The SeekOut team. (SeekOut Photos) LinkedIn can be a valuable resource for hiring managers sourcing potential candidates. But oftentimes it isn’t enough — and that’s where is stepping in. The Seattle-area startup today announced a $6 million investment round led by Madrona Venture Group, with participation from Mayfield. The company helps HR departments by using swaths of data to provide an AI-powered “360-degree profile” of potential candidates — particularly those that have sparse or no LinkedIn profiles, but may be qualified based on harder-to-find accolades. SeekOut is led by CEO and co-founder , a former technical assistant to Bill Gates who previously led Microsoft’s Unified Communications Group; and CTO , a former Microsoft partner engineering manager who worked on products including Bing and Office. Anoop Gupta with Aravind Bala, co-founders of SeekOut. (GeekWire Photo / Todd Bishop) Their company is an evolution of , a professional messaging service formerly known as that Gupta and Bala founded. The premise of Nextio was to give recipients of promotional LinkedIn messages money paid by marketers, recruiters and others seeking to reach them. Microsoft acquired LinkedIn for $26.2 billion in 2016 — one year after Gupta and Bala left the company. While Nextio never took off, there was a “career insights” feature that analyzed millions of resumes to give users a birds-eye view of potential career paths and the necessary steps to achieve certain jobs. That garnered interest from recruiters who wanted to understand requirements for various roles at companies; how people moved from different jobs; and so forth. About 18 months ago, Nextio pivoted to SeekOut. “Since then the growth and traction has been phenomenal, and we are truly humbled and energized about serving this critical need for companies,” Gupta said. SeekOut’s thesis is that developers and engineers often don’t promote their experience or work on a LinkedIn profile, but may do so in a place such as GitHub or in research papers and patents. But sourcing potential hires based on public data is only one part of the company’s business. SeekOut also provides built-in diversity filters to help reduce unconscious bias; a machine learning-driven search engine that understands past hiring patterns and needs based on job descriptions; and the ability for recruiters to “hyper-personalize” messages when engaging with candidates. SeekOut has more than 75 enterprise customers from various industries including tech, defense, pharma, consumer-packaged goods, and more. “Our secret sauce is that we are engineering leaders who have tons of experience hiring tech talent for our teams and with challenges our recruiters faced,” Gupta said. “We also know of data available and how to apply machine learning, natural language processing and other technologies to the problem that we and our customers face every day: finding qualified candidates.” SeekOut competes against a flurry of existing hiring-related tools, from giants such as LinkedIn itself and Workday, to smaller startups including fellow Seattle company . Gupta said that most competing HR tech tools are spread over a wide range of tasks, such as chatbots or candidate scheduling. “The companies in the sourcing space where SeekOut focuses are fewer, and less mature,” he said. Gupta and Bala both left Microsoft in November 2015 and came up with the Nextio idea in early 2016. SeekOut has raised $8.2 million to date. The company employs 12 people and expects to double headcount this year. As a result of the funding, Madrona Managing Director S. “Soma” Somasegar will join the board. “As every company goes through the digital transformation, the need for technical talent is growing leaps and bounds,” he said. “The SeekOut team deeply understands these challenges and has the expertise and drive to address them.”
Cherry blossoms were in full bloom at the University of Washington earlier this month. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper) The University of Washington has one of the world’s best computer science programs. MBA recruiters recently the UW’s business school No. 2 for entrepreneurship reputation. Its CoMotion innovation center has helped the university spin out 80 startups over the past five years and land among the top 10 on . Yet for some reason, , the famed Silicon Valley startup accelerator, sees far fewer UW graduates applying for its program compared to other top public universities. That’s why two YC partners, and , made a quick trip north earlier this month and spent several hours on the UW campus in Seattle, hosting both “group office hours” and a two-hour workshop. The purpose was to educate students about startups and encourage them to apply to YC. Of the more than 4,000 founders who have gone through YC’s 3-month cohort program over the past 14 years, only 50 of them attended the University of Washington, according to data from YC. “There is a lot of talent at the UW and a lot of talent in Seattle — and I want to make sure people know that YC is an available path if they want to start a startup,” Manalac told GeekWire after the event. Y Combinator Partner Gustaf Alstromer speaks to UW students at the Foster School of Business as part of a YC workshop on campus earlier this month. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper) Manalac, who specializes in finding entrepreneurs that can join the accelerator, said UW students tell her that they get so heavily recruited by big companies in Seattle — Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Expedia, T-Mobile, Starbucks, etc. — and “often don’t even think about starting a company as a viable option.” Added Manalac: “The pull of the FAANGs and big companies like Boeing are strong up here.” “In some cases, students are interested in starting a startup but fall into the trap of thinking, ‘I’ll work at a large company for a couple years to get experience and then start a company,'” she explained. “Once you’re used to working at big companies, it’s harder to make the shift into startups. And working at big companies doesn’t teach you what you need to know to start a company. The best way to learn about startups is to start one — or work at an early stage startup.” The thesis that homegrown tech giants such as Amazon and Microsoft, along with the bevy of Bay Area companies with huge engineering outposts in the region, are sucking up would-be startup talent and preventing Seattle from becoming another Silicon Valley startup mecca has been for . “In the past, I have noticed that most of our students do take the ‘safer’ established industry path over the startup path,” said , a UW computer scientist who has sold startups to , and . Patel agreed with Manalac and said it is indeed hard to jump to a startup after joining a big company. But others say that experience at a place such as Amazon or Microsoft can be valuable