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StartItUp Conference 2016: Chau Nguyen

StartItUp Conference 2016: Chau Nguyen

(8-bit animated flame on screen)

How's it going y'all? What a good morning, what great speakers, really motivational. Connor, you were great, the cases were great, and also Obi and Keith, thank you so much. My name is Jake, I'm a junior at UNG. Our last speaker today is Mr Nguyen. Mr Nguyen's been very innovative in the past 10 years. He's a man of integrity and passion. His story today will tell you about his career, involved in Chegg and also student marketing. Really cool guy, really great guy to know in Atlanta as an entrepreneur, so look forward to his speech. Thanks, y'all enjoy it.

Alright, how you guys doing? Good, alright, it's a little quiet in here so I need a little bit of noise. I wanna know that you're awake. Let's hear it, come on, who's awake? Alright, okay, it's super awkward to get on stage and have people be really quiet, so thank you for that. I'm really excited to be here. I spent most of my career coaching and developing college age students and young people. It's really cool to be back up on stage because I used to do this every year, except the crowd was like 2,000 people. I'm really excited to share my story. I'm gonna dive in, tell you how I got to be a serial entrepreneur, and hopefully you can learn from some of my stories and apply it to yourself. I'm Chau Nguyen, I'm the founder and CEO of a company called Hirewire. Anybody know Hirewire, have you guys heard of that before? Alright, so we just launched not too long ago. We're right here in Atlanta. I'm gonna take you along my journey of how I got from where I was when I was 20 to where I am today. Basically my first company was called Campus Special. Campus Special was basically the Groupon and Grubhub of the college market before Groupon and Grubhub came around. That company I started when I was 25. It was my first venture. It was bootstrapped, we didn't raise any money at all. It started at my dining room table, I remember thinking how amazing it was gonna be and how excited I was and we built this business over time. So a couple of highlights, that company grew to be one of the fastest growing private companies in the US, won a bunch of awards, and we got to 4,000 college sales reps, 15,000 street teamers. We hired a lot of people. Again, my understanding and appreciation for where you guys are at and the stage of your career is very near and dear to me. That business was awesome, we acquired 20,000 clients across 38 states and 165 cities. After 8 1/2 years I ended up selling that company to Chegg. You guys know Chegg? Okay, yeah, so they bought us, and that was 20 million. I owned 100% of the company at the time, so pretty good, right? Pretty good start. Don't worry, I'll stop bragging here in a minute. I took some time off, retired for a little bit. Thought I wanted to be one of those guys who'd be hanging out drinking and eating during the daytime. I used to go work and I'd go to lunch and scarf down my 20 minute lunch and I'd see these people hanging out, having fun, drinking margaritas during the daytime! Like on a Monday! I'm like, what do these guys do, you know? It turns out they were probably entrepreneurs that had an exit, so that was me. I hung out with my wife, we went on vacation, we got our nails done, I never did that before. We were watching movies in the daytime, the matinee, it was really weird. I just kind of slowed down and reconnect with my wife. That went on for like a couple weeks. And she's like, "You gotta get out of the house." I said okay, fine, alright, so I'll get out of the house. About a year ago we launched a new technology startup called Hirewire, right here in Atlanta. Just a couple of stats on this company I wanna share with you: we raised almost $4 million in seed funding, we built our MVP, which is a mobile app, and we launched it in 16 weeks and launched it in January of earlier this year. So far, in the first nine months, we acquired 4,000 employers, 50,000 job seekers, and built a team of 20 people here in Atlanta Tech Village down in Buckhead. So if you're down there, come visit us on the third floor. We've been named one of the top 10 most innovative companies in the state of Georgia and we're about to raise our series A. Alright, this is the last awkward slide I'm gonna show you. This is my house. I'm just kidding, this is not my house. My house is bigger than this. Alright, if you can't tell I'mma keep it real today, okay? My wife wouldn't let me put up a real picture of my house, but I just wanted to show you something. In the first few minutes here I've told you this awesome glamorous story about how I was young and I built a great company and we exited and I started a new one and people threw money at me and we got this awesome product and now we're on fire. I'm actually gonna talk to you about the reality of startups, because I think this is probably the less commonly talked about, but very important that all of you guys understand. Raise your hands here if you're interested in becoming an entrepreneur and starting your own company one day. Just about everybody, that's why you're here, right? I'm in the right place. I think that's Tom Brady's house. No, that's not Tom Brady's house. We're gonna talk about startups because they're counter intuitive. Let me just tell you something real quick about startups and what I thought they were, and what I know that they are today. They're the opposite of everything you probably think it is. And I'm going to highlight some of the big key points that I think if nothing else you walk away with, you'll hear this, and then when you go along on your journey one day, you'll say, "Ah, Chau mentioned that. "He told me that was gonna be like that." These are the things I wish I knew at the time, and I know now. I actually have a really cool chart graph of my career path I wanna share with you guys. This is to scale. On the left is what people probably think success looks like, right? You're gonna go start this company, you're gonna go kill it, you're gonna make a billion dollars and it's gonna be awesome. And on the right is actually what it's like, which is crazy, right? Up, down, left, right, maybe it's gonna die, I don't know. And somehow you manage to make it and you get out of it, but that in a nutshell is what you should expect if you're gonna start a company, alright? You're probably sitting here and you probably have this idea that you've been noodling on for a while. You think about in the shower, you think about when you're driving, you don't wanna tell anybody 'cause you don't want them to steal it, probably, right? That's probably what you're thinking. The idea is great because it's really important and that's what people focus on. What is this startup idea that I'm gonna come up with that's going to be amazing? One of the first realities is that the idea is actually a very, very small and sometimes, not always, but sometimes an insignificant piece of it. It is important to have a good idea, but most of being an entrepreneur and startups is actually more about execution. If a startup is an iceberg, the idea is like the very tip, and all the stuff that actually really matters is below the water that you can't see. I'm gonna give you this cool breakdown that I found online a while ago that talks about how important the idea is and then how important the execution is. Because all of you guys have had ideas. The people that end up winning and succeeding are the people that can execute. Just as a quick example, if you have a good idea but you have weak execution, it's really not worth very much, right? Maybe you have a bad idea, but you're amazing execution, that's not gonna get you too far either. Really what you need is a solid idea and solid execution. I wanna stop there because I think what people think about when they think about startups is what a cool idea, right? Hirewire is essentially Tinder for jobs. Tinder for jobs. And you guys are probably thinking, "Gosh, why didn't I think of that?" Or maybe you did think of it. Thousands of people have thought about it. They're swiping left or right or whatever it is you guys do. And then they're like, "Hey, "someone should make this for jobs." And so we did, but we actually really went after it thoughtfully, carefully. I'm gonna share some of the stories with you on how we went from idea at a coffee shop, to getting funded, to getting users, alright? You guys with me so far? Alright, is this gonna be helpful? Alright, good, okay, so let's go. Let's get started, okay? Actually no, let's not. This is really important. Most people think of a startup idea, a business, and they think they're just gonna go after it and start it. I wanna caution you here because actually I believe that most companies that don't make it or struggle struggled at the very first step. Because they said, "I've got this really cool idea. "I'm gonna make waterproof vests for monkeys "that are 15 to 20 pounds." Too small of a market, maybe that's not important, right? Whatever it is you're thinking in your head, you have to ask yourself the following questions: Are you solving a problem? Like really think about that. Is this problem big enough to matter? And if it isn't a real problem and it's not a big problem, it doesn't mean it can't be successful, but it may not be as big as you think it'll be or as big as you want it to be. I like to approach thinking about startups as, what's broken in the world? What's wrong, what's really annoying? Travis Kalanick from Uber once upon a time thought, "You know what, it's kind of annoying "to have to call, look up in the Yellow Pages, "a cab company and then wait for the guy to show up. "And you don't know if he's gonna be there. "And then get in the dirty cab. "And then you wanna pay with a credit card, "but he only wants to take cash. "And then you gotta get out, right?" So he decided, "this is a problem, I'm gonna fix it." And he fixed it in a big, big way. So if you think about the really successful startups that you've heard of, that are household names? They all really solve a big problem. I encourage you guys to think about what problems you face that are things you've personally seen. And then figure out if you are qualified or passionate enough to go solve that problem. Now you have this problem you've identified, right? At Hirewire we identified that hiring hasn't changed for decades. You have to post a job, you have to wait for people to apply, you get an inbox full of resumes. You have to be able to figure out if these people are qualified based on words on a piece of paper. And then maybe 