Lesa Hammond is CEO and co-founder of ProfHire. a web-based platform that connects colleges and universities with vetted scholars and industry professionals for part-time faculty positions.
After working in human resources for 20+ years and as the chief human resources officer for 3 universities, Lesa identified a pain-point associated with finding a diverse pool of quality part-time faculty.
Being an entrepreneur and problem solver, Lesa endeavored to find a better way to hire scholars and industry professionals for part-time/temporary positions.
Lesa has also taught management, human resources, critical thinking, and total quality management courses as a part-time instructor. She also writes motivational books, including “Achieve in 5! - Transform your life in just five minutes a day” and “Thompson Twins” a middle grade children’s book series.
In this interview, Lesa shares with us how ProfHire was formed and how it connects colleges/universities with industry professionals. Lesa also reveals her biggest challenge running a business and how having a diverse wonder-team is her ace in the hole. Enjoy!
Her advice for entrepreneurs starting a business in California:
First, ask yourself if now's REALLY the time. Second, for a tech company eventually seeking to raise venture capital, the only business entity to form is a Delaware Corporation.
WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO START PROFHIRE? DID YOU SEE A WAY TO SERVE CUSTOMERS BETTER THAN YOUR COMPETITORS?
Prior to starting ProfHire, I'd worked in higher education for 20 years and as the chief human resources officer at three universities. During that time, it became clear there's a significant need that colleges and universities have to quickly find qualified part-time faculty and appropriately onboard them. There is also a desire to increase the diversity of faculty on campuses and most part-time faculty are found through colleague referral.
At the same time, when I told someone my job, they would ask how they could get a job teaching part-time. I realized that there was clearly a need to match these employers and employees in a way that had not been done before.
ProfHire is a web-based platform to connect colleges and universities with vetted scholars and industry professionals for faculty positions. We specialize in part-time faculty but also recruit for full-time.
Our solution provides hiring managers with an easy-to-use and thorough profile of candidates, while offering applicants a single source solution to apply for higher education teaching positions.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING AN ENTREPRENEUR? IS THERE SOMETHING YOU'RE MOST PROUD OF?
I love solving problems. I always have. Puzzles, mysteries, and as a kid, I think I was six, I almost broke my nose attempting to re-manufacture my tricycle into something cooler. Being an entrepreneur is taking problem solving to the ninth degree.
I would have to say that I'm most proud of the small yet amazing team that we've assembled. Everyone is smart, committed, and brings unique strengths. Finding dedicated and qualified people is truly rewarding. Also, we were recently named one of “America’s Best Entrepreneurial Companies” by Entrepreneur magazine. That was a huge honor.
Most businesses evolve over time. Is there a way that you slowly evolved the mission of ProfHire to serve your customers better?Evolution is constant. We certainly have revised and adjusted as we learn more about the market, and our customers’ needs and desires. Our motto is “We make it easy.”
Our goal is to revise and revise and revise a robust and complex platform that looks and operates in a super easy way for our customers. We're an HRTech or PeopleOps platform that can be used in almost any industry or profession and we plan to eventually move beyond higher education.
We are three co-founders.
- I have the domain expertise of higher education human resources. With that knowledge, I was able to identify the look and feel for our platform that would attract our higher education customers.
- Jonathan Jiang, our chief product officer, is a serial start-up software engineer. He is able to make just about anything work and has knowledge of other platforms’ capabilities.
- Tak Oda, has a background in higher education systems and database engineering.
Between the three of us and our employees and interns, we're constantly looking to make things as easy and robust as possible for the end-users. That takes constant tweaking and revising.
What is the toughest decision you’ve ever made when starting a business? How did it make you better at the end of the day?
Very early on, before ProfHire was formed, I briefly started a similar business with a colleague and friend. It became clear that together we were struggling to make it work and move forward.
Deciding to dissolve that business and negotiating terms that allowed me to continue with the concept was emotionally draining. It was also relatively expensive to have a false start. But at the end of the day, it was the best decision for both of us and we're still friends.
What do you consider the biggest milestone that you have hit with your business? What was the biggest thing you did to get there?
