Going Against the Flow: Ian Seigel, CEO of ZipRecruiter

09/04/2015 07:53 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Ian Siegel is co-founder and CEO of ZipRecruiter, the job platform for small and midsized businesses, where he drives the company vision, product roadmap, and internal and customer growth. He has played executive product and technology roles at several growing startups, including CitySearch, Stamps.com, Rent.com and Pictage. Ian graduated from Oberlin College with degrees in sociology, psychology and English, and he currently lives with his family and three chickens in Venice Beach, California.

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Ian Seigel

Q: What does entrepreneurship mean to you, and what underlying characteristics do you see in successful entrepreneurs?

Ian: The two defining characteristics of entrepreneurs are courage and resilience.

Anyone can look at something and tell you how to make it better. What's genuinely hard is building version 1.0. Creating something from nothing is an act of will. And worse, there is no way to get it right. (That's why the expression is "tortured artist.")

Entrepreneurs are individuals with the courage to create version 1.0.

Don't believe it takes courage? Go tell your family you're quitting your job to start a business. See if the questions they ask you are assumptive of your success or your failure. "What will you do if this doesn't work out?" "How much money are you willing to invest in this?" "Don't you need a business degree to do that?"

Worse, see what happens when you put version 1.0 out there. All products are flawed at launch. Entrepreneurs have the resilience to keep moving forward even when everyone around them is pointing out the flaws in what they've built and doubting their eventual success.

Q: What are you most proud of in your professional career? What are you most proud of at ZipRecruiter?

Ian: The thing I'm most proud of in my career is the launch of ZipRecruiter. I'd previously launched a failed startup called 1DayMakeover (you read that right), so there was some doubt in my own mind as to whether or not I had the chops. It's nice to validate you're good at something you've spent your whole life doing.

At ZipRecruiter, my proudest accomplishment is undoubtedly bootstrapping the first 4.5 years. We went from zero to tens of thousands of customers without raising any outside capital. We made many things harder for ourselves by choosing that path, but the discipline it instilled and the culture it created continue to be a big part of our ongoing success.

Q: If you could do something over in your life, what would it be?

Ian: I twice took a job where I was hired to "professionalize" a business. Fixing things that are broken is not as much fun as building something from scratch. I wish I'd only done it once.

Q: Tell us about an instance where you had to go against the flow to realize your goal.

Ian: At a time when everyone else in the industry was providing more and more analytics data on how job ads were performing, we found analytics were increasing the number of calls we got to our support. In what was at the time a controversial move, we turned off a large portion of the analytic information we provided. The result? There was a massive immediate drop in inbound support questions with no impact to business performance.

We took that lesson to heart. Even with almost 300 employees, we still strive to keep our service as simple as possible. We take that discipline so seriously that if a feature is not frequently used, we will remove it.

Q: We know you personally fielded all of customer service calls in ZipRecruiter's early days. Is your dedication and passion for customer service still evident in the business today?

Ian: Back in those early days, ZipRecruiter was a small business just like the majority of the customers who used our service. I remember the hiring managers I spoke with were absolutely delighted to find out they were talking to the CEO. Whatever the problem, they knew the buck stopped with me.

There is a confidence that comes from dealing with a human being versus dealing with a company. We've worked hard over the years to give our support reps the same discretionary power I had when it was just me fielding calls. That means they can do what they think is best for the customer - everything from spending a lot of time helping the hiring manager write a single job description, up to and including giving the customer's money back if we can't deliver the results he needs.

Q: LinkedIn style - If you were to give advice to your 22-year-old self, what would it be?

Ian: I was shy about networking early in my career. I would meet someone who impressed me, have a great exchange but then "not want to bother them." I realize now that after you've "made it," one of the genuine pleasures in life is mentoring young talent. I wish I'd been more forward about building relationships with the individuals I learned the most from early in my career.

Follow Ian Seigel and his team at @ZipRecruiter, and check out the other interviews in Going Against the Flow series at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/charu-sharma/ or goagainsttheflow.com.