On a recent episode of KPCB’s Ventured podcast, my partner Randy Komisar and I discussed how we evaluate startup pitches for investment.
While there are a lot of different factors to consider, we both agreed that one of the most important (and also underlooked) questions that an entrepreneur can answer for investors is why they’ve started their company. Why are they passionate about this particular opportunity, and why is the pursuit of it important for both them and the world?
Last fall, I met Garrett Lord, Scott Ringwelski, and Ben Christensen, who founded a new career platform for college students called Handshake. They were preparing to raise a Series A financing round and had eye-catching business growth that got the attention of many investors. In one year, Handshake added 60 new school partnerships (including Stanford, Cornell, Wake Forest, University of Chicago, University of Michigan and many more), 300,000 new registered students, 35,000 new registered employers (including 80% of the Fortune 100 companies), and over 300k job applications (60% of which are for full time positions). But what was most memorable — and why KPCB became so interested in working with them — is the story behind why they started Handshake.
Garrett, Scott, and Ben are from Michigan Tech, an engineering school in the far reaches of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Surrounded by more than 200 inches of annual snowfall and an eight-hour drive from any major city, it’s not a surprise that many employers outside of the Midwest don’t actively recruit at Michigan Tech. But they should because there are great students there that have a lot to offer.
Garrett was particularly frustrated about the difficulty Michigan Tech engineering students faced in getting in the door at top tech companies. So after hustling nonstop to get a Silicon Valley internship of his own, he took matters into his own hands and started personally brokering intros for his classmates to Bay Area companies, earning $60k in referral bonuses in less than one year and paying his way through college. Encouraged by the impact one person could make at one campus, Garrett, Scott, and Ben formed Handshake to transform university recruiting for the 20 million higher education student across the country.
Handshake is connecting students, universities, and employers together into a nationwide college career network to tackle the $4 billion college recruiting market. Schools that offer Handshake are seeing a strong increase in the number of available jobs to students: 3x more than before Handshake at some schools. This increased diversity of jobs helps lead to significantly higher student engagement in the recruiting process: engagement is up as much as 2x at many schools. Students have a better chance of choosing the right careers to match their passions, employers can find the right talent for their businesses, and universities can connect with the next generation of industry professionals. And in the process, Handshake has a chance of democratizing access to the best opportunities for everyone, no matter where they go to school or who they know.
That’s an ambitious vision that’s going to take time, hard work, and persistence to achieve, which brings us to our “why” here are KPCB — we love backing great entrepreneurs tackling big challenges to improve the world.
We’re excited to lead a Series A investment in Handshake and partner with them on their exciting journey for years to come. Welcome Garrett, Scott, and Ben to the KPCB family!
Now that you’ve had the time to consider the Handshake story, what would you most like to see the network deliver?