EXCLUSIVE: Qualifi’s $4.5M Seed Round for Phone Screen Automation and Bias Mitigation with Co-Founders Darrian Mikell and Keenan Jaenicke
Qualifi announced a $4.5 million Seed Round of VC. The Round was led by m/x/v Capital and Rally Ventures. This brings its total raised to $7.7 million. Qualfi provides companies […]

Qualifi announced a $4.5 million Seed Round of VC. The Round was led by m/x/v Capital and Rally Ventures. This brings its total raised to $7.7 million.

Qualfi provides companies with an asynchronous phone screen solution, used primarily in “high volume” recruiting environments. The product helps companies mitigate bias in hiring while also screening candidates faster. The product was recently extended to include automated interview scheduling.

In this interview, Darrian and Keenan discuss:

  • Qualifi’s success to date,
  • Their Seed Round and what they plan to do with it,
  • the future of the product,
  • The impact this fundraising will have on customers, employees, and the market.

Read the full transcript of the conversation, below.

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Enjoy the discussion!

Full Transcript (Transcript creation is automated, while it may be largely accurate we apologize in advance for any errors)

George LaRocque: Hey, everyone. Welcome back to work. Tech. It’s me, George Laroque, and we’ve got some industry news today. Qualify recently announced a seed round of 4.5 million. Qualify is an on demand phone interviewing solution. And Darian Michael, Qualifies co founder and CEO, and Keaton Geniki, Qualifies co founder and VP of product, are both here to talk about the deal and tell us more about Qualify. Welcome to both of you.

Darrian Mikell: Thanks, George, for having us. Appreciate it. Yeah, thank you.

George LaRocque: Great. And let’s start with introductions. If you could each tell us a little bit about yourselves and then for anyone that isn’t aware, tell us a little bit about Qualify before we dig in even further.

Darrian Mikell: Kenny, you want to go first and I’ll introduce Qualify with mine.

Keenan Jaenicke: Yeah, so Keenan Geniki, our VP of Product and one of the four co founders here. So half of the crew, but yeah, I was one of the two technical co founders here at Qualify. So myself and Deshaun Prentice, we actually built the first version of Qualify ourselves and then been able to grow the team and kind of transition that to our great development team that we have. Based in Indianapolis, born and raised in Indiana, and, yeah, I’m excited to be here talking with you this morning and kick it over to Darian.

Darrian Mikell: Thanks, Kenneth. I’m darian Michael. Like Kenny said, one of the co founders and also the CEO. The other co founder that wasn’t mentioned happens to be my brother. His name is Devin. He just got back from paternity leave. He’s our COO. And yeah, the four of us started the company officially incorporated in 2019. And Qualifies the leading phone screening platform. So for teams that hire hundreds to thousands of hourly employees, our solution provides asynchronous phone interviews, screening, and scheduling so that these recruiting teams can identify the best candidates faster and get them through the process, not to the next steps as quickly as possible. Yeah, thanks again for having us and excited to dig in.

George LaRocque: Yeah, well, thanks for being here. So let’s talk about Qualify a little bit before we get into the deal. So you mentioned you’re a phone screening platform for high volume, so where do you fit into the process or what we all like to call the funnel? And then where do you fit into the tech stack? So two sides of the same question there.

Darrian Mikell: Yeah, absolutely. So we usually are at the pretty close to the top of the funnel, so we’re often replacing the traditional phone interview, and that’s usually one of the first touch points after a candidate applies. So usually the candidate gets invited to take a phone interview through Qualify shortly after they’ve filled out an application or submitted a resume. Either invites go out automatically and it kind of gets into the tech stack. We usually are integrating into the ATS, or we sometimes sit as a standalone, but we love to integrate and provide that workflow automation. So as soon as a candidate applies, or maybe there’s a trigger set up, after the recruiter is able to visually review the application, the invitation goes out to the candidate via text or email.

George LaRocque: Okay, so text or email. So they can do it over their phone. They can do it from any device, basically, is what that alludes to.

