Q&A with Jeff Berger, KODA
As a follow-up to its company pitch (KODA-March 11, 2010), StartUp Beat conducted a Q&A with KODA CEO Jeff Berger. KODA is a new player in the online job resource sector, and describes itself as a pioneer in “social recruiting”—utilizing social networking tools to connect job seekers with employers. The company was founded last year and recently raised a $1.5 million round of funding.
SUB: You’ve written that the idea for KODA originated from your frustrations with finding employment as a recent college graduate. Was there a specific “this is it” moment of inspiration where you came up with the idea for the business?
Berger: There was never one “ah-ha” moment. What turned Tony (my co-founder) and me onto the space was that regardless of who you spoke to, everyone has or had experienced the same problem. It didn’t matter if you were 40 years old or a senior in college, everyone could relate to the challenge of trying to find a job post-college. Communicating and networking has become so much easier through the web and it was amazing to us that connecting with employers was still so difficult.
SUB: The job site business seems like a tough sector to break into. You are really targeting younger job seekers—do you consider this your target niche or is this a way to gain a foothold in a business dominated by established giants like Monster?
Berger: Sure, it is a tough sector to break into. But, let’s face it, the last time we saw significant innovation in this space was with the introduction of the “job board.” No one has really captured the way young people communicate (through social sites and networks) and applied it to the job search space.
We have worked closely with employers in building our site and the support has been amazing. They are ready to embrace innovation. Our focus is on young professionals, people with 0-5 years of work experience. While this is one of the ways that we are different from the big job boards, this is the demographic that needs our service the most. More experienced people have developed a professional network and can use their resume to paint a picture. People at the entry-to-mid-level market have a small network and limited work experience to display on a piece of paper. We believe that focusing on this particular niche in the employment sector will help us “plant seeds” in developing a new way that all job seekers and employers find one another.
The job market has lacked innovation for so many years that it has almost been forgotten in the technology world. We are excited to bring something fresh and new to the forefront.
SUB: What do you hope the hiring of Michelle Slagle, a veteran in the online job site business, as COO will bring to the table for KODA, moving forward? As a young startup, how important is bringing experienced leadership or advisors on board?
Berger: Michelle served as an advisor to KODA for 9 months prior to joining. She brings decades of relevant industry experience to KODA having served as CFO at both CareerBuilder and Jobfox. She has also worked with many startups in her career and understands the importance of protecting the “fresh” approach in our idealism and creativity while lending her experience to help KODA grow out of its start up phase. We have been successful “shooting from the hip” but we recognize it’s a good time to bring in her strategic thinking and depth of experience.
SUB: How rapidly are employers adopting multimedia technologies like video into their hiring process? In other words, are we (finally) moving definitively away from the standard resume and references in the employment market?
Berger: We are finding that there are employers who are early adopters of the latest trends in recruiting, from screening video to attending conferences like SXSW, to using social websites like Facebook to look for candidates. And, particularly in today’s economy, most employers are looking for new, inexpensive ways to recruit outside of laborious job boards.
Candidates really embrace video and they love to speak about their experience whether it’s in the work force or personal (like travel and hobbies). Younger candidates are eager to use whatever they have in their arsenal to launch their careers. There is a change happening in the marketplace where candidates are creating the dialogue about their desire to be open to many opportunities and they do not want to be pigeon holed into an old process.
As for replacing resumes, KODA has no interest in redefining the classifieds job board space. KODA wants to create a community of candidate expression and direct interaction between both sides of the equation. Employers like our platform because it let’s them learn more about the candidate but still presents the information in a simple and easy to review format.
SUB: Where do you see KODA in a year from now, in terms of employers/job seekers using the site, site traffic, revenue, features, etc.?
Berger: KODA’s goal over the next six months is to continue to invest in building the community and creating features and tools for the candidates and employers to interact. KODA’s ultimate goal is to build organic candidate traffic and allow the community to define itself. We have been very successful in engaging employer interest during our beta period and over the next six months we plan to evolve those relationships as we build the community.
SUB: Do you plan to seek more investors/funding in the short term?
Berger: KODA is always assessing its business needs and while we just raised money, we do expect to look for investors and strategic partners in the development of our on-line community.
SUB: Finally, what advice do you have for budding entrepreneurs that are where you were when you came up with the idea for KODA, especially in this challenging economic environment?
Berger: I think it’s important to have a mix of advisors from varied backgrounds that can help you navigate through the early startup phase through the execution of the business plan. You’re going to make mistakes and it’s great to have experienced advisors to mitigate the risk of those mistakes. We are thankful for the great team of advisors we have.
KODA – www.koda.us