The Spark for the Startup Idea
Edwards has an extensive background in sales. After finishing college, he began a job that focused on building sales teams for clients like Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile, primarily through job boards and fairs. Unfortunately, his company shut down the division he was a part of after a few years.
Needing some way to make money, Edwards hit on the idea of partnering with a business associate to put on their own in-person job fairs geared toward sales companies. That worked well for about nine years, but in 2017, the popularity of job fairs started to take a nosedive. “People would rather apply online than wait in line,” he says. “So when people stopped coming to job fairs, companies didn't want to pay me anymore.”
That’s when Edwards learned about virtual career fairs. Unfortunately, the company he was with didn’t want to go that route. So in December 2018, he and his business partner decided to start their own virtual job fair and event company, Premier Virtual.
A Useful, Flexible Platform
Their first job was to develop the software. They worked on it throughout 2019, starting from scratch because they weren’t happy with existing platforms at the time. But to do this, they needed help. “I'm not a software developer, I'm not a tech guy, I'm a sales guy,” Edwards says. “So I had to get a development team to come in and build the software for myself and my business partner.”
The process was an iterative one that involved asking clients what they needed and then asking the software development team to make it happen. In August of 2019, Edwards and his team decided that instead of hosting or putting on their own job fairs, they would license their software so that organizations could host their own regional and national events. That required even more changes to the platform, which officially launched in January of 2020 – three months before COVID-19 hit.
For a lot of companies, the pandemic was a disaster, but for Premier Virtual, the pandemic created a need for remote hiring. “Job fair companies couldn't run their businesses, couldn't do anything,” Edwards says. “But guess what? [We] had a solution. COVID was a catalyst, and it showed everybody how efficient virtual events were, from a trade show aspect to a career fair.” Today, about 90% of his company’s business consists of career fairs.
So what makes Premier Virtual different from similar companies? “I like to say our platform is the three Es: easy to use, effective, and efficient.” It features an easy-to-navigate interface and allows customers to set up a virtual event within minutes. With the platform:
- Employers can use “interactive hiring rooms” to text chat, as well as use internal video chat to invite candidates to a live interview.
- Employers can customize their booths with a logo, biography, job vacancies, job details, website, videos, and social media links.
- Job seekers can use a chat function to send and receive messages from any booth at the event at any time.
- Employers can respond to job seekers’ questions or initiate the chat themselves from the employer hiring room.
- Employers can use the platform’s back-end functionality to follow up with job seekers after an event.
Premier Virtual excels at allowing job seekers to thoroughly research potential employers and communicate with them promptly. “Is it the right culture for them? Is it the right fit? Are they in the news?” Edwards says. “All of that is on our platform so they can look at [a company’s] social media, they can look at their website. And then they can chat with them and go right into a video interview in a matter of seconds. There's no waiting in line.”
The platform also offers flexibility, allowing recruiters to communicate with job seekers through scheduled interviews or the open job fair. There’s also a group video platform that lets employers convey essential information in presentations that they can show all of the candidates who attend, eliminating the need to say the same thing over and over.
Finally, Premier Virtual provides both the event host and the attending companies their own analytics, including how many candidates submitted resumes, etc. Likewise, job seekers receive important information like which companies they submitted resumes to, who they talked to, and what was said.
Advice for Founders
Edwards has a few tips for founders who are just starting out. His first piece of advice: Hire people with the right mentality, even if they don’t yet have all the required skills. “I always believe you can hire somebody for their attitude and teach them the skills they need,” he says. “The people you bring in, do they fit your culture? Do they fit what you believe in? Are they a team player?” He says he has hired people he liked even before he had a specific job for them, believing he would find suitable roles eventually.
Edwards also stresses the importance of mentors, whether they’re from a university, an incubator, or somewhere else in the local startup community. “Having a mentor group is amazing, and they're going to help you,” he says. Even if they’re tough on you at first, don’t be discouraged. It’s all part of the process.
“Just go out and do it. Don't listen to the naysayers in your life,” Edwards says. “They're scared because they can't do it. You can do it. I don't care what you're looking to do, there's a lot of businesses that fail, but they fail because they listen to people around them. So to me, attitude is everything.”