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Talentful co-founders
Talentful co-founders Matt Gu, Jia Chen, and Kelvin Chen.

Jia Chen has worked in the software industry for over a decade and during that time he observed a recurring problem. Qualified developers rarely seemed to make it through the recruiting process.

He teamed up with sales and marketing professionals Kelvin Chen and Matt Gu to brainstorm startup ideas that would take some of the pain out of hiring tech talent. They experimented with several concepts and interviewed dozens of companies before discovering the root of the problem. Recruiters don’t have the technical background necessary to vet qualified developer candidates.

“The solution immediately became clear at that point: A software that is capable of connecting the dots, removing bias, looking beyond resumes and providing actionable insights,” said Chen. “Most importantly, it needed to perform all of these at high speed.”

That was the genesis of Talentful, a software platform that uses machine learning to help recruiters quickly and efficiently vet technology candidates.

Chen told GeekWire about his entrepreneurial journey for this installment of Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature.

Talentful CEO Jia Chen.
Talentful CEO Jia Chen.

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “Recruiters post job openings and get flooded with resumes. Our software helps them identify the best candidates.”

Inspiration hit us when: “Our first product, an interview service, fell into the abyss when we realized technology companies’ most painful problem wasn’t interviewing but fulfilling the beginning of their recruiting pipeline with qualified developer candidates. Since technology is constantly evolving and most recruiters don’t have strong technical backgrounds, qualified developers are often overlooked. We also noticed that recruiters spent a significant amount of their time browsing social platforms such as Github and Twitter to get a deeper understanding of candidates, but weren’t able to fully comprehend the information found. We concluded that we could automate a great portion of the work processes to help them become more accurate and efficient in their screening process.”

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “We have been bootstrapping for a year. Recently, we received an investment from the 9Mile Labs Accelerator and credits from Google, Amazon and Microsoft, which has been tremendously helpful. We’re currently exploring a variety of options to support team growth and customer growth.”

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “Talentful uses machine learning to analyze lots of data points of a potential hire. We provide the most in-depth analysis on their skill sets, interests, and personality. As Talentful focuses on developers, we’ve built specialized tools that are custom to the tech talent segment. For example, our engine studies the characteristics of existing star employees to make more accurate hiring recommendations on candidates.”

The smartest move we’ve made so far: “I would have to say it was when we started early sales conversations with several prominent technology companies before we wrote too much code. This allowed us to work with them on validating pain points and build out product features that greatly addressed their needs.”

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “In the early days, we focused heavily on customer acquisition. After analyzing usage logs, we found a lot of churn resulting from customers who didn’t understand how to use the tool right away. We realized that we needed to spend more time on-boarding our early adopters and setting metrics for customer success to make sure they had immediate success.”

talentful-ai-sidebyside-centeredWould you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Definitely Bezos. Bezos is renowned for his hard-working style and futuristic vision. Don’t get me wrong, the other two are super smart folks. But Bezos affects the people around him. On top of that, he sees the world differently as he believes in the big picture and big moves. He is not an incremental person because he’s changed the world in a very radical way. He inspires us to have a big vision and always thrive to make things 100x better.”

Our favorite team-building activity is: “Working together to prank other teams in our accelerator cohort. We scheme different scenarios and look out for each other while carrying out the execution. Our most recent prank war involved Photoshop with another startup. I ended up getting ahold of their CEO’s driver’s license photo and we all had a very fun time placing his face on lots of funny photos. Our entire cohort definitely had a good laugh. He ended up making my computer read Moby Dick via text-to-speech on the background as revenge.”

The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: “Engagement. We love to see a person heavily engaged in their work. We look for open source projects on GitHub or a passion for learning new skills. It’s always interesting to see how people solve problems and how they get excited when breaking down complex problems into smaller, actionable pieces.”

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Start selling the product as early as possible. The best way to tell that you are solving a pain point is when customers are willing to pay. It also provides you with the most honest way to get customer feedback.”

Editor’s note: GeekWire is featuring each of the startups in 9Mile Labs’ fall cohort. The companies will debut their final products at the Milestone9 Graduation Day event Oct. 13.

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