preparation for startup life. Knock co-founders Tom Petry and Demetri “Some of the fastest-growing companies in Seattle boast 20-something and 30-something entrepreneurs fresh out of Amazon who cite that experience at integral to their startup path and success,” noted Julie Sandler, managing director at Seattle startup studio Pioneer Square Labs and a lecturer at the UW’s Foster School of Business. and graduated from the UW and worked together at UBS Wealth Management before coming back to Seattle to launch their real estate startup Knock, which just a $10 million investment round. The founders say they picked up important skills and built a network at UBS that ended up being crucial to their decision to make the startup leap. “Ultimately, my time with a big company gave me enough confidence to enable me to say goodbye to that world,” Themelis said. “And I imagine a lot of founders get the necessary motivation to start something when they see first hand the rat-race of a big company culture — it definitely was for me.” But the opposite was true for , a 2013 UW grad who a fashion startup while still in school. He’s now working at Amazon as a product manager. “Beginning my career at a startup was definitely more beneficial for me than getting a job at a big company right away,” Bartlow said. “First of all, I don’t think I would have been able to get the product management roles I wanted without being able to leverage my startup experience. Second, it is much easier to stay in the frugal and hungry mentality coming right out of school.” Bartlow credited the UW’s Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship for promoting startups through business plan competitions and programs such as the Jones + Foster Accelerator program. In a statement, Amy Sallin, interim director of the Buerk Center, said that “the framework is in place for students or alumni to feel prepared to launch a startup at any point in their journey.” “Our graduates leave with the entrepreneurial skills that do make them attractive to very large companies looking to innovate from within,” she said. “However, we also see graduates who do take their startup and grow it into a business — whether in retail, food and beverages, health, social impact, cleantech, biotech, etc.” Nanodropper team members Jennifer Steger, Mackenzie Andrews and Allisa Song won the $15,000 grand prize at the University of Washington Hollomon Health Innovation Challenge in March. (Matt Hagen / UW Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship Photo) Sandler said she hopes the UW can encourage more cross-department connections across programs such as computer science, business, and human-centered design. She said that can help expose entrepreneurship to more students. “At other universities, it not uncommon to see one big student success kickstarting a positive entrepreneurial cycle,” Sandler added. “Students see other students successfully build impactful companies during their years in school and they’re inspired to do the same.” Whether the lack of UW grads applying to Y Combinator says anything about the university itself, or the larger Seattle tech ecosystem, is up for debate. It’s true that the UW ranks lower than schools including UC Berkeley, University of Michigan, University of Texas, UCLA, and others . And some of the higher-profile startups with UW roots — Turi, Senosis Health, Vicis, etc. — originated due to the work of professors, not students. Ed Lazowska, a longtime UW computer science professor, said geographic influence must be considered when comparing what a graduate from Stanford does after school, for example, to what a UW grad might do. “Stanford sends a disproportionate number of students to startups because the startup ecosystem in the South Bay is an order of magnitude more vibrant than anywhere else in the U.S.,” he said. “UW sends a disproportionate number of students to major companies because all of those companies are either headquartered in Seattle or have engineering offices here, and UW is a public university where most students do internships, which have a high conversion rate to permanent employment, and the established companies have great internship programs.” Lazowska said the UW has taken a number of steps to “address this balance,” from work being done at CoMotion and the , to the activity at Startup Hall, which houses the Techstars Seattle program and Founders’ Co-op venture capital firm. He added that “as the startup community in Seattle expands, the involvement of UW students in startups will surely expand commensurately.” And while some UW grads, such as Jason Tan and Brandon Ballinger of , do migrate to the Bay Area and launch startups, many of them stick around Seattle, where there are plenty of startup accelerators and studios. “Yes, YC is the gold standard,” Lazowska said. “But UW students come from Washington and remain in Washington.” For some, the idea of relocating to the Bay Area to work on a startup may not be as attractive as in years past. , co-founder of Seattle startup , participated in a YC cohort last year and came right back to Seattle. “In my opinion, right now Seattle is the best place to start a software company,” Kalb said. “The talent is here, Seattle is a beautiful place to live, and it’s way cheaper to live in Seattle than in San Francisco. No wonder Bay Area VCs . I think we’ll see some of the greatest, fast-growing startups come from Seattle in the next ten years. If I were a YC partner, I would heavily index on whether a company is based in Seattle.”
Crelate CEO Aaron Elder. (Crelate Photo) In a startup environment where heavy funding, bold bets, and rapid growth are the norm, stands out for its modest, slow-and-steady approach. The recruiting software startup just raised $5.3 million from Five Elms, a venture capital firm in Kansas City, Mo. Crelate develops tools to help recruiting agencies manage their pipelines of talent and job opportunities. The four-year-old startup just crossed 900 customers. “There’s definitely different approaches to building a business,” said Crelate CEO Aaron Elder. “There’s the burn fast and either get really big or burnout. I’m operating more under the continuous improvement, high probability of success.” The new funding builds off of a $1.2 million round the company closed in early 2017. Crelate plans to grow its 21-person team and double down on sales with the fresh cash. “We see a lot of demand and need for our product,” Elder said. “The industry is growing and they have some very specialized needs.” Crelate is headquartered in Maryland but its engineering operation is in Kirkland, Wash. Elder, who is based at the Kirkland office, said he picked the Seattle suburb because “the tax climate is more friendly to business” and “it’s a little bit cheaper.” Crelate is that have set up outposts in the Seattle area to mine the region’s tech talent.