Tech’s coveted internships were some of the first roles to be cut as offices closed and businesses shuttered in response to the coronavirus. A number of companies across the country, including Glassdoor, StubHub, Funding Circle, Yelp, Checkr and even the National Institutes of Health, either paused hiring or canceled their internship programs altogether.
For InsideSherpa co-founders Tom Brunskill and Pasha Rayan, the canceled internships were an opportunity. InsideSherpa, a Y Combinator graduate, hosts virtual work experience programs for college students all around the world.
College students, searching for a way to get job-ready, flocked to the platform from Northern Italy to South-East Asia, to all over the United States. Enrollments in InsideSherpa grew more than 86%, up to 1 million students.
The educational service successfully attracted student interest, and now, has landed investor interest. Today, InsideSherpa announced that it raised $ 9.3 million in Series A funding, led by Lightspeed Venture Partners . The startup has now raised $ 11.6 million in known venture funding. Other investors include FundersClub, Y Combinator and Arizona State University.
The financing will be used to grow InsideSherpa’s staff, with more engineering, product and sales roles. Along with the financing, InsideSherpa announced that it has rebranded to Forage.
Forage isn’t selling an internship replacement, but instead comes in one degree before the recruitment process. Students can go to the website and take a course from large companies such as Deloittee, Citi, BCG and GE. The course, designed in collaboration with the particular company and Forage, gives students a chance to “explore what a career would look like at their firm before the internship or entry-level application process opens,” Brunskill explains.
Forage is focused on partnering with large companies that employ upwards of 1,000 students per year via internships to help open up new pipelines. The corporate partners pay a subscription fee per year to post courses, and students can access all courses for free.
Popular courses include the KPMG Data Analytics Program, JPMorgan Chase & Co. Software Engineering Program and the Microsoft Engineering Program.
While Forage declined to disclose ARR, it confirmed that it was profitable heading into its fundraise, which formally closed in July.
Within edtech, flocks of companies have tried (and failed) to deliver on the promise of skills-based learning and employment opportunities as an outcome. The strategy of getting cozy with corporate partners isn’t unique to Forage, but the team views it as a competitive advantage. Of course, the effectiveness of that strategy matters more than the fact that it exists in the first place. Forage did not disclose efficacy information, but said that “some” corporate partners hired up to 52% of the cohort from their programs.
When Brunskill and Rayan first started Forage in 2017, they imagined a mentoring marketplace to connect students to young professionals. Three years later, much has changed.
“While students were interested in the product, they weren’t using it the way we intended,” he said. “Students kept saying to us ‘we just want an internship at company X, can you get me one?’ ”
While Brunskill doesn’t believe there’s any silver bullet solution to fixing education or recruitment systems, he remains optimistic in Forage’s future. After all, even if democratizing access to skills is the first step in a bigger race, it’s not an easy one.
Hard at work? Chances are you are doing so from the comfort of your own home. When the pandemic struck, companies and workers had to adapt to a new reality in which going to the office was no longer an option. This is only possible with the right online tools to stay connected. Amsterdam houses several startups who have been making these tools for years. Both Speakap and Open Social found themselves in an exciting position to play a significant role in the transition to the new normal.
Speakap keeps co-workers connected
By the looks of it, Speakap seems to be a product made for times like these. A SaaS-platform that allows companies to connect all their employees, including the non-desk frontline employees and effectively communicate throughout the organisation. A slick communication application on mobile or pc to stay in touch with the entire organisation.
Now that many companies are forced into a remote working situation, companies should be flocking to what the Amsterdam-based startup has made. And so they did. But the past couple of months weren’t the easiest for Speakap, says co-founder Patrick van der Mijl.
It was mid-March when the Dutch government announced the country would go into lockdown. At Speakap, Van der Mijl and partners quickly estimated that this could take a while. “This meant we had to adjust our growth scenario to a situation where there would be less or no sales”, says Van der Mijl. “Before 2020, we scaled up to be able to handle the planned growth of this year. But we had to take a step back at the end of March, to make sure we could stay independent and stay in control of our own faith.”
This also meant Van der Mijl had to let go of 15 of the 90 employees. “It has an impact on an organisation. We’ve only been looking at growth before, so it is painful if you have to let people go.”
Sudden surge crisis communication
According to Van der Mijl, some feared this decision came too soon mainly because last March turned out to be their best month ever. “Many companies suddenly needed a tool to handle crisis communication. Usage surged to four times the normal level. People checked the app 15 times a day, and this number rose significantly. Adoption also grew. What we normally handled in a quarter now happened within a month. It required a lot of strength from us. We have half a million users. If they suddenly take to the platform more often, the load increases significantly. We formed a crisis team here to handle the surges and balance the load.”
