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How did you get to where you are today? What incidents and experiences shaped your career path? What inspired you to work on this startup idea?

Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Mon Nov 09 2020
Okay, I'll try not to make this a super long answer. But I studied, uh, programming, um, in school, But then e took a bit of a left her. And after I graduated and ended up working as a professional cook for three years, I mentioned that because probably some of your students want to take alternative paths and might find them scary. I think it was one of the best things I ever did. Of course, things worked out okay for me. Maybe that would be saying something else that they wouldn't have. But, um, when I was working as a cook, and eventually I realized that it was not the right career for me, but while I was doing it, um, one of the things that I was really struck by was that hiring in kitchens was really meritocratic. So you come in in the morning and you do some tasks. Maybe you chop an onion, then you're prepping some dishes, and then you're actually working in the kitchen during service, and then someone's observing you the entire time. And at the end of the night, if you did a good job, you get a job offer and If you didn't, then you don't. So there was something very elegant about that. And later, when I went back to being a software engineer, I noticed that software engineering hiring really wasn't fair. Um, but I I was an engineer for about five years. Um, when I realized that I probably wouldn't be a super successful celebrity chef went back to doing what I know. And toward the end of that, I was running a team and I had to hire people for my team. And it was a small company. We didn't really have a recruiter and a za result. Kind of everybody on the team, myself included, was getting interrupted to look at resumes and schedule interviews and do all of these other hiring related tasks that got in the way of us writing code and building product, which was our actual jobs. So I thought, You know what? I'm going to take this on and see if I could make it a little more efficient. And I just fell in love with the problem of like, how do you find the right people for the job? How can you tell if somebody is talented? How much of this, The skills How much is aptitude and, uh, kind of never looked back, So I switched away from being a software engineer. I started working as a recruiter. I thought I'd have an edge because I was technical. And most technical recruiters are actually not. Um And, uh, my first real recruiting job was head of talent at ah 100 person startup called Trial Pay. I was very lucky that I was a job with not much experience. They took a big bet. Um, I also ran hiring at UDACITY. I started my own recruiting firm at some point. And throughout that journey, I just realized that hiring was broken in a lot of ways and I miss building things. So ultimately that very winding path led me to interviewing Io, where our mission is to make hiring about what people can do and not how they look on paper.

What is the elevator pitch of your startup? What problem does it solve? How were your customers solving their pain point before your startup?

Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Mon Nov 09 2020
help people who are looking for software engineering jobs. And then we also have companies who are looking for software engineers. So on interviewing I owe, you can practice technical interviewing with senior engineers from companies like Google and Facebook and Amazon and others. And if you do well in practice, no matter who you are, how you look on paper, you could get fast tracked for engineering jobs at some of those same companies and others. So all about removing the resume and making things about whether you can code and in the process also kind of hopefully leveling the playing field and democratizing access to practice, which I know not everybody has equal access to. That's something we're trying to fix. Basically, we just want smart people toe have every opportunity, and we're trying to build things that will make it more likelyhang on lead code, probably spending a lot of time on their, um they're also probably when they can, interviewing at companies that they're not really excited about to practice before talking to companies where they are excited. So we said, You don't have to do any of that. Just get on our platform and we'll get you the feedback you need without having Thio to jump through all these hoops. Um, on the company's side before us. Um, there are a lot of hiring marketplaces out there s. So I think companies can use LinkedIn. Of course, they can use things like hired, but we're the only platform that actually, um lets companies select people based on interview performance and not resume.

Can you walk us through your first few weeks when you started working on this project? How did things change over the next few months?

Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Mon Nov 09 2020
of throwing the idea around in my head for a while. When I came up with the idea, I was running a pretty lucrative recruiting firm, as I mentioned earlier, and I decided that before I jumped in with both feet. It might be good to test this idea and see if there's actually appetite for it. So I created a marketing site pretty ugly one at that for this idea. I think it said something like free anonymous technical interview practice with engineers from top companies. And I just put the site on Hacker News, which is a Nen gin earing community. A lot of people hang out and and I wanted to see what the response was, and it was crazy. Within something like 36 hours, 7000 people had signed up eso. At that point, I realized that maybe it was time Thio pause on my recruiting firm and get to work on this. And then I spent the next several months kind of trying to get a team in place and get a co founder and get organized and incorporate the company and a bunch of other boring, mundane stuff. Uh huh.

What were the challenges in building the initial team and how did you overcome them? How much time and resources did founding team members commit?

Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Mon Nov 09 2020
took me so long to find a co founder. Um, in retrospect, I should have just done it on my own and hired somebody on. But I think this is a problem that a lot of people have. Basically, I had this huge like list of emails of all these engineers that wanted this product and the product didn't exist. And I was just kind of grinding my gears, um, trying to get some friend of mine to quit their job, right and work with me on this even though we had no funding. And, you know, we had really was some validation based on how maney hacker news sign ups we got. So I think that it slowed me down a lot on actually went through a couple of trials with different co founders before I was able to pick one. Um, and I actually ended up having to raise money before my co founder joined because he didn't want to take the risk. So that, of course, meant that I had much more stake in the company than he did. It wasn't split 50 50 because I had done a lot of the set up work that's also something else that I hope is helpful to people you don't have to do 50 50. But after that experience, and by the way, he and I ended up parting ways a few years later, even though he did a lot of really great things and got the product off the ground. I think in retrospect, I would probably just hire, raise a little bit of capital, hire a team a soon as possible and just go all in and and not wait. Thio have the perfect co founder.

How did your venture get its first professional funding? What were the challenges and how were they overcome? How'd your fundraising efforts change in subsequent rounds?

Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Mon Nov 09 2020
By the time I started this company, I had built a bit of a brand for myself. I had done a lot of writing about hiring already, both on Cora and on my block. And, you know, uh, that that made me kind of a known quantity. So getting the first few checks, I think was easier for me than it would have been had I not had that, Brent. The first few checks came from, uh, engineers that I knew that had previously founded companies themselves and had already had an exit. And so we're doing angel investing, and I think that it was easier to raise from them one because they kind of knew who I was and and trusted me, but also because they were people that understood the problem we were solving because they had had to hire engineers in the past and they knew how hard it waas. So I had to sell them much more on the solution rather than you know, when you pitch BCS, you have to both sell them on the fact that you are solving a real problem and that problem exists, and then you have to pitch that your solution is the right one. So Ah, lot of like I just thought a bunch of smallish checks from a lot of different people. I wasn't going to take any VC funding in our angel round. I ended up toward the end getting some VC funding, which was great because it legitimized our enterprise a little bit. But that that wasn't the plan. Um, and it took me a couple of months and to end, but the first check wasn't It was probably the easiest round that we raised, and after that, it got harder.

How did you set the scope for your minimal viable product? How did you get to product-market fit? How did your product evolve over time?

Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Mon Nov 09 2020
we always subscribe to doing the absolute minimum, like one example of that was validating the idea by putting up a marketing site even though the actual product did not yet exist. Um, once we have that and we started building, we wanted to see one of the really interesting things about our platform, as I mentioned, is that interviews are anonymous, so it's not about how you look on paper. It's just about how well you perform in coding problems. So we wanted to see whether anonymous interviewing would actually work. This was not something that had ever been done before. So we we have to find some interviewers. We had to find a way to actually facilitate anonymous interview so it couldn't be over the phone because then you could see the phone number. It couldn't be on Google hangouts. We couldn't have video right eso and we also wanted to see just how the etiquette of that would work. And the mechanics eso our first few interviews where I just got some friends who were engineers to agree to conduct these, and we used a tool called Uber Conference and then just it's scheduling over email and just sent people uber conference links. Andi just kind of try to see how that worked. And then we just build from there, build from there. Product market fit for us I think we found it pretty easily on the candidate side because it was pretty clear that people were starving for interview practice. Um, typically at the time we were completely free. We were the Onley like high quality free product that was out there. The only other one was peer to peer interviews on. That's a very different experience than interviewing with a professional interviewer in a senior engineer. Getting to product market fit on the company's side was a little bit harder because we had to convince employers to drop their whole hiring process and basically talk to random people on the Internet and invest engineering time in them without knowing anything about them, so that that took longer. But then we started signing six figure deals with companies like Lyft and uber, and then we're like, Okay, yeah, this this is working, but it you know, it took it took some proof that basically we had to do a lot of free trials and get engineering managers to get a taste for the quality of our candidates

Who were your early users? What marketing channels, approaches, and marketing tools did you use to contact users? What worked and what didn't?

Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Mon Nov 09 2020
which was great, like they were exactly our target audience. They were the ones who we were building for, Um, over time, of course, we had to branch out from that. To this day. Our biggest channel is word of mouth. So people telling other people they had a good experience practicing on our platform. Um, we have done some paid marketing in the past. It's been fine, but we've noticed that organic channels were just, like better investment for us. So one of the are blogged, uh, has always been a really good source of candidates. We write a lot of really high quality, data driven posts about hiring and about interviewing. Um, and I think that appeals to our particular audience. And then also, more recently, we created a YouTube channel where you can actually watch other people interviewing. So if you go toe interviewing dot io slash recordings, you can actually watch what an interview with a Google interviewer sounds like. And what a good interview sounds like, what a bad interview sounds like. And you can actually read feedback from these interviews as well as transcriptions. I think we've had something like four million views on that channel and we have close to 100,000 subscribers. Uh, I think because nobody else has peeled back the curtain on interviews like that and really exposed what it's like, and we're happy that it's useful to people.

