Member Spotlight: Rennie Haylock
Every founder has a motivation for their business but sometimes these motivations can be clouded with the abundance of variables and sacrifices that come into play. When it comes to decision making, it can be hard to know what route is most effective for the business. Rennie Haylock, the founder of Huntr, a site and mobile app where you can search and track jobs, found himself in a position where his road was divided into two different paths. At the end of the day, he was able to devise a business model that was profitable, but most importantly, maintained his mission: to build great products for job seekers.
What is Huntr?
“Huntr is a software tool that helps job seekers organize their job search. A lot of people use spreadsheets to do that; Huntr wants to be a better replacement of that spreadsheet. You can intuitively see where you are standing in your job search at any point of time. You can keep track of your upcoming tasks (including interviews) and keep a list of contacts (hiring managers, recruiters, interviewers - you can keep all their details in one place)...”
Huntr’s main customer base are universities and bootcamps, both of which work with large communities of job seekers. There is also a free version of the product which allows users to search and log job opportunities with some limited functionalities.
Do job seekers have to invest a lot of money to use the Huntr platform?
“The free tier gets you a long way… it's a lot of students in college that are using the tool or people looking for their first opportunity. I really wanted to offer something accessible to any person. There is a free version and you can track up to 40 opportunities and you can keep track of your activities. You don’t get access to certain features like contact management and job search metrics. But there is a free version that is very useful even without needing to upgrade”.
What inspired you to start Huntr?
“I think every person has their own motivation for starting a business… mine was never to start a business to be honest. I’ve always been someone that loved design and building technology products, specifically software”.
Before he started Huntr, Rennie Haylock worked as a software engineer at a startup in Vancouver. Huntr, coded into existence at a Hackathon event, first started as a recreational project. After putting the project aside for a few years, Haylock revisited his web application and perfected it until it was made public. On Product Hunt, a popular tech software site, Huntr debuted its way up to #1 product of the day. Through that ranking, his product got 50,000 page views and more than 5,000 subscriptions within its first two weeks.
Did you have any fears going into your entrepreneurial journey?
“It was a very gradual change going from a full-time job to Huntr. I guess there was some fear when I actually quit my job to do Huntr full time and that was 8 months after that launch on Product Hunt… it was a scary but manageable risk…. I had my savings and I was already making a little bit of money from Huntr”.
While some entrepreneurs dive head first into their venture, which can be a hit or miss at times, Haylock considered his options and thought about the worst case scenario. He knew his savings could last him a year and if his venture did not work out, he could always return back to software engineering full-time, a job that is always in demand.
Due to the global economic crisis during the pandemic, how did the rise of COVID-19 affect your venture?
“There's two ways to answer this question. From the business side, it hasn’t really affected Huntr in any negative way; if anything, there were a lot more people looking to switch their careers. There’s a lot of people that are enticed by the remote working trend going on and are looking for opportunities in tech companies and Huntr is a great tool for when you want to look for a job. From that side, there’s been a lot of growth.
Since the start of the pandemic, more than ⅓ of US workers have lost their jobs or switched employers (Tanzi, 2021). During the pandemic, Huntr became a tool to help people explore new career options, an unexpected dilemma for many. While Huntr did experience growth in users, there were still difficulties that remained along the way in Rennie’s role as the only employee at his company.
“On the other side, I am still a single-person company even today. I’m actually looking for my first hire now. It’s been hard, on a more personal level to run the business through a pandemic and do it alone… it’s definitely been challenging. But things are getting so much better and I go to WeWork. I was in WeWork labs before everything started, which was WeWork’s incubator program, and then that was really great. Then the pandemic hit and I started working from home”.
What have you learned along the way in your entrepreneurship journey?
“In practical terms, I’ve learned a lot of different things. As an example, I’m hiring now and I’ve never hired anybody. Throughout different points in the startup, you have to look at the problem you have, face it head on, learn as much as possible about the problem, and then just make the jump… I would say use your resources out there. You can literally google any problem you have out there as a startup and find a great solution for it”.
Throughout his startup journey, like most founders, Rennie had to learn how to be every department involved in business operations. More recently, he’s taken on the role of human resources as he began the hiring process.
“With hiring, I knew nothing about hiring and suddenly you need to learn about ‘what benefits do people want?’ and ‘how do you offer a 401k - what are different types of 401k you can offer?’. Startup life is filled with those moments where you’re doing a thousand different things”.
He explained that using resources such as Y-Combinator’s Startup School articles has helped him with many of his questions along the way. Rennie also made company with the WeWork Labs community during a time where Labs had an in-person presence. “Labs was a great place to meet other founders and had great resources”. While he did not have a human resources consultant or internal technical support to help him with the different hats he wore in his business, digital resources gave him the knowledge and understanding that he needed to get those jobs done.
What were other difficulties or tough decisions you have come across?
“It’s easy to forget why you got into it initially because those dollar signs are all over the place. For me, I just wanted to build a great product that helped job seekers stay organized. There's this preconceived notion that startup success equals raising funds and IPO. It’s definitely a certain type of success but it’s really up to you to build the company you want to build; if that's the company you want to build there's absolutely nothing wrong with that”.
While some companies do prioritize raising funds to achieve their goals, money was not Haylock’s main motivation or mission for his business. At a certain point in time, Rennie could have created a business model that involves capitalizing off of users.
“At a certain point in time there was the opportunity to create a business model where I could have sold my user’s data… there's many companies out there that would pay a lot of money to understand what my users are doing. But that would mean that I would have to pivot my company to doing something that I don’t enjoy doing”.
His main goal was to create a well-designed and intuitive product for his end-user: job seekers. He ultimately decided to not go down the selling user data route and alternatively strategized a model that supported his mission: to build great products for job seekers. Through selling the enterprise version of his product to educational institutions, Rennie was able to devise a business model that was profitable but also allowed him to prioritize his end user. Thanks to his new model, “the better the product is for the job seeker, the better the product is for the enterprise [his customer]”.
“Stick to your guns in terms of what you’re passionate about because if that’s not there, then going through all the stuff you have to go through as a founder is going to be too hard and you’re going to lose motivation”.
Rennie managed to not lose sight of his core mission and was still able to strategize a profitable business. In doing this, he was able to choose a business model that entertained his passion and kept him inspired. In the future, he hopes to have a team of developers and sales people that will also uphold his mission in all that they do as a company. Based on Rennie’s story, it is clear that values do not have to be compromised in order to turn a profit as long as alternate routes are taken into heavy consideration.
Tanzi, Alex, and Bloomberg. “A New Study Highlights That One in Three U.S. Workers Changed or Lost Jobs in the Past Year.” Fortune, Fortune, 15 May 2021, fortune.com/2021/05/14/us-workers-changing-jobs-covid-pandemic-workforce/.