grant told TechCrunch. While that relationship was a key component for her, she says even with that, before she decided to join, she spoke to customers and she saw an enthusiasm there that drew her to the company.

“I love products that actually help people. And so Box is helping people collaborate and share files and work together. Looker is about getting data to everyone in the organization so that everyone could be making great decisions, and at Turbo we’re making it easy for anyone to create a mobile app that helps run their business,” she said.

Grant has been on the job for just 30 days, joining the company in the middle of a global pandemic. So it’s even more challenging than the typical early days for any new CEO, but she is looking forward and trying to help her 36 employees navigate this situation.

“You know, I didn’t know that this is what would happen in my first 30 days, but what inspires me, what’s a big part of it is that I can help by growing this company, by being successful and by being able to hire more and more people, and contribute to getting our economy back on track,” Grant said.

She also recognizes that there is a lack of diversity in her new CEO role, and she hopes to be a role model. “I have been fortunate to get to a position where I know I can do this job and do it well. And it’s my responsibility to do this work, my responsibility to show it can be done and shouldn’t be an anomaly.”

Turbo Systems was founded in 2017 and has raised $8 million, according to Crunchbase. It helps companies build mobile apps without coding, connecting to 140 different data sources such as Salesforce, SAP and Oracle.


By Ron Miller

Rippling starts billboard battle with Gusto

Remember when Zenefits imploded, and kicked out CEO Parker Conrad. Well, Conrad launched a new employee onboarding startup called Rippling, and now he’s going after another HR company called Gusto with a new billboard, “Outgrowing Gusto? Presto change-o.”

The problem is, Gusto got it taken down by issuing a cease & desist order to Rippling and the billboard operator Clear Channel Outdoor. That’s despite the law typically allowing comparative advertising as long as it’s accurate. Gusto sells HR, benefits, and payroll software, while Rippling does the same but adds in IT management to tie together an employee identity platform.

Rippling tells me that outgrowing Gusto is the top reasons customers say they’re switching to Rippling. Gusto’s customer stories page lists no customers larger than 61 customers, and Enlyft research says the company is most often used by 10 to 50 person staffs. “We were one of Gusto’s largest customers when we left the platform last year. They were very open about the fact that the product didn’t work for businesses of our size. We moved to Rippling last fall and have been extremely happy with it” says Compass Coffee co-founder Michael Haft.

That all suggests the Rippling ad’s claim is reasonable. But the C&D claims that “Gusto counts as customers multiple companies with 100 or more employees and does not state the businesses will ‘outgrow’ their platfrom at a certain size.”

In an email to staff provided to TechCrunch, Rippling CMO Matt Epstein wrote “We take legal claims seriously, but this one doesn’t pass the laugh test. As Gusto says all over their website, they focus on small businesses.”

So rather than taking Gusto to court or trying to change Clear Channel’s mind, Conrad and Rippling did something cheeky. They responded to the cease & desist order in Shakespeare-style iambic pentameter.

Our billboard struck a nerve, it seems. And so you phoned your legal teams,
who started shouting, “Cease!” “Desist!” and other threats too long to list.

Your brand is known for being chill. So this just seems like overkill.
But since you think we’ve been unfair, we’d really like to clear the air:

Rippling’s general counsel Vanessa Wu wrote the letter which goes on to claim that “When Gusto tried to scale itself, we saw what you took off the shelf. Your software fell a little short. You needed Workday for support”, asserting that Gusto’s own HR tool couldn’t handle its 1000-plus employees and needed to turn to a bigger enterprise vendor. The letter concludes with the implication that Gusto should drop the cease-and-desist, and instead compete on merit:

So Gusto, do not fear our sign. Our mission and our goals align.
Let’s keep this conflict dignified—and let the customers decide.

Rippling CMO Matt Epstein tells me that “While the folks across the street may find competition upsetting, customers win when companies push each other to do better. We hope our lighthearted poem gets this debate back down to earth, and we look forward to competing in the marketplace.”

Rippling might think this whole thing was slick or funny, but it comes off a bit lame and try-hard. These are far from 8 Mile-worthy battle rhymes. If it really wanted to let customers decide, it could have just accepted the C&D and moved on…or not run the billboard at all. It still has four others that don’t slam competitors running. That said, Gusto does look petty trying to block the billboard and hide that it’s unequipped to support massive teams.

We reached out to Gusto over the weekend and again today asking for comment, whether it will drop the C&D, if it’s trying to get Rippling’s bus ads dropped too, and if it does in fact use Workday internally.

Given Gusto has raised $516 million10X what Rippling has — you’d think it could just outspend Rippling on advertising or invest in building the enterprise HR tools so customers really couldn’t outgrow it. They’re both Y Combinator companies with Kleiner Perkins as a major investor (conflict of interest?), so perhaps they can still bury the hatchet.

At least they found a way to make the HR industry interesting for an afternoon.


By Josh Constine

The boring genius of how Atrium kills legal busy work

Law firms have little incentive to build or buy software that will save their lawyers time since they often bill clients by the hour. Tasks like tracking down legal documents, extracting key information, and drawing up hiring offers or funding term sheet add up to make lawyers expensive even if they’re constantly repeating mindless busy work.

That’s why legal startup Atrium is so exciting even though it’s developing tech that might seem boring on the surface. After raising $75 million from Andreessen Horowitz and General Catalyst while growing to 400 clients, today Atrium is announcing its first customer-facing products.

Atrium Records creates a collaborative file locker for you and your lawyer so you always have access to the latest versions of corporate documents. Atrium Hiring automatically generates hiring offers and contracts from details you add to a form, and tracks everyone’s approvals and signatures.

Atrium Records

Rather than having to pay for these tools separately, they come as part of a subscription to a bundle of Atrium’s legal services with special projects like counsel through an acquisition costing extra. This business model incentivizes Atrium to work as efficiently as possible instead of bilking hourly rates, and build tools to eliminate less skilled work or assist with common corporate duties. That’s allowed it to speed up legal work on incorporations, financings, M&A, and contract negotiations.

“One of the reasons we partnered with Andreessen Horowitz on the last round [a $65 million Series B] was we really align with the way they approach venture capital” Atrium co-founder and CEO Justin Kan tells me. “Marc’s initial observation was . . .  let’s not just provide capital but also other services like a talent network. We have kind of done the same stuff. Not only are we helping people with the legal stuff they want to get done but with the other stuff surrounding it.”

