Funding Is an Outcome of Building a Good Business – Porter Braswell of Jopwell
Craig Cannon [00:00] – Hey, how’s it going? This is Craig Cannon, and you’re listening to Y Combinator’s podcast. Today’s episode is with Porter Braswell. Porter is the CEO and co-founder of Jopwell, which was in the summer 2015 batch. Jopwell is a career advancement platform for black, Latinx, and Native American students and professionals. And you can find them at jopwell.com, and Porter’s on Twitter, @porter_braswell. Alright, here we go. Maybe the best place to start would be let’s explain what Jopwell is, and then we can kind of go back in time and get to where we are now.
Porter Braswell [00:33] – Cool.
Craig Cannon [00:33] – Cool. Also, thanks for coming in.
Porter Braswell [00:36] – Absolutely my pleasure, thank you for having me, appreciate it.
Craig Cannon [00:38] – Yeah.
Porter Braswell [00:39] – Jopwell is a career advancement platform built specifically for black, Latinx, and Native American students and professionals. We basically allow companies to diversify their applicant funnels before they hire the best people for the job. We got really frustrated when companies would say, “We can’t find this talent. It doesn’t exist.” For us, me being a part of the community, it was kind of like BS, it definitely does. I’m here.
Craig Cannon [01:09] – Yeah.
Porter Braswell [01:10] – There are 44 million black, Latino, Hispanic, and Native American students and professionals in the workforce that exist as well. And so we wanted to create a platform so companies can no longer say, “Oh, this is like a pipeline issue. We can’t find this talent.” It exists, and they’re on Jopwell.
Craig Cannon [01:25] – What made this problem obvious to you when you were at Goldman?
Porter Braswell [01:30] – It starts actually before Goldman and actually goes back to kind of where I’m from and kind of how I grew up.
Craig Cannon [01:40] – Let’s do it.
Porter Braswell [01:41] – My dad’s from the Bronx originally, and he was the first person in his family to go to college and work in corporate America. He became a general counsel for a publicly traded utility company. I grew up in a type of household where to be “successful,” and I put air quotes around that, you have to be a doctor, you have to be a lawyer, you can go into finance, and that’s it. I felt this large responsibility to kind of move the family forward, as my dad did, and it was kind of like this thing that I grew up in this middle class family where that was a responsibility that my sister and I both felt. When I was in high school, Morgan Stanley was offering a diversity internship program. Somebody tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Hey, this is like that finance industry. You should pay attention to it.” I got lucky, I applied and got the internship, and I started working there my junior, senior summers in high school. Went on to college, went to Yale, played basketball there, and instead of playing basketball in the summers, I continued in a really early access pipeline focused around diversity recruiting, and I spent three summers interning at Goldman Sachs. And I started my career there, and I was there for three years buying and selling currencies. While my background was getting early access really starting when I was about 15 or 16 years old, and I found my way into buying and selling currencies, I recognized how unusual my path was, how fortunate my path was, and it struck me that despite me
Porter Braswell [03:19] – finding my way to my seat, I knew that a lot of other people weren’t finding their way to a similar seat. I looked around and realized that it wasn’t just a finance challenge when it comes to recruitment of people of color. It was really all industries. At that time, the summer of 2014, right before I left, all the tech companies came out with these stats of the lack of diversity, which is something we all knew. It was the first time it became really a national conversation. My co-founder and I decided that we can make a solution for this. We can build a platform of people of color, and we can leverage technology to directly connect them with opportunities that historically we haven’t been exposed to and create that authentic connection between the employers and potential employees. That was really how we started it. We wanted to make impact, and as a result of that impact, we also wanted to be able to build a profitable successful business on top of it, so we set out from the start to build it as a for-profit entity and not a nonprofit, which, there are many amazing nonprofits that focus on diversity recruitment, but we just took their approach to leverage technology, do it at scale, and solve a problem, going back to the whole YC mantra stuff.
Craig Cannon [04:35] – Were you guys engineers? You’re trading currency. What gives you the idea that you’re going to build this recruiting platform?
Porter Braswell [04:42] – I am, to this day, still probably the least technical person at Jopwell. I was a political science major in college, zero tech bones in my body. But I’ve lived through this. I’m passionate about diversity recruiting. I’m very intimately interwoven within all of the stuff that kind of goes on within recruiting. From experience, knew that this was like a major problem, and I knew that technology can help solve it. And even though I didn’t know, I wasn’t thinking through the code of what that would look like, I had a platform in mind of what it could be.
Craig Cannon [05:22] – How did you test it out in the beginning, or did you wait until you had something built before you started?