What changes would you attempt in customer targeting, acquisition process, and marketing tools in the later growth phase? Why?

Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Mon Nov 09 2020
I think our business is much more mature. And I think we have a very, um we had kind of a big pivot not too long ago. So before cove it our whole product was completely free because we made money from companies. It was free for candidates. Uh, then the downside to that was that we didn't let on everybody, so we could only let on candidates that we thought we had a chance of monetizing in the future. Which meant that sadly, we couldn't let on a lot of students because companies did not want to pay us for junior hires. Broke my heart. I really like I love working with students, and it just sucked that we couldn't place them. Uh then after cove, it we saw hiring slowed down like crazy. And we, in a matter of weeks after the quarantine started, we lost something like 80% of our revenue, and we were in the multi millions of dollars, and it just so, uh, it sucked. Um, so then we panic pivoted and started charging candidates for practice. Yeah, uh, now what that meant was all of a sudden we could open our doors and not just let on people we thought we could place, but let on anybody who needs practice. We've also since rolled out deferred payment packages where you don't have to pay us anything till you find a job. And we also have a fellowship for engineers from underrepresented backgrounds. So we did some things to offset the fact that I don't like charging. Especially I don't like charging students. So we have some some programs that I hope if anybody's listening they take advantage of. But the reason I mention all of this is because it made it a lot easier for us to do paid marketing. Before, when we were doing paid marketing, we had Thio target a very narrow set of users, and now we can really target anybody that needs technical interview practice. So one of our projects right now is is to dial that in

How'd you hire, incentivize, and track the progress of your sales and marketing team including agencies and part-time workers to scale user base?

Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Mon Nov 09 2020
whether it's for sales or marketing or like There's CAC, which is cost of acquisition. And there's LTV, which is lifetime value. And I'm so you want to make sure that you are paying less to acquire users than your users are spending in your product, and it sounds very simple. But if you can get that right, then you know you're good and you contract those across different sources across different agencies. Um, you know, across different sales people, there are all sorts of other metrics you can use to track sales productivity. And for sales people, you can settle sorts of granular goals. You know, if they're doing outbound out. If their SDRs doing outreach, you can say you have to send this many emails a day or you have to set this many meetings a week for sales. People that are account execs, you have quota. But at the end of the day, like how much are you spending and how much are you getting back? And you want how much you're getting back to be more than you're spending? Yeah,I have found is extremely effective. Uh, you know, you have to kind of decide when is the time to bring people in house. And when is the time to use external talent? And for things like marketing, you'd be surprised. Like, ah, lot of the time, you do exactly the same things, right from company to company. And it's all about sort of grinding on the numbers and messing with Google analytics And, like, changing, which channels your giving more funding. Thio. So something like that in agency might be the right thing. Um, for salespeople, um, we typically have a pretty low base salary, and then people work on commission. Um, and they get a percentage of the business, they bring them on the company's side.

Who were your competitors when you started and how did the competition evolve? How did you create a competitive advantage and a unique selling proposition?

Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Mon Nov 09 2020
editors were other hiring marketplaces. So companies like hired companies like Triple Bite, uh, to a lesser extent, because they're so big and kind of operating a different tier indeed. LinkedIn Um, now, although we still do hiring because we also charge for interview prep, we're competing with other interview prep resource isas. Well, so we have competitors on both sides. Um, one of our big advantages, I think over other hiring marketplaces was that we gave candidates a ton of value. Um, in especially the pre Covad market. Uh, it's actually like if the hardest thing about running a hiring marketplace is getting engineers into your ecosystem because they don't need you, right? Especially senior people. They can get a job without you. They have recruiters reaching out to them nonstop. So just telling users, Hey, we can help you get a job that's actually not that compelling eso. That's why we gave away free interview practice because that was the hook and that's we looked at every other player in the space, and we couldn't find somebody else that gave, um, their users as much value as we did. Um, on that candidate side, um, one of the things I think now that separates us from other interview prep Resource is, is one. It's anonymous, so it's completely safe to mess up to were cheaper because we can make it up in volume and three. We have such a seamless experience, like most of our competitors have manual scheduling. And you have to like in our platform, you just sign on and you just click a button and you're like, Great! I want to practice with a Google engineer tomorrow click and it's done. And then all the tools air there and everything just works. And then you have a replay of your interview and you can watch other people interviewing. So it's this whole community, and we put so much work into making that experience polished, and I think now that's our big differentiator.

