Have you ever bought a product that didn’t do its job, or had a frustrating experience? So frustrating, in fact, that it motivated you to not only come up with an idea for a solution, but to actually go ahead and develop that idea.
This scenario is often the one encountered by budding entrepreneurs. And it’s exactly the situation Benjamin Gelb experienced before launching jobgator.io.
Based in Boston, Benjamin is the founder and CEO of jobgator.io, a website that scans job seekers’ resumes along with job descriptions and helps users fix their resume by suggesting key word changes.
The process is designed to help job seekers navigate applicant tracking software (APS) so that they can improve their changes of landing an interview.
Launched in late 2017, Jobgator is completely free to use, and the company is implementing a longer-term monetization strategy.
Read Benjamin’s story about the journey to becoming an entrepreneur, the lessons he wants to share, and his plans for the future.
In a couple of your LinkedIn videos about Jobgator.io, you speak quite passionately about how difficult it is to find the right job and the frustrations that affect our enjoyment of work. Were these the things that inspired you to create jobgator.io? Or was the motivation more around a desire to be an entrepreneur?
I wasn’t so happy with my first job, and decided I needed a change. I began to search for jobs and apply, and despite having solid first-job experience at a reputable and well-known company, I couldn’t get a single interview.
I tried everything. I updated my resume, networked feverishly, and reached out to people who worked at the companies I was applying to. It really started to bother me that I wasn’t getting any interviews, and so I figured I must not be the only one facing this problem.
After a quick internet search, I found that indeed, I wasn’t the only one facing this problem. I quickly found that the reason I wasn’t receiving interviews was due to applicant tracking systems used by recruiters that were automatically filtering me out because I did not have the right keywords in my resume.
What were the right keywords? A few articles on various forums suggested I use wordcloud to see which words were keywords from the job description, and then include those in my resume. Despite being tedious and laborious, I started to do this, and began to get interviews (five requests for interviews in one day!).
It still took me significant time to go to wordcloud and see which words to include, and then not all of the words were genuine keywords or skills, so it wasn’t always accurate.
An entrepreneur’s journey
So in effect, the idea for jobgator.io come from your experience?
Yes, it stemmed from my own frustration searching for jobs. Recruiters have moved heavily towards automation to quickly hire many people.
The problem with these tools is that they are often inaccurate, and only represent one side of the candidate. Candidates often do not know to include exact skills and keywords that the recruiter is looking for, and despite being qualified, will not likely receive an interview.
Seventy-two per cent of resumes are never seen by human eyes, but are automatically filtered out by applicant tracking systems meaning that I wasn’t alone!
When I was searching for jobs, this made me feel unwanted, unvalued, and really depressed. The fact that seemingly no-one wanted to hire me really made me feel like I had no skills or value.
In parts of the Western world, especially in the US, your job determines your status, what car you drive, and what social circles you are in. Without a job, I felt naked.
Most CEOs of start-ups say that bringing an idea to life is one of the most challenging aspects of a new venture. How did this go for you, and what advice do you have for new start-ups?
Bringing the idea to life was one of the harder parts of this process. We were exploring a completely new field. I knew right away that it would be a challenge, and was told by many people that building a machine that could predict the correct words would be impossible.
After learning more about Machine Learning, I realized this would be possible, but did not know exactly how it would work. It took several iterations before realizing that there were new, better ways to build predictions. Working with Shiladitya and Harish who have experience in both Machine Learning and general development opened my mind to possibilities I had not even seen.
My advice to other startups is to go to your target users early and ask them if they want to use it. Continue to go back to them at each step of the project, as their validation will be the most important part of making your product a success. Building a product is great, but if no one will use it, it really is pointless.
I did not build Jobgator so I could have a start-up, I built it to solve a problem.
Key lessons learned when launching a start-up
How did you approach getting funding and hiring staff? And, again, what are they key lessons you have learned with these two key stages?
Currently, the approach to funding is speaking with several groups of angel and seed investors. As Jobgator has just begun to generate revenue, we are currently leaning towards trying for money from these investors as they are much more likely to fund us. Currently the whole company is bootstrapped, meaning that we are not paying ourselves.
Key lessons at this stage are: 1. Don’t go for funding too early. I tried to gain funding shortly after I had the idea. The problem with this approach is that I would have given up a huge portion of the company for an insignificant amount of funding.
Instead, I raised several thousand dollars on a crowdfunding campaign, and completely bootstrapped the application until we began to make some money. Also, find an investor that you trust, and don’t take money from the first person who offers it. While this might be very tempting, it could lead to your business failing because they may have different objectives than you.
2. Staff are the most important part of the company. We have been able to accomplish so much in a really short time because our employees truly believe in what we are doing. Shilditya, Harish, and the rest of the team have worked tirelessly, even on weekends to deliver the right product that users want.
Additionally, holding the team accountable is important. At the stage we are at currently, we need to hold each other accountable to ensure key issues are fixed.
Related to the question above, what are your greatest strengths and greatest weaknesses? How are you finding the right people to complement you and your vision?
Currently, our greatest weakness is lack of experience. We are generally a very young team, and we lack life experience as most of the team is in their 20s.
I look for people who may not yet be experts in something, but have a curiosity and willingness to learn. Recent additions to the team include Tanmayee who is a growth hacker doing her Masters in Marketing in Boston, and Kaushik Vecha who is a front-end developer.
They both are relatively new in their fields, but have a real curiosity and willingness to learn new things quickly which makes them true assets in our team.
