Job seeking in itself is a stressful process. As a job seeker, you often lose the power to concentrate on looking for a job when you fear having your identity plastered for the world to see. With software like The Invisible Network, your job-seeking venture can be done in peace. Today, Amber Christian interviews The Invisible Network’s developer and founder Matt Decuir about why and how he came up with creating the software. Discussing its main features and how employers can easily achieve the skills they are looking for, Matt also talks about his learnings from his discovery journey, his barriers to success, and how his wife has influenced his company’s growth.
Listen to the podcast here:
The Invisible Network: Protecting Job Seeker’s Privacy With Matt Decuir
I have Matt Decuir from the Invisible Network. Welcome, Matt. Would you please introduce yourself?
I’m Matt Decuir. I am the Founder of Invisible Network. I’m a self-taught software engineer. I’m a Seattle transplant and I’m a pizza enthusiast.
One of the wonderful things about getting to have your fellow entrepreneurs is hearing their stories and their backstories. Tell us about the genesis of the Invisible Network. Where did this idea come from and how did you get started?
I’m a solo founder. I started in December 2018. It came about as I was going through my own personal job search. I was reminded of how terrible the experience of looking for a new job can be. It’s like while you’re working full-time, you have to do all this work outside of work to update your resume, to find and do research on companies and find opportunities that might be of interest. You need to talk to people and network. You need to schedule phone calls and interviews. It gets logistically challenging very quickly. While I was going through my job search, I talked to Thompson Aderinkomi. He’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. He’s somebody who I probably admire and respect to more than anybody else in the twin cities.
I met with him when I was going through this job search because I would love to work with Thompson someday. I made a comment that he latched onto and the comment was that I would love to start my own business someday. Thompson said, “No pets, no kids, no house, now is the time.” He said like, “You could be validating one business idea a day or ten a week or something.” Walking away from him, I was like, “He’s totally right.” It’s like one of those gut punches where you walk away from a conversation and they see it so much more clear than you do and you have to pay attention to that. I started validating ideas. While I’m working full-time, doing the job search on the side and I fractioned my attention a third way to validate business ideas.The job search is such a frustrating and terrible experience. The hope is that there is a way to give power back to the job seeker. Click To Tweet
I had a couple that didn’t go anywhere. I tweeted about this idea about a people company job matching experiment. The reason why that came about was because I have connected a handful of friends with jobs in the past. I’ve always thought, “It’d be great if there was a way to make money doing this because I’m going to do it anyway to help friends get jobs and help people find people to hire.” I tweeted about it and the response was so overwhelming that, for one, I knew I was on to something and for two, I had to figure out how to manage and keep track of all of these people.
I started hacking away building an air table, back end website with a react front end, simple MVP to get something out there to make it possible to share all of the job seekers who I had heard about who were looking for work. The important thing was that it was all anonymous because I don’t want to reveal someone’s identity. When I say I’m not going to share your information that you can send, I mean it. That was the important core part of it was to get it out there and make people anonymous to respect their privacy and anonymity. The job search is such a frustrating and terrible experience and the hope is that this is the way to give power back to the job seeker. That’s how it got started. I launched in December of 2018. I made my first $100 on the third day.
That’s as much validation as you can possibly get that early. Don’t ask people how much they’d be willing to pay, ask them to pay. I was surprised because people were willing to pay more money than I expected and sooner than I’d expected too. That was additional validation right out of the gate. I had signed on to go to work at a company and I had a little bit of time off between jobs. I was able to focus on this full-time for a bit, for a couple of weeks. In those three weeks, I made a lot of good progress. I went full-time at this job and the progress almost halted. I’m killing myself between nights and weekends to keep everything afloat.
It’s not necessarily driving it forward. It’s trying to keep everything to juggle all the plates or balls or whatever you call it. I did a mini demo and that was a big inflection point. This thing happened that I would not have ever predicted had I guessed, but friends and people I trust advisors would come up to me and they said, “Why are you working at this new job? Why aren’t you focusing on the Invisible Network full-time?” The answer was like, “It’s complicated. I started a new job.” When I say I’m going to do something out, I want to follow through and do it. It was tough because I was literally a month and a half in of a new job and quitting that soon would be not good.
