Co-Founder, CoTrain (www.cotrainusa.com)
Wharton Journal: How did you arrive at the idea for CoTrain?
I developed a deep passion for hiring talent during my time at XBOX. As I built up my own team, I ran into lots of inefficiencies and missed opportunities in recruiting top talent. More specifically, I realized that interviewing was incredibly time consuming and an inconsistent experience for candidates. For every candidate hired, we were doing 50+ phone screens and 10+ onsite interviews netting into about 120 hours of time. I worried constantly about missing out on people because of the sheer limit on our capacity to assess talent – interviewing was a full time job. Moreover, there was great data and insights collected about candidates through each of our interviews that was captured haphazardly in written emails. The process did not get any more predictive over time.
I was fortunate to connect with my friend and co-founder, Jeff Spector, who was working on this problem space at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation from the lens of candidates/students and their experiences in finding jobs. We started brainstorming and realized that every company in the world interviews with the hopes of finding talent but the experience is broken. This felt like a big opportunity.
Through CoTrain, we are pursuing a mission to revolutionize how people get jobs, starting with technical job seekers. Our unique focus is to create a market for expert validation of candidates’ skills and knowledge. We deliver technical interviewing capacity and unbiased expertise when companies need it, accelerating the hiring process for HR, hiring managers and job seekers.
WJ: How are talent evaluation platforms tackling technical hiring today and how does CoTrain help with that?
There is no shortage of recruiting companies but the market for candidate evaluation platforms is very much still evolving and an untapped opportunity.
While there are a number of written assessment tests and online coding solutions in the market, it’s hard for hiring managers to understand how candidates think through real problems and communicate their knowledge with these tests alone. For example, when a developer job candidate is working through how to optimize performance, you want to know all the solutions they came up with, how they thought about the system and where they ended up. The same story can be said for a lot of knowledge jobs – design, sales, finance, public relations etc. It’s not about simple yes/no answers.
That’s where we come in. CoTrain’s focus is to help HR teams go deeper in the talent funnel by qualifying candidates’ technical skills. Specifically, we help teams screen talent when they are on a hiring ramp or when they do not have the skills in-house and are seeking an external validation. The time savings and expertise we deliver helps hiring managers to focus on the right candidates and spend more time doing work.
WJ: You started CoTrain after business school. When did you know you wanted to start your own business?
I had a business before school running a magazine called Topic that I started when I was at Cambridge. I’ve always known that entrepreneurship is in my DNA and was waiting for the right problem to solve to put my energy towards. Microsoft was a tremendous learning experience for me in leadership, corporate strategy and recruiting and I’m grateful for that opportunity. I was honestly searching for the idea and right business partner to go on the start-up journey with me. Rather than forcing it, I waited for both the opportunity and co-founder to align. And when they did, I knew it was time to get started on making a company.
WJ: How different is startup life from working in industry or consulting? Would you consider going back?
The startup life is a tremendous ride, full of highs and occasional lows. We have focused a lot on talking to customers, understanding their needs and then designing a product that surpasses their expectations. It is hard to get that level of deep customer focus when you are in an advisory or investing role in-house or as a consultant. With start-up life comes lots of emotional ups and downs as we create something new and sometimes faces setbacks. Thankfully, my wife, family, friends, and business school network are incredibly supportive. Jeff and I are also very lucky to work with two executive coaches who have helped us to focus on our execution and happiness – my friend and Wharton classmate, Avnish Sabharwal and his business partner, Rodney Mueller
WJ: We only have a few more weeks of school left in the year. Looking back, which experiences or opportunities are ones that we shouldn’t miss out on?
If you’re a first year, I’d strongly recommend doing independent projects with professors and companies in the fall – go deep on areas that you care about and learn firsthand about business challenges and solutions that work. I personally gained a lot out of my independent study projects in terms of expanding my professional network and passion areas of business focus. If you’re a second year, I’m super jealous. Between Beach Week, Wharton 54 and more, it’s an amazing time to develop lifelong friendships that will serve you well personally and in time, professionally.
WJ: What were some of the hottest companies or jobs when you were in school?
In 2007/8, a lot of the class was chasing down jobs in private equity, especially with firms outside the U.S. Some of my friends who went that route have done incredibly well and I’m proud of them for it. For the tech geeks and entrepreneurs in the crowd, there were a few big opportunity spaces at the time: clean-tech, mobile and social networks. We all know how well many of those all turned out. I’m sure some people in the class are now thinking about wearable tech, mobile messaging and disruptive marketplaces. Excited to see what this current class accomplishes.
WJ: What’s next for CoTrain?
We will be partnering with a handful of forward-thinking high-tech companies to get started. Our simple goal is to focus on exceeding customer expectations, design an awesome interviewing experience for everyone who touches the service and have a lot of fun along the way. There’s going to be a ton of learning for us in the coming months as we work with HR teams and engineering organizations across companies and industries. We’ve run into so many Wharton alums in this capacity who have been so helpful and we can’t wait to meet more. If anyone wants to connect with me directly on CoTrain and our model, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.