Porter Braswell [05:28] – Basically, what ended up happening for me is that after my second year at Goldman, my cousin passed away. For me, when that happened, it was kind of like the first… I’ve had plenty of people that I have known that have passed in different settings, whether it’s my parents’ friends or neighbors, whatever the case may be, but this was the first time that somebody that I would consider not only family but a close friend passed. Given that he wasn’t much older than me, it dawned on me that you can die at any time. It was a true awakening for me to really figure out what the hell I want to do with my life. And so after my second year, I decided that I’m going to go on this journey to figure out what do I want to do, and I felt that given that I had an opportunity to play basketball at Yale and had this amazing network at Goldman Sachs, I had a responsibility to leverage that for impact. I didn’t know what that impact was going to come in the form of or the shape of. But when I took a step back and after a year of kind of going through this thought exercise around challenges I see in the world, what I’m passionate about, what my experiences have been, it all kind of tied to diversity recruiting and providing opportunities for others through leveraging my personal networks. I told my parents at the time that I’m going to quit and build this company, and they said, “Okay, let me get this straight, you’re non-technical, you’ve never built a business, you’ve never done recruiting,
Porter Braswell [06:59] – and that’s going to be the company you start?”
Craig Cannon [07:01] – Yeah.
Porter Braswell [07:02] – I was, like, “That’s exactly what I’m going to do.”
Craig Cannon [07:03] – Right, and you’re saying this to fairly conservative parents who are, like, “You have three options in life.”
Porter Braswell [07:07] – Yeah. They were not feeling it. They were, like, “You’re literally going to die if you try to do that.” And that was really a frightening thing to have my parents say that to me. It’s a really awkward thing. If you really look up to your parents and you respect them and you view them as your role models. It’s really not a natural thing to kind of go against what they’re telling you is a really bad idea. But in terms of testing this out, I never really tested it out because I lived through it. I was so convicted with it, and I intimately understood what the pain points were. Ignorance is bliss to some degree, and so I had this vision of, like, “Of course this is going to work. I don’t really have to test it.” I was so focused on doing my job really well when I was at Goldman that I didn’t have the time to try to build a business on the side. I wanted to give 110% to what I was doing. Ehen the time was right to leave, then to give 110% to that. And so it wasn’t probably a wise thing to do but definitely took a leap of faith and said, “This has to work. Why wouldn’t it work?”
Craig Cannon [08:17] – Yeah. Just being a large company, even I mean now, it’s more obvious, but even a few years ago, it was obvious that these companies really care, and people like yourself want those jobs, so why not match them together?
Porter Braswell [08:30] – Yeah.
Craig Cannon [08:31] – Did you start with a demand? Did you start with one partnership?
Porter Braswell [08:34] – Yeah.
Craig Cannon [08:35] – How did that work?
Porter Braswell [08:36] – Going back to me being nontechnical, it actually really helped because when you’re building this two-sided thing, and I didn’t come to find this out that this was a challenge until probably when we were going through funding for our seed round during demo day. You have to pick a side first. At the time, there was no choice because we couldn’t build a platform for users because I couldn’t build anything. All I could do is make a pitch deck because that’s what I was really good at, being an analyst at Goldman Sachs.
Craig Cannon [09:08] – Yeah.
Porter Braswell [09:09] – I just set out to make a deck, and I made this deck along with Ryan, my co-founder, and we just showed it to companies and said, “This is what we’re going to build, and if we build this, will you be our customer?” And so we got really fortunate that when we made these phone calls, people answered, they took our meetings, they took the deck seriously, and they said, “Sure, if you build this, we’ll definitely be a customer because what you’re trying to solve for is a real pain point of ours.” And we took a couple of very flimsy yeses as, “Yes, we have customers.”
Craig Cannon [09:43] – Yeah.
Porter Braswell [09:43] – From that, we were able to raise a little bit of money, hire some people to build the platform, got the other side.
Craig Cannon [09:48] – Can you put YC in the timeline of this?
Porter Braswell [09:52] – Okay, so July 3, 2014 was my last day at Goldman Sachs. September, let’s call it September 1st was when we kind of set out to make this pitch deck to show to companies. Let’s say by the end of September, we had about three or four soft “Yes, sure, when you build that, let us know.”
Craig Cannon [10:11] – Like maybe, yeah.
Porter Braswell [10:12] – “Maybe we’ll be a customer.” But for us, that was like, “Okay, they’re going to be our customer.” And we had them sign this one-page letter of intent that says, “If you build it, we’ll partner with you.” And then once we had that, by October, we decided, okay, we have customers, we need a platform, we have to raise money, and we need to hire people who can build it. And so we got very fortunate that people invested in Ryan and me and we were able to raise $500,000 with family, friends, networks within a course of about a month and a half.
Craig Cannon [10:46] – Wow.
Porter Braswell [10:47] – Yeah, and it was, shocking to us. It’s something that we didn’t foresee happening. We thought it was going to take a year. But what ended up happening is that, going back to the networks that we were able to build, people invested in Ryan and me. It was great to kind of go back to places and tell them what we were doing with people that have known us in the past, and they were so supportive. Then it started kind of, as we all know, when you don’t need capital, you start to get the capital. Once we started getting our first few checks, it was downhill from there.
Craig Cannon [11:19] – Okay.
Porter Braswell [11:20] – Now in November or so, we hired our first engineer, a person I went to high school with, and so now we had a team of three, and we also hired another individual who I went to high school with, so we had a team of four.
Craig Cannon [11:36] – With one engineer out of four?