5% of the people out of 100 are qualified. And then you call 'em in for a blind date. You don't know if it's gonna work out or not. And then you're stuck with 'em. That was our problem, right? We knew that hiring was broken. And by the way, I knew hiring was broken because at my previous company we hired 20,000 people. So I spotted that almost 10 years ago and then I hung on to that and then went after it last year. That's really the way you should go about approaching these things is how big of a problem is it and is it big enough to matter? Now that you've got the problem figured out, don't start. Again, people rush off and build a logo and buy a website and open up shop and start to go after it. You gotta validate. Let's figure out, I think that this idea, this concept, this problem is big enough to matter, so now let's go figure out if it really is. The way you validate it is actually a lot easier than you think. You don't have to go build something, although you can. You just talk to your potential users, right? We knew that employers had this terrible problem where hiring is broken and so we went out and we talked to 50 employers, small to medium size to enterprise. We didn't have a product, we had a couple sketches. We had this idea and so we went out and we interviewed and spoke with these people and said, well, how do you hire today? What do you like about it, what do you hate about it? What are you using today? You use Craigslist, using And what do you like about those things? What do you hate about it? And then we'd say, what if we came up with this concept of on-demand hiring? Where you could view profiles, picture, job history, video interview, location, chat in-app. It's like Tinder for jobs, without the hookup. Hopefully without the hookup. That's an HR violation, don't do that. So here's the thing, when we validated this we weren't like, hey, don't you love this idea? Isn't this so great, should we do it? We actually approach it very neutrally. Kinda walk in saying we know this is a good idea, but we wanna see what you think. We wanna see what you think. And in fact, we don't just wanna hear good news, we want you to poke holes in it and tell us what's wrong with it so we can make it better. Couple things, don't validate it with your parents. Of course they're gonna tell you it's a great idea. Don't validate with your boyfriend, your girlfriend, your friends. You can, but you have to take it with a grain of salt. You wanna validate it with potential users to see that if they say, "nah, not interested." If 100 people tell you, "nah, not interested," then maybe you need to change it a little bit, right? Doesn't mean it's a bad idea, you might just need to evolve it a little bit. This validations phase is so important. And again, that's kinda like step two, right? Come up with the idea, validate it, don't start. Once you've validated it, then you can start going down the path, alright? Let's talk about co-founders for a minute. This is really a interesting topic that I see done wrong all the time. Getting a co-founder is like getting married. My wife will kill me if she watches this, but only worse, right? And here's why, because your odds of breaking up in a partnership are higher than your odds of getting divorced in a marriage, which we know is not a great number, right? So why is that? You know why, it's because most people don't take the time to pick the right person. They just say, "oh, I have an idea and I know you "and you know me, let's go do this." That's a terrible idea, you wouldn't get married that way. I really suggest that when you look for co-founders you really need to kinda vet them and you need to quote, unquote "date" before you get married. You wanna figure out, are you actually gonna be compatible? Is this person just excited about it, but then in six months they won't care any more? Or maybe you like them but deep down you know that they don't really work that hard or they have different vision for what this thing looks like. Finding co-founders is very, very tricky. A couple things, I think the optimal number is like two, three, and at most four. One is hard because you have no one to talk to. You have no one to help you, you have no one to bounce ideas off of. But five is way too many, right? Even four I think is too many. When finding co-founders, if you look at the great, great companies out there that have been built, most of them have co-founders. And then what you'll really find too, if you look deep down is some of those co-founders got in a fight and then split up and left, right? This is a very important thing. You probably already know who you think would be a good co-founder. You probably already even talked about it. Hey, we should start a business one day. And the real question is, should we really start a business together one day? That's a very difficult talk that you have up-front, not at the end. 'Cause if you have it at the end then you have to have a big problem. This is what it looks like if you don't find the right co-founder, not good. That's the end of my dating analogies I think. Let's move on here. I did tell you we're Tinder for jobs, right? We ready to get started? Yes, okay, let's get started now then. Alright, so you've got the idea, you've got the concept, you're willing to execute, you validated it, and you've got even a couple co-founders. What you don't wanna do is this. You guys know what that is? Taj Mahal, okay, great. Most people think about starting a startup as I'm gonna go out and build this great, amazing, huge, perfect thing. The Taj Majal is actually not what you wanna build. This is probably what you wanna build in the beginning. I built that. No, I'm kidding, I didn't build that. I found on Google. The reason why you wanna start small is because now you're still validating, right? Yes, your potential users said, "that sounds like a great idea. "If you made that I would use that." But maybe what you put out there isn't the right thing. So before you go out and build all this stuff, extra work, maybe it's extra money and time, you wanna start small and put it back out in the market. That's known as an MVP, you guys familiar with that term? An MVP is a minimum viable product. MVP, what does that mean? That means what is the least you can do in order to get real validation from the marketplace? When you launch something, more than likely whatever it is you think it's gonna be will not end up being what it really is. The only way you know is by putting something small out there and saying, how do you like it? And what you're gonna get is, "I like this, "I don't like that, I love this, I hate that." And then you take it back and you make it better. And then you put it back out there and you say, how do you like it now? And more people say, "okay, great, I like this, I like this, "but I still don't like this and that and I hate this part." Okay, great, then you take it back in, you work on it, and you put it back out. That is an iterative process of refinement and evolving based on what your users want. Does that make sense? I think one of the big killers of startups is building something nobody wants. So if you go and build this and it's actually just, your audience is a bunch of eight-year-old kids, they really want that, right? So you're not actually building something that you want, you're building something that your users want so that they'll use it and tell their friends and then it grows, right? So starting small and then releasing and getting feedback is a very critical step. One thing about getting feedback too is you don't wanna say, you love it, right? It's great, right? It's all about honest, brutal truth. If you don't like it, tell me why you don't like it because the great thing about early-stage startups is that you can change it. Now if you go way too far down the road and you're on step 10, and then they don't like step one? It's kind of game over, right? Very carefully approach this in very staged and reasonable approaches. What's funny is I googled tree house on google and all these exotic tree houses showed up in the search results, which I swear 10 years ago or 20 years, you didn't have that, right? I had to look really hard to find this old, rickety tree house. And now they're all on Airbnb. I dunno if you guys know that or not. Now you've got this product that you've built and you've carefully taken it to market, you've gotten great feedback, you've made it better. Now you're on a later stage version of your concept. One thing I wanna talk about and share with you is the subject of raising capital. This is a really confusing and misunderstood process. This is probably what most people imagine it to be like. You guys know what that is? Shark Tank, right? My friend was on Shark Tank. It's funny because today's media romanticizes entrepreneurship. When The Social Network came out everybody wanted to be an entrepreneur after that. It looked so cool, there's big parties, there's drinking, there's going public and all this awesome stuff. And then there's shows about people going on stage and getting a $500,000 investment for 15% of the company. This is not real. Let me back up, it is real, this is not how traditional raising capital, angel investing, seed funding, and VC funding goes. What it's really like is like this. Alright, don't laugh, that's not funny. No, I'm kidding, you can laugh. Again, very hard to find a good picture of a person in need. Look, I'm sharing this with you because in many ways this is the reality of raising capital. I just got done telling you I raised $4 million, so you're probably thinking, "God, that must be really easy." It was very, very hard to do because people that have that kinda money are pretty smart and they're not just gonna give it to you. They want to know that if they give it to you you're not only gonna give it back, you're gonna give 'em five, 10x. If only so many people can do that then more people will get rejected than will get approved. This concept of raising capital isn't just as simple as I got this cool idea, I'm a hard worker, I'm gonna go do it, I'm gonna see if someone will gimme a million bucks and I'll just go do it. That's not really how it works. It very much is the opposite. Raising money is a function of traction, meaning that you've got something. If you have traction, you have leverage. If you have leverage, money will come to you. Raising capital is less about having people think it's a good idea and bet on you, although that's early-stage investing. It's really more about, you took these steps, you've built a business early-stage, you have co-founders, you've got traction, you have real users and