You feel bad. As a person that’s I was going down this path and we all did the dance, which as you said is not easy. You don’t even get to that point of saying, “This is going to be the person I’m going to go to work for.” You get six weeks in and it’s not like you were going that wasn’t it at all. You’re torn. You have a job, but you have this thing that’s mushrooming and growing. All of a sudden, it’s taking on a life of its own and you hit an inflection. You have to decide you can’t go down. It’s a fork in the road. You have to pick one of them.
I had to choose between two good things. When I decided to go work for a company, I don’t make that decision lightly. I had done all my diligence, a great place to work and a fantastic team. Everything about it was great. The problem was that on the side I had this great new side project that seems to have a lot of potential. I know that like if I look back, I would regret not running hard at it to see where it goes. What I ended up doing was I pitched my wife, I had also got a couple of unsolicited offers for funding and I’m in a situation where I’m a self-taught developer so I can do the development work myself. I have a lot of feelings as a whole. I have a lot of feelings about funding.
The whole premise of the Invisible Network is that we care about your privacy. If taking funding implies a future exit and a future exit implies potentially selling to a nameless, faceless corporation in the future, all of a sudden that trust and integrity that’s been built over time slowly could erode instantaneously. I don’t want that, which is to say I’m committed to bootstrapping at least in the near term to see where this can go. The pitch that I made to my wife was, “I want to see where this goes. I don’t want to take funding.” The pitch to her was, “What if we self-fund this?”
If I take six months off and focus on this and see where it goes for six months and we can reassess towards the end of that to see if this looks like it’s going to be successful, we’ll keep going. If not, we’ll stop and I’ll go get another job somewhere. The pitch to my wife was successful and she gave the big thumbs up. I was full-time on working on Invisible Network for about six months. It was from April to the end of September. Here we are a few months later, the most pitch I made to my wife, “Things are going pretty well. What if I keep working on this for another six months with the business paying me?” She said, “Big thumbs up.” That’s where we’re at. I’m seven months into working on this full-time and things are going pretty well.
Let’s talk a little bit about the bootstrapper’s journey. Your big investors are your wife and your family being the person on the other side. The same thing I have a husband that has steady employment as well. As I’ve been winding down some consulting business and things as well, he’s like, “Take a run at it.” It’s hugely important. We don’t talk about it enough in the startup community, those wonderful supporting spouses on the other side. Without them, the journey would be exponentially harder if we didn’t have their support. Speak a little bit to that journey with your wife about how to do that because that’s interesting and no one talks about that.
This is might be a little bit like off-topic. I went through the beta event cohort, which was a phenomenal program. In talking and hearing from other companies who are coming up at the same time as me, what I’ve seen among them and also these other startups in the community is the two biggest barriers to launching your own thing, development health and health insurance. Those are two things are the big costs because you need to have those things. If assuming you’re building a tech-enabled platform of sorts, whatever you’re doing involves tech in some way and you have to have health insurance to make sure that you are a functioning healthy person in the world. Those two things are the first barriers.Don't ask people how much they're willing to pay; ask them to pay. You’d be surprised they're willing to pay more money than you expected. Click To Tweet
If you have a supportive spouse who happens to also get that health insurance that you need. That puts you in such a better position to even test out something and see if there’s potential. I’m a straight white male. I’m incredibly privileged. My wife has a full-time job. She works for the state. She’s the epitome of stable employment. She and I are a polar opposite. She’s incredibly decisive. She’s very risk-averse. She’s very supportive and I appreciate her. I was largely able to test this out to see if it was going to work because I had her and if I didn’t have her, I would be in a much different situation. I’m sure that my feelings and opinions about funding might be completely different if I have my circumstances been different too.
It’s all dependent upon your circumstances, your situation and what you can do. I was also fortunate to come from that position of someone that was in stable, steady and long-term employment. We were gambling with my career. We had done that before and it had paid off with consulting and others. He’s like, “Clearly I’m the risk-taker, which is a little different.” He loves what he does. That’s great. I tell people, “He’s got the health insurance. You’re golden.” It’s such a big deal. When you’re starting out, it’s huge. Talk about some of the early results with the Invisible Network and what has surprised you that you’ve learned along the way?