Atrium CEO Justin Kan at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2017

For example, Atrium’s Fundraising Concierge service provides assistance to startups for defining their narrative, setting up investor meetings, and generating fair term sheets. Atrium has to date aided startups with raising over $1 billion, from seed rounds of a couple hundred thousand dollars to huge $50 million rounds

Developing drab but useful software for enterprises is a drastic shift for Kan. He pioneered life vlogging by strapping a camera to his head at his startup Justin.tv that eventually blossomed into Twitch and sold to Amazon for $2 billion. It’s been quite an adjustment for Kan going from making video game streaming consumer apps and angel investing to Atrium. “Two years. It has been an interesting and crazy ride. I wanted to get back to starting companies. That was the fastest learning I’d ever had. But I forgot learning means failing a lot” he says with a wry smile.

Whatever tribulations they required seem worth it now that Atrium’s new products are ready. Atrium Records improves on the clumsy status quo where clients have to dig through emails from their lawyers hoping to find the most up-to-date versions of important corporate documents. If they can’t, they wait around after emailing their lawyer who has to hope they remember where they buried that term sheet or cap table in their firm’s file tree. This messy process can rack up billable hours, lead to data mismatches, and let important signatures or approvals fall through the cracks.

Atrium Hiring

Kan says he’s seen some grisly situations. “You never signed your equity documents so you actually have no equity in this company. And now that there’s financing, there could be a taxable event. There’s often surprisingly serious problems that happen.” Atrium’s senior product manager Sahil Bhagat walks me through how Atrium can help clients avoid an issue like “Maybe you hired 10 employees but didn’t update your cap table and then you’re hiring the 11th employee but you don’t have any equity to grant so you have to go through the hassle of increasing your options pool.”

Atrium Records acts like your searchable legal Dropbox. The startup works with your last law firm to ingest your documents around equity, taxes, employees, and IP, and make sure they’re all up to date. Machine learning extracts critical data about financings and cap tables so that’s instantly available in the Atrium dashboard and you don’t have to dig into the original docs. Plus, you don’t have to pay for lawyers or paralegals to do that manually. And your lawyer can build a task list of documents for you to edit or sign so you always know what to do next, which is a relief when you’re wrangling approvals from all your existing investors.

Atrium Hiring operationalizes one of the biggest founder time-sucks. Instead of writing hiring contracts from scratch each time, you fill out a form and use menu selections to set the salary, share count, vesting schedule, and offer expiration. Looking across its anonymized data set of contracts, Atrium can recommend the best clauses and most common set ups, like four-year vesting with one-year cliffs. You can see the status of the contracts every step of the way, from drafting and finalizing to getting employees to accept.

Kan tells me Atrium’s goal is to continue building on its archive of over 100,000 legal documents to develop aggregated pools of data clients could opt into. If they’re willing to share their salary data, vendor contract pricing, and more, they’ll get access to that of Atrium’s other clients. “You’ll be able to see if you’re on the high end of being paid by Salesforce for a contract” Kan explains. That’s a much more data-driven approach than when most lawyers just think of the last few salaries they saw for that position and give you a rough average.

“Being able to tell what the market norms are is a powerful negotiating tool.” The startup has even been offering its tips for free as part of fundraising workshops it uses to attract clients. The challenge for the company will be ensuring efficiency doesn’t mean cutting corners.

Atrium has grown to 150 staffers split between legal practitioners and its product team in its two year since launch. Kan is trying to build a culture where everyone cooperates, unlike infamously cutthroat law firms where partners can compete for cases. He hopes that talent will stick with Atrium because it’s deleting the most tedious parts of their jobs. “No one wanted go to law school to review 1000 hiring docs.”


By Josh Constine

Verified Expert Growth Marketing Agency: Growth Pilots

Growth Pilots is one of the more exclusive performance marketing agencies in San Francisco, but they know how to help high-growth startups excel at paid marketing. CEO and founder Soso Sazesh credits his personal experiences as an entrepreneur along with his team’s deep understanding of high-growth company needs and challenges as to what sets Growth Pilots apart. Whether you’re a founder of a seed or Series D stage startup, learn more about Growth Pilots’ approach to growth and partnerships.

Advice to early-stage founders

“I think a lot of times, especially at the early stage, founders don’t have a lot of time so they’re willing to find the path of least resistance to get their paid acquisition channels up and running. If things are not properly set up and managed, this can lead to a false negative in terms of writing off a channel’s effectiveness or scalability. It’s worth talking to an expert, even if it’s just for advice, to ensure you don’t fall into this trap.”

On Growth Pilots’ operations

[pullquote align=”right” author=”Guillaume McIntyre, SF, Head of Acquisition Marketing, Instacart”]“They have good business acumen, move fast and work as an extension to your internal team.”[/pullquote]
“Something we pride ourselves on is working with relatively few clients at a time so we can really focus all of our team’s efforts and energy on doing the highest quality work. Each of our team members works on a maximum of two to three accounts, and therefore they’re able to get very invested in each client’s business and integrated into their team. We really try to simulate the internal team dynamics as much as possible and pairing that with our external capabilities and expertise.”

Below, you’ll find the rest of the founder reviews, the full interview, and more details like pricing and fee structures. This profile is part of our ongoing series covering startup growth marketing agencies with whom founders love to work, based on this survey and our own research. The survey is open indefinitely, so please fill it out if you haven’t already.


Interview with Growth Pilots Founder and CEO Soso Sazesh

Yvonne Leow: Tell me a little bit about your background and how you got into growth.

Soso Sazesh: I grew up in northern Minnesota where there is no tech industry whatsoever and then after high school, I came out to Silicon Valley and got exposed to the epicenter of the technology industry. I became very interested in startups and hustled to find startup internships so I could get experience and learn how they operated.

After a couple of startup internships, I got accepted to UC Berkeley and that gave me even more exposure to the startup ecosystem with all of the startup events and resources that UC Berkeley had to offer. I worked on a couple of startup projects while I was at UC Berkeley, and I taught myself scrappy product management and how to get software built using contract developers.

