A few days ago, Indeed (a job aggregator site) announced that they had been acquired by a Japanese company called Recruit Co Ltd. One story I saw pegged the acquisition close to a billion dollars. I’ve heard through the grapevine about some very happy investors.
Indeed is a very successful company. And while you’ve probably heard of them, there’s very little about them in the public eye. The founders, Paul Forster and Rony Kahan, are not celebrities, and their company isn’t in the press daily or weekly.
Nice and quiet. Head down for 8 years. Result: Fantastic exit to a company most of us haven’t heard about.
A lot of startups these days try and compete on coolness or some funky “wow!” factor that may exist for a moment, and then disappears quickly thereafter. How often do you see a flash in the pan startup heaped with praise and accolades … only to completely forget about it a week later? The press and many early adopters are off chasing the latest shiny object.
Indeed may have never been terribly shiny in the eyes of tech pundits and early adopters, but it certainly was shiny enough for the acquirers, founders, investors and employees.
I also think the chasm between Indeed’s early adopters and the mainstream population was smaller than it is for most tech startups. If you’re building a local-social-mobile app you’re going after an early adopter crowd that’s incredibly distant from regular folk. Indeed was helping people find work. That wasn’t targeted at the elite developers in Silicon Valley. It was targeted to everyone else.
I met Paul Forster and Rony Kahan a number of years ago when I was running Standout Jobs. I liked them immediately, and recognized the quiet intensity with which they ran their company. I don’t know if I appreciated that fully at the time –I was still trying to “make a lot of noise”– but I appreciate it now. It’s all about focus: achieving it, having it on the right things, and maintaining it long-term.
The key with Indeed is that they were (and are) solving a real problem. There are millions of jobs out there scattered across the Web; Indeed did a very good job of aggregating them in one central place and making them accessible. They also took a proven business model (Google’s AdWords) and copied it. Nothing wrong with that.
Too few startups these days are genuinely solving super painful problems.
I’m not even sure most startups truly understand the problems they’re trying to solve. The recruitment space is a great example of that: you can say, “finding top talent is hard” because it’s essentially a universal truth. But that’s not really the problem you need to solve if you’re going into the recruitment space. When you peel away the onion and you discover that HR people are terrible marketers, or HR people are largely powerless in their organizations, and so on, you realize that you have to find the real problem at or near the heart of the universal truth. Indeed did that in part by making job posting into its aggregator dead simple, and by delivering a huge audience. I don’t know if they’re quite as dominant in Google today, but a few years ago they ranked at the top or near the top for nearly every job-related search keyword you could think of. They rocked SEO like it was nobody’s business, and that’s a big reason they drove so much traffic.
Solve real problems.
Keep your head down and focus.
Shiny objects are sometimes pure gold, and sometimes just tinfoil.
Press, parties and startup ecosystems are fun, but none of them build billion dollar companies.