I’m really excited to announce that we raised a $10M Series A, led by the fine people at M13. This round of funding is a long time coming. I don’t know what the average company age is when successfully raising an A, but it took us 6 years to get here. It was a long and windy path, and for a little while, we almost died (more on that below), but we’re still here, and we’re so grateful and excited to finally have the resources to do what we’ve always wanted to do: fix hiring, for real.
What does “fixing hiring” mean? We believe that the only way to really effect change, is to make hiring more efficient—meaning that the right people are talking to the right companies at the right time. Make hiring efficient is actually our company mission. “Efficient? But, that’s so uninspiring,” one might say. And to that, we say false. For us, fairness follows from efficiency… whereas the reverse isn’t necessarily true.
How do you make hiring efficient? Here’s our todo list:
- Kill resumes
- Democratize access to interview practice: make it so everyone who needs practice can get it and can enter the technical interview process on a level playing field
- Democratize access to jobs and put power back in the hands of individual engineers. Make it so people who are good, regardless of who they are or how they look on paper, can talk directly to hiring managers at any company they want, whenever they want
Many years ago, when I was working as a recruiter, I wrote a program that took hundreds of candidate resumes who had previously interviewed at the company, and looked at a bunch of different traits, including GPA, years of experience, university, highest degree earned, previous employer, and so on.
I found that, by far and away, the thing that mattered most was how many typos and grammatical errors a resume had. Where people went to school didn’t matter at all, and neither did any of the other traits above (except their previous employer, which mattered a bit, but much less than the typos).
I also did an experiment where I showed anonymized resumes to recruiters and hiring managers, asking them if they’d interview that candidate. Not only could they not tell who the good candidates were, they all disagreed with each other about what a good candidate looked like in the first place.
It became abundantly clear to me that resumes sucked, but if we’re honest, they’re not the only problem. Once you’re in the door, you have to pass the technical interview.
Democratizing access to interview practice
Technical interviews are hard for all engineers, regardless of background or seniority, but they’re not going away for a while, and, perhaps worst of all, access to practice isn’t equitably distributed. At schools like MIT, where I went for undergrad, students have boundless access to interview practice. When I was there, not only was there a multi-week course during the month-long break between Fall and Spring semesters that was dedicated exclusively to passing technical interviews, but there was a social component to it as well —everyone at these schools is interviewing at FAANG for internships and new grad positions, which means that students can practice with each other, share their successes and failures, and, over time, internalize just how much of technical interviewing is a numbers game. Once you “get it”, you know that bombing a Google interview doesn’t mean that you weren’t meant to be an engineer. It just means that you need to work some more problems, do more mock interviews, and try again at Facebook.
Students not coming from these schools, or any engineers without an existing network of people with whom they could practice, would miss out not only on the interview prep, but also on the more subtle change in perception where failure is a temporary state, not a death sentence.
And so, interviewing.io was born. The idea was simple. Any software engineer could use the platform to prepare for technical interviewing via anonymous mock interviews with senior engineers from top companies like Google, Facebook and others. Junior engineers could get a taste of what real interviews were like and grok that these interviews are a learned skill. Senior engineers could de-rust and warm back up without anyone knowing who they were.
Interviews suck for everyone. Many engineers, regardless of seniority or pedigree, perform poorly in their first mock interview, but after about 5 practice interviews, their odds of passing a real interview double. In fact, after getting the requisite amount of practice interviews in and warming up, there is NO difference in interview performance among engineers who graduated from a top-tier CS school and those who did not.
Democratizing access to jobs and putting engineers in the driver’s seat of their job search
If you do well in practice interviews, no matter who you are or how you look on paper, you unlock our jobs portal. With 2 clicks, you can book real interviews with engineers at top companies, bypassing online applications, resume screens, and recruiters.
In other words, you don’t have to have a friend refer you in or wait for recruiters to contact you and then spend weeks scheduling calls. You’re in control, and you can book or not book whenever you like.