Porter Braswell [11:38] – With one engineer, three nontechnical, one engineer.
Craig Cannon [11:42] – Alright.
Porter Braswell [11:43] – And now this is in, call it, November, December, we built the MVP.
Craig Cannon [11:48] – Yeah, so a side note, were you in any way experienced vetting engineers?
Porter Braswell [11:53] – Zero.
Craig Cannon [11:55] – Okay, so you’re just like, “I don’t know, they seem nice. I’ll hire them?”
Porter Braswell [11:57] – I went back to my high school 50th reunion for their first black student, and there was this amazing gathering.
Craig Cannon [12:03] – Okay .
Porter Braswell [12:04] – And we were kind of networking with one another. Randy Brown was standing next to me, a person that was a couple of years younger than me in high school. I’m kind of, “Hey Randy, how is it going? What are you up to?” He’s, like, “Well, just graduated college, and I’m still working on my thesis. I was a computer science major in college and so I’m kind of playing out my thesis full time now, but it’s not really going that well, and I’m just trying to figure out what I want to do.” “Well, we just raised a little bit of money. We’re looking for an engineer.” And so Randy became our first engineer. That’s the story of a lot of people, where you just hire your closest friends and people.
Craig Cannon [12:44] – Yeah, it’s pretty common.
Porter Braswell [12:45] – Yeah, common, and so that was our story. And it also ties into our first four people were African-American. And the reason why I even bring that up is because you have a lot of small companies that their first four employees are white males, and it grows from there.
Craig Cannon [13:03] – Yup.
Porter Braswell [13:04] – In our DNA, we started out as incredibly diverse… Actually, not diverse because we were all the same similar backgrounds and ethnicities. And so we had to grow out of that. You have to be really intentional about growing out of that. As you hire your friends and your friends’ friends, and that’s how companies scale, so when we think about like the difficulties of how companies kind of get to where they are where there is a lack of diversity, we experienced it from a very extreme other side of things.
Craig Cannon [13:30] – But it’s the same thing.
Porter Braswell [13:31] – But it’s the same thing, hire friends.
Craig Cannon [13:32] – It’s just like hire friend, go from there, and then yeah-
Porter Braswell [13:35] – Because you have to be intentional about it and you have to be aware of it, and so-
Craig Cannon [13:39] – Then you applied to YC for the winter batch?
Porter Braswell [13:41] – No, so we then actually applied to New York Techstars and did not get in.
Craig Cannon [13:47] – Okay .
Porter Braswell [13:48] – This was in December, made it to the final round. They basically said, “I don’t understand diversity, recruiting is not a big challenge, and you guys don’t have anything. I don’t know why think this would be a good idea.” And so we’re, like, “Okay, alright, we appreciate the feedback.” We then launched the platform in January. Users came on to the platform rather seamlessly, and it was a no-brainer, why wouldn’t you sign up? We had those companies that said that they would be there. They were there. They were actual employers. Started getting a lot of traction, a lot of users, a lot more companies, and it kicked off really quickly. And then so around March or so, applied to YC for the summer session.
Craig Cannon [14:35] – Got you.
Porter Braswell [14:36] – And got in, and so good thing we didn’t… And the rest is history. Good thing that, you know, you have these setbacks and you get so excited about these accelerator programs, and it becomes this distraction. It was so fortunate that we didn’t get in, and it was so devastating at the time, but then six months later, $4 million later, we’re in YC, and so it’s crazy.
Craig Cannon [15:00] – You’re still here, you’re still alive, your company exists. Just so I understand from the supply side…
Porter Braswell [15:08] – Yeah.
Craig Cannon [15:10] – These people, these underrepresented employees in tech and finance, it’s all across industries, right?
Porter Braswell [15:15] – Yup, all industries.
Craig Cannon [15:17] – They’re still applying to these companies, right? Why are they looking for a platform like Jopwell versus just applying to-
Porter Braswell [15:24] – Absolutely. Tthe way that we like to think about it is that many people, when they are applying for roles or opportunities, you generally know somebody. There is some attraction to that organization. There is some connection to that company. For people of color, if you look at the numbers in tech, for instance, if 2% of your workforce is black and 3% are Latino or Hispanic, odds are you don’t know anybody that works there. Odds are you’re not going to have that champion that kind of says, “Hey guys, I’m looking out for this person. Make sure you screen this candidate.” What we want to do and what we want to be is the referral at scale for our community. So if Jopwell partners with these organizations, we want to be your foot in the door and that entity that becomes your referral, if you will. When users on Jopwell are saying, “Why don’t I just apply?” You can and you should, but you’re going to go into a black box unless you know somebody. When you apply on Jopwell, really, what that means is that you’re applying to companies that truly value diversity because they are partnering and paying Jopwell to have access to this community. When you apply through our technology, we can flag candidates to companies, and so we can ensure that they have a more diversified pipeline. Now we can’t ensure you’re going to get a job. We don’t know the candidates on our platform on that one-to-one level. We are fortunate that we have a large community.
Craig Cannon [16:59] – Can anyone just sign up?