Darrian Mikell: Yeah. So the magic, I think, behind Qualify is that most interviews are taken over the phone, so they receive a text or an email. They click a link to read basic instructions. It’s all branded to the employer. But ultimately, when they’re ready, they hit a start button and our system calls their phone and they get to hear pre recorded questions that the recruiter or the recruiting team has recorded for them in their own voice. And so the candidate is able to have this really seamless experience. They don’t have to coordinate or schedule with recruiters, and they still get to hear their voice. It still feels very conversational. And they get to take it over a cell phone, over a landline if they need to. We also have a web based version for them to respond to as well. So there’s a variety of different ways that we make it convenient for the candidates.

George LaRocque: Okay. Yeah. We see so much of digital interviewing, the phone screen aspect, calling the cell phone, that makes it more accessible. It’s a wider audience that you’re able to recruit because you’re not worried about bandwidth or worried about access. But everybody’s got a phone in their pocket or access to a landline. It’s somewhere. Yeah. So what’s unique? You’ve mentioned a few things that sound special about Qualify, but how do you differentiate? What are the unique attributes to your product?

Keenan Jaenicke: Yeah, I can jump in on the product side. We’re definitely hitting on it just now that with the phone being such an accessible way to take the interview, we get candidates that are able to complete their interviews that maybe wouldn’t be able to if they had to sit down in front of a laptop and maybe have a video going. So I think that’s one of the strongest differentiators there is that accessibility with the phone and then kind of paired with that is the ability to kind of reduce the bias within that process, too. So not having the video aspect allows candidates to have a more equitable process to go through, and each candidate is being asked all of the same questions. So we leverage a standard interview process or a structured interview process. Those two aspects combined, I think, leads to candidates having kind of a more fair interview process. So I think that’s really one of the ways that we stand out.

George LaRocque: Yeah. So given all that, who are your ideal customers? You mentioned high volume, but I don’t want to make any assumptions of what that means. Do you focus in on particular areas where they’re doing high volume recruiting.

Darrian Mikell: Yes. When we talk about high volume, that means a lot of different things to different people. When I first got started in this world of recruiting, I was recruiting at another tech startup and we were growing pretty fast, but from the CEO and myself to like 70 people on the team and that felt like high volume in terms of the speed of which you’re growing. But when we talk about our clients today, they’re doing hundreds, if not thousands of interviews a month and typically to kind of boil it down, it’s often hourly labor force. We’ve focused in on a couple of different industries, but we see the bigger picture. So healthcare has been really huge for us, retail, call center staffing, these are certain areas that we’ve seen a lot of success with. But as we continue to grow, there’s a lot of industries where they’re hiring in the masses and the phone interview is a common step in that process and unfortunately it hasn’t been solved well humbly until you’ve come along. So excited about that.

George LaRocque: Okay. All right, and let’s get into the deal a little bit. So it sounds like you’re leveraging some pretty cool tech to facilitate this, but it’s an interesting time to raise money right now and you announced it’s a $4.5 million seed round. It’s a good size seed round. Congratulations. What was happening in the market or at qualify that made it the right time to raise?

Darrian Mikell: Yeah, I think a couple of different things. One, when we talk about the market that we’re going after, the industries that we’ve mentioned, these are industries that tend to be or have been either recession proof or recession resistant. And so I think there was optimism as we were going through around and how we were able to talk about the markets that we were going after that resonated with the investors that we were able to bring on and the existing investors that wanted to continue to back us. And to go along with that, we’ve been able to continue seeing growth as a company, so we’ve been able to bring on new clients, our clients have stuck around with us and then we’ve started to bring on much larger clients as well. Part of our strategy last year, and Keenan was a driver of this, was becoming more enterprise ready. So when we talk about people doing hundreds or thousands of hires per year, we wanted to continue to bolster the platform and make sure that it was set up for success for these larger enterprises. So we’ve been able to really prove that out. And I think the round was, I guess a reflection of that.

