When we last featured serial entrepreneur and CEO of Echovate, Matthew Gough, he shared why he chose Charleston to launch his startup. In this second part of our series, Gough gives Silicon Harbor Magazine an exclusive behind-the-scenes look inside his journey in taking Echovate from an idea to beta. Here he shares his keys to making it successful, the biggest things to concentrate on and avoid, and his obstacles and wins in the process.
Echovate is a predictive, cloud-based platform that takes the guesswork out of hiring for emerging growth companies. In less than two minutes, Echovate’s patent-pending science and algorithms take care of the hard work by compiling over 2000 data points into one simple report with a score that represents a candidate’s potential to succeed in a specific position.
Echovate’s process consists of two workflows: Companies create a position based on the organization’s culture profile, type, environment and custom questions to determine best fit candidates; Candidates apply for the job by taking an assessment on core competencies specific to that position. Gough’s goal was to build a simple, seamless, elegant experience for end user customers. His biggest obstacle to overcome was focusing on the value of the product for them instead of getting caught up in adding too many features.
“It’s easy to over-engineer and try to have too much stuff,” he says. “If you can build something that’s frictionless and a high value product or service, it’s going to be a home run for them. Is it really high value? Is it the core of what we’re trying to accomplish? The hardest part is staying true to what you believe in.”
USER DESIGN FEEDBACK
To meet this challenge, Gough began an intense process of presenting sketches, mockups and prototypes to customers so he could receive valuable feedback early on during the design phase.
“I would sketch on my whiteboard and then use Balsamiq to create mockups to show the UX guys in design meetings,” Gough explains of the process. “Then we socialized it with target customers and key people I trusted in the space.”
Next, Gough created screen designs and HTML prototypes for users to navigate through the site. The feedback he received allowed him to focus on refining his product down to what was most important to the customers and identify what could be removed.
“I showed the screen designs to customers and they would say, ‘Who cares about this? What’s really exciting to us is this score, this report and making sense of the data.’ I’ve been very deliberate in thinking about not just what we put in the product, but what we leave out of it. I was able to scrap a lot of stuff that was in there.”
Gough also significantly changed the site branding from earlier versions of Echovate, formerly called Hiresolv, based on user feedback. He recalls “One of our investors said it reminded him of the Miami Dolphins colors. I said that’s it – we gotta change it.”
Gough remained open to customer input and brought what users had to say into the process so that they helped him design the right product before actual development began. “Instead of me building it end to end and saying ‘Hope you like this,’ I would show them screenshots and say ‘Here’s what I’m doing,’ almost like a sales pitch. We would keep getting feedback and iterate that before we even wrote a line of code. Once we had that entire flow done, then we said – OK, now let’s start writing code.”
Once the first build of Echovate was developed, Gough invited people to come in for user testing. He sought out respected designers in the community to provide input from a user experience perspective. He also brought in target customers from a variety of emerging growth companies to test out the workflows. Selected users were asked to perform tasks such as signing up for an account, creating a new job, and going through the application process.
Gough’s team closely observed to identify new issues and confirm the ones they were already aware of. They also got a real sense of how users experienced the platform. “We looked over their shoulder and watched them go through, and it’s funny to see where they’re getting stuck. A lot of the issues that were brought up just validated what we already believed. It’s not about us, it’s about them. Hopefully when this gets to market, we’ve done a really good job of listening to the community, target customers, what they want and what’s going to be valuable for them.”
The user testing also helped him to identify small issues that could become major problems to customers later on. “During a demo, somebody asked if the phrase ‘average company size’ was specific to the company they worked at or should work at. It’s a slight distinction but can be a big distinction. We also had users who kept trying to click a non-clickable area. Those are the sorts of little things we went through and obsessed over prior to development. It also helped build a consensus like – you said this and we listened to you.”
Gough emphasized the importance of selecting great testers from your target audience, rather than just using the people you know. “You don’t get the level of honest feedback with people you know as if you’re testing your target audience. They’re the ones who will tell you if something doesn’t make sense and ask why is it this way.”
After a year of development and feedback from over 100 users, Gough is ready to launch the beta of Echovate. The final phase is bringing the product to the public in a controlled fashion. Over 2000 people have signed up to be part of the private beta. Gough will launch the product to 200 of them, listen to their feedback and make changes before rolling it out.
He is also working closely with a handful of 15-20 beta users who are key target customers that will help bring the best out the product. “These users are people we’ve kept in the process, value their feedback and don’t worry about them judging us. They know our intent is to build the most amazing product and believe in our company. You involve your customers, handhold and guide them – not use them. You’ll learn something from that process. Most of the time it’s the small stuff of fine-tuning and bug finding. You don’t want that big a-ha moment later on.”
What has been the biggest win for Gough after going through the journey to beta? “When I show it to people, and they say, ‘Wow, this is awesome! When can I have it?’ We’re getting tremendously positive feedback on what we have to date. What we originally set out to build and the beta of Echovate is very much in line with what we hoped and the market is embracing that.”
Along with launching the beta, Gough continues to build his formidable team of leadership and advisors. Tim Wolf recently joined Echovate as VP of engineering and technical co-founder. Wolf was the Director of Engineering at BoomTown during their pivotal growth years and was also a software architect at Blackbaud.
Echovate is poised to lead the next generation of predictive, data-driven talent selection as one of Charleston’s startups to watch in 2015.
Now that he’s launched his product, what are Gough’s plans to take the beta and turn it into a full-fledged thriving company in Charleston? Come hear the Chief Echovator share his insights on fundraising, growing and scaling a company at the next Startup Grind on Thursday, March 19.
At this event, Gough will share the answers to these questions and more:
• How do you build a product and company in a way that’s intriguing for VC’s?
• How do you go from an idea to raising venture capital?
• What’s the most important metric for an early stage company to focus on?