In 2019 Darrian Mikell got the dreadful call no one wants to receive. He had been laid off from his job and had a few months of severance to figure out what to do next. What followed was a true test of grit and perseverance where Darrian turned lifeâ€™s obstacles into opportunity and went all in on Qualifi.Â Â Â
Darrian Michael is the Co-Founder and CEO of Qualifi, a software platform that powers the fastest phone interview experience in the world and helps recruiting teams hire great candidates faster than ever before.
He has been building Qualifi since 2019 and was a participant in Techstars Anywhere Accelerator in 2021.Â
Be sure to check out these great clips from the show:
- [2:50] The correlation between sports and business.Â
- [17:57] Helping grow a startup from 2 to 70 in three years.
- [23:35] How overcoming adversity helped launch Qualifi
- [31:35] How to be a good Co-Founder 101Â
- [41:15] Perfect your pitch
In our conversation with Darrian, you will learn about:
- Using athletics as a framework for how to run your business.Â
- Identifying opportunities even under troubling circumstances.Â
- Simple tips for not getting complacent with your network
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[00:00:00] From the Crossroads of America in Central Indiana. This is Get IN the show focused on the unfolding startup stories and most extraordinary innovations happening in the Heartland today. You might notice we’re in a little bit different location today we have upped our production quality and that is thanks to Glass Board.
Glass Board is a product development and innovation company based in Indianapolis. You’ve got the glass board mugs here. We’re all sporting and we’re really grateful for them. Sharing the studio with. And today on the show is Darrian Mikell, co-founder and CEO of Qualify. I was like, by March, we’ll we’ll have funding.
I know investors will have funding. We’ll have a bunch of customers. We’ll be good. Don’t worry. And March came away and then it was like six months of. No money coming to the door.
Darrian Mikell is the co-founder and CEO of qualify a software platform that powers the [00:01:00] fastest phone interview experience in the world and helps recruiting teams hire great candidates faster than ever before. Darrian graduated from Indiana Wesleyan University in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in entrepreneurship and finance.
And he is also a two sport athlete in both basketball and track and field, and was a national champion in the long jump. He has been building qualify since 2019 and was a participant in Techstars Anywhere Accelerator in 2021. Today we’re gonna talk about why Darrian went all in on qualify the impact of accelerator programs like Techstars, building a great place to work and so much.
Please help me. Welcome to the show, Darrian Mikell. Thanks for being here, man. Yeah, thanks for that intro. Thanks for having me as well. Yeah, for sure, man. And you make the intro easy because you’ve done some pretty awesome stuff. I can only long jump like three feet. I think we might need to see that later and get that on camera.
We need to make sure to always include that on my intros cuz my brother. Is actually a better long jumper than me, but, oh, nice. I get to lay claim to some certain trophies that he [00:02:00] doesn’t have. That’s great, man. Can you tell us a little bit about that? Sports, athletics growing up what role did that have in your life and Yeah.
It was everything. That was my first love is basketball. So I grew up idolizing Michael Jordan and then Alan Iverson is my favorite player growing up. I think I’ve been dribbling a ball since three or four and just fell in love with the early, so my earliest ambitions were to be an N B A player, be the best that ever was.
And I was able to make it pretty far in that, dream and get to the next levels. And. Ultimately those ambitions switch to, the business world and entrepreneurship. But it’s still a love. I still try to play a couple times a week if I can. My body’s getting older, but I still think I have a little bit in me.
Yeah. Are there anything that you learn playing basketball team sports that you bring to the team now with qualify? Yeah, I’d probably use, it’s so ingrained into my life it. Like all the analogies and things that I learned from sports and my coaches over the years mixed into, daily talk track, like with my wife at home and then like in [00:03:00] how I lead the team.
I, I still think especially in my time at Indiana Wesleyan, my, I always talk about my head coach and my assistant coach is like two of the best leaders that I’ve ever had the privilege of, being around in a lot of their methodologies and the things that they brought. Are almost like a direct representation and qualify in terms of like our values, how I try to lead the team and things of that sorry, things of that nature.
Yeah, the sports themselves, like the hard work the drive, like the determination, but then also just leadership skills and you know how I approach that. Definitely very relevant. There’s stories of people out there that, that use sports right in. Lives to see how people actually react on the playing field.
Whether it’s golf or basketball. Yeah. And because of that person’s disrespectful, or cheats in golf or whatever, they might not wanna be a person that you wanna be involved with in business, or is there anything that pops out of someone like that? You, we won’t, we’ll go to the positive side of it.
Yeah. That throughout all of those playing all those [00:04:00] sports that you remain in contact today with steel in your professional. That was a result of how they acted and competed on the playing field? That’s a good question. One, like when you were saying that I just saw like a YouTube clip of that exact thing where someone was like talking about, being on the golf course and witnessing someone like cheat and their wife told ’em like, Hey, this person did that.
You shouldn’t go into business with them. And like later found out that like they cheat at a different level. In the business field. But I’m trying to think of trying to think of, to answer your question, A lot of my team, teammates, like the people that, you know, especially when I got to Indiana, we lane, there was a few of us that basically roomed together all four years and we’ve gone into different industries, different lines of work, but that common bond of what we value, what we went through, I think that’s a big part of, you know what I wish in some ways I could recreate, I talk about it all the time, in a, in a company setting.
Going through like physical trials together. Yes. And putting people through, like hard work has a way of [00:05:00] bonding people. Totally. And right now actually we’re in I’ve challenged the team to this 40 day challenge internally of, defining like what is a, we’re as a company growing and figuring out how to overcome some certain challenges that we have on the business level.