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As I was graduating, I had just launched my second startup project and it was growing organically but very slowly, and I realized I didn’t know how to acquire users. So I joined an SEM agency and that’s where I learned and fell in love with digital marketing. I helped companies successfully acquire users at scale using Google AdWords and finally solved for the missing skills I needed. After a couple of years, I ventured off to try my hand at starting a company again, this time with more experience and a co-founder.

We went through the AngelPad accelerator and raised a small round of capital – what would be called a pre-seed round nowadays. It was an eye-opening experience. I gained a lot of appreciation for what it meant to be a startup operator hustling to build a product people wanted and trying to acquire customers.

Startups are a roller coaster and we had a lot of ups and downs. We ultimately we’re not able to raise our next round of funding due to lack of traction and decided to shut the company down. As we were winding down, people in my network started coming to me looking for help with their digital marketing channels.

I started consulting for a few startups and identified an interesting opportunity, which was that very few startups knew how to do paid acquisition well and very few agencies were well-suited to work with startups. There was a huge gap in the market.

Some of these founders would come to me after trying to get paid acquisition to work on their own, but they didn’t have the time or expertise to do it properly. Some of them would hire an agency and not see results, because most agencies don’t understand the needs and grow-or-die nature of fast-moving startups. These agencies wouldn’t allocate the time and resources needed to really understand these startups and work closely with them to make their paid channels work.

So that’s exactly what I did and I was able to achieve results for them. I combined my previous expertise as a digital marketer with my recent startup operator experience and this allowed me to successfully help the startups I was consulting for. Due to the network effects in the startup community, I soon had more companies who wanted to work with me than I could take on alone and that’s what led me to start Growth Pilots.

Yvonne Leow: Awesome. How does Growth Pilots differentiate itself from other agencies?

Soso Sazesh: Growth Pilots is “the” performance marketing agency for high-growth companies. We’ve worked with over 120 venture-backed companies over the past five and a half years, and we have really tailored our service offering around the unique needs and challenges of high-growth companies as they move from stage to stage. We’ve had this internal framework that breaks down paid acquisition needs based on company stage.

The first is what we call the early stage. At the early stage, companies are looking to establish and validate their paid marketing channels. These companies are typically seed stage or Series A startups looking to find channels that allow them to hit their metrics to achieve their goals for their next round of funding. These companies require a lot of time and attention, which is a bit paradoxical because their budgets are not very large.

The second stage is what we call the scaling stage. This is when companies are trying to achieve escape velocity and growth matters above everything else. This typically happens at the Series A through Series C stage. Their business model is working and ideally within sight of positive unit economics if not already there, but the main focus is acquiring customers at the fastest rate possible and less so on efficiency or profitability. This stage requires all hands on deck and non-stop testing and optimization to squeeze out as much velocity as possible from each channel. The stakes are very high at this stage and category-leading companies often emerge here.

Finally is the late stage. These companies are typically Series C or Series D and beyond and preparing for an exit or IPO. Growth often becomes slightly less important at this stage and the focus shifts to efficiency and improved unit economics. Optimization becomes even more critical at this stage and measurement and attribution get a lot more sophisticated to fully measure the impact of the paid channels.

The needs of companies are vastly different at each of these stages. Our focus is on helping companies achieve their goals within each stage and helping them move to the next stage.

Yvonne Leow: Cool. If I’m a founder and I’d like to work with Growth Pilots, what can I expect are our next steps?

Soso Sazesh: The first step is understanding the business and assessing if there’s a mutual fit. We’re very selective about the companies we take on because over the course of the five and a half years we’ve been able to establish which business models and verticals are conducive to paid marketing success.

For instance, marketplaces, e-commerce, B2B SaaS, mobile apps, and other business models where there is a transactional component is typically a good candidate for paid acquisition. We want to know what the goals are and we want to be able to confidently say that we believe we can achieve the goals at hand. If we can’t say that, we won’t take the company on.

Step two is determining what stage of our framework the company falls into and what the opportunity looks like. If it’s an early stage company, it’s more about assessing the product, the market, and how reachable their target customers are online.

For scaling-stage and late-stage companies that are already up and running, we’ll dive into their current accounts and assess what the opportunity looks like and put together a strategy proposal based on our findings and outlook.

Yvonne Leow: What’s the typical length for each project or partnership?

Soso Sazesh: We’re not project-based so when a company comes to work with us we effectively become an extension of their marketing team. There’s no set duration. We’ve worked with some companies for five years and some companies we’ve worked with for 12 months.

If we work with a company less than 12 months, something is wrong and we probably shouldn’t have taken that company on as a client but you don’t always know how things will play out. Overall our goal is to work with companies in a long-term capacity as an integrated partner.  Something we pride ourselves on is working with relatively few clients at a time so we can really focus all of our team’s efforts and energy into doing the highest quality work.

Each of our team members only works on a maximum of two to three accounts, and therefore they’re able to get very invested in each client’s business and integrated into their team. We really try to simulate the internal team dynamics as much as possible while balancing and pairing that with our external capabilities and expertise.

Yvonne Leow: Are you at the point in your experience that you can apply certain growth strategies and guarantee success?

Soso Sazesh: Guarantee is a tough word, but having worked with more than 120 startups we are definitely at the point where we have enough data points where we can look at a given business and assess the viability of whether they’ll likely see success on paid channels. Success being a combination of scale and efficiency.

Yvonne Leow: Can you talk a little bit about how you and your team assess that?

Soso Sazesh: The first things we look at are business model, product quality, and whether or not product market fit exists or is likely to be achieved. Even a great business model in a large market combined with a poor product or lack of product market fit is unlikely to succeed with paid acquisition. In the absence of having a live product, or if a company is too early to assess product-market fit, we look at other data points that we have found to be good indicators of viability. Some of these include competitor success with paid marketing, the founders’ backgrounds, amount of capital raised, and who their investors are.

Yvonne Leow: What were some of your greatest lessons learned when you started Growth Pilots?

Soso Sazesh: In the early days of Growth Pilots, there was so much activity and growth that we ignored important things like team infrastructure and people operations. We saw the effects of this in the form of team morale taking a hit and people not seeing a future with us. We eventually took notice and course corrected by investing heavily in people operations and employee development. In an ideal world, we would have done this much earlier.