Stay up-to-date: Read all our COVID-19 coverage here
Unfortunately for Speakap, what goes up must come down. Many companies, mostly in retail and hospitality, apply their solution to communicate with their frontline employees effectively. So when countries shut down, they felt the pinch in Amsterdam.
Van der Mijl: “There is a lot in the pipeline, but many deals got moved up. Getting a signature on a contract now takes more time than we are used to. But the good thing is that the necessity of our tool is now more clear than ever with C-suite executives.”
And after a period of patience, sales are looking good right now, says Van der Mijl. “We are now ahead of the adjusted forecast we made in March.”
Speakap is now active in over 120 countries at more than 400 companies. The majority is based in The Netherlands, where Van der Mijl says damage control has been proficient as companies receive a lot of support. “We can instantly see what happens in the market, and the difference among countries is huge. Spain is dramatic. Companies are struggling to pay their bills or ask for a deferral. But in Germany and the UK, we do great. We just signed our biggest contract ever in the UK. A large retailer, with over 30,000 employees. We are also back at the table with different companies in the USA. Closing deals there is the main driver for our growth.”
Open Social closed funding amid pandemic
Elsewhere in Amsterdam, another communication platform for companies is trying to keep up with the corona demand. Open Social offers a SaaS-solution to create and maintain communities for large organisations. Since March, they’ve seen usage go up. According to CEO Taco Potze, it never came down: “This is going to be our best year ever. Usually, in the summer, everything falls silent, but this year even August was full of tenders and requests.”
A clear sign Open Social is in the right place is that they closed an impressive €1.25 million funding round, despite being in the middle of a pandemic.
“We’ve noticed there is a huge demand for exchanging knowledge online. Our platform is about sharing expertise that was usually passed around on congresses and meetups.” But with people forced to meet online, they also realise there are far better options to gain knowledge than attending a congress. Potze: “The exchange of information in an online community goes much deeper than the snapshots of a meetup.”
The coronavirus did not fundamentally change the product of Open Social. Potze anticipated the way we work would change eventually. The pace at which it does, just accelerated significantly, he says: “Changes that would normally take two years, now happen in two months.”
Even a massive organisation like the UN moved quickly with their platform. Organisations must make the switch. Potze is convinced the world as we know it, might not return. “These large congresses will not come back. Many companies are now saving in travel expenses and can even do with a smaller, cheaper office footprint.”
Remote working here to stay
But how does open Social itself deal with its empty office and the new way of working? For the Amsterdam startup, the new way of working isn’t a novelty. When the lockdown in The Netherlands was declared, Potze quickly made the switch: “Many of our people already worked remotely. Our biggest concern is how to deal with missing out on the social aspect. The water cooler chatter, that sort of stuff.”
Open Social, of course, knows the way around its own platform. “We use Open Social as a social intranet. We post silly questions every day, to talk about something else than just work. And last week we rented a big boat to cruise through Amsterdam. No laptops, just good conversations about how everyone was doing. But you have to put some extra effort into it.”
Same goes for Van der Mijl. At Speakap, the cultural values are ‘trust, smart and fun’. Is it possible to maintain that over an online platform, even if it is the one you’ve made yourself? “We advise everyone to spend one day a month in the office with the entire team. There is ample space in the office, so no problem there. Meeting face to face everyone once in a while is good for the company culture.”
Featured image: Patrick van der Mijl, Speakap
The post The office is superfluous; these Amsterdam SaaS-startups offer the future of work appeared first on Silicon Canals .
Creativity is back in fashion after years of silence in research! Social and technological changes are driving renewed interest in this subject, and the findings can be applied in many fields like art, psychology, and of course – business. The search for creative ways to make money in our developing world never ends. Think, for example, how important creativity is for different professionals in a company; starting with the manager, whose job is to push his team to innovation, continuing with the marketers responsible for designing interesting and appealing advertising, and ending with project managers who can look at the big picture with the right creative skills.
What is the Definition of Creativity?
The dictionary definition from Oxford Languages refers to it as the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work. However, we think that there is more to it than that – we all want to know what the creative thinking process is, how creative people’s minds work, and how we can improve our creativity at work. Here is what we (and science) know about your burning questions.
What’s Going On in Our Brain When Thinking Creatively?
Many people think that if you can’t solve a problem, you should put it aside and go do other things. Your mind will “clarify” and new ideas will just appear in your head as a moment of illumination, a eureka. I’ve never experienced this eureka when I was a student doing my math homework, and I was disappointed. This traditional belief turned out to be probably wrong, or at least not completely right.
