Getting letters of intent signed early, before you even develop your product or service, can be a great proof point when it’s time to raise capital.
“You should go out there and prove that you can get customers, and part of that is getting them to get serious about it,” says Rachel Angel, founder and CEO at Peerro. “Being serious, sometimes, it’s actually signing a document even if it’s non-binding.”
Angel is a pharmacist who stepped away from her career to focus on building a career pathway platform for young people and employers who need entry-level hires. The app uses endorsements to ensure the candidates are qualified, vetted and matched to the right jobs.
We caught up with Angel, who is still in the early seed stages of her startup journey, to find out how she wants to help create stronger employment pipelines.
Developing the concept
Several years ago, Angel started volunteering for an inner-city school in Cleveland. She wanted to understand why we weren’t moving the educational needle and help develop systems to create better awareness and then incentivize good behavior and positive activity.
Her first technology platform connected young people with a mentor. They accumulated points and could take those points and purchase incentives.
“There were some challenges with that, and that’s how we shifted to this idea of incentivizing young people with employment,” she says.
Walgreens, her employer at the time, was interested in the concept of interviewing young people who had been identified as strong candidates. However, before she invested any additional capital, Angel went to California for six months. She worked with two mentors in the technology startup space to understand what needed to be placed in the system.
“I didn’t have any funding or anything at all. I just rented a room and I spent a lot of time developing the business plan,” she says, adding that she didn’t want to look back and regret not trying. She knew she could always go back to pharmacy.
“So, you can imagine, you’re broke, it’s raining and you’re trying to figure out how to develop a platform and also create partnerships that would help support your case moving forward,” Angel says.
However, she didn’t consider staying on the West Coast.
“For me, Ohio is a more functional place to start a company, mainly because the corporations can be more accessible. There’s an accessibility factor in Ohio that doesn’t necessarily exist in California,” she says.
Poised for growth
While Angel started the company about two and half years ago and moved into her startup role full time a year and a half ago, the platform was completed about a year ago.
Peerro allows young people to schedule interviews for entry-level jobs after they’ve gotten endorsements. An employer can request an endorsement for attendance and punctuality, and then the student might need to get three teachers to endorse that he or she will show up on time.
Angel compares the app more to a recruiting agency than a job board. The candidates also often vet themselves in many cases.
“Because there is activity tied with actually scheduling the interview, people who are not really serious about it usually don’t complete the process,” she says.
Rev1 Ventures was one of her first funders, which is why Angel moved to the company to Columbus. However, Peerro continues to be used by Cleveland teens, and JumpStart is an investor now, too.
Angel also has hired a handful of employees. With four national partners in the pipeline, who she hopes will be strategic partners on the next stage of the company’s journey, she’s trying to make sure Peerro is prepared for the type of growth that could come.
“We could literally go to three times what we were making just a week ago, and that kind of potential growth is challenging when trying to raise capital because you have to explain that,” she says. “‘Hey, look we’re not here, but as soon as we add one customer, all of a sudden we went from x amount of dollars to 3x that.’’
But creating stronger pipelines and helping young people find careers won’t change overnight.
“What I do find with the employers is that they want to address their employment issues, but usually they want to address it superficially, and that can’t happen because it’s such a deep-rooted issue,” she says.
Angel works with schools, churches and nonprofits like Boys and Girls Clubs, as well as employers. There’s been some eye opening on both sides. Schools can see more clearly how some young people are just not ready for employment, while employees have to shift to seeing this challenge as a business case, not something that’s philanthropic.
She hopes over time, with the data Peerro gathers, predictive analytics can bring everything more into focus, like what skills need to be developed.