How This 26-Year-Old Founder Raised $9 Million

Growing balls of money
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This piece originally appeared on brunchwork.

Hustle. That’s what Liz Wessel, the 26 year-old founder and CEO of WayUp, attributes her rapid success to. WayUp is the largest marketplace for jobs for US college students and recent grads.

At our recent brunchwork NYC startup workshop at WeWork, it was evident why WayUp has grown so much in such a short time.

Along with her co-founder, Wessel said she realized first-hand “how ridiculous it was that 20,000 people were relying on a small office of 10 people called Career Services to help them all get jobs.”

Related: Startup Lessons From a First-Time Entrepreneur Who Raised $25 Million

After finding said co-founder, J.J. Fliegelman, by sneaking into a hackathon database while at the University of Pennsylvania, Wessel began building her startup, which now has over 9,000 paying customers. Here’s how she did it:

1. She built a marketplace

“Two-sided marketplaces are incredibly hard to build,” Wessel said. “There is usually one side that is easier to build than the other. The side that pays is harder to acquire.”

WayUp encouraged companies to use their service by offering them two things: quality and no-risk. Wessel said, they told businesses: “Put your credit card down and you’ll only pay if you get qualified applicants.”

How did they ensure applicants were qualified? WayUp profiles collect an average of 30 structured data points about each applicant. Job seekers answer questions like: What frat or sorority are you in? Do you have a car? Do you know HTML?

“Once we have all that information, we only show you jobs that you are qualified to apply for based on your profile,” Wessel said.

2. She engaged users

The best advocates for your brand are often your own users. From Day 1, the same students that use WayUp have been the key to growing it.

Since the beginning, WayUp hired their own users to be campus reps. Today, the company has over 700 campus reps every semester.

Users were even responsible for renaming the company. WayUp was formerly known as Campus Job, a name Liz said was “a mistake.”

“When your name is a barrier to your growth, it’s an immediate sign that you need to change your name.”

After two users proposed the new name, the next step was to create a logo. Through WayUp, the company hired a graphic designer who created the current logo in a matter of days.

Related: We Had Employees All Over the Country And It Didn’t Work

3. She raised capital

While she initially wanted to bootstrap, Liz realized that the company needed to fundraise in order to grow.

The startup caught the attention of leading accelerator Y Combinator. Although accelerators can often help startups fundraise, it was a tough decision for Wessel. She said the decision changed when she realized, “YC was much more than just fundraising. It was a community. It was a network.”

WayUp raised their first $1 million in a 2-week window. Now, the company has raised over $9 million.

“Tell [investors] that you are going to raise more than you think you are going to need because you probably are going to need to raise more than you budget.”

As to the future of WayUp, Wessel said, “Our vision is to become the job marketplace for all millennials.”

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