But at the same time, I want to each person challenge themselves. And what is that one thing? You should be doing, haven’t got around to doing. Let’s identify it and go after it and be consistent about it. So I know that didn’t directly answer your question, but No, it was great.
I love that. Just thinking through like the sports to business analogy, it’s like taking people out and doing that. There’s no better way to judge someone’s character than when you’re like getting smoked in something. Yeah. You’re down 40 points in a basketball game and you’re like, how you’re acting and like trying to stay positive.
It’s Especially to the startup life, like very related there, where it’s like sometimes things are gonna get tough and are you gonna be the person that pouts and complains about it? Or are you gonna suck it up and try to drain three or 10 threes in a row and come back. Yeah.
And even if you don’t lose, or even if ultimately lose in that moment, it’s like [00:06:00] how you respond. What’s your response to that? Do you quit? Become selfish or do you focus on the team and try to move forward and improve? So yeah, it’s life and businesses in, in my worldview is very much about shared experiences.
And what you just said is how do you synthesize those experiences? Yeah, it’s tough. And it’s partially because like I come from my whole life just being like basically like physically punishing myself or having coaches like physically punish you and obviously you can’t. Necessarily do that in a, a corporate environment.
But I think there is ways to bond through those shared experiences like, Naturally, companies face different trials and you how you respond as an individual and as a team can be defining for the trajectory moving forward. Yes. So you say that sports, right? Always part of your life. Was entrepreneurship always part of your life?
I don’t know if it was like, I think the way I tell my story around entrepreneurship is that I always, I didn’t always know what exactly it was. I think it [00:07:00] was innately within me. This is gonna sound super arrogant. I was listening to a podcast with, there’s, if you’re familiar with, I hope everyone’s familiar with Jay-Z.
He had a running mate named Dame Dash in the early days that like, co-founded Oh, a lot of Rockefella in everything that kind of became. And he was like one of the key drivers. Everything that they were doing they sent Split. But anyway, I listened to a podcast with Dame Dash and he was saying that he didn’t know what he wanted to do.
He just knew he was gonna be great. And that’s what I think of in myself. Like I said, I, I don’t want that to sound arrogant, more so it doesn’t sound arrogant at all. Yeah. Like when I wanted to be a basketball player, I didn’t just want to like excel. I wanted to be the best of all time. Like whatever I was gonna do, I wanted, like my mindset is always to try to be the best and achieve at a high level and.
One of the things that I got that I know I’m privileged is seeing success around me. I had family members and like close family friends that [00:08:00] were VPs, CEOs. My dad like is, started from literally nothing. He’s like from the ninth Ward in New Orleans and grew up in poverty too. Wow. A very successful business person.
I got to. Him achieve and then like his network of people that I call my aunt, uncles, them achieve my brother, my older brother played in the nfl. So I got to see, people achieve their dreams, make it to these heights that are usually untouched. And yeah. Me and my brother and my cousins like, it’s always, we always have this mentality of.
It’s not if it’s a matter of like when and just approaching life that way. So is there a favorite lesson or quote that you heard from your dad or your brother growing up that still rings true in your head as a CEO now? Yeah. I think maybe the biggest thing, so like I’ve always considered my dad, like my biggest idol like person that.
Influenced me the most. And I think what he instilled in me is not necessarily like one quote I could give you, but just a sense of [00:09:00] confidence and pride in the sense of taking ownership of what I’m doing. Like I think my natural tendency is to play the background and to be very passive with a lot of things.
And like sports was like, where that showed up in my early days is just I like to, pass the ball and he’d be like, Hey. You have a lot of skills that you bring to the table and you’re not helping anybody by diminishing those and not letting your light shine. And just instilling that that confidence of taking pride in like what you do and wanting to be the best at what you do.
Yeah. That’s powerful. You mentioned Guinea into entrepreneurship when you’re in college. What are some of those early entrepreneurial memories? Yeah, so if you said you. Or failures. It would be fun to dig into to that. We could talk for like days about that. Yeah, I think so.
I guess to, to go back into like early days of like why I became an entrepreneur and like where it started to show up for me and even in like childhood is I was always very [00:10:00] creative and inventive or wanted to be inventive. Like I saw all those commercials for you. Pay us and we’ll help you get your patent on your avention.
I was like, they’re like sledgehammer stone wheel card. Yes. I love those Buy now. Yeah. Three easy payments. Yes. That, that I remember what you’re talking about. Yeah. Those, the cave man that’s chiseling the wheel. Yeah, exactly. So I remember all those and those like spoke to me. But but even before then, I was like always just like trying to draw up random, like hair-brained ideas.
And so I think that’s one example I had I wish, I don’t know if they’re still around, like I’m. They’re somewhere in some storage unit that my parents have. But yeah, just the dumbest drawings of like random give combination. Give us an example. The one there, one, you remember? One, there’s only one that I really remember.
I think I was like outside on our like, buy a grill and I was like, Ooh. I like, I don’t know what the concept was, but it was like a grill that was like, could rotate and do something specific. I can’t remember, but it was like iuc to remember drawing a. And explaining to my dad how this thing could like, rotate [00:11:00] on a hinge and do something fancy yet, but obviously it wasn’t very cool.