These interviews are also anonymous, just like practice, which means that companies don’t know who you are until after the interview, so you’re judged on what you can do, not how you look on paper.
For employers who hire through us, this is a win. End-to-end, from first touch to hire, a top-tier tech company will hire about 0.5% of its candidates. With interviewing.io, that number is closer to 10%, and companies who use it save an average of 220 hours per hire, split between engineering and recruiting. Close to half of our hires are candidates the company would not have considered if they had seen just their resume, and many of these engineers had previously been rejected by literally the same company where they later got hired via interviewing.io. Over our lifetime, we’ve made hires for companies like Facebook, Amazon, Lyft, Uber, Snap, Dropbox, and dozens of others.
The other, subtle value-add is that while, to the rest of the world, interviewing.io users look like passive candidates who aren’t on the market — they don’t update their LinkedIn or start blogging or tweeting — interviewing.io knows they’re about to look because they’ve started practicing. In other words, we know the 2 things that actually matter: who’s good and who’s actually looking right now. No one else, not even LinkedIn, has that information.
And for those engineers, we roll out the red carpet.
A brief interlude: The bit where we almost died but then didn’t
This all sounds pretty good, right? It kind of was, but then things got bad. You see, for most of our existence, we made all of our money from employers, which meant that we could offer interview practice for free. When hiring ground to a halt in the wake of COVID, we lost almost all of our revenue and started charging individual engineers for interview practice to survive. You can see the blog post where we announced our pivot, and while the post’s title is kind of peppy, it was a very hard post to write and an even harder decision to make. If you want to hear the whole sordid tale of woe, you can listen to my 2020 interview on Indie Hackers:
After we made the switch, we promised our users that we would find a way to make it so people who couldn’t afford to pay us could still practice on our platform—if we didn’t do that, we’d be in gross violation of our goal to democratize access to practice. That promise is a large part of why we raised this round. More on that in a moment.
Here’s the shape of our revenue before and after COVID (things started to go south a few months before quarantine… there’s always a seasonal dip in our business, but this time it never recovered).
The hockey-stick growth we had after our switch is what enabled us to raise this A. And that hockey-stick growth is due to the herculean efforts of the interviewing.io team to build out and test a brand new product in a little over a month, while the future loomed more and more uncertain. A special thank you here to the longest-standing members of the team who were here before COVID and through it: Liz Graves, Sam Jordan, Eamonn MacConville, and Dawid Kluszczynski.
It’s due to our intrepid interviewer community, who stuck by us and continued to give hours of their time to helping people practice and get better, even when they were unsure if we’d be around tomorrow.
It’s due to the short list customers who stayed on even when hiring slowed down, those who came back when the economy started to recover, and the new ones who’ve taken a bet on us since.
And it’s due to our users who could have rightfully rage quit when we started charging them for something that used to be free… but instead chose to stay, answered our myriad user research emails about pricing and offerings, and were willing not only to to pay us, but pay us through a series of rather suspicious-looking PayPal links (before we actually integrated payments into our platform).
Today, an engineer signs up for interviewing.io every 8 minutes, we have over a third of Bay Area engineers in our ecosystem, and over our lifetime, interviewing.io has hosted close to 100K technical interviews. In the process, we’ve observed, over and over, that where someone went to school has no bearing on how they’ll perform in an interview.
Why M13 (including the bit where I was pitching while 7 months pregnant)?
We chose M13 to lead our Series A because both Brent Murri and Matt Hoffman immediately understood our vision for what good hiring looks like and both cared deeply about fixing it for engineers in particular. Perhaps most importantly, they not only understood, but encouraged me to invest time and resources in the power of our community. Our one core value as a company is to put candidate (read: engineer) experience first, regardless of where the money is coming from. We want to be the place where smart people hang out and come back to. If we have that right, everything else will come. Building for engineers, smart driven creative engineers, is a bit of a double-edged sword (because they, too, are brashly opinionated), but it’s also a gift. Not everyone gets to love their users, and most companies don’t get to tangibly change people’s lives and give people stuff they can’t get anywhere else. We’re able to do that, and we’re fortunate to have found partners who believe in this value as fervently as we do.
