We had an interesting chat with Mr. “Caleb Philippi”, Co-Founder of the US based start-up “TheBriefcase”
Below is the interview we conducted with him:
1- What is it exactly that you do and what your start-up is all about?
Briefcase provides colleges with a tool that exposes students to all jobs relevant to their individual career paths, while maintaining a clean, easy to use platform. The Briefcase platform also gives school administration a way to monitor student experiences and gain valuable insight into their students’ career aspirations through understandable metrics.
2-When has your startup been founded? And what stage is your startup currently at?
Briefcase was founded in March 2013, and went through SparkLabKC, a startup accelerator in Kansas City, Missouri. While a part of SparkLabKC, Briefcase was able to get their first seed funding from Digital Sandbox, NelNet Inc., Dundee Venture Capital Inc., Saturday Capital LLC, and angel investor Jon Bentz. Currently, Briefcase is in a full product ready stage.
3- What is your startup’s business model and how does it work?
We charge institutes a licensing fee as a yearly recurring charge (YRC). The license fee is tiered based off of an institutes enrollment numbers. Employers will be able to post jobs to a specific institute at no cost; however, we will upcharge them for the ability to post to multiple institutes with one posting. We give employers access to thousands of students, easy account creation for validated employers and require minimal data entry.
4-How did your team meet? And who in your team does what?
Briefcase was founded by cousins, Nick Mallare, and Caleb Phillippi. Nick runs the technology side of the product, while Caleb runs the sales team. They came together to create a product they and their friends could have used while in college applying to jobs.
Aside from Nick and Caleb, the rest of the team is made up of Beshoy Girgis, Senior Software Engineer, Jackie Emory, Marketing Lead and Alex Benson, Director of User Experience.
5- What, exactly, makes you different from existing options, what will make your product and/or service stand out in the marketplace? In other words what’s unique about you and what’s new about what you make?
Briefcase is a student-first, native app and responsive design mobile platform. We provide one-click application to validated, nationwide, unique, listed and unlisted jobs from Applicant Tracking Systems (ATSs) and specialty job boards. Career Service Departments (CSDs) get access to data on their students’ decisions, giving schools a social, data-focused platform to reach their students where they live. We assist schools in marketing Briefcase to their students, and schools can use Briefcase to help increase event attendance and improve placement.
6- What is your growth like? And what milestones has your startup achieved so far?
We launched a pilot program in the spring of 2014 with four universities, the Trulaske College of Business at the University of Missouri-Columbia, the Helzberg School of Management at Rockhurst University, the Henry W. Bloch School of Management at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and Park University.
This fall, we have launched Briefcase at the following universities: Helzberg School of Management at Rockhurst University, University of Missouri-Kansas City, Park University, Kauffman Scholars Inc., Southwestern Christian University. Methodist University is the next university we plan to launch with. We are launching our platform to schools all over the country (Midwest focus) for the 2015/2016 school year.
7- Who are your competitors? And what is your start-up’s competitive advantage over them?
CSO and Symplicity are the major players. They make up around 50 percent of the market share. Symplicity and CSO are both much older companies, with much older technologies. Briefcase provides tomorrow’s technology for students to use today in their job search. By focusing on the student user experience we are able to get a better user engagement than our competitors. Taking the simple, yet powerful student platform we are able to create a system that employers love to use. Giving us a distinct advantage over CSO and Symplicity, both who receive low student engagement and reluctant employer engagement.
Experience.com filed for bankruptcy on April 29th 2014, and were promptly bought out by Symplicity. Experience customers are either dropping experience or switching to the more expensive Symplicity.
JobDash and Handshake are both early stage start-up companies approaching Career Services technology from a different perspective.
8- What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?
The major challenges facing CSDs is that their students’ are utilizing current technology to gain employment after college. Current competitors do not place an emphasis on retaining student users, which results in students going to other job seeker-focused resources. Briefcase’s student friendly platform drives traffic into CSDs, and returns easy to digest data on placement back to the CSDs.
9-What are the key things about your field that outsiders don’t understand?
The industry as a whole for CSDs and the established companies that serve them. Are far behind the curve in implementing and utilizing technology available to them. While the world is becoming more digital and more social, CSD focused companies are slow to embrace these new technologies to their advantage. There is a large opportunity for several companies to help bring CSDs job search support into the bleeding edge of technology.
10-Why are you going to succeed?
We take a complex and time burdened process (job search), and make it easy for students. Searching for a job search is a full-time job, until a native app came along that suggested jobs you want to apply to, and pulls from jobs you can’t find online. The app allows you to click apply once, and not be redirected to another company’s website. That is how we take a complex process, the job search, and make it simple.
11-If your startup succeeds, what additional areas might you be able to expand into?
When we succeed in helping CSDs place students at a consistent and high level. We will open a paid version of the app to the general public, going B2C with our platform. With an emphasis of becoming more social all the time, we will continue to release features to help job seekers leverage their networks and tap into the unlisted job market.
12-Why did you choose this idea and concept to build your start-up based on?
The idea came from Nick and Caleb’s experiences as college students looking for jobs. Then upon doing some research into what technologies schools offer their students, we realized a huge gap in mobile technology offerings and platforms utilizing technology to simplify students and CSDs lives.
13-What have you learned so far from launching your idea?
