Getting into Techstars

Today was my last day of the innaugural Techstars Workforce Development Accelerator. It was the greatest entrepreneurial learning experience of my life. But, in this post, I’m not going to talk about that. I’m going to bring you back in time to September 17, 2020.

Over a period of 73 days from July 6 to September 17, I had 7 interviews with Techstars. I was also sending biweekly business status update emails to them. Final decisions for the class were due on September 18, and I still hadn’t heard by the morning of the 17th. I figured I was extremely borderline, and couldn’t sleep. I got out of bed early in the morning and typed out the following business update email, sending it at 6:33 AM.

Here is what I sent them:

Hey Taylor and Allie,

2 days until the final decision!  I might as well make your decision a little easier by sending over a strong update:

  • Video mock interviews are shipped, live, and getting rave reviews.  Still a few bugs that happen sporadically to users that I’m trying to identify and fix.  I added TrackJs into our stack on Tuesday so that we can better identify and fix frontend bugs.
  • Anson and I are brainstorming/prioritizing the next few things to work on.  We have converted exactly 1/3 of programs that have started a free trial (7 out of 21).  When a program sees strong usage in the free trial, they always at least try to purchase Talk Hiring for their organization post-trial.  Our goal should be to get programs to the point where they see the value (aka lots of mock interviews completed in trial), and would like to purchase; whether or not the budgets/security/privacy/timing is in our favor is something somewhat out of our control.  We’re writing out specs for projects that would help programs get mock interviews going as easily as possible (ex. CSV roster upload + assigning mock interviews to students, dynamic onboarding checklists on our website).
  • Seeing more mock interview usage…fall is certainly upon us!  Fall + spring are our busier seasons because more programs are in session.  161 mock interviews completed this week so far (we did 355 last month in total).
  • Anson is working on a website redesign.  Our product has changed so much in the past year since the last website went live, and we think that our sales + product usage could really be improved through a better looking + more informationally up-to-date website.  Plus, he’s a much better designer than me.
  • In the last 1.5 weeks, we have started free trials with –redacted–, –redacted–, and –redacted–.  2 organizations (–redacted— and –redacted–) are bought in to the value of Talk Hiring, but are working internally to get legal/security/privacy approval before purchasing.  We’re partnering with Safebase to help us with security/privacy audits going forward (very important to schools/colleges).
  • Got verbal word last night that the –redacted– continues to love Talk Hiring and wants a renewal annual contract.  Due to security/privacy reasons, they really like that we support audio-only.

Acquisition/distribution experiment updates:

  • I’m getting much better at automated cold emails.  On 126 contacts that are in workforce development + part of this automated email sequence, I’ve booked 3 meetings so far.  A 2.4% meeting booking rate on a cold, automated email is amazing for me.
  • Testing the waters for a feature/acquisition tool.  The premise is that workforce development programs that don’t use Talk Hiring almost certainly do mock interviews with volunteers.  These programs are often posting on social media to find those volunteers, so it’s extremely easy for me to know who runs volunteer-led mock interviews + could be a good user of a tool that supports volunteer-led mock interviews.  A product that supports volunteer-led mock interviews does not exist in the market and could be a good way for programs to see what Talk Hiring’s automated feedback is like.  I posted a link on about 30 LinkedIn posts asking for volunteer mock interviews and got 8 responses.  The next step is to talk through how this product could work with those 8 programs and see if they’re still interested.

Survey feedback that we’ve received from users this week:

What is the main benefit that you get from using Talk Hiring?

  • “i get to prepare for my upcoming interview”
  • “Ability to feel less nervous”
  • “Learning how to take my time before answering the question”
  • “I get to practice and perfect my skill of interviewing”
  • “Preparing for an interview”
  • “Being prepared to answer anything you are asked”
  • “Able to have positive feedback on my answers.”
  • “Be more comfortable with interviews”

How can we improve Talk Hiring for you? We read every piece of feedback you share with us!

  • “I’m not so sure because I enjoyed the interview so much.”
  • “Love the Talk Hiring”
  • “I think you did very good and don’t have to improve anything.”
  • “The question where good as they where.”
  • “I think the program is pretty awesome already.”

Plus we published a new case study:

Follow-up to your two questions, Taylor, the last time we talked on the phone:

How big of a company am I trying to build?

I’m averse to the model of “raise a bunch of money and then race against the burn rate to get profitable.”  I’m certainly not averse to raising money (and plan to), but I don’t want to raise before I have seen that Talk Hiring is ramen profitable or near ramen profitable.  Being financially strong will help us raise at a higher multiple/valuation while giving us a strong base from which to grow the business.  That’s certainly something that every investor wants :)

You see a big opportunity for us to work with employers and wanted to know if we plan on doing that.

YES, that is 10000% the plan.  Here’s how we plan to do it.  We already know which workforce development program users are enrolled in and which industries they are looking to enter (based on the industry-specific question sets they choose).  With that information, we have a good idea of where they live, what they want to do, when they will be job searching, and the quality of their instruction.  In the mock interview automated feedback page, we can start surfacing something like: “company x in your area is interested in hiring for the role that you just mock interviewed for.  Would you like to send this interview over to them and make this mock interview into a real interview?”  We can start making the employer/job seeker connections this way, and once that is proven to work, we can build a formal job searching component and standalone voice-based job applications to apply to those jobs! The opportunity to build a tech-accessible + quick to fill-out job application that actually presents the candidate in a positive yet realistic light is enormous.  I don’t need to convince you of that.  I beta-tested this idea with a crappy splash page, Google Ads, and a 1-800 phone number back in the spring of 2018 and found over 40 users calling in to use our beta voice-based job application.  Reviews of talking instead of writing to create job applications were extremely positive from the job seeker side in this beta test. If this works, it would help Talk Hiring grow within workforce programs; these programs are already spending lots of time helping candidates with job applications, resumes, cover letters, computer access, spelling, and grammar, and that time could be better spent in so many other ways.  And then at that point, our mock interviewing tool becomes free/cheap + a user acquisition tool for our hiring marketplace.

At 4:16 PM that day, I got this email from Taylor:

Harris, when you have a moment, can you give me a call?

When I called, he started off with all the reasons why Talk Hiring is great. I was waiting for him to say “but we have decided to put you on the waitlist” or “but the process was extremely competitive, and we have declined you a spot in this year’s cohort.” Instead, I never got the “but” and am so grateful :)