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Being a 24-year-old female founder of an HR tech startup, on a mission to debias hiring
Equalture CEO, Charlotte Melkert, tells us what it's like to be a 24 year old female founder of an HR tech startup on a mission to debias hiring!
Let me start by saying that I feel honoured to write this piece for Teamtailor’s guest blog, as Teamtailor is a great example of how I wish to see my HR tech startup evolve in a couple of years. And although my company offers completely different software (I will introduce my company to you in a bit), we’re both HR tech companies, founded with the aim to contribute to what matters most in each and every organisation: building the best possible team.
In this blog, I will share my journey of being a 24-year-old female founder of an HR tech startup that’s on a mission to shape the world of unbiased hiring.
Let me quickly introduce myself
My name is Charlotte. I am 24 years old, live in the greatest city in the world (Rotterdam, Netherlands) and I have a twin sister, Fleur, who’s also my co-founder. Here in the Netherlands, we received a fair amount of media attention when we started this company - at that time, we were 21 years old, two female founders of a tech company (and twins on top of that) and last but not least: we had zero tech-related experience. An interesting blend from a PR-perspective, but at the same time risky from a business perspective. However, we didn’t care about this lack of experience. We spotted an opportunity to develop a technology that could support companies in the thing we believe matters most, and that’s building the best possible team by ensuring an equal playing field for all candidates. And where we did not have any tech-related experience, we did have some experience in recruitment.
How it all began
Fleur and I started our first company at the age of 19. It wasn’t necessarily our ambition to devote our careers to recruitment, but due to a combination of circumstances, we decided to start a recruitment agency. We soon built up an extensive customer base, ranging from startups to global enterprises. This variety of organisations allowed us to carefully assess the effectiveness of hiring practices in all these different organisations. And sadly enough, we soon came to the conclusion that most organisations, regardless of their size and level of maturity/professionalism, often fail in hiring. And this is all because of the same reason. Hiring bias, leading to poor decisions. So that’s what we wanted to fix. And that’s how Equalture was born.
Our two fascinations
Fleur and I have always been fascinated by two things: human bias and technology. Let’s start with human bias. When you meet someone, you only need seven seconds to create a first impression. Yes, seven seconds. That’s how long it takes us to put people in boxes based on characteristics we can perceive. And after these first seven seconds, it’s very challenging to change this first impression.
Now, you might have thought when you started reading this blog, ‘’why is she emphasising age and gender that much in the title of this blog?’’ Well, that’s because I wanted to see how this would impact your first impression about me. Because I know for sure that it did. And that’s actually a shame, because I think you might be quite surprised when you actually get to know me. I am in many ways anything but a 'typical female founder' - I am a real risk-taker, I have way fewer people skills than my sister Fleur and the thing I love doing most is working on complex issues.
And in the same way that you might have formed an inaccurate first impression about me, this also happens in a hiring setting. So the complex issue that I care most about is how to make sure that, if we insist on putting people into boxes, we at least put them in the right ones.
And then technology. Isn’t it fascinating and confronting at the same time? Where human beings have struggled with issues for decades or even centuries, technology sometimes seems to be able to fix it within the blink of an eye. Technology enables us to take a different approach to certain issues and that’s what’s making it so fascinating. So imagine what happens when leveraging technology to help human beings creates the right first impression about other human beings.
One night – some beers, 21 sticky notes and lots of courage
It took us one night, three beers each, 21 sticky notes, a lot of courage and an overflow of naivety to get started with Equalture. Our plan was to build a software that could help people create the right first impression about a candidate, to ensure an equal playing field and optimal hiring decisions. And to prevent any confusion here, we wanted to focus on equal opportunities, not on diversity. Simply because we firmly believed, and still believe, that diversity in teams arises when hiring people based on what matters, instead of getting distracted by what doesn’t matter. Therefore we wanted to help people collect the insights they needed to evaluate someone based on skills, personality and potential and not on age, gender or heritage, right at the start of the hiring funnel.
From sticky notes to an actual business: Here’s where the courage and naivety comes in
At least this sounded like a promising plan. But how and where to start when you have zero experience with entrepreneurship, software development and go-to-market strategies? Well, it might sound like an open door but we just started at the very beginning and tackled each and every problem one by one.
The luxury you have when starting a company at a young age is that courage translates into overconfidence, simply because you haven’t yet experienced huge setbacks or failures. And as you haven’t experienced that yet, you are not only overconfident, but also extremely naive. And I believe that’s exactly what we needed at the time. I always use the Dutch expression about seeing bears on the road, which means that you focus a lot on the potential obstacles that you see. Experienced people would have at least seen a few bears on the road, whereas Fleur and I hadn't even discovered the road yet.
So it literally went like this:
- Problem 1: We can’t build this ourselves.
- Solution: We raise funding to hire a development team.
- Problem 2: We don’t know how to raise funding.
- Solution: We google ‘How to raise pre-seed funding for your startup’.
- Problem 3. We need to find a way to measure skills and personality in an accurate but also fun way, as we want to integrate our product early on in the hiring funnel.
- Solution: We are going to look for an experienced partner to develop gamified assessments.
I won’t bother you with the rest of the list, as there are tons more problems and solutions we’ve experienced.
Our company became a success thanks to our very own product
Now that I’m writing this blog, I realise that it’s almost four years since Fleur and I wrote down our ideas on those 21 sticky notes. And now, four years later, we have become an actual business. We have more than 250 customers on board from all across the world, are backed by two venture capitalists and are already with 18 people on board. And you know what actually made this happen? Our very own product.
It was our very own product that enabled us to hire the best-fit team members in an unbiased manner. And it’s this incredible Equalture crew that has been able to translate ideas into reality. A nice fun fact about our team is that we are 50/50 male/female. This is also the case in our technical teams and we have crew members with six different nationalities on board. And as we all know, diversity is a proven business case.
I will arrange something with the incredible Partnerships team from Teamtailor, to make sure that in one year from now, I can tell you where we stand then. But one thing is for sure - if there are some huge highlights again to share by then, it’s because of our amazing Equalture crew.