Oh, it's hard to name ONE biggest milestone. I can immediately think of three. First, was the decision to go full-time. That was huge. Fortunately, I have a very supportive husband who believes in the company and its potential. We both knew it would be a hit to our lifestyle, but he was encouraging and made the decision easier.
The second huge milestone was actually launching our product. It’s not like the commercials where you launch the product and watch your visitors reach 100,000 in the first 24 hours. No such fanfare for our platform, but it was still super-exciting. We celebrated when we got our first 1000 applicants.
The third and probably the most rewarding was getting our first paying customer. That first check is always a major milestone.
Who has been your greatest influencer along your entrepreneurial journey? How did they shape ProfHire?
When I think of influencers, I think of the people who had a significant hand in shaping ProfHire. I have to start with my husband, who often planted the seed or found the resources to get things off the ground gets #1 supporter.
My two cofounders were recommended by mutual friends. Jonathan and I were introduced by a mutual friend at the idea-stage of ProfHire. He started by agreeing to help with programming even though he wasn’t familiar with the higher education market and knew that we were a long way from getting paid.
Tak and I had worked together previously, but a mutual friend reminded me that he would be a good person to bring aboard to help bridge my vision and Jonathan’s technical expertise.
Another friend and former colleague whose son is a successful EdTech entrepreneur introduced me to her son and both of them have been valuable advisors. In fact, we have great advisors who have all had some influence in our success to date.
Two of the most valuable experiences and influences have been getting into two incubators: Founder Institute and Uptima Business Bootcamp (Uptima). Founder Institute (FI) is the premier startup launch program for entrepreneurs. It does a phenomenal job of getting you started on the right foot and is available worldwide.
After completing FI, I joined Uptima’s final two modules to reinforce my fundraising efforts. It's a program based in Oakland, CA and has four modules. The total program lasts a year. It takes entrepreneurs from ideation through a series of modules ending in fundraising and hiring your first employees.
What’s the biggest thing you struggle with as a business owner? Do you have any advice for how future entrepreneurs can overcome it?
Sales is definitely the biggest challenge. I've found the best thing has been networking and following up. It's frustrating but has to be done. The only advice I can give is Nike’s motto “Just do it.”
The more you do it, the less uncomfortable it becomes and the better you get at navigating the various conversations. The other piece of advice I would give is know your core business and what is and isn't aligned with it. Don’t lose your core just to make money.
How do you balance life and work to remain connected and available for your loved ones? Any advice?
Balance is always a challenge and always has been for me. I have just recently realized that the lack of balance is taking a physical toll, so I started meditating and currently am committed to 30 minutes a day.
I try to walk my 10,000 steps at least 5 days a week, and I just enrolled in a Qigong class – we will see how that goes. As for family, they are supportive and we do spend quality time together when we're together. We don’t have human children and my husband has his own interests so he is pretty self-sufficient.
CB (our canine son and ProfHire’s chief happiness officer) loves going to the office when he goes with me, and when he doesn’t he’s happy to see me come home. Mason, the feline son, well, he’s a cat, usually greets me at the door. I take that as his way of showing he missed me.
How does being an entrepreneur affect your relationships with your friends and family?
My family is supportive and true friends understand that there are times when you're available and times when you aren’t. I have separated myself from any friend that's negative or unsupportive about the business. In fact, I have a very low tolerance for negativity among friends. I just don’t have room in my head to let doubtful or negative people occupy space.
What advice would you give to our readers who want to start a business in California? Where should they start?
They should start by getting expert advice from someone in the industry they want to get in. Not all advice is equal. Not even all expert advice is equal. For example, when I first thought of starting ProfHire, I went to our attorney and asked what type of business entity I should form. He suggested forming a California LLC.
Knowing that Delaware is the place where most businesses which I formed. Attending Founder Institute, I came to realize that two main mistakes were made by doing that.
First, it would have been smart to wait because the clock on your business somewhat begins ticking once you incorporate.
Second, for a tech company eventually seeking to raise venture capital, the only business entity to form is a Delaware Corporation. Bad advice is expensive.