things are happening. It's actually picking up steam, and then you go raise money. In the beginning stage you might say, well, it's kind of a chicken and egg problem, right? How on earth am I gonna have traction if I don't have money? In the beginning oftentimes if you need money to get started then you ask your friends and family, just to get it going. Or you put your own money in. The Airbnb guys, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, they always talk about their first round of funding was from Visa, MasterCard, and Amex. You know those VCs? That's really kinda what it's like. And here's the deal, if you're willing to take that kinda risk then a smart person with money might be willing to risk with you. But you've got this great idea that's gonna be the next billion dollar business, but you're not willing to put any money in, or you're not willing to take any debt, or you're not willing to borrow money from friends and family, or your friends and family won't give you any money? What does that say, right? So raising capital is tricky. In my first company I did not raise any capital and quite honestly I highly recommend it because that teaches you discipline. You actually have to build a business, which is revenue minus cost equals profit, right? I did that for almost a decade and that taught me how to build a real business. Well in Hirewire, this is a different kind of play. We're a consumer technology company. We need to be everywhere and we needed to go fast. That's gonna require millions of dollars in funding. In this case we raised money, but we don't think of it as a license to go shopping and buy 24-karat gold desks and all that kinda stuff. We're very careful with it. But when it comes to funding, think about it like this, you will get funded if you deserve to get funded. If you don't deserve to get funded, you won't get funded. I think that's probably the most important piece about this is that, try not to raise money until you have to. When you do raise money, start small, get it from friends and family, prove something on paper that you actually have something, that this idea is good and then prove that you can execute. Then, once you have leverage because you have traction, then you can go out and start having conversations and people will believe in you because it's less of a risk. They see a track record. Six months ago I had an idea. Today I've gotten to here. If you give me x more dollars, I could take it to here. That's the big thing about capital, even though we have a lot of traction and we're doing really, really well, our series A, which we're gonna raise here in a few months, is not gonna be as simple as people writing checks. We're gonna have to earn it, we have to show it, we have to prove it. That's the big thing about capital, so hopefully that helps put in perspective. This is helpful so far? Alright, good, okay, it's the first time I've given this talk. So the journey, now you guys probably know what I'm gonna show you here, this is the journey. This is one of the most exotic cruise ships in the world. Anybody know the name of this ship? It doesn't matter 'cause you're not gonna be on it anyway. That's alright, you only get to do that after you retire for a little bit, right? And then you go back to here. This is what the journey's like. There's actually a guy with a whip whipping you in the back while you're doing this. So you probably thinking, "Oh my God, this sounds terrible. "Who would wanna do this?" The journey is actually one of the least talked about, most misunderstood parts about starting a startup and becoming an entrepreneur. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it, right? The stats look something like 95% of startups fail in the first couple years. And that might be a generous number, maybe even more than that. And the reason why is because it's hard. Going back to how the media portrays it and how it looks on Shark Tank and in The Social Network and all that kinda stuff, that is just preparing people for disappointment because in reality the business, if you recall, is not just an idea, it's execution. And execution looks more like this than it looks like this, right? The journey requires grit and determination and persistence, and it requires so many things that you probably don't think it'll take and that you're best off knowing that if you are gonna go do this, it's gonna be hard. And I remind my team who is very experienced at Hirewire all the time that what we're doing is so difficult that not even just 1% of companies can do it, 0.1%, and if you wanna be a billion dollar business it's like 0.01%, right? Managing those expectations is key because if you go into it thinking you have a cool logo and a cool website and you're gonna go do all this stuff and then you're gonna get in there, you're gonna get slapped in the face with reality that starting a startup is hard and the journey is even harder. But the good news is, if you are a hard worker, if you're smart, if you're dedicated, if you're passionate, if you are the kinda person doesn't give up very easily and you really, really believe in what you're doing, then, although it feels like this, or looks like this, it can feel like this, it can be fun. At Hirewire I'm having a lot of fun even though it's way, way hard to do because it's something I'm passionate about. We'll talk a little bit about passion here. Here's what passion is and isn't. This is sometimes what people think it's gonna be like. I'm just gonna have this company and I'm gonna go to work, gonna go home, and I'm gonna do all these other fun things. And it's not that you have to give up all of it, but there is a very certain level of sacrifice that has to be made. Unfortunately, to some degree, it looks kinda more like this. Anyone here babysit? Raise your hands, babysitting? Nobody? Well I need a babysitter, so maybe you come up to me later. Babysitting is a good analogy because if you ever babysit for families it's kinda easy, right? You've got one or two hours and three hours. Babysitting compared to having a kid. That's two different things. Babysitting is kinda fun and easy and you have a good time, it's kinda like being a grandparent, right? And then you give 'em back afterwards. In reality it's actually this commitment that you have that is every day, all the time, seven days a week, 365 days a year, and why? It's because it is that hard that if you're only thinking about it a little bit, or you're not that committed, or you're not wanting to make that kinda sacrifice, it's tough because it's hard enough as it is. It's even harder if you don't have that commitment, that passion. People ask, "What if I get burned out?" Or, "Gosh, this sounds like a lot of work." Remember, if you're doing something that you really believe in, you're passionate about it, it is fun, it can be extremely fun. So as much of a grind as it is, as hard as it can be, as many roadblocks as there are, it is something that you'll find a lot of satisfaction in doing. Which is really what I do at my current venture. I'm probably thinking about Hirewire 18 hours a day. I sleep for six and sometimes I wake up dreaming about my machine learning algorithm, right? But that's the kind of dedication that it takes. What you'll find is that if you know successful entrepreneurs they're thinking about it all the time 'cause that's what it takes to win. So be passionate and be committed. That'll get you really far because a lot of people starting startups that are competing for your very same space, maybe they're not. Maybe for them at 4:59 they're done. Maybe for you, you're done when you're tired. Everybody's still here, no one's left yet, so that's good. So you're thinking, "Gosh, who would sign up for this? "This sounds crazy." And I smile when I say it because I absolutely love startups and I love the challenges and I love the journey because it is very, very rewarding when you can figure this out. It's kinda like playing an easy game and winning versus playing a really, really hard game and barely, barely surviving and winning. You're gonna feel more satisfaction out of doing what's more challenging. One of my favorite quotes, and a guy that you guys should get to know well by reading his work is Paul Graham. You guys know Paul Graham? Paul Graham from YCombinator? Alright, write it down and look it up. He is amazing and I read everything he writes, I watch every video that he's got out there and I consider myself pretty well versed in startups, but there's always something you can learn. Paul Graham says, "Only start a startup "if you can't not start a startup." I know that's a double negative, but I didn't say it. What that means is don't do it 'cause you kinda think it's cool or maybe you have this little bit of an itch. You do it because you're obsessed and you think about it all the time and you can't stop thinking about doing this and you've talked to your parents and friends and family and it's this urge, that's when you should start a startup because you want it badly. You haven't even started yet and you want it badly. So it can't just be like a little feeling that you have every now and then or just when you're excited or you get together your buddies or you're hanging out and you talk about companies and starting startups and being an entrepreneur, you do it because you can't help it. To me, when I retired, joking aside, I knew that I was gonna do another one because that was my passion and that's my purpose. I wanna go do something great that's gonna help a lot of people. For lack of better words, make the world a better place. So if that's that burning fire that you have and you've vetted it and checked the boxes and done all the steps and really thought it through, then go for it, you're never too young or too old to do it. I know successful entrepreneurs that are like 18 that have done better than me. And I know entrepreneurs that start their first venture at like 55. It really comes down to, do you have that fire in you? And then do you have that right concept and can you go execute? One of the things I really like to do, instead of filling up the rest of this time, I'm very open about this stuff and I'm really happy to answer questions. And by the way, if you use Twitter, which if you guys are millennials, you may not, you might use Snapchat, you can always tweet me the questions too later. But I think this might be valuable time for me to pass around the mic and take questions. I will not hold anything back, I'll tell you absolutely everything you wanna know. Happy to start, so do we have a mic back here? You might have to stand up and say it real loud. I'll repeat the question.

