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The Humanly team at Y Combinator, from left, CTO Bryan Leptich, CEO Prem Kumar and COO Andrew Gardner. (Humanly Photo)

Automation may be a means to replacing humans in specific types of jobs. But for Humanly, automation is a better way to help companies find the right people to fill roles.

The Seattle startup is gaining traction with its artificial intelligence-powered platform that screens job candidates, schedules interviews, and runs reference checks. Companies including Farmers Insurance and fellow Seattle startup Armoire are using the software, which aims to reduce the time it takes to find talent and provide a better experience for potential new employees.

Prem Kumar spent 10 years at Microsoft and is also a Techstars mentor. (Humanly Photo)

Humanly is led by co-founder and CEO Prem Kumar, a former Microsoft employee who helped launch the startup in August 2018. He met his co-founder Andrew Gardner while they worked at Seattle employee engagement startup TINYpulse. Prem then rounded out the founding team with the “best developer I knew,” recruiting Bryan Leptich as CTO.

The founders are currently part of the Winter 2020 class at Y Combinator, the esteemed Silicon Valley startup accelerator.

Humanly says its technology can save hiring managers 60 or more hours per open role, on average, and also reduce bias early in the hiring process. The company focuses on positions that have high resume volume and turnover, such as customer success or sales roles.

Kumar said Humanly uses progressive profiling, similar to a marketing tool, as a way to quickly understand a candidate’s intent and background. Its chatbot helps manage conversations at the “top of funnel” before a human steps in to complete the hiring process.

“We place a heavy emphasis on conversational design and what questions are being asked, when, and through what channels,” Kumar said.

The 5-person startup recently raised investment from angel investors including Joe Giordano, founder of PayScale, as well as Liquid 2 Ventures. Its advisory board includes longtime Microsoft HR exec Lisa Brummel.

“I’ve been discussing Humanly’s approach with Prem for a while now — there is a big gap around candidate experience in the market and I love how they’re addressing it,” Brummel said in a statement.

Other Seattle-area startups using tech to improve the talent acquisition process include Karat, a technical interview platform, and Textio, which helps companies write better job listings.

Humanly is based in both Seattle and Sacramento, Calif.

We caught up with Kumar for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire:

What does your company do? Humanly automates job candidate screening and Q&A for companies with high applicant volume. We feel that if hiring teams had unlimited time, money and resources every candidate interaction would start with a conversation. We are trying to deliver that experience at scale, efficiently and equitably.

(Humanly Photo)

Inspiration hit us when … A lot of our inspiration has come from my days working in CRM at Microsoft and seeing CRM and marketing automation tools enable engagement at scale. We feel that if hiring teams had the tooling that would enable them to engage with candidates in the ways salespeople and marketers engage with prospects, hiring as we know it would be flipped on its head.

For example, if I was to tell a marketer to drive one million eyeballs to a website and that “oh, by the way” there are only enough sales people to talk to 10 percent of prospects, that would be a failure. Unfortunately in today’s world — for high-applicant-volume jobs — this is happening with candidates even while employers are paying to attract candidates to their employment content. This has everything to do with the technology available to hiring teams.

VC, Angel or Bootstrap? We bootstrapped for our first six months before completing a pre-seed round. I always recommend bootstrapping where possible — it’s a great way to really learn your problem space, before you’re ready to take a check. The other important piece is that whatever way you go from a funding point, equally important to getting the “right terms” (or even more important) is getting the right investor(s). We were strategic in bringing together investors in our space that have really helped us and having those strong partnerships can make or break a company. You’ll only be as successful as the quality of the first 10-to-20 people you bring on, and that includes investors and partners.

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: The key to our success will be in not only saving hiring teams immense amounts of time, but in building world-class candidate experiences that let strong employer brands shine. The average job in the U.S. gets 150 resumes and only one person gets a particular job. Our software focuses on not only on finding that one, but turning the other 149 into future candidates, brand advocates and even customers.

Separately we feel that as technologies like chatbots emerge at many of today’s enterprises in the hiring space, much of the surrounding technologies will become commoditized, and Humanly’s long term play is in data and content — what is delivered via these channels to candidates, from companies. Our aim is to build the world’s largest library of two-way hiring conversations for high-applicant-volume roles. This will allow companies to quickly deploy “first touch” conversations with candidates through the various channels in which they interact, screen those candidates and schedule them.

The smartest move we’ve made so far: Starting. And specifically starting with user research versus diving right into building product. It’s product management 101 but something we can’t stress enough. Before leaving our day jobs we went out to 60 folks in the hiring space (recruiters, recruiting coordinators, hiring managers and candidates) and did a set of contextual inquiry interviews. This helped immensely in getting our bearings before we were married to a particular solution.

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: One thing we didn’t do enough early on was really leveraging our network in strategic ways. We soon learned the importance of taking the time to bring those supporters and friends along on the journey with us. A handy tool we’ve used is being religious in sending out monthly updates and including an “ask” in each one.

Which leading entrepreneur or executive would you most want working in your corner? Reid Hoffman. His work at PayPal and LinkedIn presents a master class in category ownership. His blitz-scaling approach is inspirational to all high-growth companies.

Our favorite team-building activity: Traveling together. Oh, and Mongolian buffets. With a remote team our weekly trips to Mountain View, Calif., for Y Combinator and travel to customers often leads to high quality team time. Andrew and I have two kids each, all under five years of age, so team building activities outside of work is tough, but the three of us have found some great thinking, relaxing and bonding happens in those in-between times while traveling. Oh, and Bryan wanted to mention that my snoring while we travel is not great for team morale : ) .

The biggest thing we look for when hiring: We love this question. The answers really vary based on role and other specifics, but aside from gaining an understanding of whether the person has a chance to excel in a role, the No. 1 thing we look for is culture fit or culture add. Asking ourselves the question “Will this person make our culture and company better?” not “Will this person fit in our existing culture?” We sort of look at building great culture like a product roadmap — culture is living and breathing and the zeitgeist of your company. Rather than try and find people who are like those already in your org, we find it important to find those who will add to your culture as you work toward your culture roadmap and where you want to be in the future.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: With credit to Nike, it would be “Just do it.” Being an entrepreneur is really about going out and following your passion, and the hardest part is starting. The second piece of advice may be “Just ask.” Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. You’ll need a lot of support as you embark on your journey, and I’ve found you should never be afraid to ask those around you for help. The other end of this is giving — always make sure to return the favor by helping those around you when you’re in a position to and aim to give first when you can.

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