Some co-founders meet during college. Others find their business partners through a former employer or shared acquaintances. For software engineers Dan Zhou and Jordan Wan, their fateful encounter would happen on CoFoundersLab, the popular “matchmaking” site for entrepreneurs.
“When I found Dan on CoFoundersLab, we didn’t jump into discussing the product right away. Instead, we explored how our thought processes and skill sets were complementary,” remembers Jordan. “Eventually, we gravitated towards building a platform that could change the recruiting experience for the better for both job seekers and employers.”
In April 2014, Dan and Jordan launched CloserIQ (formerly known as Marketir), a career platform for sales professionals. CloserIQ has since expanded to over 50 startups in New York City and has a growing presence in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Intuit spoke with CEO Jordan Wan to learn more about CloserIQ’s own startup story, and how being service-oriented and community-driven are among its biggest competitive advantages.
Q: Why Build a Technology Platform for Attracting and Recruiting Sales Talent?
A: My reasons for starting CloserIQ were due to a combination of different experiences throughout my career. I started as a securities trader, but eventually left the hedge fund world to join ZocDoc. I spent the latter half of my time there as a sales manager where I oversaw a team of about 12 sales professionals.
Because I worked in an environment where I had to hire constantly, I noticed there was little correlation between what I saw on a candidate’s resume and who I spoke to on the phone. After repeatedly posing the same questions to different candidates during phone interviews, I began to realize I only needed about a three-minute window to gauge if I wanted to meet the candidate in person.
That led me to the following realization: if I could cut down the screening process to just a few minutes, I’d not only be able to listen to and meet more candidates, but I’d also even the playing field as far as [gauging] salespeople’s ability to write a resume.
Given the large number of resumes ZocDoc received compared to the number that reached our desk, it became apparent that sales recruiting was a high-volume and highly transactional process. At the time, there also weren’t a lot of online tools being applied to sales recruiting, since it’s a very qualitative subject.
That was the initial idea. How do you recruit candidates in a way that’s highly scalable? How do you think about sales talent, fit or compatibility? Those were the big questions we wanted to answer with CloserIQ.
Q: How Did You Manage to Keep CloserIQ 100% Self-Funded Despite Easy Access to Venture Capital?
A: Like many entrepreneurs, we initially believed that raising venture capital was the primary route to startup funding. But Dan and I are somewhat risk-averse. Not risk-averse in the traditional sense. But risk-averse in terms of asking people to commit capital to a venture we weren’t sure would work out. It’s one thing to lose your own investment. It’s another to lose your family’s, friends’ or an investor’s money.
That pushed us to contemplate how we could start this business without raising outside capital. So we did mainly two things: we kept costs extremely low and we “consult-strapped” to bring in revenue.
As for keeping costs down, we tried to do everything ourselves. If we didn’t know how to do it, we either learned it or spoke to someone else who did. Luckily, Dan and I have very complementary skill sets, work experience and professional networks, which got us through our initial phase of development.
The other part of our funding strategy was ensuring we had a steady stream of income. We started out by working as consultants for other organizations and spent the rest of our time building the company. We made sure to target consulting roles that had a lot of synergies with CloserIQ.
For example, I was able to land a consulting role with a major healthcare tech company in NYC. I worked hard to help them reach their immediate organizational goals and that consulting work has since translated into one of CloserIQ’s largest partnerships.
The consulting work helped us bring in enough revenue to develop our software product and gave us time to figure out our operational processes and business model. My advice to other founders is to conserve cash, try to do things yourself at the beginning and consider consulting or a part-time job as an alternative to raising outside capital immediately.
Q: What Would You Say Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of “Consult-Strapping” Versus Raising Capital?
A: What we achieved during the first year might have materialized faster if we were dedicated to CloserIQ full-time. But that’s the trade-off. If you go out and raise capital, you can be 100% focused on the business and reach your milestones faster.
On the other hand, accepting investors’ money means giving away some of the autonomy that comes with experimenting and figuring out challenges on your own terms. Without investors, there’s greater freedom to try new approaches and learn answers to questions such as, “What is my business? What is my product?”
While not having lots of money can be scary, it can actually be a great motivator, since it forces you to think more rigorously and creatively about where you’re spending cash and how you will ultimately generate revenue.
Q: Until Recently, CloserIQ Was Formerly Known as Marketir. What Persuaded You to Change the Company Name?