[Audience Member] The question I have, did you ever use surveys as a part of your determining whether or not your idea was viable?

Sure, so the question is did I ever use surveys to determine whether or not the concept product was viable. I actually didn't. I don't think it's a bad idea, but I wouldn't do it as the only way to validate. 'Cause you're not gonna get enough information in the surveys and what you don't want are false negatives or positives, right? Let's say you say, "Hey, is space monkey travel a good idea? "Would you be interested in that?" And you put it out there, who knows who's answering it. God forbid they say yes and you do it and it's wrong, then now you're stuck. Or if they tell you an idea like a social network where you can connect with friends and you'll call it Facebook is a bad idea, maybe you should've done that. The answer to that is I would do it, but I'd do it in conjunction with talking to real people. And get good at getting honest feedback. I'm good at getting honest feedback 'cause the first thing I'll tell you is you're not gonna hurt my feelings, I'm not gonna cry. I want to know what you don't like about it. That's how you do it. What you don't wanna do is, this is such a great idea, right? Tell me you love it! And then you're gonna basically force them to give you good feedback. It's all about honest, brutal truth. The feedback you could get in person is so great because they're gonna tell you other things that you hadn't thought of. There's no way you've thought of everything, right? And the more people you talk to, the bigger sample size you get, the more refined this concept gets. Maybe one person gave you this idea and you decide wow, I hadn't thought about that yet. I highly encourage that vetting process to be with real people and not family members, just approaching it with tell me what you love about it, but tell me what you hate about it.