I do have somewhere, I don’t know what the invention was, but my mom gave me, like within the last couple years, she was like, Hey, this, you had this piece of mail where you like, you wrote up the idea and you remember be like the unofficial patent is like you, write up an idea, send it to yourself in the mail, and it’s like kind of timestamps.
Oh, I have yeah. That, and I opened it and. Something stupid, I can’t remember. But I love it. And then I think, but in more practice that came more so in like in early college days. Just always trying to figure out hustles and ways to make money. What was the first hustle?
What’d you make your first dollar on selling or flipping or whatever? I think the truth, I don’t actually remember this, but my friend, my best friend from growing up told me that, we charged people to get on the swings. I dunno if it’s, yes. I dunno if that’s bully. Is that entrepreneurial or bullying I love it. Like I said, I don’t remember if it’s true, so [00:12:00] a disclaimer on that, but yeah, these are our swings, but in, in college, I think the first thing that I got into was flipping basically pretty cheap watches on eBay the way. I was like pretty into watches at the time. I still am. I just wear an Apple watch now.
I think at some point in the future when, when I’ve made it, I could invest in some nice watch, get back in the watches. Yeah. Yeah. But I got really into them and I would buy them, wear them for a week and then sell ’em back and tell me they were G Shacks. I’m sure some of ’em were I can’t remember any of the brands, but they were.
Usually like kind of gaudy, like big. Yeah. Like yellow, watch band and like big faces and stuff like that. And just, it was my early college days when I was discovering who I was. Yeah. What my style was and stuff like that. So that was my first kind of foray into entrepreneurship, but it actually led into some.
It led into a lot of what I do. Yeah. What I ended up doing. But tell us about how you got into viral launch. Yeah. It was basically that pathway. So I started in like my early entrepreneurial days were [00:13:00] basically all e-commerce plays, like started flipping watches, flipping other things.
And then what else? How’d you find out how to do that? Like, where did you start at the beginning of I wanna start selling stuff on. I actually don’t know. I think maybe it was a way of just trying to like, make use of things that I had. So like pro I, I think I had an eBay account in high school that I just sold things that I owned to, to make, just to get the value of those.
And then I actually had a pretty good, I was like, I got like a perfect eBay score. Yeah. And like I could actually do something with this. I think I still do. I don’t know. It’s a good asset. Yeah. Yeah. So I had it for a while. So I think I just learned from that way. I do remember probably it was like after college where I started to like actually learn about entrepreneurship.
But yeah, I think it was just by way of just trying to figure out how to hustle and make, I didn’t make really, honestly that, but money doing it. But it was like good reps and good practice that, yeah. Me and a friend of [00:14:00] mine in college we started a t-shirt business again. Didn’t really make a ton of money.
We had a really cool thought process. I think our struggle was like actually marketing beyond like our initial launch. Like we had a great first day. We Indiana Wesley has like a really cool mall way and we had a storefront basically set up for this launch day. And they had graphic tees.
Yeah, they were graphic tees. We worked with designers at the school to like, Make the graphics and there was a team on IU campus that did that. Dope. If you remember the brand dope they started out of Indiana University. Yeah, there’s actually a couple we had there’s, it wasn’t really like a competing, but it was there’s two different t-shirt companies on campus with the other one.
Actually, it was a bit more successful than ours. But yeah, that was like one thing and then that led to actually. I guess that kind of gave me the practice, I guess Flash forward a little bit. You mentioned viral launch. This is probably, and I owe a lot to the ceo or former CEO of Viral Launch is a guy named Casey.
He and I went to school together. We both ran on the same track team there. He’s a crazy pole vault. And he started[00:15:00] working on, we started working on a separate project together that he initially. Working on himself. I think I had already graduated at this point and was in a full-time, just like finance, accounting position at a relatively large company, and my mind was just like, I was always itching to just do my own thing.
Yeah. But he was working on this project that was using IB can technology. It was like a Bluetooth device as that. Pair like with apps. And so the idea for us was a museum app where you could walk up to exhibits and if you have this app, it would do some like interactive things with you. We learned that selling to museums is terrible, a terrible market.
So we all these early learning lessons, but he got my brain into like technology and then just like starting, cool projects When that wasn’t working, he started working on viral launch, which actually started ticking off. We were bootstrapped for the first few years, but he had an original co-founder that wasn’t really [00:16:00] contributing at the time, and he needed help to get off the ground.
Things were rolling, like customers revenue coming in. Can you tell us what the business was? Yeah, so Viral launch in the first iteration of it was, If you’re familiar with, I know you are with seo it was basically SEO for Amazon. The difference with Amazon, at least at the time, I’m not as like close to it anymore, but AM or SEO for Amazon is primarily based off of sales.
So we had a platform that on the seller side that like, Hey, if you want to, rank really high for a product like a coffee mug. Like coffee mugs is probably a key word, search term that you want. Ranking on page one for, cuz most people don’t go past, the first couple pages when they’re purchasing a product on Amazon.
So being on page one was everything. And we helped people get to page one cuz we had a buyer audience where you could run promotional campaigns towards and it was effectively guaranteeing sales cuz they’re highly discounted. And so it was hindsight is like a hack to get ranking.[00:17:00]Â
Yeah. But we figured out how to do it in, the most legitimate ways and made people tons of money because we got them that ranking and, you could sell, be selling any sorts of widgets and. Bill making hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars. I remember going into that office when you were in your heyday, I think you came up on a hoverboard from across the office.
I was like, what is going, what is this office like? Every that was, yeah. Everyone was riding high. Yeah. No, it was, we were, it was a fun time. So like a little context. So Casey’s two years older than me. I think by the time I left I was like 27. And he was 25 at the time. And I think we had a.
