When WayUp CEO Liz Wessel interviewed to work at Google soon after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 2012, she told the recruiter, "This is my two years' notice."
Wessel already knew she wanted to launch a startup. She had caught the entrepreneurship bug in college, where she started two businesses -- UniEats, which gave students discounts at local restaurants, and Campus Reps, a company that matched students with brands looking for marketing representatives on college campuses. After getting some corporate experience, she knew she'd want back into startups. That suited Google just fine. So she proceeded to work for the company first in Mountain View and then India. As planned, she quit exactly two years later.
With her third venture, 25-year-old Wessel wants to solve what she sees as a huge problem: college students and recent grads don't have an efficient way to find good jobs and, on the flip side, companies don't have a great way to find this talent. WayUp promises to be more effective than LinkedIn and other job websites like Monster.com. Its secret sauce? Smarter filtering and a focus on quality over quantity.
How it works.
Students and recent college graduates register with WayUp for free using school email addresses. They create profiles that they submit as applications to jobs listed on the website. Employers then pay to receive applications through the website, and can request a limit on the number of applications that make it through. The idea is to streamline the hiring process so that job-seekers see posts they actually stand a chance at getting, and companies see applications only from people they might want to hire.
Creating limits sets the New York-based startup apart from other job boards and networking sites that allow an unlimited number of candidates to apply for jobs. Candidates see only jobs for which they are deemed qualified based on their profiles. Some employers might want to hire only people with certain GPAs; others might be looking for, say, potential interns who have finished their third year of college. Algorithms do the filtering.
The aim, says Wessel, is to build a tool that actually lands students positions, not a job board that becomes a black hole. Despite all the options out there, she says a larger proportion of college kids find summer and part-time gigs through family and friends. On WayUp, one in three users gets hired into a job for which they apply.
"It shouldn't be about who you know, it should be about what you know," she says.
Within months of Wessel and UPenn classmate J.J. Fliegelman shutting down Campus Rep last year and notifying users of the launch of WayUp (which was then called Campus Job), Y Combinator partner Aaron Harris asked them to participate in the accelerator. New York angel investor David Tisch had recommended the startup to him.
"Recruiting is a major problem for virtually all companies," Harris says. "It's a huge issue and it's one that no one has really solved particularly well in a scalable fashion."
WayUp has since raised $9.1 million and now has 22 employees. The website has more than 120,000 job-seeking users and counts Microsoft, Google, Postmates, and Uber among its clients. The company's tagline, included in Wessel's email signature, is "...because if you're not on WayUp, then you're probably on your way down."
Wessel says the original idea dates back to a hackathon at UPenn, in which she hacked into a database and found Fliegelman's resume. She was impressed with his programming skills and contacted him. They met, and she pitched her Campus Rep idea.
Wessel's seemingly out-of-the-blue contact caught Fliegelman by surprise. He knew about her though because of UniEats. "It's a pretty bold move, in general," he says of Wessel reaching out and pitching. He was used to MBAs pitching their ideas to students with coding abilities, "but whatever it was about her, it was unique."
As a 25-year-old CEO, Wessel is direct, but not in an off-putting way. She delivers criticism in a way that targets the issue rather the person, Fliegelman says.
Letting people make mistakes and solve problems without intervening is a key component of Wessel's leadership style. "Sometimes you just need a little tough love, I guess," she says.
Another characteristic of Wessel is that she doesn't sleep. Two or three hours of sleep a night is generally sufficient for her, and she says her lawyer father is the same way. It's a genetic quirk, a "weird Wessel thing," she says. Adam Valkin, managing partner at Palo Alto-based venture capital firm General Catalyst Partners, describes her as "supercharged."
Moving forward, the biggest challenge WayUp will face is keeping a balance between the number of companies on the site and the number of students and recent graduates seeking jobs, says Valkin. His firm, a key investor in WayUp since the startup scored $968,000 in seed funding, led the company's $7.8 million Series A round. General Catalyst has invested around $6 million in WayUp, says Wessel.
Scaling is always a challenge, especially in a two-sided marketplace like WayUp, where you have to please both job seekers and those hiring, says Valkin. The goal will be to achieve a virtuous cycle of students continuously joining for the jobs and job providers continually joining because the users are there, he says.