Any entrepreneur raising money right now will tell you that the markets are tough. Yet, even as investors are pulling back and operating with more caution in early stage deals, trends are showing that female founders and their companies are tough enough to weather the storm as more noteworthy rounds have been announced in New York and LA.
The most recent news comes from one of Female Founders Fund’s very own portfolio companies, WayUp. As reported by Fortune, “On Thursday, the company announced that it has raised a $18.5 million Series B funding round, led by Trinity Ventures, with participation from WayUp’s existing investors, including General Catalyst, BoxGroup, Lerer Hippeau Ventures, Index Ventures, SV Angel, and Female Founders Fund.”
Having recently leapt the curve from their milestone accomplishment of securing 1M users in late 2016 to 3.5M users earlier this month as a result of their recent acquisition of a competitor, Looksharp, the company is positioning itself at the front of the race for marketplaces connecting students and recent graduates to great jobs. To better understand the evolution and growth of their user base and team, we interviewed Liz about her experience to date, her growth goals, and the future of WayUp.
F3: What was the story behind WayUp? What convinced you and JJ to quit your jobs at Google and McKinsey?
LW: JJ and I both were incredibly passionate about helping students and recent grads find jobs ever since we were college students and found it difficult to discover cool part-time jobs, let alone interesting internships beyond the more traditional companies that recruited at UPenn (our alma mater). So we met and bonded in college because of the mutual desire to solve that problem, but later bonded again over the problem as recent grads working at Google and McKinsey, let alone as people who worked at companies where people applied with little understanding about the jobs they were applying for.
F3: In this type of marketplace business, how did you convince early users to sign on if you weren’t able to offer jobs to all of them?
LW: The classic “chicken and the egg” problem was interesting. We actually allowed businesses to post for free at the beginning and to pay when they received qualified applicants. This way, there was no issue around getting jobs, since it was low risk to businesses. And while there weren’t a ton of jobs for students, it was still more curated high-quality jobs than other sites had, which attracted them enough to stay (plus, WayUp is free for students to use.)
F3: Acquiring college students as users is competitive. What did you do differently that led you to become a market leader?
LW: We relied heavily at the beginning on our own Campus Rep program, which we hired for from our own userbase (of course!)… Many companies (including F Cubed portfolio companies!) still use WayUp to hire Campus Ambassadors for themselves. After we gained enough traction, we saw word-of-mouth “viral” growth begin to happen, and later on after our Series A, we started investing in some paid user acquisition channels, like Facebook. We’re now also doubling down on SEO, which was one of the reasons we acquired Looksharp a few months back.
F3: What surprised you as the business scaled over time?
LW: No matter how large we grow, it feels like there is always so much to do at all times, and never enough people to do it. It’s a crazy feeling.
F3: As a CEO, how much of your time do you spend on hiring? Any tips on what has worked well for you?
LW: It definitely depends on the stage our company is at. For example, in the early days when we had a team and didn’t need to hire more than one person per quarter, I probably spent about 20% of my time interviewing or building relationships with people I would one day want to work with. However, during hyper-growth times (like right now), I probably spend 75% of my days in interviews or meeting with potential hires. I even spend about 10 hours each weekend in meals or on phone calls with candidates, if it’s hard to find time during the week.
F3: What do you feel that your users and customers like most about the WayUp experience?
LW: Our users and customers love WayUp because of the results. Yes, the branding is fun, the product experience is better than the rest, and the customer support is (in my opinion) awesome. However, I think most people just really appreciate that the platform actually works. For example, 1 in every 3 students who apply on WayUp get hired through WayUp.
F3: What do you feel most proud about in terms of the business in terms of success?
LW: Two things: (1) The team we’ve built. I feel so honored to work with everyone at WayUp each day. (2) The number of people we’ve helped to get their first job or internship.
F3: Post funding, any new exciting goals?
LW: As exciting as it is to fundraise, the second we signed our Series B term sheet, JJ (my cofounder) and I looked at each other and said “Oh man… We have a lot of work to do.” So yes, we have lots of exciting goals… from executive hires to product goals to user growth goals to revenue goals, and the list goes on.