Rapid Scaling: How Jo Avent is Helping Companies Find the Talent They Need to Grow

The Crunchbase “Female Founder Series,” is a series of stories, Q&As, and thought-leadership pieces from glass-ceiling-smashers who overcame the odds, raised funding, and are now leading successful companies.

Jo Avent, co-founder and Chief Strategy Office of TalentWall, is transforming the way companies hire.

The idea for the company began with Jo’s experience leading recruitment for a rapidly growing company, when she struggled to fulfill hiring goals on a tight timeline. After learning how many others found themselves with the same problem, her company was born. TalentWall combines visual candidate management with beautiful, automated analytics dashboards to save recruiting teams time and speed up the hiring process.

We asked Jo about how her company is blazing a new path in the industry—from customer acquisition, to servicing customers, to hiring herself—and the lessons she’s learned along the way.


Q: Tell us the story behind your company’s founding: What led you to start this business?

A: Before TalentWall, I was working for a software consulting company which had been in a state of almost perma-hypergrowth and had recently been promoted to lead the recruiting team. With a brand new team and dizzying hiring goals we couldn’t afford to wait two or three months to know whether our strategy was working. 

Inspired by what I’d seen after working on successful Agile software teams, I knew we needed much faster feedback loops, better candidate pipeline visibility, and improved team collaboration. After my teammate went on to lead tech recruiting at a NY startup—only to find the same problem there—we realized that it was a widespread issue. We knew we needed to build something visual, easy to configure, and automated and got to work. 


Q: What are some of the most meaningful impacts your company has had to date? 

A: A lack of data transparency means companies have a really hard time trying to answer key questions like: What’s our rate of hiring? Which roles are at the highest risk of not getting filled? What’s our conversion rate at each stage? All really important questions when you are scaling quickly. Often getting this required information is a head-bangingly frustrating and time consuming task: exporting data, cleaning data, and creating pivot tables and charts every single month—sometimes weekly or even daily! With TalentWall, you can have complex analytics in beautiful charts ready in minutes and fully shareable. No need for expensive BI tools or being reliant on a data scientist for your answers. We’ve enabled rapid scaling at some of the world’s fastest growing companies, reduced times to hire, given time back to busy hiring managers, and saved recruiting leaders from hours of tedious report creation.

With the arrival of COVID, we’ve been able to impact companies in two different ways. Firstly, for teams who’ve now transitioned to remote work and are navigating a new communication overhead, having TalentWall as a visual overview of all things recruiting is a game changer in staying connected and on task. Secondly, for companies who are still hiring, but with a scaled back recruiting team, the increased efficiency afforded by TalentWall has meant they’re still able to hit their hiring numbers despite being leaner.


Q: In what ways do you think differently about your industry than others do? In what ways are you disrupting the industry?

A: Funnily enough, there aren’t many recruiting tools that have been built by recruiters. Our different perspective has impacted not only the product, but also our approach to customer support. A big part of our philosophy is to give recruiting teams the tools to move fast and then get out of their way. Inevitably though, customer questions, and feedback, and even the occasional bug come up. So while other platforms are trying to save costs and reduce live help, we have embraced it. 

Responding to customer questions ASAP is key, and with our background in recruiting, we see ourselves almost as an extension of our customers’ teams. The best recruiters are the best customer service representatives: they follow up with candidates quickly, address their concerns, and know they are representing their companies. With our hands-on support, we’ve gained valuable feedback about features, how our onboarding is going, UX issues, quick bug escalation, as well as deepened customer relationships. All of this allows us to build a better product and retain our customers.


Q: What was one unexpected hurdle or challenge you faced when getting started?

A: Coming up in the tech startup world, I’d never worked with a formal procurement department, so definitely learning how to navigate enterprise level procurement processes was a hurdle at first. It is pretty opaque from the outside, we’ve needed to learn a lot around time frames (much longer!), how to create SLAs, what type of security and data policies and procedures are needed, and how to get paid! We’ve gradually mastered jumping through these hoops as we’ve scaled up from SMB customers—it’s been a learning curve.


Q: What has worked for you in terms of customer acquisition? What hasn’t worked?

A: I think the key is to identify your hook and then lead with that. The very nature of TalentWall being a visual tool has given us a big advantage in email marketing campaigns. We don’t need to spend a ton of time on wordy feature descriptions when we can just share a couple of screenshots of exactly the type of reports and analytics recruiters have been crying out for. We see the same thing when we’re doing live demos and recruiters see the tool for the first time: the recognition is immediate—a real lightbulb going off moment. 

Email marketing has its limits, which is where our existing networks come in. Once a recruiter or hiring manager has used TalentWall, they want to keep on using it. When they switch jobs, they’ll bring us with them to their new company. My background as a recruiter means that cultivating and nurturing relationships is second nature. Staying connected with people and keeping up those connections has been invaluable.


Q: What’s been the #1 lesson you’ve learned about hiring since you started your company?

A: After years of hiring really brilliant people for other companies and many contractors for TalentWall, we just took the plunge to hire our first permanent role. I was surprised at how different it was to hire for a company that I was building! Before we hired this person, we took time to understand the rhythm and flow of our business, what we could use contractors for, and what we could get by without, or by using a tool. As founders, we do a little bit of everything, and that feels normal. When you hire someone, you have to be clear about the role and the culture you are inviting them into. When we finally took the plunge to hire that person, we made time to look for diversity, took references, and made an onboarding plan to set them up for success. 


Q: What is one challenge you have faced as a female founder? What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs in a similar situation?

A: Definitely a feeling of being “other” in all directions. As a founder, I feel like I stick out among other founders who are usually men. And then friends and family, while supportive, don’t have similar experiences to share war stories. It can feel isolating at times! My co-founder relationships have been invaluable, as have the communities I’ve found locally and online, like Dreamers and Doers. A well-chosen co-founder or two can mitigate some of these feelings and joining some of the networks available really helps. 


Q: Which books, podcasts, educational programs, or other resources have been most helpful to you since starting your company? 

A: Although I read everything from the British Problems subreddit to Harvard Business Review, I try to stay connected with two communities: the startup and recruiting communites. Content from FirstRound and NFX is routinely useful and actionable for founders. For recruiting industry specific resources, I turn to Hung Lee’s Recruiting Brainfood Newsletter and the thoughtful content from Greenhouse


Q: What advice would you give someone starting out on the journey you’re on?

A: Get ready to wear a ton of hats! As a first-time founder, whatever your background is, you’ll be doing a wide assortment of things you’ve never done before. All of the product development, contracts, invoicing, marketing, customer success, financial modelling, sales, QA testing—suddenly that’s you. It can be quite overwhelming at times, and frustrating that there’s only so much you can do and if you’re doing one thing you’re not doing another thing that might be just as important. My advice is to automate as much as you can and spend money on tools so you can focus your own time on the biggest value add. And, when you’re ready to start scaling your team, contact us at TalentWall.

Dreamers & Doers is a private collective which amplifies the entrepreneurial pursuits of extraordinary womxn through high-impact resources, community and mutual support. It is supported by a global ecosystem of 30,000 womxn. Learn more about Dreamers & Doers and sign up for their monthly carefully curated list of top career and entrepreneurial resources.

  • Originally published September 16, 2020, updated September 21, 2020