Another interesting reflection is how critical the work we do is. I think this is what a lot of agencies get wrong. You need the commitment to work with startups. You can’t be one foot in and one foot out when a company may live or die by the work you are doing. A lot of the companies that we work with explicitly outline what goals they need to hit in order to raise their next round of funding and it becomes very clear what part we play in that.

Yvonne Leow: What advice would you give to early-stage founders who are deciding whether or not to work with an agency?

Soso Sazesh: When you work with an agency it’s really important to have clear goals and expectations established up front. A lot of times early-stage companies hire agencies, and agencies will gladly take their money, but the agency isn’t really investing the time that’s needed to get results. So asking “What does it look like to work with your agency? Who’s going to be working on my account? How much attention can I expect to receive?” Those types of questions are really important to clarify and especially at the early stage.

Yvonne Leow: What’s a common mistake you see founders make when it comes to growth?

Soso Sazesh: The most common mistake I see is not doing the upfront work and investment required to get optimal results with paid acquisition. A lot of times you see the founder mentality of move fast and figure things out later kicks in, but this can be dangerous when it comes to paid marketing when you’re directly paying for traffic and customers. This leads to companies not seeing the performance and scalability that they actually could and it contributes to the negative perception of channels like Google Ads and Facebook Ads. VCs, for example, love to bash paid marketing channels as being too expensive or too saturated. There is certainly some truth to the channels getting more crowded but at the same time, you would be surprised how poorly setup and managed some of the accounts are that we look at, including companies that have raised tens to hundreds of millions of dollars.

Yvonne Leow: Thanks for sharing. Last question: what is your payment structure?

Soso Sazesh: We charge based on a tiered percentage of ad spend managed with a monthly minimum retainer fee of $10,000 at the lowest level. Our minimum fee is frankly much higher than a lot of other agencies and that’s by design. This goes back to what I was saying before about early-stage companies requiring a disproportionate amount of work relative to their budgets in order to be successful with paid acquisition. We apply a lot more focus and resources than other agencies and this allows us to achieve success where other agencies can’t. The tradeoff is that we need to charge more to deliver this higher quality of service.


Founder Recommendations:

“They helped me raise $5M+ and ran one of the most successful pre-order campaigns in 2017.” – Roderick De Rode, Venice, CA, Founder & CEO, Spinn, Inc.

“They have helped us dramatically accelerate our growth and act as an extension of our internal team.” – Digital Advertising Manager in Corte Madera

“They helped us establish a low customer acquisition cost before we were even able to ship product and help us convert site visitors to customers when we had influxes of traffic from press we received.” – Stephen Kuhl, NYC, Co-founder & CEO, Burrow

“Largely instrumental in the way we optimize and measure success of our mobile app install campaigns.” – User Acquisition & Growth Strategist in Denver

“Growth Pilots is a great partner. I on-boarded them to build out, optimize and scale all paid search and social campaigns for Instacart. In a few months, paid search and social became some of our best performing channels. They have good business acumen, move fast and work as an extension to your internal team.” – Guillaume McIntyre, SF,  Head of Acquisition Marketing, Instacart


By Yvonne Leow

GitHub hires former Bitnami co-founder Erica Brescia as COO

It’s been just over a year since Microsoft bought GitHub for $7.5 billion, but the company has grown in that time, and today it announced that it has hired former Bitnami COO and cofounder, Erica Brescia to be its COO.

Brescia handled COO duties at Bitnami from its founding in 2011 until it was sold to VMware last month. In a case of good timing, GitHub was looking to fill its COO role and after speaking to CEO Nat Friedman, she believed it was going to be a good fit. The GitHub mission to provide a place for developers to contribute to various projects fits in well with what she was doing at Bitnami, which provided a way to deliver software to developers in the form of packages such as containers or Kubernetes Helm charts.

New GitHub COO Erica Brescia

She sees that experience of building a company, of digging in and taking on whatever roles the situation required, translating well as she takes over as COO at a company that is growing as quickly as GitHub. “I was really shocked to see how quickly GitHub is still growing, and I think bringing that kind of founder mentality, understanding where the challenges are and working with a team to come up with solutions, is something that’s going to translate really well and help the company to successfully scale,” Brescia told TechCrunch.

She admits that it’s going to be a different kind of challenge working with a company she didn’t help build, but she sees a lot of similarities that will help her as she moves into this new position. Right after selling a company, she obviously didn’t have to take a job right away, but this one was particularly compelling to her, too much so to leave on the table.

“I think there were a number of different directions that I could have gone coming out of Bitnami, and GitHub was really exciting to me because of the scale of the opportunity and the fact that it’s so focused on developers and helping developers around the world, both open source and enterprise, collaborate on the software that really powers the world moving forward,” she said.

She says as COO at a growing company, it will fall on her to find more efficient ways to run things as the company continues to scale. “When you have a company that’s growing that quickly, there are inevitably things that probably could be done more efficiently at the scale, and so one of the first things that I plan on spending time in on is just understanding from the team is where the pain points are, and what can we do to help the organization run like a more well oiled machine.”


By Ron Miller

How we scaled our startup by being remote first

Startups are often associated with the benefits and toys provided in their offices. Foosball tables! Free food! Dog friendly! But what if the future of startups was less about physical office space and more about remote-first work environments? What if, in fact, the most compelling aspect of a startup work environment is that the employees don’t have to go to one?

A remote-first company model has been Seeq’s strategy since our founding in 2013. We have raised $35 million and grown to more than 100 employees around the globe. Remote-first is clearly working for us and may be the best model for other software companies as well.

So, who is Seeq and what’s been the key to making the remote-first model work for us?  And why did we do it in the first place?

Seeq is a remote-first startup – i.e. it was founded with the intention of not having a physical headquarters or offices, and still operates that way – that is developing an advanced analytics application that enables process engineers and subject matter experts in oil & gas, pharmaceuticals, utilities, and other process manufacturing industries to investigate and publish insights from the massive amounts of sensor data they generate and store.

To succeed, we needed to build a team quickly with two skill sets: 1) software development expertise, including machine learning, AI, data visualization, open source, agile development processes, cloud, etc. and 2) deep domain expertise in the industries we target.

