Job seeking is one of the toughest headaches people face. Employers also have a hard time looking for viable candidates for their company. Pablo Fuentes wants to take those headaches away with the Proven apps. Proven was developed into two apps, one for job seekers and one for employers seeking candidates. Pablo joins TechZulu and talks about Proven, job markets, and the future of mobile.
TechZulu: Let’s start off with an obvious question. What led you to make Proven?
Pablo Fuentes: It first started in 2009 when I was in business school originally. The original idea was how to get jobs for people using text messages. Prevalence of smart phones wasn’t high back then, and even if we wanted to execute what we are doing today it would not have been possible. We clearly went through some difficult transitions in the company. Originally there were three co-founders and went down to two. The company almost died. Then we rescued it from nothing around the end of 2011. The current iteration of what we are doing now has been around since 2012. So a year and a half or so. We have a team of five in San Francisco and with two apps out. The Candidate app, which allows people to apply for jobs from anywhere and the Employer app, which allows businesses to hire people on Craigslist and have a much easier time sorting out different candidates.
Hearing that your company almost died. Was that your worst moment?
PF: Hardest moment? I had to lay off 60% of the company in one day. That was rough. The number went down to only four of us and in the next three weeks, one of our co-founders left and then one of our key employee left right after. From there it was down to two of us with nothing else.
We were doing a product that helped small business hire, similar to the employer app we launched today, all web-based. We were trying to raise money for this product, but then the unthinkable happened. My dad got cancer. I had to make a choice, which was either stay in the U.S. with no guarantee the company is going to surviving and my dad having surgery and not knowing what would happen to him. Or I if I left, I would get to see my dad, but then my co-founder and engineer would have got deported. So, I would definitely say that was my toughest moment.
Thankfully, my father is doing well now. I ended up staying and raising money and we finally were able to launch our Candidate app. Now, we have a very promising app in the Employer app.
Getting away from those tough moments. Tell us about your crowning achievements.
PF: I see it as a work in progress. I tend to see what others tend to see in achievements; which is an opportunity to do more. It was cool to be invited to speak at the White House last year about mentoring. I am very active in mentoring women and minorities.
We also have been able to develop a good product, because hearing and reading the comments from users and just looking at the ratings we got for our apps are amazing. Reading what people have to say about us like how we changed their lives and helped them find a job is a rewarding experience. This is what gets me to work even harder. Whenever I made an impact in someone’s life is a huge deal. Let me share an email I got today. The email says, “Your app helped me find a job that was better than my current one and allowed me to have a better life at the moment. Thank you.” Developing a product that changed people’s lives feels like a positive thing.
Why don’t you tell us about Proven, both Employer and Candidate apps?
PF: For Candidates it’s a mobile job search and applications. It’s really easy to find a job and apply to a job with your resume and cover letters from anywhere for jobs posted on Craigslist. Most of the people, who use our app are based on three majority verticals: service and hospitality, health care administrative, and clerical. So a lot of folks who are not spending a lot of time in front of a computer and use their mobile or tablet more than their computer. Five years from now, it is impossible for me to imagine a world where most applications do not happen through a mobile device.
The Employer app is to hire people on Craigslist through mobile. Post the job position on Craigslist, have your applicants come in and sort them by yes, no, or maybe. Connect and share information with other people on your staff.
Does Proven only go through Craigslist?
PF: The Candidate app also has SimplyHired which is a job aggregator like Indeed. We have virtually every job in the U.S. on the app. The big difference is, the jobs on Craiglist which have a more streamlined application process unlike SimplyHired, which often times larger companies kick you off to a third-party website with a whole bunch of complicated forms.
Seeking a job is one of the toughest tasks a person faces. How do you go about making sure people get the jobs they want?
PF: We are like a very sharp samurai sword, which you can chop things up or you can cut your own finger off. So if you send out cover letters with typos and resumes that are misaligned, that will definitely not help you. We have spent a lot of time with Candidates in the field to understand how people use their phones to look for work. I think the most important thing we can do is to provide useful tools and help people use them. We have a free resume creation tool aspect of the app, where the resume is professionally formatted and well presented. Whenever we develop different aspects of our product, we like to show Proven is your friend. Proven is your job seeking ally on your phone and how are we going to do that. But nothing replaces common sense and hustle.
Do you have a web component of Proven? Or is it just mobile or tablet only?
