A startup born on a playground in Chapel Hill is now a top HR technology to watch with a national accelerator under its belt.
June 29, 2016
Helped by StartupRunner Marketing Accelerator, Durham’s LineHire Rethinks the Job Board
With paying customers and a warm reception from recruiters, LineHire plans marketing push, fundraise for 2016.
Called LineHire, the Durham software company is making it easier for companies of any size to find a short list of qualified candidates for jobs and headhunters to earn money for matching them. It serves as middle ground between job boards and recruiting firms.
Nearly 70 hiring campaigns have happened on the site since its launch in May 2015, with companies ranging from outdoor retailer REI to European biopharma giant BioMerieux to food distributor Reinhart Food Services. With more than 600 professional recruiters, called “talent scouts”, signed on, LineHire hopes to raise funds and ramp up to 50 campaigns a month by the end of 2016.
While LineHire has taken advantage of many of the Triangle’s startup resources—from Launch Chapel Hill to the NC IDEA application process to free space for grads at Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship’s Bullpen—a key resource has been an Austin accelerator called StartupRunner.
Focused on marketing or “growth hacking”, the program uses a proprietary software tool to help startups that have product-market fit determine the marketing strategies to accelerate their growth.
“We sit a year after most accelerators, where it really comes time to move beyond the early customer and cross the chasm to efficient customer creation,” says StartupRunner founder and managing director Derick Thompson. His goal is to help startups avoid spending a lot of money to find scalable growth.
In LineHire’s case, Thompson’s team believed StartupRunner could help create a go-to-market strategy that provides a competitive advantage over “the noise in the recruiting space.”
His team got behind a vision of helping small businesses lower the cost of finding great talent, and the experienced entrepreneurs building it.
LineHire co-founders Chuck Solomon (pictured right) and Nina Merklina (pictured left) got to talking about the broken system of recruiting as their kids played together in the spring of 2014. She was a former executive recruiter, both for large European agencies and her own, based in Russia. One of her biggest accomplishments was helping Cisco grow its executive personnel in the 1990s.
Solomon, meanwhile, has a background in sales and marketing from starting and selling a small business called Remodel and Repair Solutions and then working as a marketing consultant.
They lamented that many technologies make HR functions easier—there are job aggregators and applicant tracking systems and of course, LinkedIn. But no system delivers quality leads faster and cheaper than the cream-of-the-crop recruiting firms. Even LinkedIn requires countless hours of searches, and often without yielding any results or connections to the best candidates.
They began to brainstorm a way of simplifying recruitment and making headhunting more accessible to businesses looking for even middle management. And, in a way that wouldn’t require a Fortune 500 budget.
A month later, they met Phil Garber (pictured center), a full stack developer and engineer with an MBA from UNC-Chapel Hill. He was working on an employee feedback app that ensures confidentiality, technology that could be transitioned to account for confidential job candidate referrals.
They started meeting regularly at the Chapel Hill Bruegger’s until they were accepted into Launch Chapel Hill in January 2015. The site, originally called BountyMiner, became a reality in the months to follow.
LineHire looks like a job board, so it’s easy for a recruiter or HR professional to understand. Companies pay $599 to post a job description for a month, which is then distributed to the talent scouts that LineHire has vetted and approved to work on the system. They can mine their client list to submit resumes of candidates who are qualified and interested in the position.
Solomon compares it to “having an agency of 600 people at your disposal on demand.”
Instead of going through hundreds of applications and resumes from sites like Indeed, the hiring companies receive 10-20 pre-screened applicants, with at least a few that are most relevant. LineHire gives money back to any company that doesn’t find good leads through the platform. But if a placement happens, the company pays between $1,000 and $4,000, 80 percent of which is paid to the winning talent scout.
LineHire believes its sweet spot in this ability to quickly narrow down the potential candidates, which makes companies more willing to pay for the service than free ones that deliver hundreds of results, most of which aren’t qualified for the jobs.
Recruiters are incentivized to use LineHire too. Rather than waiting to be paid once a candidate is hired, LineHire also pays recruiters based on the number of interviews they can land for candidates.
So far, LineHire has focused on filling jobs with salaries between $45,000 to $125,000 and they range in titles and industries, from a vice president of product or marketing to allied health professionals, retail store general managers and software engineers.
Companies aren’t giant tech companies like IBM or Cisco or other prestigious Fortune 500s, but it’s just as critical they find the talent they need to grow and succeed.
Says Merklina: “Everyone expects sexy companies to endorse you, but I think the major pain and possibilities are with companies that might not be in the press all the time but that are very good employers.”
Finding those companies has been part of the challenge LineHire undertook with StartupRunner.
The program included many small experiments that if successful, could be scaled to really boost leads and campaigns. It began with value proposition development and developing marketing plans around that, moved into content creation, marketing channel exploration, executing campaigns and studying the analytics, and ended with prep for securing investors.
One learning, says Solomon, is that a lead is only a good one after an actual conversation takes place. Digital advertisements fill the funnel more than referrals from the existing base of talent scouts. And it is possible to do marketing in-house with the right tools in place.
LineHire completed the 10-week program at the end of May, and is now executing on the plan delivered by StartupRunner.
Funding will help keep up those efforts. StartupRunner came with a $30,000 convertible note from the accelerator. Its StartupRunner Capital venture arm will consider seed investments in any of its accelerator portfolio companies. The program was also a way for Triangle-area investors to vet the company, Thompson says—investor and entrepreneur Scott Barstow referred LineHire to the program after receiving an introduction to the startup from Triangle Angel Partners’ Jan Davis.
“VCs and mentors typically see the gap of this expertise in founders and understand that it needs to close and revenue needs to increase,” says Thompson, who is proud that all 36 companies who’ve been through the program are still active and 10 are profitable.
LineHire plans to get to $50,000 a month in revenue and then go back to those investors for funding this year. The team hopes to take advantage of a continued boom in funding to HR tech companies. The industry hit a record last year with $2.4 billion raised in 383 deals, according to CB Insights. In the first quarter of 2016, $591 million went to 106 HR tech companies.
The team also hopes to capitalize on publicity from making the HR tech watch list of Dallas-based HR guru and serial entrepreneur William Tincup, who quarterly vets new technology in an HR and recruiting industry now with 21,000 products.
Tincup suggests every HR and recruiting professional should participate in 3-4 software demos a week to ensure they stay on top of advancements in the field.
In such a competitive landscape, LineHire hopes they take his advice.