Porter Braswell [17:00] – Anybody can sign up, but we’re very direct in who the platform is built for. It’s built for black, Latino, Hispanic, and Native Americans. That’s what the community has grown to be, just that. When candidates are applying and when we let the companies that work with Jopwell know, “Hey, you had 1,000 people apply for this one role,” or, “You had 30 people apply for this one role,” now they can ensure that they have a more diversified pipeline because they have Jopwell candidates in their funnel along with other candidates.
Craig Cannon [17:37] – Okay.
Porter Braswell [17:37] – Now we can at least make sure that before they hire the best person for the job that they have a diverse applicant pool, and that’s where we come in.
Craig Cannon [17:48] – A couple questions. We had one question from Twitter about the pipeline in particular. Where are people coming from when they’re signing up for Jopwell?
Porter Braswell [17:57] – We’ve been incredibly fortunate that the community has really accepted what we’re trying to achieve. We fundamentally believe and truly understand that we can’t be successful unless we have the support of the community. We’re a product of the community. We’re building this for the community. They’ve grown, our community, and it’s largely been through word of mouth. Jopwell being incredibly involved with various activations and clubs and organizations and forming really strategic partnerships and really being the solution at scale that a lot of smaller organizations haven’t been able to really focus on. They focus on a lot of coaching, training, mentoring, which is so important. For us, we just took a different approach, that we wanted to do it at scale and leverage technology to connect people to opportunities but formalize relationships with all these amazing organizations that are doing such amazing work, to figure out a way to both help them and for them to help us. A large part of our growth on the community side of the platform has been a result of the community really leveraging Jopwell.
Craig Cannon [19:10] – And regionally, you said they’re East Coast, West Coast for the most part?
Porter Braswell [19:12] – Yeah, I would say the major metropolitan areas is really where we do the best. We tend to focus most of our employers to be within like major metropolitan areas. A lot of our user base comes from those similar surrounding areas.
Craig Cannon [19:26] – Got you.
Porter Braswell [19:27] – And so we stay kind of focused on that.
Craig Cannon [19:31] – Then on the second part of the question from Twitter was about are there certain roles that maybe differ from the average in terms of Jopwell candidates getting and doing well in, or do you have that data?
Porter Braswell [19:42] – I would say all across the board, the candidates do really well in terms of the types of roles, whether it’s in finance or tech or consulting or sports. What I would say is that what we do really well in is call it people within their 20 or 30-somethings within their age range. Really, that entry level to mid-level talent is where we thrive the most. We do have people that we would consider executives on the platform, but it’s less of a sweet spot for what we do. If you are typically in college or call it sub-12 years or so in the workforce, that’s kind of where we operate the most.
Craig Cannon [20:22] – Okay, got you. In terms of the industry as a whole, you guys are… Obviously, this diversity conversation, super important and only more talked about in the past couple of years since you guys have been around, 10 years. What have you noticed in terms of changes in the industry, and where do you see it going from here?
Porter Braswell [20:45] – The first thing, and it’s more of a frustration, but when I hear the word diversity and I hear people describe diversity challenges, I think that, one, when I hear that, I don’t really hear much because diversity…
Craig Cannon [21:02] – Is kind of…
Porter Braswell [21:03] – It could be anything. You could make an argument that anybody is diverse, and that really, inhibits companies from actually moving the needle when it comes to what their actual challenges are. If you’re looking across corporate America, and the reason why Jopwell is built for black, Latino, Hispanic, and Native Americans, it’s because it’s the most underrepresented groups within corporate America. Companies that have a really difficult time connecting with this audience, they should just say that and not just say, “We have a diversity challenge.” They need to be able to truly identify what diversity challenge, what vertical of diversity are you kind of focusing on, and then you can find solutions for that particular thing. The companies that are the most intentional and are willing to have the most uncomfortable conversations are the ones that do the best. They need to be able to clearly articulate to an entire… their organization about why diversity or a particular subset of people within the diversity umbrella is so important to that organization.
Porter Braswell [22:14] – It’s been proven time and time again now through multiple studies, McKinsey has come out with a couple of studies, BCG, around having a more diverse workforce leads to bottom line success, and it just makes sense. If you’re trying to build a world-class organization and you’re trying to invent products that are going to change the world, how can you do that without people at the table who have differing backgrounds and experiences and opinions? And by the nature of being a person of color, I’m going to experience the world differently than maybe my white peer. And so even using me as an example where yes, I had a fabulous opportunity to go to Yale, I’m so fortunate for that, but at the end of the day, I’m a black male in this country. When I’m outside and I’m engaging with people, I don’t have a Yale tattoo slapped on my forehead. People first identify and as I first identify as a black male, and so therefore, I am seeing the world through a different lens. I’m experiencing the world through a different lens. Even if I had a white counterpart that also went to Yale, we’re still going to experience the world in a different lens. When I come to the table and I’m giving you my experiences and my background and my opinions, just being a person of color in America, I’m going to have a different thought than what you might come to the table with, and that’s important and that leads to innovation. It’s so important that companies have a mixture of people from different backgrounds, ethnicities, sexual orientations, you name it.