I am not a recruiter. Part of entering the world of hiring and recruiting is this is very explicitly a foreign world to me. I should say also that I worked with an external recruiter once early in my career. It was such a bad experience that I vowed to never work with an external recruiter again. A lot has surprised me mostly because I’ve learned more and more about the world of hiring and recruiting. What perpetually blows my mind is how much recruiters normally charge, which can be anywhere from 15% to 35% of first-year starting salary. When you get a spammy unsolicited message on LinkedIn from a recruiter who gets your name wrong, who gets your experience wrong and they’re like, “I got a great opportunity for you.”
If you think about it through that lens, if you end up taking that call and going in for an interview and if you end up taking a job that can be $20,000, $30,000 in cash for this recruiter, which is to say that is so much money. If you think about the incentives that that creates, no wonder you’re going to blanket people and if 1 out of 100 people respond and there’s potential for making a huge amount of money from one person responding, they’re going to continue to do that. I don’t mean to slam recruiters, but learning about the recruiting has been an eye-opening thing. I also mentioned all that because, at this point, I’ve made eight successful paid placements, which is huge.
Coming into it, I had no idea for what a good month would even look like as far as connecting companies with job seekers and hoping that they end up working out. I’ve made eight successful placements in a few months. The first like six months was pretty much nothing. I made a ton of introductions. I was learning a bunch and things like making sure that they’re aligned in terms of salaries on both sides, making sure they’re aligned as far as remote on both sides, making sure they’re aligned as far as employment terms. There are a lot of things I’ve learned about what makes for a good connection, but learning about the world of hiring has been the biggest surprise to me. The hope here is that I can build a business that is sustainable and ethical that respect your privacy. That’s the thing that I feel like is counter to the alternatives that are out there.
Early results and what happened because no business survives out in the industry exactly how it was envisioned. You have to pivot. You have to figure out where the market is going to come from. The traction may not come from where you thought it might because it’s one thing to find out what people say they’re willing to pay, but it’s a whole another thing as you know to get them to pay for something. For you, are you able to share a little bit more about some of your a-ha moments and figuring out, “Who are these people to talk to? How do I start to unlock some of these markets?” What have you learned in that process and that discovery journey?
There are a lot of things I’ve learned both from “how do I work fast” perspective and also from a business perspective too. From how I work perspective, the first thing was, I can’t do morning meetings, coffee meetings because I need to focus on what’s most important first thing in the morning. If I have coffee with somebody that’ll extend my day into a different direction than I had hoped. The second thing was that lunch meetings are better than morning meetings. I need to schedule lunch meetings. The learning after that was I can’t schedule five lunches in a week. I need to do three max. After that, it was “Let’s compartmentalize all these meetings into phone calls, two days a week in the afternoons.” It goes from there.
That’s where my, “How do I work best as a solo founder?” Learnings from a business perspective, the first big one was like I was wrestling with pricing and who my target customer was and I was talking to a ton of employers. I never explained how the thing works. The Invisible Network, it’s an anonymous job search tool that connects job seekers and employers through a double opt-in introduction. How that works is it’s like an anonymous inverted job board. Employers can go to the site and say, “I want to meet this person,” and they can fill out the information about the job opportunity that they have in mind.
I’ll take the employer’s answers about the opportunity, share them with the jobseeker. If there’s mutual interest, I’ll make an introduction and if not, nothing happens. That’s the fundamentals of how that thing works. That’s the context through which I’m sharing these findings. Demand from job seekers has been steady, which is inverted to what people might expect. That it’s providing a tool that gives power back to the job seeker. It’s no wonder that job seekers are completely interested. On the employer side, it was hard to narrow down exactly what the right type of company was. It’s also pricing too because when I was quoting people fees that were akin to recruiters and the way it would work where it’s like, you pay me on hire, they would think about me akin to recruiters.
