Ryan Williams, co-founder and president of staffing startup Jopwell, had a prolific career in finance before setting out to become an entrepreneur. As an African American, he says he knows what it feels like to be isolated in a predominately white workplace.
"It's professionally unsettling (and not a confidence boost) for someone of color to look around and not see anyone else who looks like them," said Williams. "There's often a discounting of ability that happens either consciously or subconsciously."
In 2015, Williams did the unthinkable: He quit his job at Goldman Sachs to start a technology staffing company with Porter Braswell, his co-founder and CEO. The startup, Jopwell, is a web platform connecting black, Hispanic and Native American job candidates to top-tier employers. Though Williams and Braswell didn't have experience in either technology or staffing, both were inspired by the possibility of marrying the two concepts.
Today, just one year after launching, Jopwell has more than 40 major clients, including Facebook, Box, and Goldman Sachs. Former NBA player, Earvin "Magic" Johnson also invested in the company through his eponymous venture capital fund.
On Wednesday, the company announced that it raised a $3.25 million seed round from investors such investors as Magic Johnson Enterprises, Andreessen Horowitz, Omidyar Network, Kapor Capital, and Valar Ventures, bringing the total capital raised to $4.42 million. The money will be used to expand Jopwell's 12-person staff, and to build out the platform to scale.
Cracking the code to Silicon Valley's diversity problem
When a slew of Silicon Valley giants released their internal diversity statistics for the first time in 2014, it became clear that tech companies have a long way to go before reaching anything close to ethnic parity.
At leading companies like Google and Yahoo, African Americans still make up just one percent of all tech hires. At large, blacks are consistently underrepresented in STEM (science, technology, engineer and mathematics) fields, according to the most recent available data from the U.S. Census Bureau. They made up just six percent of STEM workers in 2011.
A solution won't happen "overnight"
Magic Johnson bemoans the lack of diversity in the tech sector: "Leaders in tech and beyond need to understand that workplace diversity is a real commitment," he says. "It's more than just a CEO statement on a website. You have to work at it. It doesn't just happen overnight."
Johnson encourages companies to be more deliberate and persistent in their efforts to create a diverse workforce. "I also think you need new technology, like Jopwell, to turn goals into real change," he said.
Of course, it helps that Jopwell hinges upon the very thing that Silicon Valley knows best: Algorithms. The founders add that reeling in corporate clients wasn't too hard, since many of those clients are painfully aware of how far they have to go to achieve true diversity.
To date, Jopwell has connected more than 6,000 individuals to employment at major companies, with the only requirement for a prospective user being that he or she has graduated from college. "We don't 'accept' people, we provide the technology for the companies to search and filter," Braswell explained.
Though he admits that the pipeline is limited (in that some potential candidates of color may not have had the opportunity to go to college, or learn to code), he notes that the startup is partnering with nonprofit organizations, like City Year, to help minority students get access to education.
Magic Johnson: Investing in Jopwell Was a 'No Brainer'
Pitching a diversity company to high-profile investors was not an easy experience, the founders admitted. Often, it required "getting them up to speed" with how exactly such a business model could turn a profit.
Not so with Johnson, however, who says that Jopwell was a "no brainer" investment for his firm.
"The three of us sat down and had a really open and honest conversation about diversity and the workforce," Braswell said. "He totally gets what we're trying to solve."