Why we shut down TalentTrail: Reasons & Lessons

sydneyverifiedco-creator of Commaful
Autoplay OFF  •  2 years ago
TalentTrail was a job matching site that helped students find internships. We recently decided to shut it down.

Thank you to the endless people who helped us. A special thank you to our advisers, Galen and Glenn. Thank you to our amazing investor Eric. Thank you to amazing mentors, including Ian, Paul, Greg, and many more. And of course people who worked with us on the journey: Trey, Parker, Justin, Kevin.

Why we shut down TalentTrail: Reasons & Lessons

TalentTrail was eHarmony of entry level jobs and internships

Our dream was to make the career process easier.

We worked with amazing companies and students

We were lucky to work with companies like Tinder, Acorns, Secret, DoorDash, Zenefits, and many fast growing companies. We had amazing students from Stanford, USC, Berkeley, Harvard, & 100+ more.

We worked with amazing people.

Thank you to Galen, the co-founder of eHarmony, and Glenn, a recruiter at Apple, for helping us every step of the way on this journey. We had amazing mentors and friends who helped us.

Reasons For Shutting Down

It wasn't easy. We were still growing and some people had told us we changed their lives.

1. People didn't like the matching

People would rather apply everywhere & take their chances. "Why only get a few matches when you could apply everywhere?" People asked. This was a huge part of our value, and people didn't like it

2. We were growing because of another, marginal, advantage

People used us because we had "cool" companies.. They told us they didn't care about the product much. They cared that we had Tinder or Secret. Ultimately, they liked us for our marketplace.

3. The impact was no longer clear

We believed that we could make the career process easier, but people disliked matching. We wondered how much impact our product could actually have. How much better was it than others?

We made a few different iterations. Spent 2 years.

Ultimately, we didn't figure it out. The problem still exists. Somebody will solve it.

We think TalentTrail could have made a solid business

The current product but with more growth could have been a business and I'm sure we could have made some discoveries along the way. It just didn't seem like it would transform the industry.

So we had to make the really really hard call

Some Lessons

1. Would your users be sad if you took your product away?

Truth is, not really for TalentTrail. Even having 1 user who would be extremely upset says a lot. I would have focused on this a lot more: Satisfying the users so much that they loved TalentTrail

2. Talk to mentors who worked IN YOUR SPACE

Spending time with the founders of CareerBuilder, Internships.com, CollegeFeed, GlassDoor, and more were extremely helpful. They gave us so many shortcuts to help us move faster.

3. The mentors that ask great questions

Some of our most helpful mentors asked us really tough questions to push us in the right direction. They go beyond the obvious. They're hard to come by, but sooo helpful to the business.

4. Focus

Have growth goals and product goals. Do only things that will help you advance those goals and hit upcoming milestones. Everything else can wait (they have to wait).

5. You have to follow up via email. A LOT.

TalentTrail involved a lot of direct sales to companies. That's A LOT of cold emailing. Sometimes I had to follow up over 7 times before I got a response.

6. We were guilty of fake work

Some conferences frankly were not worth the time. Some decisions frankly didn't move the needle. Some meetings were unnecessary. Focus Focus Focus.

7. Celebrate the small wins

Startups are hard. You hit the grind fast. One week feels awesome, but the emotional tide turns fast. Celebrate the little victories.

TalentTrail, thank you for the memories

We learned so much and helped some great people.

Questions? Comments?

Comment below and we'll answer any questions about TalentTrail and what's next.

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a year agoReply
@sydney thanks for the sharing. Wishing you all the best for Pencil. It's got some real potential!

sydneyVerifiedco-creator of Commaful
2 years agoReply
Thanks @raviformative!

2 years agoReply
@sydney Good job guys. I didn't realize TalentRail founders started Pencil. Inspirational write up. I wish you all the very best with Pencil. :)

sydneyVerifiedco-creator of Commaful
2 years agoReply
@juandelacruz I like to believe (or hope) that most companies out there have a positive mission. Do advance the world or do something better. I do agree that unfortunately, conning and burning through money does happen though. We can only hope that most startups will focus on building something that is sustainable and great and advances society for the better

sydneyVerifiedco-creator of Commaful
2 years agoReply
@jaym I wouldn't worry too much about protecting your idea unless your idea is truly groundbreaking (usually in science) or you're in an industry where moving first gives a huge advantage (can't think of a good example right now, but some health tech comes to mind). Usually it will come to how well you build your company. Not that somebody stole your idea. For finding partners and mentors, be very open minded and put yourself out there. Hang around here, since there are lots of cool people around. Also look at twitter and local events you can get integrated into. We were lucky that one of the guys we met helped introduce us to the co-founder of eHarmony. @niv has a cool post that's relevant: https://usepencil.com/pla... It takes time to build a network, but it's worth it and makes a huge difference. There's a lot of good stuff around here that hopefully will be helpful for a founder who's learning!

2 years agoReply
lol this isn't the case for talenttrail but some startups just have lots of cash to burn from friends and family. more often than not, they're coddled and spoiled brats. hopefully, they'll grow up, stop thinking of conning people to make a profit (monetary or otherwise), and create real impact in the world. but yes, good lessons above. hope a lot of kids will read this.

2 years agoReply
I have a start up in mind that I want to pursue but I am not tech savvy and also would need to partner with some good, experienced entrepreneurs. My main questions are how do you both protect your idea while you are out trying to find partners and mentors and also how did you establish contacts with your mentors, such as eHarmony? My concept is a totally different space, but would be interested in knowing how to approach other successful companies to propose my idea? Thanks

sydneyVerifiedco-creator of Commaful
2 years agoReply
@1zael Hey! I'd agree that working with big name companies helps spur growth, especially from candidates who want big names, but I wouldn't say it's the only angle to win in the space. There are plenty of more niche areas within recruiting. I'd look at traditional recruiting companies as an example of what angles there are. Headhunters often target recently raised startups. Some staffing agencies will focus on temp workers when companies need an extra hand. Some recruiting companies focus on making the application really easy. Others help you make beautiful portfolios. There are definitely many angles to approach when it comes to the recruiting space, which is why the space is SO crowded. As a note, recruiters from the companies you mention get bombarded by emails every day from recruiting products

2 years agoReply
Hi @sydney, thanks for writing this great explanation of your successes and failures. My question is this: In the recruiting space, it seems the #1 factor for product success is the connections it can create towards successful/popular companies (Facebook, Uber, Palantir, etc). Are there other methods of winning in this space without this factor? Thanks so much!

sydneyVerifiedco-creator of Commaful
2 years agoReply
Absolutely @jimm! Hope to see you around the Pencil community! Let me know if you ever need anything or have any more questions.