New approaches to creativity see it more as a seeking process in a giant mental space of possibilities, and not just as a moment of clarity. This process is defined as a procedure that aims to find original and helpful solutions. It consists of two main phases: exploration and exploitation.
- Exploration: Wandering the mental space looking for something valuable.
- Exploitation: Improving and upgrading the idea that was found.
Think of it this way – you are walking in a desert looking for cellular reception so you can call for help. There are plenty of mountains all around, and you just have to find the right one with the right spot on top of it. Once you find one mountain that looks nice, you start climbing it, you go up and down the hills, reception is coming and going, and only one spot is perfect for you – that is the greatest creative idea.
Creative People vs. Non-Creative People
So we get that the mental space is like a wilderness. But did you know that your desert and your friend’s desert are different, and they both are different from any other desert in the world? Your space of mind is like a fingerprint, and some people are more creative than others, you can actually see it in the brain!
The networks in the brain of creative people are different from less creative people. A study published in 2018 found that people with higher semantic creativity have less connections between ideas in the brain! It may sound illogical, but it actually makes sense. Creative people can think effectively and are using brain areas that are linked to functionality, while non-creative people are using regions linked to habitual responses. also, creative people can find their way inside their brains pretty fast – they are able to jump quickly between different ideas, and don’t need other links to help them get from one point to another. Look at it as if creative people are more “athletic” than non-creative people, and they can skip between two mountains in the desert without making a stop in a middle mountain.
How Can We Benefit from This Information?
First of all, let’s play a game. Take a paper and a pen, you have 5 minutes to write anything you can do with a brick, just a simple brick. Go!
Time’s up! This “game” is actually a creativity test used by counselors and psychologists, and it is called The Alternative Uses Test. It evaluates originality, fluency, and flexibility (those brain links I just talked about), and measures divergent thinking. For example, you can use a brick to “build a house” and to “use it as a doorstep” – those are pretty distinct ideas, though not the most original ones. Try practicing this game with other everyday objects, like toilet paper, a glass or a pencil. Improving your divergent thinking will help you think of better solutions for problems that pop up at work, or even increase your innovation skills.
Another entertaining game is The Remote Associates Test, that you may have played as a child. Someone gives you 3 words, and you need to find a word that links the others. For example, which word connects Wise, Work, and Tower? Think about it for a second… The answer is Clock! You can find many more examples in Creative Huddle’s article. This game enhances your convergent thinking, which can help you choose the right solution from many alternatives, so you could hire the best employee or buy exactly the services your company needs.
The last game can be played with your colleagues and friends; it is called Circles Creativity Test. All you have to do is give each participant a sheet with 30 circles, and you get 3 minutes to fill as many circles as you can with drawings. When you’re done, you can compare your outcomes and see who filled more circles, who thought of distinct ideas, and who drew more original objects. By playing this game with your team, you can all benefit from improving your divergent thinking and creativity for the good of your work.
If you are tired of games, and you just want to know how you can be more creative at work, deepTalk has some great and practical tips. Creative thinking is something you can develop, and those brain links can be changed and strengthened. The secret is training – just like you train your body to be healthy, you can train your brain to be more creative. Don’t run away from challenges, stick to them and try to deal with them your own special way.
Originally published on deepTalk, August 27, 2020.
Scotland-based video interview startup Willo has scored a £250,000 (~$ 320k) seed round of funding after watching demand for its asynchronous Q&A style video platform leap up during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Guernsey-based VC firm 1818 Venture Capital is investing in the seed round, with Willo board members Steve Perry, Stefan Ciecierski and Peter Preston also kicking in a smaller chunk of the capital.
Willo says usage of its SaaS platform has grown at least 80% each month since April, after the UK went into a nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Customers have also been finding new uses for the product beyond video interviews — such as for reviews, training, and learning and development — as remote working has been supercharged by the pandemic.
“We have over 1,000 users in 60+ countries — growing 2x faster this month than previous months!” says CEO and founder, Euan Cameron. “Core industries are recruitment, customer research, learning and development and non-profits for volunteers etc.”
The seed funding will be put towards accelerating Willo’s international growth — with a recruitment drive that will add 24 members of staff planned, in addition to spending on further product development.
Cameron confirms it’s working on adding real-time video to the platform, when we ask — so it’s gunning to go after a slice of Zoom (et al)’s lunch.
“Our core product offering is simple, affordable async video communication. However, we are currently in development of a realtime (Live) interviewing option so that organisations can seamlessly flip from an asynchronous video into a realtime one,” he says.
Currently Willo offers an interface that let employers pose questions for candidates/staff to respond to by recording a video response. The platform stores all videos in a dashboard for easy reviewing and sharing.
