If you told me a few years ago I would join a French-American startup to build the leading Facebook recruiting software and change the face of online recruiting, I would have said you were crazy. But here we are, and that’s exactly what happened.
My undergraduate career was a fairly typical: I wanted to work in government, which seemed the best way to make the biggest impact on the world. At UC Berkeley I studied economics and international relations, conducted research on the bargaining dynamics of oil nationalization, worked on economic policy in the US Senate, and studied economic theory and geopolitics at Oxford.
Like many students with hazy post-graduate plans, I applied to law school and was fortunate to be accepted to Harvard. A few months before moving back east, I started to re-evaluate what I really wanted to do. I had spent four years surrounded by theory, studying obscure subjects, and writing papers few people read. Rather than spend another few years locked in the ivory tower, I wanted to go out and build something. Against the advice of most of the people I talked to, I decided to defer Harvard and jump into the tech scene.
I knew I wanted a challenge but, after talking with a few of the better-known tech companies, I realized that they couldn’t offer me the kind of trial-by-fire experience I wanted. I started visiting websites where people discussed startup ideas and where early-stage companies looked for new hires. It was there that I stumbled on what looked like a perfect job: Work4 Labs, a Paris-based startup that seemed to only have one employee, was looking for someone to open their US office in San Francisco. They (or he, she, I couldn’t tell…) needed someone to work on everything from product management to marketing to operations. The company seemed almost too early stage to consider, but on a whim I emailed email@example.com.
I had several Skype calls with Stéphane, and he walked me through his vision for the company. He challenged me to research the online recruiting market and to understand how ripe it was for disruption. The more I learned about the stagnant $27 billion industry, the more I realized we could find a way to use the huge opportunity that Facebook presented. The more I talked with Stephane, the more I saw he had what it took to build a transformative company in the space.
Within a few days, I was flying to Paris to help start a company in an industry in which I had no experience, with a guy I had never seen in person. At 8 am on a Monday, we met for the first time outside the Paris office of Multiposting (his first company) shook hands, and then went upstairs to get to work.
The app had only been public for a few weeks and Stéphane was still working part time at Multiposting, so there was a lot of catching up to do. The first few weeks were a whirlwind of espresso-fueled 18 hour days: developing a product roadmap, creating our first pitch deck, cobbling together a marketing strategy while making our first sales calls to the US in the middle of the night.
I flew back to SF and worked in a shared office space at Parisoma. With Stéphane in Paris and me in SF, we worked 24 hours a day between the two of us at breakneck speed. We knew we had to move quickly to launch new products, sign up customers, and gain market recognition before others realized the size of the opportunity we were after.
I spent my days on everything from answering support emails and manually invoicing customers to developing our pricing structure, crafting product strategy, and negotiating with key partners. Eager to sign up clients around the world, we would take 4 am calls with clients in Moscow or partners in Tokyo. The shared office was mainly a large open space, so we took conference calls from closets, the stairwell, or sometimes the bathrooms.
Today it’s largely acceptable to engage in professional activity of Facebook (some even argue it’s overtaking LinkedIn), but that was far from the case in 2010. Aside from a few consumer brands, few companies had invested in Facebook Pages, and most users felt uncomfortable entering professional info in their profiles.
Despite the market’s skepticism, we continued to believe in the potential of Facebook for recruiting and saw the platform moving in that direction. Every day our core metrics proved we were onto something: revenue was growing, more jobs were being posted, and, most importantly, more people were applying to jobs via Facebook. We started signing up more and more customers. At first it was the early adopters like Hard Rock Cafe and L’Oreal, but we also started signing up global brands like Accenture and Intel.
On a whim, and with only a beta version of our second product (a platform to help launch recruiting ads on the Facebook Ads API) we applied to the prestigious LeWeb Startup Competition, Europe’s TechCrunch Disrupt. It was one of the coolest feelings to stand on stage and help Stephane present our product to thousands of people. (Though we learned the hard way that you should always quadruple check your product before presenting it on stage!)
As we entered 2011, the market started to recognize that Facebook could be a valuable recruiting channel, and after hundreds of hours of sales calls, we learned how to best sell our product to the market. With this knowledge and confidence, we set out to build a sales team in the US. We spent hours cold emailing and interviewing candidates for sales and support roles, honing the pitch to convince them to leave stable jobs and join this crazy startup trying to change an industry that hadn’t evolved much in a decade.
We started 2011 with only two people, but within a few months we had grown the US team to six. We quickly outgrew our tiny office in the co-working space, so in addition to my duties as the newly-minted sales manager, I found and negotiated a lease on our first office. It was an amazing feeling to fill a room with more and more people who were passionate about an idea that had been little more than a website and a Powerpoint deck a few months before.
Going into the summer and fall of 2011, we entered a period of hyper growth. The market started to recognize Facebook’s potential. We saw all the signs of an excellent product-market fit, and we built a great organization around it. We couldn’t hire fast enough in SF or Paris, while bringing on new customers and launching new products. The office that once seemed palatial now gave off a sense of claustrophobia, with new hires packed into every corner. We were adding four to six people per month and kept running out of furniture, so you’d often find people working on couches or the floor.
My favorite quote on entrepreneurship comes from Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, who said that starting a company is like jumping off a cliff and building a plane on the way down. To me, there’s no better way to describe how much you need to embrace trial and error. As with all start ups, we had our inevitable setbacks: employees leaving, clients churning, products flopping. At times it felt like we were running so hard, only to realize we had stayed in one place.
Despite the setbacks, we remained focused on building products that filled a huge hole in the recruiting industry, products that our clients actually loved to use. We started Work4 Labs with huge ambitions and bootstrapped it into a strong market position. However, after a year of building and learning, we came to realize the market opportunity was even larger than even we anticipated.
While planning for 2012, we decided the best way to meet our aggressive goals was to raise outside funding. We weren’t merely looking for capital, but for advisors who had built the type of high-growth international company we were becoming and who shared our ambitious view of the market. After meeting with investors across Europe and the US, we were blown away by Matrix Partners and Dana Stalder , who had a wealth of experience building world-class companies like Netscape, eBay, and PayPal. Matrix ended up leading our $11 million Series A round that included DST and added an amazing group to our advisory board.
As 2012 came to an end, the whole year seemed a bit like a blur. We started the year with 25 employees and ended it with 85 in three countries. We released two huge products from beta, won several industry awards, and are still rapidly growing our client base. The company evolves on a monthly, if not weekly, basis, with new faces, products, growing pains, and victories.
As our team grew, I chose to focus on what I love doing most, building the product. This choice was an extension of why I joined the company in the first place: I wanted to build something that solved a big problem and that people loved to use because of it. I’m lucky to learn from an awesome management, engineering, and sales team, and to help build a truly disruptive company from the ground up. Although I wouldn’t have seen myself here a few years ago, I couldn’t be happier.
If you’re interested in joining me at Work4 Labs, check out our open jobs at workfor.us/jobs
This post was written by Matthew Brown