They’re like, “If you’re going to be charging recruiter high fees, you should be doing this other stuff that recruiters do like comprehensive vetting and whatnot.” Getting a lot of noes and the way we talked about it and communicated what the platform is and how you’re expected to interact with it and also how it works from a payment perspective. Having a lot of conversations like that made me finally figure out the a-ha moment was the companies that are interested are small, but growing businesses without dedicated HR or recruiting. That a-ha moment was huge because when I go hop on a phone call a target, I can think “They don’t align with what the target customer that I’m looking for.” Getting a no from them is not like, “This is totally not going to work.” It means they’re probably not right anyway. The other one was once you figure out pricing, where you start getting a lot of yeses, that’s a very big relief because you know you’ve got at least part of it right. You’re close to what’s right for now and you should take a run with it.Killing yourself between nights and weekends to keep everything afloat is not necessarily going to drive your progress forward. Click To Tweet
See as far as it goes because you can always expand from there. You can get to the point where you get that established market and new things will start to emerge as they’ll grow bigger. That may mean you add on or add additional services. You’ve at least on the first channel that’s going to give you the traction, which is going to give you the revenue to make sure everything’s good and stable so that you can start to grow from there as well. I can’t even imagine how exciting it was when you’re like, “I found them,” and they start coming in.
It’s like you know something is wrong because you can feel it. All of a sudden, once you figured out that weight is lifted, that’s how you know that you’ve figured something out.
If there’s an employer wanting to sign up, how does it work for the employer? What do they do?
What you’ll do is you’ll browse the site. You might put in a couple of different filters for what type of categories developers or designers. What type of employment you’re looking for, contract or full-time? Also, your location if you’re interested in hiring somebody remote. You’ll filter down the results of who you’re looking at and you’ll click through to somebody’s profile. I like to think of the job seeker profiles as an anonymous cover letter where they’re writing a cover letter describing their dream job and their dream company, not trying to convince a specific company to hire them. You get these pretty profound answers. Where a job seeker explains if they can write their own ticket, this is what they’d be doing.
The idea is if you’re an employer who comes to the site, you can click through and when you read some of these dream jobs and dream companies and you think, “They described us.” The idea would be, “You probably want to meet this person.” There’s a button that says, “Request an introduction” and you can click on that button and you can fill out the form. The form is going to get better and more seamless and easier. That’s the thing that’s going to change. You’ll tell us a little bit about who you are and about the opportunity you have in mind for this person. You’d click the submit button and then I’ll take it from there. I’ll follow up if the person’s interested in meeting you.
From there, I’ll make an introduction via email. If not, I’ll try to let you know if there’s any critical feedback I can share about why the person wasn’t interested. Generally speaking, if it doesn’t look like you and a job seeker are aligned for one reason or another, I’ll be sure to point that out and follow up and ask questions to see if there’s flexibility or if this is probably not going to be a good fit. I’ll try to recommend other people that might be good depending on what you’re looking for. The hope is to connect with people with good people and get out of the way. I’m trying to keep it as seamless, simple and easy of a process as I possibly can. The form to request an introduction is long. That’s the caveat. It’s under construction. It’s going to be better soon.
One of the things I like to celebrate, it’s a big deal when for new companies, those first customers that are brave enough because they know that your platform is not perfect. They know it doesn’t have every single bell and whistle, but they know that there is a core value proposition to what you’re doing. Can you name any of those early wonderful progressive companies that we should give a shout out to? Are you allowed to name any of them? If you’re not, that’s totally okay. I’m curious if there’s anybody that has also shared on their social media that they use the Invisible Network.
It’s always nice to share the names that people go, “I know who they are.” It’s market validation. It’s testimonies or companies that have used it. That’s always helpful. If they’re either a job seeker or an employer, how do they find out more information about the Invisible Network? Where do they find you?
The website is InvisibleNetwork.com That’s the easiest way to find the site and information about it, how it works and pricing. You can add yourself to the site. You can request introductions there. We’re also on social media, on Twitter, @InvisibleNetwrk. On LinkedIn, it’s The Invisible Network. That’s probably the easiest way to find us on the internet.
Thank you so much for joining us, Matt. The audience knows what time it is. It’s time to go Be Wonderly.
About Matt Decuir
Matt is a software developer and founder of the Invisible Network. After having a bad experience working with a recruiter, Matt created the Invisible Network.
The Invisible Network was designed to make the job search a better experience. It’s a place where job seekers can anonymously share that they’re looking for work, without alerting their current employers or getting spammed by recruiters.