[Audience Member] Explain Hirewire and the services you perform.

Sure, so Hirewire is an on-demand hiring app. Essentially, you have two sides of the marketplace. You have job seekers and you have employers. Today in Atlanta, which is our beta test market, we are focused on the service industry. So if service industry, could be restaurants, retail, hospitality, hourly jobs, and part-time jobs. We're not competing with Monster or LinkedIn, which is more professional, we're focused on the hourly part-time wage earner. What we do that's very different from other job boards is that we're a marketplace where you build a profile that includes picture, location, job history, preferences, when you can work, what kind of pay you're willing, how far you're willing to travel. And the most important piece that's disruptive is that we have a video interview. So imagine, instead of going all around town and interviewing for jobs all day, which really sucks by the way, and just doing it one time on your phone and basically posting yourself for sale. Employers search and they say, "you know what, I need a sales associate, "a clerk, cashier, they must be able to work nights "or weekends, only show me people five miles away." And then we match you with our algorithm. If it's a match then you can chat in-app and connect. What we found is that we have shortened the amount of time it takes to get hired. If you guys at the beginning of this talk were to create a profile and you were qualified and you had good credentials, good resume, good video interview, you'd probably have multiple options by now and then you could find a job in hours to a day instead of days or weeks. So we're speeding up the process of hiring.

[Audience Member] When you're on your phone, do you have some sort of interview questions? Do you have some sort of script that they have to do?

For our product? Yes. What we found is that interviewing, at this level especially, for hourly and part-time workers, is a very qualitative process. Meaning that if I can hear and see you talk for 30 seconds almost about anything, I can determine whether or not I wanna bring you in for a real interview. So in that first question you're basically introducing yourself, talking about your past job history, aspirations, where you wanna work, what your skills are. And the employer is not only getting a chance to meet you without meeting you, they can see things like confidence and eye contact and communication skills and attitude. What we give our employers and job seekers is basically convenience. Alright, question?

[Audience Member] Your app has got two sides, the job seeker and then the person that's supplying the job. Has it been difficult to bring those two together and get enough people using the app to make it efficient? I think there's a lot of seekers, but there's not a lot of people on the app to supply the jobs, so how do you bring the two together in order to make it efficient?