Priorities are managing staff and the important conversations
Many leaders of start-ups say that they are so busy with the day-to-day tasks that they simply don’t have time to focus on management and developing talent. Is this the case for you? If not, how are you helping your employees grow along with your company?
As a former Scrum Master who worked in an agile management style, I think managing employees and having important conversations with them is an extremely important piece to any startup’s success.
Many startups fail due to disputes between founders. Tanmayee has set up sessions with me and we have detailed ways she can improve. In addition, I have asked her ways I can improve. We are all extremely busy, but we are now integrating in key meetings such as retrospectives where we look at how we can improve as a team.
Which aspects of your start-up are you most proud of to-date, and which things have been the most frustrating?
I am most proud of my team and their ability to quickly build and launch an application in just three months. We were accepted into MassChallenge, one of the best, and most competitive startup accelerators in the world, and in that time we were able to build and launch a complete application which no other team out of 75 other startups could do.
I have been frustrated by our lack of funding. This means that not all of the team can work full-time.
According to a piece by Neil Patel in Forbes 90 percent of start-ups fail. That’s a pretty daunting figure! What are you doing to make sure yours isn’t one of the 90 percent?
Jobgator has gotten into MassChallenge which improves chances of success exponentially. According to an MIT study, MassChallenge startups are 2.5X more likely than non-MassChallenge startups to hire at least 15 employees and 3X more likely to raise $500,000 in funding.
Jobgator is currently in talks with several groups of investors, and if they successfully can raise investment, this will increase their chances of success exponentially.
What’s your company culture like, and what kind of person will succeed at jobgator.io?
At Jobgator we welcome and embrace creativity and fun. While some of us work remotely, it is hard to have strong company culture initially, but we all agreed that we wanted to have a fun environment where we are all learning.
We organize sessions where we can cross-train and learn things from others which helps us all improve and grow.
After working in jobs with really bad management, I decided that I would always be transparent, open, and honest as a leader. Instead of inspiring fear in others, I want to inspire curiosity and help others learn.
Set your service apart from others
Jobgator.io isn’t the only service helping candidates get past recruiters’ automated tracking software. What sets jobgator.io apart from the competition?
Jobgator not only matches Jobscan with our model and technology, but we go beyond this by creating a holistic platform that solves the tree major issues plaguing job seekers.
- Relevance of matching, ensuring a higher ROI:Job seekers spend countless hours searching for and applying to jobs and they often apply to jobs that they are not qualified for. This wastes both their time and the recruiter’s time who has to filter the resumes. Jobgator decreases the amount of applications that need to be filled out by the applicant, saving them time and effort, and decreases the number of applicants applying for each job which helps recruiters.
- Workflow management: When searching for many jobs and applying, it can often become confusing and hard to manage all of the opportunities. Jobgator brings in a simple workflow management system to effectively , manage all of the opportunities and see progress in an easy agile driven format.
- Rewards – Jobgator gives powerful incentives to keep job seekers moving forward and helps keep them motivated as the process of applying for jobs can be very de-motivating.
There are a couple of other competitors such as Leap.ai, Pymetrics, and Wayup. Despite having no funding, Jobgator is already helping many candidates. When we achieve our funding round, we will be able to expand further, helping people with our strong platform.
Give us a glimpse into your working day or working week. What kind of hours are you putting in? Any room for downtime?
I work almost constantly. Since getting into MassChallenge in June, I have been working non-stop as I realize this is Jobgator’s chance to become successful.
I generally bike to the office which is about 10 minutes away around 9 in the morning, and generally work until midnight or later. I try to take breaks occasionally to relax and see some of Switzerland where I am currently living for my program.
So far, your start-up is geared towards the U.S. employment market. Do you have any plans to expand into Canada and beyond?
We have plans to expand and focus more globally. Our current focus is to look at the East coast of the US and Canada, and then expand to the rest of the US. Upon success, we will look to expand globally.
Where do you expect jobgaor.io to be 12 months from now?
In 12 months, we hope to have helped over 3,000 people successfully get new jobs. We will be funded and have expanded our team size hiring several key staff members. We want to build a business side application where recruiters can login and directly hire top candidates.
Built in would be controls to increase the speed and enforce etiquette between candidates and recruiters such as rules for when each party would need to reply to each other.
Additionally, the candidate’s picture and name would be hidden until they are offered an interview by the recruiter. This would decrease hiring bias in both age, race, and gender bias in the initial step of hiring, and is one of our long term goals here at Jobgator.
Words for experience
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs just at the start of their new venture?
I would say that failing at first isn’t a bad thing, because then you will learn how sweet success is when you know you are building the right product for the right people for the right reasons.
Who have been the biggest influences on you, your thinking, and how you approach your work?
My parents have always inspired strong work ethic. They Inspired me to start working at an early age and to start my own enterprises, always encouraging my creativity.
Additionally, former coworker Anirudh Kannan inspired me with his strong work ethic and interesting views on life. A coworker in my previous company Charles Mumby inspired me with his work ethic and ability to always find solutions for problems, working constantly, and never quitting.
Entrepreneur Benjamin Gelb
Benjamin has travelled extensively, and have lived in South America, Italy, and Switzerland. He studied Community Development and Applied Economics at the University of Vermont, and has always wanted to do something where he could help people improve their lives.
In his mid-20s, Benjamin partnered to create a small ecotourism company in Ecuador at just the age of 19. He also played a key role in a very large bank as manager of 50 people at just the age of 22. You can find Benjamin on LinkedIn and Twitter.