Amazing run and viral launch is still around. I haven’t been as close to the company as of late to know, what the latest is. But yeah, we were growing really fast. Again, we were mostly bootstrapped until my last, towards the end of my time there. I was there for three years and we went from in this kind of leads into what I do now, but like we went from he and I to over 70 people on the team.
Sure. In those three years. It was really fun [00:18:00] cuz we got to call all the shots and do what we thought was best. And what was the biggest lesson you learned in that whole experience? There’s so many. I think for that context, it, I think some of the things that we probably should have done that we didn’t do was trust, trust our knowledge a little bit more.
I think one of the things, because we were so young indexed on. Bringing in like advisors and investors and gray hairs that have been there and done that. And their track record did speak for itself. Like they really had done those things. Yeah. But also they didn’t know our customers, they didn’t know our market as well as honestly Casey did.
And so I think created some situations where we did things that weren’t. In my opinion, like normal to us. Like it wasn’t part of like how we had operated before. And I think that led to some misfires and things of that nature. Yeah. It’s so critical, right? You see it all the time where investors invest in the company and by the sheer fact that they wrote a check, they’re on the board.
Yeah. And [00:19:00] that just never made sense to me. Yeah, it’s, the reason they invested is in you and the idea and the culture and your traction and your understanding of a different dynamic. And then they come in with a knowledge set from 10 years ago, especially in a business like that.
Yeah. Yeah. It’s changing. So emerging market, emerging markets changing so fast year over year. Yeah. And it can really take you. A road that’s not the right road. Yeah, no, it was interesting. And there’s just some things that like we honestly, hindsight now, like we had like some fortunes of we didn’t have a sales team.
We were just growing like Yeah, basically organically and like marketing supported. And I think that was fortunate. But then now in my position I was like, oh, it would be great to have a real sales force that we were like, building larger. Stickier relationships to customers and things of that nature. And yeah there’s tons of learning lessons that haven’t like fully unpacked, but I think that’s the biggest one probably. Before we pop forward to the next one, can we back up real quick? Yeah. And so you graduated from Indiana Westland. And you ultimately went to viral launch.
So what was that timeframe? What was that gap? Yeah, I graduated in [00:20:00] like 2013. The first two years outta school was at a company called Morehead Communications. It’s actually now like the parent company is called Round. But they are the largest Verizon wireless retailer in the country. But they were headquartered in Marion, which is where Indiana Wesley is.
And then their headquarters moved to Carmel which is why I moved to the north side of Indie. And it was a really it’s a large company, but a small corporate office, I think at the time, like 200 ish people. And it’s I think the CEO’s like saying is like he wants to be like the biggest small.
Or the smallest big company, or I forget how he says it, but have that small company feel, but be, have a huge emperor. They have thousands of stores nationwide. And wow. I got to see, I was like, the lowest in total. I was a financial analyst there. But got to see or I had a great boss, great environment.
So I got to see some early things of how to do. I had to put structure into a business that actually brought to viral Launch in some ways. And so I had a little bit of practice even though I was pretty young. Yeah. So yeah. How did how did your time come to an end at Viral Launch? [00:21:00] Yeah.
It was like a really tough situation cuz I had this so I was the vice president there. I had this like a ton of I guess emotional ownership and. At the same time, we were growing really rapidly. Our team, as I mentioned, was adding leadership. And effectively, the last year, I felt like the writing was on the wall because we brought in, a president slash COO and a cfo, which I was the vp, but my main responsibility was over internal operations and finance.
I was like, oh the, what’s, what’s the pathway for me? But it was in January of 2019. There’s there’s more than that going on. But ultimately what happened is I got laid off, I got called into the office. I forget what day it was, but I know it was in January. And they let me know that I was gonna be laid off along with a few other folks on the team.
The next day the company was coming up against some challenges and They had to do that. And so That’s tough. Yeah, it was [00:22:00] weird cuz it was obviously very tough. I had my family was growing at the same time too. Yeah. But it was like weirdly, I felt a sense of relief in some ways too cuz like, why do you think that is?
Yeah. Cuz I had that I had never really experienced like, anxiety before. Yeah. Like that whole, six months to a year before I was just like, always felt. That call was gonna happen. Yeah. Or something like that was gonna happen. And then it happened. And it actually like I said, it was relieving and it honestly repaired some things between, not that there was like any hostileness between Casey and I, but There was like, part of that anxiety was like, oh, like it’s a pressure cooker.
Yeah. Like we’ve built this together what’s going on? And like in that moment we actually got to have a conversation and, be really real with each other and it opened up the door to narrow our relationship and we still, you are able to connect and get coffee and catch up and try to help each other out.
And it’s a, it was truly like a blessing in disguise in the way it happened. Still tough nonetheless. Yeah. A quick [00:23:00] break from our normal programming. I have Erica Schwer, COO from Elevate Ventures here in the studio today. Erica, thanks for being here. Yeah, thanks for having me. And you’re gonna tell us a little bit about this Rally innovation conference that’s coming up?
Yep. So it’s the largest cross-sector innovation conference in the world. We’re gonna feature six innovation studios. So think hard tech software, sports tech, agon, food, healthcare, and entrepreneurship’s gonna kinda be our catchall. I love that. So tell me what is, who’s it for? Yeah, it’s for innovators, entrepreneurs, investors, honestly, anybody probably listening to this podcast.
