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Woven Changes How Tech Companies Hire

Can a resume ever really tell a candidate’s story? Do traditional hiring processes allow candidates to fully demonstrate their abilities? Can companies find the right candidate based on resume and interviews alone?

Ask Woven co-founder and CEO Wes Winham these questions and the answer is a definitive “No!”

Winham founded Woven after being confronted with his own hiring bias. He discovered that having an idea of the right candidate often prevents companies from hiring the ideal candidate. In response, he and his co-founders developed a hiring platform for software developers that combines work simulation exercises, empirical data benchmarked against current staff, and in-person interviews. The result: less bias for better hires and stronger engineering teams.

Wes took a break from changing the way software companies hire talent to detail his journey of launching Woven for The Startup Ladies.

What is Woven and why did you start the company?

Woven is a technical screening platform that helps high-growth software teams find hidden gems in their applicant pool so they can hire faster with less engineering effort.

Believe it or not, the idea for Woven actually came from a place of laziness. I was the VP of Engineering at a startup called PolicyStat and I was hiring a mid-level software engineer. One day I decided I didn’t want to screen all the resumes of applicants who came through, so I sent a take-home project to everyone who applied. I figured this would weed some people out for me so I wouldn’t need to read every resume.

Well, much to my surprise, the top performer of the group was a fresh graduate from the University of Michigan whose resume I never would have considered if it wasn’t for this process. I would have rejected the most capable candidate! My criteria were biased.

Fast forward a couple years and PolicyStat sold. As I thought about what I wanted to do next, I knew that the thing I was most passionate about was ensuring more people had the same type of opportunity as that Michigan grad. Thus, Woven was born.

Where do you see the company in one year? Five years?

In 2019 we helped companies hire 30 “Hidden Gems.” These are people like that Michigan grad whose resumes would have been rejected without Woven. By the end of 2020, we want to help 100 more Hidden Gems find their perfect-fit role in a high-growth software company.

Five years from now we want to transform the average developer hiring experience across the United States. We believe that if we continue to see the level of success we’ve seen with our customers, we will force the entire market to move. By 2025 the hiring process for software developers will be 10 times better for candidates than it is today, whether you work with Woven or not.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome and how did you do it?

The number one challenge we face daily is moving fast enough.

Today we see an evil trend. Companies are using artificial intelligence (AI) to screen resumes and in effect, they’re “money laundering” their own bias. These systems make teams more homogenous and less effective. If Woven doesn’t grow fast enough, these systems will become entrenched in companies and a lot of candidates will suffer.

The way we overcome that problem is clear prioritization. We need to grow fast, which means things will break and fires will burn. That’s painful, but if we remain aligned on the destination we’re headed toward, we can learn to let fires burn. As the CEO, it’s my job to ensure the team knows the destination we’re going toward together and how their actions affect our ability to get there.

What’s been the biggest aha moment with your company so far?

I was shocked to discover how many great developers are out there who don’t get a chance to show their worth.

Before starting Woven, I knew they existed. I hired someone who fit that bill at PolicyStat, but I would have guessed that was somewhere around one out of every 10 developers. I was wrong. At Woven, a third of the hires made through our platform would have been screened out based on their resume alone. That’s why our mission is so important.

You founded Woven with two other people. What opportunities and challenges does starting a business with co-founders create?

Woven Co-Founders (left to right): Wes Winham, Kyle Shipley and Anthony Panozzo
Woven Co-Founders (left to right): Wes Winham, Kyle Shipley and Anthony Panozzo

The challenges and opportunities of working with great co-founders are one and the same: stress.

The bad news about working with co-founders is that startups are stressful, and if you’re not careful, one person could bear the majority of that burden. The good news is, if you communicate often and you’re conscious of your co-founders’ feelings, you can effectively distribute that stress among the co-founders so no one individual feels it too badly.

What advice would you give others, especially those in the technology space, who want to start a business?

Just because you have a problem doesn’t mean you have a business.

We’re lucky. Woven is a mission-driven company with goals that have a human impact and make us feel good. That said, there are a lot of problems out there that have real human costs, but that are hard to build a business around. If you get caught up in trying to address the human costs without validating demand and ensuring someone will pay to solve the problem, you will miss out on your opportunity to make an impact and have a really bad time in the process.

Just because you have a problem doesn’t mean you have a business.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as an entrepreneur?

The struggle is the reason to be here. Starting a business is incredibly hard. That doesn’t mean that you’re doing something wrong. It means that you’re doing something right.

How has The Startup Ladies helped in your business journey?

The Startup Ladies has founders doing lots of different types of businesses. Otherwise, I mostly only talk to folks doing business-to-business Software as a Service startups. It’s so helpful to hear the perspectives of people starting other kinds of companies. It makes me appreciate what’s easier about what I’m doing, but also what’s more difficult. Perspective is a useful thing.

Connect with Wes:

Twitter: @weswinham


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