Rony Kahan and his wife spent more than a week hiking from base camp at Mount Everest to Kathmandu without a guide.
The couple didn’t follow a path. Instead, they used a compass and found their own way.
That journey is analogous to the one that Kahan and his co-founder Paul Forster took creating Austin-based Indeed.com, which has become the most popular job site in the world.
“You have to make your own path,” Kahan told more than 300 people attending 1 Semester Startup’s Demo Day at the University of Texas Thursday night. To illustrate his point, he showed a picture of the couple hugging at Mount Everest at the start of their hike.
Kahan kicked off the event as the keynote speaker. He recounted his entrepreneurial journeys and lessons learned from building two companies in Austin. Recruit Co., a Japanese-based provider of human resources and recruitment services, bought Indeed.com in September. Although the terms were not disclosed, the New York Times, an early investor, reported its gain from the sale at more than $100 million. In his introduction of Kahan, Joshua Baer, 1 Semester Startup professor and serial entrepreneur, said news reports puts the sale price at $1 billion.
Indeed.com, founded in November of 2004, has more than 600 employees, including 175 in Austin. It has been profitable since 2007. Its website gets more than 80 million unique visitors every month.
“In my heart, I always wanted to start my own business,” Kahan said.
He moved to Austin in 1997, during the Internet gold rush, and teamed up with Forster to start Jobsinthemoney.com in 1998 focused on the financial jobs niche.
“One piece of advice, don’t choose such a long domain name,” Kahan said.
In 1999, Kahan and Forster tried to raise money to expand Jobsinthemoney.com. But they didn’t succeed.
“At that time, everyone was getting money,” he said.
But investors wanted Kahan and Forster to create a vertical jobs market like Monster.com. That marketplace was too crowded, Kahan said. They knew the financial services industry and saw a need for a niche job site.
“We spent basically all of our savings,” Kahan said.
At the time, Kahan and his wife had a three year old and a one year old and he was working out of his house. Forster also had a toddler and a baby on the way. They took side jobs to support the site.
At 2000, they were at the end of their rope. They were providing job listings for free. They decided to start charging for listings and companies started paying them. They bootstrapped the business and did everything as inexpensively as possible.
“I taught myself to code because we couldn’t afford any outside contractors,” Kahan said. They were still working out of their houses and barely making it.
“Then we got lucky,” Kahan said.
Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, in the wake of the Enron implosion, in 2002 requiring companies to hire more accountants and auditors. They went to Jobsinthemoney.com to find them.
In 2003, Jobsinthemoney.com had a dozen employees and was the number one site in the U.S. market for financial jobs. Kahan and Forster sold the site for a few million dollars.
“We thought that was a giant exit,” Kahan said.
The agreement required them to work for the buyer for six months. After that, Kahan and Forster began brainstorming their next venture. They knew that many large job listing sites existed, but that required a job seeker to go to multiple sites instead of just one place. They decided to create an aggregated job site based on algorithms, similar to Google’s search engine.
“We put all of our money into launching Indeed.com,” Kahan said. His wife even drew the logo for the company.
In 2004, they hired part time University of Texas students to code the site, Kahan said. He later hired them on full time. The site started getting traction right away, he said. A year later, venture capitalists started coming to the company.
“We ended up taking $5 million from the New York Times and Union Square Ventures in August of 2005,” Kahan said.
They immediately faced stiff competition. Indeed.com had two fast followers. One in Silicon Valley raised $23 million and another in Seattle got $52 million. That worried Kahan and Forster at first.
“Our competitors are raising all this money,” Kahan said. “We didn’t raise any more money. We’re going to get to profitability or else.”
Indeed.com built its business under the radar.
“The guy who raises $53 million gets all the TechCrunch coverage,” he said. “The guys who raise $5 million don’t. That was OK with us.”
They didn’t seek out publicity. Instead, they promoted the jobs site through Search Engine Optimization and word of mouth marketing. Indeed.com only had a PR agency for six months from 2004 to 2012, Kahan said. In 2007, the company became profitable.
At that point, Indeed.com only aggregated job postings. Companies could not post a job. Job seekers couldn’t post their resume. They only did one thing: job search, but they did it well, Kahan said.
“We noticed all of these clones of Indeed around the world,” Kahan said. “We decided to push out globally.”
Indeed.com is now available in 53 countries in 26 languages.
In 2009, Indeed.com became the number one job site in the U.S. in terms of traffic, Kahan said. In 2010, traffic continued to grow and the site added resumes, job postings and job reviews.
In the beginning, Kahan just wanted to build something. But the site became more of a mission of helping people find jobs. Kahan wore a blue T-shirt with the slogan “I help people find jobs.” That’s the Indeed.com company T-shirt, he said.
“We help people find jobs more than anyone in the world,” he said.
Kahan told the audience that as an entrepreneur a lot of people will give you advice and tell you how to run your business, but you have to make your own path.
“That’s what is going to be successful,” he said. “Do one thing and do that really well and focus on execution.”
Entrepreneurs are also optimists, Kahan said.
“There’s all these things that come up and come in your face,” he said. “Entrepreneurs believe they can do anything. And you can do anything. It’s a worthy journey to take.”