The question if you couldn't hear it was we have two-sided marketplace, was it hard to get both sides and get them together interacting? Consistent with what I've shown you today, I think you know the answer, absolutely yes. Even though we have 50,000 users and we're growing like wildfire, we're doubling every couple months, and we have 4,000 employers in Atlanta using it, it's been a grind and it's extremely difficult. Because again, even for me, I had a good sense of what the market needed and wanted, but version one compared to what it is now is very, very different. We went through the same process. We put version one out there and we were excited and we were like, oh, this is gonna be awesome. It came back with, "okay, well we don't like this "and that doesn't work and this is too slow." So instead of ignoring it, we went back, fixed it, put it back out there, and now we have version 1.1, and 1.2, 1.3, so now today we're at 2.1 or something like that. So yes, it is, because you never know what your customer base, your users, are gonna be like until you put it out there. That's why we did a beta test just in Atlanta and one vertical instead of saying let's go conquer 50 states. Much like the Taj Mahal example, had we done that we probably would have burned through all $4 million, had nothing to show for it, and we would have been wrong. These very disciplined small steps to go from like to love is how we think about it with our users and our customers. If our customers like us, we're doing okay. If they love us then we're winning. Yes?

[Audience Member] Ask you a question, sorry. Is Hirewire making money yet and if so how is it making money?

Sure, the question is Hirewire making money yet and if so how are we making money? You sound like one of my investors. Just kidding, okay, so the answer is no, not yet. And the reason why in our particular case is that we're the kind of business where we'll win the market if we have critical mass and liquidity, meaning we need a lot of people using it. What we don't want is to stunt growth before we have the opportunity to really reach liquidity. The other part too is that we're building a consumer technology product, so we haven't perfected it yet, but it's getting really, really close. And what we do at our company is that we look at metrics and data for engagement and retention and usage and sessions and all that kinda stuff, so we know whether or not they actually like it. If your bucket of water, which is your users has holes in it then you're just going to lose users. And so until we have this ideal state, which will never be perfect 'cause we'll always be chasing a better, better version, we won't charge yet. The other thing too is that we think that the way we wanna build our business is once we validated the product and we've reached product market fit, we wanna be able to nail and accelerate scaling. Imagine launching a space rocket, space shuttle. You definitely don't wanna launch it until everything's checked off because if you do then you might get off the ground, but who knows how far it'll get. It takes a lot of discipline because my first venture, we made money day one and were profitable day one. So it's been really hard for me, but I understand why we're doing it and joking aside, the investors understand too. And then the other question is how will we make money? The way it works is that our product, our app, will charge employers. Employers today post jobs with job boards and there's willingness to pay there. Essentially they could pay to do a search or pay for a subscription. Questions? I know you guys have questions, don't be shy. Oh, yes, go ahead.

[Audience Member] Do you think in the future, this is very forward-thinking, but do you think you would want to go into the professional market and compete with Monster or LinkedIn? As a college student, I'm like woah, that would be really cool to have to be able to--

Yeah, definitely. That's a great question, I'm so glad you asked that. The question was, today we're focused on hourly and part-time, do we think that we'll move upstream and go after the professional market like LinkedIn? And I'm really glad you said this because one thing I think is really important is this concept of boiling the ocean versus boiling a cup of water. Think about that for a minute. Is it easy to boil a cup of water? Pretty easy, right? Is it easy to boil an ocean? It's very, very hard to do. One of the things we did once we started going after this business was, okay, do we wanna be everything to everybody? Because if we do that, that's gonna be really hard. We have to win all these different industries and all these different segments. We specifically picked one vertical. In the beginning it was just restaurants. Because we thought, we think we can conquer the restaurant market and we know it's high turnover. We know the turnover is high and we know that if we can reach some critical mass, meaning that a lot of people in the restaurant business know about it, before you know it, this server who was a bartender there is now managing here and he's using it and he told his friend, they're all connected, right? If you think about Facebook for example, when they launched, were they everything for everybody? They were just college. In fact, they were just Ivy League schools. Started at Harvard, then they went to Cornell, and Dartmouth, and all these other Ivy League schools. Then they went to all the other colleges. Then they went to high schools. Then they went to everybody. Boiling the ocean is really hard to do, so it is better in the beginning, in my opinion, to conquer a certain itch and then grow in concentric rings. What I mean by that is we started in restaurants and we today have about 1/3 market share, close to 1/4, that means one in every three restaurants you walk into in Atlanta use Hirewire, right? So that was pretty good. And then we went, instead of going to call centers, which is still adjacent, but not really, we went to retail because half our users want retail too. And then we went to hospitality. You wanna do it in the most strategic way possible. Basically owning small pieces and then building on top of it over time. But yes, eventually we want to completely change the way hiring is done. I know you guys are asking a lotta questions about Hirewire, which I love by the way, specifics about your concept idea, anything that you guys wanna ask me? Over here.

[Audience Member] How do you feel about crowdfunding?

Oh, crowdfunding? Yeah, okay, so the question was how do I feel about crowdfunding? And you actually brought up something else too which was differentiating yourself, right? Competition we didn't discuss today. You shouldn't be afraid of competition if they're out there because at one point in time somebody could've said why start Google? There's so many web search engines out there that are dominant, search is saturated, and if the Google founders had said, "Oh gosh, there's competition, I'm not gonna do it." Then where would they be? Much like Facebook, right? When Facebook came out there was Myspace. You guys know Myspace? Myspace, Friendster, and they were on fire. Mark Zuckerberg could've said, "Yeah, well, "I guess there's a lot of competition out there. "I'm not gonna go after it." Competition is a really healthy thing because it tells you that there's a market for it and if you can execute better than those guys can or you have a different way of approaching it, something unique and is a differentiator, then there's always space to go after it. In our space there's lots of job boards and job apps, but we're taking this other approach which is Tinder for jobs, right? When it comes to competition I would not be disheartened because very likely this is a thought you guys have had. You have this business idea, you're super excited about it, you go on Google and you find out there's hundreds of 'em. That's okay because who knows if they're as dedicated, as passionate, they have a good team, a good product, a good approach, all these other things. Just to talk about competition, I think that's one thing. Crowdfunding is your other question. I've never crowdfunded before myself. I think it's worth trying, it's worth a shot. But I think you'd be surprised. Your family and your friends probably know you best. If you have a real business idea and you're dedicated and you're trustworthy and you've put time into a plan and you can convince them that you'll execute on it, then it's not really that hard to get something. Maybe they won't give you a million dollars, but they'll give you enough to get started so you can get it further down the road and show more traction and proof and then you get more money. As for crowdfunding, I can't speak a lot to it. I know that some companies have strictly done crowdfunding, which is awesome. It's worth a shot and if anything else you'll learn a lot from it. You'll figure out why didn't I raise money? How come my deal didn't get funded? And that could be good market feedback for you. Question back.

