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Rethinking Hiring

Company looks to modernize, humanize hiring

What do fast-growing companies like Lyft, Eventbrite and Yelp have in common? They all need top-notch talent, and want to get out job offers quickly to potential hires, before the competition can.

They are also all clients of a startup called Lever—co-founded by Olin graduate Nate Smith. Lever makes the process of identifying and hiring high quality talent easier, quicker and more people-focused. Part of a product category called “Applicant Tracking Systems,” or ATS, Lever represents a significant advance to existing hiring software, which hasn’t seen a major update since the early 2000s.

The investment community has taken note of the potential of this system, lavishing, most recently, $20 million on the company in a series B funding round led by Scale Venture Partners.

In the fast-moving world of startups, finding just the right talent can spell the difference between success and failure. Ultimately, leadership knows the whole company’s fate rests on finding the right people.

Lever’s software helps optimize that process by shifting the focus from a high volume of candidates to high quality ones targeted in key areas.

“The fundamental thing everyone was missing was the fact that the recruiting model had changed, because of a lot of things that all came together at once,” said Smith, who started the company in 2012 along with co-founders Sarah Nahm and Randal Truong. “The talent supply had constricted around very specific roles critical to companies.”

Lever’s solution is to help teams collaborate more effectively in identifying, evaluating and hiring talent, while developing deeper relationships with individual candidates. In effect, Lever’s system makes the most basic unit of tracking people, not jobs. Instead of simply automating a paper process, which is what other ATS software does, Lever’s focuses on building social relationships over time, and more closely simulating how recruiters and hiring managers interact.

Existing systems consider the hiring process to be concluded when a candidate has either accepted or turned down a position. Lever’s continues to keep tabs on candidates over time—it may not have worked out for one position, but it might for another down the road. The software also makes it very easy to create a candidate profile from sites like GitHub and AngelList.

Smith said design-based, user-oriented approach to engineering is very much in synch with Lever’s methodology in creating their software and growing their business.

“I think the Olin ideal of engineering being done in context and being done in combination with understanding business and understanding the design context of users, rather than just building something to spec, is a very important foundation for a new product,” said Smith, whose colleagues at Lever include Olin alums Rachael Stedman  and Eric Hwang.

Lever used that approach in developing its product, embedding its team in a fast-growing Silicon Valley company for six months and closely observing the hiring process. Seeing first-hand the frustrations and “pain points” of the process led Smith and his co-founders to believe that shifting the focus to ongoing relationship building would be a ground breaking direction for the their new company.

At the end of the day, Smith says, his company’s high-growth trajectory—Forbes magazine put the company’s worth at $80 - $100 million after the most recent funding, and says they will reach break-even before the next round—comes down to identifying an underserved market opportunity.

“My number one startup advice is ‘do market research,’ and really think about it,” said Smith. “Don't just do what you're passionate about. That’s very counter to the Silicon Valley way of thinking about things