Student Startups: HigherMe — A New Way To Hire

Wednesday Mar 19, 2014 by Madeline Bilis - Contributor, VentureFizz

A resume with spelling errors and a lot of white space seems pretty bad, right? What if the only former experience listed on this resume are soccer and babysittng? What may seem as an employer’s worst nightmare actually sparked the idea for HigherMe, the tech startup that just won the $15,000 first place prize at the Startuprounds competition of the Babson Entrepreneurs Club.

Rob Hunter and Evan Lodge, two Babson MBA students, want to revolutionize the way the hiring process works for retail and service industries, or as their slogan reads “help retail stores hire better employees faster.”

HigherMe aims to give job applicants the chance to display their personalities through a 30-60 second video that answer the broad and all too well-known questions of, “Tell me about yourself. Why do you want to work here? What is your experience?” Employers can find, screen, and interview potential employees through the website to-be to find out what a resume can’t tell you about customer service skills. 

It all started with Kendra, a high schooler who wanted a job scooping ice cream for Marble Slab Creamery. At the time, Hunter owned several Marble Slab shops and happened to be present the day Kendra walked in with her resume. Hunter wasn’t impressed by the piece of paper, but was surprised by Kendra. “She had a wonderful personality and still has a wonderful personality,” says Hunter, “You can kind of tell or get a really good sense of work ethic and reliability a couple of minutes in for that kind of job.”

After a few years of frustrating resumes and interviews, Hunter decided to factor in a creative element to his interviews by instructing applicants to come prepared with a 30 second display of their personality. From puppet shows to dancing, Hunter was able to see far beyond a flat resume.

“We got a really good view once we got them live. I wish we could have seen 100 of them,” recounts Hunter, “I still only got to see 15-20 people live in-person. There were so many more that were diamonds buried in the rough that I wasn’t able to see.”

During the summer of 2013 while working at Mobee, a tech startup based in Cambridge, Hunter realized HigherMe was the idea he had been waiting to sink his teeth into. Evan Lodge signed on as the chief technology officer in the fall and the team got to work. Hunter, an Ontario native who got his undergrad at Ivey Business School, and Lodge, a Philadelphian who graduated from Wesleyan University with a degree in Computer Science, make for a dynamic duo. They signed up for Startuprounds, competed against 77 other startups, advanced through four qualifying rounds, and made it to number one on Feb. 27. The startup won $10,000 in cash, $5,000 in legal services, the chance to pitch to Rough Draft Ventures, and an opportunity to participate in MassChallenge.

Hunter jokes the team had a little help from their Irish interns who were able to reach out to friends in Ireland for votes. Hunter himself did his fair share of spreading the word, and pulled out his secret weapon during the last round—copy and pasting.

“The entire Babson student body has their e-mail address listed on a directory online,” explains Hunter, “So between myself and my fiancée we actually literally went in—there’s no script you can do to do this—and select, copy, and pasted thousands of e-mail addresses to very politely reach out for votes.”

HigherMe was a favorite among judges beyond the votes. Startuprounds judge and Senior Director of Operations at MassChallenge Joanna Meiseles says the mission of HigherMe resonated with her strongly as a business owner who has hired and fired hundreds of hourly paid employees.

“I look for two things in judging a startup idea: 1) Could this be a high impact idea? and 2) Is it feasible? From my perspective, although HigherMe is in a very early stage and has a lot of work to do to get it right, it has potential in both areas,” says Meiseles.

Just because this new tech startup has already clinched a 1st place title doesn’t mean there haven’t been challenges. One hurdle HigherMe has struggled to overcome is the question of who will build the site. “In general, finding someone to code stuff without having any money seems to be the typical MBA, especially MBA entrepreneur, problem. Everyone’s looking for a technical co-founder,” explains Lodge. Although HigherMe has a staff of three part-time developers and three interns, the question of coding and engineering lingered until Startuprounds.

“Startuprounds was helpful. We really got pumped up after we won and it allowed us to find a classmate who is going to code for us, so it’s been great validation and a great way to get us out there,” says Hunter. “That box is checked for us now in the short term but in the long term we want to be able to have a three man team.”

Finding their desired domain name wasn’t so easy, either. Higherme.com was owned by an “eclectic” psychiatrist from southern California, but hadn’t used it in many years. After weeks of calling his offices, HigherMe was able to contact the psychiatrist and buy the domain at a reasonable price.

“We were having someone try to sell us higher.me for $25,000 but we wanted .com.  It was a bit of hassle to actually track this guy down,” says Hunter.

Hammering down the name and domain was a victory for HigherMe. Lodge says people seem to respond to their chosen name, especially shop owners. He explains that is has the right kind of imagery, even though it’s a play on words. With a step in the right direction towards coding and a legitimate domain, what is the future for HigherMe? Roughly 20 businesses have agreed to test out HigherMe when the prototype is ready.

“There’s no money involved right now but people that say they in theory they would pay for it and they’re really excited to try it out. We want to nail it down before we charge for it,” says Lodge.

The team is aiming to perfect HigherMe on a smaller scale by targeting businesses like privately owned restaurants and stores before going out and tackling the corporate world.

“The guy that’s going to use it at his restaurants versus the guy that will use it at even let’s say Walmart, they’re really similar actually,” explains Hunter, “The guy that’s going to make the decision to buy it at Walmart will be very different. But the end user is pretty much the same.”

Hunter says that ideally is his goal is for more people like Kendra to get hired but the duo jokes that a million dollar acquisition by LinkedIn along the way wouldn’t hurt.

HigherMe.com is set to launch for its trial clients this spring. 

Maddie Bilis is a student at Emerson College and a VentureFizz Contributor. Follow her on Twitter @MadBillzz.

 

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