HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 74

Houston startup plans to expand to revolutionize tech-enabled small business support

WizeHire CEO Sid Upadhyay joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share his big plans for his company as it gears up for growth. Photo courtesy of WizeHire

Hiring and recruiting has been a challenging and inefficient process for small businesses — yet it could not be more important as a company with a small, growing team.

"Today, whether you're running a startup for the first or second time, at the end of the day, you're just wearing too many hats," says Sid Upadhyay, co-founder and CEO of WizeHire, on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Recruiting is one of those things where we know talent is the lifeblood of our businesses, but we just don't have the time to think about the process."

Upadhyay says his company, Houston-based WizeHire, lives and breathes for small businesses, and in 2014 the company launched to tap into technology to provide a software service that can streamline a more effective way for startups and small businesses to hire — and hire optimally.

Last month, the company — founded by Upadhyay, Nick Carneiro, and Jay Niblick — closed a $7.5 million series A funding round that was led by Houston-based Mercury Fund and Amplo, which is based just north of Houston in Spring. Additional support came from existing backers Ruchit Shah and RigUp co-founder Sandeep Jain. The fresh funding will go toward expansion — both of its team as well as WizeHire's products.

Upadhyay says the the effects of the pandemic — which includes many businesses ceasing to hire — had profound repercussions on WizeHire.

"We saw half our revenue disappear overnight," Upadhyay says. "As we were going through that up-and-down roller coaster, it was one of the most humbling experience."

Upadhyay says WizeHire has a close relationship with its customers, and they were reaching out asking for guidance from WizeHire during the uncertain times. Upadhyay's team took the opportunity to provide low or no-cost support, especially when it comes to navigating the CARES Act.

"We started to educate our customers about everything from PPP loans to tax credits," Upadhyay says. "We went so far as to connect 300 of our customers to banks — otherwise they wouldn't have been able to get these loans."

These efforts are what led WizeHire to its first venture capital raise. The bootstrapped company has a client base that includes more than 7,000 businesses, and the company recorded $4.7 million in run rate in 2020. Now, in light of the impact WizeHire was able to make with its clients during the pandemic, Upadhyay says the company is going to expand to include other key services, like identifying tax credits.

"We're really going beyond just the hire," Upadhyay says. "We're getting to this role where we're going to help you grow your business."

Upadhyay discusses more about WizeHire's plans for 2021 and the intentionality of the business on the episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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Building Houston

 
 

Kelly Avant, investment associate at Houston-based Mercury Fund, shares how and why she made her way into the venture capital arena. Photo courtesy of Mercury

Kelly Avant didn't exactly pave a linear career path for herself. After majoring in gender studies, volunteering in the Peace Corps, and even attending law school — she identified a way to make a bigger impact: venture capital.

"VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems," Avant tells InnovationMap.

Avant joined the Mercury Fund team last year as an MBA associate before joining full time as investment associate. Now, after completing her MBA from Rice University this month, Avant tells InnovationMap why she's excited about this new career in investment in a Q&A.

InnovationMap: From law school and the peace corps, what drew you to start a career in the VC world?

Kelly Avant: I graduated from Rice University with an MBA, starting scouting for an investment firm in my first year, and by the summer after my first year I was essentially working full-time interning with Mercury. But, I like to tell people about my undergraduate degree in gender studies and rhetoric from a little ski college in Colorado. If you meet someone else in venture capital with a degree in gender studies, please connect us, but I think I might be the only one. I’ll spare you what I used to think — and say — about business students, but I have really come full circle.

I always thought I would work in a nonprofit space, but after serving in Cambodia with the Peace Corps, working for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and briefly attending Emory Law School with the intention of becoming a civil rights lawyer.I found that time and time again the root of the problem was a lack of resources. The world’s problems were not going to be solved with my idealism alone.

The problem with operating as a nonprofit in a capitalism is you basically always pandering to the interests of the donors. The NFL was a key sponsor of The National Domestic Violence Hotline. The United States has a complicated, to put it lightly, relationship with Cambodia and Vietnam. It became pretty clear that the donor/nonprofit relationship was oftentimes putting the wrong party in the driver’s seat. I was, and still am, very interested in alternative financing for nonprofits. I became convinced that the most exciting businesses were building solutions to the world’s problems while also turning a profit, which allows them to survive to have a sustainable positive impact.

VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems.

IM: What are some companies you’re excited about?

KA: There are a couple super interesting founders I’ve met directly engaging with . To name a few: CiviTech, DonateStock, and Polco.

I’m very proud to work on mercury investments like Houston’s own, Topl, which has built an extremely lightweight and energy efficient Blockchain that enables tracking of ethical supply chains from the initial interaction.
I’m also excited about mercury’s investment in Zirtue, which enables relationship based peer to peer lending to solve the massive problem of predatory payday loans.

We have so many awesome founders in our portfolio. The best part about working in VC is meeting passionate innovators every day. I get excited to go to work everyday and help them to build better solutions.

IM: Why are you so passionate about bringing diversity and inclusion into Mercury?

KA: I love working with exciting, highly capable, super smart people. That category includes so many people who have been historically excluded. As an investment team member at Mercury, I do have a voice, and I have an obligation to use that voice to speak highly of the best people in rooms of influence.

IM: With your new role, what are you most focused on?

KA: In my new role, I am identifying and researching high potential investments. We’re building out a Mercury educational series to lift the veil of VC. We want to facilitate a series that gives all founders the basic skills to pass VC due diligence and have the opportunity to build the next innovative companies. My goal is ultimately to produce the best returns possible for our investors, and we can’t accomplish that goal unless we’re building out resources to meet the best founders and help them grow.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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