Which means there is no one location where we can hire all the employees we need: Silicon Valley for software, Houston for oil & gas, New Jersey for fine chemicals, Seattle for cloud expertise, water utilizes across the country, and so forth. But being remote-first gives has made recruiting and hiring these high-demand roles easier much easier than if we were collocated.

Image via Seeq Corporation

Job postings on remote-specific web sites like FlexJobs, Remote.co and Remote OK typically draw hundreds of applicants in a matter of days. This enables Seeq to hire great employees who might not call Seattle, Houston or Silicon Valley home – and is particularly attractive to employees with location-dependent spouses or employees who simply want to work where they want to live.

But a remote-first strategy and hiring quality employees for the skills you need is not enough: succeeding as a remote-first company requires a plan and execution around the “3 C’s of remote-first”.

The three requirements to remote-first success are the three C’s: communication, commitment and culture.


By Arman Tabatabai

Zendesk just hired three former Microsoft, Salesforce and Adobe execs

Today, Zendesk announced it had hired three new executives — Elisabeth Zornes, former general manager of global support for Microsoft Office, as Zendesk’s first chief customer officer; former Adobe executive Colleen Berube as chief information officer and former Salesforce executive Shawna Wolverton as senior vice president, product.

The company emphasized that the hirings were about expanding the executive suite and bringing in top people to help the company grow and move into larger enterprise organizations.

From left to right: Shawna Wolverton, Colleen Berube and Elizabeth Zornes

Zornes comes to Zendesk with 20 years of experience at Microsoft working in a variety of roles around Microsoft Office. She says that what attracted her to Zendesk was its focus on the customer.

“When I look at businesses today, no matter what size, what type or what geography, they can agree on one thing: customer experience is the rocket fuel to drive success. Zendesk has positioned itself as a technology company that empowers companies of all kinds to drive a new level of success by focusing on their customer experience, and helping them to be at the forefront of that was a very intriguing opportunity for me,” Zornes told TechCrunch.

New CIO Berube, who comes with two decades of experience, also sees her new job as a chance to have an impact on customer experience and help companies who are trying to transform into digital organizations. “Customer experience is the linchpin for all organizations to succeed in the digital age. My background is broad, having shepherded many different types of companies through digital transformations, and developing and running modern IT organizations,” she said.

Her boss, CEO and co-founder Mikkel Svane sees someone who can help continue to grow the company and develop the product. “We looked specifically for a CIO with a modern mindset who understands the challenges of large organizations trying to keep up with customer expectations today,” Svane told TechCrunch

As for senior VP of product Wolverton, she comes with 15 years of experience including a stint as head of product at Salesforce. She said that coming to Zendesk was about having an impact on a modern SaaS product. “The opportunity to build a modern, public, cloud-native CRM platform with Sunshine was a large part of my decision to join,” she said.

The three leaders have already joined the organization.


By Ron Miller

Google takes Hire, its G Suite recruitment platform, to its first global markets, UK and Canada

The recruitment market is big business — worth some $554 billion annually according to the most recent report from the World Employment Confederation. In the tech world, that translates into a big opportunity to build tools to make a recruiter’s work easier, faster and more likely of success in finding the right people for the job. Now Google is stepping up its own efforts in the space: today it is expanding Hire, its G Suite-based recruitment management platform, to the UK and Canada, its first international markets outside the US.

Google is a somewhat late entrant into the market, launching Hire only in 2017 with the basic ability to use apps like Gmail, Calendar, Spreadsheets and Google Voice to help people manage and track candidates through the recruiting process and doing so by integrating with third-party job boards. In the interim, it has supercharged the service with bells and whistles that draw on the company’s formidable IP in areas like AI and search.

These tools provide robotic process automation-style aids to take away some of the more repetitive tasks around admin.

“Recruiters want time to talk to candidates but they don’t want to sit in systems clicking things,” said Dmitri Krakovsky, the VP leads Hire for Google. “We give time back by automating a lot of functionality.” And they also to sift out needles in haystacks of applicants and surface interesting “lookalikes” who didn’t quite make the cut (or take the job) so that they can be targeted for future opportunities.

And — naturally — while Hire links up with third-party job boards via services like eQuest to bring inbound people into the system, it also provides seamless integration with Jobs by Google, Google’s own vertical search effort that is taking on the traditional job board by letting people look for opportunities with natural language queries in Google’s basic search window

Krakovsky said that the first international launches in Canada and the UK made sense because of the lack of language barrier between them and the US. The UK was key for another reason, too: it gave Google the chance to tweak the product to comply with GDPR, he said, for future launches.

While markets like the UK and US represent some of the very biggest for recruitment services globally, it’s a long tail opportunity, and over time, the ambition will be to take Hire global, positioning it as a key rival against the likes of Taleo, LinkedIn, Jobvite, Zoho, SmartRecruiter and many others in the area of applicant sourcing and tracking.

Currently, Hire ranks only at number 23 among the top 100 applicant tracking systems globally, according to research from OnGig, but it also singles it out for its potential because it is, after all, Google. For now, Krakovsky said it’s not taking on large enterprises or even tiny mom-and-pop shops, but the very large opportunity of between 10 and a couple of thousand employees.

Google’s supercharging of Hire with AI and taking it international highlights another point. One of the biggest meta-trends in recruitment has been a push to try to hire with more diversity in mind, not just to bring fairness to the process, but to infuse businesses with different ways of thinking and catering to different audiences.

While AI is something that can definitely speed up certain processes, it has also been shown to be a potential cesspool of bias based on what is fed into it. One particularly messy example of that, in fact, came from an attempt by Amazon to build an AI-based recruitment tool, which it eventually had to shut down.

Google is well aware of that and have been keeping it in mind when building and expanding Hire particularly to new territories, which in themselves are exercises in handling diversity for AI systems. Krakovsky noted that one example of how Google has been building more “understanding” AI is in its searches for veterans, who can look for jobs using their own jargon for expertise, which automatically gets translated into other skills in the way they might be described by employers outside the military.

That’s for sourcing jobs, of course. The key for the tech world, if it wants to build products that will have international staying power to upset the existing “hire”archy (sorry), will be to bring that kind of levelling to every aspect of the recruiting process over time.