A: Being a small business, we’re very frugal. We picked up Marketir partially because it was a .com address that cost $12. It was a play on the word “Marketeer” which means a seller of goods and services. And we assumed people would pronounce it like another well-known tech company called Palantir.
In reality, however, people were very confused due to the name’s ambiguous pronunciation and close association with the word “marketing.” We focus on revenue generation roles like sales and account management, so “Marketir” created more confusion than it was good for.
At the time, we were also testing out the funding market and getting feedback from some investors. While most of the feedback we received was positive, a few investors disliked our company name. We concluded that receiving the same feedback from different investors couldn’t be a coincidence. So we started searching for a new company name in December 2014.
Finding a new name was probably one of the hardest tasks we tackled last year because it forced us to think deeply about our brand. It’s also hard to get consensus from an entire team when everyone has their own opinion and taste about a company name.
But we knew we wanted a .com that was affordable and something people could easily pronounce and understand. We used every website imaginable to generate and test ideas, and even surveyed 40 mid-level sales leaders from the startup community.
Ultimately, we chose CloserIQ because it brings to mind a deal closer. IQ is important because sales has become a highly technical role. We’re no longer living in an era where salespeople go door-to-door with a briefcase in hand.
Tech firms are now hiring Ivy League graduates to sell complex products using complex software tools in the sales process. Many of our clients are looking for smart people who are capable of presenting to sophisticated executive stakeholders at Fortune 500 companies. As a result, the level of technical expertise and mental aptitude required to sell a product are much higher than ever before.
Q: What Sets CloserIQ Apart From More Traditional Recruiting Tools and Models?
A: First and foremost, we are a very specialized recruiting solution. We only do tech sales recruiting for startups, and our entire network is curated for only these type of clients. Our clients are early-stage, venture backed startups who are hiring their founding sales teams. Also, our candidates are top tech sales professionals who are interested in joining a smaller sales team.
We have a high bar for both employer and candidate quality to ensure we don’t waste anyone’s time. Having a narrow focus and a concentrated network makes us extremely effective for our clients.
Second, we’ve combined the best parts of technology and service in delivering a great recruiting experience for candidates and employers. On the candidate side, our talent advisors work closely with each candidate to build a high quality CloserIQ profile, and use that optimal sales profile to initiate conversations with companies who meet their career goals.
Candidates always make the first choice on our platform, so they are in control of their privacy and the type of companies and products they are interested in evangelizing. For employers, they benefit from access to a larger pool of both active and passive candidates who are truly passionate about joining their team and engaged by our recruiting professionals.
Unlike pure recruiting technology platforms, our talent advisors meet and screen every candidate so employers get the same white glove service they expect from traditional agencies. And because CloserIQ has done the hard work of helping the candidate build out an informative sales profile, employers can see key performance metrics and even hear candidates introduce themselves via a short audio clip prior to meeting.
Perhaps one of our strongest differentiators is that we’re honest and transparent with our community. We modeled our service model after world-class customer service organizations like Zappos, and have an internal set of principles that governs how we interact with the community.
This type of investment creates a repeatable, consistent experience that has endeared us to so many candidates. They’re confident that they are working with trusted advisors who have their long-term goals in mind and will go to extreme measures to ensure they are successful.
Q: How Do You See CloserIQ Evolving in the Short- and Long-Term Future?
A: Our short-term goal is to continue to grow the network in a prudent way, especially in our focus areas where we’re particularly strong. We want to ensure that every new client we bring onto the platform is successful before onboarding additional clients.
On the candidate side, we want every candidate to have a great experience working with us. This means we need to continue to improve our recommendation engine, inventory of curated startups and candidate experience.
That means building out more automation and repeatable processes, as well as documenting and formalizing onboarding so that candidates have a great experience when they’re introduced to the platform. Recruiting doesn’t typically provide that experience, so getting it right and developing a model that we can scale is really the focus for the next year.
Long-term, I envision us broadening into the general sales recruiting space. If the need is to find the right talent profiles, our algorithms and tools can help companies of all sizes do that regardless if they’re a small tech startup or a Fortune 500 retailer.
Follow the CloserIQ team on Twitter @CloserIQ, Facebook or on the CloserIQ blog. If you’re looking for more inspiration on funding and building a startup, check out 5 Ways to Benefit from Bootstrapping and 4 Big Trends in Choosing a Business Name.