Startup Flight #14: As a habit-changer, our #1 USP is also our #1 challenge.

Hi there! My name is Charlotte and I’m Co-Founder & CEO of Equalture (a hiring software that leverages gamification to debias hiring for SMBs) and living in the most beautiful city in the world: Rotterdam. Being an entrepreneur for 4 years now and building my second company together with my twin sister, I get a lot of questions from other founders and people thinking about starting their own company.

Since I believe that every single founder experience can be helpful to other founders, I decided to translate these frequently asked questions into a blog series: Startup Flight.

In this fourteenth blog: Why our product’s #1 USP is also our #1 challenge, as a result of building a habit-changing product, and how we deal with this.

This weekend something extremely cool happened. Startus Insights, a data science company that maps the world’s information on innovation, startups & technologies, included Equalture in the top 5 startups tackling recruitment bias worldwide. Worldwide! And since our vision is ‘Shaping the world of unbiased hiring’, this is the biggest compliment that we could get.

Now that I am writing this blog, it’s Sunday night. For some people, this is a night that triggers the thought: ‘’Shit, the weekend is almost over’’. For me, it triggers the thought: ‘’YES, a new week is about to start!’’ And that’s simply because it’s the best feeling in the world to run a tech company, together with my amazing team, that’s dedicated to such an important topic: Debiasing hiring.

Debiasing hiring. It sounds promising, but also damn hard to achieve.

There’s a reason why so many companies still struggle with making unbiased hiring decisions — and that’s simply because it’s damn hard to eliminate bias from the hiring process. Building a team is the most human task within your company. And being biased is also one of the most human reactions of our brain. So we are fighting the most human reaction of our brain in the most human decision we are asked to make professionally.

Here at Equalture, we therefore want to do everything within our power to lay the foundation of an unbiased hiring process. And hopefully for the next generation entrepreneurs to build upon this foundation.

Interesting enough, it wasn’t hard at all to determine what we wanted to do with our software. In fact, me and my Co-Founder/twin sister Fleur defined the conditions of this foundation within one night and at most three beers. ;-)

Do you know the 5-Whys-Model? When describing an issue and asking fives times ‘why’, you get to the deepest cause of this issue. So that’s what we did.

Hiring decisions are biased from the start of the hiring process.

Why are hiring decisions biased from the start of the hiring process?

Because they are heavily influenced by our gut feeling.

Why are they heavily influenced by our gut feeling?

Because we don’t have all information we need to create an objective first impression, and our gut feeling fills up those blank spots.

Why don’t we have all information we need to create an objective first impression?

Because we only have insights into someone’s previous experiences and motivation, rather than someone’s potential and personality.

Why do we only have insights into someone’s previous experiences and motivation, rather than someone’s potential and personality?

Because we let candidates apply with a resume and motivation letter, without letting them take an assessment to measure skills and personality.

Why do we let candidates apply with a resume and motivation, without letting them take an assessment to measure skills and personality?

Because we’ve always done it like this.

I truly hate that sentence. I hate it when habits stay habits because they are habits, while they aren’t the best way to do something. So within one night and three beers, Fleur and I knew what do to. We needed to change this habit.

Our #1 USP: The acceptation and implementation of a new habit

In order to debias hiring decisions, we wanted to change the way people apply for a job. We wanted to facilitate a new job application experience, in which candidates are asked to complete a set of games right away, providing insights into their skills and personality. And that meant that we needed to get rid of this habit from the 1950s, that lets people apply with a resume and motivation letter.

That’s easier said than done, as it’s a tough job to change a habit that has been in place for such a long time already.

Ironically enough, it turned out that making people accept the new habit wasn’t that much of a challenge for us. What has been a huge help for us here was content marketing. From day one, we started writing content about this topic. About why resume-based hiring is a broken hiring method, and what to do instead — namely buying a software like Equalture.

What did turn out to be a challenge that we didn’t necessarily think about at the start of this company, though, was how to technically change this habit. Or in other words: How to make sure that we can actually implement our software into our customer’s hiring workflow.

Most of our customers already worked with a hiring software, before buying Equalture — mostly with an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) or career site tooling. So in order to successfully implement Equalture, we depended on integrations with these tools. And that’s not something we properly thought through on forehand.

What I learned from the fact that our #1 USP is also our #1 challenge

Today, we do have some very cool integrations with leading Applicant Tracking Systems. But surely not with all of them — so that means that we sometimes can’t get a new customer on board that’s using a different system and is not willing to switch.

And that’s something you just have to deal with when building a product that’s changing habits. Just like you need to deal with many other things. So, these are the things I learned from building a habit-changing product, resulting in your #1 USP being your #1 challenge:

  1. Changing habits knows two dimensions: Acceptation and implementation. For some, acceptation is the toughest part. For others, implementation is the toughest part.
  2. Acceptation goes hand in hand with education. You need to properly educate people on why to change their current habit, in order to let them accept the transition towards a new habit. Therefore, it’s important to spend enough time on content marketing.
  3. Implementation goes hand in hand with patience and persistence. Creating a new habit likely also means being a first mover in your market. And when being a first mover, the parties you might need around you won’t always help you from day one. In fact, most of them will wait until they have the feeling that you can help them. For example, we tried to set up an integration with an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) for more than a year, but without any success, as they indicated that we weren’t interesting enough for them at that point to spend time on. Last week, their Head of Partnerships sent me an email with a request to schedule a meeting. The reason why? Their customers started asking more and more for an integration with our platform.
  4. And last but not least: Having a habit-changing product is the coolest thing in the world. Despite of the fact that it’s also one of the hardest things to succeed in, there’s nothing more satisfying than changing people’s habits for the better. So if I’m ever starting a next company, there’s no doubt I will go for a habit-changer again.

After all, I didn’t become an entrepreneur for the money. I became an entrepreneur because I want to make the world a better place. And I was never living in the assumption that that would be an easy ride.

Cheers, Charlotte

Co-Founder & CEO @ Equalture, on a mission to shape the world of unbiased hiring.

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