Those at the top are not sitting back, either: just yesterday Jobvite (ranked fifth largest ATS tracking platform) announced a funding round of $200 million and three acquisitions.

 

 


By Ingrid Lunden

Jobvite raises $200M+ and acquires three recruitment startups to expand its platform play

Jobvite, the company that was once an early mover in leveraging social networks to help source job opportunities and find interesting candidates for openings, is today announcing two big moves to double down on its ambition to build a bigger platform for recruitment and applicant tracking.

The company has picked up an investment of over $200 million, and it will be using the money to acquire three smaller companies focusing on different aspects of the recruitment process: Talemetry (which specializes in recruitment marketing); RolePoint (for employee referrals and in-company moves); and Canvas (a text-based conversational bot to get the screening process started).

Jobvite is not disclosing its valuation with the funding, which is coming from private equity firm K1, but for a little guidance, in an interview, Dan Finnigan, Jobvite’s CEO, said it was a majority stake but nowhere near a full acquisition. (PitchBook’s last valuation of the company, of around $150 million, is very old, dating from September 2014; and it has never been confirmed by the company.)

The combined company will have 2,000+ customers that include Schneider Electric, Lenovo, Santander, PayPal, Genuine Parts, and Panasonic.

Finnigan says that Jobvite’s growth, and investor interest in backing that, is happening in tandem with two changes, one technological and another the evolution in how organizations handle human resources.

Several years ago, many companies — hoping to cut costs — merged together their personnel and recruitment operations, “and recruiting became an afterthought,” he said. That led to companies tacking on, as a kind of minimum viable solution, applicant tracking software but little or nothing else.

But more recently, the war for talent has escalated — not just because unemployment is low but because there are now multiple different opportunities and shortages of suitable people for specific, often emerging skills. In turn, businesses have started to realise “that recruiting is the backbone of every company, and that applicant tracking is just not enough,” he said.

At the same time, there have been evolutions in the technology. While a lot of recruitment software (and the recruitment process) has traditionally been quite fragmented, a move to cloud solutions has provided an avenue for consolidating the process and using one platform to manage it. (Google’s launch of Hire, which lets users manage job applicants using G Suite apps; LinkedIn’s recruitment platform; Zoho and SmartRecruiter are all prime examples of how cloud platforms are being used to build more complete sourcing and tracking services.)

Coupled with this is a rising use of technology like machine learning to remove some of the more mechanical aspects of a recruiter’s job to speed up processes.

Jobvite’s three acquisitions all play into both of these trends. Canvas, for example, uses a bot to source initial information about a candidate to start the screening process before human recruiters step in to take over.

Talemetry, meanwhile, taps into marketing tech to help identify where the most ideal candidates might be in order to better target job opportunities at them, in the form of ads or other kind of content.

Lastly, RolePoint will add a new feature to tap into referrals from existing employees, and to help manage in-company moves.

Finnigan likens the cloud-based platform approach that we’re seeing in the market to the impact Salesforce has had on the expanding concept of CRM. “We know that marketing and sales software have continued to evolve with new features like content marketing, and the same has happened in recruitment,” he said.

“We are excited to be investing in such an innovative set of technologies,” says Ron Cano, managing partner at K1 Investment Management, in a statement. “The talent acquisition industry is critical to our economy and ripe for disruption with outdated software still prevalent. K1’s investment will create the only true end-to-end talent acquisition platform and will provide our customers with accelerated growth in innovation of product features and services.”


By Ingrid Lunden

On-demand workspace platform Breather taps new CEO

Breather’s new CEO Bryan Murphy / Breather Press Kit

Breather, the platform that provides on-demand private workspace, announced today that it has appointed Bryan Murphy as its new CEO.

Before joining Breather, Murphy was the founder and President of direct-to-consumer mattress startup, Tomorrow Sleep. Prior to Tomorrow Sleep, Murphy held posts as an advisor to investment firms and as an executive at eBay after the company acquired his previous company, WHI Solutions – an e-commerce platform for aftermarket auto parts – where Murphy was the co-founder and CEO.

Breather believes Murphy’s extensive background scaling e-commerce and SaaS platforms, as well as his experience working with incumbents across a number of traditional industries, can help it execute through its next stage of global growth.

Murphy is filling the vacancy left by co-founder and former CEO Julien Smith, who stepped down as chief executive this past September, just three months after the company completed its $45 million Series C round, which was led by Menlo Ventures and saw participation from RRE Ventures, Temasek Holdings, Ascendas-Singbridge, and Caisse de Depot et Placement du Quebec.

In a past statement on his transition, Smith said: “As I reflect on my strengths and consider what it will take for the company to reach its full potential, I realize bringing on an executive with experience scaling a company through the next level of growth is the best thing for the business.”

Smith, who remains with the company as Chairman of the Board, believes Murphy more than fits the bill. “Bryan’s record of scaling brands in competitive markets makes him an ideal leader to support this momentum, and I’m excited to see where he takes us next,” Smith said.

In a conversation with TechCrunch, Murphy explained that Breather’s next growth phase will ultimately come down to its ability to continue the global expansion of its network of locations and partner landlords while striking the optimal balance between rental economics and employee utility, productivity and performance. With new spaces and ramped marketing efforts, Murphy and the company expect 2019 to be a big year for Breather – “I think this year, you’re going to start hearing a lot about Breather and it really being in a leadership role for the industry.”

Breather’s workspace at 900 Broadway in New York City is one of 500+ network locations accessible to users.

On Breather’s platform, users are currently able to access a network of over 500 private workspaces across ten major cities around the world, which can be booked as meeting space or short-term private office space.

Meeting spaces can be reserved for as little as 30 minutes, while office space can be booked on a month-to-month basis, providing businesses with financial flexibility, private and more spacious alternatives to coworking options, and the ability to easily change offices as they grow. For landlords, Breather allows property owners to generate value from underutilized space by providing a turnkey digital booking system, as well as expertise in the short-term rental space.

Murphy explained to TechCrunch that part of what excited him most about his new role was his belief in Breather’s significant product-market fit and the immense addressable market that he sees for flexible workspaces longer-term. With limited penetration to date, Murphy feels the commercial office space industry is in just the third inning of significant transformation. 

