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Akron software developers take a deep dive into recruiting

Northeast Ohio

Ask 12 recruiters or hiring managers what is wrong with talent acquisition and you will likely get a dozen different answers. An Akron startup aims to tackle at least one of those issues.

DeepHire, launched by recent University of Akron graduates and hackathon enthusiasts Steven Gates and Russell Ratcliffe, is commercializing a video-screening platform designed to simplify and speed up the hiring process. The developers currently have three paying customers and just last week secured $25,000 in early stage backing from Elyria-based Innovation Fund America.

Gates said that while the focus to date has been piloting the video software with a handful of recruiters and recruiting firms, he is talking with "really big companies," such as FedEx, about how it might be useful for in-house hiring of executives as well.

"The feedback we are getting is tremendous," he said. "Now we are anxious to see how far we can get with this."

Gates and Ratcliffe officially formed DeepHire in the summer of 2017, about a year after they channeled their own job-hunting struggles into a hackathon project by the same name. While at UA, the duo had went to a string of hackathons — 24-hour coding competitions — across the country over the course of about 17 weekends, according to Gates, a Hungarian immigrant who grew up in Stow. All the while, they were sending out job applications but getting very little response.

"I think I sent out over 100, maybe even 150, applications, and I heard back from one company," Gates said. "It was like, 'What the heck. I went to a lot of hackathons. I had a lot of coding experience. What is going on?' "

The young software developers also had experienced what Gates called "cultural fit issues" at internships and in various research labs while in college. So, at one of the final hackathons of their 2015-2016 tour, MHacks in Ann Arbor, Mich., Gates and Ratcliffe decided to hack a solution to some of the perceived problems in their own searches. What they came up with was a cultural assessment tool that uses artificial intelligence to match qualified applicants with organizations looking to hire by comparing an applicant's video-interview answers to that of people working at the company.

As luck would have it, Gates said, San Francisco-based 1517 Fund was at the April 2016 event, saw promise in the DeepHire model and "gave us minimal seed funding to do something with the idea." A few months later, a $35,000 investment from The Bit Factory in Akron and space in the downtown Bounce Innovation Hub followed.

By the next summer, after they both had graduated, he and Ratcliffe were "living and breathing recruiting" full-time.

"We went to market a few times, but nothing really resonated with the recruiters we were working with," he said. "We ended up with a sourcing and screening platform, but in one of our pilots they really loved the video-screening tool and cared less about this culture sourcing part, so because of that feedback, we began to focus completely on building out the screening tool."

The technology allows recruiters to send a link to job candidates. The link leads to the DeepHire website, where the candidates are videotaped answering pre-selected questions. "Now recruiters have this TiVo-like recruiting view of candidates so that they can just fast forward or rewind through questions and candidates and quickly make decisions, and they can share videos of the most promising candidates with hiring managers, who also can quickly and easily navigate through interviews," Gates said.

Recruiters also get a notice of when candidate videos have been viewed, so they can reach out to hiring managers while a candidate is top of mind.

"(Recruiters) use it as a pitching tool to their client companies. The end result is they get a decision much quicker," he said.

Given that recruiters commonly get commissions on each placement, delayed hiring decisions translate into slow or lost salaries.

Three clients — including Richfield-based GMS — are paying to use the DeepHire screening tool, and two other companies are testing it out.

Bit Factory mentor James Hilton said the Akron firm's biggest challenge will be competing in a space where two "equally aggressive startups" are also operating. Still, he said, DeepHire is unique in its focus on smaller, more nimble recruiters and recruiting businesses as a primary customer while others have been geared toward large companies and their in-house human resource teams, which tend to move more slowly when it comes to new technologies.

"They definitely have somewhat of a first-mover advantage in that respect," he said. "Another advantage that Steven and Russell have is that they are their target market. They understand how to get into the minds of people their age and my age. The way we approach looking for jobs is just a little bit different than (the way) previous generations did."

Gates think the key to early success will be patiently building on DeepHire's current momentum and not worrying too much about competition just yet.

"Some startups are focused on fundraising and grabbing as much as possible, then they either flame out or they get big," he said. "We are completely obsessed, razor-focused, on how can we get a group of 1,000 customers that really love what we are doing, that use it every day and that would be happy to pay triple the price."

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