Porter Braswell [23:43] – You need that, that tension, those conversations to occur because that’s where innovation happens.
Craig Cannon [23:50] – I agree with you, but what I’m trying to figure out is you say, “We want a diverse workplace.” To you, it’s just like, “Nah, noise for the most part,” but you want to be specific, right? How do you be specific and inclusive of those people without being, by default, exclusive of other people?
Porter Braswell [24:10] – Yeah, absolutely. That’s something that a lot of companies feel that they… Again, it’s going back to that uncomfortable conversation.
Craig Cannon [24:19] – Yeah, totally. But those people are scared, right? They’re like, “Oh, shit,” “I didn’t want to offend that person by trying to include this person.”
Porter Braswell [24:25] – Absolutely. So long as companies frame it within the organization itself as we’re doing this because it makes business sense and stick to this leads to bottom line success for this company if we diversify and we really start to attract candidates from different backgrounds that we haven’t recruited from in the past, we need that in order to stay relevant. The demographics of America is shifting. By 2040, the people of color in this country are going to be the majority for the first time. So if you can’t build for the future, you’re going to get passed, and it’s such a business-imperative conversation that if you keep it at the business level, it becomes less of an awkward conversation and less so of, “Oh we can’t bring this group of people in. We can only focus on this.” It’s like no, we’re trying to be the best organization possible. We don’t have a lot of representation. We need more representation from these groups within America. We don’t look like what the broad American society looks like and what it’s shifting to be, so we need to double down and triple down on those efforts.If you can have that conversation and keep it at the business level, then it becomes less uncomfortable.
Craig Cannon [25:37] – I guess the question that I’m asking is on the positioning side, outwardly facing. How do you best deal with that to attract the most different kinds of candidates to make your company better? Work with Jopwell, right?
Porter Braswell [25:54] – That’s the obvious thing. The more important thing is recognizing that you’re struggling in a particular area, and as a result, you should ask for help. I don’t care if it’s through Jopwell or somebody else, but I feel that a lot of tech companies want to build a way out of it, or they want to solve it themselves.
Craig Cannon [26:17] – Okay, so, yeah, what-
Porter Braswell [26:18] – And so I think that a lot of organizations, again, going back to kind of how Jopwell started hiring a couple of friends and how many organizations start where you hire a couple of friends, you have to get outside of your comfort zone. You have to find different pipelines to attract different types of talent. And you need to be vocal about that and publicly facing about that because companies like Jopwell and other organizations will come to the call. By being so out there and being so public about what you’re lacking in, you more authentically present yourself in a favorable light to a community of people that you’re calling out to try to attract, and you’re saying, “We’re looking for you. We need you because we’re trying to out innovate our competitors.”
Craig Cannon [27:08] – Yeah.
Porter Braswell [27:09] – Raising your hand and just saying publicly, “We need assistance with a particular challenge” is the way that you kind of get out of your own way and you start to unlock other pipelines of talent.
Craig Cannon [27:21] – Right, and do does tech in general, the breakdown of these types of employees, does that match the computer science enrollment in terms of percentages, or is there a drop-off? What I’m wondering is about if we’re going to increase the number overall, does it start when people are seven years old and you get them into CS or how does that work?
Porter Braswell [27:48] – What also frustrates me about when we hear the reasons as to why they can’t find this talent, it all goes back to why we started Jopwell, with people saying, “Oh we can’t find this talent.” When companies say there’s not even the pipeline of black, Latino, Hispanic, Native American engineers, one, that’s not true, and the data does not suggest that at all. What is laughable is that let’s say that is even the case. Let’s just say that is even the case, which it’s not, but let’s just conceive that and say, okay, sure. What about everything else? What about every other role?
Craig Cannon [28:34] – Nontechnical.
Porter Braswell [28:34] – Nontechnical role within your company? If your company is 2% black or 3% Hispanic or Latino, you can’t say that you can’t find enough people who are people of color in nontechnical roles, sales, consulting, finance, HR, you name it. If your organization is still not a representation of what America is broadly, you can’t point to the pipeline thing. That just doesn’t, it doesn’t hold up.
Craig Cannon [29:05] – Do you just not have that conversation with companies?
Porter Braswell [29:08] – What we’re really fortunate about, and again, from a business perspective, I fundamentally believe that if you’re making two pitches to a company, you’re making two different sells, “Hey, this concept is a really good concept, and you should use us for this particular concept,” that’s a lot of convincing in a conversation. We’re incredibly fortunate… Not only can we call it we’re fortunate, but we are very strategic about the companies we work with because we’re only making one sell. We don’t choose companies to work with that don’t believe in the value of diversity. The only sell we make is why you should use Jopwell. We never get into the conversations around why diversity is important to your organization because they understand it, they’ve reached out to us. We’re very transparent and very vocal about what Jopwell stands for, so as a company, if you’re reaching out to work with Jopwell, we shouldn’t have to educate you on the value that a diverse workforce can bring. We just talk about why you should be leveraging Jopwell and our technology and how we can diversify your applicant funnels.