Murphy believes that long-term growth for Breather and other flexible space providers will be driven by a heightened focus on employee flexibility and wellness, a growing number of currently underserved companies whose needs fall between coworking and traditional direct leasing, and the need for landlords to support a wider variety of office space options as workforce demographics and behaviors shift. 

Murphy believes that the ease, flexibility and unlocked value Breather provides puts the platform in a great position to win share.

“Breather has built a remarkable commercial real estate e-commerce and services platform that offers one-click access to over 500 workspaces around the world,” said Murphy in a press release. “To our customers, having access to workspace that is turnkey, affordable, beautiful, productive and that can flex up and down based on needs is a total game changer.”

To date, Breather has served over 500,000 customers and has raised over $120 million in investment.


By Arman Tabatabai

Box hires former SAP exec as Chief Information Security Officer

Box announced today that it has hired Lakshmi Hanspal to be the company’s new Chief Information Security Officer (CISO). She boasts 20 years of security experience including holding executive security roles at SAP Ariba and Bank of America. She also spent time in a senior role at PayPal.

In a blog post announcing the hire, the company defined her role this way: “In the role of CISO, Lakshmi will be responsible for Box’s cyber security practice, security operations and data and platform protection.”

Hanspal sees similarities in Box from her time at SAP Ariba, but she recognizes that she will face a different set of challenges. “My role at Box is similar to what I focused on at SAP Ariba with the biggest difference being Box’s geographical footprint. Box is a born in the cloud company and expanding rapidly globally, so my focus will also include securing public cloud operations (future stack) and risk transparency for our customers,” she told TechCrunch.

She said that will involve improving service maturity and sustainability through automation, while continuing to ensure the highest level of security of both Box corporate and product platforms.

Box CEO Aaron Levie indicated that security is central to everything Box does, so finding the right Chief Information Security Officer was absolutely critical. “Not only does Lakshmi bring with her an impressive and diverse leadership experience from her time at SAP, PayPal and Bank of America, but she’s an incredible team builder and culture add for Box that will take our security team to the next level,” Levie said.

Hanspal is the third woman on Box’s executive team, joining Stephanie Carullo, who was hired as Chief Operating Officer in 2017 and Chief People Officer, Christie Lake.”


By Ron Miller

HQ2 fight continues as New York City and Seattle officials hold anti-Amazon summit

The heated debate around Amazon’s recently announced Long Island City “HQ2” is showing no signs of cooling down.

On Monday morning, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) hosted a briefing in which labor officials, economic development analysts, Amazon employees and elected New York State and City representatives further underlined concerns around the HQ2 process, the awarded incentives, and the potential impacts Amazon’s presence would have on city workers and residents.

While many of the arguments posed at the Summit weren’t necessarily new, the wide variety of stakeholders that showed up to express concern looked to contextualize the far-reaching risks associated with the deal.

The day began with representatives from New York union groups recounting Amazon’s shaky history with employee working conditions and questioning how the city’s working standards will be impacted if the 50,000 promised jobs do actually show up.

Two current employees working in an existing Amazon New York City warehouse in Staten Island provided poignant examples of improper factory conditions and promised employee benefits that never came to fruition. According to the workers, Amazon has yet to follow through on shuttle services and ride-sharing services that were promised to ease worker commutes, forcing the workers to resort to overcrowded and unreliable public transportation. One of the workers detailed that with his now four-hour commute to get to and from work, coupled with his meaningfully long shifts, he’s been unable to see his daughter for weeks.

Various economic development groups and elected officials including, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, and New York State Senator Mike Gianaris supported the labor arguments with spirited teardowns of the economic terms of the deal.

Like many critics of the HQ2 process, the speakers’ expressed their beliefs that Amazon knew where it wanted to bring its second quarters throughout the entirety of its auction process, given the talent pool and resources in the chosen locations, and that the entire undertaking was meant to squeeze out the best economic terms possible. And according to City Council Speaker Johnson, New York City “got played”.

Comptroller Stringer argued that Amazon is taking advantage of New York’s Relocation and Employment Assistance Program (REAP) and Industrial and Commercial Abatement Program (ICAP), which Stringer described as outdated and in need of reform, to receive the majority of the $2 billion-plus in promised economic incentives that made it the fourth largest corporate incentive deal in US history.

The speakers continued to argue that the unprecedented level of incentives will be nearly impossible to recoup and that New York will also face economic damages from lower sales tax revenue as improved Amazon service in the city cannibalizes local brick & mortar retail.

Fears over how Amazon’s presence will impact the future of New York were given more credibility with the presence of Seattle City Council members Lisa Herbold & Teresa Mosqueda, who had flown to New York from Seattle to discuss lessons learned from having Amazon’s Headquarters in the city and to warn the city about the negative externalities that have come with it.

Herbold and Mosqueda focused less on an outright rejection of the deal but instead emphasized that New York was in a position to negotiate for better terms focused on equality and corporate social responsibility, which could help the city avoid the socioeconomic turnover that has plagued Seattle and could create a new standard for public-private partnerships.

While the New York City Council noted it was looking into legal avenues, the opposition seemed to have limited leverage to push back or meaningfully negotiate the deal. According to state officials, the most clear path to fight the deal would be through votes by the state legislature and through the state Public Authorities Control Board who has to unanimously approve the subsidy package.

With the significant turnout seen at Monday’s summit, which included several high-ranking state and city officials, it seems clear that we’re still in the early innings of what’s likely to be a long battle ahead to close the HQ2 deal.

Amazon did not return requests for immediate comment.


By Arman Tabatabai

The Mom Project, a job site for moms returning to work, nabs $8M from Initialized and more

If you are a mother who has taken a break from full-time employment to raise kids, you may have also experienced the challenge that is jumping back into the working world after your break.

You may find you need more time flexibility; you have been out of the job market for years and so your confidence is knocked; your skills are no longer as relevant as they were before; or you just want to rethink your career; plus many employers — whether they say it or not — seem less interested in you because of all of the above, and no level of burnishing your resume on LinkedIn will help. It can be tough (and I say that from first-hand experience).

Now, Chicago-based startup The Mom Project, a platform specifically built to help female knowledge workers find jobs after pausing to raise kids, has raised a little egg of its own to take on this challenge. It’s picked up a Series A of $8 million that it plans to use to bring its job marketplace to more cities — it’s currently in Chicago, Atlanta and San Francisco — and to expand the kinds of services it offers to make the challenge of juggling work and parenthood easier.

