How I Overcame Rejection and Built a Business by Focusing On Community

Hello! What's your background, and what are you working on?

Hi, I'm Ketan Anjaria and I'm an immigrant from Bombay and the founder of HireClub. HireClub helps you find your dream job with career coaching.

I started coding and designing really young, there's a photo of me coding my first games because my dad wouldn't let me buy them. Professionally, I jumped into the first dot.com as a Flash developer in 1999. But like many, I got laid off and was unemployed for six months. It was a really painful time and ultimately led to my divorce and a serious bout of depression. Looking for work really sucks.

Fast forward to 2011, I'd moved to San Francisco and had a successful design agency kidBombay. We always needed good talent and I knew my friends could put me in touch with great folks to hire so on March 28th, 2011 (my birthday!) I started a Facebook group called HireClub.

We've grown from a Facebook Group to much, much more, and started coaching subscriptions in June 2018. We are currently doing $11k MRR, with prices starting at $89/mo, and our Facebook group has over 27,000 members.

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What motivated you to get started with HireClub?

At first, HireClub was just about finding great people to hire. I needed people yesterday and I wanted to move fast. We used our Facebook group to try out all our features. By keeping things social we got feedback quickly, and we were one of the first Facebook groups like this which really helped us feel connected.

Build a community first. Product later.

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HireClub has six simple community rules that we’ve had since day one. They’ve never changed and have served us really well:

  1. Talk about HireClub — We believe referrals are the best way to get hired.
  2. Help others first — Before you ask, what can you offer?
  3. Post jobs you have access to — You should either be the hiring manager or have inside access. Move fast.
  4. Vouch for your friends — Tag your friends who would be great for jobs. Let the world know how awesome they are.
  5. Be kind — The internet can be a scary place. HireClub is welcome to all who are kind.
  6. No third party recruiters — HireClub is meant for direct, person-to-person referrals. If you are recruiting for a client, please post elsewhere. Internal recruiters (you work at Acme Inc and are hiring for Acme Inc) are always welcome.

My original vision for HireClub was to never spend money on the product and just try to improve it.

Meanwhile, I had another startup called CardFlick in 2011 that won TechCrunch Audience Choice, and we eventually raised money for that ($300k). I thought it was going to be the next big thing and I spent over $150k of my own money (from consulting) to build CardFlick. But we never had a sound business model. This was during the time when social and growth at all costs were everything and I made a lot of mistakes including:

  • Using recruiters to hire
  • Rebuilding a version 2 rather than iterating on version 1
  • Not having a good business model from day one

Ultimately CardFlick shut down in 2013 and it was another six painful months of looking for work.

While all that was going on, the HireClub group was growing. I didn't do much but companies kept posting jobs. We had a few in-person events in San Francisco and generally just kept the feel small and really personal. We even applied for Y Combinator at that time but didn't get in. We were going to make money off of recruiting but it was only later I realized I actually hate recruiting, so it worked out.

HireClub hit 10,000 members In March of 2017 and, at this point, I thought we could start experimenting with revenue. Our first experiment was HireClub Headshots, and it was a hit! We made $5k from our first session and had all these gorgeous pictures of our community. Everyone who purchased made it their profile picture and their HireClub headshot was always their number one most liked picture. Customers loved it and it was great marketing.

headshots

We also saw something really unique. Many of our members didn't have jobs but wanted headshots, so over 15 people in the group donated money so that those that were unemployed and maybe a little more financially strained could purchase headshots. It was a great example of how paying it forward has always been part of our ethos.

In the summer of 2017, we were approached by Republic to be on this new TV show called Meet the Drapers. It was going to be a show like Shark Tank and the startups would raise money on Republic. We hadn't even incorporated HireClub yet, so we quickly got our ducks in a row. A week later, I'm being filmed for my first reality TV show!

I thought I bombed on the show, I had never really pitched HireClub and our pitch at the time was that we were going to be a gig platform like UpWork. We didn't even have a product, really. But what we did have was our community. We continued doing headshots to make money, and we starting building out our website. I required all Facebook members to create a profile on hireclub.com in order to join the group.

In the year that Facebook was dealing with all the election issues and negativity, our wonderful community helped us raise $47k in crowdfunding. It paid for my salary for about six months.

What went into building the initial product?

In August of 2017, we started doing single session career coaching. A member could purchase a 30 or 60-minute session with a career coach on things like resume reviews, salary negotiation, and more. We ramped up but slowly started making around $1-$2k in revenue per month. It wasn't a lot, but people really liked it and our results were amazing. We were finding people jobs and getting them raises and making them feel more confident and supported in their job search.

We made a 30% margin and our coaches kept the rest. Think of the platform like an Uber or Lyft but instead of ridesharing, it’s a marketplace for career services. Except we pay our coaches well. They average $100/hr in pay.

In June 2018, we released subscription coaching. It had many of the same features but a simple price point: $89/mo for 30 minutes with your coach. And it took off! Single sessions don't encourage repeat usage and it's hard to make a big change in one session. But now you had a career coach right by your side and you could message or call at any time. And because it's subscription, we didn't have to worry about trying to bill users or get more users.