Craig Cannon [30:13] – Let’s talk about that actually because there are a bunch of companies that have gone through YC or just are interested in listening to the podcast or whatever that are doing recruiting. Zooming out a little bit from Jopwell’s specific focus, what is your advice for running a recruiting platform for entrepreneurs?
Porter Braswell [30:34] – I would say that if you’re trying to build a hiring platform, you have to be known for something. You have to have a particular focus. You can’t just have claim to have quality talent. You have to be providing a real solution to a real problem that companies face. You should probably associate with that problem. You should probably have experienced that in some capacity or have empathy as to why that challenge exists. You should be very passionate about whatever group of individuals you’re trying to serve to unlock that opportunity, and you should be doing it because it’s making impact, not because you think it’s a company that can make a lot of money. If you can kind of stick to those things and you can build something that becomes sticky and everything else happens as a result of that, then great, happy days for everybody. But to start the company, you really have to isolate a particular challenge and pain point that employers face and just work on that one thing.
Craig Cannon [31:55] – Okay, and can you talk about that specifically in the context of your product? What are some things that you guys have worked on that have been meaningful increases in whether it’s people getting jobs or on-boarding new companies or whatever?
Porter Braswell [32:10] – Going back to kind of like my story, how when I was kind of growing up and again, as my parents told me, with air quotes now, “You got to go into finance if you’re going to be successful,” or, “You have to be a doctor or a lawyer,” there are a lot of people of color particularly in America where you grow up thinking, “I can only work for these particular industries or these particular companies,” and so you go through life thinking, “That’s really all I’m qualified for.” And what we’ve been able to do is through technology, which has been so awesome to be able to do this, is that when you create a profile and you give us all this information that’s proprietary to Jopwell from yes, your background and your work experience, but more importantly, what your interests are, what types of work environment do you want to work in, where do you want to live and work in the country, what words describe yourself, write a leadership moment, write a personal bio about yourself, what are your dream companies, when we collect all of that information and we can take into account what you’ve done and what you’re currently doing, now we can expose you to opportunities that you didn’t even realize you were qualified for. We are showing candidates that you know what? You were pre-med in college. Do you know how incredibly qualified you are to work in tech or to work in finance or to work in a variety of different other industries? Or that political science major like I was but I was very operational in my mindset which enabled me to kind of build a tech company,
Porter Braswell [33:49] – how qualified I am to work in particular industries. And so what we’re now able to do is expose our community to opportunities that historically, they haven’t been exposed to and really start to truly diversify industries that didn’t know how to connect with this audience. But we’ve only been able to do that through our product in leveraging technology.
Craig Cannon [34:11] – Is it common for these people in Jopwell to be getting their first job here, or do you have people coming back to Jopwell to trade up or switch out or whatever it is?
Porter Braswell [34:22] – Yeah, so we’re 3-1/2 years old, and we’re just starting to see candidates that have got their first job and now they’re getting their second job on Jopwell, and that’s been awesome to kind of go through for the first time. But again, our sweet spot is typically that entry to mid-level. Sometimes, it’s candidates looking for their third job, their first job, and everything in between.
Craig Cannon [34:43] – Yeah, because I’m just curious because you mentioned showing people the path, and I totally agree, I think that’s basically how every person goes through life, like, “Oh, you know, a friend of a friend started a tech company. I know them, I’m as smart as them. I can do a tech company.” If you don’t have that, it’s really difficult. I mean what you’re talking about, this is your sweet spot, will that evolve over time, or do you think this is the area that it will always be?
Porter Braswell [35:07] – No, absolutely. Hoing back to kind of like the YC mantra of like doing things that don’t scale, when we first started, we were very campus-focused. It was just university. Then by the brand of Jopwell just being in the world, people just started signing up from all different age ranges. We kind of took a step back and examined the community, and we decided, okay, Jopwell needs to be more than just internships. It needs to be professional opportunities as well. But as a result, we should speak to you very differently depending on the stage of your career. What we’ve now done with our platform is that based on certain tags and triggers and what not, we speak to you in a different tone. People, when they interact with Jopwell, they have different personas at Jopwell that they’re interacting with. Not everybody has the same experience on the platform, and the more experienced you are, the more personalized it feels, and that’s a really important thing for us.
Craig Cannon [36:08] – Just a random question, but I know certain people that are fairly vocal in, for example, women in tech, but then sometimes, they’re just, “I want to just talk about product.” Do you ever feel that way?
Porter Braswell [36:23] – I do, but I have a responsibility to speak about being a black founder. It really is painful to see the lack of black funding that occurs, and again, when VCs say, “Oh, there just aren’t black founders,” that is so… It’s like scratching on a chalkboard, and it’s so frustrating.
Craig Cannon [36:51] – Yeah.
Porter Braswell [36:52] – I feel like I do have a responsibility to speak a lot about diversity, speak a lot about the funding path that Jopwell went down, speak about my experiences going through Y Combinator.
Craig Cannon [37:03] – Yeah.