The funding is being led by Grotech Ventures and Initialized Capital, with another new investor, Aspect Ventures, and previous backers Atlanta Seed Company, Engage Ventures, OCA Ventures, BBG Ventures, IrishAngels and Wintrust Financial also participating.

This brings the total raised by The Mom Project to $11 million, and with 75,000 registered moms and 1,000 companies including Procter & Gamble, BP, Miller Coors and AT&T, the startup claims it’s now the largest platform of its kind in the US.

From selling diapers to changing diapers

Allison Robinson, the founder and CEO of The Mom Project, said she came up with the idea for the startup in 2016, when she was on maternity leave from a strategy role at Pampers.

“I started realising a lot about moms before I became one,” she says about her last role before striking out as an entrepreneur. “But what I hadn’t understood until I was on maternity leave myself was that your priorities can change after having a child.” (She’s pictured up above with her son.)

Citing a study she’d seen in the Harvard Business Review that estimated 43 percent of skilled women exit the workforce after having children, Robinson realised there was a gap in the market for those among them who had timed out from returning to their previous roles, but still wanted to make the leap back into working at some point.

And she has a point: not only do people who decide they want to return to work face all of the usual issues of newly needing more time flexibility, wondering whether their skills are still current enough, general confidence, and so on; but the average recruitment process, and job sites overall, do not really have ways to account for any of that very well.

And the gap exists on the employer side of the marketplace, too. Businesses — both large corporates very much in the public eye as well as smaller businesses that are not — are rethinking how they hire and keep good people in the overall competition for talent. (Just this week, the UK’s Office of National Statistics said that the number of unfilled positions in the information and communication technology sector rose by 24.3 percent compared to last year in the country, a shortage that’s reflected in other markets.)

Having a diverse workforce — including more women and women from different walks of life — is key not only to helping counteract that, but to contribute to better overall work culture. That’s a fact that many employers have realised independently or have simply been thrown into the spotlight unwittingly and now are trying to repair.

And yet, there haven’t been many opportunities for them to pursue more diverse hiring practices.

LinkedIn recently made a tiny move into exploring diversity in hiring by at least allowing recruiters to search their job candidate results by gender, but this is a far cry from actually addressing the specific predicaments that particular segments of the working population have, and how to help them connect better with employers who might be keen to bring more of them on through recruitment.

In fact, the idea of providing improved job search for knowledge workers in specific cases is actually a very interesting one that shows there is definitely still room for innovation in the world of recruitment: Handshake earlier this year raised $40 million for its own take on this, which is providing a better LinkedIn-style platform to connect minority university graduates with interesting job opportunities at companies keen to make their workforces more diverse.

“Companies have started to realize the value in building a diverse workforce, but we still have a long way to go in achieving equal representation and opportunities,” said Julia Taxin, a partner at Grotech and new Mom Project board member. “Allison and her team have built an incredible marketplace of diverse talent for companies and I look forward to working with The Mom Project to execute on their vision of helping to close the gender gap in the workplace.”

The Mom Project, Robinson said, is tackling the challenges at both ends of the spectrum.

On the employer side, she said there is a lot of educating going on, talking to HR people and getting them to understand the opportunity they could unlock by hiring more parents — which tend to be almost entirely all-women, but sometimes men, too.

“We want to provide more data to these companies,” she said, pointing out that it’s not just a matter of providing a job opportunity, but also giving parents options in areas like childcare, or flexible working schedules. “We want to showg them ‘here is where you are doing well, and here is where you are not. Fixes don’t cost a lot of money, but a lot of companies are just not aware.”

“We’ve got 75,000 women on our platform, and currently around 1,000 companies posting jobs,” she said. “The goal is to have 75,000-plus jobs. We want to make sure that all the moms signing up on the platform are getting work.”

“The Mom Project is determined to create a future where women aren’t forced to choose between their families and their careers,”said Alda Dennis, partner at Initialized Capital and new Mom Project board member, in a statement. “There is a huge pool of experienced talent, parents and non-parents, that is sometimes overlooked because companies haven’t created the kind of diverse, flexible workplace culture that attracts and retains them. Initialized wants to be part of making this cultural shift happen.”

On the parent side, not only is it also about making the platform known to people who are considering a return to work, but it’s also about some fundamental, but very important basics, such as giving would-be jobseekers the flexibility to go to interviews. Robinson said that one campaign it’s about to launch, in partnership with Urban Sitter, is to provide free childcare credits to Mom Project jobseekers so that they can get to their interview.

“Sometimes you have to go to an interview with 24 hours notice, and lining up a sitter can be stressful,” she said. “We want to alleviate that.”

Parents also know that this isn’t just an issue for the interview: many towns and regions have what Robinson called “childcare deserts,” where there is a scarcity of affordable options to replace the parent on a more daily basis.

Contract work is king (and queen)

For now, Robinson said that the majority of jobs on the platform are focused on fixed-term employment — that is, not permanent, full-time work.

This is due to a number of reasons. For example, parents coming back to working after a break may be more inclined to ease in with shorter roles and less long-term commitment. And employers are still testing out how this demographic of workers will work out, so to speak. Equally, though, we have seen a huge swing in more general employment trends, where businesses are hiring fixed-term workers rather than full-time employees to account for seasonality and to give themselves more flexibility (not to mention less liability on the benefits front).

While Robinson said that the aim is definitely to bring more full-time job opportunities to the platform over time, this has nonetheless presented an interesting business opportunity to The Mom Project. The startup acts like Airbnb, Amazon and a number of other marketplaces, where it not only connects job-seekers and employers, but it then also then handles all the transactions around the job. When the job is fixed-term, the Mom Project essentially becomes like the job agency paying the employee, and that is how it makes a cut. And it also becomes the provider of benefits and more.

In other words, while there is an immediate opportunity for The Mom Project to compete against (or at least win some business off) the likes of LinkedIn to target the specific opportunity of providing jobs for women returning to work, there is potentially and equally big one in becoming a one-stop employment shop to handle customers other needs as employers or workers, providing a range of other services, from payroll through to childcare listings and more.

 


By Ingrid Lunden