We grew really quickly in our first few months, from $1k MRR in 30 days to $10K MRR in 150 days.

For fundraising and growth, it’s all about who trusts you.

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Our biggest growth was probably through ProductHunt. We waited for months to get our product right before posting and worked really hard to make sure our Product Hunt images and page were gorgeous. We modified our onboarding to make it faster and easier. Users didn't even need to sign up, we automatically created an account during onboarding. I got Chris Messina to post for us and used our community to spread the word. We came in top 5 for the day! It tripled our revenue in one month.

In October 2018, with $10K MRR, I thought it was time to try to raise some money from investors. Boy, was I wrong. I got told no and no, and when we applied for Y Combinator again (our 4th time), we were rejected. Here we are, a startup with $100K ARR, 27K active members, and a product that has been profitable from day one. But I quickly learned that VCs don't really care about your numbers. In fact, having numbers can be worse for you because it gives them something to measure. I got told this was never going to be big business or we wouldn't scale.

When we didn't get into Y Combinator, I was devastated. I was hoping to build out a team and had people ready to hire, I thought for sure we would get in with $100K ARR.

Now I've totally changed my tune. I've focused 100% on customers and improving the product. We are still growing and improving the product and learning lessons every day by talking to the people that matter: our customers, not VCs.

I did end up raising $25k from an angel investor who was my old boss 10 years ago. He’s amazing and, because of our revenue, we haven’t even touched the money yet. For fundraising and growth, it’s all about who trusts you.

How have you attracted users and grown HireClub?

Mainly our Facebook group and in-person events. We don't do any ads right now, though we probably should. I really love word of mouth.

If someone invests in you, it's because they believe in you, and the best investors are customers.

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While Product Hunt was huge for us, we need to really think about growth and invest more in it. But we grew so quickly that we found some pain points for subscribers, and before we focus on growth again, I want to fix those issues. No product is perfect but I really believe in making a high-quality product before trying to grow it. People should want to refer their friends and we see that all the time.

Month Revenue
Sep 930
Nov 1338
Feb ‘18 720
March 4895
April 2230
May 2012
June 2662
July 3330
Aug 3817
Sep 8002
Oct 12298
Nov 13332
Dec 10285
Jan ‘19 11044
Feb 12302

What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?

We are a subscription marketplace for career services. We have our coaches who do the work and get paid 70%. Clients get charged monthly through Stripe (which we love) and we pay our coaches from that.

We do almost all of our growth from our Facebook group. In-person events, like Resume Reviews and Salary Negotiation workshops at local co-working spaces also really help.

pricing

What are your goals for the future?

I want HireClub to succeed on its own. I'm done with the Silicon Valley fake-it-till-you-make-it lifestyle. We've all seen startups that raise millions that don't make any sense and ultimately go nowhere, and I've learned that most of what VCs tell you is not useful. If someone invests in you, it's because they believe in you, and the best investors are customers.

Once we get to $20k MRR, I won't need any external funding, and we are not far from that.

What are the biggest challenges you've faced and obstacles you've overcome? If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

Our biggest challenge is growth because we haven't invested in it. You will grow when you invest in product.

If we started over, I would probably make the same mistakes. I think that, as a founder, the biggest thing is being kind to yourself. We don't all need to be on VC fueled rocket ships that burn you out. I actually subscribe to HireClub myself and I love my coach. He keeps me grounded and accountable.

Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

The most important thing is building something that people want that's exponential in value. For example, if a user pays $10/mo, are they getting $20/mo or more in value? If not, you haven't built something that is truly enticing. Our subscription costs $89 a month but our average salary bump is $10k! Where else can you spend $89 and make $10,000? It's nuts how amazing our results are. In the US, it can take up to six months to find a job on your own; HireClub customers do it in two months.

My point is it's not about features or widgets, it's about life-changing actions. What can your product do to help someone's life?

What's your advice for indie hackers who are just starting out?

Build a community first. Product later.

Talk to users every single day. Use texting, not email, to work with paying customers. Text rocks.

Iterate every single day.

Improve little things versus trying to make massive changes.

Raise your prices. We have raised our prices three times and made more money.

If you aren't a coder, learn to code. Seriously, I've seen so many founders who spent a year trying to find a CTO and in that year they could have actually learned to code. If you have money, contract someone you trust to code but don't try to get married to a CTO. That's nuts. Just hire a good developer. Also, use Rails. It's just the easiest thing to build on. Code doesn't make a product, listening to users does. Don't worry about making things perfect, but build something you can iterate on.

Do your business modeling early on. How much would you charge? What much does that make? How much profit? What're your costs? People like to think that if you build it, they will come. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Don't compare yourself to anyone else, ever. Trust me, it will depress you. Wear blinders to competition and just focus on your customers.

Finally, take care of yourself, I truly believe I work to live, not live to work. Your startup isn't your life.

Where can we go to learn more?

You can go to our website, https://hireclub.com, our Facebook Group, or our Twitter. You can also email me at [email protected].

I'm always available to chat and if you want help on your career go to https://hireclub.com/intro to get started, it's free!

Ketan Anjaria , Founder of HireClub

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