One week into his new role, Bill Kramer, sat down with the Karat comms team to talk about accelerating growth, building the Karat brand, growing Interview Engineering as a category, and changing companies during a global pandemic.
Gordie: Bill, welcome to Karat. Thank you for taking the time to dive right into a Q&A in just your second week on the job! How’s it going so far?
Bill: Thank you, Gordie! It’s been a pleasure getting to know everyone. The team’s commitment to Karat’s mission to make every interview predictive, fair, and enjoyable has been really impressive.
That really is something that stood out from my very first interaction. There’s talk everywhere about “mission-driven” companies and purpose. A lot of times that talk is just feel-good BS, but at Karat it’s a very real, authentic element. That’s a rare thing.
Gordie: Totally agree. The mission was a big draw for me when I joined. It sounds like you already started to answer this, but I wanted to lead with the big Q we ask every new hire: why Karat?
Bill: In my first conversation with Karat, Meagan Murray, Global Head of Talent Acquisition gave me the elevator pitch. And I had this ah-ha moment, “of course Interview Engineering is the approach that companies should have been using all along for technical hiring.” It’s something that seems so obvious in hindsight.
The economic value and developer productivity that Karat can unlock is tremendous, and the ROI of our solution is clear. It’s a massive market opportunity and we can really make an impact at the macro-level.
But what’s also really appealing is the micro-opportunity to have a tangible and positive impact on the individual lives of software engineers and candidates. When we start talking about reducing false negatives and reducing bias and getting qualified candidates more shots on goal–especially candidates in under-represented groups or from non-traditional backgrounds who might otherwise not get that shot–that’s super inspiring. I like that I can think about the big-picture impact at the same time as the individual opportunities for people to build careers.
And the company mission and culture that Karat’s co-founders, Mo and Jeff, have created is very compelling. I feel honored to be a part of it.
Gordie: Did you have any second thoughts about leaving such a highly-regarded company for a startup during a pretty extreme period of economic uncertainty?
Bill: I didn’t, although I’m pretty sure my wife did.
Gordie: Ha, I remember having a similar conversation last year, and that was before the whole global pandemic hit . . . but we’ll come back to that.
Bill: Microsoft is a great organization. It’s as stable as they come from a financial standpoint and is still rapidly growing and innovating. And their earnings call yesterday was incredible. Most startups are risky, of course. Most ultimately fail. In an environment of economic uncertainty like this, that risk is even greater.
The reason I felt so confident with Karat is that the Karat solution adds so much value regardless of the macro-economic environment.
Something that shakes the entire economy like COVID-19 hits sectors differently. Some are seeing a slowdown, but some are growing and hiring aggressively. There’s still a significant market opportunity, and Karat is in a position to help clients innovate the way they hire during a time where things are changing on a weekly, even daily, basis.
Another big factor for me was the quality of the VCs and clients behind Karat.
I was impressed by the Series B round last year, led by Tiger Global, and the fact that they came to Karat. Karat wasn’t actively looking to do another round, but Tiger heard about Karat from our clients and pursued the company proactively, seeing the long-term growth potential. That’s powerful and made it an easier decision to jump on the opportunity. We’re building Karat for the long-term.
Gordie: You mentioned earlier that Karat had identified a fundamental problem that engineering teams are facing, and when we talk about Interview Engineering, we do it at the category level. So in your experience, what does it take to create a category?
Bill: Great question! Category creation isn’t something that one gets to do often in a career. The fact that Karat’s entire business starts with the “why,” is definitely a critical component. You need a unique and strong POV that frames the problem that customers perhaps don’t even realize they have, and why your solution is needed. Mo and Jeff very clearly identified the problem that needs to be solved when they started Karat.
Most technical interviews suck. They suck because they’re not structured in a way that’s predictive, developers aren’t trained to interview well, every hour spent interviewing is time not spent building and shipping products, and engineering groups just don’t have the capacity in-house to meet their hiring goals. The process is fundamentally flawed. To solve the problem, interviewing needs to be treated with the same rigor as any other engineering discipline. Hence, Interview Engineering.
Karat has a clear vision for the future. There’s a clear before and after for clients. It’s a unique and compelling solution to the problem. So the first step is covered!
The next step is mobilizing the company and rallying around that focus. We need to all be evangelists for Interview Engineering. Again, the great thing about Karat is that everyone is passionate about the mission.
So what’s marketing’s role? It’s our job to tell the right stories that articulate the problem and the solution in a compelling way. We’ve got great ROI data to share, but that’s not enough. We have to inspire. We have to create moments of insight, feelings of connection, stories of achievement. To build and share pride in what our company, clients, Interview Engineers, and candidates are able to accomplish. Compelling stories can change behaviors. That’s where we’re at today, telling those inspiring stories at both the macro and micro level.
In terms of the challenges and opportunities I see ahead, the biggest one is that Karat doesn’t get to declare a category on its own. We need 3rd party validation. It’s so important to bring along our key stakeholders like engineering and HR leaders, industry analysts, D&I advocates, and even candidates to reinforce the category.