What were the major exciting and memorable moments? Were there also any moments that almost got you to quit? How did you get past them?

Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Mon Nov 09 2020
um, that was a big load, I think off of the entire team, shoulders. Uh, conversely, um, in the wake of co vid losing most of our revenue right? And not having a clear path or knowing if we were going to be around in a few months was horrifying. Andi, I almost quit a bunch of I mean, I didn't sleep for what felt like a month. Um, another horrible time waas having to let my co founder ago. That was really, really hard. Um, fortunately, we have a great relationship, and I'd love to work with him again. Uh, just not on this. Um, I think maybe the highest point, uh, even probably better than getting profitable was when we did some metrics and realize that, you know, we've helped thousands of people find jobs, right? But the really cool thing is that around around 40% of the people that we've helped find jobs were nontraditional on paper, which meant that in a lot of cases, even they had applied to the same company, had gotten rejected and then actually came in through us because they got to interview anonymously and then got tired. And we've gotten so many of those stories, just hearing that every single time makes me so happy. And it's probably the best thing and that that's what keeps me going when things were hard just fixing that on fairness, that inefficiency and making companies really question how they hire.

What responsibilities and decisions did you handle? What were the top three priorities and pain points? What strategies were effective in dealing with challenges?

Based on experience at: Benevolent Overlord, Aline Lerner LLC
Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Mon Nov 09 2020
This is a recruiting business that I built from nothing. So it was at most you know, I had, like, one other person working for me. It was very small. Most of the time, it was just me working for myself, and this company was the precursor to interviewing Io in a lot of ways. But I did everything. I mean, I I was trying to get candidates who are willing Thio work with me and, um, let me help them find jobs. I was rustling up employers who would be willing to hire my candidates. I was doing a lot of branding work. I mean, this is when I started doing a lot of the writing I talked about earlier, but when you were a one man shop, you're doing everything. So you're doing all the mundane, you know, financials and paperwork, and then you're also doing all the sales and you're doing all the tracking and all the analytics and all the marketing. And like everything s o, it's an every day is different. So I don't know. I think that the most effective strategy actually was when I first started the business right, I had never really been a recruiter before, except for my job's a trial pain Udacity. I'd certainly never been an agency recruiter, and I didn't know how long it would take for the business to get off the ground. So how do I even get started? I didn't have any candidates, and I didn't have any companies. So every day I'd wake up, and I just feel terrible that I wasn't making money and I'd regret, like, quitting my engineering job and all these other things. And then, um, my dad actually told me this. This is the effective strategy part. Um, just set a deadline. Be like, Okay, I'm going to be in business for 3 to 4 months. I'm going to stop worrying about revenue, and I'm just gonna do my thing. I'm just gonna try different stuff, and I'm going to try to enjoy the journey on. I'm gonna put all of these worries out of my head. And then when that deadline comes and still haven't made any money, then you can kind of revisit and go and find a real job again. Um, but and that's kind of I got lucky. It ended up working out, but if I hadn't had that mental shift. I don't know if I would have been able to make it work. Yeah.

What college programs did you attend and what were their best parts? How did each of your college programs prepare you for your career?

Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Mon Nov 09 2020
pro like taking some programming classes was really helpful. Actually, I started as a computer science major at MIT, and then I ended up switching majors to something called Brain and Cognitive Sciences. I ended up sort of creating my own degree, which was a mix of programming, uh, neuroscience, psychology and artificial intelligence s. So it was really fun. Um, but some of the most practical things I learned were actually in the brain and cognitive sciences program because we had a lot of labs. And in the labs, you have to do a lot of statistical significance testing an experimental design and writing technical writing. And that writing, I think, was the thing that ended up, um, helping me build a brand and setting myself apart from, ah, bunch of other people in the space and other companies in the space s. So I think that's when I kind of discovered how that all worked and also that I enjoyed it and was good at it. And, you know, to this day, I'm really glad that I know statistics. That's probably the single, like, outside of just like knowing how to program. That was the single most useful thing. I think

What three life lessons have you learned over your career? If any, please also discuss your experiences facing adversity, or trying something unusual.

Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Mon Nov 09 2020
you have to listen to the inner voices when you're excited about something, right. So if you think you want to do a project and you think that project is going to be really, really cool, you should just do it no matter what anybody else says. And if in the middle of it you get stuck, just keep going and grind it out. And a lot of the time I mean, there's some people have all these great ideas and they can't articulate necessarily why they're good. Or sometimes you can't convince other people they're good ideas. It doesn't matter if you think it's a good idea, you should invest time in it and try it, and not everything you do will work out. But don't. I would even say, like, don't discuss it with a lot of other people because people are going to talk you out of it or like, have you thought of this? Have you thought of that? It doesn't matter if if in your gut you feel like something is going to be cool, you shouldn't listen to anybody else, and you should just follow your gut and do it and then you might find that it's it's not tractable, but at least you tried. And everybody will always tell you your ideas are stupid, no matter how good they are, because they don't know what you know.uh, like I didn't really know how to do financial projections when I first started this company. And, um, I left a lot of that work to my co founder, and he did a good job with it, But, um, because I didn't do that work, I didn't have an intuitive feel for our business the way I should have. And it made it harder for me to make decisions. And I stayed away from that stuff because I was like, Oh, that's intimidating. Oh, I don't know how to like you spreadsheets properly and, you know, and it's being afraid of something is a stupid reason not to do it, especially when your livelihood depends on it. And then your head. You might make up all sorts of reasons about why you don't need to do it or, like why it's not a good use of your time. But if you're scared of something, that is exactly why you should do it. Because once you get your head around it, it's going to stay in your head and it's going to make you so much better at making decisions, and it's gonna make you so much better in the future. Like if you have employees and you want them to do something. If you know how to do it to, you're going to know when they're full of shit. And they're like, You know, I can't do this. So it's like, Yes, you can or this is going to take, like, a month. No, it's not. It should take, like, two days. Um, but if you're scared, then you can't have those conversations. Doesn't mean you have to be an expert at everything, but especially if you're a founder, you almost have to be a dilettante. And you have to, like, kind of know how to do a lot of things. And the third one, I don't know, I'm just going to stop that thoseand what we I mean, we pivoted and the way we pivoted was terrifying because we didn't have products. So I was just emailing a bunch of our users saying, Hey, I'm really sorry. We're gonna have to start charging for mock interviews. Would you pay this much? Would you pay this much and then actually sending them PayPal links and asking them Thio pay over PayPal and then granting them interviews manually, like in sort of going back to our roots, just like when we used to do uber conference bookings? Um, so I don't know. You just put 1 ft in front of the other and, you know, you grind it out and you just you go from there.

What starting job (after internship) would you recommend to students who hope to grow professionally like you? What other parting advice, dos, and don'ts would you give?

Summarized By: Jeff Musk on Mon Nov 09 2020
like I say, I'm going to forego my M I t degree and go work in the kitchen, right? I was able to do that because I saved a ton of money from various internships and, like I had a tutoring business in college that made a ton of money. And then, of course, I had pretty like, well, paying internships all through the school year and like that enabled me toe takes. I mean, I still ran out of money pretty quick because kitchens don't pay. But like, I was able to do some of these things. Um, I know not everybody can take risks because it depends on their personal runway and financial situation. But whether you could take big risks or not, I would encourage you to early in your career. Everybody, like, I think, feels like they're on a treadmill. And you have to, like, get the Google internship where you have to get into McKinsey or you have toe. I don't know, like any number of other, or you have to get into medical school or you have to get into this grad school or you have to do well on the else. That's, um maybe right. But you'd be surprised how little that ends up mattering. Um, I think that what matters most, And of course, again, I say this from a position of privilege because I went to M I t. I could do crazy shit and people still thought I was smart. But, um, I think that that what really matters is finding something that you are interested in and X selling in it. And it doesn't have to be a traditional interest. It's just like take the time to understand that field and how it works and look under the hood and look at what the people around you are doing and understand that and understand how their roles fit into the big picture and become Try to become an expert in something. You don't have to be like the world's foremost expert in that field, but those early learnings and the concrete skills that you pick up are going to serve you in ways that you can't even imagine. And no matter what those skills are, I think the common threat is to really understand and go deep rather than you know, you could just, like, do a bunch of surface work and a bunch of disciplines, and you're gonna walk away. Not much better than when you started. But if you really invest the time and it's easier to invest the time when it's something you like, Um, and if you know what, maybe you don't even know what you like. Then you try something, and then if you don't like it or you're bad at it, you move on and you do something else and you keep going until you find something that gets you excited. Um, but you know, there's no there's no set path. Just the thing that matters is toe, excel and care, and it a rate.