George LaRocque: Yeah, scale is really important, the higher the volume, the bigger the customers. To your point. So how do you plan to use the funds? What do you have earmarked for this round?

Darrian Mikell: Yeah, being a startup company, some of the typical talk track there on go to market we’ve already started to grow the team, especially on the sales and marketing side. We’re starting to find success and some repeatability in specific ways that we’re going to market. So we want to continue to add field to that fire, but we’re still figuring things out. We’re still learning and wanting to have the funds to be experimental and try new things and figure things out on that front. But then I think a lot of the excitement is around what we plan to do with product as well. I’ll pass it over to Keenan here in a SEC, but I guess for the longest, we’ve built a name up as the phone interview platform, and we’re starting to expand outside of that into some different areas. So that’s been really exciting for us because it’s been part of the vision since the beginning. But yeah. Keenan, you want to touch on any of that?

George LaRocque: Cool.

Keenan Jaenicke: Yeah, happy to. We certainly got our start focusing on the phone screening aspect of the interview process, and we definitely will continue to focus on that. That’s our core focus and product. But we recently have expanded into the scheduling space, and our scheduling product, in terms of how candidates interact with it is very similar. So making sure that continues to feel like the qualified experience, making that really a low friction experience. So the plan there is to continue to grow both the core platform as well as the new scheduling offering and then continuing to look for other areas to innovate. I think scheduling is something that a lot of companies kind of expect when looking at products in our space. I think we’re able to compete at that level now, but we want to continue to innovate it and do more in the space. So plenty more, I think, ahead of us as well.

George LaRocque: Yeah. So is this the scheduling? Once the candidates identified, post the phone screen to go to the next round, the scheduling there is automated or where does that feature fit in the whole process, if you will?

Keenan Jaenicke: Yeah, typically this will be the kind of next round of that follow up interview. Exactly.

George LaRocque: Yeah, that makes sense. It’s such a pain point still in the market. So I’m sure your customers led you there and it’s smart because you’ve got the relationship with the candidate on your, on your platform today and then, you know, they’re comfortable and moving into that scheduling. So that seems like that’s a very logical next step. So that scheduling is out now, right? Am I right about that? I’ve saw it on the website. So it’s available, that exists today.

Keenan Jaenicke: That’s right. Yeah. So I think that officially went live last week. Yeah. So very new and yeah, very recent, and we plan to continue to expand on that product. So what went out just last week is kind of the core version of our scheduling product, but we plan to do quite a bit more.

George LaRocque: There yeah, the candidate experience is still such a hot button. And in the high volume environment, you’ve got a certain amount of time to get someone into a phone screen, get them scheduled for an interview, or you lose them because it’s never just one opportunity that they’re looking at, never just one job, or usually it’s not, I should say. And that feedback that knowing that I’m moving forward, we talk about the black hole in recruiting and that’s where just candidate data just goes to die. And coming back weeks later with an interview doesn’t cut it in high volume recruiting. So, makes a lot of sense. So is that pretty much the roadmap for now? Or is there anything on the product side while you’re talking Keenan that you can share or even just directionally beyond scheduling or anything that you’re thinking about?

Keenan Jaenicke: Yeah, so on the scheduling front, kind of starting there, I guess the candidate experience, like making the scheduling as efficient and as easy as possible is really kind of the core focus, but thinking about ways for recruiters to allow candidates to schedule easier. So the invite process works well, it’s great, but having something where they basically can just share a link so they can schedule kind of outside of maybe the invite process that we have. So kind of extending the product a bit there and then outside of scheduling, we definitely want to take advantage of all of the innovation that’s happening in the AI space right now. We don’t have the intention to have AI rating candidates or making decisions. That’s not kind of where we focus, but helping our users be more kind of efficient within the qualified product. So taking more of kind of an assistive and kind of user centric focus when it comes to AI being really cautious as we look at that type of functionality. Because as I mentioned earlier, reducing bias is certainly one of the things that we believe is important in the process. So introducing functionality that is counter to that is absolutely not something that we want to do. We know that there’s a lot of excitement and capability, but we want to be cautious as we look at that new functionality.