And it’s gonna be a multi-day thing that’s happening multi-day in downtown Indianapolis. Yep. People coming in from all over the country and maybe even all over the world to be here. That’s. Yep. And the dates are actually August 29th and the 31st. Perfect. And if people want to find out more information about speakers, tickets, things like that, where can they go?
Yeah, so they just go to rally innovation.com and sign up for communications and they can also get their tickets. I love it. You heard it here. Rally innovation.com. We’ll see you there. You mentioned the anxiety of that. If there’s anything more anxiety inducing than being a leader [00:24:00] at a tech company, it’s being the CEO at a tech company.
Yeah. What are some of the things that you learned through that experience and have now applied at, at qualify as you’ve scaled that company? Yeah. One, I mean that anxiety or that struggle time period led into like ano, like there’s been plenty of like highs and lows with qualify. So for context, I left viral launch at the same time, qualify was like a side project.
Me and my co-founders now have been, had been working on Yeah, just like we each had full-time gigs and so it was just like a side, side project. Can you tell us how you had the idea? Yeah. It was like during that wave of growth, like I said, I was over the internal operation, so part of that was the recruitment and the HR function, and I was very busy.
I was just like constantly, recruiting and screening candidates and just saw how difficult a hiring process is altogether. But recognized how repetitive phone interviews can be. I was trying to be really structured and asked the same questions and give a consistent feel, and I was like, it’d be great if I could just record these questions, send it off to the candidates, let them, [00:25:00] record their responses and then we could, streamline that process, create a better experience overall.
And. That was the original, genesis of the idea. And like I said, it just started off as, something that we were working on to do in our off periods, like late at nights. Like for a while the team meeting that we now have at like noon on Mondays was like eight or 9:00 PM in the evening on Monday or Tuesday, when it was just like the four co-founders when we were all doing our own things.
Yeah. So you went straight into qualify. Was there any gap there? You were straight. There was not really, so like I told my wife that we would, we’d be good like, Hey, I got a little bit of severance, so we’ll have a couple months. And then after that, got two months to make it happen, baby. Yeah. Too much to make it happen.
I told her like, it was January. I was like, by March. Which by the way, we also just came up on our four year anniversary. But I was like, by March We’ll have funding. I know investors we’ll have funding. We’ll have a bunch of customers. We’ll be good. Don’t worry. And March came and went and then it was like six months of, no money coming in the door, and yeah, I did go [00:26:00] straight in and I told I made a filled out, I made a resume, but I never sent it anywhere. Hindsight, there’s a lot of like now advice that I would give to people to like think and be calculated about like the leaps you take. I’m always a person that has. taken Ginormous risks obviously burn the ships.
Yeah. Burn burning. That is like sheer exhilaration, right? Yeah. You’re like, you know what? I’m going for it now. Yeah. I’m gonna pounce on the moment. Yeah. Cuz like I felt like if I didn’t then I would just go back to a job and then it would just be a side project. It would never go anywhere. And it’s like weird cuz like hindsight, I would like never do it in that way again, but also know that we wouldn’t be where we’re at.
We didn’t take that leap and if I didn’t take those risks, a lot wouldn’t happen, wouldn’t have been able to happen if I wasn’t full-time. Invested in it. And how’d you bridge the gap? Or you got a early family that you’re developing and Yeah. Lost your income source.
Trying to build a new one. Yeah. Not in the smartest ways. Honestly [00:27:00] not in the smartest ways. So my credit scores five 20 credit scores back. But yeah, it was exactly that. Like I said, had a little, like a tiny bit of runway. It was, it. Very unfortunate time because like with some of my other ventures, before it was I didn’t mention kind of part of the reason Casey wanted to bring me on is cuz I had familiarity with Amazon.
Sure. Cuz I had been like selling stuff on Amazon too. And the nature of E-com is you’re fronting a lot of money if on inventory to get costs down. And and then I just, my, my problem was like, I would, I’m good at, I was good at launching things, I’m. Operating them like consistently and making sure the marketing and the campaigns are always there.
But so I had a lot of money that was invested that kind of just basically became debt and we were already like, pretty close to paying that off and then got laid off. And then it led to basically me running my life off of credit cards for, I guess four to six ish months, as we were trying to figure things out.
And who was the first person? How’d you find the first person? Both [00:28:00] sides. The first person that joined you, right? To go take on this new company. And who’s the first person that believed in you? Believed in the idea, right? To give you initial funding? Like, how’d you get the initial team, one or two, three people and the initial dollars to like, actually get it rolling.
Yeah. How’d they come together? So first is my brother. So my brother is my equal co-founder. We have, there’s three total co-founders, but Devin and I, my brother, were first in. And that, like that in and of itself is a big reason why probably we’re both still doing this is because I always tell people it’d be very hard.
I always feel either sympathy or empathy for like solo founders because it’s like they have to ride those roller coasters by themselves. And like Devin and I have always, it seems to work out where his highest day is, like, where I feel like really low and like vice versa and we’re able to bring each other back.
And so that keeps us going, keeps us motivated. We can remind each other of like, all right, yes, we just lost [00:29:00] that customer, or that big deal, but Hey, check this out. We have all this stuff in the pipeline, or we have all these things going for us. It’ll be good, and we can remind each other of those things.
That’ll be a good co-founder one-on-one. Yeah. Yeah. Like it’s, there’s so many, like we have a rather, larger than most co-founder teams, like usually it’s two or three. We have four. And there’s, I find a ton of benefits in that. Yeah. So yeah, it was, is there a tough dynamic for leadership that, like making decisions or anything like that between like specifically Devin and I, my brother, like we used to have four co-founders of vision to take the product, how decisions get made.