Having a set strategic game plan, in writing that you can judge success and failures by is key. Although being able to be flexible and change your preconceived notions to the market or your users is pivotal. Being able to pivot your strategic plan to better fit your users and customers is important, but being able to understand when you need to pivot, and when you need to stay the course is imperative. That comes from identifying what you do best, what you want to do best, and staying the course, with minor deviations and tweaks here and there. Once you stray from your company’s core mission, you start to lose focus and ultimately traction. Be amazing at one thing, instead of trying to be good (or please everyone) at everything.
14- Six months from now, what’s going to be your biggest problem?
Our biggest challenge will continue to be prioritizing development projects. With limited tech talent, their time is always extremely important. Making the strategic decisions on what they need to work on at any given time will always be one of our biggest challenges. Another challenge that is specific to our industry is acquiring users. College students are one of the hardest markets to market to. We have developed some pretty great ways to reach them so far and continue to disrupt our current processes. It also helps that we give them a tool that helps them make money.
15- What’s the benefit for the customer/user?
Briefcase is a student-first, mobile platform. This allows students on our platform to apply for jobs anywhere, anytime from any device. With the release of our Android and iPhone apps later this fall, students will be able to apply to jobs even easier. Anything that simplifies the job search and application process for college students is a win.
For Career Services, they are able to see detailed analytics on their students decisions, helping them provide information on where their students are being placed in the workforce. These data analytics are very important with the soon to be instated Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.
Because Briefcase is a small team, we are devoted to customer service and user experience. We are able to focus on our clients and provide any help and guidance needed. We also want to see these students succeed; we’re very passionate about our work and product.
16-How did customers / users find out about you?
We work with the school to develop co-branding marketing materials that the school distributes via social media and on campus means (flyers, etc). We also work with student groups and student newspapers at our pilot programs. Word of mouth marketing is definitely the most effective marketing at the college level. With our native app coming out this fall, it will really help students to get access quickly to the platform.
17-Who are your current customers / users? Who are your target customers / users?
Our current users are students at the Helzberg School of Management at Rockhurst University, the Henry W. Bloch School of Management at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Park University, Kauffman Scholars Inc., and Southwestern Christian University.
Briefcase’s 2014 target market are large colleges, specifically the 128 FBS institutions.
18-Where do new customers / users come from and what makes new customers/users try you?
We target college executives and CSD Directors to share our product opportunities with. Along with the standard marketing strategies (SEO, blogging, etc.), we validate sales prospects by allowing target schools to enroll a small percentage of students on the platform for free. Through organic and student marketing on campus, we allow a limited amount of students to fully access the platform. Colleges with high user activity rates make up our qualified sales leads. This also allows us to reach a large amount of students and create “buzz” on campus before a sales rep talks to anyone at the school.
19- What do your customers / users say about your product and/or service?
The user feedback from our pilot program in the spring of 2014 was that we had succeeded at creating a student focused simple platform. Our users love the user experience and the one-click application on a mobile platform. Our pilot program also led to finding better quality jobs (ATS) and the creation of our native app.
20-How are you going to scale?
Being a product that operates in the cloud, from a tech perspective scaling is fast and easy. From a sales perspective, we are concentrating the majority of our sales efforts in the Midwest. Growth in the CSs field is largely based on word of mouth. Once we reach what we consider a good enough base of Midwest clients we will expand towards each coastline. Once we have enough social and network features for users, we will use our college users that have gone alumni to help user adoption spread quickly for our B2C paid app.
21-What’s the biggest missing feature? The one thing customers/users keep asking for?
The biggest missing feature is data analytic reporting as well as other administrative features for schools (career fair management, native messaging). We are currently focused on getting more quality jobs on the platform and improving the user experience as much as possible.
22-Are you going to internationalize? And if yes how are you planning to expand your start-up’s operations accordingly?
At this time, we are not going to internationalize and don’t see that happening anytime soon. Currently we have the team members we need and with our clients being colleges in the United States, internationalizing would not make sense for us right now.
23-How big do you think you can get? Why? And how you are planning to achieve your goals?
We plan to grow the company and exit within the 5-7 year range. A 100 million in revenue is a milestone that we throw around often. Currently it seems like a daunting task but there is money to be had in the industry of job search. We think we can easily acquire 10 percent of the CSD marketplace in the next 3 years which would put us near 3+ million in revenue (at current industry price averages). As we grow we will continue to offer fermium type recruiting services to employers that post their jobs with us. The hiring and recruiting industry is a 2+ billion dollar venture. We believe we can provide a service to employers wanting to post their jobs to 100 percent matched college students directly to their phone, at a level we can capitalize on revenue opportunities easily. Our biggest revenue potential is with employers by far, although we have several different opportunities to monetize our product if we can acquire a continually refreshing user base of students entering the labor force every year.
24-Are you looking to hire a new workforce? And if yes, what job vacancies do you currently offer and where can potential applicants contact you at?
We currently are not actively seeking new employees. Although we always have our eyes open for students that are looking to gain some experience towards their prospective career field. Developers/Software engineers or marketers/content writers are always welcome.
25-Are you looking for partnership opportunities or funding from Venture Capitals (VC) or other funding sources? Or your business is self-sustainable? And if the first option applies where can potential partners / investors contact you at?
We are looking for a partnership or funding opportunity to help speed up our product roadmap and our scaling. Though we are only looking for funding from people who are familiar with our space and are passionate about disrupting the process and efficiency with which college students get jobs. Potential partners / investors can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
26-What advice do you have for fresh entrepreneurs?
Do one thing better than anyone else. Grow from there.