For the recruitment use-case it also offers a question bank — letting employers choose from “hundreds” of pre-written questions to shave a little friction off the recruitment process.
Expanding on some of the additional uses customers have been finding for the platform during the pandemic, Cameron tells TechCrunch: “We have an education charity in the UK (worktree) who use Willo to ask people in successful careers around the world about their job and their career path. Worktree then provides these videos to kids in schools to help them make career choices.
“A business in Europe uses Willo to identify niche influencers who have potential and bring them on board a training and development program.”
Another example he gives is a university in India that’s using it to find and enrol software engineers for a degree course. Businesses are also using it to obtain customer testimonials and for customer research. And of course Willo’s own VC investor is a user — having adopted the platform for all new business pitches.
“Every new business must go through Willo as part of what they have branded their ‘Ten Minute Pitch’. They connect Willo to Calendy to automate this workflow which is cool,” he notes, adding: “What is most interesting is that all of these examples previously used to rely on face-to-face meetings or video calls, but they had to adapt.”
Willo is also putting a tentative toe into the waters of artificial intelligence for the hiring use-case, although he says its roadmap has shifted to focus more on chasing growth as a result of the pandemic lockdown effect.
Its website trails an “AI-powered” beta feature that’s doing keyword analysis with the aim of identifying personality and behavioral traits, based on how candidates speak.
Asked about this, Cameron says: “Currently, our AI which is in beta is purely focused on the transcription of the audio, we are working hard on not only transcribing accurately but also creating keyword trends. For example, if you are an analytical person we can identify that and call it out to the organisation by looking at common words and themes within your interview.”
“This is very much in its infancy as COVID-19 has pushed us to focus on delivering what we already do at scale and for the many additional use cases [mentioned previously],” he adds.
Applying algorithms to automate elements of the hiring process is something a growing number of startups have been dabbling in in recent years. Although there can be legal risks around bias/discrimination when applying such tools — given the varied and often complex patchworks of applicable laws in different jurisdictions. (In the UK, for example, equality, employment and data protection law may all need to be considered.)
Asked how Willo is avoiding the risk of AI-powered keyword analysis leading to unfair/unequal effects for interview candidates, Cameron says: “Regarding UK equality law we have been working with organisations on a 1-to-1 basis around training and development of their own staff to ensure that they are using Willo as a tool for good. We believe that the same bias and discrimination would occur in a face-to-face or live video interview so it is a case of eradicating that from the individuals through training. We partner with an HR consultancy to help deliver this training when requested.”
“We are working with an incredibly experienced data and compliance expert to ensure we introduce AI effectively, legally and to the benefit of both interviewer and interviewee,” he adds.
“Our core values are always to be transparent and ensure that we are adding value for all users. One of the challenges with AI at Willo is to ensure that we continue to enhance the human interactions at scale — the number one piece of feedback we receive from users is that they loved seeing and hearing from people — so we never want to automate that out of the product.”
On the competitive front, Cameron lists Sparkhire, Vidcruiter and Recright as “key” competitors though he notes that Willo, which offers a freemium tier, is positioning itself to be accessible for a wider range of users.
“They all focus primarily on recruitment and are prohibitively expensive for most SMEs and start-ups. I believe that video interviewing should benefit everyone, not just large multinationals,” he adds.
We've developed an app and currently relying on word-of-mouth approach. Does anyone have an experience with this way of marketing? Our app is something that people would continue to use for a long time to manage their videos. Because of that, we believe a slow-pacing launch is better to stabilize our system than having a big launch-day campaign. Would this be the right choice?
tl;dr. Have you ever seen a successful app that did not do a big marketing?
Hi, we are 4 days from delivering our software to our first paying customer.
Yesterday we realised that the software we have developed isn't goint to work when we apply it to real life problems and wont scale for the forseeable future. Our customer probably won't find out for the first week, but after that they will def. know.
How would you deal with this situation?
How should we approach this problem as a Team?
All tips or help is much appriciated <3
*Update: We had a meeting and agreed on a few things. *
- We will adjust the rules of what questions it can ask
- Implement som guardrails to the bot so rather than having one pool of questions we will have 1-3 mandatory pool of questions. Fixing the issue of the bot jumping around to much.
- Re-configure all questions to one homogenous framework. (Fancy word – We remove old and dated questions)
- Use data from the customer so we cover 20% of all common issues from the start, getting rid of our own test data.
As for the customer – I'm fairly sure we can deliver our demo product for the launch date and up-date it to the version we are working on now within the end of next week. Fortunatly I've worked with them before and they trust me enough to give is chance for the first couple of weeks.