Like I think like more cooks in the kitchen a little bit there. Yeah. No, I think we actually work really well together. And I think it was because of a little bit of like separation of duties early on. Like I think we naturally fall into a few different I guess camps or departments. And so that’s one of the actual benefits is like part of my leadership style is like I want people that know what they’re doing and then I just trust you to do that.
And I provide, didn’t probably tell you I provide a decent, like a good amount of input and like opinion, but I never try to hold [00:30:00] strong to that opinion. And my mentality is like being able to trust people and. I know, I don’t know, like product engineering and Devin’s Technical, right? Devin’s not like Devin is, he actually designed our first, like the, like he was our product designer for a while, but that’s what I thought.
Yeah. Yeah. He’s self-taught on a lot of things, but he. He’s our like go-to-market guy. Okay. So he oversees the go-to-market team. Okay. And for a while, like in the early days, he was designing the product. That’s what I remember. Yeah. So he is like first man in on sales, first man in on marketing and all those sorts of things.
Just like helping us grow the business. He’s, he’s closed most of all of our biggest deals and and then my specialty is like on the internal ops side, but I’m, I like to think I’m pretty flexible to jump into a lot of areas except the non-technical part where I would just. Say, Hey, we need to do this.
I are, we like, here’s an idea. Like here’s a, product concept that I think could be cool. I’m very much an ideas person. So that’s my input in my landing is helping to prioritize, but they’re the ones that like actually know how to execute that. And yeah, if there’s anyone listening to this [00:31:00] podcast that has multiple founders, just on that item there’s really, there’s great ways to deal with this right up front, right?
When you’re starting a business and you have multiple co-founders, Everybody’s excited. Yeah. And wants it to move forward. And that has the perfect time to bake into like your operating agreements. How that decision making works. It’s really super easy to do. X, Y, Z has final decision on product engineering and, yeah.
You have final decision making on X, Y, and Z and it’s just it’s really, they’re really simple ways to bake into the operating agreement, that decision making at a super high level. And then also having all of the co-founders vest. Yeah. So everybody has their ownership on day one, but if you leave inside of four years, here’s this waterfall.
Yeah. And you’re gonna lose. And so there’s no discussion, right? Yep. Yeah. If somebody flies a coop Yep. Then they only get whatever it, whatever was agreed to. And it’s super simple. Yeah. And that was like something I’d learned too and what I brought in, like from day one, I was, it was quote unquote, it was my idea.
But like when it came to talking through that with Devin, I’m like, Hey, we’re going 50 50. [00:32:00] I like, he would probably have deferred more to me. Yeah. But I was like, no, let’s, I don’t want this, especially with family. Sure. I don’t want this to create any issues early. And then as we like grew the team and grew the founders, it was like, hey, we’re splitting, from our equity equally to our founders.
And then establishing that early, like you said. And I think one of the good things is we’re good at deferring to who the, expert in the room is for certain things and. I, I hopefully am doing a good job of knowing and sharing that, hey, at the end of the day, the buck stops with me.
Like that. That means I will have like in some cases, like override and they’ve acknowledge that, but then I also take ownership of that. Hey, if it doesn’t work, if it fails yeah, I’m taken ownership of that. And so I don’t think it’s. Give and take there. And so talk to me about the financial side of things.
Who finally came in and provided a little bit of relief for your credit card? Yeah. Not like the first and this isn’t like on this ISN isn’t like an official, [00:33:00] it’s somewhat official docs like, but it’s more so like family, like my parents like actually were truly like the first believer.
That’s awesome. And they gave us a couple thousand cuz we originally were like, Hey, we’re gonna go find this person on Upwork to like, build this mvp. Yeah. I think we ended up using it for. A different purpose, but it did pri provide like a, a month or two of like relief in that regard.
Yeah. And then we went through, I think our first investors came by way of our pathway through like generator. So we went through G Beta. Yeah. It is a pre accelerator. It’s free. But we got to meet a lot of people and investors and I think our first I, I. I don’t wanna misquote, but I believe our first checks came from a guy named Roger Lee.
He’s a local. Yes. Roger’s great. Yeah, Roger’s awesome. And he brought his friend in Jason, and so that was like our first, I wanna say like around 20, 25 K. Yeah. And then for a while we were just living check to check as a business. At first it was just me full-time. [00:34:00] And then the next big believer that moved a big needle for us was one of my favorite investors.
His name’s Jason Riley. He is in the industry, so he’s in in HR at a very high level. He’s most recently he just switched, but he was most recently head of town global talent strategy for GE Healthcare. Yeah. And so he put in a check with us that allowed Devin to come on full-time and.
We slowly started to get things rolling, and then for a while it was like, I think it was like effectively two years of fundraising to live check, to check and like actually build a real round, which came about in early 2021 where we put together a convertible note, which Elevate was a part of.
At the same time got accepted into Techstars. Let’s dive into that real quick. I wanna come back to Techstars. Let’s go back to generator. How did you discover, how’d you find generator? How’d you reach out to them? Did they find you? What did that first initial conversation look like?
What resonated, dis didn’t resonate? What would you do differently? Yeah. And then [00:35:00] how’s that parlay into Techstars as well? Yeah, I don’t remember how I found out about them. I think maybe my brother Devi. Put us on mentioned like, hey, like they’re like super legit. There’s a company that he was aware of Atter Ho, that had gone through gone through G Beta and I was just like, sure, I’ll go I’ll go meet Chelsea and talk with her.
