Jumpstart nabs $8.5M led by Sequoia for a recruitment platform that aims to increase diversity

Ingrid Lunden
Working on a web template on the laptop

When it comes to calibrating for an optimal workforce, diversity and inclusion have become a more prominent priority for companies in recent years. Today a startup that's built a recruitment platform to help organizations source and hire in a more holistic way is announcing a round of funding to capitalise on a rise in demand for its services. Jumpstart, which provides a way for organizations to tap into a wider pool of candidates, who themselves have been more carefully ordered by way of Jumpstart's algorithms, is today announcing that it has raised $8.5 million.

The company today focuses primarily on filling entry/early-stage roles in "knowledge worker" positions such as engineering internships, junior-level marketing roles and business analysts. Founder and CEO Ben Herman said in an interview that the plan will be to continue moving up the funnel to target an ever-wider range of experiences and jobs. To date, the company has helped place people with big-name firms like Akamai, Adobe, Twitch, Lyft, Pinterest and many more.

The Series A is being led by storied VC firm Sequoia Capital, with participation from Michael Lynton, the chairman of Snapchat's parent Snap Inc.; and Joshua Steiner, the co-chairman of commodity trading firm Castleton Commodities International LLC. Those names and affiliations, significantly, speak to what kinds of power holders are looking at the challenge of diversity and inclusion in hiring, not just who is investing in trying to fix it.

"Almost every company at scale manages early-career recruiting differently than industry recruiting. That's because the techniques for identifying great early-career talent are just different than folks with a decade of experience. We think there's an opportunity for Jumpstart to be a global platform for early-career talent," said Mike Vernal, a partner at Sequoia.

Jumpstart has an interesting jumpstart story of its own. Ben Herman, the founder and CEO, got his start in recruiting when he dropped out of high school in north London, England. He turned out to be a scrappy and very successful recruiter, working on behalf of a number of companies, in part because he was good at looking beyond the basic signals that many use to decide whether inbound applicants are good bets (those basic signals include things like which school you went to, your references and where you might have already worked), and expanding them to look at things like "passion projects", interests, long-term goals and more.

When those clients started to approach him with proposals to come in house, he thought of putting his enterprising nature to work for himself by starting his own business at age 21. Eventually, he found himself working for a lot of companies out of the U.S. and decided to make the move and see how and if he could bring a technology approach into the equation to improve the overall process -- specifically by using AI to replicate the pattern recognition that Herman himself had used up to then in his successful recruiting endeavors.

"Most of the tools in the market today are targeted at saving recruiters time," Herman said to me in an interview this week. "They are overwhelmed by the amount of work they have to do. But the consequence is that they escalate the other problems [such as addressing diversity]. I look at these platforms as tools for putting a Band-aid on those bigger problems."

There is a lot about recruitment that is the opposite of "technology challenges." Much of it requires a human touch and sensibility not just of what might really be the best fit for a business, but what might be the best fit for a specific person looking for a job. While that kind of nuance is more likely to be there the higher up the chain you go -- partly because the "cost" of getting it wrong can be that much higher -- it's not as ubiquitous in the lower, lower-paid, more populated ranks of the job market.

However, in the grand tradition of every problem now being a tech problem, this is now getting addressed, and Jumpstart is one of the companies aiming to do that.

As Herman described how it works, the process starts in part by working with big companies, which are given access to the pool of candidates on its platform -- that pool currently numbers 100,000 users. Those candidates themselves have been screened in advance with a set of questions that help place them into more ordered categories based on what they are looking for in a job experience, and what they are qualified to do (based on what they studied). In all, there are some 30 data points on each person in the Jumpstart system, he said.

The pool of candidates grows, meanwhile, both organically (people can sign up on their own), or by way of those companies recruiting them onto the platform. Once the companies sign up to Jumpstart, they are asked to invite candidates to opt in to become a part of the pool.

The thinking goes something like this: You may not have gotten this job, but sign up here to get considered for other exciting roles here and elsewhere. The pool of "nos" are always going to be much bigger than the pool of "yeses": only around 2% of applicants end up securing internships and entry-level roles at the most sought-after places of employment, Herman said. This gives those employers a way of helping that other 98% find other opportunities.

Herman says that the basic platform is already a big development for many of these companies, which in the past might have made a few trips to select schools to connect with students at career fairs, essentially leaving out most other universities and candidates from getting a look in.

The focus on taking the recruitment game away from campuses and specific outreach to universities is an important way of expanding a company's efforts to improve diversity and inclusion. It's also a notable contrast with Handshake, another early-level recruitment startup that's aiming to make hiring more diverse. (Its efforts specifically start with university relationships.)

It also seems to be working. Herman says that Lyft hired one-third of its interns for 2020 via Jumpstart, and 82% were from underrepresented groups. (He also noted that Lyft used to use four different platforms to do the same work that it now does just through Jumpstart.)

Like Handshake, Jumpstart (and others) are capitalising on an interesting moment in the world of online recruitment. Companies like Indeed and LinkedIn (not to mention behemoths like Facebook that are new to the space but are big enough to be formidable rivals) have long been able to leverage their economies of scale when it comes to sourcing qualified applicants, or for applicants to tap into an interesting pool of job opportunities.

More recent shifts, however, into looking for more diverse workforces has changed the game: since platforms like LinkedIn were never built (and cannot really be used today) to help source more diverse candidate pools, that creates an opportunity for newer platforms to build themselves with those kinds of priorities baked in from the start.

And that's not just important for recruiters, but also for the people getting recruited. On the part of students, the aim will be to do more than just give them access to more job openings, but also a way to share questions and ideas with others like them. "Jumpstart is focused on letting early-career talent express their skills and interests directly by creating a very in-depth profile," said Vernal. "We are also focused on creating a community of folks with similar backgrounds and interests to help navigate the transition into the workforce."

This latest funding brings the total raised by Jumpstart to $12.5 million.