We’re motivated on a daily basis by the immense problem we’re solving and the very personal way it affects peoples’ lives.
This article is part of our Business Startup Spotlight Series featuring entrepreneurs and their companies. We hope these founders’ interviews will inspire and motivate you as you undertake your own entrepreneurial journey.
FundingSage interviewed Collin Gutman – entrepreneur, investor, sports nut and founder of WorkAmerica.
Location: Washington, D.C.
Product / Service Offering: The LinkedIn for the Skilled Trades
Tell us a little about yourself with a focus on what motivates you?
We’re motivated on a daily basis by the immense problem we’re solving and the very personal way it affects peoples’ lives. We help community and technical college students find jobs with employers desperate to hire in these fields. We see the expense and risk that goes along with obtaining education, so we’re driven to help schools provide a great ROI to their students on vocational education by ensuring their students end up with fulfilling career paths once they graduate.
What need or needs does your company seek to fill for its customers?
We solve needs for two different sets of customers. For our community college partners, we help them solve their need to get jobs for their students. Obtaining a certain placement rate is a federal requirement of these schools, we help ensure compliance and increase the number of opportunities for the students coming out of these schools.
For our employer customers, we help them find in-demand skilled talent. They have extreme difficulty finding and recruiting talent in the skilled trades, and partnering with 1200 community colleges across the country is not an option for budget constrained corporate HR departments, so we make access to talent from all of these schools not only possible, but easily accessible from their own office.
What is the one thing that sets your company apart from its competitors?
The main differentiator between us and any other recruiting site is the way that we partner with schools. This allows us access to this in-demand talent base that isn’t on any other recruiting site. Through our very close partnership with our schools, we ensure that students understand the opportunity we’re offering, and it leads to 99%+ signup rates at our school partners.
What was the biggest challenge you faced while getting your company up and running, and how did you overcome it?
Our biggest challenge when we got up and running was raising the initial funding to get off the ground. We needed funding to help solve the chicken and egg problem of needing both school partners and employers in order to generate revenue. Raising funding as a very early startup is always a challenge, and we overcame it through hard work. We had 100+ meetings with investors until we finally pulled the round together, it was a case of persistence beats resistance.
What steps have you taken to secure funding for your company and what, if anything, would you do differently if you had to start over?
In order to ensure funding for the company we’ve constantly maintained a large network of investors that follow our progress. These relationships have over time turned into investors who decided they liked our progress enough to finally cross the line and invest. We’ve also fundraised hard every time we’ve gone out for a raise, having hundreds of meetings to identify the 5-10 investors that will eventually be a part of the round. Fundraising is never easy, so I’m not sure I’d do anything differently… I think the only way to successfully fundraise is to hustle until the job is done.
Have there been any questions you have had as an entrepreneur of a fledgling startup that you had a particularly hard time finding the answers to?
I think there are always hard questions, but the ones I’ve faced haven’t been ones that necessarily had answers. There are always questions that there’s no way to answer other than testing or patience. For example, we’ve struggled to know exactly the best way to work with our school partners to bring our product to the students, but the only way to solve this was testing with our first few school partners.
What challenges, if any, are you grappling with?
As always, the major challenge we’re grappling with is the best path for funding. While we have over a year of cash in the bank, there are still questions. Do we pursue institutional funding to go faster? Do we prove things out a little more then try to raise? Do we take our cash as far as we can before raising again? Having the right strategy for raising capital at the right times is key to ensuring success: knowing when to step on the accelerator and when to be conservative, and that’s the balance we’re working to find right now.
What is the most helpful tip or “hack” you’ve ever learned, stumbled across, or been given?
The most helpful tip I’ve ever been given is when I was pointed to Data.com. This is an incredible resource where, for free, you can get contact info for nearly anyone you’re trying to get in touch with. It’s a great way to find the emails for people who you’re finding as potentially useful on LinkedIn, at conferences, etc.
Is there anything else you would like to share about your company?
We really find it important to change the world in a positive way while building a great business. Businesses like ours that focus on driving strong returns while solving a pressing social problem seem to be the next great wave of startups, and we believe it’s a driving factor that pushes us forward every day.
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