Stephen Wensley, Founder & CEO at Acuspire
1. What does Acuspire do?
Our mission is “a future without job search™”. Acuspire gives candidates and employers more control over their qualifications so that we can make the connections happen automatically. There is no longer a need to search extensively; simply request an interview! The qualified person is out there and we have the power to speed up those connections on both the jobseeker and employer side of the recruitment industry.
2. What inspired you to start? What problem does Acuspire solve?
During an economic downturn in Calgary, my wife and I struggled with the process of searching and applying for jobs. I found that existing marketplace tools like LinkedIn and Indeed were ineffective at connecting me with suitable employment opportunities. I was inspired to create a solution that could resolve those pain points.
There are massive market inefficiencies in every city and Acuspire has the potential to reduce bottlenecks and save job seekers and employers a lot of time and money. We have computers that can do this process much more efficiently and it made me wonder why we are still doing this manually. In a few years, I think manual job search will be seen as the horse and carriage.
We have been very successful in the Calgary market. Startups love working with our platform because they can connect to people with the skillset they are looking for much faster. Top talent typically do not publicize their experience on LinkedIn because they will be hounded by recruiters.
3. How long did it take you to go from prototype to launch?
I kid you not, I started designing rough ideas in a slideshow during my morning CTrain commute. It took me a few hundred hours of part-time coding work, design and research during evenings and weekends before I had a very rough minimum viable product for jobseekers.
At the end of 2016 I successfully raised $125,000 in angel investment and incorporated the company. I posted on Facebook that I was planning on starting a company and it was crazy how people came forward wanting to invest.
Over the course of the next year I pulled together a team and we re-built from the ground up. I believe in launching quickly and often. We push new tweaks and improvements live up to 10 times or more per day.
4. How did you determine who your audience might be for this product?
We surveyed several hundred people online and in person to better understand their experience with the existing search and application processes. Understanding their thoughts and emotions was really important and discovered that very few people were happy with the job search experience. They were miserable with how tedious the search was, sometimes to the point of being overwhelmed or depressed. What makes the process even worse is that most applications don’t send a response of any kind.
5. Do you have a team?
I am lucky that I come from both a technical and business background. In the startup community that is pretty rare, but it is extremely valuable to investors. Being able to work on both sides solo and really understand how to build a team is what is so attractive.
Between myself and another full-time senior software developer, we do all of the meat and potatoes work and occasionally hire other companies to help with specialized components of the business.
Working with many service providers is what makes a lean startup work. You can bootstrap by duct taping a bunch of service providers together to quickly build a minimum viable product. It’s a business at the end of the day and you don’t have to build every piece from scratch.
6. If you could hire someone today to help you with one thing what would it be and why?
I am currently in search of a potential co-founder or additional partner to assist with work on the business. Customer service and business development are the most critical pieces right now. Developing a “wow” worthy customer experience from beginning to end is really important to us. We are also actively looking for qualified candidates registered on the Acuspire platform. If you think you would be a good fit, please upload your resume and reach out to us at https://acuspire.com/.
7. If you could learn one new skill what would it be and how would it help you build your company?
Time management is something I’m still working on. I recently did some reading on the Pomodoro technique for working on tasks in chunks of time and installed an app to help me with that. The way I think of building my company is little bricks of time stacked up one by one. Over time it creates something big!
8. What's one thing that you wish you knew about the startup community?
I didn’t really know how friendly and supportive the startup community was in Calgary until I launched a startup myself! It’s been super cool to have a lot of people offer help and connections. You progress much faster that way.
9. What are your greatest achievements so far?
The past year alone has been both agonizing and awesome for myself and the team. We successfully designed, built and launched two products: one for jobseekers (https://acuspire.com) and one for employers (https://recruit.acuspire.com).
We were also selected as one of the Top 20 startups for Startup Calgary’s Semi-Final Pitch Night and one of the Top 50 startups for Startup Grind Global. I can also say that I survived running a startup for over a year!
10. What are your future goals for your company? Any specific milestones for 2018?
During 2017 our platform was available for free while we were in research and development mode. Now that we have monetized the platform, strong revenue growth is our major goal for 2018. We also have goals to hit in terms of total users. The more people that use our platform, the more helpful it becomes.
We are looking to refine our technology so that we can scale quickly. A big theme in the Valley is that they want to invest in companies with a near zero cost of customer acquisition.
11. How has Startup Calgary helped you?
Startup Calgary is great at connecting the dots and making introductions between people in the community that could help each other. Kari Gordon especially seems to know everybody. I don’t know how she does it!
12. What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs who want to take their idea from the back of a napkin to the marketplace?
If you aren’t the big visionary or expert on your idea, you must become it. This is the only way to successfully find good investors, co-founders or employees. Also make sure that you validate your idea in the market before attempting to build something that has no demand.
Also - when you are attending a conference or event, never rely on Wi-Fi for your pitch. Find a way to be able to demo anywhere, any time.
13. Who do you look up to in the Calgary startup community? Which companies are doing cool things?
I really respect the experienced founders and VCs that have been through the process already and are now working with the community to advise, mentor and invest in the next generation of startups.
In terms of consumer apps and services, I really love how JobJar is leveraging underutilized skilled tradespeople and what PlayCity is doing to get people more physically active. I had similar ideas to these before I started Acuspire these guys are doing it way better than anything I dreamed up. TikTiks has also really impressed me with how polished they made the process of buying event tickets. Their in-house technology team is top notch.
14. What was the biggest surprise you encountered building your startup?
The days can be extremely long – my eyes are completely burning red right now. I thought we’d be done development in 4-5 months and profitable by end of year. It always takes longer and costs more than you expect. You can’t control the market.
A happy accident was that we picked up one of our first paying customers by working in the same building as them. It’s valuable to make a good first impression and be open-minded to opportunities.
15. What event, program or resource in Calgary's startup community made the biggest impact on your company?
PivotTECH 2017 was a pretty big deal for us. With close to 600 users and 40 companies registering on our platform for the event, it generated a lot of great data. We received a lot of feedback from jobseekers and companies which helped us make improvements to the platform. Since then we have grown to a few thousand users and just launched our platform in Edmonton.
16. If you had to tweet another startup advice, what would it be?
Invest in yourself, work hard and stay focused on your goals. You’ll reach them.
Learn more at: https://acuspire.com/
Published May 1, 2018