[Audience Member] How much did you put in Hirewire from your original deal you were in?

Oh, how much did I put in? I won't tell you exactly how much I put in, but I definitely have skin in the game and put in a large amount of money, but most of the money that I raised was from outside investors. Question.

[Audience Member] You talked about being picky with your partners. Is it equally as important to be picky with your investors or is it strictly just--

Yeah, great question. So the question was you should be picky with your partners and co-founders, is it important to be picky with your investors? Absolutely yes. Absolutely yes. There's a few reasons why. Your investors, ideally they're helping you. They're making introductions and pulling strings and giving you advice and helping you out as much as you need it. What you don't want is a detractor where they're all over you and they don't let you do what you think is best and they get too involved. It's tricky because you're basically getting in bed with somebody that could have control. Much like you pick a co-founder, you wanna make sure that it's someone that will support you and will bring positive things to the table. For example, one of our recent investors is TechSquare Labs. You guys know TechSquare Labs in Atlanta? They made a recent investment in the company and within days, days, they were making introductions, pulling strings, putting the right people in front of us, helping us recruit, promoting us through their channels. It's tricky, you wanna find the right investor and you would vet them much like you would vet a co-founder. I wouldn't just take money to take money. Yes?

[Audience Member] You've been in technology for 10 to 15 years, and you've seen it change and grow. Does it concern you how fast it's changing right now in what you're trying to do?

Yeah, and when you say change, in what context are you thinking?

[Audience Member] Everything right now, it's like back in 2000, everybody thinks tech is the sweet spot. In 2002 it all fell apart, everybody ran. Now we're back in that bubble again and I'm seeing technology just spin very quickly to a point that even the marketplace can't adapt the technologies putting out there. What you're doing, you've gotta look at it and say, "How long do I have? "I could get this thing to market, "make it successful, before it's passing on."

Okay, so let me see if I can rephrase that. Technology is changing so fast. The market in the dot-com boom melted down and people were scared of technology and now it feels kinda frothy again and it feels like there's a lot of action. I'll speak to it from this point. I think that there is a lot less barriers today to get into technology, which makes it great for young entrepreneurs because essentially if you don't have any money, it doesn't matter. Let's say you know how to code. Let's say you don't know how to code and you go figure out how to code. You could get a technology company started in your basement of your house and actually turn it into something. That's what's neat is that technology is accessible today to everybody. I think the downside to that is there's a lot of noise. There's a lot of companies out there starting and so the competition out there is greater than it was because there's fewer barriers, and then the competition to raise money is harder 'cause there's more people doing it. I think it's a good thing and a bad thing, but I do think what it does is it raises the bar for everybody. Before, if there weren't that many companies being started then you didn't have that much competition. Now you do so really the good companies get funded. The ones that have true traction. Back in the late '90s you just had an idea and you go public, which is crazy. Today it's really more guarded, but in a good way because it forces entrepreneurs to actually solve a real problem, have real traction, execute. You may be in a space with a lot of noise, but if you're doing it right then you will be found or when you get in front of the right people they will know. I think that all that does is it really separates the men from the boys, so to speak. Or the girls from the women.

[Audience Member] Right here.


[Audience Member] When you get an investor, do you give stock in venture for eternity? Or do you have a way to buy back that stock for you?

Gotcha, you're asking about equity versus debt when raising capital. There's a couple ways to do it. The most popular way is just equity in that they give you x dollars and you give up x percent of your company. The other way which is actually popular now is convertible debt. It's not a loan, but it's structured like a loan and eventually it converts to equity. I'm not gonna attempt to describe the difference up here right now because it is kinda complicated, but think of it as you can say, hey, I think my company is worth $500,000 and I need 50 grand to get it started so that is 10% and so if you give me 50 grand I'll give you 10%, right? If it's a $100 million business one day, that's a great investment, right? Convertible debt is different in that you're basically getting a loan that will convert to stock in certain triggered events. I know that's a little cryptic and I highly recommend that if you're interested you look up the two, and I'll actually give you a site here at the end that I really love. I think it's a huge resource that you guys should all check out. Essentially you want to understand the dynamics and mechanics of equity raise and convertible debt. Couple more questions, anybody? Yes?