And I was like, what’s 10 more dollars for coffee on a credit card? Yeah, exactly. I was like, so I was like, just trying to like, I think one thing that I learned through G Beta and just in this whole process is when I was at Viral launch, I was, I know everybody I need to know here in Indie and my network’s great.
And then I like started meeting a ton more people and it just led to oh, I don’t know enough people. And yeah, really investing in building the network. And I think that was one of the biggest things is like actually. Being diligent about like meeting people. Sometimes I lead you down like passage.
You don’t need to go down in terms of oh, you thought that they were gonna be a customer or be an investor and like they never were. But you get reps at that. And also [00:36:00] some things, the one individual might not be the end thing, but they might introduce you to somebody. And That’s right. It’s like you never know, just by, happenstance, what’s gonna happen from that.
Somebody told me once early. That in the early days especially, I’ve been an entrepreneur and I think it still applies today and sometimes I regretfully have to say no, but like in those early days, it’s if you ever get invited to something, whether you want to go or not, you’re a little bit tired and you had a bad day.
That was one of the fetal position days. You’re like, I don’t wanna do that thing at six 30. Another damn coffee. Yeah. And then, but you you go, you drag yourself to do it, and you just show up because you never know. Yeah. Even if that one’s a dead end, they might have a, oh, you know what, actually you need to meet Matt.
Yeah. Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. I was just gonna say that was like the biggest piece is like starting to build the network that I didn’t have and. Early reps of telling the story. Cause it’s I think that’s what they really index on. And something that I didn’t have a ton of practice.
Again, like viral launch, we were bootstrapped, we didn’t ha like we had the,[00:37:00] the privilege and the fortune of not really having to pitch to investors, but like also in this new thing I needed to know how to do that I didn’t like we didn’t. We didn’t, we were bootstrapped and we didn’t have a sales team, so I never had to pitch anything.
Period. And so two totally different ways to grow a business, right? Yeah, exactly. So I had to learn that. I remember one of those early powderkeg events. I, you and I ended up in the same circle two, three times in one evening. Yeah. It wasn’t early powderkeg, but it was early qualified days. Yeah.
Yeah. And I remember just seeing the progression of your. Yeah, throughout the evening. Oh, that’s awesome. And that’s one of the things I love about events like that is like you get, you can get in 20, 30 reps in one evening. Yeah. And you were clearly. Iterating and cuz I, I think, we, you were there early hanging out and so I was there for the rusty one shaking off the rust while you’re still kinda shifting gears from being heads down to Yeah.
Out and socializing and I think I was there for one later in the evening where you’re just like, yeah, you had a, an audience around you. Yeah. And I think, I don’t know timing wise when that was versus like when I had gone [00:38:00] through different, cuz we’ve gone through I think it was 2020.
Yeah. So we’ve gone through like g be. And then Techstars and like in both of those scenarios they both have their own kind of versions of, but G Beta, it’s like Min Swarm Techstars calls it Mentor Madness, and it’s basically you’re gonna meet like a crap ton of people in a very compressed time period.
It build, it builds skills for like other things, but like I know for Techstars it was like 70 people in two weeks that you like. In 15 minute meetings, catch them up on what you do. Who you are. And then try to extract some help and next steps with them in some sort of way.
And so yeah. You’re able to iterate really fast and business. Yeah. What’s the elevator pitch for the listen? You coming? Yeah. I haven’t someone Yeah, got out of I’m not in fundraising right now, so I haven’t had to do it as much, but, and I’ve been actually like reworking mine like very recently cuz you know, some of my Standard, like email templates and things of that nature that I send out.
But the high level pitches were the phone screening solution for high volume recruiting. Typically the people that work with us have significant [00:39:00] hiring volume and hiring needs, and they don’t have enough bandwidth to hire great people in the time period that they need to hire them.
A lot of their business depends on getting people. Hired in the door. So I think hospitals, call centers, things of that nature. And the phone screen is the biggest bottleneck in that process usually. And so we automate it, streamline it and turn it into a competitive advantage for the folks that we get to work with.
I love it. The first sentence. The first sentence, right? Yep. I can visualize what you do. Yeah, that’s great. I love it. One of the things I love about a good pitch is that it, it helps not just with investors and customers, but also attracts talent. And I know that’s one of the, You’ve really focused on as you’ve grown, qualify.
Yeah. What have been some of the biggest things you’ve learned growing your own team as a ceo? Yeah. I think that’s one of the things that if I was to tip my own horn on something, it would be partially cuz it’s, my favorite part is like, the two things I love about being an entrepreneur is getting to put ideas into the world and then getting to collaborate with people.
And I mentioned my mindset is finding the [00:40:00] experts. Trusting them and enabling them to do their job best. And so that’s the approach I take when it comes to building the team. And I think it’s start, it’s resonated with how we’ve grown the team so far. Go back to your question real quick.
Like what’s Yeah. What have you learned in building that culture? Yeah. I think some of the things that we’ve, I think, done really well at qualify is establish. What we, who we are in early. So when it was just the four of us, I remember one of the first meetings we had, might have been the first meeting we had in person.
A lot of the stuff we did was like, just over at Google meets or Sure. Whatnot. But one of the first meetings we’ve had was, beers and pizza and just talking about our values and what our mission is gonna be and things of that nature. And it’s there’s been iterations, over time, but I.