The last ingredient for true category creation is competitors. Right now, Karat is a unique solution. There are alternative approaches, but nothing that matches the overall value and strategic approach that Karat brings. I’m excited about how quickly our world is going to change once people broadly recognize the value of Interview Engineering.
Gordie: What previous experience has helped prepare you for that challenge?
Bill: One common thread in my previous roles and at Microsoft was that I always got to spend a lot of time talking about talent and the challenge of finding and hiring the right people. There’s a lot of C-level energy focused on questions like, “how are we going to hire the talent we need to execute our vision for growth, complete our digital transformation, enter new markets, or adopt the latest technologies?” With software engineering talent especially, there’s an acute shortage. It’s a problem that every company in the world is either facing or going to face.
Gordie: You started your career on the engineering and product side before transitioning to marketing. How does that influence your approach at Karat?
Bill: That’s right. I started out as a UX designer, moved into product management, then product marketing, and finally into general marketing (with some time in sales along the way). That experience gave me a broad operational view of how tech companies function, which helps me understand how technologists, engineers, and engineering leaders think about their jobs and their people.
I draw from my product background when I’m geeking out on how stuff works, how stuff is built, and how solutions can be abstracted to adapt to changing use cases. That will help inform how we’ll communicate to engineering leaders to make sure the solution really resonates with them, in their language.
Gordie: What can Karat do to make Interview Engineering even more valuable to companies hiring software engineers?
Bill: One thing that is deeply ingrained in the Karat DNA is that we are devoted to partnering with our customers and providing them with value based on not just where they are, but where they are going.
We can actually partner with clients to co-create that future together. At this point, Karat has completed more than 70,000 technical interviews, and our platform combined with ATS data gives us unique insights that help our clients up their game. We have deep expertise on how to get the best hiring signal, how companies can improve diversity and inclusion, and create higher-performing teams, how to quickly calibrate interview structures aligned to their hiring bar–even how they can raise their bar and still meet hiring targets.
We’re going to lean into the data and tap even deeper into that value to develop new offerings, services, and capabilities that benefit both clients and the candidates.
What’s going to be key is never losing sight of that human-centered approach that makes Karat special. That combination of data and technology, mixed with Karat’s human-centered principles is what sets Karat apart from the alternatives of business as usual, or automated screening tests with poor predictiveness and lots of false negatives. The Karat solution is inclusive as opposed to alternatives designed to weed out or exclude, and that’s a huge differentiator. Understanding hiring, jobs, clients, and candidates at the human level makes Karat a strategic partner. We can create a true competitive advantage for our customers.
Gordie: Switching gears a bit. You’re joining a new company during a global pandemic. So . . . that’s different, right? What hobbies have you taken up in the stay-at-home world?
Bill: I have done more puzzles in the last two months than I have in my lifetime. Puzzles are dangerous. They’re weirdly addicting.
Also, my guitar playing has improved more over the last month than over the past thirty years. I’ve been playing a lot more and really enjoying it.
Gordie: What food are you eating a lot of now that you might never eat again?
Bill: We’ve been ordering in a lot from local restaurants here in Edmonds. That industry has been hit so hard, and it’s a tough business even in the best times. We’ve ordered more pizza and Thai food than I care to admit . . . but I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of either of them.
Ask me again in another month, though.
Gordie: Fair enough. Last COVID-question. Earlier this week we shared some best practices for remote onboarding. How are we doing?
Bill: My remote onboarding has been an awesome experience from the start. The first part happened before day-1 when a Karat swag pack arrived on my doorstep. I got the mug and the socks and a handwritten note, welcoming me to the team. That kind of surprise-and-delight experience really set the tone for how human-centered Karat onboarding would be.
A couple of days later my home office setup arrived via FedEx and I had my IT and HR onboardings. In my first week, I got to have more 1:1s and more get-to-know-you meetings than I would have expected in-person. That human-centered and relationship-driven approach has been refreshing.
What I’m experiencing is that we’re all dropping that dividing line between the work persona and home persona. It allows people to present their whole self and show the humanity behind the normal work-facade. I think I’ve actually bonded with people more quickly. In some ways, that’s easier to do when my four-year-old crashes a Zoom meeting than it is in a work lunch or even a team happy hour. That’s ultimately going to make the company stronger by building trust and empathy that will help us work more effectively together, and will deepen personal relationships with co-workers more than otherwise might.
Gordie: Anything else the Karat team and clients should know about you?
Bill: I welcome everyone in the Karat ecosystem to reach out to me. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. I want to talk to every customer and get to know our community of Interview Engineers. I want to encourage anyone who has a relationship with Karat to talk to me about their experience and how we can make it even better.
If you’re an existing customer, what do you wish you had known about us before buying? What kinds of insights can you provide to help make us a better servant to you? What stories do you have to share?
Obviously, as a marketer, I love to tell stories, but I love hearing them even more. There are so many journeys and perspectives to explore, and every story we hear is an opportunity to learn and grow.