It's a great question. This is where I want my wife to watch. I married a phenomenal woman who supports what I do, believes in what I'm doing, is willing to make sacrifices so I can do what I wanna do. I'll tell you, it's very, very hard. 'Cause when you talk about 24/7/365, when do you have time to do what you wanna do? It's not really 24/7/365, right? But it's definitely not nine to five, five days a week, stopping on Friday at five o'clock. I think what it comes down to is a few things. It's such a great time for you guys to be interested in entrepreneurship because a lot of you in here are really young, you don't have commitments and things that are holding you back, right? And even if you do, you can still do it, but think about how much more challenging it gets when you have a significant other and you're married and now you have kids and a dog and all this other stuff. What it comes down to is time management and having a good support system around you. Just also being really efficient. In order to do everything I'm doing, I've gotta be able to move fast, be really effective and efficient with my time, and ration in ways so that I'm still healthy. I don't need a lot of sleep, I sleep like six hours, maybe 5 1/2 hours a night, I'm okay with that. But what I do is I'll work all day and then I'll come home, I'll see my kids, we'll have dinner, and then they go to bed and my wife goes to bed early and then I keep working. I'm basically cheating by stealing pockets of three hours here and there, two hours here and there, in addition to the normal time I'd be working. Again, when it comes down to being your passion, you don't really burn out, but there is a healthy level. You don't wanna overdo it. Guys like Elon Musk can have two companies that are public, or Jack Dorsey could be at Twitter and Square, that's unbelievable, right? But they're doing it somehow and more than likely they're moving fast, getting a lot of things done, they have a good support system around them. It's not probably, I know they love what they do. You can't do that unless you love it. If you like it then maybe you'll kinda do it, but if you love it you won't wanna do anything else. Question? Somewhere back there, no? Scratching your head? Right, here we go, yes?

[Audience Member] What's that website?

Oh, the website, yeah. I'll show it to you right here at the very end. Are there any more questions? Yes?

[Audience Member] I think a lot of us in here are students and when you ask them, "why do you want to become an entrepreneur?" A lot of 'em say it's, "I wanna work for myself." So tell us one thing you don't like about being an entrepreneur.

Alright, save the tough ones for the end. What do I not like, gosh. One thing I'll address is this working for yourself. I think, depending on the kind of business, that isn't always true because ultimately you're working for your people, your employees, your customers, and so this kinda misnomer, "oh, I'm gonna work for myself "and be my own boss, do whatever I wanna do." Kind of, sort of, right? It's definitely different than working for a big corporate company and you have bosses and bosses, but it isn't quite like this, oh great, now I'm just gonna go home early or do whatever I want. What do I not like about it? I'm the wrong person to ask that about, I think you could probably tell already, 'cause I just love this, it's crazy, I have this sickness. To me it's so fascinating because I think that when I was in your shoes, no one would have predicted that I was gonna be this great entrepreneur. I was like everybody else. Quite honestly, I did not make great grades, I wasn't the most driven individual, but when I found something that I was good at and I was passionate at, man, it changed my life. That's one of the big things you guys should be hunting for is what are you good at that you could really commit to? And when you do that, all these things, if you do it right, fall into place. I'm gonna give you a pageant answer here, I don't have a good answer, I just love it so much. But yeah, are there downsides? There are because if you become an entrepreneur you will immediately, whether you're successful or not, become part of this very small percentage of people that know what it is you're going through and it's kinda lonely. That's why in my talk and the talks I do and the interviews I do, I love telling everything. Full disclosure, good, bad, and ugly, because these are the things that people don't talk about. That's probably the one thing is that it is kinda lonely. My advice to that is build a network of other entrepreneurs, especially ones who are smarter, wiser, more experienced than you. If you do that then they're giving you all the things like I'm giving you guys today and you're getting that on a constant basis, which is really helpful. My first venture I didn't do as much of that and luckily I was able to navigate it. In this company we have advisors, we have former CEOs of Fortune 500 companies on our board, that really helps a lot. Alright, one last question? No pressure, make it a good one. No, okay. Alright guys, let's see here, let's switch back here. I'm gonna ask you for a favor and then I'm going to leave you with a final thought. We've talked a lot about Hirewire today, I'm gonna ask you guys for a small favor here is that the reason why we've grown so fast is because of word of mouth, so we've been blessed. When people use Hirewire, they get hired, the first thing they do is they go tell their friends. When employers use Hirewire and then they think about their job board experience to Hirewire and how quick and easy it was, they go tell their friends. Most of our users come from word of mouth. That's how we know we're delivering a good product. I would like for you guys to help me and my company and my team promote Hirewire with a simple social post. Maybe it's Facebook, if you still use that. Maybe it's Twitter, it you use that. Maybe it's Snapchat. But if you would do me a favor and just tag Hirewire and help us spread the word, that is very powerful. If each of you guys did that we would see a spike and that would help spread the good word. So that would mean a lot to me and if you go to a restaurant, let's say, or you know an employer that's hiring hourly workers, tell 'em about it. It's free to use and right now we're in beta in Atlanta so this is the perfect time for them to try it out, won't cost 'em anything and that'll really help us. So that would mean a lot to me. Can you guys do that for me? Alright, great, thank you so much. I'll leave you with this guys. Quora is the website, Quora is awesome because it essentially will give you the ability to get the information and the answers you're getting from me right now, except there's thousands of really smart, experienced entrepreneurs, VCs, all kinds of people that are in the startup community that post and answer questions. So you could post a question right now about, "I've got this great idea, "but how do I raise my first round?" And you'll get good answers and you can search for 'em too, so I love that site. I spent a lot of time, even as an experienced entrepreneur, reading the questions, understanding how people think, what were the big trends? And there's all kinds of topics on there. It's not just startups either, it could be about anything. Here's one of my posts that I wanna share with you 'cause I write on Quora as well. This is my description to a question that asked what is entrepreneurship really like? This was my answer and that entrepreneurship is like being dropped off on a deserted island and you got nothing but determination, grit, and persistence. It's a game of survival. Think about it today. If you wanna know whether or not you're ready and you have what it takes, if you've landed on a deserted island, would you claw and scratch and scrape your way to survival or would you just lay down and die? In many ways, that's what it's like. The good news is, if you can do that, you become part of this rare area of people that have A, were willing to try, 'cause not a lot of people are willing to try, and B, have been very successful. That's entrepreneurship for you, that's my view. I really appreciate your time today guys. Thank you so much for having me and please tell your friends about Hirewire. Thank you.

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