And, look, I have no idea if this is the right place to put this, but there’s one other reason we went with M13. Most people don’t know this (though I guess they will now), but I started pitching our Series A when I was 7 months pregnant. I had been hoping to start earlier, but there was a lot of deck work and pitch practice that preceded it, and I’m a solo founder, so all the pitch practice and deck work had to be slotted in between continuing to run the company. (As an aside, my team is awesome. I didn’t realize exactly how awesome until I had to give birth 3 weeks early and ended up being on unplanned leave for several weeks afterwards with no plans in place yet… in retrospect, I could have stepped back and focused on pitching much earlier!)
So there I am, on a bunch of Zoom calls with investors, where they see me from the neck up, while fielding all manners of conflicting advice about when to reveal that I’m in the family way. Of course, in an ideal world, you reveal it immediately, and it doesn’t change anything. And there are those who would advise leading with the pregnancy because if investors aren’t immediately supportive, fuck them, right? After hearing all sorts of horror stories, I took the middle road and decided to wait until prospective investors had at least a few meetings with me and had the chance to get what interviewing.io was before dropping the news. Not only were the folks at M13 completely gracious about the big reveal, but the way they handled the rest of the process was exemplary, even when I went dark at the most fraught part of the deal—right after I got their term sheet—because, well, I went into the hospital for a routine checkup in between investor calls and came out with a baby. (Don’t worry, everything worked out alright, and we have a beautiful baby girl.)
I hope every founder who’s pregnant or about to be or has small children has the kind of experience that I had with M13. Full stop. In that world, worrying about when to break the news that we’re pregnant will be an unfortunate, anachronistic blip.
What’s next? (Spoiler: We’re going to make it so anyone can practice now and pay later, and we’ll get all the companies you want onto our platform)
Now that we have the resources, we want to make good on the promises we made to our users back when things got real hard. It’s not possible to democratize access to interview prep if you’re charging for it, so that we’d create a Fellowship program where engineers from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds can practice for free and that we’d create a program where people who needed practice now could defer payment until they got a job.
We’ve already rolled out the first two things (and will be running a 3rd Fellowship cohort soon). Our deferred payment program has been in pilot mode for the last few months, and so far we’ve seen an amazing 94% payback rate. With our Series A funding, we’ll be able to take this program out of pilot mode and roll it out to every engineer on our platform— don’t pay us a dime until you get a job and are in a position to pay.
The other big thing we’re going to focus on is getting more employers on interviewing.io. Hiring is back, post-COVID, in a big way, and as we regrow the employer side of our business, we’ll be able to make our platform more affordable, even without deferred payments. We also want to fulfill our promise of putting power back in the hands of engineers. Hiring is bad. Resumes don’t tell you much, scheduling is painful, getting in front of companies takes weeks of emailing if you’re lucky and infinite time if you’re not. We’re rethinking hiring from the ground up, automating away the cruft, and removing friction for the part that matters: smart people talking to each other about the actual work. So, if you’re a top performer on our platform, no matter who you are, our goal is to make it so you can speak to a hiring manager at any company you want, anonymously, as early as the next day, and get fast-tracked through the rest of the process.
Want to help us fulfill our mission of making hiring efficient and leveling the playing field in software engineering? We’re hiring!
This post wouldn’t be complete without a thank you to all of the new investors who joined in this round in addition to M13. A special thank you to our existing investors, many of whom invested in multiple rounds. Of those, I’d like to mention the following people individually: Leo Polovets at Susa Ventures, Freada Kapor Klein at Kapor Capital (who’s been with us since the very, very beginning… thank you), David Waxman at TenOneTen Ventures, and Peter Livingston at Unpopular Ventures. Even when things got really bad and we were sitting at the very nadir in the graph above, they were with us every step of the way and continued to believe in our vision for better hiring.