October 1, 2011

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Article

From the Ground Up

A Small Tech Firm Bootstraps its Way to Success

Peri Kinder

October 1, 2011

In November 2006, unemployment in Utah hit a record low of 2.5 percent. Everyone was happy, except for HR executives trying to locate qualified applicants for their job postings. Finding people to fill technology and engineering positions was difficult and often involved national searches.

Fast-forward five years and Utah’s unemployment rate hovers around 7.4 percent—and HR executives now have more applications, resumes and job seekers than they can keep track of.

iApplicants, a job candidate tracking system, is intended to solve both of those problems. The company was founded by Ryan Kohler in 2006, when employers were scrambling for workers. His software platform helped these companies find qualified applicants from all over the country. And now that HR departments have more applicants than positions, the iApplicants program helps companies organize and track each application.

Without venture capital or investors backing his company, Kohler bootstrapped iApplicants from a home-based business into a thriving tech firm. And along the way, he discovered some strategies for nurturing and growing a solid business.

Find a Niche
From the start, Kohler targeted iApplicants to small and mid-size businesses, letting larger applicant programs deal with the big companies. The company now works with more than 1,000 clients nationwide and continues to expand every month.

“There are lots of different providers who do what we do, but they’ve focused on the higher companies with 2,000 to 5,000 employees,” Kohler says. “We reach out to the smaller employers, the ones that might still be advertising their jobs in the newspaper—which is almost unheard of. They might have 25 to 50 employees or up to 500 or 1,000, but we attract them because they haven’t been able to manage their applications.”

Listen to Clients
With no outside funding, Kohler started by using part-time programmers, utilizing resellers and not spending much money on marketing. The company built out to meet demand and as it began to expand, more products became available.

“Someone who is funded, and has the money, tends to build out a more mature product with all the bells and whistles,” Kohler says. “But someone who is bootstrapping it, like we did, builds what is asked for. We’re not trying to predict what a client needs.”

Kohler says he quickly learned to listen to his clients to truly understand their needs. Many of his clients are not technologically savvy and often avoid using computer tracking systems. So he asked them what would make his program work for them.

The first thing he was told was it needed to be easy to use. If a customer is intimidated by the tracking process, it won’t be a program they’ll continue to use—or pay for. While most of the clients will only use the system once or twice a week, the program needed to be easy enough to remember how to use it.

iApplicants offers a quick screening of candidates, instant reporting and easy management. Kohler understands that the people using the system are not necessarily technically adept, so he keeps it simple.

“There doesn’t need to be constant retraining on this system,” Kohler says. “For example, an HR person might be concerned that managers would get overwhelmed when trying to operate the program infrequently. But our sales process includes training. If we help them and keep them using it, then they’ll buy.”

Stretch the Dollars
Another big benefit of bootstrapping his business is the ability to focus on company growth, without having to get approval from investors. Not having oversight allows iApplicants to remain nimble and change easily. Additionally, every dollar spent is stretched as far as possible.

The location of iApplicants has also become a bonus for Kohler and his team. Employees had worked from their homes for several years but, one year ago, Kohler acquired an office in the Eagle Mountain area. He has tapped into a highly qualified community where educated people are looking for work that doesn’t involve a long commute.

“We’re able to be a big fish because we’re in a little pond,” Kohler says. “We’re not afraid to be in a small location where there are not a lot of brick and mortar businesses. We don’t have a lot of competition for talent.”

Because it was off the beaten path, Kohler acquired the office at a great rate and is helping drive up the value of real estate in the Eagle Mountain area.

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