George LaRocque: Yeah, well, that’s a good move, especially as you’re scaling and getting in front of larger customers and working with larger customers. We have a tendency to jump on the big trends in the market, and I’m certainly talking about it and I’m looking at it, but one of the pieces of advice I’m giving employers is you don’t need to rush into this. And it’s about mitigating bias and it’s about security and things like personally identifiable information, having some control there a few months, nobody’s going to get first mover advantage. Right now it feels like that, but your customers will appreciate that you’re being thoughtful about that. So Darian, back to you on this with this raise, I’m curious. I always ask about three constituencies and the first is the customers. As you’ve raised this, is there anything that customers will experience moving forward differently because of the raise or what’s the impact for customers, I guess, is a better way to ask it.

Darrian Mikell: Yeah, I think hopefully it’s just us getting better all around. I think as we’ve grown and matured, so has our offering towards our customers. Both, obviously, the things that Keenan’s mentioned on the product front, our customer success and customer service has already gotten a lot better. Since we’ve been able to continue to add to the team, we’re taking a much more intentional approach, especially right now with everything happening in the market. We want to make sure that we’re taking care of them and then how that translates to us continuing to grow as a business. So I would say, yeah, for sure. On the customer front, they’re getting upgraded product and upgraded attention and support to everything that they’re trying to do.

George LaRocque: Yeah. And I know you’ve mentioned on a couple of different areas, you’re growing the team. So employees are seeing existing employees. It sounds like they’re seeing growth and you’re doing some hiring. Most people don’t think of Indianapolis as like a tech center, but I know that there actually is a healthy HR tech community there. And I know in the B to B space, exact target was there. Right. And ended up being acquired by salesforce. So there’s a lot of talent in your backyard to draw from. Is most of your growth in the US. Right now? I guess from a hiring perspective and a market perspective, that’s where you’re focused, right?

Darrian Mikell: Yeah, I think to both of those questions. So we started off the company being virtual. First look for co founders are based here in the Indianapolis area. And so naturally, I would say I think close to half, if not half, maybe a little more of the team is based here in Indy and then the rest dispersed throughout the country. And then for our go to market efforts, we have the capabilities of supporting clients outside the US. With different translation features, things of that nature. But for our mindset, our focus, we’re really lasered in on the US. Right now in North America. I should say the US. And Canada for the most part.

George LaRocque: I think we’ve talked about where you’re headed with the market, so improving the product, talking to larger customers. So this round will help lead you there. Before we wrap up, is there anything that you wanted to share about the company, the product, the round that I didn’t ask you about?

Darrian Mikell: Good question. Now I would say that we’re just super grateful we’ve been able to build a really great team. We’ve won some awards recently on the employer front, and I think that’s a huge testament to the rest of our team. Obviously, we’ve talked about the co founders, but we have 21 people now, and they’re all firing on all cylinders and making the real things happen. So really grateful for them. And then when it comes to the round, the investors that we brought on have been super supportive, some of them since the beginning of our journey, and some new ones that are already adding a ton of value to what we’re trying to do here at Qualify. So it’s really appreciative and grateful for everyone that’s been a part of this journey.

George LaRocque: That’s great. That’s great. And where can folks go? Learn more about qualify.

Darrian Mikell: Yeah, it’s qualify HR. Qualify is spelled with an I instead of y, but it should be pretty easy to find us there. We’d love for you guys to come check us out. There’s a virtual tour, so you can actually click around and see for yourself what we’re all about.

George LaRocque: Great. Well, Keenan Darian, thank you for coming on Work Tech and telling your story here. I really enjoyed meeting you and learning more about Qualify. Thank you.

Darrian Mikell: Thank you for having me.

Keenan Jaenicke: I appreciate it.

George LaRocque: Yeah. Thanks, everyone, for watching, listening, and we’ll be back soon. Until next time.

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