Porter Braswell [37:05] – I recognize that with this position of being the CEO of the company, that’s part of the role. Yes, I would love to just speak about product and what we’re working on, but our entire ethos as a business is to unlock opportunity, and if I’m not talking about those things that can help others become entrepreneurs and hear my story about my parents telling me I’m crazy but still kind of taking that leap, then I’m not living up to what I’m supposed to be doing as a CEO of this particular company.
Craig Cannon [37:37] – Right, well, it’s also just part of you, so you can’t not talk about it.
Porter Braswell [37:42] – It’s impossible not to.
Craig Cannon [37:43] – Did you find… Again, it’s you so it’s hard to compare and contrast and experience raising money as a black founder, do you find it to be different?
Porter Braswell [37:54] – It is very different. It can feel very intimidating until what ended up happening for me is that during one of our pitches with a really prominent, very prominent VC, the conversation started with a lot of associates and a lot of partners around this table following Y Combinator, and the question to basically start the meeting before ever going through the first slide was, “I don’t think this is a good idea. This is not a publicly traded company.” When you start out the conversation like that without even going through slide one, something happens in you. For me, that something happened was where I fully recognized for the… not for the first time, I’ve always had the confidence in whatever and being an athlete and having that athletic mindset, but it was really the first time where I came back and was, like, “To be honest, you don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m from this community. I know the pain points, I know what the opportunity is. I know how much money our community spends in this country. I know how much of a challenge it is for these organizations to hire people of color, that I’m the expert in this, and you’re not.” And so to all of a sudden flip the conversation on, “Let me teach you something, and I’m the teacher and you’re the student now,” that gave me all the leverage in the conversation. Once a senior partner at a firm feels like he is being taught in a very respectful way, the leverage changes.
Craig Cannon [39:45] – Right, so in other words, having deep knowledge of something gives you the confidence to enter any room and have the conversation. Absolutely. Now after that experience, and it turned out that we had a fabulous conversation following that and they are an investor in Jopwell and they’re a VC that we work closely with, but after that experience, every time I enter a room, it’s, “I’m going to explain to you and share with you why this is amazing opportunity, and, by the way, we don’t need your money,” and that’s always like a very powerful position to be in.
Porter Braswell [40:19] – Right.
Craig Cannon [40:20] – Yes, being a black founder and going into a room where there’s literally nobody that looks like you is a very intimidating thing until you flip it on its head and you recognize that you’re coming with a very unique experience and an opportunity that they have never thought through. It’s so rare to be the expert in that room, but you are the expert in that room when you’re talking about a challenge that’s uniquely, that you faced. Would you apply the same learnings to going through YC or were they different?
Porter Braswell [40:51] – Yeah. The most powerful thing for me going through YC has been is that we know so intimately well what we’re trying to do, and our vision is so locked in on what we’re trying to achieve, but I’m a first-time entrepreneur, I’m a first-time CEO, and no matter what it is you’re trying to solve, there are certain things that like YC can just tell you you’re going to step in the shit in this area and you should think about that thing that’s going to happen six months from now. And all these things, these war stories that you get access to, they all happen. Combining the knowledge of YC for what’s about to happen and what you need to think through combined with having a really set vision has made all the difference in the world. Now being $12 million into funding and being a Series A company and having 35 employees, what I’m most excited about for YC is this new initiative where I think it’s if it gets to 50 employees or something, you can kind of come back to YC as a real alum to speak to other alums that are now going from 50 to 100 and what’s that process like. Yhat’s just ahead of us, and I’m excited to kind of jump into that now.
Craig Cannon [42:04] – Right on. Broadly speaking, what were your learnings and lessons from YC? Because the majority of people listening to this are maybe thinking about starting a company or are in the process. Could you condense what you learned?
Porter Braswell [42:17] – Absolutely. The number one thing that I took out of YC because it has a lot of implications is that funding is an outcome of building a good business. And it sounds so simple, and I didn’t fully appreciate it when everybody was kind of preaching that when we were there, like, “Guys, stop focusing on demo day. Just make traction, and everything else will kind of happen.” Again, it sounds so simple, but when people ask me, like, “Okay, how do I go get VC funding?” I’m, like, “Well, build a good business.” And by having that concept of just building a good business, it truly eliminates so many distractions, and it helps prioritize your day where you’re just focusing on making a good business and focusing on your customers and building something that they want that when you lift your head after a year, VCs are calling you, and the process isn’t difficult to raise money at that point because you’re just talking about your business and your traction. That was the number one thing because, as I mentioned, without a company or a product, we applied to Techstars. We had no business applying to anything. We should have just built a good business. By the time we applied to YC, we had built a business that was getting traction, and 10 weeks later, we raised $3.5 million on demo day. It was just because we built a good business, and that’s something that you read a lot of blogs and you follow all these famous VCs, and you’re, like, “Oh, I would love to raise your capital,” and you’re so focused on the wrong stuff.