PF: There is a web component and people do use it. The big differentiator with us is that we are very mobile-centric. You are able to log on to Proven.com and upload your resume and cover letters and sync them to your phone for you to have them ready to go. The big thing is for the people, they need to address the timing of the application. It’s a lot different than LinkedIn, because recruiters are usually looking for people. There are a bunch of job openings where the recruiters are looking for very specific types of people. The recruiter is looking through all the profiles of poepl, who are probably already employed, and looking for long tenure with those candidates, say around six to ten years. Whereas for the people we work with, the average tenure of the job is a lot shorter, like 12-18 months. So the timing definitely matters, so if there is a job posted on Craigslist. After the first day of posting a job, the employer gets at least 100 applications. The people at the top of the pile have a better chance than those at the bottom, because people don’t have time to look through all those resumes and cover letters.
There have been a couple of trends in the job world that have been taking place in the last few decades. One of them is the idea that the fluidity of the job market where people used to have just one job. Now they have multiple jobs and they are changing jobs much more frequently. The availability of information is a big deal. The second trend is that all these people are using their mobile device and using them as their main device. When we put those two things together, you see a much more fluid job market where the availability of immediate information is a big deal and more and more people are using their mobile device as their main device. It makes a lot of sense.
PF: I’m still waiting for hover boards. I was promised that!
Joking aside, in the U.S. and especially in Korea, the mobile phone is becoming the main way to connect to the internet. You know what? It already is for most places. We are only 10 feet from our mobile phones any given point of the day. People check their Facebook and their Twitter feeds and that essentially is connecting to the internet. There are always going to be complex tasks or tools or just anything where it requires people to sit down for an extended period of time, where computers are the better option. But for the everyday tasks, things that people do is where mobile devices will take over. You can buy a car, book a trip, and do all your expenses on your mobile. Also today, over two billion people have access to the internet. The next five billion people that have access to the internet will never have a desktop because they would only own a mobile device. Obviously there are other technologies in the pipeline such as wearable technology and Google Glass that will continue to evolve what mobile means. The biggest mistake we can make is that the mobile device will stay exactly it is today. There is going to be a lot of evolution. There are always going to be smarter people who are working on new innovative ways to execute and change what mobile means.
What are your main goals for the rest of the year?
PF: Our main focus is to continue to grow our community. It is very exciting to see the growth. We want to help employers hire more efficiently and get more folks to using the app. Another goal is to continue to drive awareness of our platform.
What advice would you give to job seekers?
PF: It really depends on who they are. But the number one thing, that is universal across every single person that is looking for a job, is to hustle. If things are not going your way, stop looking from the outside, as to why all these people are saying no and start looking from the inside and say what you can do better. Hustle can mean a lot of things. It could mean, go to a community college to increase your skills for a couple months. It can also mean, connect with new people. Maybe toe that line between persistent and annoying. You have to be careful with that. There are a lot of risks in these things. But, sometimes you just have to take risks too. There is a lot of judgment involved.
What advice would you give to employers to advertise their company to job seekers?
PF: Pascal, the French mathematician and philosopher, back in the day said something like this, “I wrote you a long letter because I did not have time to write you a short one.” Meaning, write very good job descriptions, but that doesn’t mean you need to write long ones. But that also doesn’t mean write in short, incomplete job descriptions. Write descriptions that get to the heart of what you really want. If you create a laundry list of some impossible requirements, that is probably more discouraging to job seekers than anything. Separate the things that you can train candidates in and the things you are looking for. Take time on it, because in the future not only will you know how to post job openings, but also can reuse the same postings in the future. I see two common mistakes when it comes to job postings. One is, one page, single-spaced job postings that nobody wants to read. You will just fall asleep. The other problem I see, are postings can be too vague on job descriptions and requirements. You can probably write a job posting with only 140 characters and it could be very effective. But you just have to take the time to write something like Pascal said.
What would you tell to others who want to build a startup?
PF: A lot of people go out and find a team and just go build something. But before you do any of that, cross ten. Cross ten means, whatever product you have, do ten of them. For example, by hand create an Excel sheet, use your phone, use a hundred dollars’ worth of AdWords, and a WordPress page and see if people want to buy your product. Understand what the public wants, then if you are the product before you build the product that is much more valuable and can save you a lot of heartache. Don’t just dream about how great your product may be and how you are going to just startup a company because you can. Be the product before you build the product. See if the public wants your product.
Thank you for your time Pablo.