Learn, Pivot, Innovate: The Entrepreneurial Journey of Peter Kazanjy, Co-founder of TalentBin
Presently an active startup investor on FundersClub, Peter Kazanjy is also part of what we here at FundersClub fondly call the FC Mafia, our tight-knit family of portfolio founders. TalentBin, a portfolio company Peter and his co-founder Jason Heidema founded back in 2011, was focused on talent acquisition through social algorithms and connections. TalentBin was FundersClub’s first portfolio exit, when it was acquired by Monster (NYSE: MWW) in early 2014. Before TalentBin, Peter co-founded Honestly.com, paving the way for TalentBin. Before his entrepreneurial days, Peter worked at VMware, focused on product marketing. I recently had the chance to interview Peter and hear more about his wealth of experiences.
With a background in product marketing, what lead you into the recruiting world to create TalentBin with Jason Heidema?
My co-founder Jason and I were hiring managers at our respective large companies before we started Honestly.com. We were both frustrated around the challenges of the hiring process, and thought that community contributed reviews could help the hiring process the same way that it helped local businesses in the form of Yelp, hotel understanding in the form of TripAdvisor, and so forth.
TalentBin was actually a pivot out of Honestly.com. When we realized that it was challenging to get people to surface review information about professionals, simply because of the small volume of professionals that a given individual works with, we enlarged our thinking to consider if we could aggregate information that already existed on the web in order to help recruiters discover and recruit staff. So it was in this pivot that got us to TalentBin.
What were the key differences in being an employee at a large company compared to a president and founder of your own company?
The biggest differences are in terms of responsibility and ability to do what you know is right in order to solve the problem in front of you. So it is a two edged sword. On the one hand, if it is clear that an action needs to be taken in order to resolve the problem for your business, you can run right after it without permission. This is what makes startups very rewarding and also very fast and nimble. On the other hand having the responsibility of potential success or failure on your shoulders can be taxing. Especially when you have 50,100, or 500 other people relying on you.
You’re writing a book, specifically a manual on early stage sales for startup founders and first time sales staff. What inspired you to do so?
I’m writing Founding Sales as a roadmap for enterprise sales for Founders. When we first pivoted from Honestly.com to TalentBin, we went from a consumer facing product that could potentially have an enterprise monetization strategy, to a pure enterprise solution. That meant that we needed to move into an enterprise sales posture, even though none of us had experience at that. This fell onto my shoulders as the person who was closest to do this, and who wasn't otherwise occupied with product development. The problem was, at the time, there really wasn't an “Enterprise Sales for Dummies" book. There was Erin Ross’ Predictable Revenue, but that is more about going concerns that need to scale their sales. At the earliest stages of a startup, you don't need to "scale". You need to acquire 20 to 50 enterprise customers on your own, and prove that you can actually do that in the world. So, unfortunately most of the literature that existed wasn't super helpful, and we had to make up a lot as we went along, often times with the help of friends and colleagues who were enterprise sales leaders. The goal of Founding Sales is to document all this information such that people who are in my shoes from four years ago as of right now, have a roadmap to access.
It’s word that you have a passion for time management, what sparked that and how have you utilized that within your own businesses most recently, TalentBin?
It isn't as much about time management so much as understanding what the important actions are for a given professional to achieve the goals that they are trying to achieve, whether that is sales, or support, or customer success, or software engineering. Helping individuals understand what actions move the ball forward and what actions really aren't all that helpful, even though lots of things in the world may try to distract us into thinking that they are helpful.
This largely came from our experience at TalentBin where we had an extremely rigorous and operationalized sales force and customer success team. This also came from our experience in creating TalentBin, the product. We were very focused on making sure that our customers of TalentBin, technical recruiters, we're taking the appropriate actions that would help them achieve their hiring goals, so they would have success, and so that they would continue to be a subscriber for talent. So the notion of helping individuals understand if they are doing the requisite quantity and quality of activity needed in order to achieve the goals that they have stated for themselves is something that is very interesting to me as a result.
Any other projects you’re working on or hoping to start once you’ve completed your book?
My cofounder and I are looking at things in the HR SaaS space.
What lead you from being a founder to an investor?
I wouldn't say that I have gone from being a founder to an investor. I have simply taken some of the capital appreciation that I achieved through the sale of TalentBin, and I'm now applying that in private company stock. But by no means am I a “professional investor", which makes FundersClub all that more helpful. I don't have time to be beating the bushes for potential deals, but I rather enjoy seeing a variety of spaces, both for intellectual curiosity and also potential investment. And I really like the FundersClub team. They’re awesome to work with and talk about the future of venture capital with.
What do you look for when selecting a company to invest in?
I like to invest in things that I know about— Enterprise SaaS, marketplaces, recurring revenue businesses, HR, sales, marketing, and so forth. While other things certainly are interesting, like internet of things, bitcoin, or what have you, and I will read about those things the same way I like to read the Economist or the MIT Tech Review. But I typically end up investing in things that I have standing interest in the health of their business and the potential impact of their product.
Who do you look up to who has influenced who you are today?
Without a doubt my mom and dad. From my mom I got my ability to “get shit done", make a list and knock things off one by one by one. From my dad I got my problem-solving acumen, and engineering mindset.
For more news on Peter’s upcoming book Founding Sales, please visit http://www.foundingsales.com. Follow @foundingsales on Twitter for sneak previews and updates.
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