Getting alignment at the founder level of what we’re going to be, why it’s important to us, and having that mindset. Even before we were like really outta cereal business, it might’ve been like too early to do some of those things, but I think it helped [00:41:00] establish what we are today. And so far, our team loves us over up to around 20 people on the team we’re hiring right now.
It’s weird cuz maybe it’s the market, but like we’re getting tons of applications and people aren’t just, it doesn’t seem I’m sure there’s a lot of just like people throwing their resume. Sure. But like the people that we engage with they actually really wanna work for a qualify and so that’s like a gratifying feeling to what’s the number one role you’re hiring for right now?
Maybe there’s a listener that wants to come work for you guys. Yeah, we’re hiring for two different account executives we’re looking. Honestly anywhere in America, but in our northeast region and in the west region, we’re looking to really start to build out our sales team. And we’re also hiring for product marketing role too.
All right. Let’s hear the Yeah. Out there. Listeners, send us your best sales pitch qualified to us, and that might get you the job. There we go. Now would be a good time to join. I know you mentioned you just set a new record for 10 times your historical highest deal, you just closed.
Your biggest deal by a factor of 10. Yeah. I think we’re probably gonna have to have you back on [00:42:00] the show to talk about that. Talk about this next hiring spree Yeah. That you have. Because there’s so much to dig into with what you’re doing with qualify. Yeah. So if you’re open to it, we’d love to, to have you back on.
No, this has been awesome. Yeah, I’ve, last year I got to do quite a bit. We were, I was a guest on quite a few podcasts and some of ’em better than others. I think this one. One of my favorite ones to do awesome, man. Really? I love it. Really appreciate it. Yeah we love talking to you.
But we’re at Nate’s favorite part of Uhoh the conversation. Come on Darrian. We’re gonna work through the lightning round. All right, so we have three questions for you. Very hand selected goes to all of our all of our guests. We’re gonna start with outside of the amazing entrepreneurs, what is Indiana known?
Outside of Indiana, just rapid fire. I mean outside of the entrepreneurs, what’s Indiana known for? Go. Ooh, just one thing. Sports. I was gonna say sports. There we go. Love it. What is one hidden gem in the Hoosier state? Oh man. What is one? I don’t get out enough so that [00:43:00] this is revealing. I don’t. I don’t know, and I should have warned you right before, I’m a terrible quick thinker.
We can circle back, we pass and go to the next guy, or, yeah. Is there anything in Marion? I’ve never been up there, so there might be some hidden gems I don’t know about, I was gonna say I hate to shout at sh so I went to Indian Wesleyan. Our rival school is Taylor. I’m not even a huge fan of, there’s a ice cream spot called Ivanhoes that everyone always stops at.
That’s the first time they mind when you’re like, anything up in Marion? I was like, it’s not too far. It’s in Upland Okay. But I like, I don’t, it’s weird. What’s the name of the so Taylor’s our rival school. Yeah. And it’s called Ivanhoe, Indiana. All right, sweet. Yeah. All my rival teams, by the way, have been purple, and I’ve always hated purple growing up.
Like literally from a child, like all the rival teams I ever, like my How did you end up with a, as your brand color? I qualify. Yeah. That’s weird, man. Everything just comes into work with this stuff. I started to like it now, but, all yeah, just have it, I think. Probably not my original.
I like it [00:44:00] definitely wasn’t my original idea. I think our, the person that designed the logo and I was like, yeah, it actually looks good. And yeah, everyone seemed to like it, so that’s amazing. All right, final lightning round question. Who is someone that we need to keep on our radar? Someone that is doing something big Ooh.
Can do. They have to be in Indie? Cuz I, I have a so Through my Techstars network and hopefully my other Techstar CEO friends don’t hate me for this, but there’s a company called Pipe Dream, I think. The it’s a moon, like one of those moonshot ideas, but actually very practical in nature. They’re called pipe Dream.
They’re literally building pipes underground to enable 30 second deliveries, like eventually anywhere in the city. Wow. That’s, yeah. Like using robots that can navigate in these pipes and Just put yourself in a portal, shoots it over to where you need to go. You don’t have to like own certain things.
It’s, like those fancy bank, like you’ve used the ATM at the bank? Yeah, and it’s, yeah, similar, but it’s like Robots with wheels instead of, I forget what the name of that sort of. Awesome. That’s a suction of that. I forget there’s a name for that. That’s cool. Yeah. We’ll look it [00:45:00] up. Maybe we can have ’em on the show sometime.
Yeah. Once they hook up Indiana, the pipe dream. Yeah. I try to get them to come over here with all the we know some people we might be able to hook something up. Make it worth awhile. Yes. Darrian, thanks so much for being on the show, man, and congrats on everything you accomplished with qualify, but also just your whole career, man, both on and off the.
Yeah. No, I appreciate it. Yeah, thanks so much. And hopefully I don’t injure myself on the court. I’m there with you. Yeah. Thanks Darrian. Yeah, thank you so much. This has been get in a powderkeg production in partnership with Elevate Ventures, and we wanna hear from you. If you have suggestions for our guest or segment, reach out to Matt or Nate on LinkedIn or on.
To discover top tier tech companies outside of Silicon Valley in hubs like Indiana, check out our firstname.lastname@example.org slash newsletter and to apply for membership to the Powderkeg executive community, check out powderkeg.com/premium. We’ll catch you next time and next week as [00:46:00] we continue to help the world get in.
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