Craig Cannon [44:02] – It’s unbelievably distracting, and I think people get in their heads that that’s what winning the game is, and they also lose sight of the fact that these investors have LPs. In other words, they have their own investors. All these content marketing that they’re doing has an interest, and their interest is, you are in this VC game. It’s great if you want to do a startup and raise VC, but a lot of people are basically taught that’s the only way to build the business, and it’s also not the only way to build a business. That is so, yeah…
Craig Cannon [44:34] – Yeah.
Porter Braswell [44:35] – Then you realize, wait a minute, why would I want to dilute myself? Why don’t I just make money from customers and not have to raise money?
Craig Cannon [44:42] – Great too.
Porter Braswell [44:43] – And so yeah, that’s-
Craig Cannon [44:45] – You can just do it your own way , you don’t have to.
Porter Braswell [44:46] – Yeah, you don’t have to. And what I tell people is that if you can build a small business, like try to build a small business first, worry about the big business down the road, but just try to make $100,000 with your company. Try to make $500,000 with your company, and then see what happens. But people get so caught up, and I was in it, you get so caught up on raising capital and trying to get to certain milestones of ARR and all this stuff. Just go out and make $100,000.
Craig Cannon [45:20] – It’s that easy. It’s so simple.
Porter Braswell [45:23] – And it’s such a weird thing because going through YC, what I take out most of YC is not about the demo day and the funding. It’s about building a good business. It’s so something you wouldn’t associate. You would think that from the outside, it’s like raise as much capital as you can, and that’s just not what gets preached at YC. It’s just build a good business, and that’s, by far, what I take the most out of the program.
Craig Cannon [45:46] – What have you learned since? Have you made any mistakes or any counter-intuitive learnings? It’s been a couple of years now.
Porter Braswell [45:53] – Focusing on the culture, it’s the number one thing that when you’re four people, you don’t really have to focus on it. It’s just it is what it is. When you’re 10 people, you really don’t have to focus on it. At some point, when you’re 15, when you’re 20, you, as a CEO, that’s your job, and it’s your job to make sure that the vision is clear. Everybody can talk about what that vision is. Everybody understands what their KPIs are, what they should be focused on. You’re the captain of this boat, and there’s land out there, and you have to tell people which island you’re going to, and you have to be very set on that path but be flexible enough to adjust. Meanwhile, you have to keep the crew happy. It’s a balancing act and it’s a juggling act, and it’s something that I was really good with until we were 12 people. I was always the captain of my basketball teams. I was always the captain of my baseball teams and all that stuff. Managing and coaching and leading anything sub of 12, 13 people came naturally. Once we hit the 15 number, I started losing my own way because I was friends with people, but I was their boss. I wanted to hang out with them, but I had to give them critical feedback. It was really when we hit 15 people that I would say I had the most difficult reflection on who do I want to be as a CEO. Being a CEO is like a real thing and I thought like being a CEO was just, “Oh, you do sales and that’s kind of what you do, and you just have a cool title,” but it’s not.
Porter Braswell [47:33] – Being CEO is keeping everything together and having a clear vision and constantly driving that home. For me, I would say 15 to 20 people was definitely my largest learning experience where I had to recognize that I am not your friend first. I’m the CEO of Jopwell first, and I can be a colleague second, or friend second, if you will. That really helped me find my voice again. Now, 35 people, it’s around structuring my day. I’m very intentional about my schedule and my calendar now. You can’t just pull me into a meeting. You have to give me an agenda what the meeting is going to be on. I have particular blocks of time we can have meetings, and I just have to be really protective over my time. That’s the next phase of learning that I’m going through, that it’s okay to give yourself a four-hour block where you’re just thinking about the business and you’re not being pulled into meetings to be busy. If I don’t need to be in the meeting, I shouldn’t be in the meeting.
Craig Cannon [48:38] – I think that’s a lesson for everyone, not just CEOs.
Porter Braswell [48:39] – Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
Craig Cannon [48:42] – Did you have a coach, or did you just read books or blogs? What did you do?
Porter Braswell [48:48] – A little bit of everything, no direct coach, mostly books, a lot of just speaking with people, and I would say just most of it getting feedback from people who work at Jopwell and just being very intentional. Now I have a coffee session where every morning, I get coffee with a different employee for about 45 minutes, because I go get coffee anyway, so I might as well go with somebody and just sit down and just have a conversation. It’s in those one-on-one settings that I can get real feedback, and it’s just listening. I don’t have a big enough ego to think that I know everything. Again, as I said, I am not the most technical person in the company. I’m not the best product person in the company. I’m not the best marketer in the… I’m not the best of anything in the company, but I have a real clear vision on what I want Jopwell to be, and so I want to hire people who have the expertise, and I want to learn from them. It’s a constant learning, it’s constant feedback, and it’s just being humble enough to recognize that you got to bring people in to the fold to help you through stuff.
Craig Cannon [49:55] – Yeah, that’s great. Well, I think we should wrap it up there. Thanks for coming in.
Porter Braswell [49:59] – Absolutely my pleasure, thank you.
Craig Cannon [50:01] – Alright, thanks for listening. As always, you can find the transcript and the video at blog.ycombinator.com. If you have a second, it would be awesome to give us a rating and review wherever you find your podcasts. See you next time.